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May 31, 2009

Father, son serve under same colors in Iraq

When Cpl. Jared P. Lopez joined the Marine Corps in September 2006, he always knew there would be a possibility that he would deploy at the same time as his father, who has served in the Marine Corps for nearly 20 years—but he didn’t think that they would end up on the same base in Iraq.


By Cpl. Bobbie A. Curtis,
2nd Marine Logistics Group

Much to his surprise – that’s just what happened. In February 2009, Master Sgt. Juan Lopez, the operations chief for the 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment Security Detachment, arrived at Camp Al Taqaddum, Iraq, where his son had already been serving for a month.

Both Marines agreed that having family near them on the deployment has made it easier on them and the rest of their family.

“I can always talk to him if I have any questions,” stated Cpl. Lopez, a data/wire technician with Communication Company, 2nd Marine Logistics Group (Forward). “It’s good to have a mentor that knows about life and the military.”

He said that his father helps him through everyday life and gives him advice on the military that he has learned during his long career.

“You can define leadership but I think there’s a difference as far as the military and civilian sides of it,” Lopez continued, pointing out his father’s well-rounded knowledge. “He has given me good insight.”

Master Sgt. Lopez said the best part of having his son serving with him in the still relatively dangerous country, is the positive impact it has had on Cpl. Lopez’s mother.

“His mom’s doing well,” the senior Lopez said. “She’s very happy with her husband and son over here at the same time. It makes her feel a lot more comfortable.”

The younger Lopez said he thought about following in his father’s footsteps many years before their faithful uniting in Iraq.

“I always wanted to join since I was young,” he explained.

Lopez said that after high school he decided that college was not the path he wished to initially follow.

“I took some college, like two classes … I said I’d rather put my time in, join the Marine Corps and serve my country, and that way set myself up for college at the same time.”

One of Master Sgt. Lopez’s other three sons, Cpl. Dane Lopez, an intelligence analyst with 1st Radio Battalion, 1st Marine Division, was originally scheduled to deploy to Iraq at the same time as his father and brother, before sudden changes were made. His father remembers having a good hunch that his two sons may join the Corps, recalling some good indicators from their childhood.

“I just knew that this was probably something they would do,” he said. “They were always talking to Marines, wearing Marine gear and doing Marine things.”

For Cpl. Lopez, growing up as a ‘military brat’ and then joining the Marine Corps shed some light on all the things he observed while living with his father through much of his long career as an infantryman.

“Experiencing the Marine Corps first hand was different,” he explained. “As a dependent all you had to worry about was school. I knew my dad was going to deploy, be in the field, and be gone for two weeks at a time for training.

“After witnessing the fleet, I understand more and more … where his certain mannerisms came from and why he was the way he was,” he continued. “When he said he was worn out and had to wake up early, now I see why he went to bed.”

Recently, Lopez beat out about 50 of his peers to win honor graduate at the 2nd MLG (Fwd) Corporal’s Leadership Course here. He explained that having his father in the Marine Corps contributed to his success and pushed him to excel at everything he does.

“He definitely inspires me to give everything my best,” he said.

Lopez said that he is still deciding if he is going to make the Marine Corps a career as his father did. He added that he may follow in his father’s footsteps by doing the same special duty as him.

“I love being a Marine,” he said. “Now that I am getting closer and closer to the end [of my first term], I want to do MSG (Marine Security Guard Duty). If that takes me into the next enlistment, that is fine.”

Both Marines said they have been grateful for the opportunity to serve side-by-side with their family members.

"I think it's an honor to be able to serve with your family," said Cpl. Lopez. "It's definitely made things a little easier."

May 30, 2009

3 brothers reflect on joining Marines

By Rob Novit - The Associated Press
Posted : Saturday May 30, 2009 17:57:14 EDT

AIKEN, S.C. — Soon after graduating from South Aiken High School a decade ago, Jamie Coomes enlisted in the Marine Corps and served eight months in Iraq in 2004.

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May 29, 2009

31st MEU conducts exercise to prepare for Talisman Saber '09

Marines with the S-6, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit's Communications Platoon, conducted a communications exercise May 11-13 in preparation for the MEU's participation in Talisman Saber 2009 in Australia this July.


Lance Cpl. Antwain J. Graham,
31st MEU

During the COMMEX, Marines trained with the new Phoenix Satellite Terminal network, which they will use at TS-09, in order to become familiar and proficient with this new equipment.

During the exercise, the Marines performed jump control post drills which haven't been practiced or used by the MEU Command Element for over two years. As part of the MEU's capabilities, they must become capable in the establishment and employment of jump command post communications, according to Maj. Daryl Hurst, the communications officer for 31st MEU.

During a jump command post drill, Marines set up satellite and radio equipment in a specific area and establish communication with the command element.

Once this is accomplished, at the commander's order, the Marines must quickly break down their equipment and prepare to move to another position before they are located by the enemy. They are constantly moving as a result.

"We must be able to set up in 30 minutes or less and tear in down in 20,"

said Hurst. "As a communications unit, we can't afford to be slow."

"It's important that the commander can keep contact with other command elements," Hurst said. "Also, most of the Marines here have never done a jump command post drill before, so this training will make sure they are ready for the deployment."

For the COMMEX, the jumps were conducted on Camps Hansen, Schwab, Courtney and Foster, and at White Beach Naval Facility.

"We use the different sites to simulate the distance between each location which makes it more difficult to gain communication with other command elements," said Cpl. Clinton L. Mutter, a radio operator with the MEU's Communication Platoon.

Hurst said The COMMEX will continue with a capability set evolution which will consist of inventorying, familiarization and signing for new equipment that the MEU will use during TS-09.

The 31st MEU is a rapid-response force capable of conducting conventional amphibious and selected maritime special operations at night or under adverse weather conditions from the sea, by surface and/or by air while under communications and electronics restrictions.

TS-09 is a joint military operation in Australia, that will exercise a single Combined Task Force, focusing on operational and tactical interoperability through a high end, medium intensity scenario involving live, virtual, and constructive forces.

May 27, 2009

Iraqi commandos show off their combat skills for MNF-W commanding general

CAMP YASSIR, Iraq – With flags waving high and feet pounding the ground in a steady rhythm, soldiers with Commando Battalion, 7th Iraqi Army Division, showed off their military talents during a demonstration aboard Al Asad Air Base, May 23, 2009.


Cpl. Jo Jones

“This event was a demonstration of the entire battalion’s training that they’ve received over the past three months,” said Robert Wise, a special operations foreign internal defense advisor with Military Transition Team 7. “The commanding general of the 7th IA Division wanted the commandos to be combat ready by the first of June, so this showed that they are all trained to the same standard.”

The demonstration came the day after the Iraqi commandos formally graduated from a month-long training course designed to hone their combat skills. Coordinated by the Marines and sailors of MiTT-7 and taught with the help of elements from the 3rd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, Regimental Combat Team 8, the course covered topics such as advanced infantry tactics, land navigation, first aid, counter improvised explosive device techniques, urban warfare and air assault skills.

The Iraqi commandos marched around the entire parade deck, passing by a captivated audience that featured Maj. Gen. R.T. Tryon, commanding general for Multi National Force - West, and Iraqi Army Brig. Gen. Sabbah al-Maliki, deputy commanding general for the 7th IA Division. The soldiers also demonstrated martial arts techniques, captured role players posing as insurgents, and reacted to a simulated roadside IED.

Capt. Andrew Kressin, commanding officer with Company D, 3rd LAR Bn., said the live demonstrations went well and showed the Iraqi soldiers’ remarkable progress over a short period of time.

“The commandos have made a tremendous amount of progress,” said Kressin. “There were some challenges along the way, but now they all work together as a team.”

Wise said it was encouraging for both the Iraqi soldiers and the U.S. service members to see the general officers at the ceremony.

“This showed the Iraqi commandos and the Marines that what they have been doing has reached all the way out to MNF-W,” said Wise. “It made the commandos feel very proud of what they accomplished.”

Tryon expressed his satisfaction with the Iraqi Army’s performance, and said he has high hopes for Iraq’s future.

“I have every confidence that the soldiers of Anbar will continue to be at the forefront of their nation’s defense,” said Tryon.

Capt. Rusty Tuten, the operations officer for MiTT-7, said Marines and sailors have been able to develop good working relationships with the Iraqi commandos through these training courses, and he is confident that the Iraqis will be able to protect their country and people once Coalition forces leave Iraq.

“They’re ready to take the lead in Anbar, especially the 7th Division,” said Tuten. “They control over a third of the country, and they definitely demonstrated their combat power in this area.”
The latest commando course graduates will join their fellow Iraqi soldiers who completed their training in earlier iterations of the course and are now serving at the forefront of their nation’s defense.

Semper Ride video set for Lejeune debut

Staff report
Posted : Wednesday May 27, 2009 10:36:48 EDT

The Corps’ glitzy video promoting motorcycle safety will debut June 25 at Camp Lejeune, N.C., as part of an event that will include live motorcycle stunts and autograph sessions with celebrities, officials said.

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May 26, 2009

Kittanning grad offers insider's view on Afghanistan

John Brochetti was happy to hear his son's voice for the first time in two months Friday.


By Renatta Signorini, LEADER TIMES
Tuesday, May 26, 2009

He was lucky -- he had taken that day off from work.

It's been a long deployment for the Brochetti family while Adam has been unreachable in the heart of Taliban country in southern Afghanistan. It is the most violent part of the country and 1st Lt. Adam Brochetti has lost fellow Marines in battling with the enemy.

But Brochetti, 26, a Kittanning graduate, was committed to his platoon's purpose in Afghanistan and has witnessed great improvements in the country, he said in an e-mail conversation.

"We see small victories every day, which is all you can hope for," he said. "I believe that with the increase in troops in Afghanistan ... will allow us to maintain better security, which will result in more protection for the people and more economic and social developments."

Afghan National Police

Brochetti's battalion's mission, in addition to fighting the Taliban insurgency, was to train and mentor the Afghan National Police. The Marines provided classroom instruction and on-the-job training to help about 180 members learn proper ways of security and safety in their communities.

"I was in charge of planning our day-to-day operations with our Afghan and British counterparts, as well as overseeing the training of the Afghan National Police," Brochetti said.

Members of the Afghan police would assist during day and night patrols with the Marines "because we always wanted to put 'the Afghan face' on everything that we did," Brochetti explained.

"We wanted people to see their own security forces taking the lead, so that they could gain trust and confidence in them," he said.

American forces work jointly with British military who are responsible for the area that is coveted by the Taliban because of the fertile ground, Brochetti said. The majority of the world's opium and heroin comes from poppies that are grown and harvested in the area, he said.

"This is a very lucrative business for the Taliban, and it continues to fund their insurgency throughout the year," he said.

Winning over the people

The Afghan people are hard-working and honorable, Brochetti said, and have been plagued by "countless hardships that include famine, wars, foreign invaders and warlordism that have torn their country apart."

There are no roads in the land-locked country and families use wells for drinking water. An ancient irrigation system is used to provide water to crops, Brochetti said.

Census data was taken of each villager, he said, which enabled Marines to build a rapport with the locals.

"If they were nervous and reluctant to talk to us, we knew that there was probably Taliban spies in the village watching them," he said.

It was sometimes difficult to convince the locals that the Marines are there to help. The Afghans face a difficult way of life -- they will be threatened by Taliban forces if they cooperate with the Marines, and if they help the Taliban they could be arrested, Brochetti said.

With the support of the population, the Taliban has the freedom of movement to lay explosive devices that could potentially harm Marines.

"Once we gain the trust and confidence of the people, only then will they begin to give us valuable intelligence that allows us to defeat the Taliban," he said. "The people, however, will not give us this information unless they feel safe and protected."

Trust was gained from one local who warned Marines of an explosive device placed on a narrow path by the Taliban that could have inflicted serious injuries to those patrolling.

"The fact that the local was brave enough to warn us about the (explosive device) showed us that we were slowly winning over the people," Brochetti said.

Voter registration

The thousands of people who registered to vote was a success for the Marines, who helped provide security.

"That showed us that they wanted to have a part in the selection of their government officials, and it also showed that they felt safe enough to ignore the Taliban's threats," Brochetti said. "Earlier that year, the Taliban said that anyone who was caught with a voter registration card would be beaten."

The Taliban does not want progress in the country, Brochetti said.

"Keeping the locals in a state of ignorance is how they are able to manipulate and control them," he said.

Brochetti hoped that if the Marines can continue to focus on bettering the quality of life, Afghans will reject the Taliban.


Passing clearly-defined enemy lines to the north and south of the Marines' position would result in attacks by the Taliban, Brochetti said. Members of the Taliban blend into the population -- they have no uniforms or distinguishing dress or characteristics, he said.

"We would be patrolling through the bazaar daily and would receive glares from several military-age males, which were surely Taliban, but there was nothing that we could do," he said. "Those same individuals were probably the same ones who would be attacking the coalition forces that very night."

The difference between fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan is clear -- the Taliban is comprised of people who have inhabited the land for thousands of years, while Al-Qaida in Iraq is made up of mostly foreign fighters, he said.

"We are fighting the home team" in Afghanistan, Brochetti said.

Forgetting about the war

Soldiers are fighting in Afghanistan, but Iraq has seemed to dominate much of war reporting.

"I wish everyone back in the U.S. could catch just a glimpse of the heroism that is being performed daily by Americans over here," Brochetti said.

Local residents have not forgotten about the mission -- a call for clothes, toys and school supplies for the Afghan children was met with a great response, Brochetti said. The Marines and Afghan police made weekly trips to the local school and passed out the items to the children.

"This greatly increased our standing amongst the people," he said. "I am very grateful for the support that everyone back home showed us out here."

Brochetti is expected to return home in a couple of weeks to his wife, dog and cat in North Carolina.

Nikki Brochetti said her husband doesn't make fighting in a war "out to be a big deal."

"I know it's very admirable and very heroic," she said.

Adam should be home for about a year, she said, and then re-deploy next spring. She graduated from a high school in Indiana County.

John Brochetti, Adam's father, said that while his son is fighting enemy forces, there are other motives.

"I think Adam has a genuine concern about other human beings," John said. "I think, in a way, he developed a close attachment to the people of Afghanistan, especially the children."

Adam comes from a military family -- his grandfather served in World War II and an uncle died in battle. A younger brother Alex is in the Air Force and his sister Alissa is married to a Marine lieutenant.

The youngest Brochetti -- Andrew -- is in high school and has dreams of being in the military, father John Brochetti said, and son Aaron works in New York at a job unrelated to the military.

While John and his son spoke on the phone last week, most of their communication is done through e-mail and letters. In recent correspondence, John remembered the accomplishments his son made in wrestling (he was a three-year letterman at the U.S. Naval Academy), but Adam's service has made the biggest impression, he said.

John told his son, "What you're doing there makes me the most proud."

May 25, 2009

At Camp Pendleton, every day is Memorial Day

After eight years of war, memorials large and small, formal and informal have appeared throughout homes, offices and training sites on the sprawling Marine base.

Reporting from Camp Pendleton -- An American flag encased in glass dominates the living room of the town house Marine Staff Sgt. Ryan Gray shares with his wife and their two small children.


By Tony Perry
12:40 AM PDT, May 25, 2009

Sewn onto the flag with black thread are the names of 30 Marines who lost their lives in Iraq. Twenty-four died in a helicopter crash. Gray was almost one of them.

He had thrown his pack aboard the Super Stallion CH-53E headed to the Syrian border, but there was no room for him. He jumped aboard a second chopper. That one landed safely; the other crashed in a sandstorm, killing everyone aboard.

The flag, which Gray bought and had embroidered in Kuwait, is among the family's most cherished possessions.

"We're the voice and spirits of the boys who didn't come home," said Gray's wife, Alexsia.

When the Marine Corps moved the family from Hawaii to Camp Pendleton, Ryan Gray told the movers, "You can break anything else, but don't dare break that flag."

After eight years of war, memorials large and small, formal and informal have appeared throughout homes, offices and training sites on this sprawling base. Some enlisted Marines have tattoos with the names of buddies they've lost. Others have decals with the names on their cars and trucks.

For much of the Iraq war, Camp Pendleton, home to the 1st Marine Division, held the grim distinction of being the U.S. military base with the highest number of troops killed and wounded.

Every day here is Memorial Day.

From the defeat of the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2001 to the assault on Baghdad in 2003 and the bloody fight with insurgents in Anbar province, troops from Camp Pendleton have fought in the vanguard. Now they're returning to Afghanistan as part of a more aggressive strategy ordered by President Obama.

Last week, Gray, a decorated veteran of the battle of Fallouja, and more than 1,000 Marines and sailors from the 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, headed to Helmand province, a Taliban stronghold. The deployment is for seven months, maybe longer. More battalions will follow.

For Gray, it's his fifth overseas deployment in seven years.

He was about to become a recruiter, but before he could start he was transferred to the One-Five, which needed noncommissioned officers with combat experience.

"It's not going to be an easy mission," said Lt. Col. William McCollough, the battalion commander. "We have no doubt they're going to fight us, and we have no doubt they're going to lose."

Outside McCollough's office are framed photos of 16 Marines from One-Five killed in Ramadi in 2006. Across the street from McCollough's office is a granite memorial to all 5th Marine Regiment troops killed in Iraq.

Navy Cmdr. Paul Shaughnessy, a Catholic chaplain who has deployed four times to Iraq with the Marines, said thoughts of the dead are never far from their minds, but they rarely speak openly about them. "They don't obsess," he said.

With the surge of Army troops into Baghdad, Ft. Hood in Texas has now seen more troops killed in Iraq than any other base, 479, according to www.icasualties.org, an independent website that monitors military deaths.

Camp Pendleton is second, with 348 Marines and sailors. But factor in two other Southern California bases that often deploy with Pendleton troops -- 115 from Twentynine Palms and 10 from Miramar Marine Corps Air Station -- and the number killed in action nearly equals that of Hood.

Even when Marines talk tough about combat, emotions about the dead can intrude.

Col. Patrick Malay, the rough-hewn commander of the 5th Marine Regiment, told a Dana Point group last month that the unit's success in Anbar province is due to "the killing power of a Marine infantry battalion."

But his voice faltered when he talked about Lance Cpl. Drew Weaver, killed when an insurgent's bullet struck him inches above his protective vest.

Much of the coping with death falls to spouses and other family members.

"It doesn't matter if they've lost one member of their unit or 30, it stays with these Marines forever, and they take it home to their families," said Kristin Henderson, whose husband is a Navy chaplain. "Young spouses are trying to comfort young widows."

Henderson, a journalist, is the author of "While They're at War: The True Story of American Families on the Homefront," an intimate look at the fears of stay-behind military families. Her husband has gone to Iraq and Afghanistan with the Marines and is now stationed in Japan.

"As the deployments and the losses pile up, it can get hard to cope," she said. "Within the military community, the losses bind us more tightly together.

"But they also increase the distance between us and civilians who aren't being asked to sacrifice like that."

Alexsia Gray has vivid and painful memories of the day in January 2005 that the helicopter crashed.

Word circulated quickly among Marine families in Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii, where her husband was then based. She delayed returning to their home, afraid she might find officers waiting with tragic news.

Other wives began receiving official notification. Gray could hear sobbing.

"I just said, 'Please, God, let it not be my door this time,' " she said.

She has conflicted feelings about her husband's deployment to Afghanistan. She's proud of him and appreciative of the financial stability his military service has brought the young family.

The couple, both immigrants from Jamaica, plan to use his tax-exempt $30,000 reenlistment bonus to help buy a home. On-base child care for their son and daughter frees Alexsia Gray to study. She graduated last week from MiraCosta College in Oceanside and will study further to become a registered nurse.

Her husband has urged her to make "what if" plans in case something happens to him, including what to tell their son, Tore-Andre, 5, and their daughter, Kalissa, 18 months.

"Anyone who stays in pretty much accepts the fact that's the way of life," Ryan Gray said matter-of-factly.

Growing up in Jamaica, Gray had dreamed of joining the Marine Corps ever since seeing the classic John Wayne movie "Sands of Iwo Jima." After he came to the United States, he said, "it was either boot camp or bust."

Alexsia Gray, 31, puts it differently: "I love him, and he loves the Marine Corps."

At 29, Ryan Gray is a combat veteran whose experience is in demand. He has done one tour in Iraq and three "floats," in which Marines sail to the Western Pacific and Persian Gulf for training and to be a "force in readiness."

Less than a third of the Marines in One-Five have deployed to Iraq, and only a few have seen combat. Gray will lead a 20-man group in Weapons Company that may operate independently to gather intelligence or support Marines in firefights.

"Not only is he technically and tactically proficient, he can bring some adult perspective," said Capt. Matt Danner, commander of Weapons Company, an infantry unit that also carries heavy weapons such as machine guns and Gray's specialty, mortars.

When he talked about the Afghanistan deployment, Gray did not discuss its geopolitical significance. He talked about the young Marines under his charge, many barely out of high school and hoping to earn a Combat Action Ribbon.

"They say they want that, but when they see combat, they may change their minds," said Gray, who received a Combat Action Ribbon forthe 2004 battle of Fallouja, in which Marines had to rout heavily armed insurgents from barricaded homes. "I'm there to guide them, to get them through it. Alive."

Alexsia Gray left before the buses arrived about 2 a.m. Friday to take the Marines and sailors of Weapons Company to March Air Reserve Base just east of Riverside to catch a flight to Afghanistan.

Many spouses stayed until the last moment, exchanging a final tear-filled kiss.

But Gray had a nursing-class test that morning and her husband wanted her to get some sleep. Besides, they'd been through it all before. "This is déjà vu," she said.

The children were at home with their grandmother, who is visiting from New York. Kalissa is too young to understand. But Tore-Andre is beginning to comprehend why his father and the other fathers in the neighborhood go away.

He has learned what deployment means. "It means Daddy can't come home soon. He's helping people," he said.

With her husband gone, Alexsia Gray will take care of her children and her studies but also offer emotional support for younger spouses and occasionally glance uneasily at the flag on the wall.

"I'm a rock," she said. "I don't break easily."

[email protected]

USS Lake Champlain Rescues More Than 50 Mariners in Distress

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

GULF OF ADEN (NNS) -- The San Diego based guided-missile cruiser USS Lake Champlain (CG 57) responded to a vessel in distress in the Gulf of Aden May 23, rescuing 52 men women and children who had been adrift in a small skiff for approximately seven days.


Story Number: NNS090525-04
Release Date: 5/25/2009 8:23:00 AM

The crew of Lake Champlain's embarked SH-60B helicopter from Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron Light (HSL) 45 detachment Four, conducting a routine flight in the Gulf of Aden, spotted the skiff and upon seeing the mariners in distress, notified Lake Champlain. The ship, operating approximately 30 miles away, proceeded at maximum speed to assist the skiff.

Upon arrival, Lake Champlain's crew assessed the situation and began providing medical care to the mariners in distress. Seventeen personnel were immediately transferred to Lake Champlain and treated for severe dehydration and other critical medical issues. The remainder of the personnel initially remained aboard the skiff and were provided with food and water until they were later brought aboard Lake Champlain.

"U.S. Naval forces have a longstanding tradition of helping mariners in distress," said Capt. Kevin P. Campbell, Lake Champlain's commanding officer. "It's fortunate that our helicopter was flying over the right place at the right time. I'm glad we were able to be of assistance and rescue these men, women and children. Our Chief Hospital Corpsman stated that had we not found them at the time we did, the pregnant woman (who was in her third trimester) may not have survived."

The skiff experienced engine problems, due to a bad fuel mixture, leaving it unable to operate at sea. A determination regarding the final disposition of the 52 personnel has not yet been made.

"We were very fortunate to have come across these people in the state they were in," said the ship's Chaplain, Lt.j.g. Jarrod Johnson. "Seeing their condition really makes your heart go out to them. You can see the relief and hope in their eyes, and hear it in their conversation."

Lake Champlain, deployed as part of the USS Boxer Amphibious Ready Group, is operating as part of the Commander Task force (CTF) 51 and is deployed to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations to conduct maritime security operations (MSO). MSO helps develop security in the maritime environment. From security arises stability that results in global economic prosperity. MSO complements the counterterrorism and security efforts of regional nations and seek to disrupt violent extremists' 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/.


A single company of U.S. Marines is slugging it out with the Taliban in Afghanistan’s toughest ghost town. The battle shows how limited troop numbers have hurt the war—and why the U.S. is changing its strategy.

NOW ZAD, Afghanistan

In a war over hearts and minds, Now Zad has neither.



May 25, 2009

Abandoned by its residents, this mud-brick ghost town is a corner of Afghanistan that might be forever Flanders. There are no schools being painted, no roads paved, no clinics built. There is no Afghan army, no Afghan government at all. In Now Zad, there is just one company of U.S. Marines slugging it out across no man’s land with equally determined militants. From their entrenched lines, neither side is strong enough to prevail.

On patrol this month, Sgt. Tucker Strom, a 26-year-old squad leader from Tallahassee, Fla., lifted his head just high enough above a mud wall to glimpse the Taliban front line across 500 yards of neglected pomegranate orchards. “They’re right there,” Sgt. Strom told a newly arrived Marine. “This is what it turns into—us watching them, them watching us.”

Helmand is one of the toughest provinces for the U.S.-led coalition, home of the insurgency’s twin foundations: Pashtun and poppy. And Now Zad is arguably one of the toughest, and most unusual, towns in Helmand. For the U.S., it’s a prize too valuable to lose, not valuable enough to win.

Senior commanders have already turned down one Marine request to dispatch a 1,000-man battalion to the town, preferring to concentrate forces in areas with more hearts and more minds. Yet the military says keeping a lone company in Now Zad “fixes” the insurgent force in place, even if outright victory isn’t possible.

“Whatever we take, we do not want to cede back to the Taliban,” British Brig. Gen. David Hook, the coalition’s deputy commander for operations in southern Afghanistan, said during a brief visit to Now Zad this month. “What kind of message would it send?”

The inability of the Marines to dominate the area is an extreme example of how limited troop numbers, especially in the country’s strategically vital south, have hampered the U.S. ability to eradicate the Taliban threat. The U.S. and NATO-led coalition has easily defeated the Taliban in battle, but struggled to prevent insurgents returning to towns and villages across the country.

As part of President Barack Obama’s Afghan “surge,” the military has ordered 21,000 new troops to Afghanistan, bringing the total to around 60,000. The beefed-up force is a central element of the military’s new counterinsurgency strategy for Afghanistan, which aims to replicate the successes of the Bush surge in Iraq, in particular the way it was able to both “clear” important areas of insurgents and “hold” the territory long enough for the government to solidify its position.

The strategic shift gelled earlier this month when Defense Secretary Robert Gates asked for the resignation of Gen. David McKiernan, the Pentagon’s top general in Afghanistan, in a bid to further instill counterinsurgency tactics throughout the war. The successor, Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, is a former Green Beret who recently commanded the military’s secretive special operations forces in Iraq.

Still, the new approach won’t bring enough troops to put overwhelming force into every hotspot, suggesting that Now Zad and other pockets won’t see relief any time soon. Afghanistan’s terrain, replete with inaccessible valleys and remote villages, exacerbates the shortfall.

“We’re still only at half of what we had in Iraq,” says Col. Greg Julian, the military’s chief spokesman in Afghanistan. “In counterinsurgency doctrine, it should really be a 10-to-one ratio of population [to troops], and we’re nowhere near that.”

Soon after the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001, charities from the United Nations and European Union installed clean-water wells and a mother-child health clinic in Now Zad. But by 2007, fighting between insurgents and small British and Gurkha contingents prompted the estimated 10,000 to 30,000 residents to flee. An Estonian force joined the British before a company of U.S. Marines arrived last year. None was big enough to clear the town of insurgents.

The Marines here now, Lima Co. of 3rd Battalion, 8th Regiment, number fewer than 300 men and are currently training their replacements. Being a sideshow to the main effort has meant a daily routine of dangerous patrols through a no man’s land littered with land mines, all the while accepting the fact that at best they’ll go home next month with a tie.

Matthew Nolen, a 27-year-old Navy corpsman from Memphis, Tenn., insists that each man on his patrols carry two Velcro tourniquets. The assumption is that if a Marine steps on a mine, he’ll likely lose both legs at once, and the corpsman will have two arterial bleeds to stem. Some infantrymen wear tourniquets loose around their ankles, like bracelets, so they can get at them quickly.

“It’s not for me,” said Sgt. Roy Taylor, a 23-year-old squad leader from New Orleans. “It’s for the guy next to me.”

The Marines maintain two fortified positions in Now Zad. First Platoon mans an outpost atop ANP Hill, named for the Afghan National Police unit that is supposed to be here but isn’t. The position provides covering fire for two improvised helicopter landing pads, otherwise exposed on the dusty flatlands.

On the round hilltop is a c-shaped trench. The Marines live in bunkers built into the sides of the trench, buffered by sandbags and dirt walls. Some are big enough for three or four men; some are little more than crypts with space for a single cot. None is high enough to stand up in.

“What we’re doing is denying the enemy’s ability to operate in Now Zad,” said the platoon commander, 2nd Lt. John Langer, a 23-year-old from Dallas. “It’s a waiting game,” he said. “As long as we stay here, they’ll know somebody is watching.”

On rare occasions, the lieutenant’s platoon patrols through a nearby village where some former Now Zad residents have taken refuge. The Marines don’t visit too often, however. They know that the Taliban will punish villagers who accept U.S. radios or food aid. It wouldn’t be a problem if the Marines had enough troops to leave a permanent presence in the village, but they don’t.

Below the hill is Lima Co.’s main base, surrounded by razor wire and giant barriers filled with dirt and rock. The camp abuts the town itself and the guard towers look onto ghostly streets.

“I guess way back in the day this used to be a thriving town,” said Lance Cpl. Raymond Cardona, 20, from Ormond Beach, Fla., sharpening his fighting knife recently in a guard post built on the ruins of a small store. He and Lance Cpl. Daniel Wescovich manned a machine-gun-like grenade launcher that can spew explosives into Now Zad at a rate of hundreds per minute.

In the street below, sheet-metal shutters creaked and wooden doors rattled in abandoned storefronts, their facades divoted by bullets. Black-blue swallows dodged among swaying strips of awning. Electric poles stood, leaned or reclined, their wires drooping to the streets.

Lance Cpl. Cardona pointed across the street to a forlorn mud building with a blue sign crudely depicting a cut-away drawing of a molar. The sign identified it as the workplace of Dr. Mohamad Zaher Zahin. “That there was a dentist’s office,” Lance Cpl. Cardona said. “Down on the hardball is a doctor’s office.”

On a map tacked to the plywood wall, Lance Cpl. Wescovich, a 20-year-old rifleman from Long Beach, Miss., traced the insurgents’ L-shaped front lines. To the east, he pointed to a wide swath of dried riverbed running along the edge of the town, a route the insurgents use to move weapons, money and men. “They own the eastern wadi,” he said. “But the central wadi is pretty much neutral now,” he added cheerfully.

To the north he picked out a thin strip of road nicknamed Pakistani Alley, for the foreign fighters thought to man it. The Marines once found 20 mines in a small field that way.

“That place scares the [expletive] out of me,” said Lance Cpl. Cardona. “I compare it to playing Minesweeper”—a computer game—“on ‘extremely difficult.’ ”

The insurgent positions are in buildings and bunkers, too, the Marines say, or among trees edging the eastern wadi. The militants use ancient irrigation tunnels to move from place to place, emerging under buildings to surprise Marine patrols and plant mines.

Before coming to Now Zad, Sgt. Eric Droste, 23, of Fort Dodge, Iowa, watched a televised version of Stephen Ambrose’s World War II history “Band of Brothers,” in which German troops were on one side of a river, Americans on the other. He wondered what such a war would be like. Now he knows.

“We could go over there and fight, but it wouldn’t do us any good, because we couldn’t hold the ground,” said Sgt. Droste.

In April, the Marines bombarded the insurgent front line. Jets dropped bombs and attack helicopters fired rockets into mud buildings. From their base, the Marines sent mortars arcing into insurgent fortifications. The attack succeeded in pushing back the front line by a few hundred yards and creating a larger buffer around the U.S. positions, the Marines say. They also believed it killed a substantial number of fighters.

Afghanistan won’t see the bulk of the surge troops until later this summer. But the military is already putting its new strategy to the test in the provinces around Kabul. Early this year, a 3,500-man infantry brigade arrived in Wardak and Logar Provinces, two places where the coalition had had a relatively small footprint in 2008.

The early results appear promising. The additional troops have allowed commanders to clear insurgents from several valleys and towns. In their place are joint U.S.-Afghan forces. The goal is to assure locals who side with the government they won’t be left to the mercies of vengeful returning insurgents.

Commanders say they don’t have enough troops to guard every valley and have to pick targets in the hope that word of their successes creates a chain reaction in areas where they don’t have the manpower to set up permanent outposts. Another fear is that the new troops are simply pushing insurgents from one valley to the next.

Since the bombing raids in Now Zad, the number of ambushes and attacks on the Marine bases has diminished substantially, although commanders worry that the local insurgents are simply taking a break to harvest opium poppies, earn some money to buy more weapons and prepare for more fighting.

“I think they’re happy with a stalemate, as long as we don’t mess with their main supply route, the eastern wadi,” Sgt. Strom told the new Marine, watching the tree line that edges the riverbed.

Day and night, the Marines send patrols into the town, orchards and fields, trying to catch insurgents off-guard or provoke them into a full-on firefight. Now they’re teaching the incoming unit, Golf Co., 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marines, the survival tips they have picked up.

Sgt. Jasen Wrubel, 25, of Roseville, Mich., guided a new man through empty homes and empty stores, finding traces of the insurgents. At one house Sgt. Wrubel observed that someone had placed a burlap bag on top of a door, apparently to keep it from slamming loudly. He once ran across an Arabic-brand cigarette. “The guy has been to Iraq,” he speculated.

At another house the Marines tore a poster off a wall. The insurgents often hide weapons in holes dug behind the posters, Sgt. Wrubel explained to his replacement.

“I never imagined it like this before I came out here,” he said later, patrolling past empty houses, aiming his rifle down empty lanes. “Very, very, very odd.”

Land mines present a greater danger than gunfire in Now Zad. The insurgents have seeded the entire town with an ingenious array of homemade mines. There are mortar rounds buried with spring-loaded triggers that explode when a Humvee passes over them. Another device uses a fist-sized rock above ground to hold metal contacts apart below ground; when a Marine kicks it, contact is made and a plastic bottle explodes with ferocious power.

Since they arrived in November , five Lima Co. Marines have stepped on land mines, while U.S. vehicles have hit seven more. In more than 700 patrols, Marines found another 50 or so.

To combat the danger, each patrol is led by an engineer with a mine detector, a long wand with a disc-shaped sensor at one end and headphones at the other. On Sgt. Wrubel’s early-morning patrol this month, the job fell to Lance Cpl. Keith Greenberg, a 25-year-old from Long Branch, N.J., rarely seen without a slight grin on his face.

As soon as the Marines reached the end of the hardtop road outside their base, Lance Cpl. Greenberg stepped to the front of the formation. The next man in line turned and held one hand vertically in front of his face, like half a prayer, indicating the patrol should move single file.

As the patrol followed in near-total silence, Lance Cpl. Greenberg swept the mine detector side-to-side with his right hand. He kept his left behind his back, holding his rifle still. Through headphones he listened for minor inflections in the mine detector’s whine that might reveal the presence of a bomb.

He swept every patch of dirt, every wall, every berm where a Marine put his weight. Every few steps, each man behind him dragged the toe of one boot, as if performing a primitive dance, scuffing a path for the rest to follow. Many of the Marines have torn the soles loose from their combat boots from hours of scraping their way through minefields.

If he finds a mine, Lance Cpl. Greenberg marks it with spray paint and steers the column around it. The men warn each other with a quiet hand gesture, holding their palms down and flicking their fingers outward, as if shaking off water.

Before he leaves the base, Lance Cpl. Greenberg prays as if he and the other Marines have already made it through alive: “Thank You for getting us back safe.” He figures that might make it a done deal. Just to make sure, he also carries a Bible, a rosary and a lucky wine cork.

Three engineers have been blown up since Lima Co. arrived here in November, out of the company’s seven total fatalities.

The Navy has stationed an emergency-room doctor, along with a critical-care nurse and a trauma nurse at the Now Zad Marine base, a highly unusual decision for such a small position.

The medical team built a mobile ER mounted on the back of a seven-ton truck. When a Marine steps on a mine, the medical team mounts up and drives across country, pulls up behind a wall or berm and begins treatment on site. The truck’s sides are scarred by insurgent mortar shots.

“Am I scared?” asked the Navy doctor, 55-year-old Steve Temerlin, of Poulsbo, Wash, before answering his own question: “I’m not crazy.”

Write to Michael M. Phillips at [email protected]

May 24, 2009

Bikes escort vets' remains through Utah

The Associated Press
Posted : Sunday May 24, 2009 14:03:09 EDT

WENDOVER, Nev. — Veterans Johnnie Franklin Callahan, James William Dunn and Isaiah Mays may have died years apart, but they're now on a joint cross-country journey to a final resting place.

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May 23, 2009

Marines draw attention in Times Square

Above the blare of passing taxi horns and the shouting street food vendors rang out a steady cadence call of a New York Marine sounding off as a sweating civilian attempted one more push up as part of Marine Day Times Square May 23.


By Lance Cpl. Jad Sleiman,
New York City Public Affairs

Marines from Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force New York and the Marine Forces Reserve Band gathered in Times Square to give civilians a taste of Marine Corps music, physical training, weaponry and martial arts.

Lance Cpl. Eduardo Ortiz, a New York City native, led the physical fitness section of the Marine Day event. He stood screaming encouragement inches away from the strain marked faces of civilians hoping to impress the crowd gathered around the pull-up bar in front of the historic Armed Forces Recruiting Station in Times Square.

“It’s fun, it’s a lot of fun,” said Ortiz, a personnel clerk with 6th Communication Battalion in Brooklyn, NY. “You get to meet all different kinds of people.”

Ortiz said he hoped to identify potential recruits who demonstrated a high level of physical ability and help “keep them on the right path” to maybe one day becoming a Marine, while helping some realize which areas of fitness they need to work on.

Kyla Kennedy of Plattsburgh, N.Y., lifts weights from time to time, but found herself struggling to maintain her grip on the bar as Ortiz timed her flexed arm hang.

“My arms started shaking, it was a lot harder than I thought it would be,” said Kennedy. “I guess you have to be strong to be in the Marines.”

Yards away artillery and embarkation Marines threw down demonstrating the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program.

The exhibition covered disarming an attacker, grappling, holds and take downs – with civilians often trying their luck against their black belt Marine counterparts.

“As soon as we start doing our thing a crowd gathers fast,” said Sgt. Evan Beaule, an artillery Marine with the SP MAGTF NY and Lewiston, Maine native.

Nick Presuto of Waterbury, Conn., took a Marine down using a leg sweep after the Marines taught him the technique. Presuto enjoyed his match against the Marine in Times Square, adding “it was fun.”

May 22, 2009

Boxer ARG Begins Exercise in the Gulf of Aden

GULF OF ADEN (NNS) -- The Boxer Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) and 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) began an ARG/ Marine Expeditionary Unit Exercise (MEUEX) May 19, in the Gulf of Aden and ashore at Camp Lemonier in Djibouti.


Story Number: NNS090522-21
Release Date: 5/22/2009 2:09:00 PM
By Boxer Amphibious Ready Group/13th Marine Expeditionary Unit Public Affairs

The weeklong ARG/MEUEX is an amphibious ship-to-shore training evolution designed to enhance Navy and Marine Corps amphibious capabilities in unfamiliar terrain and involves the USS New Orleans (LPD 18), USS Comstock (LSD 45) and 13th MEU.

"It is extremely important for Marines and Sailors of a deployed ARG/MEU to conduct exercises while deployed," said LtCol Tye R. Wallace, Commanding Officer, Battalion Landing Team 1/1. "In order to be the most ready force, we must constantly keep our combat skills at their peak."

The exercise demonstrates the ability of the Boxer Amphibious Ready Group and 13th MEU to conduct both large-scale combat operations and humanitarian assistance anywhere in the world and will consist of tactical amphibious landings, bi-lateral training with the French Foreign Legion and tactical recovery of aircraft and personnel (TRAP), as well as other events.

"The MEU is expected to execute any of its assigned missions, from the sea, within six hours of receiving an execute order," said Wallace. "This means going directly into the fight from our ships. No one else does this. This is a unique capability that the Navy / Marine Corps team provides our nation. This allows our deployed naval forces to be relevant, responsive, and ready for action."

The ARG/MEUEX is scheduled to conclude May 26.
The Boxer Amphibious Ready Group is comprised of Amphibious Squadron 5, USS Boxer (LHD 4), New Orleans, Comstock, USS Lake Champlain (CG 57), Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 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 MEU is comprised of a Command Element, Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 163 (Reinforced), Combat Logistics Battalion 13 and Battalion Landing Team 1/1.

The Boxer Amphibious Ready Group and 13th MEU is currently on a deployment in support of regional and Maritime Security Operations (MSO). MSO help develop security in the maritime environment. From security arises stability that results in global economic prosperity. MSO complements the counterterrorism and security efforts of regional nations and seek to disrupt violent extremists 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/.

Marines and Sailors Conduct Amphibious Exercise

GULF OF ADEN – The Boxer Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) and 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) began an ARG/ Marine Expeditionary Unit Exercise (MEUEX) May 19, in the Gulf of Aden and ashore at Camp Lemonier in Djibouti.


May 22, 2009
By Boxer Amphibious Ready Group/13th Marine Expeditionary Unit Public Affairs

The week-long ARG/MEUEX is an amphibious ship-to-shore training evolution designed to enhance Navy and Marine Corps amphibious capabilities in unfamiliar terrain and involves the USS New Orleans (LPD 18), USS Comstock (LSD 45) and 13th MEU.

“It is extremely important for Marines and Sailors of a deployed ARG/MEU to conduct exercises while deployed,” said Lt. Col. Tye R. Wallace, Commanding Officer, Battalion Landing Team 1/1. “In order to be the most ready force, we must constantly keep our combat skills at their peak.”

The exercise demonstrates the ability of the Boxer Amphibious Ready Group and 13th MEU to conduct both large-scale combat operations and humanitarian assistance anywhere in the world and will consist of tactical amphibious landings, bi-lateral training with the French Foreign Legion and tactical recovery of aircraft and personnel (TRAP), as well as other events.

“The MEU is expected to execute any of its assigned missions, from the sea, within six hours of receiving an execute order,” said Wallace. “This means going directly into the fight from our ships. No one else does this. This is a unique capability that the Navy / Marine Corps team provides our nation. This allows our deployed naval forces to be relevant, responsive, and ready for action.”

The ARG/MEUEX is scheduled to conclude May 26.

The Boxer Amphibious Ready Group is comprised of Amphibious Squadron 5, USS Boxer (LHD 4), New Orleans, Comstock, USS Lake Champlain (CG 57), Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 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 MEU is comprised of a Command Element, Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 163 (Reinforced), Combat Logistics Battalion 13 and Battalion Landing Team 1/1.

The Boxer Amphibious Ready Group and 13th MEU is currently on a deployment in support of regional and Maritime Security Operations (MSO). MSO help develop security in the maritime environment. From security arises stability that results in global economic prosperity. MSO complements the counterterrorism and security efforts of regional nations and seek to disrupt violent extremists' use of the maritime environment as a venue for attack or to transport personnel, weapons or other material.

May 21, 2009

1 of last original Navajo Code Talkers dies

By Felicia Fonseca - The Associated Press
Posted : Thursday May 21, 2009 6:09:41 EDT

PHOENIX — A Navajo Code Talker who was part of the original group recruited to develop what became an unbreakable code that confounded the Japanese during World War II has died.

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May 18, 2009

Marine Week Chicago closes with the MV-22 Osprey

On the final day of Marine Week Chicago infantry Marines from Company F, 2nd Battalion, 24th Marines put on a raid demonstration in front of around 2,000 people at the Arlington Park Racetrack.


By Lance Cpl. Bryan G. Carfrey,
Headquarters Marine Corps

"They did a reconnaissance reenactment," said David Lyng, 27. "They secured the area and then were picked up. It was amazing."

The Marines were flown in on a CH-46 Sea Knight helicopter. Upon landing on the track's infield the Marines exited the aircraft and set up a security around the perimeter. The MV-22 Osprey then flew in and landed to pick up the Marine.

"I got goosebumps seeing the Marines come out of the helicopter," said Franky Leyva, 14. "It's the first time I've ever seen anything like it."

There were static displays of Marine Corps aircraft and vehicles set-up outside in the parking lot of Arlington Park, but to many in attendance the MV-22 Osprey stole the show.

"I came out to see these wonderful aircrafts in flight," said Tony Ranallo, 50. "It's pretty awesome to see what you can do when you put your mind to it. The MV-22 is just amazing."

Even Marines involved in the show were pleased with the performance.

"A lot of people didn't know much about the Osprey," said Lance Cpl. Andrew Groeger, a flight line mechanic for the Osprey. "It was an amazing performance and it went off without a hitch. People now love the Osprey, I got probably 100 questions about it."

It was neat and a lot of fun to watch, said Kara Boonstra, 24. She was amazed with the size of the helicopters and what the Marines do to protect this country, she said.

"The Osprey actually hovered, and amazing feat of engineering," said Lyng.

The first ever Marine Week has officially come to a close.

"Marine Week has been great," said Groeger. "Its been a lot of hard work, but the demonstrations were a success."




Emotional Goodbye For Afghanistan-Bound Marines

The Marines known as "America's Battalion" are heading to Afghanistan. They are part of the 21,000 additional forces President Obama is deploying in the administration's new strategy for the war effort in Afghanistan. The mission of these Marines will take them to places American forces have rarely been in large numbers. Over the months of their deployment, NPR will focus on the people — the Marines and their families — who will carry the fight in Afghanistan and the burden of keeping life together at home.

Please click above link for media player and maps.

Photo Gallery:

by Catherine Welch
May 18, 2009

The Marines of the 2nd Battalion, 8th Regiment have been working hard, preparing for war in Afghanistan. But over the weekend at their home base at North Carolina's Camp Lejeune, it was all about meeting with family and friends, and saying goodbye.

At first glance it looked like a large Sunday picnic. A rectangular lawn at the base was filled with hundreds of people. In one spot, a family sat in beach chairs talking; nearby, a young couple stood forehead-to-forehead holding each other tightly.

Tom and Vicki Apsey, with their daughter, drove through the night — 11 hours from Tampa, Fla. — to be with their son, 18-year-old Lance Cpl. Josh Apsey.

A Bible And Pictures From Home

Tom Apsey said his son had talked about being a Marine since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, but the family thought their then-10-year-old would outgrow the idea.

"But he continually talked about it, and he started working toward it. It was a goal of his, and he's exactly where he wanted to be. So, as a father, I definitely couldn't be any prouder of him," he said.

With about a year of Marine training under his belt, Josh Apsey said he is ready to go.

"My mom, she got me a journal and inserted a few pictures in there, and she's written me a few letters; and I have pictures of my girlfriend and letters from her, as well; and I have a Bible that I keep that all in right now," he said.

Josh said his Bible is his most important keepsake for this first mission overseas. In the past few days, mother and son read through the Bible together, going over passages from Proverbs and Psalms.

"One of my favorites, Psalm 21: 'Where does my help come from? It comes from the Lord,' " she said.

The battalion chaplain, Lt. Terry Roberts, said it is his job to remind the men of their spiritual side, which is often neglected in the heat of battle. Roberts, a Baptist preacher from the hills of Kentucky, spoke from experience. This is his fifth deployment.

A Line Of Buses And The Difficult Goodbye

The banter between Marines and their family members subsided as the empty buses pulled up to ferry the Marines to the airport. The Marines won't be in touch with their families again until they reach Afghanistan — and then, communication by telephone and e-mail will be difficult.

"You know they have come out with a new machine. It's a one-button, text-messaging machine," Roberts quipped, pulling a pen out of his pocket to make the point that the men must learn to write letters.

The Marines piled the gear onto the back of a tractor-trailer. Then, they lined up and boarded the buses as loved ones clapped and cried.

Before the caravan had rounded the corner and was out of sight, the families had shuffled off to their cars.

At the end of the day, a handful of Marines combed the empty lawn, picking up trash and preparing the same patch for the next crowd of families, who will gather outside the headquarters of America's Battalion to say goodbye.

Thunder Still Rolls After 20 Years

RANCHO CUCAMONGA -- It started in 1989 as a road trip across the heartland of the United States. Participants of the inaugural Run For The Wall ride were just a couple of veterans who loved their motorcycles and loved their country even more.


May 18, 2009
McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

They started in San Diego and ended in Washington, D.C., where they joined a group of riders known as Rolling Thunder. Together, they were several dozen veterans at the nation's capital honoring prisoners of war and those missing in action.

Last Wednesday , more than 350 bikes roared out of Victoria Gardens to start a journey that's as much about patriotism as it is about camaraderie and healing. Next Sunday, hundreds of thousands more motorcycle riders will join them and descend upon Washington, twenty years after the first ride out of San Diego.

"It's not a strenuous ride but it's an emotional roller coaster," said Daryl Neil, from Phoenix. "If you want to see a bunch of old men cry, come on the ride."

Most of the Run For The Wall participants are Vietnam veterans and their supporters. The men come in leather chaps; the women with pink helmets.

Some come in Harleys that sparkle in the sun. There are bikes with GPS units and bikes with heated seats. Some rented motorcycles specifically for the occasion.

This is Charlie Del Campo's fifth ride going "all the way" to the capital. The Long Beach resident said his first ride was a pivotal moment in his life because fellow veterans welcomed him with open arms to the yearly ritual, and he had the opportunity to truly reflect on his service in Vietnam.

Del Campo said he makes the journey each year so he can help the other veterans who are riding for the first time.

New riders are marked by a special "FNG" pin, which stands for "fun new guy/gal." The newbies usually get an extra pat on the back followed by a hearty greeting. "FNG" is a take on the military term that describes new guys with a more vulgar adjective.

Minutes before Del Campo was to start the 10-day journey, he saw a man with an "FNG" pin.

"Hey FNG, welcome home," Del Campo said. "I'll be your wingman."

The group of motorcycle riders will go on two routes passing through Arizona, Texas, Indiana and other states before arriving in Virginia on May 22. Today, the group taking the central route are in Junction City, Kan; the southern route riders are in Monroe, La.

Although the yearly pilgrimage has been going on for two decades, Roger Phelan, who lives near Shreveport, La., just found out about it this year. Phelan served in the Air Force during the Vietnam and Gulf wars.

"Being here is starting to bring back memories," Phelan said minutes before leaving Victoria Gardens. "Some of these guys haven't thought about the memories in 40 years. And when you remember ... you re-deal."

This journey for Phelan started the day before the ride, when a group of 60 riders toured the Riverside National Cemetery and met three Medal of Honor recipients. They also met Lewis Lee Millett Jr., the creator of the POW monument located in the cemetery.

Phelan said he had heard about the memorials at the Riverside cemetery and thought it was a pipe dream. Last week, he was finally able to join other veterans and tour the cemetery, which many refer to as the West Coast Arlington.

At the cemetery's Medal of Honor monument, Ray Wyatt of Fort Worth, Texas, found the name of someone he knew on the memorial wall. It was the brother of Wyatt's high school teacher.

Standing near the list of recipients' names, Wyatt said, "Every one of these names did something that far exceed what was expected of them."

This year's ride -- his first to go "all the way" -- is particularly significant because it has been 40 years since his cousin, Tommy Wyatt, died in the Vietnam War at the age of 21.

Wyatt remembers talking to his cousin before deployment and wondering what combat in Vietnam was going to be like. Wyatt, who also served in the army like his father and uncles, is now having a similar conversation with his son.

"I told my son that when you serve the country, you vow to write a check saying you're willing to sacrifice everything up to and including your life," Wyatt said.

Wyatt's son will be deployed later this year.

"As a parent, you're very scared. You want him to be safe," Wyatt said.

Although the ride mostly brings out Vietnam veterans, an increasing number of their younger counterparts from the Gulf War and the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan are starting to join.

Neil, the Phoenix native who served in the Army for 22 years, said hopefully the event will continue to raise awareness of veterans' causes and encourage veterans and their supporters to join.

"We meet as strangers," Phoenix said, "but we walk away as brothers."

Lejeune Marine dies in car wreck

Staff report
Posted : Monday May 18, 2009 12:24:24 EDT

JACKSONVILLE, N.C. — A Marine died early Sunday after being ejected from the car he was driving near Camp Lejeune.

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May 16, 2009

MILITARY: Pendleton unit ready for Afghanistan assignment

'Fighting Fifth' is part of massive buildup of U.S. forces ordered by President Obama

CAMP PENDLETON ---- The 1,000 troops from the 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment that Lt. Col. William McCollough is leading into Afghanistan later this month aren't expecting to win the war.


By MARK WALKER - [email protected] | Saturday, May 16, 2009

"We're going there to be successful," McCollough said during an interview at his Camp Pendleton office last week. "For us to be successful, the Afghan government has to win, and we are going there to help give them that ability."

McCollough's men are part of the vanguard of a buildup ordered by President Barack Obama, who is adding 21,000 troops to the 38,000 American military members already in the war-torn, south-central Asian nation.

What those troops are able to accomplish in the Iraq-style surge that comes just before Afghanistan's August presidential election is expected to foreshadow how much the U.S. and its NATO partners can accomplish in a country never defeated by a foreign power.

McCollough knows that history, and he knows there is much work ahead.

"We do not suffer delusions that the area we are going to is going to be fixed on this deployment," the 40-year-old Minnesota native said. "But we are going to set the tone for any unit that replaces us."

The impending seven-month deployment is the first-ever Afghanistan assignment for the "Fighting Fifth" unit headquartered just south of San Clemente on the northern reaches of Camp Pendleton. It's also the first large-scale Afghanistan deployment for Camp Pendleton troops since the 2001 invasion of that country.

Their commander says the troops are trained, rested and ready for their assignment in the troubled Helmand province in southern Afghanistan along the border with Pakistan. That's where the majority of the opium-producing poppy crop is grown, and where anti-government forces have gained a foothold and stepped up their attacks against U.S. and coalition forces.

"It’s not going to be an easy mission," he said. "Helmand is where the insurgency is funded and where the poppy is grown and processed. The enemy is not going to give up that capability, and we think they will fight to protect it."

McCollough's forces will be there by month's end and plan on establishing combat outposts in towns and villages. That echoes what the Marines did in Iraq's once insurgent-laden Anbar province and is a central point in the doctrine of how to succeed in a counter-insurgency war.

"I don't believe in commuting to work, and I don't believe you can win if you don't live out amongst the people," said the slightly built, youthful-looking McCollough. "We kind of learned that the hard way in Iraq."

Part of the battalion will be partnered with Afghan National Army and security forces as the U.S. moves to speed the development of those groups to help solidify the national government.

Fight ahead

To help ready his troops during their nine months of training, McCollough had them read books about counter-insurgency, the Afghan culture and Islam.

Squad leaders such as sergeants are expected to take the lead role in embedding with local Afghans in areas of Helmand where there are no U.S. and NATO troops.

"We could have two platoons living in a building in a village," said McCollough, whose awards and decorations include a Bronze Star with "V" device signifying valor, and a Purple Heart. "That will be their combat outpost. So when they walk outside, they are immediately with the local population."

The mission for his unit, which carries the motto "Make Peace or Die," is to locate and engage anti-government forces so his troops can, in McCollough's words, "clear, hold and build."

"Just being in an area will displace the Taliban and they then lose control," he said in reference to that strategy, adding he has no illusions that his forces will see fighters flee simply because they move into an area. "There is no doubt they are going to try and fight us, and we have no doubt they are going to lose when they do."

Military authorities predict a spike in roadside and suicide bomb deaths as more U.S. troops flood into the country, noting that such incidents are up 25 percent this year compared with 2008. A task force has said the number will rise to about 5,700 by year's end compared with about 3,800 in 2008.

Through Friday, 53 U.S. troops have been killed in Afghanistan this year. Seventy-four American military members have died in Iraq since the year began.

Spartan experience

When all the new Marine units arrive, there will be 10,000 leathernecks in Afghanistan, the largest number since the invasion and toppling of the Taliban government. The bulk are from Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, with units from around the world rounding out the force.

Helping lead the 1/5 in Afghanistan is Sgt. Maj. Tom Sowers, McCollough's link to the enlisted men that compose the bulk of the force.

Sowers is also an Iraq combat veteran and echoes his boss when he says the Marines and sailors heading to Afghanistan with the unit are among the best-trained he has ever seen. And many of those troops with recent deployments to Iraq ---- where combat in Anbar has been very limited the last two years ---- are getting what they've said they wanted: a chance to fight.

"This is what they asked for," Sowers said, adding that the troops have been told to expect little in the way of creature comforts, because most won't be stationed on the large U.S. bases they're familiar with in Iraq. "I believe Marines enjoy the Spartan experience, and they're going to get that."

McCollough said he believes the ultimate victory in Afghanistan is entirely dependent on that country's leaders taking full advantage of the mission he and his troops look to accomplish.

"We have to help the Afghan government be able to fulfill a social contract that provides justice to its people and produces a secure environment," McCollough said. "If the government is doing that, we will have been successful."

Over the next few days, family, friends, wives, girlfriends and children will say goodbye to the force as it begins its 7,700-mile journey to Helmand. A few female Marines assigned to the unit as "augmentees" also will be saying their goodbyes. Females are excluded from combat infantry units, but some do accompany the men in supporting roles.

Once there, the troops will be 11.5 hours ahead of their loved ones in California, often with no means of communicating with them.

McCollough is prepared for that, too.

Because troops will be in the field with only occasional rest periods on larger bases with access to e-mail, McCollough plans to carry a pocketful of index cards with him. When he's visiting his men at a forward operating base, he plans to pull Marines and sailors aside and have them write brief notes that he will make sure are mailed.

Contact staff writer Mark Walker at 760-740-3529.

Retired aviator opens park for Marine Week

Roy Arnold has been the president of Arlington Park race track since April 2006, but before he took the job, Arnold was the assistant commander of the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Calif.


By Cpl. Jose Nava,
Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego

“I have never worked with people from the military and Arnold has a different managerial style,” said Laura Sutler, executive assistant, Arlington Park.

Arnold began his 30-year career in the Marine Corps after graduating State University of New York in Brockport, N.Y., and receiving a commission as a 2nd Lt. in 1976. After he completed The Basic School, Quantico, Va., Arnold became an infantry officer.

The Basic School is a six month course where all newly-commissioned Marine officers undergo training to prepare them for duty in the operating forces.

“In a lot of ways, operating a race track is a lot like being a commanding officer of a Marine unit,” said Arnold. “You are responsible for everything that happens and everything that does not happen.”

During his time in the Corps, Arnold also commanded the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, Okinawa, Japan, before becoming the assistant commander for the 3rd MAW.

A MEU is a Marine Air Ground Task Force that is made up of a reinforced infantry battalion, a reinforced helicopter squadron and a logistics support group. The MEU is forward deployed and can act instantly to crisis situations.

“It was probably the highlight of my career because I had a really good time and it was a great life experience to have that opportunity,” said Arnold.

Arnold believes the Marine Corps prepared him for his current job at Arlington Park.

“It is a joy to work with Arnold and it is really evident that he is an extremely structured person,” said Sutler.

Arnold opened the park and allowed for the Marines to practice the take-off and landing of two CH-46 Sea Knight helicopters and one MV-22 Osprey tilt rotor aircraft on Tuesday for Sunday’s scheduled demonstration at the park, which is scheduled to take place between 12 p.m. to 2:30 p.m.

“He was superb to work with as the only real restrictions we had were the real world restrictions,” said Lt. Col. Jon Smith, Arlington Park officer-in-charge for the Marines. “I look forward to working with him again.”

Throughout the weekend, the Marine Corps will have weapons and vehicle displays, at Arlington Park, along with an indoor simulated marksmanship trainer and the Twentynine Palms Jazz Ensemble.

“It is a good chance for the citizens of Chicago and the Midwest to interact with Marines and their equipment to see how we operate,” said Chicago native Cpl. Joseph Curtis, a machine gunner from the locally based 2nd Battalion 24th Marines, Chicago. “Some people come to me at work and said they saw helicopters and vehicles, and I have heard them say positive things.”

The method for concentrating our resources to gain public recognition and allow the public to focus on what the Marine Corps does is Marine Week, added Arnold.

In a large metropolitan area like Chicago, direct involvement in the community has a positive effect instead of just airing commercials, breaking through the daily routine and grabbing peoples’ attention, mentioned Arnold.

People were coming in and out of the clubhouse at Arlington Park, some of them leaving with a new and personal understanding of the Marine Corps.

“I think it is neat to see some of the things you guys work with out in the field and it is even better to meet you guys and thank you for what you do for us,” said Kirk Nall, an information technology professional, who was visiting Chicago from Missouri.





South Side struggle to Marine Corps success

Growing up on the South Side of Chicago isn’t easy for a teenager. Marcos Estrada was no exception, which forced him to overcome obstacle after obstacle to get to where he is today.


Lance Cpl. Bryan G. Carfrey,
Headquarters Marine Corps

“My parents separated when I was three and officially divorced when I was five,” Master Sgt. Marcos Estrada said.

Dealing with the separation of his parents, triggered the beginning of a rough upbringing for Estrada.

“My father got out of prison when I was in the seventh-grade for drug trafficking,” the 35-year-old said. “He was a heroin addict and very abusive.”

His father, Joseph, had been in and out of prison most of Marcos’ life.

“It forced my brothers and me to grow-up quickly,” Marcos said.

Marcos recalled one night where things really got out of hand.

“One night my father actually ran over my mother breaking one of her legs and crushing the other,” said the Marine Week operations chief from Recruiting Station Chicago. “She had casts from her ankle to her hip and was stuck in bed for years.”

Marcos and his family received government assistance and moved around a lot during his childhood.

“I went to six different grammar schools just trying to stay away from my father, but he would always find us,” the Chicago native said.

However, all the moving around didn’t keep the teenager off the streets and out of trouble.

“I got involved in gangs around the seventh-grade,” said Marcos. “I was arrested when I was 15 for aggravated battery, and went on trial but was found not guilty.”

But Marcos would find himself on both sides of violent behavior.

“When I was 15 I was stabbed in the back. I was actually ambushed; some guys came to my neighborhood shooting. Me and some guys jumped in our car and followed them to their neighborhood. When we arrived they began shooting the vehicle and throwing bricks at it, we crashed the car. When I got out and tried to escape I was stabbed in the back,” said Marcos.

His girlfriend at the time, who was also 15, stitched him up.

“I never actually went to the hospital, that’s likely why I have the huge scar on my back,” he said with a smile.

Marcos attended Bogan High School on the South Side where he eventually met his wife.

“He used to always copy off me in Spanish class,” said wife Christina. “I was attracted to him because he had that ‘bad boy’ look, like he was trouble. But he was very confident and seemed to be a born leader.”

Joining the Marines was something Marcos always wanted to do.

“It’s kind of weird how my home situation shaped my future,” he said. “My father would come home and beat my mother to a bloody pulp. My brothers and I would run out the back door to our neighbor’s house.”

It just so happens one of the boys at his neighbor’s house was a Marine.

“I was probably 5-years-old and I can remember thinking that I wanted to be just like him,” Estrada said. “He would show me some cool things the Marines had taught him, and I saw him in his dress blues.”

Marcos was not the first in his family to attempt joining the Corps.

“Both of my brothers signed up but never shipped to boot camp,” said the veteran of five deployments. “My younger brother Japheth went to jail while in the delayed entry program. My older brother Joseph signed-up but was overweight and the Marines didn’t take him.”

Joseph died shortly thereafter from alcohol poisoning at the age of 23.

Estrada credits the Marine Corps with getting his life on track.

“The Marine Corps got me out of the neighborhood,” he said. “It gave me my first chance at a successful life.”

Joining the Marines allowed Marcos to start over again.

“What I liked about the Marine Corps was that you didn’t know anything about me that I didn’t tell you,” he said with a laugh. “But you did know that I was a Marine.”

Being a Marine has also provided Marcos the means necessary to take care of his own family.

“What he provides to this family is worth all the hard times,” his wife of 16 years said. “He loves being in the Marine Corps as much as he loves his life.”

Marcos and Christina have three children, Marcos Jr., 16, Arianna, 9, and 2-year-old Gabriella.

Christina can recount when it wasn’t all “coming up roses” for Marcos in the Marine Corps.

“I can remember when he was a lance corporal coming home upset because the corporals were telling him what to do,” she said. “But look at him now.”

Marcos enlisted as a machine gunner and from there would transition into recruiting duty back home in Chicago.

The very day Marcos checked-in for duty in Chicago he was informed he would be deploying to Iraq in November 2004 as a part of 2nd Battalion, 24th Marines, said Marcos.

He was a gunnery sergeant and served as the personal security detachment platoon commander while deployed.

“I was in charge of 28 Marines and 10 (were awarded) Purple Hearts,” said Marcos.

Some things have come full circle for Marcos.

“I was a recruiter here as a sergeant and now I’m running the recruiting station I was recruited out of,” said Marcos.

He said he can relate to the kids from the Chicago area.

“Kids here are tough enough, they just need the opportunity,” he said. “I’m cut from the same cloth as many of these kids; I understand where a lot of them are coming from."

Growing up in a big city like (Chicago) you learn to trust no one and keep everyone at an arm’s distance Marcos said.

“I can teach and show these kids that there are people you can trust, you can trust them with your life, your family and your kids.”

Many of the kids he has helped recruit have come from broken homes. A lot of them never knew their father; they thought they would never get out of the neighborhood, said Marcos.

He compared the first ever Marine Week and the fact it’s in Chicago to the transformation kids go through in boot camp.

“It’s like when you go to boot camp, you’re thinking I can’t wait to see my friends, my family but somewhere along the line that changes to I can’t wait for them to see me,” said Marcos. “Having Marine Week in Chicago is like that for me. I can’t wait for Chicago to see the Marine Corps and what I’m about.”

“It’s like when your mom comes to school and you show her your desk, your paper on the wall, your two worlds meet,” he said.

He said Marine Week has brought the Corps to his neighborhood.

He loves displaying what the Marine Corps stands for, said Christina.

“I’ve had parents approach me and tell me how great my husband is and how great it has been having the Marines here,” said Christina.

Having served two recruiting tours in his hometown, Marcos has been able to create new memories of Chicago.

“I have a lot of good memories now from Chicago, the bad ones have been pushed out,” said Marcos. “I’m here to replace them. My memories now are of recruiting duty. Instead of going through the city with a pistol waiting for someone to jump out, I see things and think of when or where I met a kid who wanted to enlist.”

Marcos believes the kid from the South Side of Chicago have come a long way and views Marine Week as just another chance to give back to the community.

Marcos’ father turned his life around after being released from prison. This allowed Marcos to reconnect with his father before his passing in 2004. Marcos now sports a tattoo in memory of his father on the inside of his left arm.

“He really became the world’s best grandfather for my children,” said Marcos.

Marcos’ mother, Mary Tellez, has since re-married and lives about an hour from Chicago in Indiana. Marcos and his mother stay in touch to this day. His surviving brother, Japheth, still lives in Chicago and works as a machinist. Japheth is married with two kids. Marcos and his brother also stay in touch frequently.

“One thing I would like to see is Marines from the Chicago area to come back to Chicago and give something back to the community,” said Marcos. “You can get out of the city but you can’t take the city out of you.”



May 15, 2009

Marines set up shop at Navy Pier

The Marine Corps gave Chicagoans the chance to look at, hold and even play with some of its newest equipment today at Navy Pier.


By Lance Cpl. Bryan G. Carfrey,
Headquarters Marine Corps

Static displays were set-up inside and outside the pier, showcasing some of the Corps’ newest technology. The displays are a part of a week long event titled “Marine Week Chicago.” Events began Monday and are scheduled to run through Sunday.

“We are reaching out to the people of Chicago to show them what the Marine Corps brings to the table and where we fit in,” said Col. Shawn Reinwald, director of Infantry Weapons Systems. “The technology has increased and very few people know about it.”

The public enjoyed full access to all of the displays.

“I thought it was great,” said Lisa Majeske, native of Wood Dale, Ill. “It allowed the kids to get up close and personnel with all of the equipment.”

From display to display, from kids to adults, guests were able to actually get behind weapons and see what it’s like.

“These children are living their dream right now, their dreams are coming true from looking at guns to seeing Marines in uniform,” said Lisa Romanski, native of Wood Dale, Ill “That’s the best part, it’s all hands on.”

The displays are located at Lakeview Terrace inside Festival Hall.

“I’m going to get other guys to come down here, they need to see this,” said Terry Owens, native of West Chicago.

The displays outside were highlighted by the new Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicle (MRAP), and the Marines fitness challenge, where contestants competed for prizes by doing as many pull-ups as they could.

“We want to expose as many people as we can to the Marine Corps, after all, this is the peoples’ Marine Corps,” said Reinwald. “Anything the people can put their hands on helps. People want to know what makes the Corps tick.”

Chicago just doesn’t have a lot of Marines in the area It’s a good chance for the people of Chicago to come out and get close to Marines, said Sgt. Kenith Schaffer, an artillery school instructor stationed at Fort Sill, Okla.

“We want the people to know that the Marines are the same people they went to high school with. We want to remove the mystery surrounding Marines,” said Reinwald.

The displays are free of charge and will be open to the public through Sunday evening.

“There are a lot of great displays,” said Majeske.

The Marines want to leave the visitors with an overall good feeling about the Marine Corps. Chicago was an excellent choice to kick off Marine Week, not sure it could go any better, said Reinwald.

At least one other visitor agreed.

“Marines are the best,” said Romanski.

For more information on Marine Week visit www.marines.mil/marineweek.






Chicago Moves Despite Afternoon Showers

Despite Friday’s constant rain showers and cold winds, numerous citizens braved the weather and came out to Daley Plaza here for an exercise demonstration dubbed “Chicago Moves,” which called upon Marines from the Quantico, Va.-based Martial Arts Center of Excellence, also known as MACE, to showcase their own version of fitness and self defense techniques.


By Cpl. Seth Maggard,
1st Marine Division

The day’s events focused mainly on exercise and personal fitness from group leaders from the Marines, Chicago Fire and Police Departments, an Army drill sergeant, and a few civilian fitness representatives from the Chicago Park District. The overall goal for the event was to inspire Chicagoans to “get moving” and follow a healthy exercise plan.

The Marines giving the demonstration wore their desert camouflage trousers, boots, and martial arts shirts and lead the workout, demonstrating cardio and strength-building exercises to seemingly enthusiastic participants. Face down on soaked granite, a handful of guests completed pushups among other rigorous exercise events led by Marine Corps Martial Arts Program Instructors below the main stage.

The Marines dragged out their safety mats and striking cushions and set them up near the main stage, inviting on-lookers to take part in a demonstration of self defense techniques. People joined the Marines for a short lesson, taking to opportunity to carry out various moves — punches, elbow strikes and kicks — on their instructors holding a strike cushion. A few Marines joined groups of attendees in an aerobics program presented by the Chicago Park District representatives while others shared stories, information, and signed autographs for several kids. The plaza echoed with chants erupting from formations of firefighter and police recruits completing their workout routines in unison.

“One of our main focuses is to show the public we’re not in a dojo, wearing a gi, and to show them this isn’t a sport. We also want to show them all of the aspects of the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program — physical, mental, and character training,” said Sgt. Steven N. Richardson, an instructor at MACE.

The mats began to shine with growing rain puddles as the two-hour event rolled on into the afternoon, hosting continued guests from kids to adults not willing to let rain deter them from a chance to learn from the Marines.

“We strive to instill character in Marines that makes them good citizens, so we don’t only give them the tools to go out and harm someone, but to know when to use this and how to effectively use it, a responsible use of force,” Richardson said after teaching a short lesson.

Apart from a good workout and wet clothes, the handful of attendees seemed to leave the event with a greater knowledge of the Marine Corps, their martial arts program, and what makes them who they are.

Friday’s demonstration was a part of a Marine Corps-sponsored event dubbed “Marine Week Chicago, which is currently underway with events scheduled through Sunday.

More information about Marine Week Chicago can be found on www.marines.mil/marineweek




2nd Medical Battalion: 'A Well Oiled Machine'

UNITED STATES - The commonly heard phrase in the Marine Corps, "Navy corpsmen are a Marine's best friend," sums it all up.



Story by Cpl. Casey Jones
Date: 05.15.2009

Marines with II Marine Expeditionary Force, whether deployed or in garrison, rely heavily on the medical services provided by 2nd Medical Battalion, Combat Logistics Regiment 25, 2nd Marine Logistics Group.

The battalion's mission statement is to give Level II "medical support to the II MEF, during combat operations, and to be prepared to deploy on short notice in order to meet the war-fighters needs in any environment."

"No one really knows what we do," said Navy Lt. Darren Pierce, company commander, Headquarters and Service Company, 2nd Medical Battalion and 2nd MLG medical planner. "When Marines say, "Corpsman up!" they want someone to answer that call and that's what we do. Every service member wants to know that their Level II surgical and trauma resuscitation is available to them right then, right there, at all times."

The battalion, though it hasn't deployed as a whole since World War II, has a high turnover rate due to augmenting personnel in support of subordinate unit deployments and various other commitments.

"While we don't deploy as a unit and while our unit is shown as not being deployed on the documents or spreadsheets, at any given time, 80 percent of our personnel may be out supporting a mission," Pierce said. "We have people going to Brazil, supporting training teams; we have folks all over the U.S. assisting units wherever there may be shortfalls fulfilling billets."

The latest major effort for the battalion was properly training and preparing their personnel to deploy to Afghanistan as part of the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade.

"The MEB was put together fairly quickly, so we had to step up to the plate, and come up with a lot of information to guide the training for those guys," said Lt. Cmdr. David Everhart, the training and operations officer. "The guiding principle was Afghanistan is not Iraq, so we changed the training to be more focused on living in an austere environment. We got our guys ready to go despite a lot of challenges."

The battalion is forced to be resourceful expeditious and flexible in their daily undertakings due to the high rotation rate.

"It's a challenge from a manning standpoint, because we have people coming and going all the time," Pierce said. "It requires a lot of strategic planning, creative swapping of personnel and constant preparation for turnovers."

The battalion often receives two different types of medical professionals; those who've been in the Navy for a period of time but have never been attached to a Marine Corps unit, and those who are fresh out of schooling and training.

The junior corpsmen come to the battalion only skilled in level 1 medical care, so it is the battalion's job to educate and train them on level 2 care.

"When we get [new corpsmen] here, we have to teach them up to level 2, which is more surgical and more like an emergency room in nature," Everhart said. "It's a whole lot of training and knowledge we're putting into folks in a very short period of time."

The level 2 care consists of training at the base's Naval hospital emergency and operating rooms, X-ray department and two weeks at the Los Angeles Trauma Center. They must be Basic Life Support certified and complete the Tactical Combat Casualty Care Course.

They also must adapt to being on a Marine Corps installation.

"Medical Battalion is definitely a change for a lot of the junior corpsmen," said Command Master Chief Betty Hardy. "This is their first interaction with the Marine Corps and we give them plenty of opportunities to learn and then put it to use. A lot of them are surprised because they don't know what to expect."

The more experienced medical professionals, who have never been attached to a Marine Corps unit, come from bases across the globe. The battalion's main training focus for those individuals is to get them ready to deploy.

"We usually have about two weeks to put them together in a cohesive unit and teach them what they need to know to deploy," Everhart said. "Many of them have never worked with Marines before, so they get a crash course in pre-deployment training and Marine Corps culture. We get them ready to do something they've never done in a forward environment."

The battalion is about two-thirds Navy personnel with Marines making up the rest of the battalion.

The Marines' jobs include supply, the armory and motor transportation.

"Medical battalion is a great place for a Marine to learn and grow because it provides a unique opportunity to interact with so many medical professionals," said Sgt. Joseph Tucker, the armory chief. "So many classes are offered here that aren't offered with other units."

All other jobs, including administration functions, are filled by corpsmen.

"They do a really good job at juggling responsibilities," said Sgt. Maj. Miguel Rodriguez, the former battalion sergeant major who now serves as the sergeant major for Headquarters and Service Company, School of Infantry-East. "I arrived at the battalion with a certain level of expectations and they were completely surpassed because of the unit's professionalism and competence."

Hardy said if a complete stranger were to visit 2nd Medical Battalion, she would want them to see one thing: a team working as one.

"I would want them to see a blue-green team working as a cohesive well-oiled machine," she said. "It's not Marines and Sailors. We are a team, we're in the fight together and we know what we have to do."

May 14, 2009

22nd MEU loads ships, prepares to deploy

By Mark D. Faram - Staff writer
Posted : Thursday May 14, 2009 17:00:37 EDT

NORFOLK, Va. — The Bataan Amphibious Ready Group left Norfolk, Va., on Wednesday for a scheduled deployment to the Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf.

To continue reading:


NC Marines departing with Osprey on ships

CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. (AP) - A Marine Corps unit is leaving for seven months in the Mediterranean and the Middle East with its first MV-22B Osprey aircraft.


Associated Press
Published: May 14, 2009

The 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit’s 2,200 Marines and sailors will deploy Thursday on ships of the Navy’s Bataan Amphibious Ready Group.

The unit is a floating base that can respond quickly to crises. MEUs have rescued downed pilots, civilians and engaged in combat.

Ten Ospreys will deploy along with four heavy lift helicopters, four attack helicopters, two utility helicopters and six AV-8B Harrier jet fighters.

The Marines activated its first Osprey squadron a year ago and the aircraft that flies like a plane and takes off and lands like a helicopter has been used in Iraq.

May 13, 2009

Marine receives rare opportunity

CHICAGO — Lance Cpl. Sean R. Padfield, hardly ever gets the chance to show his family what he does in the Marine Corps. With Marine Week Chicago in full swing he’s taking advantage of the opportunity, including a static display at Sears Holdings today.


Cpl Erik Villagran,
1st Marine Division

Marine Week Chicago is a week-long Marine Corps-sponsored event, which is currently underway with events scheduled through Sunday.

Padfield, a rifleman with the Chicago-based 2nd Battalion, 24th Marine Regiment, volunteered to participate in Marine Week Chicago to give back to his community and showcase the Marine Corps.

“The idea behind Marine Week is great,” said Padfield, 23, from Zion, Ill. “It’s a good chance to show the people we’re not just warriors and to give back to the community.”

During Marine Week, Marines belonging to 2nd Bn., 24th Marines and other units, in an effort to help the community have been involved in cleaning up parks, providing vehicles at events and handing out and serving food to those in need within the Chicago area.

Families of the battalion have followed the Marines’ efforts and seem pleased with their Marines’ contributions.

“I’m incredibly proud of what my son is doing,” said David Padfield, Sean’s father. “I don’t think they get the credit they deserve. I wish every American taxpayer could see the quality of material the Marines work with. They’re getting their money’s worth.”

The materials Marines use to accomplish their mission have also been displayed during Marine Week Chicago. Many of the vehicles and the equipment Marines use have been showcased throughout the week at various locations. At these events both children and adults were found walking through the vehicles and handling an assortment of weapons.

“These events will answer a lot of questions for people,” said Sgt. James Guerra, 35, the scout sniper platoon sergeant for 2nd Bn., 24th Marines. “You can tell someone what a job is in the Marine Corps, but to actually see it in person is a different experience.”

Sean is hoping that brining his parents to an event will help them understand what he does in the Marine Corps.

“Sunday my family is coming out to the show in Arlington Park,” Sean said. “It’s going to be first chance for them to see what I do and what I used in Iraq.”

For more information about events during Marine Week Chicago visit www.marines.mil.

Local JROTC students attend Battle Color Detachment performance

CHICAGO — Approximately 1000 people, including 800 Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps’ cadets from the local area attended one of two performances by “The Commandant’s Own” U.S. Marine Corps Drum and Bugle Corps and Silent Drill Platoon at the historic Soldier Field Wednesday despite overcast skies and rain.


Pfc. Lucas Vega,
Marine Forces Reserve

The cadets came from 10 high schools throughout the city to witness first-hand the unique precision drill exhibition and musical performance of the Battle Color Detachment based out of Marine Barracks Washington, D.C.

Retired Marine Master Sgt. Robert Hayes, instructor of the JROTC at Noble Street Charter School explained why is important for his cadets to watch Marines perform in a city like Chicago.
“Most of these cadets have never seen these Marines perform so they get a better understanding of what the Marine Corps does besides fight,” said Hayes.

“The Commandant’s Own” led by assistant drum major, Master Sgt. Kevin D. Buckles marched onto the Chicago Bears’ field to begin the event following a Marine Corps Martial Arts Program demonstration by the Martial Arts Center of Excellence in the south concourse of the stadium.

Soprano bugler and public affairs chief for the Drum and Bugle Corps, Gunnery Sgt. Michael Fulwood, described how he felt about the performance for the cadets.

“We (the Drum and Bugle Corps) fancy ourselves as being the face of the Marine Corps,” he said after noting that their organization is sometimes the first and only impression the public gets of the Marine Corps.
Fulwood also said the performance was a small crowd in comparison to earlier events this week, which entertained nearly 4,500.
“We strive to go out and make it our best performance, even if it’s a small performance,” he said.

Following the band’s 30-minute time in the spotlight, the Silent Drill Platoon walked out of the northeast tunnel solidifying the segment for the on looking cadets.

A member of the 24-man rifle platoon, Cpl. Jerimiah Alamo, said he was glad to come out and perform for the cadets and to also be a part of the inaugural Marine Week.

“I think the Marine Corps is getting good exposure through these performances,” said the 22-year-old graduate of Wells High School, located on Chicago’s North Side.

Alamo, who hasn’t been to the stadium since the age of 11, followed the Bears growing up and idolized Walter Payton, even after his retirement.

“It’s a special feeling to come back to Soldier Field not as a spectator but as a performer on the Silent Drill Platoon,” said Alamo. “It shows Marines on a more personal scale.”

Giving back to the community one ‘cornerstone’ at a time

About 25 Marines, many from the Chicago-based 2nd Battalion, 24th Marines—a reserve infantry battalion — joined other volunteers at the Cornerstone Community Center in Chicago to help feed the needy and clean-up the facility today


Lance Cpl. Bryan G. Carfrey,
Headquarters Marine Corps

Today’s volunteer effort was a part of a week-long event dubbed “Marine Week Chicago,” which is currently underway with events scheduled through Sunday.

“Today the wonderful Marines came and wowed everyone,” said Sandy Ramsey, director of Cornerstone Community Center.

The Marines on hand cleaned out the basement, managing to fill a large dumpster twice with recyclables. They also worked in the kitchen serving food and were able to enjoy lunch with the native Chicagoans they served.

“It takes Marines to get that basement in order,” said Ramsey. “We certainly appreciate their hard work.”

“It’s very helpful to have them here,” said Cornerstone resident Kenisha Mhoon. “We need the help here, but don’t have many people to help.”

Kenisha, her 4-year-old daughter Kyla and husband Lamar arrived at Cornerstone in February after losing their apartment in a fire.

“They feed us three times a day, and try to find us housing,” said Mhoon. “They help us with the critical items.”

The facility houses everyone from infants to senior citizens and all types of families.

“It’s hard on us but we will get through it,” Mhoon said.

Individuals at the shelter usually stay to themselves because they don’t usually have anyone to talk to, said Mhoon.

“The Marines have told us stories we don’t usually get to hear,” said Mhoon. “People are still hanging around because they (Marines) are here, this place would usually be empty by now.”

The impact of the today’s volunteer efforts hit close to home for many — especially for those Marines native to the Chicago area.

“It’s really nice to be close to home and have such a positive impact,” said Lance Cpl. Zach L. Edelstein, a native of Niles, Ill. “Everyone is telling us how productive today has been and that we are making a difference.”

“I’m thrilled they chose Chicago, none of this would be happening if it wasn’t Marine Week,” said Edelstein. I’m personally very proud to be involved in the first ever Marine Week. I think today did a lot of good.”

The ongoing struggle never stops for such establishments, as the need for volunteers never slows down, according to Ramsey.

“We always need volunteers,” said Ramsey. “One of the Marines main things in life is to help and protect people. I’ve seen that today.”

The shelter doesn’t want the Marines to think their work went unnoticed.

“What the Marines did today lifts up the spirits of the entire staff,” said Ramsey. “I want the Marines to know they have made a difference here today.”

More information about Marine Week Chicago can be found on www.marines.mil/marineweek.

Concert unites local Marine community

CHICAGO — Electricity filled the air as the eager crowd of hundreds waited with anticipation for the United States Marine Corps Battle Color Detachment to begin their performance at Oak Park & River Forest High School, Oak Park, Ill., yesterday evening as part of Marine Week Chicago.


Cpl. Jose Nava,
Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego

“It was a great experience seeing the band and Silent Drill Platoon perform for the community of Chicago during Marine Week,” said Seaman Apprentice Zachary P. Dietrich, who recently graduated from U.S. Navy basic training in Great Lakes, Ill., and is awaiting his next assignment for training as a hospital corpsman.

The BCD is made up of three ceremonial units, the Marine Corps Color Guard, the Silent Drill Platoon and the Drum and Bugle Corps, stationed at Marine Barracks Washington D.C. The BCD travels around the country and world to perform for thousands of people a year.

The event began with the United States Marine Corps Drum and Bugle Corps, also known as the “Commandant’s Own”, performing a rendition of “Music in Motion” – a combination of traditional marching and contemporary music with choreographed drill movements.

The Silent Drill Platoon, a 24-man platoon that performs a unique and precise drill exhibition without using verbal commands followed the Drum and Bugle Corps. The Marines spinning and tossing of hand-polished M1 Garand rifles with fixed (and fully sharpened) bayonets clearly made an impression on the audience.

“There is not a better focused or more disciplined branch of the military that exemplifies the honor and courage it takes to defend this country,” said Kirk Morris, whose son, Pfc. Geoffrey Morris was killed April 4, 2004 in Anbar Province, Iraq.

Morris is also part of the Helping Unite Gold Star Survivors, a non-profit charitable organization designed to help and address the needs of those who suffer the loss of a service member.

“I have been to roughly 60 funerals, and I have to mention the respect that the Marines show for their brethren,” said Morris. “The way the Marines handle the flag, always in a crisp and clean manner, is a final showing of respect for their fallen brethren.”

After the performance of the SDP, the Marine Corps Color Guard, which carries the National Colors and the only official Battle Color of the Marine Corps, marched out onto the field. Once the Color Guard presented the colors as the National Anthem played, the whole detachment conducted a pass-in-review.

Pass-in-review is a drill movement in which the commander-of-troops inspects the troops as they pass in front of him.

At the end of the evening, the members of the BCD came out and interacted with the crowd.

“It is an honor to be part of the Silent Drill Platoon, but it is an even greater honor to come home and represent not only the Marine Corps but myself,” said Chicago native and rifleman, Cpl. Jerremiah Alamo. “It is always nice to come back and perform for the city of Chicago because it shows urban kids that there is more out there.”

The BCD will perform throughout Marine Week around the local area.

For more information of upcoming events, visit www.marine.mil/marineweek.

High ranking officers talk, answer questions at local university

In a sun-lit room of the Ida Ndyes Study Lounge in the Booth School of Business at the University of Chicago, three Marine Corps general officers held a panel in front of students and faculty members yesterday afternoon as part of Marine Week Chicago.


By Cpl. Jose Nava,
Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego

“Our institution believes in the development of young Marines and there are certain characteristics that a Marine needs in order to become a good leader that can be applied in the business world,” said Brig. Gen. Melvin Spiese, commanding general, Training and Education Command, Quantico, Va. “As some people are natural leaders and others are great staff supporters, both types of people are vital in order to accomplish the mission.”

During the one-hour question-answer period, the generals spoke about experiences they’ve had in the Corps throughout their careers and how a civilian might be able to apply Marine leadership principles in their businesses.

Noting similarities between the Marine Corps’ small-unit leadership principles and today’s business practice of accomplishing the mission through small teams, one student asked how the Marines apply small-unit leadership both in and out of a combat environment and how these principles could be applied to the business sector.

“The Marine Corps adapts well in almost any situation,” said Brig. Gen. David Reist, assistant deputy commandant, for Installations and Logistics Department, Headquarters Marine Corps, Quantico, Va. “We as an organization already work on small-unit leadership to solve the problems that arise because we have corporals on the streets of Iraq making choices a lieutenant would.”

Another MBA student asked how the Marine Corps fits into the joint operations environment in today’s type of warfare alongside multiple service branches.

“Through being with a group of people for a long period of time, habitual relationships are formed,” said Reist. “Building the bonds needed to become a cohesive unit is what happens, even across the different service branches.”

Before ending the panel, one student asked how the Corps has been able to retain its young Marines even during a time of war.

“All the Marines that have joined in the last seven or eight years knew that there was a chance of going into a combat environment,” said Spiese, who was commissioned through the Naval Reserve Training Officers Corps program at the University of Illinois in 1976. “The Marine Corps does not joke around about the possibility of being deployed, but those young people joined out of their own will and they decide to stick around on their own.”

The third speaker, Lt. Gen. John Bergman, commander, Marine Forces Reserve, New Orleans, has a local reserve unit stationed here in the city, 2nd Battalion, 24th Marines, 4th Marine Division. The unit has been involved with conflicts beginning with World War II and currently with present-day operations in the Middle East.

The Booth School of Business was founded in 1898 and offers programs to equip the students with all the necessary knowledge geared toward business and administration.

USS New Orleans Underway from Bahrain

MANAMA, Bahrain - The amphibious transport dock ship USS New Orleans returned to sea last night, fully mission capable after completing repairs at the Arab Shipbuilding and Repair Yard Shipyard dry dock in Manama, Bahrain.


Courtesy Story
Date: 05.13.2009

While underway in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility, New Orleans is scheduled to conduct Maritime Security Operations. The ship was damaged in a collision with USS Hartford March 20, 2009, in the Strait of Hormuz.

At the ASRY Shipyard, dry dock repairs were made to the ship's damaged hull, ruptured fuel tank and ballast tanks.

Although New Orleans was repaired in Bahrain, U.S. Naval Sea Systems Command engineers determined that Hartford will be repaired in the United States. The submarine completed sea trials April 24, and is making a surface transit back to its homeport of Groton, Conn.

Two formal investigations have been completed; a Safety Investigation and a Judge Advocate General Manual Investigation. Both are currently undergoing endorsement reviews, which are expected to take several months to complete.

May 12, 2009

Local Ladies Help Marines Keep Their "Cool"

Soldiers and Marines serving in Iraq and Afganistan face extreme weather conditions with temperatures reaching up to 140 degrees.

Click above link to find a news video link.

Reported by Kristen Elicerio
Posted: May 12, 2009 06:46 PM CDT

That's why a group of local women is helping make a cool impact on U.S. Marines headed overseas.

Neva Winfrey, a resident at Onalaska's Eagle Crest Senior Community, has a grandson who is a member of the 1/5 Marines, based in California.

To help her grandson and his fellow marines beat the heat when they head overseas Neva and her girlfriends are making homemade neck coolers.

A neck cooler is a cotton strip of fabric, divided into four pockets, each filled with polymer.

When the neck cooler is moistened, the polymer swells and becomes cool.

"There is something so incredibly powerless about having your grandson go to Afganistan. And just to know that you've done something, you've done some little thing it just makes you feel better to know you've done something, you know. Not much, but it just makes you feel better," said Winfrey.

Once soaked in water the neck coolers stay cool for about a week before they can be resoaked and used again.

The women at Eagle Crest made 100 neck coolers which they'll send to the Marines before they head overseas.

Marines, Afghan National Police Stay Vigilant in Southern Afghanistan

BAKWA, Afghanistan – Through binoculars, a Marine spotted suspicious men in the distance. Over the radio, he passed the word. The security convoy circled around and pushed up to investigate. As they moved in closer, shots rang out from the ridge ahead, May 4.


Story by Lance Cpl. Brian D. Jones
Date: 05.12.2009

The insurgents' rounds impacted close to the Marines' vehicles. On the order, the Marines returned fire causing the insurgents' retreat. The insurgents had completely fled before a quick-reaction force and air support arrived on scene. Shortly afterward, the Marines dismounted and went up the ridge. They found no traces of casualties, just fresh tracks and probable bunkers that may have been used as outposts.

This was not a typical patrol for the Marines of Company I, 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment (Reinforced), the ground combat element of Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force – Afghanistan. They have successfully kept security under control in Bakwa, Farah Province, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and such events are rare.

"None of them hesitated," said Cpl. Josh B. Reasbeck, the squad leader who led the patrol that day. "They were all employed the way they were supposed to be. They all did exactly what they were taught to do. I'm really proud of all them, and I have full confidence of their abilities."

Prior to alliance forces arriving in Bakwa, insurgent intimidation destroyed the community and pushed many people away. From testimonies of locals, the Marines know insurgents are still active in the area but have little influence.

"The security has increased tremendously with us being here and with the Afghan national police starting to step up," said Cpl. Chris L. Parra, a 3rd Civil Affairs Group non-commissioned officer attached to Co. I. "The people actually feel more secure now that they see the local government taking time to put in effort in providing security for the locals in the area."

The Marines of Co. I are operating from Forward Operating Base Bakwa and two combat outposts. They continually conduct mounted and dismounted security patrols, maintain quick reaction force teams and keep a 24-hour watch over the immediate areas.

"The threat out here is improvised explosive devices," said Reasbeck. "We don't really worry about direct fire so much."

Occasionally, the Marines will catch a local, who was persuaded by insurgents, planting an improvised explosive device in the road, said Reasbeck.

With security efforts going well, the Marines take time to focus on training an eager-to-learn ANP.

"They seem like they really want to do their job and be the protectors of Afghanistan," said Lance Cpl. Jacob A. Hutto, a team leader with Co. I.

Marines such as Hutto train the ANP with the help of interpreters to overcome the language barrier. The ANP are trained in basic formations, patrolling and weapons handling.

The ANP have made a considerable amount of progress from the time Co. I first arrived, said Hutto.

The Marines coordinate security patrols with the ANP, showing the local civilians that the U.S. and Afghan forces are working together, said Reasbeck.

With the ANP at their sides, the Marines visit villages to speak with locals. While in the villages, they take the opportunity to do assessments of what the people need and inquire about any activity in the area.

"Generally they're pretty happy and welcome us with open arms," said Hutto.

Reasbeck added that the locals are pleased to find that the Marines are willing to help with problems, such as ineffective wells. In return, the villagers are willing to share information.

"When I first got here, the people were very scared and very reluctant to come up and talk to us," Parra said. "Now they meet us and shake our hands in public. It's completely different now."

MV-22 Osprey in full flight in ‘Windy City’

The Marine Corps provided some local news reporters with the chance of a lifetime today allowing them to fly in a MV-22 Osprey.


by Lance Cpl. Bryan G. Carfrey,
Headquarters Marine Corps

The flight began at DuPage Airport in West Chicago, and from there continued to fly around the “Windy City” for 45 minutes before landing back at DuPage.

The interaction between Marines and local Chicago media took place during a rehearsal for the main show on Sunday in which Marines will depart Dupage Airport in a CH-46 Sea Knight helicopter landing at the Arlington Park Racetrack. Marines will then exit the aircraft and demonstrate a raid for individuals in attendance before being picked up in a MV-22 Osprey.

“We will be picking up the Marines in the old technology, dropping them off and will have the new technology picking them up,” said Capt. Craig Anderson, MV-22 Osprey pilot. “The MV-22 brings a lot to the fight with its legs and vertical take offs.”

Once the aircraft landed the local media personnel shuffled out of the Osprey with laughs and smiles on their faces.

“We certainly got off the ground quickly with the vertical take off,” said Tom Sandor, local radio host with WRMN 1410 AM. “The landing was very smooth as well. This is an example of taxpayer money being well spent.”

The CH-46 Sea Knight made its debut in January 1978 and is slower and larger than the MV-22. The MV-22 can carry up to 20 troops and 20,000 pounds of internal or 15,000 pounds of external cargo. The MV-22 offers a greater variety of mission capabilities.

The Marine Corps plans on slowly phasing out the CH-46 in favor of the Osprey.

“If this is the future of the Marine Corps I’m all for it,” said Sandor. “It’s a tremendous piece of gear and was a first class operation from start to finish. The country should be proud of the men and women of the United States Marine Corps and what they do on the daily basis,” said Sandor.

The Marines are just as pleased to be here in Chicago.

“Marine Week offers us the chance to show the people of Chicago what the Marine Corps does on the regular basis,” said Anderson. “We are here to help build the relationship between the Corps and the Midwest. It’s phenomenal, nice to get out here where there isn’t a heavy military presence,” added Anderson.

For details on the event Sunday visit www.marines.mil/marineweek

Party of five rocks West Side Chicago high school music class

A brass quintet with the Twentynine Palms Marine Band shared their music knowledge and answered questions about opportunities in the Marine Corps as musicians after performing at Roberto Clemente High School here today.


May 12, 2009
Staff Sgt. Luis R. Agostini ,
Recruiting Station Chicago

While many students, such as junior Elizabeth Torres, enjoy playing and reading music as a hobby, class elective or just to let out some steam, the employment outlook as a professional musician in the private sector is very competitive, if not bleak.

“Being a Marine is one of the most stable jobs, as a musician, that you can have,” said Schmidt, from Wauconda, Ill. “In the civilian world, if you rehearse and miss one note, you’ll get a handshake, a “thanks for coming out,” and never hear from them again.”

Their performance was one of several anticipated throughout the Chicagoland area as part of the inaugural Marine Week Chicago, which runs through Sunday. The weeklong event provides an opportunity for Chicago citizens to meet the men and women of the Marine Corps and learn about its history, traditions and value to the nation.

“Chicago has Marines on recruiting duty and some reserve units, and that’s about it,” said Sgt. Justin Schmidt, a 26-year-old trumpet player with the band. “There isn’t an area here that’s saturated with Marines, so this is a fantastic way to reach the community.”

Roberto Clemente High School, named in honor of the late Major League Baseball hall of fame right fielder and former Marine, sits on the corner of Western Avenue and Division Street in Chicago’s West Town. The 2,700-student strong school is comprised mostly of the city’s large Puerto Rican population from Humboldt Park.

The performance and question-and-answer session expanded the students’ knowledge and perception of the Marine Corps beyond its basic mission of making Marines and winning battles.

“I didn’t know the Marine Corps even had a band,” said Torres, 18. “Now I see that they just don’t fight; they have different talents as well.”

In addition to information on the basic physical and moral requirements for becoming a Marine, the students also were informed of the audition process, consisting of a prepared musical solo of one’s choice, scales and sight reading.

“Today’s performance showed the students that the Marine Corps is not all about fighting wars,” said Staff Sgt. Oliver Hollins, the noncommissioned officer-in-charge of Recruiting Substation North Center, Marine Corps Recruiting Station Chicago. “It broadens the students’ horizons as far as opportunities available to them as a Marine.”

Brian Frazee, the school music department chairman and band director, helped organize the performance. He hopes the session will help his students continue to enjoy and expand their love of music, as a hobby or profession.

“My students are just starting to realize that they can pursue music as a career, and the Marine Corps is one way to do that. They look at the (brass quintet) as the end result, and see where they could possibly end up in a few years,” Frazee said.

For more information, visit www. Marines.mil/MarineWeek.

Marines trade marksmanship tactics with Chicago Police Department

Marine combat marksmanship instructors from Weapons Training Battalion in Quantico, Va., trained with city police officers in tactical and pistol marksmanship at the Chicago Police Education and Training Academy here Tuesday.


By Pfc. Lucas Vega,
Marine Forces Reserve

Sgt. James White, a combat marksmanship instructor, led the veteran police officers through numerous pistol marksmanship exercises including one handed shooting, firing on the move, manipulations and vehicle bailout drills using Airsoft guns.

White, who also teaches tactical marksmanship with rifles and shotguns, worked with approximately 10 members of the department during the training exercise.

“They are all very skilled,” said White about the trainees. “ They already have a great amount of knowledge about pistol marksmanship and the training they receive from the academy almost mirrors what we (Marines) teach.”

Many of the policeman who received the training are prior-service, from the Army, Navy and a few from the Marines.

Former Marine Sgt. Jorge Heredia, spent more than eight years as a rifleman while in the Corps. After his service, Heredia fulfilled his dream of becoming a police officer in the city he grew up in.

“Being a law enforcement officer is something I wanted to do before I joined the Marine Corps. The Marines coming out and teaching us is a good refresher for all the veteran officers,” said Heredia, who also served as a ground training chief for Marine Aircraft Group 11 in Miramar, Calif., prior to getting out in 1998.

Heredia has served his country “out and about” and here locally, both from his eight-plus years experience in the Corps and during his present nine and a half years as a law enforcement officer.

“I miss the Marine Corps,” Heredia added while mentioning the Marine Corps chose a good, “pro-military city,” to host Marine Week in, “but I enjoy what I do now.”

May 11, 2009

Iraqi ballots honor fallen Marines

Hickory resident provides another memory for Gold Star families

HICKORY - Russ Meade knows the power of a ballot.

Click above link for photo.

By Larry Clark | Hickory Daily Record
Published: May 11, 2009

He saw it as a Marine during Iraq's first free election.

It's evident as a civilian when he presents a Gold Star family with an Iraqi ballot.

Gold Star families are those that have suffered the loss of a loved one in the military.

Presentations are always moving, Meade said.

"They are truly appreciative. The ballots are a reminder that their son or daughter fought for freedom in Iraq, and their sacrifice was not in vain."

The ballots are from the Jan. 30, 2005, election when 58 percent of eligible Iraqi voters went to the polls in spite of intimidation from insurgents.

Meade has photos of jubilant Iraqis with American troops. And he has photos of Gold Star families, somber but full of appreciation for the ballots that commemorate the service of their loved ones.

Operation Freedom Ballot, the name Meade gave his outreach effort, was not planned.

Meade had been out of the Marine Corps for 10 years, but he re-enlisted for the express purpose of serving in Iraq.

"I felt it was my patriotic duty," he said.

Meade was stationed in Fallujah, at the time a hot spot of violence, when the first Iraqi election was held.

When his hitch was up, he returned to his job at Piedmont Vending. He brought two framed ballots with him.

He was a liaison between the Iraqis and the Marines monitoring the elections to protect the Iraqis from violence or tampering.

That's how he was able to secure the ballots.

Wanting to do do more for the Marines overseas, Meade started Covert Threads, a sock distributing company.

The Hickory company buys socks locally. They're custom-made to withstand the rigors of field duty.

Meade would go to apparel and military supply conventions and take the ballots with him as an eye-catcher.

That's when a Gold Star father approached him and offered to buy the ballots.

Meade had to say no, but he contacted a friend in the State Department and was able to obtain more ballots.

The father got his ballot, with the help of Marine Parents, and Operation Freedom Ballot was born.

"That ballot is the essence of what it is all about. All of those purple fingers meant that my son, and all of the other fallen, did not die in vain," the father wrote to Meade and Marine Parents.

"There is no way that I can even come close to expressing my gratitude," he said. His son was killed in Iraq in 2004.

Meade has presented 12 commemorative ballots so far. He is searching for additional sources for original ballots. It's a finite supply, but he hopes to add to his supply.

He doesn't want to say no again.

Operation Freedom Ballot is under the Marine Parents umbrella. It's a group of programs for Marines and their families. Meade became actively involved when he was given permission make presentations at a convention.

He's now a board member.

The network includes The Care Package Project, Team Marine Parents and Operation PAL. There are several more organizations within Marine Parents.

The connection enables Meade to accept support for Operation Freedom Ballot.

He makes no money from the effort. "It's all about the men and women who serve. It's not about me. Any support goes to obtaining, framing and presenting the ballots."

Covert Threads, meanwhile, has branched out to base-layer garments. They're supplied by a Pinehurst manufacturer.

"Everything is 100 percent North Carolina-made," Meade said.

The apparel is sold in Marine base exchanges and several Navy exchanges.

But Operation Freedom Ballot gets much of his energy and spirit.

"The ballot represents freedom and peace. I have given them to families who support the war and to those who oppose it. All the families are grateful for a reminder that their loved ones accomplished their mission."

The power of the ballot has worked wonders in Iraq, Meade said, and he is determined to reach every Gold Star family he can with a keepsake of a brave Marine and the fight for freedom.

His ballot hangs on the wall of his office at Piedmont Vending.

"It reminds me of why I was there. It reminds me that my friends didn't die for nothing."

Inaugural Marine Week kicks off in Chicago

By Amy McCullough - Staff writer
Posted : Monday May 11, 2009 17:54:13 EDT

Chicago is home to eight Medal of Honor recipients and 27 Marine generals, so it is only fitting that the inaugural Marine Week kicks off in the Windy City.

To continue reading:


24th MEU Marines plunge into water survival training; learn to think through hot water situation

MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. — 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit Marines completed the new Modular Amphibious Egress Training course, a pre-deployment training requirement designed to help Marines survive an aircraft crash into water, at the Water Survival Training Facility here, May 5.


By Cpl. Alex C. Guerra,
24th MEU

These were the first 24th MEU Marines to complete the new course since it opened in Nov. 2008.

“The course prepares the individual Marine for his own individual safety,” said Mr. Ron R. Welsh, egress instructor, Survival Systems USA. “We are trying to teach these Marines the necessary skills to coordinate the evacuation and egress from a ditched helicopter.”

The course covers three phases of aircraft ditching and how the Marines need to react to each of them. First surviving the crash and the initial impact of a downed helicopter, then surviving the escape; the jettison and egress of a submerged aircraft in water, and finally, surviving the surface of the water and the wait for retrieval.

Marines first learn to escape from a Shallow Water Egress Trainer, a caged chair that’s inverted underwater, and are introduced to the Intermediate Passenger Helicopter Aircrew Breathing Device, a breathing apparatus, which becomes a lifeline to passengers trying to escape an aircraft submerged several feet under water.

Students were then blindfolded in the SWET chair and practiced how to escape and properly utilize the IPHABD. As the course progressed, the students had to escape from a helicopter simulator, the MAET, blindfolded and with protective vests and rifles.

As Marines from the MEU were submerged and overturned underwater several times, they learned how important it is to remain calm and rely on training while under duress.

“We are trying to teach the Marines how to think and use these procedures whether if it’s in a training device, a helicopter 30 feet underwater, or a vehicle flipped over in a [flooded] ditched,” said Philip Gosselin, egress instructor, Survival Systems USA. “The ability to think – that is what is going to get them out of [an aircraft].”

Panic was a factor that Marines learned to negotiate underwater. Instructors kept the emphasis on remaining calm and not panicking while facing chaotic situations.

It was a lesson for Cpl. Lindsey M. Philpot, operations clerk, 24th MEU, who was familiar with Survival Systems’ training courses. In previous training for egress from a downed helicopter it was simply performing a SWET chair egression.

“Going around a second time, I felt the training was better,” said Philpot. “I didn’t expect to go into the helo dunker (MAET) as many times as I did, and I learned not to let fear become between you and learning something new.”

The two-day course instilled Marines with a new sense of confidence to go along with valuable training as they prepare for their deployment with the 24th MEU next year.

2nd Medical Battalion: “A well-oiled Machine”

The commonly heard phrase in the Marine Corps, “Navy Corpsmen are a Marine’s best friend,” sums it all up.


By Cpl. Casey Jones,

Marines with II Marine Expeditionary Force, whether deployed or in garrison, rely heavily on the medical services provided by 2nd Medical Battalion, Combat Logistics Regiment 25, 2nd Marine Logistics Group.

The battalion’s mission statement is to give Level II “medical support to the II MEF, during combat operations, and to be prepared to deploy on short notice in order to meet the war-fighters needs in any environment.”

“No one really knows what we do,” said Navy Lt. Darren Pierce, company commander, Headquarters and Service Company, 2nd Medical Battalion and 2nd MLG medical planner. “When Marines say, ‘Corpsman up!’ they want someone to answer that call and that’s what we do. Every service member wants to know that their Level II surgical and trauma resuscitation is available to them right then, right there, at all times.”

The battalion, though it hasn’t deployed as a whole since World War II, has a high turnover rate due to augmenting personnel in support of subordinate unit deployments and various other commitments.

“While we don’t deploy as a unit and while our unit is shown as not being deployed on the documents or spreadsheets, at any given time 80 percent of our personnel may be out supporting a mission,” Pierce said. “We have people going to Brazil, supporting training teams; we have folks all over the U.S. assisting units wherever there may be shortfalls fulfilling billets.”

The latest major effort for the battalion was properly training and preparing their personnel to deploy to Afghanistan as part of the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade.

“The MEB was put together fairly quickly, so we had to step up to the plate, and come up with a lot of information to guide the training for those guys,” said Lt. Cmdr. David Everhart, the training and operations officer. “The guiding principle was Afghanistan is not Iraq, so we changed the training to be more focused on living in an austere environment. We got our guys ready to go despite a lot of challenges.”

The battalion is forced to be resourceful expeditious and flexible in their daily undertakings due to the high rotation rate.

“It’s a challenge from a manning standpoint, because we have people coming and going all the time,” Pierce said. “It requires a lot of strategic planning, creative swapping of personnel and constant preparation for turnovers.”

The battalion often receives two different types of medical professionals; those who’ve been in the Navy for a period of time but have never been attached to a Marine Corps unit, and those who are fresh out of schooling and training.

The junior corpsmen come to the battalion only skilled in Level I medical care, so it is the battalion’s job to educate and train them on Level II care.

“When we get (new corpsmen) here, we have to teach them up to Level II, which is more surgical and more like an emergency room in nature,” Everhart said. “It’s a whole lot of training and knowledge we’re putting into folks in a very short period of time.”

The level II care consists of training at the base’s Naval Hospital Emergency and Operating rooms, X-ray Department and two weeks at the Los Angeles Trauma Center. They must be Basic Life Support certified and complete the Tactical Combat Casualty Care course.

They also must adapt to being on a Marine Corps installation.

“Medical Battalion is definitely a change for a lot of the junior corpsmen,” said Command Master Chief Betty Hardy. “This is their first interaction with the Marine Corps and we give them plenty of opportunities to learn and then put it to use. A lot of them are surprised because they don’t know what to expect.”

The more experienced medical professionals, who have never been attached to a Marine Corps unit, come from bases across the globe. The battalion’s main training focus for those individuals is to get them ready to deploy.

“We usually have about two weeks to put them together in a cohesive unit and teach them what they need to know to deploy,” Everhart said. “Many of them have never worked with Marines before so they get a crash course in pre-deployment training and Marine Corps culture. We get them ready to do something they’ve never done in a forward environment.”

The battalion is about two-thirds Navy personnel with Marines making up the rest of the battalion.

The Marines’ jobs include supply, the armory and motor transportation.

“Medical battalion is a great place for a Marine to learn and grow because it provides a unique opportunity to interact with so many medical professionals,” said Sgt. Joseph Tucker, the armory chief. “So many classes are offered here that aren’t offered with other units.”

All other jobs, including administration functions, are filled by corpsmen.

“They do a really good job at juggling responsibilities,” said Sgt. Maj. Miguel Rodriguez, the former battalion sergeant major who now serves as the sergeant major for Headquarters and Service Company, School of Infantry-East. “I arrived at the battalion with a certain level of expectations and they were completely surpassed because of the unit’s professionalism and competence.”

Hardy said if a complete stranger were to visit 2nd Medical Battalion, she would want them to see one thing: a team working as one.

“I would want them to see a blue-green team working as a cohesive well-oiled machine,” she said. “It’s not Marines and sailors. We are a team, we’re in the fight together and we know what we have to do.”

May 9, 2009

Marines deploy to Iraq

KSDK -- Dozens of marines from across the Midwest, including the St. Louis area, have been called to duty.

Click above link to find a VIDEO.

PHOTO GALLERY: Marines deploy to Iraq

May 7, 2009

There were a lot of tears and goodbyes as family members watched as the marines lined up to board their planes at Lambert-St. Louis International Airport.

The group will first have pre-deployment training at Marine Corps training sites in California before departing for Iraq later this year.

The Marines and sailors of 3d Battalion, 24th Marines will be on active duty for approximately 13 months and will conduct full-spectrum operations in Iraq with other Marine units for a minimum of seven months.


Brigade buildup - 2nd MEB will have 8,000 Marines in Afghanistan by month’s end

By Trista Talton - Staff writer
Posted : Saturday May 9, 2009 9:12:40 EDT

CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. — When Lance Cpl. Ambar Clayton boarded a bus April 30 to begin her journey to Afghanistan, she was armed with an M16 and only a trace of anxiety.

To continue reading:


RCT-8 supports EPRT organize western Al Anbar Civic Leaders Conference

Western Al Anbar was considered ‘the wild west’ at the beginning of the insurgency in 2004. It wasn’t until after the Anbar awakening in 2006 that the area began to move forward democratically. Now civic leaders and politicians have assembled together to discuss better ways to reallocate provincial funding.


By Sgt. Eric C. Schwartz,
Regimental Combat Team 8

Regimental Combat Team 8 and members of the embedded Provisional Reconstruction Team organized an Iraqi Civic Leaders Conference to discuss solutions to city budget problems at Al Asad Air Base, May 4, 2009.

“We should prioritize what our people say they need,” said Farhan Fatikhan Farhan, mayor of Al Qa’im, Iraq.

“Some citizens don’t have a house to live in,” Farhan said. “We need to make sure there is an opportunity for the unemployed to have jobs.”

The Civic Leaders Conference helped establish the framework needed for the mayors, civil engineers, and local civic leadership to transform their ideas into detailed plans; structuring a way forward in developing essential services and other key development projects that will foster the stability necessary for economic growth throughout the western Al Anbar province.

City planners, district officials and town mayors separated into working groups to discuss how each town would solve future problems. In order to address these issues the civic leaders acknowledged the significant role the provincial planning office plays in synchronizing all planning efforts.

“If the mayors advocate for the provincial planning office, this would be a tremendous step toward a prosperous future for Iraq,” said Bob Kerr, the ePRT team leader.

The provincial planning office would streamline issues and make it possible for one delegate to meet with the provincial governor as a western Anbar representative; establishing a clear channel of communication focused on the priorities and needs of the Iraqi people as presented by the individual mayors from each town.

The regimental commander also stressed the importance of elected leadership producing results from their discussions.

“Freedom is more than a word. It is a way of life. And you cannot be free, no matter whether your government is elected by the people or not, if you do not have access to essential services like clean water and electricity,” said Col. John Love, regimental commander for RCT-8.

The main topic for discussion during the conference was the budgetary issues of each town. Each of the town’s representatives focused on the importance of emergency funds within their budgets. Although funding is allocated through the provincial government, towns must make sure there is money available during drastic situations.

During the working groups, the city planners discussed more involvement in city projects. This included decision making and deciding on who receives the contracts for the town’s projects.

“We need engineers and legal counsel to make it possible to direct the projects forward and execute the planning,” said Ahmad Abdul Mun’im, the mayor of Hit, Iraq.

Organization and project oversight were some of the other topics discussed at this conference. With the new drop in oil prices almost halving last years price-per-barrel, the local towns have had to focus on which projects are needed, holding off on social programs.

“About 70 percent of our project funding has dropped this year,” said Hamid Khaleel Ibrahim, the mayor of Rawah, Iraq.

“We’re now only focused on water, health, schools and roads,” added Husam Rashid Muhsen, the Rawah city engineering supervisor.

Key leaders were able to discuss and come to a realization that their town’s shared similar problems. The Civic Leaders Conference indentified that the road ahead would require detailed planning and coordination amongst the mayors, civil engineers and the provincial planning office, in order to pave the way for a productive, peaceful and sovereign Iraq..

“We have to be honest toward reconstruction and put our people first,” Farhan said. “We will now take the right path to the future of western Anbar.”

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

May 8, 2009

Afghan-bound GIs Surge Ahead of Gear

CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan -- Thousands of U.S. troops are being rushed to Afghanistan without the equipment they will need to fight an emboldened Taliban, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and military officials said Thursday.


May 08, 2009
Associated Press

The equipment delay is "a considerable concern," Gates said as he toured a dusty forward base in south Afghanistan where some 200 newly deployed Marines and sailors are arriving each day as part of the buildup of 21,000 new U.S. troops.

Marines who arrived in southern Afghanistan this week mark the vanguard of the expansion Obama has ordered to reverse a war his commanders say they are not winning. Pentagon officials said the initial Marine units are small advance parties, to be followed by much larger waves of forces in the coming weeks. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to describe troop movements.

"I heard this on several occasions today, that the equipment is coming in behind the troops and is not here and available for them when they arrive," Gates said at a news conference Thursday night in Kabul before a fly-around through bases in Afghanistan.

Gates attributed the delays to "the amount of equipment that has to be brought in and, frankly, the relatively limited infrastructure in terms of airfields and so on of how to get it in here."

Despite concerns about pressing U.S. military needs in Iraq and insurgents' interference with supply lines, the real problem has been "more a logistical challenge than it is anything else," Gates said. He promised to pursue the problem after he returns to Washington on Saturday.

The scope of the equipment shortage was not immediately clear. One Marine corporal at Camp Leatherneck told Gates during a 15-minute town-hall meeting in sweltering heat that he needed more communications equipment.

The Pentagon has already been grappling with how to beef up mine-resistant patrol trucks that have shown success in Iraq but are not resilient enough to withstand Afghanistan's hilly and rugged terrain.

The equipment shortage leaves U.S. troops vulnerable as the Taliban and other extremist groups are ramping up attacks with Afghanistan national elections approaching.

In a chilling reminder of the risks U.S. troops face, Gates said casualties among American, Afghanistan and other international security forces are up 75 percent since the beginning of the year.

Brig. Gen. John Nicholson, commander of military forces in Afghanistan's southern region, predicted a surge of violence through the Aug. 20 elections. But Nicholson said he expects the attacks will cease once the Taliban understands that they cannot drive away U.S. and international forces.

"There will be an increase in violence, initially, because the enemy will not easily give up their hold on the population," Nicholson told reporters at Camp Leatherneck. "But this will be a spike, not a continuous upwards slope."

The United States is sending 21,000 troops to add to the 38,000 already in place.

Taliban forces show few signs of backing down as the U.S. ramps up its forces - underscored by the confrontation with American troops this week in the western Farah Province that resulted in the deaths of dozens of Afghan civilians.

The incident, still under investigation by U.S. and Afghan authorities, came just days before Gates flew to Afghanistan, and Afghan President Hamid Karzai met in Washington with President Barack Obama and other top U.S. officials as well as Pakistani leaders.

At Leatherneck, a Marine asked Gates if U.S. troops in Afghanistan might be sent into Pakistan for peacekeeping missions. Hours later, in Kabul, an Afghan reporter asked a similar question.

In both cases, Gates said no.

"I do not anticipate at all there will be American troops going into Pakistan from Afghanistan to deal with this problem," Gates said.

Angels take wing; 2009 MCAS Beaufort Air Show roars into town

MARINE CORPS AIR STATION BEAUFORT, S.C. — Those who are fond of the noise they hear above them are in for an earful as the 2009 MCAS Beaufort Air Show dubbed “Blues Over Beaufort,” soars into the Lowcountry skies, May 16 and 17.


By Cpl. Jenn Farr.

The two-day event, which is free and open to the public, has a world-renowned roster featuring numerous aerial acts and demonstration teams from around the globe.

Gates are scheduled to open at approximately 9 a.m. on both days, and performances are slated to begin around noon.

“We are excited about this year’s event,” said Mark Hamilton, the coordinator for the Air Show. “We have a number of static display aircraft that are aimed at providing a truly interactive experience. Not to mention, for the actual Air Show, there’s not a bad seat in the house because the action happens overhead. There is something for everyone to enjoy.”

The Navy’s premier demonstration squadron, the Blue Angels, will be headlining the Air Show. Several other high-caliber aerial demonstration acts lined-up to wow the crowd include Patty Wagstaff Aerobatics Champion, the F-15E Strike Eagle demonstration team, Skip Stewart, the CF-18 demonstration team and the F-4 Phantom. Returning this year are the U.S. Air Force Reserve Jet Car Team, Jurgis Kairys, Tinstix of Dynamite and Rich’s Incredible Pyro.

“Hundreds of people have worked tireless hours to make this Air Show a fun, safe and memorable experience,” Hamilton said. “The event’s aerial demonstration line-up features many of the premier performers in the industry.”

The Air Show will also feature more than a dozen exhibits of various military and civilian aircraft including an AH-64D Apache, the Boeing B-52 from the 8th Air Force Museum Airpark, a 1969 Piper Cherokee 180 nicknamed Hound Dog One by the Carolina Basset Hound Rescue, an EA-6B Prowler, the Sikorsky CH-53E Super Stallion, Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 269 consisting of AH-1W SuperCobra attack helicopters and UH-1N Huey’s, and much more.

The Hilton Head Island Concours d’Elegance and Motoring Festival team will roll onto Fightertown to display a broad range of vintage cars from local car clubs. Whether a fan of muscle cars, antique classic, luxury or sports cars, racecars or hot rods, there is sure to be one or two polished beauties on site to rev auto-lover’s engines.

Admission, parking and blanket seating are free. Bleacher seating is also available and free on a first come, first serve basis. Box seating is available at $15 per person and VIP seating, which includes access to a private VIP Hospitality Lounge with complimentary food, beverages and full-service restrooms, are $50 per person though tickets are limited.

Food and drinks will be available for purchase. Visitors can expect family-priced stadium fare such as hot dogs, nachos, hamburgers, french fries and beverages including soft drinks, water and beer. Fun foods like corn dogs, elephant ears and cotton candy will also be available as well as bottled and canned beverages, ice cream, fresh lemonade and jumbo pretzels.

Active duty service members are in for a treat this year, according to Mark Story, Marine Corps Community Service’s Air Show Tiger Team leader. Though large inflatable toys will be on site for all visitors of the Air Show, active duty service members and their families will have access to an air-conditioned pavilion with free water, entertainment by TUX the Clown as well as face painting and temporary tattoos for children. Smaller “bouncy houses” will also be near the pavilion so parents can watch their children play while escaping the heat themselves.

“This is going to be a fabulous show and this year we jumped at the chance to do something special for active duty members,” Story explained. “Marine Corps Community Services wanted to have a place where service members could get out of the sun. Our mission is to take care of our Marines and sailors, and their families, this is just another way that we can accomplish that mission.”

Whether getting a first-hand look into the world of aviation history or keeping eyes in the sky for some roaring aerial demonstrations, the 2009 MCAS Beaufort Air Show is here for all to enjoy.

“It is our pleasure to invite our neighbors in the Lowcountry and beyond for this year’s Air Show,” said Col. John Snider, the commanding officer of Fightertown. “Inviting everyone to attend this free, family event is our way of thanking the community for the outstanding level of support they show us year-round.”

For more information visit the Air Show’s Web site at www.beaufortairshow.com or call the Blues Over Beaufort hotline at 228-7700.

'Little Warriors' Surf Camp to Host 100 Military Children

WASHINGTON, May 8, 2009 – Surfs up! Military children of wounded or fallen servicemembers will be able to catch their first wave this summer, thanks to Freedom Is Not Free, a California-based troop-support group.


By Sharon Foster, American Forces Press Service

The “Little Warriors” Surf Camp will host 100 military children ages 8 to 15 in La Jolla Shores, Calif., Aug. 10-14.

“This is the third year that Freedom Is Not Free has sponsored a surf camp for children of wounded and fallen servicemembers,” retired Marine Corps Lt. Col. Jay Kopelman, executive director of Freedom Is Not Free, said. “In the past, this camp was an all-sports camp, combined with enrichment sessions. I thought that a surf camp made a lot more sense. The venue is always available, and I happen to have caught the surfing bug after moving here a number of years ago.”

Kopelman said he hopes the surf camp will give the military children an opportunity to learn a new sport and connect with others who have similar experiences.

“There's something very peaceful and life-affirming about being on your board, even when the surf isn't particularly great,” Kopelman said. “This camp gets the kids away from home and the reminders of what has made their lives a little less happy – if even for just a day.”

The surf camp lasts five days, and each group of 20 campers attends for one day, which includes three and a half hours of instruction. Freedom Is Not Free will provide water and lunch for the campers, and Surf Diva Surfing School will give campers rash guard, ball caps and T-shirts to commemorate their experiences.

“Wahoo's Fish Tacos, a local restaurant, will provide burritos every day for the kids,” Kopelman said. “At the end of each day, as an added treat, all campers will get boards.”

Sector 9 Skateboards and INT Softboards will give Freedom Is Not Free boards to raffle, and Bessell Surfboards is designing a custom Freedom Is Not Free surfboard.

“I heard about this through a friend,” said Tim Bessell, owner of Bessell Surfboards. “I didn’t hesitate. Our servicemembers are on the front line for us every day. Their kids are paying a price when they are away or when they don’t come home. Their kids are their legacies. This surf camp will be an awesome experience for them.”

Kopelman said parents interested in sending their children to surf camp should call or send an e-mail to get more information on applying. The camp is only for children of wounded or fallen servicemembers.

“I've contacted the San Diego Armed Services YMCA to solicit potential campers and the family readiness officer for [the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force] at Camp Pendleton,” Kopelman said. “Because the population of military children from which to choose is so large right here in San Diego County, I hadn't thought about paying for an out-of-state camper.

“It wouldn't be out of the realm of possibilities,” he continued. “In fact, that might be something to actually promote as we go forward.”

Freedom is Not Free

May 7, 2009

Taleban grip on Helmand remains strong after eight years of war

Eight years after the Taleban were toppled from power, with hundreds of millions of pounds spent and more than 150 British lives lost in trying to defeat them, they still have a pervasive influence in the heartlands of Helmand province in Afghanistan.


May 7, 2009
Michael Evans in Lashkar Gah

According to the commander of British forces in the province, about 40 per cent of the most densely populated central region of the Afghan province remains under their sway.

Brigadier Tim Radford, commander of the 8,300-strong 19 Light Brigade, told The Times that although the Taleban do not necessarily control the ground in these areas of Helmand they have a presence sufficient to intimidate the local people.

Brigadier Radford’s strategy is to squeeze the Taleban out of the most populated central belt of Helmand, which includes Lashkar Gah, the provincial capital, Nad-e Ali, about 19 miles northwest, and Gereshk.

After two operations designed to clear these areas, the first by The Royal Marines codenamed Sond Chara in December, and the latter more recently by troops under Brigadier Radford’s command combined with the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), they have succeeded in pushing the enemy just a few miles north of the provincial capital. Soldiers from the Afghan National Army now hold the ground to prevent the insurgents from returning.

The British commander says that intelligence shows the Taleban’s strategy continues to be to threaten the provincial capital, and Allied efforts to turn it into a thriving city. He expects a “spike in violence” in the summer.

Donations from Britain and cash from USAID have funded extensive development projects here, including Lashkar Gah’s first civilian airport, a provincial courthouse, roads and street lighting, a new office for Alhaj Gulab Mangal, the Helmand Governor, and the experimental Bolon Farm complex, where farmers are shown alternatives to growing poppies.

Mr Mangal said that the Government’s counter-narcotics strategy was working. He said: “Mullahs are telling everyone that growing poppy crops is against Islam and we’re using the media to spread the message.

We’re also distributing wheat seeds to farmers. Some people don’t follow the government rules and still grow poppy, but cultivation has been reduced.”

Over the next few weeks 10,000 US Marines from the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade will arrive in southern Afghanistan and Brigadier Radford is working with them to draw up a plan to safeguard the construction work.

The British commander of Task Force Helmand will also have an extra 700 troops for four months to provide additional security for the presidential elections on August 20. He will be able to make use of the reinforcements only until the end of October, by which time his brigade’s tour will be over.

He will be in the unique position of having 9,000 British troops under his command. His successor will have to make do with the pre-surge 8,300, after Gordon Brown’s decision to reject the military option favoured by the Service chiefs to send another 2,000 troops to raise the total to 10,000. Brigadier Radford plans to divert 700 British troops from the south of the province, where they are currently based, to the central belt to boost the manpower in this key area.

Lejeune maps out new Wounded Warrior barracks

Staff report
Posted : Thursday May 7, 2009 21:41:11 EDT

JACKSONVILLE, N.C. — Marines recovering at Camp Lejeune, N.C., from wounds sustained in Afghanistan and Iraq are getting new digs conveniently located next to the base naval hospital.

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Former Marine NCO Takes Military Spouse of the Year Honors

WASHINGTON, May 7, 2009 – Tanya Queiro, a former Marine Corps noncommissioned officer, was named the 2009 Military Spouse of the Year at a ceremony held here today.


By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

Queiro, who achieved the rank of staff sergeant during her 13 years in the Marine Corps, also was recognized as the Marines’ top military spouse for 2009.

“Military spouses know that military service is not a job; it is a lifestyle,” Queiro said upon accepting her two crystal-glass award trophies.

Living the military lifestyle, Queiro pointed out, provides “endless opportunities” for adventure and learning for many military spouses.

Military spouses, she said, take care of the children and perform other important tasks as part of maintaining the family home front, while their husbands and wives are away on military deployments.

Queiro’s husband, Marine Gunnery Sgt. Jose Queiro, is stationed at Camp Lejeune, N.C. They are raising three children: two sons, Jose, 12, and Marcus, 10, and daughter Adrianna, 8. Queiro said she met her future husband while she was in the Marines.

After having spent two tours each in Afghanistan and Iraq, Gunnery Sgt. Queiro said he’s thankful for his wife’s support while he’s away performing special operations missions.

“I could walk out of that door at anytime, head to Afghanistan or Iraq, and know that everything back at home will be alright when I get back,” he said. “I don’t have to worry about any issues in the rear. I know my wife is handling everything.

“That means a lot. I can concentrate on the mission, and come back home alive,” the Marine noncommissioned officer said.

Military spouses support their husbands or wives and serve the communities in which they live, Tanya Queiro said in an earlier interview. She volunteered to participate in the Marines’ Lifestyle Insight, Networking, Knowledge, and Skills (LINKS) mentorship program that provides new military spouses with knowledge about Marine Corps’ traditions, customs and courtesies and overall military culture.

“All the volunteers are spouses teaching spouses,” she said. “So, we hand down best practices; things that have worked for us, and hopefully, things that will work for them in their marriage.”

Diane Jones, the spouse of retired Marine Gen. James L. Jones Jr., who now serves as the U.S. National Security Advisor, praised Queiro’s “very unique skill set” as a former military member as well as her selfless service to the military and civilian communities.

“Tanya goes out of her way to share this knowledge with other military spouses in an effort to make the difficult aspects of military life just a little easier for them,” said Jones, who serves on the MSOY selection committee.

Queiro is “a blend of toughness and compassion,” Jones continued, who “brings professionalism and commitment to everything that she does – her family, her friends, her work and volunteerism.”

Other military spouses honored as service-branch winners at the ceremony include:

 Army -- Misti Stevens, wife of Army Lt. Col. Wendell Stevens, Fort Campbell, Ky.

 Air Force -- Susan P. Webb, wife of Air National Guard Master Sgt. Ken Webb, Air National Guard Base, Glasford, Ill.

 Coast Guard -- Trish Pruett, wife of Coast Guard Cmdr. Jim Pruett, U.S. Coast Guard District 7, Miami.

 Navy – Christy Kuriatnyk, wife of Navy Lt. Cmdr. Alex Kuriatnyk,
Naval Construction Battalion Center, Gulfport, Miss.

Jones’ husband, U.S. National Security Advisor James L. Jones Jr., a retired Marine four-star general, provided some remarks before the award ceremony.

“The military families are very, very much part of our national security portfolio and they have to be considered and maintained right up there at the forefront of things,” the senior White House official said. “And, to all of the military spouses today, since today is Military Spouse Appreciation Day, I want to thank you and express my deepest appreciation for everything you have done and everything you are doing and will continue to do.”

The MSOY award and ceremony are sponsored by Military Spouse Magazine and USAA, a financial services firm that serves military members and their families.

The Military Spouse of the Year awards honor people who embody the best characteristics of today’s military spouse, said Babette Maxwell, a Navy spouse and the co-founder and executive editor of Military Spouse Magazine. Military spouses, she said, have provided important and distinguished service for the nation since the Revolutionary War.

And, the Military Spouse of the Year awards, Maxwell said, are “about recognizing the challenges and sacrifices that are unique to the military community.”

Mail Call – It's Finally Here

USS BOXER – A voice announces "Mail orderlies, muster in the hangar bay," over the ship's announcement system. Next, a crowd of service members wrap around aircraft, parts and machinery in the ship's hanger-bay, each having a sense of urgency to receive that special package they have been waiting for.



Story by Cpl. Robert C. Medina
Date: 05.07.2009

A human chain is then formed, transporting all the ship's mail from the flight deck elevator to the staging area. The mail is then broken down by service and unit, and eventually whittled down to the individual Marine or Sailor.

"Mail does not come everyday," said Cpl. Dustin M. Matovich, a machine gunner with Weapons Company, Battalion Landing Team 1/1, 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit. "The longest we have been without mail is around a month."

When mail does come, it's a good day for all who receive its special gifts.

"It's all the little things that we get in the mail that make for a good surprise," said Matovich, also know by his platoon as "Bam Bam," from Walkerton, Ind. "There is no other feeling like it."

Matovich said their days on ship are spent doing weapons maintenance, vehicle maintenance, classroom instruction and physical training. He said they look forward to the occasional mail commodities.

Mail is one of the few luxuries Marines look forward to receiving when on deployment. It's one of the best ways to raise morale of the Marines thousands of miles from home.

"Mail is not the most important thing as far as mission accomplishment, but it's definitely high up there as far as troop morale," said Sgt. Hugh Clark, intelligence systems chief with the 13th MEU. "It serves as a reminder from back home that there are people who appreciate what you are doing."

Clark, from Bronx, N.Y., explained how he at one point had waited for three different mail deliveries for one special package. Each time he had sorted the mail it took between five-to-eight hours.

"It started getting frustrating, then that turned in to me just laughing about it," said Clark. "It was to the point where I was just happy to get a bill."

Once Clark received the package, he was ecstatic.

"It definitely brightened up that day," said Clark. "Mail is one of those things that makes you feel good—you just know that it makes your life here on ship a little more comfortable."

Conference brings vets, caregivers together

By Kelly Kennedy - Staff writer
Posted : Thursday May 7, 2009 19:58:16 EDT

When an improvised explosive device blew up in Fallujah, Iraq, in 2004, Derek McGinnis, a former Navy corpsman, lost the bottom half of his leg.

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May 6, 2009

Construction Crews in Southern Afghanistan Prepare for Troop Increase

KABUL, Afghanistan – Expansion efforts are well under way as the majority of the 21,000 troops deploying to Afghanistan this summer will be concentrated in the southern region.


Associated images:

Story by Master Sgt. Kanessa Trent
Date: 05.06.2009

Leaders at every level are working around the clock to ensure basic infrastructure is in place to continue receiving troops in Kandahar before pushing them out to the forward operating bases, which are in various stages of development throughout the region.

"Every Forward Operating Base we construct will be expeditionary. Incoming troops will get the basics to maintain safety and do their missions," said Command Sgt. Maj. Iuniasolua Savusa, during a battlefield circulation visit to the area May 1. "This expansion was meant to be austere."

Savusa, the International Security Assistance Force and U.S. Forces-Afghanistan command sergeant major, said that translates to basic life support needs such as tents for sleeping and work space to setting up dining facilities, showers and toilets.

As FOB development continues, troops could remain in Kandahar for several weeks before deploying out to their final destinations throughout the summer months.

Command Sgt. Maj. Mike Schultz, the Joint Sustainment Command-Afghanistan Command Sergeant Major, said it's all about expectation management.

He knows first-hand the importance of this as his own unit, the 143rd Expeditionary Sustainment Command was re-missioned from Kuwait to Afghanistan, and his command prepared the Soldiers for what they could expect when arriving in Kandahar.

"The reality of the life troops are going to have for the amount of time they are here [in Kandahar] is that it will be overcrowded," Schultz said.

Depending on their expectations, troops can either be "pleasantly surprised that it's not as bad as they expected or it'll be exactly what they thought it would be like." He added that MWR facilities such as gyms, small PXs and Internet cafes are being built as well to give troops a place to unwind and be positively engaged.

"The amount of U.S. troops coming in and the amount of space we're trying to put them in is our biggest issue. It's all dependent on the FOBs. We're relying on a lot of contractors and a lot of other civilians to help build some of these FOBs. We can't push them out if there is no life support."

And it's not just contractors who are doing the heavy lifting. The Navy Seabees, and the 4th Engineer Brigade which was just relocated from Iraq, are constructing buildings and life support systems all throughout the south.

The Marines are putting up the tents and setting up cots they've just received in preparation for the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade that will soon arrive. They are also laying matting in the desert creating a landing pad for their fleet of helicopters.

Plans are in the works to develop USAF-approved landing strips for C-130s and other fixed wing aircraft at several locations. This is of vital importance for logistical support to the remote areas.

Resourcing the needs is the biggest issue at present all across the region, while supply systems are inundated with requests for everything from nails to electrical wire. Air-conditioning units for the sleep and work tents are also on order and will be a welcome site as temperatures in the south are already hovering in the high 90s most afternoons. Awaiting the arrival of those resources has caused some frustration while at the same time kept leaders engaged.

"There's that point of frustration where we all learn and learn quick. We learn about each other, we learn about our mission, and we learn how to get along with each other because if we don't we all fail with what we're here to do to support our troops," Savusa said.

3/6 Kilo learns tough lessons from mountain warfare training

What you don't know can hurt you.


By Lance Cpl. John Faria,

That's the lesson Marines with Company K, 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, learned during mountain warfare training, here, April 23.

Company K was tasked with performing a company-level movement between two landing zones, but what they didn't know was that 11 insurgent role-players were waiting to ambush them.

"The purpose of this training is to create friction, and force the unit to work together to solve problems," said 1st Lt. Robert Schotter, the battalion intelligence officer who observed the training. "The scenario let them handle an assault, let them see the problems, assess casualties, and then have to deal with all the consequences."

It began with a simple but costly mistake; the lead platoon missed a radio message ordering them to stop. They ended up two kilometers from the main body when the enemy unexpectedly opened fire from atop a cliff. The Marines were on their own against an entrenched enemy of almost equal size.

"This terrain is a defender's dream," Schotter said. "We're using this training to paint the picture that this area is easy to defend, so Marines need to send a larger force than usual."

First platoon snapped into action and advanced to contact with the enemy under heavy fire. However, they were slowed by the heavy packs they carried as they sprinted across the broken landscape.

This experience taught them how, in extreme terrain, two kilometers or a heavy pack can make the difference between victory and defeat.

The battalion commander, Lt. Col. Brian Christmas, explained to the Marines how that kind of first-hand knowledge is exactly why they came to Camp Dawson.

"You did great, but even when you do well, you're going to deal with casualties,” Christmas said. "You need to learn how to handle them."

The whole company gathered together as the sun set to learn as first platoon shared the day's experience.

"The only way we improve is to learn from the mistakes we make and the mistakes of our buddies," Christmas said. "Share what you saw so we can all learn from it."

Lessons were shared, questions were answered, and in the end, the Marines of Company K, said they were better for it.

May 5, 2009

3/9 speaks to the benefits of training in Yuma

Marines are no stranger to being in the field. They rise early in the morning, pack into armored vehicles and prepare to press through strenuous training schedules.


By Cpl. Brian Lewis,

The Marines of 3rd Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, traveled to Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Ariz., to take part in a training evolution unusual for infantry battalions from March 23 to May 1st.

“The trip to Yuma gave the battalion a chance to train at a high level of combined arms on both the ground and aviation side,” said Lt. Col. Daniel Greenwood, the battalion commander.

The battalion visited ranges to reinforce the Marine’s skills during the month they were there, but also benefited from various air support exercises taking place.

“We learned how to advance while using helicopters for support,” said Sgt. Travis Ball, a squad leader with Company L. “We trained on how to coordinate movements with the air support, which is something we cannot usually do on our base ranges.”

The opportunities available on the ranges added a sense of realism that proved vital to the Marines.

“This training was one of the first times we practically had free reign over our Marines,” said Cpl. Christopher Whited, a squad leader with Company L. “Instead of shooting in one direction, we actually took fire from all sides, and used indirect fire and air support.”

The squad leaders used the unrestricted training environment to utilize team leaders and watch their Marines.

“We watched our guys while letting the team leaders take charge of the Marines,” said Cpl. Jayce Meche, a squad leader with Company L. “We saw their weaknesses and strengths.”

The battalion has more preparation to complete before they deploy, and rely on these evolutions to prepare them. The battalion expects to deploy later this year.

“Soon, we’ll take part in the Mojave Viper training, and then deploy later this year,” said Ball. “The training has definitely prepared us for the deployment, and anything we aren’t fully ready for, we’ll take care of in Mojave Viper.”

May 4, 2009

Iraq war veteran tries to catch on with the Broncos

Rulon Davis may or may not make the final 53-man roster for the Denver Broncos. If he doesn't, though, it won't be because his work ethic, attitude or discipline are lacking.


Mon May 04

That's because Davis, who our own Michael Silver featured before the draft, is a Marine. He joined out of high school, and was a Marine reserve while playing football at San Antonio Junior College. He racked up 16½ sacks as a freshman, and naturally, Pac-10 teams then smothered him with scholarship offers.

But he was a Marine, he got the call to go to Iraq, and he went. From Mike Klis's excellent article about Davis today in the Denver Post:

"I wanted to get back as soon as I possibly could to start playing football again," Davis said. "But I had to do my job. I signed the contract, and I like to honor my commitment."

Davis does not give specifics of his tour of duty. When asked, he politely asked to change the subject. Civilians who have never served can only understand they will never understand.

"It's tough," he said. "I think about it all the time."

After returning home, he played his last two seasons with Cal, and thought he was going to get drafted by some team last weekend. But it didn't happen, and the Broncos scooped him up as a free agent.

So here he is, a 25-year-old rookie with a world of experience. It's too early to say what his chances might be of making the team, but he played defensive end in a 3-4 at Cal, and will be asked to play the same position with Denver. The Broncos don't have an abundance of talent at the position, so that works in his favor. Head coach Josh McDaniels seems to like him, too.

"The way he speaks, he's very correct, proper," Broncos coach Josh McDaniels said. "He treats everybody with a great deal of respect. He listens, asks good questions. Sits up in his chair, always attentive, those types of things. You can tell he was brought up the right way."

I think we all wish him good luck in making the team. That's the least we can do for him.

A Day in the Life of a Combat Cargo Marine

INDIAN OCEAN, USS Boxer – The only noises coming through the thick, camouflage painted door was the feint laughter of Marines singing the chorus to "Yellow Submarine." Through the door is the Flight Deck Debark office where Sgt. Derrick S. Thompson and his seven-man Combat Cargo team reminisce on their morning wake-up call.



Story by Megan E. Sindelar
Date: 05.04.2009

Thompson, a parachute rigger with the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit, is also one of the three team leaders with USS Boxer's Combat Cargo flight deck platoon.

It is 7:00 a.m. and Thompson, a Rialto, Calif. native, walks around Combat Cargo's berthing to wake every Marine with the song, "Yellow Submarine." After the Marines are awake, showered and moving, they begin morning clean-up.

TIME 7:45 a.m.
After clean-up and berthing inspection, Thompson receives a call with a change of flight-quarter hours. His team is the working flight deck unit for the day. After the call, the team heads toward the office to prepare their float-coats and cranials, or personal protective equipment, for the rest of the day's operations.

TIME 8:00 a.m.
Flight-quarters called over the Public Address System signals the Marines to the flight deck for a Foreign Object Debris walk-down, which is comprised of Marines and sailors walking the entire flight deck picking up any tools, trash or other objects on the ground that could cause damage to machinery.

"FOD walk-down is a boring, painstaking evolution, but it is necessary because it prevents costly damage to the aircraft," said Cpl. Michael L. McKenna, a Sebring, Fla. native, member of Combat Cargo and a CH-46E crew chief with Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 163 (Reinforced), 13th MEU.

TIME 9:00 a.m.
After conducting the FOD walk down, Thompson and his Marines are able to take turns, two at a time, going down to the mess decks to enjoy breakfast before returning to the office for the rest of the day's work.

TIME 9:30 a.m. - 12 p.m.
Their work consists of two major parts, embarking and debarking all gear and personnel transported to the ship by helicopter.

Combat Cargo Marines help unload mail and gear by hand or, if lucky, fork-lifts. They also make a log of each person who comes aboard to file with the ship's records.

When mail or gear flies out, they pack the helicopters with any items that need to be loaded. When personnel fly out, Marines equip the debarking persons with float-coats and cranials, which are safety requirements for any person entering the flight deck. They line the debarking persons on the ramp and when they receive the green light, two members of the team lead them out to their designated helicopter.

"My favorite part of being on Combat Cargo is being able to see what comes on and goes off the ship," says Lance Cpl. Josbie M. Morris, a Jacksonville, Fla. native, Combat Cargo team member and aviation electronics technician with HMM-163 (Rein.), 13th MEU.

Thompson's team has gotten very close. They have been working together for just over six months now and have learned how to manage their time and know what is expected of them.

"Our team is like one big family and the other flight deck teams are like cousins to us," said Thompson.

TIME 12:00 p.m.
During a short break from working, Thompson allows his Marines to eat lunch, two at a time, while other Marines pick up the slack.

TIME 1:00 p.m.
After lunch, the Marines continue working until the operation tempo dies down. They break down into groups of two or three to stay in the office in case they are needed. The groups switch out every two hours until flight-quarters end, often late into the night.

TIME 4:00 p.m.
With only two aircraft remaining on the flight schedule and no requirements for Combat Cargo, they lock up the office early and enjoy the rest of the day to themselves.

When the day is done and they finally 'hit the rack,' the next team prepares to take over the wake-up call responsibilities that begin the following day's routine.

"Being on Combat Cargo has shown me a different aspect of a MEU deployment and it gives me something to do everyday," says Thompson. "It gives me a sense of accomplishment since we are the working crew who bring the food and mail aboard, bringing joy to awaiting Marines and Sailors."

May 3, 2009

The 2009 TIME 100 - Brady Gustafson

Lance Corporal Brady (Goose) Gustafson and his 20 fellow Marines sensed trouble on July 21 as they crept into the Afghan village of Shewan and saw civilians drifting away. Moments later, a barrage of rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) and machine-gun fire enveloped Gustafson's mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicle (MRAP) and its three trailing humvees. An RPG exploded inside his vehicle, the resulting blast searing his face as it rushed through the open turret where he was manning the machine gun. He started shooting at gun flashes from an estimated 100 Taliban, some only 20 yards away. Gustafson, 21, stood up for a better firing position but was instantly racked with pain. "I looked down, and a lot of my right leg wasn't there," he says. "I could see muscle and bone, and I was bleeding pretty hard." The RPG had taken out six inches of leg bones and flesh. Gustafson's booted right foot dangled uselessly, attached only by his leg's calf muscles.


By Mark Thompson
May 3, 2009

The MRAP stopped. The driver, hit in the head by shrapnel, appeared to be dead. Enemy machine-gun fire kept most of the other Marines inside their vehicles. Gustafson watched as his turret's bulletproof windows cracked under the onslaught. Somebody had to fire back. A Marine inside the MRAP yanked a tourniquet off his flak jacket and wound it tightly around Gustafson's shattered leg.

His wound stanched, Gustafson finished firing off the ammo belt's 200 rounds, pausing between each six-round burst to keep the barrel from melting. He pulled up and fired off another 17-lb. belt. After nearly 10 minutes, weak from blood loss, he swapped places; the other Marine kept firing as their driver came to and they escaped.

Gustafson now has a fake lower right leg and a real Navy Cross, the nation's second highest award, for valor. But the most important outcome, according to Gustafson: "We didn't lose a single Marine."

Fast Fact: To date, only 29 Navy Crosses have been awarded during the hostilities in Iraq and Afghanistan

Injured Marine shares story to inspire others

By David Carter, Stars and Stripes
Pacific edition, Sunday, May 3, 2009

YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — Lance Cpl. Matthew Bradford was nervous.

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Photos accompanying article:

Hyperbarics under study as a treatment for traumatic brain injury

Researchers are not sure whether the treatment will have any positive impact

Brain injuries are fast becoming one of the signature injuries of the wars in Iraq and Afghantistan. Now, some San Antonio researchers are trying a cutting edge way to treat these wounded warriors. It involves oxygen


10:16 PM CDT on Sunday, May 3, 2009
Wendy Rigby


A sudden blast. A bone-rattling jolt. Soldiers who have fallen victim to bombs set off in the war on terror say it’s an experience that rocked their world.

“I remember hitting my head on the roof and then coming down and eating the steering wheel and then after that, I really don’t remember anything besides laying on the ground and having the doc ask me if I was okay,” described John, a Marine who suffers from a traumatic brain injury.

Microscopic damage has been causing a disturbing array of symptoms he can’t ignore. “Reflexes, response time, that’s kind of delayed. I have a terrible memory, slight hearing loss. Slight loss of vision in one of my eyes,” John said.

John has volunteered for a study at Brooks City Base. He’s heading into a hyperbarics chamber, the kind originally used to help divers with the bends. Now, it’s a state-of-the-art treatment for wound healing.

The idea is that a high concentration of oxygen in the blood will stimulate healing of injured brain tissue. But no one knows for sure. “We don’t know if it will help or will not help,” said Dr. George Wolf, a hyperbarics medicine researcher. “The oxygen in a higher level gets to the metabolic side of the cell and jumpstarts it back into a more functional mode.

50 Marines, soldiers, airmen and seamen with traumatic brain injuries will go through this program over the next year. They’ll sit in the hyperbarics chamber 30 times, about two hours at a time. After they’re finished, scientists will try to gauge if it’s had any kind of positive impact on their cognitive ability.

24-year-old Brian is another injured Marine trying to help his fellow soldiers by testing hyperbaric therapy. He’s a blast victim who wasn’t diagnosed with a brain injury until months later.

“Bad reflexes. Memory loss,” described Brian. “Can’t remember anything unless I write it down.”

A series of cognitive tests help determine if the oxygen treatment is going any good. These young men and women don’t even know if they’re getting the real treatment or not. But they’re willing to gamble on a solution to their frustrating problems.

“I hope the study does well,” Brian said. “I hope they gather all the information they need to. Hoping it helps other people out.”

Even if it helps, hyperbarics won’t be a solo therapy for these wounded warriors. But if it works in conjunction with drugs and therapy, this could become an important treatment for thousands of civilians, too.”

“God willing, we’ll have a positive study,” Wolf said.

May 1, 2009

Sweathogs return home from Iraq

Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, S.C. — Marines and sailors from Marine Wing Support Squadron 273 returned to Fightertown April 23 and 25 from a seven-month deployment to Al Asad Air Base, Iraq. Families waited in eager anticipation as they watched the commercial airliner taxi down the flightline towards the hangar. As the Marines and sailors stepped out of the plane and down the stairs, they were ordered to go see their families. A mass wave of people surged forward, reuniting with loved ones after seven months


By Pvt. Spencer M. Hardwick,
Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort

“It’s great to be around my family again,” said Lance Cpl. Chris Smiley, a bulk fuel technician with the air operations company. “To be able to see my wife and kids again is really great. I’ve missed them so much. This day can’t get any better.”

While deployed, the squadron operated out of Al Asad Air Base, Iraq and provided aviation ground support for Multi-National Forces West in Al Anbar Province, Iraq. They conducted numerous patrols across the province and sent out engineers to rebuild and refortify Iraqi structures and camps.

“They conducted more than three hundred thousand miles of combat convoys,” explained Lt. Col. William Bowers, the squadron commanding officer. “I, honestly, could not be more proud of my Marines and sailors. They really did a fantastic job at integrating air and ground forces to rise to any challenge that the Marine Air Ground Task Force asked of them. They did a great job, and I am very happy to lead them.”

Although the squadron was away from home during the winter holidays, they found ways to keep morale high. They held events such as a pie-throwing contest and a “gong show” night.

“It was tough keeping the Marines and sailors engaged throughout the holidays, but that’s to be expected,” explained Gunnery Sgt. Kevin Davis, the engineer company first sergeant. “I mean, they’re a long way from home and they missed their families. We found ways to keep morale up though. That pie-throwing contest was just plain crazy. Junior Marines were almost fighting for pies to throw in the staff noncommissioned officer’s faces. It was a lot of fun to watch. Then, we had the “gong show”, where they could imitate anyone in the unit they wanted. It was pretty funny seeing some of the impersonations they had. Those two things really stood out to make sure that everyone stayed motivated.”

With the success of the deployment and the feeling of relief from seeing family and friends again, an elated sense of joy filled the open hangar as they waited for them to be dismissed.

“It’s great to finally be home to see my loved ones,” Davis said. “It’s really a great feeling to come home from deployment. Your pride comes out and you stick your chest out because you’re proud of what you’ve accomplished. It’s really been a good day and I think it’s going to keep getting better.”

Female Marine serves as gunner, Lioness in Iraq

CAMP AL TAQADDUM, Iraq — A city girl from coastal California shocked her relatives and friends when she became the first in her family to join the Marine Corps in 2005.


By Lance Cpl. Melissa Latty,
2nd Marine Logistics Group

Cpl. Susy H. Aguilar started her Marine Corps career as a supply clerk at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif., and shortly thereafter deployed to Iraq in 2006.

During her 2006 deployment, Aguilar stepped out of the warehouse and into the ranks of an infantry unit to serve as a female searcher as a Lioness. The Lioness program was introduced earlier in Operation Iraqi Freedom to ease cultural sensitivities over interaction between Coalition forces and Iraqi females, and Aguilar jumped at the chance to serve with an all-male infantry unit. Her experiences with the grunts had a profound impact on her.

“There was a time when we were out in what seemed like the middle of nowhere,” said Aguilar, recalling her first combat experience. “I was already scared as it was, and then we started to get mortared.”

“There was a little [Iraqi] boy who I had been interacting with,” she said. “He was really scared and wouldn’t leave my side. One of the grunts came back, gave me his flak jacket and told me to put it on the boy.

“He had no problem giving up his flak and risking his own safety. That is when I decided I wanted to do a more combat-related [job]. I wanted to be more like them.”

Prior to beginning her next deployment to Iraq, Aguilar volunteered to go through the machine gunner’s course not thinking she, as a female, would be called upon to put these skills to use.

Though she had her doubts, Aguilar had already extended her contract to the Marine Corps in hopes of experiencing the deployment from the turret of an armored vehicle.

“I was really shocked when my name was called and I had been chosen,” Aguilar said.

Aguilar was then assigned to Transportation Support Company, Combat Logistics Battalion 7, 2nd Marine Logistics Group (Forward), and deployed for her second tour to Iraq in February 2009. Not only was Aguilar new to the company, she also had to establish her capabilities in the eyes of her male counterparts.

“I wasn’t nervous, but I knew I had to prove myself to them when I was taking apart the gun, cleaning it, or doing a test fire,” she said. “I always felt like they were watching me to see if I knew what I was doing.”

However, it didn’t take long for the platoon to realize that Aguilar had what it took to be a gunner and could be counted upon to provide fire support if necessary.

Aside from her role as a gunner, Aguilar ensures the trucks are ready to go before a convoy, and makes sure all the right personnel are on manifest documents.

“Of all of my corporals, Aguilar is definitely one of the best,” said Staff Sgt. Andy Smith, Aguilar’s platoon commander. “She does her job and a lot more. She does a lot around the motor pool. She shows up to the convoys an hour early just to make sure everything’s ready so we can roll out.”

Aguilar has worked hard to gain the respect of her fellow Marines and she also thinks highly of her platoon mates.

“We have the best drivers, the best assistant drivers, and the best mechanics,” Aguilar said. “Everyone is good at what they do and there is a lot of trust in our platoon. It’s awesome just knowing that they trust me on the gun to protect them and knowing that they can protect me if I need them to.”

Aguilar said she encourages more female Marines to step up and do the jobs that females aren’t typically seen doing.

“I have grown a lot both as a Marine and as a person,” she said. “Even through the bad times I have never regretted my decision to become a gunner.”

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

Marines Construct World's Largest Aircraft Combat Parking Expansion in Afghanistan

CAMP BASTION, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan – From dawn until dusk, a unit of Marines works diligently preparing an aircraft parking expansion to support the scheduled increase of U.S. Marines and service members in the southern region of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, May 1.



Story by Lance Cpl. Monty Burton
Date: 05.01.2009

"The Marines want their aircraft closer to the fight," said Capt. Carlton Wilson, the Airfield Operations company commander of Marine Wing Support Squadron 371.

That is why the Marines of MWSS-371 are constructing the 1.9 million square-foot parking expansion adjacent to the airfield aboard Camp Bastion in Helmand province.

The 4,846-foot-long expansion, which is scheduled for completion within the next few months, will provide military aircraft a place to park after landing at the Camp Bastion airfield, a service currently not available due to space limitations.

The project goes hand-in-hand with and supports the construction of nearby Camp Leatherneck, the home of the headquarters of 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade, which will have 10,000 Marines and service members under its command.

Wilson said the expansion project is led by MWSS-371's expeditionary airfield technicians but almost every Marine assigned to the squadron, regardless of military occupational specialty, is contributing to the completion of the project.

"We have Marines from all over the squadron out there constructing the parking expansion with the expeditionary airfield technicians," he said. "The expeditionary airfield technicians instruct and mentor the volunteers, and together they get the work done."

Wilson said that the parking expansion will be the second largest of its kind in the world, behind that of Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif., but it is the largest ever built in a combat environment.

Lance Cpl. Joe Sullivan, an expeditionary airfield technician, said the expansion project, which is commonly referred to as "slamming mat," is by no means an easy task. The 12-foot-long by 2-foot-wide sections of aluminum matting, or AM-2, used to construct the expansion weighs up to 150 pounds per sheet, and the Marines install it by hand.

Sullivan added that the environment poses challenges for the Marines working on the project.

"It's hot and extremely dusty," Sullivan said. "Almost everywhere you go there are dust funnels, but together, we work through it."

The expeditionary airfield technicians also work side-by-side with U.S. Navy Seabees assigned to Navy Mobile Construction Battalion 5 and heavy-equipment operators from within MWSS-371.

"The Navy Seabees and heavy equipment operators do the groundwork, leveling and grading the soil, to ensure the matting goes down flat, so we don't have to pick it up multiple times," Sullivan said. "We try to get it right the first time."

Wilson added that the work is hard, but the Marines are doing the job quickly and efficiently.

"The construction of the parking expansion requires a lot of manual labor, but the Marines are extremely motivated and enjoy contributing to the fight," said Wilson.

According to MWSS-371's commanding officer, Lt. Col. David E. Jones, his squadron's ability to construct projects like the aircraft parking expansion provides the Marine Air-Ground Task Force with a capability that's unmatched.

"MWSS-371 extends the reach of the MAGTF and makes U.S. Marine Corps aviation expeditionary," Jones said. "We help make the MAGTF the dynamic organization that it is."

Marine Wing Support Squadron 371 is part of the 2d Marine Expeditionary Brigade's air combat element. The mission of 2nd MEB is to conduct counterinsurgency operations, and train and mentor the Afghan national police.