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August 31, 2009

Homecoming For Local Wounded Soldier

FAIRBORN, Ohio -- It was a homecoming in Fairborn for a disabled Marine who got a hero’s welcome from thousands of people.

Please click above link for news video.

Posted: 10:17 pm EDT August 31, 2009
Updated: 11:28 pm EDT August 31, 2009

People began lining up early Monday morning waiting for the soldier to come home from the war.

Lance Cpl. Larry Draughn encountered an improvised explosive device on the battlefield and lost both of his legs and a few fingers.

A motorcade appeared lined up on the streets waving flags and banners and offering salutes as the hometown Marine rode by in a minivan.

Draughn’s mom wanted this to remain a surprise for him and it did.

Draughn was the man of the hour on Monday, but he said his heart is still with the men and women he left behind.

Corps researching new, lighter combat gear

By Dan Lamothe - Staff writer
Posted : Monday Aug 31, 2009 8:30:39 EDT

It’s not just the body armor.

Over and over again, that’s what Marine officials say when questioned about the heavy load grunts are carrying in Iraq and Afghanistan. Marines’ combat loads typically include no more than 35 pounds of armor. But weapons, communications gear, water, batteries, ammunition and other essential fighting gear make up most of the load.

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Report: Change strategy for fighting Taliban

Sources say McChrystal will ask for more troops within weeks

By Jason Straziuso - The Associated Press
Posted : Monday Aug 31, 2009 11:28:56 EDT

KABUL — The commander of U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan said in an assessment of the war that a new strategy was needed to fight the Taliban, while NATO officials disclosed he is expected to separately request more troops

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Missouri veteran injured by vaccine ineligible for benefit

WASHINGTON | It wasn’t a bullet or roadside bomb that felled Lance Cpl. Josef Lopez three years ago, after just nine days in Iraq.


August 31, 2009
The Star’s Washington correspondent

It was an injection into his arm before his Marine Corps unit left the United States.

It left Lopez in a coma, paralyzed and unable for a time to breathe on his own. He can walk now, but with a limp. He has to wear a urine bag, has short-term memory loss and must swallow 15 pills daily to control leg spasms and other ailments.

Yet the Springfield, Mo., man does not qualify for a special GI benefit of up to $100,000 for troops who suffer traumatic injuries.

Seemed “pretty traumatic to me,” Lopez said.

“I could have easily died or not been able to walk because of that. It destroyed my world.”

Lopez suffered a rare reaction to the smallpox vaccine. The vaccine is not mandatory, but the military strongly encourages troops to take it.

Even though his medical problems would not have occurred had he not been deployed, the benefit was denied.

Never mind that qualifying injuries don’t have be the result of combat, that a service member could be eligible because of a car accident on the way to the grocery store.

The hang-up? His injuries were caused by a vaccine.

Just following what is considered to be the intent of Congress, say officials at the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The benefit is “for traumatic injury, not disease, not illness, not preventive medicine,” said Stephen Wurtz, deputy assistant director for insurance. “It has nothing to do with not believing these people deserve some compensation for their losses.”

The VA was unable to say how many claims have been rejected because of vaccine-related injuries. Wurtz and others familiar with the program said it wasn’t many.

The Military Vaccine Agency, which oversees the troop vaccinations, did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat and a member of the Armed Services Committee, has drafted a bill named after Lopez to widen the program to include vaccine-related injuries.

She became aware of his case when he and his mother stopped by her Senate office last year. Lopez had come to Washington to compete in the wheelchair portion of the Marine Corps Marathon.

“The (benefit) program was created with a broad mandate to provide financial assistance to folks with serious injuries and given to VA to determine the outlines,” said Stephen Hedger, McCaskill’s legislative director and an Army veteran of Iraq. “It took a narrower approach and defined in greater detail what injuries and illnesses qualified for payment.

“Our view is it was way too narrow.”

The program is called Traumatic Servicemember Group Life Insurance; TSGLI for short. Congress created it in 2005 — retroactive to Oct. 1, 2001 — to provide short-term financial help to severely injured service members until their disability benefits kick in.

The money comes from a $1 fee each month on top of the regular military life insurance premium.

The compensation is intended to cover expenses such as the costs of having a family member temporarily relocate near a military hospital where a loved one is recovering. Another cost could be retrofitting a service member’s home to accommodate a wheelchair or other medical equipment.

As of July 1, the program had granted nearly 6,700 claims, a 63 percent approval rate, and paid $394 million in compensation, Wurtz said.

Lopez seemed to fit the profile. His injuries affected his normal daily activities, one of the hurdles to clear for coverage.

While Lopez’s health insurance through the military has covered all of his medical expenses and the VA has paid for his medical costs since he was discharged in June, his family has faced financial hardship.

His mother, Barbara Lopez, took a leave from her job as a high school secretary to move to Maryland to be with him during his six weeks at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. But she had to give up a part-time job as a cashier.

They also had to build a ramp and widen a door to accommodate his wheelchair at her home in Springfield, where he spent his recovery.

Barbara Lopez said she heard about TSGLI from families of other injured troops at Bethesda. Unlike theirs, her son’s application was turned down. She still can’t fathom it.

“In his spinal column, he has quite a bit of permanent scarring,” Barbara Lopez said. “He takes medication to help his legs. He can walk unassisted, but never far, and he can’t stand for very long. I kind of feel Joe was out there fighting the same fight they were. He should be just as eligible.”

The military began the smallpox vaccination program in 2003 because of post-Sept. 11, 2001, fears that terrorists might attack the U.S. with germ warfare. Plans for the invasion of Iraq were also under way. The military was concerned that Saddam Hussein might use biological weapons against American troops.

On rare occasions, as in Lopez’s case, the vaccine can be as dangerous as the disease. Side effects can range from a simple rash to swelling around the brain and heart, and even death.

Like the inoculation for anthrax, another pre-combat injection, troops are supposed to be informed of the side effects and told that taking the vaccine is optional. But many have said that it was made abundantly clear that refusing was not a good idea.

“No one said ‘no,’ ” Lopez said. “I had no qualms. I had no reason not to.”

He enlisted in the Marines while still in high school. He said everyone ought to serve the country in some way. He was also looking for adventure and “knew I’d have lots of good stories.”

Lopez became a radio operator with a Marine Reserve unit out of Kansas City. He was sent to the Gulf of Mexico in 2005 to help after Hurricane Katrina. A year later, in September 2006, he was in Iraq.

Even in the short time he was there, he experienced some close calls. But one night, less than two weeks into his tour, he started feeling as if he had the flu. Then he couldn’t sleep. He had trouble with his balance and couldn’t walk. He had to crawl on his hands and knees to the latrine.

Within days, he was taken to hospitals in Iraq and Germany. Doctors placed him in a drug-induced coma. He didn’t wake up until Bethesda.

That was three years ago. Now Lopez has his own place and is a sophomore at Missouri State University in Springfield. He is thinking about graduate school, about teaching.

“Before, I just kind of coasted,” Lopez said. “Now I know I take some things a lot more seriously. I’m more driven to succeed.”

He has had to go back the hospital a few times.

He is angry about what happened.

“It’s like I’m being penalized because I got the vaccine,” Lopez said.

August 30, 2009

Staying strong on the homefront

Belinda Bloodworth missed a phone call from a friend currently deployed to Afghanistan on a recent Sunday while she was in church, and she’s determined that it’s not going to happen again.


August 30, 2009 7:45 PM

“I was sitting in church and thought ‘what if he calls,’ because he called the previous Sunday while I was in church and I missed the call, and I thought well I’ll put my phone on vibrate and exit the church and hope that God forgives me, but I need to answer this call,” she said.

The Jacksonville resident is just one of the thousands with friends, family and loved ones currently serving in Afghanistan, where Camp Lejeune has had 20 casualties since July 1.

“At this point, the only thing you can wait for is a phone call. The only thing they have is a (satellite) phone and a lot of the times when they call, your call will get dropped within minutes and that’s their last call. There’s no access to e-mail or anything like that,” Bloodworth said.

Chrissy Demko, 20, of Hightstown, N.J., knows that she will hear from her boyfriend, Lance Cpl. Jason Russ who is currently deployed with 2nd Battalion, 8th Marines, once every two to three weeks for 10 minutes at a time, she said during a recent phone call with The Daily News.

“It’s hard, but I realized how much I took for granted before they left. Now whenever I get a phone call, it means a lot,” she said.

Despite the time between calls, Demko said she doesn’t worry.

“I know he’s an amazing Marine, and if I don’t hear from him for a while I usually write him a couple letters. I feel closer to him when I do that,” she said.

Letters are more personal than e-mail, Demko said, and easier to save.

“You can hold onto letters forever. I still have every letter he’s written me since boot camp,” she said.

Worry kicks in, however, when Demko hears that a Marine has been killed.

“No one ever wants to see that because that’s someone’s boyfriend, fiancée, husband or son. I always get worried in the pit of my stomach, but I just have to keep my head up and hope he’s OK,” she said.

Bloodworth is doing her best to keep up with what’s going on with the troops in Afghanistan, particularly those with 2/8 who her friend is deployed with.

“I read … anything I can find on the Internet — Washington Post, New York Times, The Daily News. The Lejeune (Deployed) blog is very helpful … and I stay in constant contact with his family. If he calls me, I call them; if he calls them, they call me, so we keep in contact,” Bloodworth said, explaining that she also reads The Times Online and MarineParents.com.

Demko also keeps an eye on the news and communicates regularly with Russ’ family, she said.

While Bloodworth admits to being in “a panic” when she realizes she forgot her phone, waiting for a call gets harder when a casualty has been announced, she said.

“Sometimes it’s a long time when you hear from your loved one or your friend that’s there and whenever you hear news like that, it’s hard. You start to think ‘Is it that person? Why haven’t I heard from them? Are they making a push? Are they sitting somewhere waiting?’ You never know what’s going on, it’s kind of hard,” Bloodworth said.

Despite the hardships and worry, at the end of the day Bloodworth is proud of her Marine.

“You have to be proud, though, of what they’re doing,” she said. “It takes a brave person to do what they’re doing.

“I tell my friends that all the time: ‘Thank you for what you’re doing.’”

MarPat-like cammies show up on Iraqi troops

By Amy McCullough - Staff writer
Posted : Sunday Aug 30, 2009 8:29:22 EDT

Every Marine has to earn his Eagle, Globe and Anchor, but that doesn’t stop copycats from taking the easy route.

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Marines of 2nd CEB show Iraqi soldiers new moves

As U.S. forces have begun their responsible drawdown from Iraq, and as combat operations continue to decrease, other types of missions have moved to the forefront. U.S. forces have made a continued effort to pass on their knowledge to the Iraqi Security Forces that will help to ensure security and stability once U.S. forces are completely gone.


8/30/2009 By Cpl. Alan Addison, Regimental Combat Team 8

Marines from 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion, Regimental Combat Team 8, conducted classes and practical application courses with Iraqi soldiers, from the 7th Iraqi Army Brigade, 2nd Route Purification Platoon, Aug. 26, 2009.

The classes given by the Marines included tactics, techniques and procedures, and sweep procedures that are all necessary when dealing with possible improvised explosive devices or unexploded ordnance.

“Over the past two weeks, we’ve been training these guys in the things we look for when dealing with IEDs,” said Staff Sgt. Robert Libby, the Route Clearance Platoon commander with 2nd CEB. “Basically we teach them exactly the same techniques we use.”

“Our goal is to help them improve so they’ll be mission capable when they have to conduct their own route clearance,” said Sgt. Jarrod Alexander, a squad leader with 2nd CEB’s Route Clearance Platoon.

Although the Marines are teaching the Iraqis all of the techniques they use, the purpose is for the Iraqis to form their own set of procedures.

“This training is presented to them as a baseline. We want them to use it to develop their own procedures so they can better prepare their soldiers,” Libby said.

Not only does the training exercise help the Iraqi soldiers build a successful route clearance platoon, but it also helps to strengthen the relationship between U.S. and Iraqi forces.

“By us working with the Iraqis, they can have more trust and confidence that U.S. forces want to see them succeed when we all leave,” Libby commented. “It shows we have the same common goal, which is defeating the enemy and returning their country back to them.”

This common goal has also been part of the reason the Marines have been so diligent in helping the Iraqi army.

“Their performance will be a reflection of our training. So we make sure that we work hard to pass on as much good information as we can,” said Alexander.

That diligence and attention to detail has also been observed by the Iraqi soldiers.

“It’s really amazing to come out and train with the Marines,” said Iraqi Army Lt. Basheer Abed, from the 7th IA Route Purification Platoon. “These guys are really good, and this training is very important. It will help us with our safety and technique.”

Abed added that the training has been successful, and training with the Marines has not only provided them with good information, but it has helped to build a positive relationship between the Iraqi army and the U.S. Marines.

Training missions like this one will be beneficial in the future when the Iraqis must draw from their own experiences and training in order to conduct missions. As U.S. forces responsibly draw down in Iraq, the ISF must continue what they are doing - maintaining security for their population as a professional, competent and capable organization that they have become.

New footbridge eases movement for locals, Marines in Helmand

CAMP LEATHERNECK, Helmand Province, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan – “Building bridges,” as the expressions goes, is a vital task in connecting with the people in a counterinsurgency environment.



But the Marines of 2nd Platoon, Company C, 8th Engineer Support Battalion, Combat Logistics Regiment 2, Marine Expeditionary Brigade-Afghanistan didn’t stop at expressions, they actually built a bridge.

The recently-built, 69-foot footbridge spans a canal in Hasan Abad, a village near Forward Operating Base Delhi in Garmsir District. It was built in three days by the Marines, in an area where major roads and trails intertwine with irrigation ditches and canals.

First Lt. Carla Gerlach, a combat engineer and native of Kennesaw, Ga., said Marines from Company F, 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 3, MEB-Afghanistan, patrol the area regularly and needed a way to get across the canal and into the populated areas nearby.

A bridge located further south featured too many dangers for the patrolling Marines to cross, while one to the north was simply too far away to reach, resulting in the Marines having oversight of the area, but not control.

“This bridge will allow the Marines to have a better grasp of the area,” Gerlach said.

Gerlach said a local member of the Afghan National Security Forces stated he was excited to have the bridge, for it also allows local Afghans more freedom of movement around the area instead of being forced to walk down to the other distant bridges.

Gerlach also said the bridge will last for years to come for use by the local Afghan populace.

The bridge was designed by Master Gunnery Sgt. Garlen Powell, 8th ESB’s operations chief and a combat engineer of 25 years. It features an expeditionary design, being made mostly of just two A-frames, cables, Hesco Barriers, and a mixture of pavement and rocks.

“It turned out very well,” said Sanborn, N.D., native Sgt. Charlie Clyde, a combat engineer and squad leader from 2nd Platoon. “The design was flawless, and everything worked out according to plan in the build. Everybody knew what was going on and how to make it work.”

Powell said there’s a possibility that another company from 2/8 will request to have a similar footbridge built in its area of operations in the near future, which is a sign of the reputation the bridge has already created

U.S. Marines Begin Training Georgian Troops for ISAF Mission

U.S. Marines and Republic of Georgia soldiers marked the beginning of the Georgia Deployment Program today with an opening ceremony at the Krtsanisi National Training Center just outside of the city here.


8/30/2009 By Master Sgt. Grady T. Fontana, Marine Forces Europe

Georgia is scheduled to provide an infantry battalion to serve along with U.S., allies and other partners nations in Afghanistan. The Georgia Deployment Program is a two-year training program consisting of four 6-month rotations designed to train four Georgian infantry battalions in counter-insurgency tactics, techniques and procedures in preparation for their deployment to Afghanistan in support of International Security Assistance Forces (ISAF).

A formation of about 40 Marines from Marine Corps Training and Advisory Group (MCTAG) were flanked by about 750 soldiers of the 3rd Brigade, 31st Light Infantry Battalion (LIB) during the opening ceremony formation, which lasted about 30 minutes.

“On behalf of my country, my Commandant, and the Marines who will serve with Georgian forces in Afghanistan, let me say again how much your support and shared commitment to freedom is appreciated and has earned our lasting friendship,” said Col. Scott C. Cottrell, director, MCTAG, during the opening ceremony speech. “It was that initial offer of a battalion to fight alongside of the Marines in Afghanistan that led us to this day.”

Each of the four rotation is further broken down into six phases and each will culminate in a mission rehearsal exercise slated to take place at the Joint Multinational Readiness Center in Hoenfels, Germany. The first battalion of Georgians are scheduled to deploy to Afghanistan March 2010.

“This training program begins with the individual skills required in a counter-insurgency environment, progresses through small unit operations and culminates with a battalion-level mission rehearsal exercise,” said Cottrell. “To support this training program, the Marine Corps has committed its finest Marines to help train the 31st Battalion. All have deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan, many for multiple tours.”

The training program will focus on skill sets necessary for Georgian forces to operate alongside NATO and ISAF partners in a counter-insurgency environment in Afghanistan. The training will include packages such as maneuvers, marksmanship, driving, logistics, medical, as well as classroom staff training.

Krtsanisi National Training Center, also known as KTA and about 20 miles south of Tbilisi, is surrounded by grassy, rolling hills and is currently home to the 31st LIB and the MCTAG Georgia Training Team.

The training team consists of about 10 MCTAG staff members and the remainder of instructors are subject-matter experts in their respective fields staffed from various units throughout the Marine Corps.

According to Capt. Alexandre Tugushi, commander, 31st LIB, his soldiers are battle tested—more than 65 percent with previous deployments to Iraq supporting ISAF—and ready to begin training.

“I’m very glad this training will start,” said Capt. Alexandre Tugushi, commander 31stLIB. “We’re going to receive high-level training from Marines for our very important job in [Afghanistan]. The whole unit is motivated.”

U.S. officials were also grateful to Georgia for its contribution of an infantry battalion to serve alongside U.S. service members in support of ISAF operations in Afghanistan.

“Over the years, Georgia has demonstrated that they are a willing and reliable coalition partner in Kosovo, Iraq, and Afghanistan,” said Lt. Col. Paul B. Riley, chief, U.S. European Command Office of Defense Cooperation, Tbilisi. “We look forward to serving with Georgia in Afghanistan as we work together to protect the Afghan people."

August 29, 2009

Marine officer receives Bronze Star for leading attacks in Afghanistan

A Marine officer at Camp Pendleton has received the Bronze Star for bravery for leading multiple assaults on Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan.


August 29, 2009 | 8:28 am
Tony Perry in San Diego.

Maj. James W. Eagan III was a platoon commander with the 1st Marine Special Operations Battalion in southern Afghanistan in 2007. While other Marines were assigned to help tutor Afghan security forces, the Special Operations forces were assigned to seek out and confront the Taliban.

The Bronze Star citation signed by Marine Commandant Gen. James Conway says that Eagan was at the forefront of multiple attacks and reconnaissance patrols and 29 battles during Operation Scorpion. His actions "directly contributed" to killing 332 Taliban and wounding another 83.

The award was made Friday.

Man of the Cloth and Uniform

He looks like Sting," a Marine says about the man in the tan cammies wandering around Khan Neshin castle without the usual M-16 hanging on his shoulder and an unusual growth of beard.


Click on above link for photos.

By Nikki Khan
Saturday, August 29, 2009

Lt. Ray F. Rivers, 45, of Sumter, S.C., a father of five, is on his second tour as chaplain with Task Force Mameluke, 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion. "They asked me to come back. That was an honor for me to be asked," he said.

"You know I try to meet military standards," Rivers tells the small congregation, which is seated on green sleeping cots that doubled as pews during a recent sweltering Sunday service. "My wife [Paula] never let me grow a beard, but I'm growing it for the benefit of meeting with the mullah and key leaders." The young Marines nod in agreement.

In the nearby courtyard, the drone of a metal detector can be heard at it sweeps for caches of buried ammunition, but it's never loud enough to drown out the service. Marine Cpl. Wes Dyer, 24, of Albuquerque, with the 1st Combat Engineer Battalion Route Clearing Company, wanders into the shade to give his black Lab, Lottie, a drink and a respite from the heat. Dyer lingers for a few words of prayer and song before heading back to continue sweeping the courtyard.

"We've got a lot of praises," Rivers continues. "Any prayer requests?"

"Pray for Lance Corporal Wright. His wife is going into labor." There is an echo of acknowledgement because Wright is one of two Marines who will not be home to see his child born this week.

A few days later, under a cloudless blue sky, Rivers stands with the men of 2nd LAR to pay respect to two fallen brothers in arms from Delta Company. He offers a message of restraint, not revenge, for the men.

August 28, 2009

In the Air, on Land and Streams; 3/7 Hones Water Crossing Skills

MARINE CORPS MOUNTAIN WARFARE TRAINING CENTER BRIDGEPORT, Calif. – Marines and Sailors from Company K, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, returned to their amphibious roots during a stream crossing training exercise at Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center Bridgeport, Calif., Leavitt Training Area Aug. 20.



Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, Twentynine Palms
Story by Cpl. Robert Kyle
Date: 08.28.2009

The exercise focused on moving fire teams across streams and rivers as safely as possible.

"These Marines are being afforded the opportunity to gain the confidence and ability to do something they've never done before as a unit," said Staff Sgt. Jeremy Miller, a mountain warfare training instructor with the Unit Training Group. "This training is not the end-all, be-all by any means. It gives them the basic knowledge they need for getting across the water safely."

The company hiked nearly four miles through hills and ridges to get to the training area, and for some, the water was welcomed with open arms.

"They set up the training schedule just right," said Lance Cpl. Randy Devore, a rifleman with Company K, 3/7. "The water was a perfect way to cool down after that hike."

During the class, Miller demonstrated different techniques to use when crossing rivers and streams such as using sticks to determine the depth of the water and for support.

He said these lessons can save lives at home and overseas.

"There were two Marines in Iraq that, for some reason, decided to cross the Euphrates River in full combat [personal protective equipment]," said Miller, a Chalmette, La., native. "One Marine was swept down the river and survived, and the other Marine got stuck about knee-deep in the mud right where he jumped in and drowned. He was still clutching his rifle when they found him."

Devore, a Cherry Point, N.C., native, said he took a lot away from the exercise.

"I think this training will make for better teamwork in general," said Devore. "We've been doing a lot of platoon-sized training exercises, so getting to train at the fire team level was nice."

Body of O.C. Marine killed in Afghanistan is coming home

Remains of Donald Hogan, 20, expected in Southern California next week

The remains of a San Clemente Marine killed in a roadside bomb explosion in Afghanistan arrived at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware today and are expected in Southern California in the middle of next week.


Friday, August 28, 2009
The Orange County Register

Lance Cpl. Donald J. Hogan, 20, was on a foot patrol Wednesday morning at the time of the blast that also injured several other Marines, said a spokesman for the 1st Marine Division at Camp Pendleton.

Family members were planning to be on hand for the transfer at Dover today.

Associated Press photographs showed the Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Civilian Human Resources Patricia Adams, along with other military officials, looking on as Donald's remains arrived at the base. Pictures also showed a team carrying the transfer case off of a transport airplane.

Donald joined the Marines soon after graduating in 2007 from Tesoro High School, where he ran cross country.

"He was like most kids, in that he just enjoyed his life without a lot of concern about the future," said Donald's father Jim Hogan in an e-mail. "He had planned on making a career out of the Marines. He had told me that his goal was to attain or surpass my father's rank of Gunnery Sergeant."

A career Marine, Donald's grandfather James Hogan Sr. retired as a gunnery sergeant and was a veteran of three wars – World War II, Korean and Vietnam.

Donald, who wanted to follow in his grandfather's footsteps, talked with high school coaches and friends on the cross country team about joining the Marines.

"It's all he talked about the last couple of months in school," recalled Rachel Nama, 19, who ran junior varsity cross country at Tesoro with Donald and remembered him as always very encouraging.

"During our runs we'd do a lot of hill runs and he would always be the last one, right behind me and always pushing me," she said, with a laugh. "I really appreciate him for that. He was always one to push you and not one to leave you behind."

In an account posted online at marineparents.com, a Marine mom who said that her son was in the same foot patrol as Donald, said his actions on the day of his death were heroic.

The mother wrote: "Dear Hogan Family, my son was one of the Marines with your dear son that fateful day. My son was walking directly behind LCpl Hogan and watched him save the life of a fellow Marine that was directly in front of him and in the path of the IED (improvised explosive device). Your son was a hero to many Marines that day, including my own and there are no words to describe the emotions I am going through and I cannot begin to fathom the unmeasureable grief that you are struggling to deal with now.

Lance Corporal Donald J. Hogan was and will forever be a fallen hero and his memory will be held closely to the hearts of my son, us and all his Marines.

Semper Fidelis LCpl Hogan."

A 1st Marine Division spokesman at Camp Pendleton could not immediately provide details of the incident that took Donald's life.

This was Donald's first tour of duty and he deployed with his unit to Afghanistan in the past few months, division spokesman Cpl. Shawn Coolman said.

He was on foot patrol in the Nawa District of Helmand province when an improvised explosive device blew up nearby, Coolman said. Donald He was assigned to 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, 1st Marine Expeditionary Force at Camp Pendleton.

MCTOG, USJFCOM Enhance Joint Readiness for Marines

The Marine Corps Tactics and Operations Group and U.S. Joint Forces Command's Joint Fires Integration and Interoperability Team partnered here Tuesday to improve the joint training and combat readiness of Marine battalion and regimental staffs before they deploy to Afghanistan and Iraq.


Courtesy Story
Date: 08.28.2009
Posted: 08.28.2009 01:35

The recently completed Spartan Resolve exercise included academic instruction, a command post exercise and a live-fire event.

The training exercise focused on integrating joint, coalition, and interagency partners in a live, virtual, and constructive environment replicating conditions commanders and staffs will experience once deployed, according to leaders at MCTOG.

"The only way you can replicate the environment that you find in Afghanistan and Iraq is to make it joint and interagency," said Marine Corps Col. William F. Mullen III, the commander of MCTOG. "We want our units going through the training here to have a déjà vu-like experience when they get into theater – we don't want them to have any surprises."

An important part of this training equips Marine Corps commanders and staffs with knowledge they need to use the joint combat multipliers at their disposal when deployed, according to MCTOG leaders.

"Our goal is to teach Marines how to plan, integrate, and employ joint fires and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance assets in a realistic operational environment similar to what they will experience once in theater," said Marine Lt. Col. Rob Buzby, the executive officer of MCTOG. "It's a joint fight, and organizations like JFIIT help our Marines learn how to employ joint capabilities that will improve our effectiveness against today's asymmetric threat."

JFIIT assisted MCTOG as they trained battalion and regimental staffs by providing joint fires and ISR subject matter experts to help coach, teach, and mentor during Spartan Resolve.

"MCTOG does an excellent job of integrating joint assets to replicate a near-real-world environment," said Army Maj. John Bowman, the JFIIT lead at MCTOG. "Our mission is to help integrate the joint enablers of the targeting process that teach, and reinforce tactics, techniques and procedures that will shorten their learning curve once in country."

Spartan Resolve also provided immediate training feedback to the commanders and staffs throughout the exercise.

"By working together with JFIIT and others, we're able to provide a realistic training environment and feedback methodology that is based on current doctrine and TTP being used in theater," said Marine Corps Lt. Col. Tim Barrick, the operations officer for MCTOG. "The lessons that the Marines learn here are a vital part of the unit's pre-deployment training."

Other organizations supporting this training were the U.S. Special Operations Command, the Central Intelligence Agency, Counter-Improvised Explosive Device Operations Integration Center, National Ground Intelligence Center, U.S. Agency for International Development, International Committee of the Red Cross, and others.

"The strength of this exercise is our ability to pull in so many experts who represent many of the same organizations that our Marines will work with in theater," said Scott Campbell, the joint exercise planner at MCTOG. "It's the only exercise that provides this kind of training to our battalion and regimental staffs before they deploy."

The primary training audience may be the Marines, but other services also value this joint training experience.

"I will be able to apply the lessons that I've learned from this exercise to better plan and execute future training events," said Army Maj. Brian Ferguson, the assistant fire support coordinator for 10th Marine Regiment at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C. "The training here has helped me achieve a higher level of understanding of how to conduct joint operations."

MCTOG plans to continue integration of joint assets preparing Marines for today's irregular warfare environment.

"This training is a necessity for any unit that wants to fight in today's operational environment," added Buzby. "Today's operating environment requires Marines to have an open mind and an absolute willingness to work with others. We will only fight and win as a joint team – that integration will be the key to our success today and on future battlefields."

MCTOG, USJFCOM Enhance Joint Readiness for Marines

The Marine Corps Tactics and Operations Group and U.S. Joint Forces Command's Joint Fires Integration and Interoperability Team partnered here Tuesday to improve the joint training and combat readiness of Marine battalion and regimental staffs before they deploy to Afghanistan and Iraq.


Courtesy Story
Date: 08.28.2009
Posted: 08.28.2009 01:35

The recently completed Spartan Resolve exercise included academic instruction, a command post exercise and a live-fire event.

The training exercise focused on integrating joint, coalition, and interagency partners in a live, virtual, and constructive environment replicating conditions commanders and staffs will experience once deployed, according to leaders at MCTOG.

"The only way you can replicate the environment that you find in Afghanistan and Iraq is to make it joint and interagency," said Marine Corps Col. William F. Mullen III, the commander of MCTOG. "We want our units going through the training here to have a déjà vu-like experience when they get into theater – we don't want them to have any surprises."

An important part of this training equips Marine Corps commanders and staffs with knowledge they need to use the joint combat multipliers at their disposal when deployed, according to MCTOG leaders.

"Our goal is to teach Marines how to plan, integrate, and employ joint fires and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance assets in a realistic operational environment similar to what they will experience once in theater," said Marine Lt. Col. Rob Buzby, the executive officer of MCTOG. "It's a joint fight, and organizations like JFIIT help our Marines learn how to employ joint capabilities that will improve our effectiveness against today's asymmetric threat."

JFIIT assisted MCTOG as they trained battalion and regimental staffs by providing joint fires and ISR subject matter experts to help coach, teach, and mentor during Spartan Resolve.

"MCTOG does an excellent job of integrating joint assets to replicate a near-real-world environment," said Army Maj. John Bowman, the JFIIT lead at MCTOG. "Our mission is to help integrate the joint enablers of the targeting process that teach, and reinforce tactics, techniques and procedures that will shorten their learning curve once in country."

Spartan Resolve also provided immediate training feedback to the commanders and staffs throughout the exercise.

"By working together with JFIIT and others, we're able to provide a realistic training environment and feedback methodology that is based on current doctrine and TTP being used in theater," said Marine Corps Lt. Col. Tim Barrick, the operations officer for MCTOG. "The lessons that the Marines learn here are a vital part of the unit's pre-deployment training."

Other organizations supporting this training were the U.S. Special Operations Command, the Central Intelligence Agency, Counter-Improvised Explosive Device Operations Integration Center, National Ground Intelligence Center, U.S. Agency for International Development, International Committee of the Red Cross, and others.

"The strength of this exercise is our ability to pull in so many experts who represent many of the same organizations that our Marines will work with in theater," said Scott Campbell, the joint exercise planner at MCTOG. "It's the only exercise that provides this kind of training to our battalion and regimental staffs before they deploy."

The primary training audience may be the Marines, but other services also value this joint training experience.

"I will be able to apply the lessons that I've learned from this exercise to better plan and execute future training events," said Army Maj. Brian Ferguson, the assistant fire support coordinator for 10th Marine Regiment at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C. "The training here has helped me achieve a higher level of understanding of how to conduct joint operations."

MCTOG plans to continue integration of joint assets preparing Marines for today's irregular warfare environment.

"This training is a necessity for any unit that wants to fight in today's operational environment," added Buzby. "Today's operating environment requires Marines to have an open mind and an absolute willingness to work with others. We will only fight and win as a joint team – that integration will be the key to our success today and on future battlefields."

Squadrons Train at Combat Center for Upcoming Deployment

Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, Twentynine Palms
Two Marine Corps aviation units combined forces at the Combat Center's Prospect training area to prepare for their deployments later this year.


Story by Cpl. Nicole Lavine
Date: 08.28.2009
Posted: 08.28.2009 01:03

Marine Wing Support Squadron 372 and Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 367, both from Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif., tested their knowledge, skills, and a new aircraft during the training.

The Marines of MWSS-372 set up a Forward Area Refueling Point at the training area to allow HMLA-367 pilots opportunities to push the limits of the new UH-1 Yankee Super Huey helicopter in a climate similar to areas in Afghanistan.

Both squadrons are currently participating in Enhanced Mojave Viper, a month-long pre-deployment training evolution here which integrates air, ground and support element exercises to prepare for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Chief Warrant Officer 3 Stephen G. Rudinski, the MWSS-372 Air Ground Support Detachment expeditionary airfield and emergency services officer, said it was his unit's mission to assess forward operating bases and FARPs during the EMV exercise.

"We're focusing on assessing FARPs and training for air base ground defense, base recovery after attack, damage assessment teams, and more," said Rudinski, a Wellsboro, Pen., native. "The airfield we're operating out of makes us look at day-to-day life sustainment. We're designed to support one FOB and two FARPs at any given time."

1st Lt. Steve Draper, the MWSS-372 FARP prospect training mission commander, said for several Marines, this was the first time training in conditions so similar to that of Iraqi and Afghani climate and terrain.

"Right now we want to establish a FARP at Prospect in order to extend the capability of the MAGTF [Marine Air Ground Task Force]," said Draper, a West Milton, Ohio, native about the training mission. "It extends the time on station for attack birds, shortens transit time from their station back to the base, decreases time they need to fly back for fuel, and increases the overall scope of the MAGTF."

Draper said having HMLA-367 join with them during the training is a great example of how operations may change with short notice while in theater and allows the HMLA-367 Marines chances to conduct maintenance operations, refuel and rearm aircrafts, and stage the birds over-night like they would in real operations.

"When we get to Afghanistan, will be asked to do this exact same mission," he said. "We're going to be asked to go to a site that's never been constructed before, one that's totally austere. Depending on the type of soil you're working with, it can be long process. We've never set up our own FARP like this and we've seen many lessons learned. This training is practical, very realistic to what we'll see in Afghanistan, and it's beneficial for both units."

Capt. Bret Morriss, a UH-1 Yankee pilot with HMLA-367, said although the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit was the first to use three of the new aircraft, his unit will be the first to deploy having fully transitioned into flying the new bird.

Aside from the UH-1Y having more power, agility, offensive weapons and crew-carrying capabilities than the UH-1 Twin Huey, one of the key differences is that the UH-1Y has a left-side fuel port, meaning aircraft fuelers need to adjust their operations on the ground as well as the mechanics.

Lance Cpl. Tim Tynan and Cpl. Michael Carlin, two helicopter mechanics and specialists with HMLA-367, said they had to go back to school to learn about the new aircraft prior to their first deployments this year.

"This is definitely good training for Marines who have not deployed yet," said Tynan, a native of Healdsburg, Calif. "It's great for guys who don't know what to expect in a deployment so we can be more combat-ready."

Carlin, a native of Klamath Falls, Ore., said he agrees and thinks the training prepares all the air wing Marines involved.

"This is catching us up to speed," he said. "This is also great since the Yankees haven't been operated in really high altitude yet. This is a faster pace for the aircraft so we can know what it can do.

Local Marine loses both legs, not his spirit

FAIRBORN — Marine Lance Cpl. Larry Draughn Jr. credits his remarkable recovery after losing both legs in Afghanistan on May 31 to his stubbornness and something he learned from his late father.


By Margo Rutledge Kissell, Staff Writer

Updated 10:23 PM Friday, August 28, 2009

“I don’t let nothing keep me down. That’s one thing my dad taught me,” said Draughn, who is walking on new prosthetic legs with the aid of two canes.

He continues to go through physical therapy at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C.

Draughn’s 58-year-old father died in 2007 from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease right after the teen got out of boot camp. On oxygen for the last three years of his life, he’d attach his tank to the lawn mower and go cut the grass.

Larry’s mother, Barbara Draughn of Fairborn, said her son also saw the determination of his late grandfather, Arlo Hardman of Fairborn, who lost both feet to diabetes when he was 70 but learned to walk again.

“That’s one of the first things he said, ‘If my grandfather could do it at 70 years old, I could do it at 21.’ ”

Doctors and physical therapists have marveled at how far the young Marine has come since he stepped on an improvised explosive device during a patrol with his unit.

The Meadowdale High School graduate will return home on Monday, Aug. 31, to Fairborn, where family and others in the community are planning a surprise homecoming.

Greene County commissioners have declared Monday Lance Cpl. Larry Draughn Jr. Day.

“We would like to give him a hero’s homecoming by lining the streets with people, flags and signs to let him know how much we appreciate the sacrifice he and his young family have made,” said Fairborn City Council member Frank Cervone, who has been working with state Rep. Jarrod Martin’s office.

Plans include an escort by the Ohio State Highway Patrol and the Patriot Guard Riders along Interstate 70, I-675 and Ohio 444 to a family residence on Sharon Drive in the Rona Hills neighborhood. Fairborn fire and police also will be involved in the homecoming, as will a Marine Corps color guard and the Fairborn High School marching band.

The public is invited to line the route along Ohio 444, Black Lane and Bluegrass Drive and should be in place by 4:45 p.m. Monday, organizers said.

Draughn will be on convalescent leave for a few weeks in the Miami Valley before returning to Walter Reed for more therapy.

He was wounded two weeks after arriving in Afghanistan with his unit from the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment out of the Marine Corps Base Hawaii, Kaneohe Bay.

His left leg was amputated midway between his knee and thigh; his right one above the shin. He also lost two fingers on his right hand and broke three fingers on his left.

On June 5, he arrived at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.

Barbara Draughn recalled her son asking the medical staff at there: “How quick can you get a double amputee out of here?”

Three weeks had been the earliest they’d seen someone leave, they told him.

“He did it in two weeks and two days,” his mother said.

Draughn said he was motivated to beat that earlier record.

“I wanted to be the first to do it.”

Coming home next week will allow Draughn and his wife, Kaytlin, to celebrate their son Garon’s first birthday on Sept. 9 with family and friends.

Larry Draughn celebrated his 22nd birthday in July with a special cake made by the Baltimore custom cake shop of Food Network star Chef Duff Goldman.

Draughn’s mother-in-law, Carol Hazlett of Fairborn, wanted to do something special so she contacted Charm City Cakes, featured on the popular Food Network show “Ace of Cakes.” There was a $1,000 deposit required to order a cake but after the staff learned Draughn’s story, they offered to make the cake for free.

“They came and spent two hours with him,” Barbara Draughn said. The red velvet cake contained the Marine Corps emblem, a rifle and a fishing pole, capturing his main interests.

Barbara Draughn said she’s been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support from people wanting to help her son and family.

Some of the strongest support has come from her co-workers at Miami Valley Hospital, where she works the late shift on the Emergency Room’s information desk.

“They donated their personal time off and that money went into her bank of time off,” hospital spokeswoman Nancy Thickel said. The hospital’s foundation, the Mueller Society, also awarded her funds to assist her financially through the ordeal.

It was a big help.

“It allowed me to keep my focus on Larry,” she said.

All summer, Barbara and Kaytlin Draughn took turns e-mailing updates about his progress to family and friends back in the Miami Valley.

“He doesn’t realize how many people back home have been praying and keeping up with his story,” his mother said.

Last week, Draughn walked onto the field at the Washington Nationals’ ball park with 6-foot-6 slugger Adam Dunn.

It was a thrill for the young Marine who first met Dunn when he played for the Dayton Dragons in 2000. The then-student had won a contest to spend the day with the team at Fifth Third Field.

Draughn has been getting out more on his new prosthetic legs.

He’s feeling good about his recovery but said the biggest challenge has been learning to walk again.

“I’ll be walking without canes some day,” he said, “hopefully sooner than later.”

In December, he plans to travel back to Hawaii to welcome home his fellow Marines still serving in Afghanistan.

Danger Room in Afghanistan: The Taliban Push Back

MIANPOSHTEH, AFGHANISTAN – Two months ago, the Marines of Echo company pushed into this farming community, set up a series of outposts, and launched a series of patrols and raids to put the Taliban on their heels. On Thursday, the militants struck back, attacking four different Marine units in seven hours and dealing Echo company its first casualty in more than three weeks. One Marine was shot through the chest and arm, but is expected to make a full recovery.


By Noah Shachtman August 28, 2009 | 9:11 am | Categories: Af/Pak, Army and Marines

I wouldn’t call it a ‘counter-offensive,’ quote-unquote,” says Capt. Eric Meador, Echo’s company commander. “But this is their biggest push against us since mid-July.”

Just last weekend, Meador (pictured) was wondering where the Taliban had gone. After nearly seven weeks of near-constant skirmishes in what has become an epicenter of America’s renewed war in Afghanistan, the militants here had suddenly gone quiet. Echo enjoyed a rare 72 hours without a gunfight. Then, the guerrillas ambushed a squad of marines, on patrol to the southeast. Since then, the fighting hasn’t just renewed. It’s intensified considerably.

Shortly after 10:00 a.m. on Thursday, an Echo company squad to the northeast came under small-arms fire. At 12:45, the Taliban attacked a second unit in the southwest. At 3:15 PM, a weapons team in the desert on the west side of the Helmand River was hit. Three minutes later, the unit in the southwest was fired on again. A half-hour after that was the final Taliban strike, on a squad patrolling southeast.

As one unit after unit radioed in their attacks – often, with machine gun fire rattling in the background – the mood in the Echo company command post grew more tense. A half-dozen nervous conversations overlapped, as marines peered into surveillance screens, and plotted and re-plotted the locations of enemy and friendly forces. “Damn! These guys won’t quit! They’re Energizer bunnies,” Meador yelled in frustration, rubbing his scalp.

Echo responded to the attacks with grenades, dozens of 60mm and 81mm mortars, and even a pair of $80,000 “Excalibur” satellite-guided 155mm artillery shells. Harrier jets and Cobra attack copters flew overheard, to pinpoint the militants’ locations. But the shells had no effect. The mortars didn’t dissuade the militants from shooting at the Marines again. And the aircraft never could keep an eye on the Taliban for very long. “Lost ‘em in the brush,” Meador radioed his superiors.

Meador deliberately provoked some of these firefights. Early Tuesday morning, Meador dispatched a sniper team to a southwestern compound to take out some suspected militants. It was part of an ongoing effort to keep the Taliban tied up around the compounds and the farms to the south – and to give the northern villages a chance to grow their watermelons and corn and marijuana in peace. Meador figured the sniper team’s attack would incite a reaction. So Meador also dispatched an infantry squad to hold the area, at least until the fire died down. Three days later, they’re still there.

Yesterday, he sent a squad on patrol in an area to a known Taliban hotspot in the southeast. Again, the mission was all-but-guaranteed to draw “contact,” the military’s euphemism for enemy fire. And it did.

As an infantry squad camped out in a 10-foot drainage ditch, knee-deep with mud, a sniper team entered a nearby adobe building. AK-47 fire erupted from the south. One bullet pierced the left arm of the Cpl. Jack Lowder, and hit him in the rib cage. The Echo company command post went ashen, when the Marines heard the call for a casualty evacuation. The infantry squad nearby sprinted through a corn field to reach Lowder, who was coughing up blood.

But he was alright – walking, talking, even joking as they led him to a makeshift landing zone, when a rescue chopper led Lowder away. Bu the time the infantry squad returned to Echo’s headquarters, Lowder was already undergoing exploratory surgery.

Friday morning for Echo company wasn’t as manic as Thursday – just some sporadic gunfire and a few rocket-propelled grenades, near the headquarters compound. Meanwhile, Meador waits, to see when and how hard the Taliban will hit next.

The Great U.S. Airlift Over Afghanistan

OVER FARAH PROVINCE, Western Afghanistan -- At an unseen point in the dark, Lt. Col. Wil Baulkmon slams down the flaps and pitches up the nose of his lumbering C-130 airlift plane. On the sharply canted cargo bay floor behind him, six tons of cargo strains against its web straps toward the open ramp and the roaring emptiness outside. "Come a little to the right ... a bit more," the navigator says crisply on the intercom. "OK, on course and looking good.''


Posted: 08/28/09

And with an electronic beeping sound, the straps are cut and the cargo bundles slide silently out into the dark with 26-foot diameter parachutes billowing after them. Even as Flight Torque 46 is droning along toward its next air drop, U.S. troops at a remote outpost below are gratefully ripping open heavy green nylon bags of frozen food, Gatorade and Snapple, ammunition and spare parts packed tight on wooden pallets. This is the largely unseen but critical part of the war here, the routine air resupply without which the Obama administration's war strategy would falter. It is the ability of the U.S. to airdrop supplies with precision -- and to land the stubby workhorse C-130s with cargo on remote dirt airstrips -- that enables smaller troop units to break away from big bases and operate from remote sites with the food, water and ammo they need.
Dispersing the troops is a key element of the new strategy to provide security for Afghanistan's population, which is scattered in thousands of rural villages and dusty crossroads and deep mountain valleys. Supplying American and allied troops by road is costly, time-consuming and -- because of persistent insurgent attacks on convoys -- often deadly. In the past eight years, 252 American troops have been killed by IEDs on Afghanistan's roads, according to the most recent Pentagon data, with another 1,624 wounded.
The roads are dangerous for other reasons, too. Last year, the U.S. military lost 44 trucks carrying 220,000 gallons of fuel. The skyrocketing appetite for critical resupply has outrun the capacity of U.S. military truck convoys, so local truckers are hired to haul non-lethal cargo, an Army logistics officer told me. But because of bandit roadblocks, insurgent attacks and breakdowns, it takes an average of 21 days for local truckers to struggle from Bagram Air Field, where cargo flights arrive from the U.S. and Europe, to Kandahar, the staging base for allied forces in southern Afghanistan. In winter, it can take twice that long.
"Convoys are favored targets of insurgents,'' a senior Pentagon official told Congress a few months ago. It's not hard to figure out why: strangle the supply of food, water, ammunition, reinforcement troops and blood, and military operations come to a halt. Here, in other words, all roads lead to...the skies. And American forces still control the air.
"Airlift keeps people off the road, and we can save lives," Air Force Gen. Arthur J. Lichte, who leads the Air Mobility Command, told me before I came to Afghanistan. The "surge'' of 21,000 additional U.S. troops into Afghanistan and their dispersal to remote bases has also surged the Air Force resupply effort. This year it's on track to airdrop 28 million pounds, more than triple the amount airdropped in 2007. "You put boots on the ground, they need supplies, and airlift requirements go up – doubling every six months,'' Lichte told me in his office at Scott Air Force Base, Ill.
It takes a furious and continuous ballet of parachute riggers, pallet handlers, loaders and air crews to move the supplies, including 15,000 pounds a day of the most valued cargo in Afghanistan: U.S. mail.
"We're running on adrenalin and three hours of sleep a night,'' Master Sgt. Dave Vesper, a C130 loadmaster, shouted at me as he helped push pallets into an aircraft cargo hold. Like many of the air crews flying these missions, Vesper, 43, is an Air National Guardsman who volunteered for an active-duty assignment here. He's from Mansfield, Ohio.
In fact, Air National Guard crews fly the majority of airlift flights. On rotations of one or two months, they fly their C-130s from their home state to Afghanistan, fly airlift missions four to six times a week, then swap out with another Guard crew before making their three-stop flight back home. It's an expensive shuttle, at $14,762 per C-130 flight hour. But there is no way the active-duty Air Force can met the demand.
Flying airlift in Afghanistan is taxing work. Heavily loaded C-130s have to dodge jet fighters, unmanned drones, commercial 747 cargo liners, transport and attack helicopters and even occasional artillery shells. They squeeze through Afghanistan's high mountain passes and battle heat, blinding dust, heavy winds, radios that fade in and out, and inevitable schedule snafus. Missions last up to 12 hours only on paper.
But Air Guard crews bring deep experience to the job. Torque 46's pilot, Baulkmon, 43, also flies for the Ohio Guard. He used to fly Navy F-18 fighter jets. Now, he's a Continental Airlines pilot when he's not volunteering for Afghanistan. Scrambling around the cargo bay on our flight is 51-year-old William Raby. He's been a National Guard loadmaster for 34 years and has deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan seven times.
"It is tiring,'' he said before Torque 46 took off at dusk one recent evening. Like most airmen, he speaks reverentially of "the guys on the ground'' who are taking the risks, living in harsh conditions, doing the fighting. "They do the real work,'' Raby said in his gravelly voice. "We just make sure we get them the stuff they need.''
Guys like Raby and Vesper work industriously and expertly in the hours before an airdrop, helping Army riggers sent here by the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, to pack cargo into bags and stack them onto pallets, strapped down tight and rigged with the proper size parachute. Each pallet is cushioned with eight inches of heavy cardboard honeycomb designed to crush on impact. They get the pallets out to the waiting C-130s and up into the hold, where everything must be packed and trimmed precisely, so the loads will slide out and the chutes will open properly. Any error could result in a "streamer,'' a heavy pallet whose chute fails to open. Streamers are a black eye for the air crews – and the demolished packages a great disappointment for the guys on the ground.

Now here is Raby at work, seconds after the first airdrop and minutes from a second drop. Baulkmon has the plane on one wing, in a tight turn towards the drop zone. Raby is out by the rear ramp, which is open to the night and the barely visible ground sliding along below. He's furiously cutting and slicing away bits of webbing, clearing the way for the next multi-ton set of bundles waiting behind him deep in the cargo bay.
"One minute!'' the navigator intones on the intercom as the nose goes up.
"C'mon, Loads,'' someone urges Raby. "Get the heck out of the way.''
"Forty seconds!'' the navigator announces, just as Raby climbs back over the bundles to safety.
And the second load of the night slides away to the troops below.
"Four bundles away,'' Raby announces. "No streamers.''
It doesn't always go as smoothly. One typical 5:30 a.m. mission called for a Missouri Air Guard C-130 to haul U.S. troops and cargo from Bagram Air Field to Kabul, pick up Afghan National Army soldiers and more cargo, off-load it all in Kandahar, fly different cargo back to Kabul, and then head back to Bagram.
Among its first cargo load on the manifest: a deceased Afghan, identity and circumstances unknown to the C-130 crew. Problem is, the HR ('human remains'') hasn't shown up. Designated flight ISAF 44, the C-130 waits on the tarmac with engines idling.

"Think we can beat that Prowler out of here?'' asks Maj. Chuck "Fig'' Newton, the Missouri Guard co-pilot, nodding toward a Navy EA-6B preparing to taxi.
"Nah, he's already turning (engines)'' says Capt. Cade Keenan, pilot.
"Tell him he's got a door open, that'll fix him,'' responds Newton, a former Marine Harrier jet pilot.

Eventually – hours off schedule – they're told to go ahead without the HR. Thirty minutes later, as Flight ISAF 44 is gear-down and seconds from landing at Kabul, the crew receives a text-message: Come back for the HR. The message is ignored.
As several dozen Afghan National Army soldiers in brand-new uniforms line up to board at Kabul, Keenan and Newton confer: Should they hold the Afghan troops here and fly back just for the HR, or tell Bagram, no way?
They tell Bagram, no way. As the Afghans clamber aboard, smiling bravely but clutching air sick bags, there comes a text message from Bagram: OK, forget the HR.
It is blazing hot in Kandahar and the C-130 needs fuel. No fuel truck is in sight, and Keenan, grumbling, goes stomping off in search of one.
Hours later, fueled and loaded, ISAF 44 heads toward Kabul, where heavy winds have churned up a dust storm that turns blindingly opaque in the setting sun. It's like flying directly into a pastel yellow wall. Keenan gets the C-130 onto the ground, all right, but the cross-winds are fierce. Too fierce, it turns out, to take off again. And a delay of even 90 minutes means the crew would exceed the maximum allowable time on flight duty, requiring 13 hours of rest before they can fly again.
"The bad news is we're stuck here,'' he tells the crew. "If there is good news, it's that I ran into a guy who can get us beds with actual sheets.''
Waiting to see if the wind abates, the crew dozes in their parked C-130, which rocks gently in the gusts. Dust drifts in through the open cargo bay ramp. A tattered Stars & Stripes newspaper is passed around. Suddenly, Keenan bounds up the ramp. "We're going,'' he says, and minutes later ISAF 44 is airborne ("Clear left!'' the navigator calls as the plane slides past a rocky peak). It's been 16 hours since the crew gathered for the flight.
But the cargo was delivered and the crew did its part to get reinforcements and supplies to the ground troops, and that's all that matters.
"You know, apart from being with my wife,'' says Newton, who is normally given to caustic gallows humor, "there is absolutely nothing I'd rather be doing than this.''

Drinking From Socks

KHAN NESHIN, Afghanistan– If the amount of water troops consume daily is one good indicator of the rigors of summer combat duty, then this isolated outpost in southern Helmand Province is surely one of the most arduous postings in the entire United States military.


August 28, 2009, 3:00 am
By Rich Oppel

The Marines here are allotted three cases of water per day – that’s three dozen ½-liter bottles, or more than four gallons. Marines on long patrols often drink more than that, grabbing extras from supplies allocated to men who stay on base.

That may seem extreme, but it is necessary for Marines who carry out foot patrols wearing body armor, a helmet, ammunition clips and carrying a rifle in some of the hottest temperatures on earth.

“There are guys who might think drinking two cases a day is enough, but in 120-degree heat and wearing a flak jacket, that is not enough,” said Navy Lt. Scott Fell, D.O., medical officer for the Marines’ Second Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion. In addition to drinking enough water, he instructs Marines to never skip breakfast. “If your pee is not light yellow or clear, you are not drinking enough.”

All of this raises another issue: In a place where afternoon temperatures are typically 120 degrees to 130 degrees – and stocks of water can reach the same temperature – how do you drink that much?

“The water gets so hot you don’t want to drink it,” said Cpl. Charles Dampier, 28, from Gainesville, Fla.

This base has a refrigerated container where Marines can swap out some of their allocation every day for cool water. But for Marines standing post or stationed at a handful of even more austere outposts arrayed outside Khan Neshin there is only one option: sock water.

Sock water, and a grateful wild rabbit nicknamed Roger.
It’s a simple contraption: A sock is hung on rope or string in the shade. A water bottle is placed inside. The sock is then soaked with water from another bottle.

As the water evaporates and the sock dries, the bottle inside cools by as much as thirty degrees, said Lance Cpl. Cory Bennett, 20, from Baton Rouge, La., who distributes water to the Marines here.

Some Marines also punch a small hole in the cap of a water bottle, turn it upside down and place it on top of the bottle already in the sock, guaranteeing a steady stream of water so they don’t have to worry about continually wetting the sock.

It’s hardly a trick unique to the Marines: Local Pashtun and Baluch tribesmen stretch pieces of cloth over large jugs and cool water the same way.

The temperature differential makes all the difference for water that has been sitting in the blazing sun or stored atop the Marines’ light armored vehicles.

“It’s not cold” after getting the sock-water treatment, Lance Corporal Bennett said. “But it’s not so hot that it burns your mouth, either.”

Sniper's Eye Counters Smuggling in Iraq

SAHL SINJAR, Iraq, - Marine Corps snipers and designated marksmen have been operating across the vast Iraqi deserts since the outbreak of hostilities in 2003.


Courtesy Story
Date: 08.28.2009
Posted: 08.28.2009 11:22

As with all units operating in Iraq, past and present, they have found themselves evolving to meet the changing needs of the Iraqi military and political landscape.

Small teams of snipers are finding reasons to venture into the constantly shifting environment that exists in a place referred to simply as "outside the wire."

"Working with previously gathered information, we gather additional intelligence and conduct operations watching over possible insurgent hot spots, caches or [improvised explosive device] cells," said Sgt. Neftaly Estremera, a chief scout with the 3rd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, Headquarters and Service Company. "We provide surveillance and [reconnaissance] capabilities for areas of interest."

As their larger parent unit –- the 3rd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion -- moves around the desert, relying on its combat power by combining force with local military and public support, the designated marksman teams operate in the shadows, far from the public eye.

"The sniper's job is different," said Lance Cpl. Russell Injerd, an assistant team leader for the battalion. "While the team leader plans the missions, the assistant team leader is the supervisor. Having a job like this means that not only do you operate in the shadows, but you also work to ensure that when others are busy, you're filling in the gaps."

It is these qualities that Marines within the designated marksman teams said they like most.

"I love operating; I mean really, what is there to not like?" Estremera said. "Yes, the sand fleas tear you up, but at least you know you're actually making a difference. We've been able to stop [people trying] to come [across the border] illegally. It's getting to the point now where it's mainly just illegal cigarette smuggling. We've come a long way."

A marksman often is called on to take creative approaches to mission accomplishment. This is something team members said not only is essential, but also is one of the unique elements of the job.

"The guidance is pretty general," Injerd said. "It's a good line of work, because you get to be creative with your mission planning. That's something not many units ever truly get to do."

A large part of mission planning is location. Snipers have the luxury of choosing where to establish themselves and how best to insert. While other, larger formations are limited by their loud engines and shouted squad commands, the marksman teams can slip in and out once they've decided on where to conduct their work.

"We usually insert anywhere from one to two kilometers from the operating zone," Injerd added. "We'll go over the plan, mount up and then move to wherever it is that we feel we can accomplish the mission most effectively."

While many movies and books tend to emphasize the marksmanship skills of the Marine sniper and designated marksman, marksman team members find that their true skills are in not having to fire a shot at all. Much like policemen around the world, the snipers are there to gather evidence and gain a visual perspective while keeping themselves unseen.

After the "insert," which Injerd described as the trickiest part of an operation, the team goes back to one of the fundamentals of infantry operations: communications.

"Once we have communications established, we check out the area and move into our selected [position]," Injerd explained. "From there, we set up and watch out. If we catch the bad guys committing crimes like smuggling, we call in for ground units."

August 27, 2009

'Marine killed in Afghanistan bomb blast 'was a beautiful kid'

A Tesoro High School graduate who wanted to be a Marine like his grandfather was killed in a roadside bomb explosion Wednesday morning in southern Afghanistan


Thursday, August 27, 2009
The Orange County Register

Lance Cpl. Donald J. Hogan, 20, of San Clemente was on a foot patrol at the time of the blast, which also injured several other Marines, said a spokesman for the 1st Marine Division at Camp Pendleton.

“He was a beautiful kid,” Jim Hogan said on the phone today from Dover, Del., where he had gone to see the transfer of his son's body at Dover Air Force Base. “He ran cross country at Tesoro High School. He wasn't very good at it but he always showed up and competed.”

Donald was assigned to 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, 1st Marine Expeditionary Force at Camp Pendleton.

On Sunday, Donald called his mother for the first time since deploying to Afghanistan in June, and left her a message.

“He said that he was safe and that he was OK,” Jim Hogan said. “And (that) he loved us and not to worry. He missed us.”

Donald joined the Marines soon after graduating in 2007 “because he wanted to do something different in his life,” Hogan said. “He was pretty happy go lucky and had a lot of friends. His whole dream was to one day join the Marine Corps.”

A career Marine, Donald's grandfather James Hogan Sr. retired as a gunnery sergeant and was a veteran of three wars – World War II, Korean and Vietnam. “He wanted to follow in his footsteps,” Jim Hogan said.

The father and son had talked about death. “He was aware of the dangers. (But) if he was worried about it, he didn't let me know about it,” Jim Hogan said.

Stacy Ruffer, a teacher and head cross country and track coach at Tesoro, said Donald ran for him during his junior and senior years and always gave his best.

“He was a coach’s dream,” Ruffer said. “He tried to be a mentor to a lot of younger kids on the track.”

Donald competed on the junior varsity team at the high school and told his coach that he planned to join the Marines.

“I thought it was a good fit for him,” Ruffer said.

“He always had a very positive attitude. When we’d be out there in 90-degree weather and running six to 10 miles, we would come back and even after this exhausting workout, he’d have fun playing with the other kids.”

Donald's body is expected to arrive at Dover Air Force Base today and the military will bring him home for services in San Clemente. This was his first tour of duty and he deployed with his unit to Afghanistanin the past few months, said Cpl. Shawn Coolman, a 1st Marine Division spokesman.

Donald was on foot patrol in the Nawa District of Helmand province when an improvised explosive device blew up nearby, Coolman said. It was not immediately known if Donald died at the scene.

Donald joined the Marine Corps on Nov. 5, 2007. He had received the Combat Action Ribbon, the Afghanistan Campaign Medal, the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal and the National Defense Service Medal, Coolman said

Battery R, 5/11 Ready to Put Rockets Down Range Anytime

CAMP DWYER, Helmand Province, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan – In the early morning desert heat, a squad of infantry Marines patrols through a seemingly empty field in the southern Helmand Province. Without warning, they start taking heavy fire from a distant compound. To overwhelm the enemy, the patrol leader calls for indirect fire support.


Story by Lance Cpl. Daniel Flynn
Date: 08.27.2009
Posted: 08.27.2009 10:53

It now falls to three-man teams, manning two High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems with just one mission – to provide precision fires during all weather conditions at any time of day or night.

This is what 2nd Platoon, Battery R, 5th Battalion, 11th Marine Regiment, attached to 3rd Battalion, 11th Marine Regiment, is here to do, according to Sgt. Jeff Witt, a section chief with 5/11.

The Marines of 5/11, stationed out of Camp Pendleton, Calif., are the first active duty HIMARS unit to be deployed to Afghanistan. They are one of only two HIMARS battalions in the Marine Corps, the other being 2nd Battalion, 14th Marine Regiment, which is a Texas-based reserve unit.

There are three platoons strategically positioned in southern Afghanistan to provide fire support for all of the Marine units here. At all times, there is a fire crew on standby at the weapon system in case there is a fire mission, according to Sgt. Luis Mario Barrientos, section chief, 5/11.

The Los Angeles native added that each crew consists of three Marines – a driver, who drives the unit into place for fire missions; a gunner, who keeps an eye out for enemy in the area while outside the wire; and a section chief, who supervises everything to make sure the fire mission goes smoothly.

Once a fire mission is called, it usually takes the crew just minutes before the rockets are ready to be fired. There is more to it than getting the system in place alone. Marines must accomplish several different tasks before the rockets are launched – grid coordinates for the target must be attained and the airspace cleared of traffic, which is coordinated through the Regimental Combat Team 3 fires cell.

With the Marines pushing to have the system ready to strike as soon as possible, the crews are allotted two minutes to get all of their proper protective equipment on and get the HIMARS in position outside of the wire.

"We are here to put warheads on foreheads," said Barrientos, referring to the HIMARS' ability to engage enemy forces with precision.

The HIMARS has a pod mounted on the back of a truck and carries six rockets. The system is about 24,000 pounds in weight, seven meters long, two and a half meters wide and three meters in height.

The HIMARS more than doubles the distance of a howitzer, said 1st Lt. John O'Connell, platoon commander with 5/11.

He added, after a couple more deployments with the system, they will be able to operate it even more efficiently. During their first deployment here in Afghanistan, the feedback they have received from the infantry Marines is all positive.

The Marines on the ground have praised the system's precision, reliability and quick-strike capabilities.

The Marines of 5/11 have their specialty down to a science. Although given a two-minute window during fire missions, they can have the system primed to attack within a minute, and it does not take much more time before all six rockets can be reloaded and ready to fire again, according to Barrientos.

They also employ radio operators so that those on the fire crews can keep in contact with their higher command.

"Working with the HIMARS is just awesome," said Lance Cpl. Travis Roark, a radio operator with 5/11. The Dewey, Ariz., native added, watching HIMARS in action is one of the most amazing experiences of his life.

The HIMARS is a system that is fairly new to the Marine Corps, having only been used by Marines in combat for about two years, yet it is quickly proving its worth.

Barrientos feels he is truly making a difference on the battlefield while operating this weapon system which is used to complement traditional artillery.

With the Marines of 5/11 always ready to put "warheads on foreheads," the infantry Marines on the ground have yet another reason to be confident while conducting combat operations.

Marines encouraged to use social media appropriately

The recently-released Marine Administrative Message 458/09 caused some to ask questions about how to properly use the social media sites that have become a popular way to communicate. Many Marines use social networking as a quick and easy way to maintain contact with family and friends, especially while away from home.


/27/2009 By 1st Lt. Caleb D. Eames, Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany

For those with families, being away from their spouse and kids for a long period of time is difficult, and having social media to communicate is a real morale boost,” said Capt. Victor Flores, deputy director, Logistics Support Division, Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany. “My daughter was born while I was deployed to Iraq, and the only way I could see her was through the webcam.”

According to the Marine Corps’ official response on social media from the Division of Public Affairs, Headquarters Marine Corps, which was posted on the Marine Corps’ official website, Maradmin 458/09 does not limit Marines’ access to social networking sites. Rather, it clarifies terminology and provides an official process to request a waiver to access social media from the Marine Corps Enterprise Network systems.

The official response goes on to state that numerous commands currently access social media through other internet service providers, and that the Marine Corps recognizes the benefits of social networking sites.

“Social media is important to every Marine and sailor out there,” said Flores. “When you are a long way from home, your family is on your mind. These days, Marines are used to communicating with Facebook and MySpace, and when they can access their accounts while away from family, it makes a difference in their combat readiness.”

In fact, Marine Corps News utilizes Twitter to keep followers informed about happenings within the Marine Corps, and MarinesTV has a dedicated YouTube channel.

“Even before this message, sites such as YouTube, Facebook, MySpace and Twitter could not be accessed by Marines using the Marine Corps Enterprise Network in accordance with Marine Corps and Department of the Navy policies,” according to the official response. Reasons for the general prohibition on system networks include high risk for viruses and malicious intent, as well as the fact that certain social media use a great deal of bandwidth that may detract from mission-related functions.

prohibited from accessing any social media sites from their personal computers during their off-time,” the official response continued. “Marines are encouraged to tell their stories on social networking sites.”

According to the Marine Corps’ website, other units that utilize social media include the Marine Corps’ New York City Public Affairs Office, the 1st Marine Logistics Group, the 11th and 24th Marine Expeditionary Units, and the Combined Task Force Talisman Saber.

“Marines also need to know that they represent their organization at all times, even through social media, and that operational security should always be remembered when posting information online,” said Colie Young, deputy public affairs officer, Public Affairs Office, Operations and Training Division, MCLB Albany.

August 26, 2009

2/2 advances through Mojave Viper

After fighting for nearly 90 minutes, the Marines entered the trench, secured the flanks and provided suppressive fire for other elements of their company advancing on the enemy position


8/26/2009 By Lance Cpl. Dwight A. Henderson, 2nd Marine Division

The Marines of Company G, 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, provided cover for engineers who emplaced anti-personnel obstacle breaching systems to clear concertina wire and allow other Marines to advance and complete the mission.

This was all done as the Marines participated in their final exercise of the first phase of Mojave Viper training aboard Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, Twentynine Palms, Calif., Aug. 16, 2009.

The exercise put into practice all they learned about a company offensive on an entrenched enemy position, and served as a way for senior Marines to evaluate the abilities of their junior Marines individually and the company as a whole.

“We started out as a newer battalion with a lot of new guys,” said Lance Cpl. Trevor L. Jones, a team leader with Company G. “Now the new guys are just working perfect, it’s a well oiled engine.”

The company went through the range, clearing enemy trenches and utilizing sniper, engineer and indirect-fire support to suppress the enemy as they moved forward.

According to Jones, with all the different assets, communication was the largest obstacle the company faced.

It’s important the different parts of the company can communicate so they can coordinate fire and move effectively and efficiently.

“There were a few hiccups here and there,” said Cpl. Ryan L. Hipple, a team leader with Company G. “Regardless, we improvised a little bit and were still able to breach our obstacles and take the objective.”

Mojave Viper provides similar terrain and resources as Afghanistan, and replicates the battlefield environment in which the Marines may be fighting during upcoming deployments.

“There’s a lot more available to us and we can actually use a lot of different assets on target objectives,” said Jones, a mortarman by trade. “It’s the best work up we could get.”

After completing the final exercise, the battalion moved into Clear Build Hold 2, the second phase of Mojave Viper training. The training is preparing the Marines for their upcoming deployment to Afghanistan later this year.

August 25, 2009

Flying to the fight, BLT 1/9 completes revamped Heliborne Company Raid Course

What begins as a hum in the distance escalates into a roaring thunder as MV-22 Ospreys and CH-53 Super Stallions emerge from the horizon and race across the sky. In minutes, a multitude of helicopters touch down and Marines rush out from the aircraft, storming the landscape for a swift and precise attack on an enemy stronghold.


8/26/2009 By Cpl. Alex C. Guerra, 24th MEU

After completing the Special Operations Training Group Heliborne Company Raid Course Aug. 21, Charlie Company, Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, was transformed from a straight-legged rifle company to an air mobile assault force.

Charlie Company spent five days integrating with aerial assets from Marine Medium Tilt Rotor Squadron – 162, the MEU’s air combat element, to form the 24th MEU’s helo raid force. The helicopter raid force provides ship to shore assault capabilities at almost any location in a timely manner.

SOTG instructors helped Marines perfect basic tactics, techniques, and procedures of heliborne raids. The unit rehearsed their methods at the Military Operations in Urban Terrain facility, and SOTG evaluated their performance during three company-sized raids throughout Camp Lejeune.

“Our goal, as a company, is to provide the MEU and the MEU commander a strong reliable asset that can do long range raids or anything which requires vertical lift,” said 1st Lt. Nicholas H. Schrobeck, executive officer, C Co., BLT 1/9, 24th MEU. “Anything that couldn’t be done with trucks, [tracked vehicles] or anything needed with helicopters, we need to be there and accomplish the mission.”

The course brought Charlie Company together for the first time to plan, prepare, and execute a raid as a unified company, one where each platoon played a pivotal role towards mission accomplishment.

“It’s a different dynamic from what the company did in Iraq (in 2008), where Marines were separated into police transition teams and smaller units,” said Schrobeck, a Warwick, N.Y. native. “Now we are working together as a 200 plus Marine force to accomplish one mission. There is much more unity of command and much more fulfillment working towards one final goal.”

SOTG instructors reinforced teamwork within the company by working with every Marine in the company, from the commanding officer to the junior enlisted rifleman and corpsman, developing skills needed to take on any mission at any place and return home.

“The [raid] package the MEU and SOTG put together has been a fantastic one and has been an excellent and invaluable learning source for the Marines,” said 2nd Lt. Patrick V. Turevon, platoon commander, 2nd platoon, C Co., BLT 1/9, 24th MEU.

SOTG gathered information from us instead of pushing it down, allowing Marines to develop their standard operating procedures and planning processes that worked for each platoon; it provided a third party critique that allowed Marines to grow and become more proficient in the raid process, said Turevon, a Rochester, N.Y. native.

SOTG introduced new tactics some Marines were eager to learn and hope to apply during their upcoming deployment. These included urban warfare, helicopter embarking, disembarking, and casualty evacuations.

“I got to see another part of what we (as infantrymen) can do,” said Lance Cpl. Jose Schofield, team leader, 2nd platoon, C Co., BLT 1/9, 24th MEU. “I got to see how we can apply our skills with helos, instead of trucks to get in and out of areas. It’s a whole another world; it was exciting flying in, getting dropped off instead of driving a truck [to do a raid].”

The Heliborne Company Raid Course was recently revamped, slimming from two weeks long to one. With much to learn and a steep learning curve, the Marines remained focused on one thing – the training.

“[This raid course] was the first one we’ve done in one week,” said Sgt. Justin L. Tygart, amphibious raid instructor, SOTG, II Marine Expeditionary Force. “The hours are longer and much more strenuous on the Marines with less down time. The course puts more of a real vibe on them as far as operation tempo.”

The more realistic the training seems, the more prepared Marines will become.

“It’s just so crucial to have that tough, realistic training,” said Schrobeck. “If we are going to use helicopters, we need to experience that rotor down-wash, the heat from the exhaust, the excessive volume, and all those realistic aspects these helicopters offer.”

Several Marines were able to ride in a helicopter for their first time. For almost all of the Marines, it was the first time they rode inside a MV-22 Osprey, which the 24th MEU will use for the first time when it deploys.

“This was [my] first time doing a raid with the Osprey,” said Schofield, a Hillsboro, Ore. native. “Once we got on the helo it took off real quick, which made me feel comfortable. If we were ever in a hot (dangerous) landing zone, we’ll be able to get out of there real fast.”

Marines became more comfortable saddling inside the aircrafts and executing raids by the end of the course. This combined with guidance they received from SOTG will allow the unit to continue forward with their training.

“The most critical aspect of this training is the Marines’ ability to take what we give them and continue building on it,” said Tygart, a Swansboro, N.C. native.

The course unified the Marines of Charlie Company, equipping them with capabilities that will take them from the sea to the shore and manifesting a “go hard or go home” appetite to complete their heliborne mission.

“The biggest thing I noticed in the Marines is their initiative and hunger,” said Turevon. “They want to go out there, [take on] these missions, and accomplish something. I think if Col. Petronzio (24th MEU commanding officer) threw something at us, these Marines will execute exceptionally well.”

Bronx Marine Responsible for Security in Afghanistan

FORWARD OPERATING BASE GERONIMO, Afghanistan - While the Marines at Forward Operating Base Geronimo sleep soundly at night, the guard force stays vigilant and watchful


Published: August 25,2009
By Lance Cpl. John McCall

Guard Marines are responsible for the security of Geronimo first and foremost. Second to that, they conduct mounted and dismounted security patrols up to five kilometers out from here, explained Gunnery Sgt. Michael Rivera, the Headquarters and Service Company gunnery sergeant. Marines from 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment moved into FOB Geronimo in July shortly after the start of Operation Khanjar. Three squads of Marines rotate between standing post, patrolling and sleeping. Even during their rest period, the Marines are in standby mode, filling the role of Geronimo's quick reaction force.

Gunnery Sgt. Michael A. Rivera knocks on a compound door during a patrol in Nawa District, Helmand province, Afghanistan, Aug. 13, 2009. Rivera, 42, is the Headquarters and Service Company gunnery sergeant from Bronx, N.Y., deployed with 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment. U.S. Marines are conducting security patrols in the area to speak with the local populace to identify their issues and concerns.

The QRF acts like a lifeline. Whenever they are needed, whether a patrol takes contact or a local Afghan has a stuck vehicle, these Marines are there to provide additional firepower for the patrol or assistance and security for the local driver.

Most patrols conducted around Geronimo have Marines interacting with the local populace, either through a "meet and greet" or at vehicle checkpoints. "We interact with the Afghans to build a relationship," said Lance Cpl. Louis J. Nagy, an administration clerk. "That way, in the future, they will trust us once they know we're here to protect them."

Conducting vehicle patrols and foot patrols daily, the guard is always awake providing security 24 hours a day.

"You don't always get a lot of sleep being on guard," Nagy said. "But we have to keep this place safe. It's an important job. I take it seriously because people's lives are in our hands."

Many forward-operating positions within 1/5's area of operations experience small-arms attacks by insurgents and improvised explosive device-finds are a common occurrence for some Marines. However, FOB Geronimo has far fewer of these events.

Rivera attributes the security situation to the Marines' robust patrolling effort. As long as we continue to stay vigilant, we will be far more likely to maintain stability in the area, he added. The guard has a very big responsibility to keep everyone here safe. It is no easy task but these Marines are up for the challenge.

"We take care of everybody," Rivera said. "That's what the guard force does."

Spokane Marine Assists in Counter-Insurgency Operations

FORWARD OPERATING BASE GERONIMO, Afghanistan - Despite the many obstacles that motor transport operators face each day on the road, in the end, they always deliver the goods


Published: August 25,2009
By Lance Cpl. John McCall

Marines with the motor transportation section, 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, participate in resupply convoys despite enemy activity and natural obstacles throughout Nawa District, the battalion's area of operations. To maintain day-to-day responsibilities, it is vital that the Marines in the forward-most areas be stocked with ammunition, equipment, repair parts, food and water. An additional task - mail delivery - helps the Marines stay motivated and connected with their loved ones back home.

"We supply the companies with everything they need," said Lance Cpl. Devon Sigmon, 24, a motor transport operator, and a Detroit native. "We put it on trucks and take to them. It allows Marines to do their job efficiently."

"Motor T" Marines don't serve as delivery men only. They are prepared to leave at a moment's notice to provide maintenance support. If a vehicle breaks down on the road, they're on the way with a tow truck and a bag of tools.

"We have to be ready to go all the time," said Lance Cpl. Gearo Ayala, 21, a motor transport operator and Bay Town, Texas, native. "If a vehicle gets stuck, they call us to get it out. If a vehicle is broken, we have to fix it. Vehicles break down. It happens. When they do, we need to be able to fix them immediately - whether we are in the middle of a convoy or back at the FOB."

If a vehicle needs more than a band-aid to keep it on the road, five mechanics here work around the clock to ensure more complicated repairs are completed. Motor T operators may drive the trucks, but it's the mechanics that keep them on the road. On call at all hours, mechanics with 1/5 are given wrecked vehicles and expected to perform miracles overnight.

"We'll get woken up in the middle of the night to go look at a vehicle and have to get it running by morning," said mechanic Cpl. Matthew Gillespi, 22, from Sylvania, Ohio. "It can be challenging at times, but you get used to it."

"When it comes time to work, things have to get to done, and we usually have very little time to do it," said Lance Cpl. Jack Applegate, 20, a mechanic from Spokane, Wash.
Performing these seemingly colossal tasks is not made any easier by the nature of their workspace. In the States, they would have a garage - or at least buildings to work out of - a regular schedule and a full set of tools. Out here, it's a little different.

"In the rear we have a set schedule, but out here it's just kind of reacting to whatever happens," said Cpl. Simon Mendoza, 20, a mechanic from Dallas. "We've got 'this' and 'that.' Now, what can we make out of it?

"We have to piece things together sometimes when we don't have the materials we need," he explained.

The 1/5's mission is to assist the Afghan people in Nawa District. Taking the first big step to clear and hold ground formerly controlled by Taliban forces and then staying to provide support for the people has never been done before, according to Capt. Daniel Thomas, the commanding officer for 1/5's H&S; Company.

Accomplishing their mission is important not only to the success of the Afghan government, but also to the residents here. Every aspect of support lends itself to that mission, and Motor T plays a big part.

"Vehicles are such a big part of how we get things from point A to point B," Ayala said. "It is a good feeling to know that because of what you do, Marines are able to go and do good things for these people."

In this combat zone, there are several potential hazards for motor transportation - hostile actions by insurgents, natural obstacles like rivers and canals, and no paved roads anywhere in this part of the country. Getting over, through and across anything that gets in their way, Motor T supplies their fellow comrades with the means to succeed.

Tualatin opens vital, new VFW

Veterans groups, facing the loss of their oldest members, are reinventing themselves as family-friendly, forward-looking clubs for the recently deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. And the generation gap, which put World War II vets on one side of the old hall and Vietnam vets on the other, appears closed


by Julie Sullivan, The Oregonian Tuesday August 25, 2009, 9:43

Older vets are banding together to reach the newest veterans, hoping to rebuild their organizations, offer military families comfort and support one another.

Nowhere is the trend more obvious than on a single square block on Boones Ferry Road in Tualatin, where a hole in the ground is all that remains of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 3452.

Today, the Tualatin VFW will open a new hall, named for Marine Cpl. Matthew Lembke. The honor, just six weeks after Lembke died from wounds sustained in Afghanistan, is a reminder of how popular the Tualatin High football player was in his hometown.

But it's also an indication that this is not your father's VFW.

Since 1951, the veterans in that area padded down stairs to meet in the basement-level concrete headquarters where musty smells arose from frequent floods. Even the framed charters on the walls were water-stained.

Olivia Bucks/The Oregonian
Medallions honor Marine Cpl. Matthew Lembke, who died in July from wounds suffered in Afghanistan.

"No matter how many cosmetic changes we made," said former post commander and Vietnam Navy vet Dale Potts, "it was still a dump."

The vets swapped the old site for the top floor of the 1912 Robinson building, the oldest commercial building in Tualatin. Developer David Emami had saved it from demolition.

Inside the new headquarters, toffee-colored walls and tasteful carpet make Lembke Hall feel more swanky Starbucks than smoky canteen. A new commercial kitchen sits off a cozy coffee bar. Post Commander Ron Holland is already preparing for the return of the Oregon Army National Guard's 41st Infantry Brigade Combat Team from Iraq next May. He plans practical seminars on employment, schooling and health, and family issues. And yes, 12 soldiers from the 41st have joined so far.

"Times have changed. The smoky, dingy old clubhouse is certainly not going to attract this new generation of veterans," says Jerry Newberry, national director of communications for the VFW. "They're family oriented. They've served multiple deployments and had a lot of time away."

The VFW requires service in war or an imminent danger area to become a member. Since membership peaked at 2 million in the 1990s, the organization has shrunk to less than 1.6 million as World War II vets have aged or died. Across the nation, many of the posts built 60 years ago have outlived their maintenance budgets, leases and neighborhoods. Tigard, Sherwood, Wilsonville and Lake Oswego all have shuttered their VFW posts in recent years.

The Tualatin post serves area vets and their relatives. The post is launching a new men's auxiliary -- like the women's auxiliary -- to attract any male member in the Southwest Portland area who has a sibling, child, grandchild, spouse, parent or grandparent who served in a war overseas or under hostile fire.

A vital post with plenty of members, they say, provides immediate benefits to all veterans, from armloads of hand-sewn quilts and neck pillows delivered to the Veterans Affairs Medical Center to emergency grants, free phone service for deployed soldiers and a national lobbying effort on such issues as the new GI Bill.

Buddy system
But it also gives older vets a sense of purpose. Many of the men and women leading posts today are Vietnam veterans still stung by World War II and Korean vets who shut the youngsters out.

Last week, Thomas Laing, who served as a Marine in Vietnam and is the national vice chairman for military service, traveled to the VFW convention with Shane Addis, a Eugene Marine reservist who served in Iraq. Their goal: stage the Telling Project, a play by and about soldiers that started in Oregon, at the next national convention.

"The Vietnam vet wants to make sure they don't get treated the way we were treated," Laing says.

Newberry says that instinct has its roots in military service.

"In combat it's all about taking care of your buddy, not about the flag and the Constitution. Being a member of a veterans group gives you the opportunity and ability to continue to take care of your buddies," he says.

Many older vets are doing that by belonging to multiple organizations. Some are starting new ones.

Eighteen months ago, three older vets started meeting on Mondays at Jake's Diner in Bend to talk about how to help. Today, with no formal organization, the "Bend Band of Brothers" numbers 105 and ranges in age from 25 to 96, says organizer Dick Tobiason. They've helped pass a law declaring U.S. 97 "World War II Veterans Historic Highway" and will break ground Thursday on a World War II memorial in Bend.

They also have several flag campaigns and have presented commemorative medallions and coins to the families of the 115 Oregonians killed in action since 2001.

"Never forget"
Bill Bussey traveled to Tualatin on Tuesday to present Claudia and Dale Lembke and their daughter Carolyn with medallions as well as Dave and Sandy Troyer of Sherwood, whose son, Marine Lance Cpl. Tyler J. Troyer, died last year in Iraq.

Sandy said: "It means so much that you guys are doing this."

The families received the medallions and coins while Bob Maxwell, the state's only living Medal of Honor Recipient, watched. Maxwell was honored after falling on a hand grenade on Sept. 7, 1944, in eastern France. At 88, the retired community college instructor has had five hip replacements and a triple bypass. Still, on Sunday, he drove from Bend to Madras to dedicate a new statue to Thomas Tucker, the Oregonian abducted and killed by insurgents in Iraq in 2006.

On Tuesday, he drove to Tualatin.

"The families of those who gave their lives don't need a memorial. They will never forget," Maxwell says.

"But the rest of us must be reminded."

Both sisters of the Marines spoke. Brittany Troyer said that having an Albany baseball clubhouse named for her brother "means so much."

Carolyn Lembke said she had gone by the Tualatin building to take pictures where his name will be installed in bronze above the door. "I love the building so much.

August 24, 2009

Crestron Eagles Program Donates Theater to Marines

BETHESDA, MD,— Crestron hosted the third Eagles Program dedication ceremony yesterday for the Wounded Warriors Battalion – East at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, unveiling the new home theater donated to provide comfort and entertainment for America’s heroes recovering from injuries sustained during combat overseas. The Crestron Eagles Program was conceived by Crestron
President George Feldstein to honor the service and sacrifice of our wounded warriors returning home from battle.


2009-08-24 18:52:55 -

Chris Benvenuto

The Bethesda Naval Hospital is part of Wounded Warrior Battalion-East, located in the suburbs of Washington. DC. It is a temporary home for marines recovering from severe injuries sustained from combat missions, sniper attacks and IEDs. Many of the wounded men and women are undergoing multiple brain surgeries, but are very optimistic and looking forward to returning to their units or starting their lives as civilians. As the Battalion motto states, they may be “down, but not out.” Every marine has big plans for a bright future, and today was an emotional day for all who participated.

Attending the ceremonial ribbon cutting were Officer in Charge Lt. Colonel Benjamin Hermantin, Gunnery Sergeant Charles Strong-SNCOIC, Company Gunny Staff Sergeant Charles Nesbitt, members of the L/Cpl Robert J. Slattery Detachment #206 Marine Corps League, and the entire Wounded Warriors Battalion. Cpl Jesse Brassart and LCpl Frank Parenti held the ribbon, while Sgt John McNamara cut it.

“We want to thank Crestron for giving us this very generous gift,” said Staff Sergeant Charles Nesbitt. “I can’t tell you how much all these marines appreciate your support and how much they enjoy the system you’ve provided.”
The marines presented Crestron with a certificate of appreciation, a photograph of the battalion signed by every marine, and two medals, which were accepted by Government Market Manager Pete Baca, USMC Ret.

“Thank you for your kind words, but we are the ones who are grateful and honored to be able to do this for you,” said Vincent Bruno, Crestron Director of Marketing. “You all have made great sacrifices for us – to preserve out freedom. This is merely a small token of our appreciation for all you do and are doing.” Bruno then presented Staff Sgt. Nesbitt with a gold engraved plaque.

The installation would not have been possible without the donations and efforts of industry partners.AVI/SPL installed the system, ICD did all the programming, and the other vendors kindly gave the necessary equipment: Marshall Furniture (custom cabinet), Triad (speakers and stands) and Velodyne (sub-woofer). Crestron donated an Adagio® home theater system, CEN-IDOCV interface for iPod®, TPMC-6X touchpanel, a 52-inch HD plasma and a Blu-ray player.

The young men and women receiving treatment and recovering at the Bethesda Naval Hospital spend most of their days at “appointment” with doctors and physical therapists. There are occasional off-base trips and activities offered, but there is little to do at the hospital and boredom is often their biggest enemy. The new theater provides hours of fun and entertainment, and motivates the troops to gather and socialize when their not at appointments.

“Last weekend I was here watching pre-season football rather than at home,” explained Gunnery Sgt. Charles Strong. “The TV here is much better and it was more fun to hang out with some of the other guys.”
The next hospitals scheduled to receive a home theater are Warrior Transition Battalion at Brooks Army Medical Center in San Antonio, TX and Wounded Warriors Battalion – West in San Diego, CA.
For more information about the Crestron Eagle Program contact Pete Baca at [email protected] For high-resolution photos of the Crestron Eagles Program dedication ceremony at Camp Lejeune go to www.crestron.com/pressroom and select “High Res Photos and Logos” and then “Current Press Photos.”

About Crestron
For 40 years Crestron has been the world's leading manufacturer of advanced control and automation systems, innovating technology to simplify and enhance modern businesses and lifestyles. Today, delivering direct network connected systems and the new Crestron DigitalMedia™ line, Crestron provides the only viable solution for the digital age. Its integrated solutions control AV, computer, and environmental systems from touchpanels, keypads, remotes and mobile devices. Crestron streamlines technology to improve resource management, operational efficiency and convenience in commercial buildings, schools, hotels and hospitals.
Crestron manufactures all products from its World Headquarters in New Jersey, with 57 regional offices throughout North America, Europe, Middle East, Asia, Latin America and Australia.

Marines Find Afghan Mission Is A Matter Of Trust

In Afghanistan's Helmand province, one U.S. Marine captain says, militants are like the hairs on your head — pull them out and more grow back.

Click on the above link for a radio broadcast and photos.

August 24, 2009
by Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson

The southern province is the backbone of the Taliban insurgency gripping the country, and the Marines are finding that simply being stronger than the Taliban isn't enough to dislodge their fighters.

Shortly before last week's presidential elections, the Marines launched an operation to take back a key district. NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson accompanied a Marine company in its battle to clear the Taliban out of one Helmand town.

They strike Dahaneh before dawn. Three helicopters carrying assault teams from the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marines and a squad of Afghan soldiers fly over a much slower convoy of armored vehicles also headed to the fight.

The airborne teams descend on a mud-walled compound where Afghans believed linked to the Taliban sleep on the roof to escape the summer heat. Several of the men are taken into custody. The women and children are sent to stay with relatives.

A few hours later, the armored convoy carrying more Marines and Afghan troops rolls in. Patrols are sent out to secure the town, one dirt street at a time.

The militants put up a fierce fight. The Marines guess someone's tipped them off about the operation.

Bullets, mortars and rockets rain down in periodic bursts on the troops. Most appear to be fired from mountains surrounding the town. But some Taliban fighters weave in and out of Dahaneh's deserted streets.

"That's him there," a Marine yells. "Go right!" comes another shout, punctuated by gunfire.

'On The Winning Side'

On the second day, one Marine is killed, his legs blown off by a rocket-propelled grenade. Taliban casualties in the fight over Dahaneh were much higher — an estimated dozen militants killed in the first 24 hours alone

No civilians are believed hurt or killed. Most flee Dahaneh during lulls in the fighting.
Cobra helicopters and other military aircraft provide backup to the troops. One missile is even fired from a base some 60 miles away, taking out the militants' heavy-caliber machine gun on a nearby ridge.

With their large numbers and advanced weapons, the Marines and Afghan soldiers soon control much of Dahaneh.

But the operation commander, Marine Capt. Zachary Martin, says a meaningful victory here is about a lot more than who controls the terrain. He says the key to any long-term success will be to win over the town's population, estimated at 2,000.

"They're waiting to see what we're going to do," he says. "They want to see if we're going to stay the course, if we're going to be the winning side, because they very much want to be on the winning side."

Changing Perceptions

Martin says it's about more than demonstrating who is stronger. It's about whether the Marines can build trust. That's something he and others say it has taken Western forces in Afghanistan years to learn, including in this district.

Famed for its pomegranates, the district of Now Zad was an economic powerhouse for the Afghan government when it controlled Helmand province. Today, Now Zad is a moneymaker for the Taliban. The militant group taxes residents and reaps profits from the many opium poppy fields now cultivated here.

For years, the Taliban has kept people here cut off from the Afghan government — despite the presence of British and Estonian troops and, more recently, the U.S. Marines. There is no Afghan police force here, nor are there any schools.

Despite the isolation, Now Zad residents interviewed before last week's presidential polls were aware their country was about to hold elections.

Farmer Khan Mohammad, who lives in the tiny village of Khawji Jamal, says he would vote if the security situation were different. But with the Taliban ruling Now Zad, he and other villagers see little value in the polls.

It's this perception of Taliban domination that the Marines here want to change. If they don't, they see little hope of permanently driving out the Taliban.

A Lesson From Iraq

Cpl. Justin Thompson, 24, is the sergeant of the guard at a combat outpost on a hilltop a mile away from the village.

The Afghans "are our friends, and our enemies hide within them," he says. "So the enemy could be the guy herding his sheep one day, and then the next day he can be the guy carrying the AK in the wood line that you can't see, just firing at the helicopters because he needs to make a living for his family."

Thompson and others of the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marines' Golf Company — which has been in Now Zad since May — are doing something they say no other foreign troops here have done before: They go into the villages to make friends with Now Zad residents. It's a lesson these Marines learned while in Iraq, where they won over Sunni tribesmen in the fight against al-Qaida.
Martin, the company commander, says the Marines help the Afghan villagers whenever they can — like giving them parts to repair their water pumps.

"Once they saw that we were very careful with our rules of engagement, once they saw that we were eager to actually talk to them and to get to know them, to look at their problems and concerns — and that, furthermore, we were here to fight the Taliban and here to stay — our reception became much different," he says. "To the point where now we have them invite us in for tea, they invite us to come to the mosque with them, which is a fairly radical switch from running away whenever we come."

Overcoming Doubts

The villagers seem especially fond of Roger Parrino, the civilian law enforcement adviser. He's brought penicillin for an Afghan village boy with an ear infection. The retired New York City police lieutenant sports an unkempt beard, which to Afghans makes him appear to be a tribal elder among the Marines.

But there are limits to how far residents are willing to go with the Marines, Martin says.
"What we're looking at right now to some extent is an impasse because of the situation the locals find themselves in," he says, referring to Taliban control of Dahaneh.

The village is the economic heart of Now Zad, where residents from around the district shop or sell goods. But they faced retribution if they were seen talking to the Marines. So the Marines went there to drive out the Taliban.

Even before the fighting in the town ended, Marine civil affairs teams fanned out to meet with the residents they could find.

"We found that the follow-on operations are sometimes way more critical than the actual kinetic aspect," says Marine Staff Sgt. Todd Bowers, who heads one of the teams. "We need to have good planning in order to understand who the key leaders are and ensure that we're giving them the capability to still have power over their people, but at the same time make sure that power is guided in the right direction."

The day after the battle in Dahaneh, Afghan soldiers raised their country's flag over a hastily constructed combat outpost that will house the Afghan and U.S. troops.

It was the first sign of Afghan government presence here in four years.

August 23, 2009

Mountain training gets Afghan war twist

By Gidget Fuentes - Staff writer
Posted : Sunday Aug 23, 2009 12:11:30 EDT

PICKEL MEADOW, Calif. — They invaded Iraq, fought pitched battles with insurgents in Fallujah, operated in the jungles of Southeast Asia and raided beaches from amphibious ships with Republic of Korea marines.

To continue reading:


Marine Lance Cpl. Pedro Barboza Flores, 27, Glendale, killed by roadside bomb

Having a hard time finding his path in life, he revisited a childhood dream and overcame obstacles to make it come true.
When Pedro Barboza Flores walked into the Glendale recruiting office to volunteer for the U.S. Marine Corps two summers ago, he received a discouraging reply. At 6 feet 2 and 220 pounds he was too heavy, older than most at 25, and he needed to finish high school. Staff Sgt. James Anderson thought he'd never see him again.


By Tami Abdollah
August 23, 2009

But days later he was back. He had enrolled in GED courses to earn a diploma and started weekly training with the Marines.

"My fellow Marines often kid me about how he was his own recruiter," Anderson said. "He was the one who gave me calls, gave me weekly updates on how things were going."

For Barboza Flores, becoming a Marine was not only a lifestyle transformation, but the realization of a childhood dream. He loved war stories and had always spoken about joining what he believed was the toughest military branch, his family said.

The move was a departure from a difficult past. Over the years he had floated through life. He dropped out of Hoover High School and worked at Sears and McDonald's. While his four siblings went to college and began careers, he fell into a funk, hung out with the wrong crowd and experimented with drugs, friends and family said.

Finally, his family intervened, telling him that he needed to turn his life around. Determined to do so, he revisited an old dream.

Within a year, Barboza Flores lost more than 50 pounds, gave up alcohol and stopped eating out and drinking daily six-packs of soda. He began regularly jogging four to five miles around Griffith Park.

He was accepted into the Marine Corps in March 2008, and after boot camp and more training at Camp Pendleton and his base in North Carolina, he happily volunteered to deploy 30 days early, in May, to make preparations. Despite their worries, his relatives embraced the excitement he had for his new life.

"We couldn't show we were scared," said Aurora Alamillo, his sister and a math teacher at Glendale High School. "He was almost riding on a high because he had accomplished something he thought he couldn't do before. We didn't want to burst his bubble."

Pedro, or "Pete" as his family called him, was one of two Marines killed July 11 when a roadside bomb exploded near their vehicle in southwestern Afghanistan's Helmand province, on the Pakistani border. The 27-year-old was a lance corporal two months into his first tour, assigned to the 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force at Camp Lejeune, N.C. Barboza Flores earned the National Defense Service Medal and the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal.

Barboza Flores was born in Durango, Mexico. At age 2, he moved with his family from Zacatecas to Los Angeles. When he was 12, his family moved to Glendale.

Barboza Flores was a mellow and light-spirited guy, who carried around a sketchbook everywhere he went, loved to collect comic books and play action video games, especially "Metal Gear Solid." He enjoyed science fiction and history books. And once his new diet kicked in, he couldn't get enough of grilled salmon. He had planned to wait until 30 to have a family, and wanted to join the police force after military duty, his sisters said.

To friends and family, he was always dependable and loyal, and enjoyed playful banter. The second-youngest, Barboza Flores was very close to his family, but especially to his younger sister, Lizet.

"I still picture him, kind of, being in Afghanistan," she said, pausing as she was overwhelmed with tears Friday while at the cemetery. "He should be deployed during this time. For me he's still there, and it hasn't really happened. But when I actually think about it, look at pictures . . . it just kills me to know that I won't share these moments with him again. We won't just sit around and talk and laugh, just be brother and sister."

Lizet Barboza Flores, 24, visits his grave at Forest Lawn Memorial-Parks in Glendale two to three times a week. In Utah, where his parents moved a few years ago, neighbors planted a tree and put up a plaque as a memorial at a nearby park so that his parents can visit something tangible to remember their son. They go to the memorial daily.

His mother, Aurora Flores, 60, sobbed uncontrollably as she spoke of her loss. She said she hasn't been able to sleep at night, and she relives the moment when the Marines took off their caps, gave her a flag, and told her that her son was dead.

"He, for me, was my life. . . . My kids are my life. It's the only reason to live," Flores said. "And every night I ask 'Why? Why did this happen to my son?' "

Marines Fight Taliban With Little Aid From Afghans

KHAN NESHIN, Afghanistan — American Marines secured this desolate village in southern Afghanistan nearly two months ago, and last week they were fortifying bases, on duty at checkpoints and patrolling in full body armor in 120-degree heat. Despite those efforts, only a few hundred Afghans were persuaded to come out here and vote for president on Thursday.


Published: Sunday, August 23, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.

In a region the Taliban have lorded over for six years, and where they remain a menacing presence, American officers say their troops alone are not enough to reassure Afghans. Something is missing that has left even the recently appointed district governor feeling dismayed. “I don’t get any support from the government,” said the governor, Massoud Ahmad Rassouli Balouch.

Governor Massoud has no body of advisers to help run the area, no doctors to provide health care, no teachers, no professionals to do much of anything. About all he says he does have are police officers who steal and a small group of Afghan soldiers who say they are here for “vacation.”

It all raises serious questions about what the American mission is in southern Afghanistan — to secure the area, or to administer it — and about how long Afghans will tolerate foreign troops if they do not begin to see real benefits from their own government soon. American commanders say there is a narrow window to win over local people from the guerrillas.

Securing the region is overwhelming enough. The Marines have just enough forces to clear out small pockets like Khan Neshin. And despite the Americans’ presence, Afghan officials said 290 people voted here last week at what is the only polling place in a region the size of Connecticut. Some officers were stunned even that many voted, given the reports of widespread intimidation.

Even with the new operation in Helmand Province, which involves the Marines here and more than 3,000 others as part of President Obama’s troop deployments, the military lacks the troop strength even to try to secure some significant population centers and guerrilla strongholds in central and southern Helmand.

And they do not have nearly enough forces to provide the kinds of services throughout the region that would make a meaningful difference in Afghans’ lives, which, in any case, is a job American commanders would rather leave for the Afghan government.

Meanwhile, Afghans in Khan Neshin, the Marines’ southernmost outpost in Helmand Province, are coming to the Americans with requests for medical care, repairs of clogged irrigation canals and the reopening of schools.

“Without the Afghan government, we will not be successful,” said Capt. Korvin Kraics, the battalion’s lawyer, who is in Khan Neshin. “You need local-level bureaucracy to defeat the insurgency. Without the stability that brings, the Taliban can continue to maintain control.”

Local administration is a problem throughout Afghanistan, and many rural areas suffer from corrupt local officials — if they have officials at all. But southern Helmand has long been one of the most ungovernable regions, a vast, inhospitable desert dominated by opium traffickers and the Taliban.

It not clear what promises of support from the Afghan government the Americans had, or whether they undertook the mission knowing that the backing necessary to complete it, at least in southern Helmand, might not arrive soon — if at all. The Americans in Khan Neshin doubt that the Afghan government promised much of anything.

Governor Massoud said he personally admired the Marines here, from the Second Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, but he said many people “just don’t want them here.”

He estimated that two of every three local residents supported the Taliban, mostly because they make a living growing poppy for the drug trade, which the Taliban control. Others support them for religious reasons or because they object to foreign forces.

Not least, people understand that the Taliban have not disappeared, but simply fallen back to Garmsir, 40 miles north, and will almost surely try to return.

Lt. Col. Tim Grattan, the battalion commander, said the local residents’ ambivalence reflected fears of what could happen to anyone who sided with the Marines, an apprehension stoked by past operations that sent troops in only for short periods.

“They are on the fence,” Colonel Grattan said. “They want to go with a winner. They want to see if we stay around and will be able to protect them from the Taliban and any repercussions.”

As for follow-up assistance, Colonel Grattan said the Afghan national government “has been ineffective to date.”

The shortfall in Afghan government support is important not only in terms of defining the Marines’ mission here, but also because it crimps their operations. The Marines, unlike units in some other regions, answer to a NATO-led command and are under orders to defer to Afghan military and civilian officials, even if there are none nearby.

For instance, Marines must release detainees after 96 hours or turn them over to Afghan forces for prosecution, even if the nearest prosecutors or judges are 80 miles away. Some detainees who the Marines say are plainly implicated in attacks using improvised explosive devices or mortars have been released.

The problems are compounded by a shortage of American troops, despite the recent reinforcements. The Marine battalion, which deployed with less than 40 percent of its troops, can regularly patrol only a small portion of its 6,000-square-mile area.

To do even that they have stretched: three-fifths of the Marines are stationed at checkpoints and a handful of austere outposts ringing Khan Neshin, living without air-conditioning or refrigerated water.

That leaves no regular troop presence across the vast southernmost reaches of Helmand. On the Pakistani border the town of Baramcha — a major smuggling hub and Taliban stronghold — remains untouched by regular military units. American and Afghan officials say Baramcha’s influence radiates through southern Helmand, undermining Marine and British military units elsewhere. “It’s the worst place in Afghanistan,” Governor Massoud said.

If the Afghan national government can provide more resources and security forces — and the Marines add more men — then the United States may be able to leave in two to three years, Colonel Grattan said.

Without that, he said, it could take much longer. For now, little help is materializing.

Frustrated, Governor Massoud said his “government is weak and cannot provide agricultural officials, school officials, prosecutors and judges.”

He said he was promised 120 police officers, but only 50 showed up. He said many were untrustworthy and poorly trained men who stole from the people, a description many of the Americans agree with. No more than 10 percent appear to have attended a police academy, they say. “Many are just men from the streets,” the governor said.

The Afghan National Army contingent appears sharper — even if only one-sixth the size that Governor Massoud said he was promised — but the soldiers have resisted some missions because they say they were sent not to fight, but to recuperate.

“We came here to rest, then we are going somewhere else,” said Lt. Javed Jabar Khail, commander of the 31-man unit. The Marines say they hope the next batch of Afghan soldiers will not be expecting a holiday.

In the meantime, at the local bazaar, just outside the Marines’ base, the foreign troop presence remains a hard sell.

When one man, Abdul Hanan, complained that “more people are dying,” First Lt. Jake Weldon told him that the Taliban “take away your schools, they take away your hospitals; we bring those things.”

Mr. Hanan remained doubtful. Some people have fled the area, fearful of violence since the Marines have arrived. He asked, “So you want to build us a hospital or school, but if nobody is here, what do we do?”

3rd Battalion, 9th Marines relieves 2nd Battalion, 1st Marines

Third Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment relieved 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment during a certificate of relief ceremony Aug. 16, 2009.


8/23/2009 By 2nd Lt. Barry J. Morris, Regimental Combat Team 8

“Second Battalion, 1st Marines, met my expectations as they continued RCT-8’s efforts in empowering the people and leadership of western Al Anbar to develop and sustain the transparent economic, governance, legal, and society capability and capacity in facilitating long-term regional stability and development, so that further economic development will be possible here in Iraq,” said Col. John K. Love, the commanding officer of Regimental Combat Team 8.

Second Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, which hails from Camp Pendleton, Calif., worked by, with and through the Iraqi civilian and Security Force leadership to enable western Al Anbar to be a productive partner in a peaceful and sovereign Iraq, during their six-month tour here.

“I’m proud to have served side-by-side with the ISF, and I wish them all the best in their future successes,” said Lt. Col. Paul J. Nugent, commanding officer of 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 8.

When Lt. Col. Nugent arrived in February of 2009 with 2nd Bn., 1st Marines, he found an Iraq that was safer and more secure than it was the last time he was deployed here.

“Our operating environment was near kinetic-less, as compared to the last time I was here just two years ago,” said Nugent.

Since Nugent’s last deployment to Iraq, the ISF have been planning and conducting operations within the province with little to no assistance from U.S. forces, and Iraqi army units from Al Anbar have proven their professionalism and capabilities to the degree that they have been deployed to other provinces throughout Iraq to conduct security operations.

Third Battalion, 9th Marines, based out of Camp Lejeune, N.C., will replace 2/1 and continue the successes of their predecessors in western Al Anbar province.

“We will partner with the Iraqi district leadership in order to continue the professionalization of the Iraqi Security Forces,” said Lt. Col. Daniel Q. Greenwood, the commanding officer of 3rd Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 8. “Our goal is to facilitate the ISF's ability to operate independently and provide a secure and stable environment for the Iraqi people. By continuing to build the operational capacity of the ISF and promote the joint interoperability of the Iraqi army, Iraqi Police and other elements of their security forces, we will ensure they remain self-reliant as U.S. forces drawdown.”

Third Battalion, 9th Marines, will also work in partnership with the embedded Provincial Reconstruction Team, providing support to the region’s Iraqi Security Forces and the local government in order to create a stable, peaceful and prosperous Iraq.

Additionally, 3/9 will continue to support the Iraqi Security Forces upon request, as the ISF continues to develop into highly professional, competent and capable organizations that are doing exactly what it takes to maintain security for their population and set the conditions for the Iraqi leadership to encourage economic development within the province.

“Third Battalion, 9th Marines was deactivated in 1994, and this is the battalion's first combat deployment since its activation May 20, 2008,” said Greenwood. “The Marines and families of the battalion have built an exceptional team over the past 16 months and carry on a legacy established by those members of the command who fought on Iwo Jima, in Vietnam, Desert Storm and other historic operations. Most importantly, the Marine Corps has conducted combat and counterinsurgency operations in Anbar province for nearly seven years. Third Battalion, 9th Marine's current operations are critical to the successful completion of the Marine Corps' mission in Anbar province and [we] recognize the sacrifice and hard work of those who served before us here.”

August 22, 2009

Conway predicts ‘more combat support’ after Army general’s review

CAMP RAMADI, Iraq - The top U.S. Marine is checking on troops in one war zone as he gets ready to send more to the next.


updated 7:17 p.m. CT, Sat., Aug 22, 2009

Gen. James Conway, commandant of the Marine Corps, visited Iraq this week before flying Saturday to Afghanistan, where the United States is considering adding more troops. Many of the fresh-faced Marines who met Conway are serving their first combat mission — and already are looking forward to the next battle.

They are part of a force that, between the years in Iraq and Afghanistan, could be fighting wars for a generation.
At a hot and dusty base outside Ramadi, the capital of Iraq's Anbar province, Conway made clear he does not yet know whether Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, will add to the 68,000 American troops already scheduled to be there by the end of the year. But Conway told the Marines he wants them to be ready.

"I'll be surprised if we don't get asked for more," Conway said. He predicted "more combat support in there."

War review coming
McChrystal is preparing a review of the war — and his needs for fighting it. He is expected to deliver that review to the Pentagon by early September. Defense Secretary Robert Gates last week said the review will not address troop levels, but military officials privately believe McChrystal ultimately will ask for as many as 20,000 additional soldiers.

U.S. troops first invaded Afghanistan in 2001 after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and Iraq two years later. Although the United States is committed to pulling its combat forces from Iraq by the end of 2011, military officials and experts believe the battle in Afghanistan easily could last for up to a decade longer.

That has required the Pentagon to rethink how to prepare its forces. The Army is recruiting 22,000 new soldiers and extending time at home for troops returning from battle. The Marines are making physical fitness more rigorous for those headed into combat.

Marines being Marines — a force that prides itself on running from one fight to the next — appear eager to head from Iraq to Afghanistan. An estimated 13,200 Marines remain in Iraq, and the vast majority of them will be gone by Thanksgiving. About 11,400 Marines are currently in Afghanistan.

"We're an expeditionary force; we're very offensive-minded, and it would be a better use of our time to be in Afghanistan," said Capt. John Roma, commander of a Marine company that deployed to Iraq just two weeks ago. It's his second tour of duty in Iraq; he has also fought in Afghanistan.

"But we still have a job to do here, and we're doing it to the best of our ability."

August 21, 2009

Marines Work and Live Hard in Afghanistan

No Beds, No Running Water and No Complaints from the Marines of Echo Company

(CBS) The U.S. Marines from Echo Company are in Afghanistan with a mission to hunt down the Taliban in dangerous Helmand Province so that voters could get to the polls yesterday. They weren't always successful and voter turnout was very low.


News Video:

Helmand Province, Afghanistan, Aug. 21, 2009
By Lara Logan

But, as CBS News Chief Foreign Affairs correspondent Lara Logan reports from the frontlines, Echo Company is used to a challenge. More than 200 strong, the company served eight tours in Iraq. This is their first tour in Afghanistan. They arrived on July 2nd and have been operating in some of the worst conditions imaginable.

Combat Outpost Sharp, an old school building, has been home to Echo Company for almost two months now. Taliban fighters battled these marines as they fought their way to the school. Now the marines use this as a base to launch attacks on the Taliban.

"When we first came here this place was disgusting - it had syringes on the ground, human waste, it was just absolutely filthy and while it's not the Taj Mahal right now, we have made this into a place where the Marines can operate out of, comfortably really," says Lt. T. Tompkins, a 27-year-old from Nashville, Tenn. "The dust, the mud, the canals - none of that goes away. There's no escaping it, you know, you just have to make your peace with it."

The Marines at Combat Outpost Sharp live, eat and sleep in the dirt. Because they're on the frontline of the fight, there are no barracks and no mess hall for hot meals. There's nowhere for them to wash when they get back to base, sweaty and dirty.

Sgt. Sam Walters hasn't showered in nearly two months and says showering "would be awesome." He spends his downtime working out. But there's no gym.

"If you think about it, we live in better conditions than about two thirds of the world, so I consider myself pretty fortunate," says Walters.

The heat is relentless. Temperatures reach 120 degrees every day.

The conditions here are about as rough as it gets, but the Marines rarely complain. Living hard is part of the Marine mentality, as long as they have what they need to fight and just enough to survive.

Supplies mostly come by road. The much-anticipated logistics convoy shows up when it can and brings what they need and what they want to make life bearable. Some hope for cigarettes. But what they want most of all is mail from home.

For many of these men, the hardest part is being so far from home. Sgt. Anthony Matthews already knows what he'll be telling his children.

"I'm gonna be telling this story in 40 years and I'm gonna tell them it was rough ... I'm gonna tell them my war story," says Matthews.

29 Palms Marine receives Navy Cross

Staff report
Posted : Friday Aug 21, 2009 7:06:34 EDT

A junior Marine severely wounded during an ambush last year in Afghanistan’s Helmand province received the Navy Cross on Thursday at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms, Calif., base officials said.

To continue reading:


3/7 Hones Survival Skills at Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center

Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center Bridgeport, Calif. – Marines and Sailors of Company I, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, put their skills to the test during pre-environmental training in Landing Zone Dodo at Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center Bridgeport, Calif., Aug. 18.


Story by Pfc. Michael Gams
Date: 08.21.2009
Posted: 08.21.2009 02:53

The training focused on several survival techniques such as water procurement, navigation, signaling for help and other things to consider while in a survival scenario.

"A lot of Marines are from the city and have never been to the mountains," said Sgt. Christopher Morgan, a mountain warfare training instructor with the Unit Training Group here. "As long as these Marines use the basic knowledge of the survival skills we teach, they should be able to survive if they are ever put into a survival situation."

The training started with a short hike from MWTC's lower base camp. The trip was unusually tiring for some of the Marines of 3/7.

"It was a lot harder to breathe up there," said Pfc. Gordon Montroy, a rifleman with Co. I, 3/7. "It was kind of a shock to be out of breath. I guess we'll just have to get used to it."

Morgan said the Marines and sailors will gradually acclimate to the high elevation.
"We are sitting at nearly 8,000 feet above sea level right now," said Morgan, a Tacoma, Wash., native, after reaching the top of the incline. "Today's hike was with a light combat load. The hikes will progressively become harder over the next few days so the Marines can get used to the thin air."

After a quick water break and a change of socks, the Marines were ready to learn how to take on the wild while remaining tactical at the same time.

The Marines learned different ways to combat the various stressors one faces while in a survival scenario like hunger, isolation and the effects of weather on one's mind.
"My favorite class was the expedient shelters class," said Lance Cpl. Andrew Bloom, a rifleman with Headquarters Co., 3/7, and native of Nisswa, Minn. "I've always been interested in survival situations, and I've always kind of wanted to be put in one. The classes we had today will definitely help me out if that ever happens."

Morgan said the best way to survive is to keep a positive outlook on the situation.
"The biggest thing that will keep someone alive in scenarios like these is their attitude," Morgan said.

Those who give up mentally decrease their chance of survival, he said.

As the training session expired, the Marines and sailors were happy to hike downhill the whole way back to lower base camp.

"It's always better to walk downhill," said Montroy, a Lansing, Mich., native.

The battalion shuttled personnel from Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif., to MCMWTC earlier this week and is slated to conduct several more training exercises before its departure in September.

Comanche Marines conduct leadership training

SAHL SINJAR, Iraq — Marines from Company C, 3rd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, or “Comanche Company,” conducted leadership training on an abandoned farming compound north of Sahl Sinjar, Iraq, August 5, 2009.


August 21, 2009
Lance Cpl. Jason Hernandez

In a twist, the more experienced Marines tasked junior Marines with organizing, briefing and planning a mock assault on a simulated insurgent headquarters.

Together, four lance corporals and a private first class laid out a mock attack for their platoon and even built a detailed terrain model of the entire compound. The Marines then took their squads aside and gave them more detailed briefs on their plans of attack.

“Exercises like this are good because they give the junior Marines the experience of being in a higher billet,” said Cpl. Matthew D. Parker, a vehicle commander with Comanche Co. “Some of us with more experience may not be [with the unit] next year if the unit deploys [again], so we use what time we have here to prepare them for any leadership roles they’ll need to take on.”

After the briefs, senior Marines gave the junior Marines their first bits of advice, which concentrated mostly on how to brief a platoon of Marines. Everything from tone of voice to body language can make or break the confidence one has in a leader, which is why the instructors considered briefing an important segment of the training program.

The unit then conducted a warm-up drill, which involved going through the plan and drilling what needed to be done during each phase of the simulated attack.

“It’s better practicing out here,” said 1st Lt. Luke A. Williamson, 1st Platoon commander. “Here we don’t have to work with range controllers, do scheduling or anything like that. We’ve got a massive desert with abandoned buildings scattered throughout. It’s a perfect training environment.”

Once the opening stages of the briefing and dry runs were completed, the Marines packed their equipment into their vehicles and drove away, only to return 20 minutes later for the actual mock mission.

They stormed in from the direction of the sun and the Light Armored Vehicle-25s rolled to a stop within a safe distance of the compound. The Marine scouts on board raced out and covered one another as they advanced.

Before long, they were searching buildings and clearing room after room. Suddenly a voice called out, “Alright, he’s hit,” and the junior Marines were faced with the unexpected task of calling for an aerial medical evacuation.

Fortunately, arrangements had already been made, and the mock mission proceeded as planned while the simulated casualty was evacuated. Atop the final building, a Marine yelled, “all clear,” signaling the end of the exercise. In all, the mock assault lasted seven minutes.

“I think my Marines did a fantastic job,” said Williamson. “They were well-trained and needed very little guidance or supervision. Their planning, refinement, rehearsal and execution of the deliberate attack was nearly textbook.”

After the operation, the Marines sat down and were debriefed and counseled by senior members of the platoon. Together, they went over the mission and discussed what was done well and, more importantly, what could be improved.

“It could’ve gone better,” said Pfc. James P. Hagy, a scout machine gunner. “We’ll work on our communications skills and movement. It’s all repetition and practice, which is important.”

As the sun faded into the horizon, compliments were paid to the junior enlisted Marines who led the simulated assault. The day’s work had paid off, and a future deployment may see the Marines of Comanche Co. using the lessons they learned at a long-abandoned compound in the northern deserts of Iraq.

3/7 hones survival skills at MCMWTC

Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center Bridgeport, Calif. - Marines and sailors of Company I, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, put their skills to the test during pre-environmental training in Landing Zone Dodo at Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center Bridgeport, Calif., Tuesday.


Published: Friday, August 21, 2009 2:00 PM CDT
Cpl. R. Logan Kyle
Combat Correspondent

The training focused on several survival techniques such as water procurement, navigation, signaling for help and other things to consider while in a survival scenario.

“A lot of Marines are from the city and have never been to the mountains,” said Sgt. Christopher Morgan, a mountain warfare training instructor with the Unit Training Group here. “As long as these Marines use the basic knowledge of the survival skills we teach, they should be able to survive if they are ever put into a survival situation.”

The training started with a short hike from MWTC’s lower base camp. The trip was unusually tiring for some of the Marines of 3/7.

“It was a lot harder to breathe up there,” said Pfc. Gordon Montroy, a rifleman with Co. I, 3/7. “It was kind of a shock to be out of breath. I guess we’ll just have to get used to it.”

Morgan said the Marines and sailors will gradually acclimate to the high elevation.

“We are sitting at nearly 8,000 feet above sea level right now,” said Morgan, a Tacoma, Wash., native, after reaching the top of the incline. “Today’s hike was with a light combat load. The hikes will progressively become harder over the next few days so the Marines can get used to the thin air.”

After a quick water break and a change of socks, the Marines were ready to learn how to take on the wild while remaining tactical at the same time.

The Marines learned different ways to combat the various stressors one faces while in a survival scenario like hunger, isolation and the effects of weather on one’s mind.

“My favorite class was the expedient shelters class,” said Lance Cpl. Andrew Bloom, a rifleman with Headquarters Co., 3/7, and native of Nisswa, Minn. “I’ve always been interested in survival situations, and I’ve always kind of wanted to be put in one. The classes we had today will definitely help me out if that ever happens.”

Morgan said the best way to survive is to keep a positive outlook on the situation.

“The biggest thing that will keep someone alive in scenarios like these is their attitude,” Morgan said.

Those who give up mentally decrease their chance of survival, he said.

As the training session expired, the Marines and sailors were happy to hike downhill the whole way back to lower base camp.

“It’s always better to walk downhill,” said Montroy, a Lansing, Mich., native.

The battalion shuttled personnel from Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif., to MCMWTC earlier this week and is slated to conduct several more training exercises before its departure in September.

Marine Engineers Construct Major Fortifications in Helmand's Hostile Territory

KOSHTAY, Garmsir District, Helmand Province, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan – The mission for Marines here is to seize ground controlled by Taliban insurgents, hold that ground and build on it. Building in this case means fortifying their exposed position on the very front lines of this conflict. However, Marine infantrymen are not known for their carpentry and construction skills. That responsibility falls on the engineers.


Story by Sgt. Scott Whittington
Date: 08.21.2009

Marines from 1st Combat Engineer Battalion, Combat Logistics Battalion 8 and 8th Engineer Support Battalion rolled out in a 20-vehicle convoy full of heavy equipment and building materials, Aug. 16, to construct a semi-permanent position for Company G, 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, which often receives enemy fire.

"This will provide Golf Company an overwatch for their resupply routes," said 2nd Lt. Mark H. Tetzel, platoon commander with Co. D, 1st CEB. It has been difficult to get supplies to Co. G's position since they arrived here in early July. Overwatch will give the Marines a better vantage point to scan the area for approaching enemy fighters or IED implanters.

Construction started immediately upon arrival late in the evening and continued round the clock. The engineers' built two observation posts, Patrol Base Khanjar and Combat Outpost Koshtay, as well as a medium girder bridge. These builds include creating a berm, filling metal, mesh barriers called Hesco with dirt, and constructing security posts high on the walls. While they were in the area, they also repaired a damaged culvert along the resupply route to allow provisions to safely arrive at Co. G's position.

"It's an upgrade," said Gunnery Sgt. Stuart A. Shine, commander, 2nd Platoon, Co. G, 2/8, about watching the engineers in action. "It's amazing how you can live one place one day, engineers hit the deck, and now you have a new place to live and call home."

Company G had been living in abandoned buildings and in open areas since their helicopter insertion on the first day of Operation Khanjar July 2. The company is the last Marine company-size unit in the province that didn't have a fortified, forward position in protection of the local population.

"People around here will see the Marines aren't leaving," said Shine, a Reseda, Calif., native. One of the reservations local Afghans have about cooperating with the Marines is they feel the Taliban will punish them after the Marines leave. And the misconception is they'll be leaving soon. "We're committed to the [local populace]. We want to get close to them, stick by them and protect them."

With a sense of urgency to complete the build, the Marines worked quickly but still had to overcome many challenges. One of those was mobility, according to Tetzel, a University of Akron graduate.

"The ingenuity of my Marines is incredible," said the former Youngstown, Ohio, firefighter. "No matter what my Marines face, they will figure it out. They think outside the box."

This was proven after a 73,000-pound combat excavator sank about eight feet in sponge-like mud at Patrol Base Khanjar. The piece of heavy machinery was being used to build a berm around the exterior of the patrol base when it started sinking. It took the Marines several hours, a small bulldozer and handheld shovels to dig it out enough for a wrecker and two other vehicles to pull it free.

"When I get to do my job, it's refreshing," said wrecker driver Cpl. Paul B. Dekker, 23, 1st CEB and Redding, Calif., native "Mobility relies on me and my [assistant] driver. Without my truck, there is no way heavy equipment can get down here."

In addition to rescuing the stuck excavator, "Dekker the Wrecker," as he is called by the engineer Marines, also freed 12 stuck vehicles from the soft, deep sand of the open desert along the 14-hour drive from Camp Dwyer more than 25 miles away.

Besides mobility issues, a more dangerous challenge was completing the mission while the Taliban attempted to disrupt progress with attacks.

On the second morning of the project, insurgents fired an rocket propelled grenade and small arms at the engineers at COP Koshtay. Company G, who was providing security, was able to suppress the attack and no one was injured. The combat construction crew continued their mission to build a safer environment for the company.

"My Marines absolutely refuse to not accomplish the mission," stressed Tetzel.

Once the construction is complete, Co. G Marines will have increased flexibility, enabling them to reach out to their neighbors in the local community. Rather than constant vigilance, the Marines will now have some breathing room, giving them an opportunity to relax, focus more time and energy planning and preparing future missions.

My brother's a hero, says sister of Queens Marine killed in Afghanistan

Marine Lance Cpl. Leopold Damas survived two tours in Iraq before being sent deep into Taliban territory in Afghanistan three months ago.


BY Clare Trapasso and Stephanie Gaskell

Friday, August 21st 2009, 4:00 AM

The hero told his family not to worry, he'd be fine.

"He was sad to go, but of course, it was his job," his older brother, Frederic Damas, 37, said Thursday. "He didn't want to leave his family, but he had to go to work."

Damas, 26, of Queens, was killed in action on Monday.

"We tried to convince him not to go back," said his sister, Magali Damas, 45. "He wanted to serve his country."

His devastated family gathered at their home in Jamaica, trying to make sense of his death.

"I want the whole world to know my brother was a hero, and he believed in what he was doing," Magali said.

Damas was a rifleman with the 2nd Battalion, 8th Marines, based out of Camp Lejeune, N.C. The battalion landed in Helmand province in southern Afghanistan in May and has lost nine Marines since July 2.

Lt. Col. Christian Cabaniss, the 2nd Battalion's commander, recently wrote a newsletter to families back home describing the harsh conditions on the ground.

"Bottom line, nothing is routine about this deployment," he said. "The Marines and sailors are battling the enemies of Afghanistan every day, and they are doing it well."

Cabaniss also said he was trying to improve communications so his Marines could call home more often.

Damas' sister said she hadn't been able to talk to her little brother, who was single with no kids, since he had arrived in Afghanistan.

Former Marine Cpl. Timothy Pope served with Damas in Iraq in 2007. "He was the one guy that always volunteered to go out [on patrol] with me," said Pope, 23, who lives in Germany now.

"He was very motivated. He was going to do a lot in the Marine Corps. He was definitely going to go places. That's what he wanted. He wanted to be a Marine."

Pope said he was shocked to learn of Damas' death.

"It's like losing a brother," he said. "When I heard the news, you don't want to believe it at first. This couldn't happen to him."

Pope said he hopes the death will serve as a reminder of the sacrifices U.S. troops are making in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"I want everybody to just have respect for the guys - they go over there, and they give their lives," Pope said. "Just respect them. Even if you don't agree with the war, just give them the respect they deserve, for going over there, for fighting, for dying."

"Leo was going for his third [deployment]," he said. "He was probably one of the toughest guys I know."

Funeral arrangements haven't been made yet.

High voter turnout in the heart of Taliban territory

By Drew Brown, Stars and Stripes
Mideast edition, Friday, August 21, 2009

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — Defying Taliban threats and scattered attacks, voters in southern Afghanistan’s Kandahar province — the spiritual birthplace of the Taliban — turned out in large numbers to cast ballots in Thursday’s presidential election, local officials said.

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Animal Company returns from Iraq

MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. — More than 160 Marines and sailors marched onto Victory Field Tuesday, where families sporting custom T-shirts and signs cheered and whistled at the prospect of their loved ones returning home from deployment.


8/21/2009 By Cpl. Nicole A. LaVine, Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms

Animal Company, 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, returned from their most recent deployment to Fallujah, Iraq, where the unit was responsible for supporting the Iraqi Security Forces, civil reconstruction and the draw-down of American forces in theater, said Maj. Jason Perry, the battalion’s executive officer, and a Flat Rock, N.C., native.

Since Animal Co. was one of the last waves of 1/7 to return home, some supporters at the homecoming had already welcomed their heroes home, but also wanted to greet other friends in the battalion.

Nichole Hurst, wife of Sgt. Jacob Hurst, a machine gunner with Animal Co., sat anxiously on a shaded bench while fellow spouses Paula Smith and Alejandra Hartwell kept her company.

“My husband came back a couple weeks ago and she stayed with me the whole time while I waited for him,” said Smith, wife of Cpl. Andrew Smith, a rifleman with Animal Co., and native of Rowlett, Texas. “Now it’s my turn. It’s nice to have people here supporting you – people you can rely on to keep you calm.”

Hurst said although her husband deployed in 2004, they had no children then and now they have two.

“I’m nervous and excited,” said Hurst, a native of St. Erie, Colo. “You worry a little bit about the readjustments [the children] will have to make, but I’m more excited than nervous.”

One of the Marines who returned to the Combat Center Tuesday, Lance Cpl. Kerry Bartholomew II, was greeted by his family at Victory Field. The 23-year-old Squad Automatic Weapon gunner said he was very thankful and excited to finally be home.

Capt. Ty Moore, the Animal Co. commander, was another Marine who returned home that day. He said his company began their operations out of Combat Outpost Viking, a Marine and ISF camp along a main supply route between Fallujah and Ramadi, Iraq.

“The ISF is at the point now where they have taken the lead and are providing their own security,” said Moore, a Wasilla, Alaska, native.

Staff Sgt. Roger L. Thompson, 1st Platoon commander, deployed with the battalion to Al Anbar Province, Iraq, during the earlier stages of Operation Iraqi Freedom and said much has changed since then.

“I think the biggest change since my last deployment has been the ISF’s willingness to conduct operations on their own,” said Thompson, a Lewisville, Texas, native. “We’ve been able to pull away our involvement more and more as they become more independent.”

Thompson also said he is proud of his Marines for the positive changes they have made in Iraq, which will prepare the country for its sovereignty.

“Marines have been fighting for this since they pushed into Iraq,” he said. “Seeing the ISF working like that is the biggest challenge our Marines have overcome. It’s what the Marines who came before us have fought for.”

August 20, 2009

Mullen wants your questions – on YouTube

By William H. McMichael - Staff writer
Posted : Thursday Aug 20, 2009 16:32:03 EDT

The nation’s top military officer wants to hear what’s on your mind — via YouTube.

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Marines awarding Navy Cross to Nebraskan

TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif.—The Marines are honoring a Nebraska native with its second-highest decoration for his heroism in Afghanistan last year.


The Associated Press
Posted: 08/20/2009 08:47:19 AM PDT
Updated: 08/20/2009 08:47:19 AM PDT

Lance Cpl. Richard Weinmaster is scheduled to receive a Navy Cross on Thursday during ceremonies at the Marine base in Twentynine Palms, Calif.

The 20-year-old Weinmaster is from Cozad, Neb., and is assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment.

The Marines say that on July 8, 2008, Weinmaster's squad was ambushed while on patrol in Helmand Province.

Using his body as a shield, he protected several other Marines from a grenade blast. Though seriously injured, he kept firing his automatic weapon until he collapsed.

The Navy Cross is second only to the Medal of Honor for recognition of bravery in combat.

29 Palms Marine to receive Navy Cross

Staff report
Posted : Thursday Aug 20, 2009 7:13:51 EDT

A junior Marine severely wounded during an ambush last year in Afghanistan’s Helmand province will receive the Navy Cross on Thursday at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms, Calif., base officials said.

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August 19, 2009

3/11 provides security to locals around Fiddlers Green

Walking through an empty field in the early morning on Aug. 13, 2009, the temperatures are already in the high 90s and every Marine is thankful for the relative cool.


8/19/2009 By Lance Cpl. Daniel A. Flynn, Regimental Combat Team 3

The Marines conducting this patrol are not infantry; most of them are from Headquarters Battery, 3rd Battalion, 11th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 3.

These Marines, who usually work behind a computer, have been performing security patrols around Fire Base Fiddlers Green since early July.

“These patrols are to pave the way for the units who will come in here after us and start conducting counterinsurgency operations in the area,” said Sgt. Christopher Colt Remington, battalion color sergeant and squad leader with 3/11. “The patrols let the locals get used to coalition forces,” added the Fort Worth, Texas., native.

This particular patrol went smoothly. The Marines were able to talk to some of the local villagers and attain an understanding of their concerns. These actions are crucial in a counterinsurgency struggle where the focus is on gaining the peoples’ trust.

The patrol consisting of 11 Marines, one corpsman and one interpreter started at 6:30 a.m. and lasted about three hours. Pushing farther south than any previous patrol, the Marines were not sure exactly what they would experience.

“It was actually a lot more uneventful than I thought it would be,” said Remington. He added that the reaction from the people varies by location.

“These patrols are a good thing,” said Pfc. Alexander Gendreau, a mine sweeper with 3/11. The Eloy, Ariz., native added, “We are providing security for all the locals.”

In addition to providing security, the Marines of 3/11 are also engaging in a civil affairs effort. Everywhere the patrols travel, they try to interact with the Afghan population. By understanding the needs of the people, the Marines increase their ability to help the community. Simple improvements to villages, such as establishing wells, can help show the locals that the Marines care about them and are committed to gaining the trust of their community.

The Marines also want Afghan citizens to feel safe enough to participate during the Aug. 20 elections. While the Marines may not be taking a direct role in providing security for the elections since Afghan national security forces will be primarily responsible, they will be doing everything they can to support the ANSF in their security effort.

Continuing the patrolling effort here will not only help the Marines develop relationships with the Afghan people, it has the ability to disrupt the insurgents’ attempts to create instability, according to Remington.

For some of these Marines, this is the first time they have conducted foot patrols since this deployment began, while many have experience from previous deployments to Iraq. While the terrain may be different, the Marines of 3/11 have shifted into the patrolling effort as if they had been doing them here all along.

Maid Brigade's new program helps veterans clean up

One of the most oft-cited benefits to military service is that it gives members training and skills that they can use in private life. But few companies seem eager to help veterans convert these disciplines to civilian employment. In fact, a stint in the military is often not a career salvation but a job killer.


Bruce Watson
Aug 19th 2009 at 7:00PM

A couple of months ago, I wrote about Leon Batie, an Army reservist and Subway restaurant franchise owner who lost his shops while serving in Afghanistan.

Although many deserve some blame for the loss of Batie's business and his credit rating -- including his brother and his business partner -- the fact that one Subway executive pocketed $100,000 from the sale was more than a little disturbing.

So I was reassured by the story of Maid Brigade's Veterans Franchise Giveaway program. Between now and November 11, the Atlanta-based cleaning company is waiving its $14,500 franchise fee for qualified veterans seeking to open their own business. At the same time, it's running a contest for new veterans looking to go into business; the grand prize is a full franchise, valued at $45,000. Second and third prizes are similar packages, worth $27,500 and $17,000.

Don Hay, Maid Brigade's president, explained why the chain is so eager to recruit former soldiers: "We've had good experiences with veterans. They have good training, and know how to follow a system. Also, many are used to managing personnel."

Beyond this, the company uses a quasi-military system to maximize the effectiveness of its employees. As Hay noted, Maid Brigade is top-ranked in support training, and much of its organization -- from the way it divides geographical regions to the awards it gives its employees -- is based on a military model.

One Top Gun/Blue Angel award-winning franchise owner, Bob LoFranco, noted that his Marine training made the transition to Maid Brigade easy: "Everything was structured. Coming from the military, I was able to relate to that. The company wants you to succeed and stands behind everything. They are there for you."

LoFranco, who served in Beirut in the 1980s, worked for various defense contractors and financial institutions after leaving the military. After repeated layoffs and job re-trainings, he decided to go into business for himself. In the four-and-a-half years since he started his Maid Brigade franchise, he has had steady growth, including a 45% revenue increase over the last year.

As Hay noted, even with support from the corporate office, it's a tough time to start a new business. Major banks aren't lending money to new business owners, making it difficult to raise the money to cover start-up costs. Maid Brigade is working with prospective owners to find lenders and often calls on community banks for support.

Still, with franchise fees waived and a business that seems relatively recession-resistant, it looks like Maid Brigade may be a solid option for many veterans.

Afghans register to vote in former Taliban town

DAHANEH, Afghanistan – A week after Dahaneh was pried from Taliban control by U.S. Marines, and little more than 36 hours before Afghans select a president, election workers finally reached this Helmand province town and began to register voters.


By ALFRED de MONTESQUIOU, Associated Press Writer Alfred De Montesquiou, Associated Press Writer – Wed Aug 19, 1:43 pm ET

Their outfit was spare: a white sheet pinned to a mud wall as a backdrop for photos, a digital camera and a tiny printer powered by a car battery atop a box of ammunition.

"I know it's dangerous and I'm afraid, but I'm still going to vote," said Ahmed Shah, a 37-year old farmer with a long beard and wrinkled face, who was among the few dozen residents who trickled in to register. "I think there's enough (Afghan) army and Americans to protect us."

After four years in the hands of Taliban militants, Dahaneh was stormed in a helicopter-borne assault by a Marine company last week, part of President Barack Obama's strategy to regain the initiative in the eight-year Afghanistan conflict. As citizens registered Tuesday afternoon, ahead of Thursday's election, gunfire could still be heard in the distance.

The town lies in a swath of the country's south, the heart of the Taliban insurgency, where the fear of militant violence and retribution against citizens who vote could severely dent the turnout in the election and so threaten its legitimacy.

Afghan authorities say that having any villagers from Dahaneh vote, however modest the numbers, will be a huge accomplishment.

"I am the first official based here in four years," said Sayad Murad Mamad, the district chief who arrived this week to start a government presence.

A mobile team from the Afghan Independent Electoral Commission opened shop in the corner of a dusty police compound courtyard.

Searched by Afghan police and scrutinized from above by U.S. Marines guarding the walls, some 20 civilians, most of them older men, applied for voter registration cards Tuesday, grinning broadly in turn as they stood against the wall for a photo ID. By late Wednesday about 70 people, including some army and police, had registered.

Not a single woman showed up in this deeply conservative rural district of Now Zad, and Afghan soldiers recently arrived in the Marines' wake soon took over the unused camera to capture photos of themselves posing with their machine guns.

Though the Taliban have vowed to disrupt the election, and posters plastered on walls by insurgents warned residents not to vote, Murad Mamad said he thinks authorities and their NATO backers have the means to guarantee a safe vote.

"Threats of cutting off fingers and things like that are nonsense. It's propaganda," he said, referring to reported militant threats to sever the fingers of Afghans marked with the indelible ink that election staff will use to prevent voters casting more than one ballot.

Getting people in Now Zad to join the voting process and adhere to the government in faraway Kabul is crucial. The ethnic Pashtun villagers in Helmand live outside any central authority and produce 60 percent of the world's opium, which is channeled into the drug trade funding the insurgency.

As well being the Taliban's heartland, Helmand and other heavily Pashtun provinces in the south have huge importance for the election result. Incumbent president and front-runner Hamid Karzai, himself a Pashtun, needs a strong turnout in the region to boost his chance of re-election. About 40 percent of the Afghan population is Pashtun.

The Marines here are among the 21,000 U.S. forces Obama sent to Afghanistan this year — in part to help secure Thursday's vote — and they are racing to reclaim territory from militants. In Dahaneh, the Taliban fighters resisted fiercely in days of intense gunbattles and bombings before retreating. About 10 militants and one Marine were killed in the fighting.

The rest of Now Zad valley remains a front line. Marines control roughly the western part of the district, though thousands of hidden IEDs — improvised explosive devices — make movement perilous. In the north and on the eastern side of a dried-up river bed, the Taliban have entrenched themselves in a maize of minefields and dugouts from which they fire gunshots and mortars almost daily.

The district's main town, Now Zad, has been entirely abandoned by its 30,000 inhabitants because of heavy fighting between insurgents and NATO troops. It is so infested with IEDs that the Golf Company, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marines stationed there barely moves beyond a line of combat outposts.

With Now Zad an empty minefield and Dahaneh still too volatile, officials will open only one voting station in the valley. It is to be in the nearby village of Khawja Jamal, where people from Dahaneh and elsewhere will have to trek if they want to vote. Nobody knows what the turnout might be, because officials have no idea how many people still live in the district.

Not one person has dared to register in Khawja Jamal, although it is considered somewhat safer than Dahaneh. The village still lies barely 1 mile (1.6 kilometers) from Taliban positions and villagers worry they're being observed.

"We went there two times in a row to register voters, but nobody came," said Jumma Gull, of the Afghan electoral commission. "They're too frightened of being punished by the Taliban."

Murad Mamad, the new district chief, says this won't impede the vote because villagers told him they still have their voter IDs from the previous presidential election in 2004.

In Dahaneh, a town of about 2,000 where many have fled the recent fighting, residents lining to get a voter ID card said it would be their first. But most of the town stayed out of sight.

"I went to the mosque this morning and told them to come," said the new district police chief, Abdul Majid. "I think they'd be happy to vote, but unfortunately they're afraid of the bad guys."

In the afternoon, an Afghan army unit pushed into town to broadcast a new appeal. The Afghan soldiers requested a Marine escort because the area remains so dangerous.

An officer went into a mosque. "Come to our base between 3:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. and you can talk about problems and damage, and you can register to vote," he said on a loudspeaker, as several of the worshippers in the mosque walked away, some of them spitting on the ground.

Still, that an embryonic Afghan administration can operate again in the area along with the army and police is an accomplishment, Marines said.

"It's really amazing the amount of progress that's been achieved in a week," says Capt. Zachary Martin, who led the Marines' offensive into Dahaneh.

Martin vows his troops and their Afghan allies will be able to secure the 5 miles (8 kilometers) of dirt track that link Dahaneh to the polling station in Khawja Jamal. But Ahmed Shah, one of the town's few registered voters, isn't so confident about driving his mo-ped by Taliban outposts along the way.

Shah planned to cover his face with his turban so insurgents won't recognize him. He suspects the Taliban might even man a checkpoint along the road to search for voters.

"I don't care, I'll hide my voting card in my shoe," he said, slapping the dust off one of his dirty, worn-down loafers, where he didn't expect the Taliban to search.

Marine from Twentynine Palms to receive Navy Cross for bravery

A Marine from Twentynine Palms is set Thursday to receive the Navy Cross for bravery during combat in Afghanistan.


August 19, 2009
Tony Perry

Lance Cpl. Richard Weinmaster, 20, from Cozad, Neb., was part of the 2nd Battalion, 7th Regiment deployed last year to break the hold of the Taliban in Helmand Province.

While on a July 8 foot patrol, Weinmaster's squad was ambushed. Weinmaster used his body to protect his squad leader and other Marines from the blast of an enemy grenade.

Although seriously wounded, he continued to fire at the attackers, forcing them to flee. Only then did Weinmaster collapse from his injuries. He is credited with saving the lives of several Marines.

For Marines, the Navy Cross is second to the Medal of Honor in recognition of exceptional bravery.

During its seven-month deployment, the Two-Seven suffered 17 Marines, one Navy corpsman, a U.S. soldier and an Afghan translator killed. More than 150 troops in the battalion were wounded or injured.

August 18, 2009

Security tightens in Kandahar province ahead of Afghan election

By Drew Brown, Stars and Stripes
Mideast edition, Tuesday, August 18, 2009

DAMAN DISTRICT, Afghanistan — Afghan police and NATO troops have tightened security in southern Kandahar province ahead of Thursday’s presidential election.

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New York Jets Owner Robert Wood Johnson IV Named Chairman of USS NEW YORK Commissioning Committee

AVONDALE, La., Aug. 18 /PRNewswire/ -- The USS NEW YORK Commissioning Committee today announced that Robert Wood "Woody" Johnson IV, the owner of the New York Jets and renowned businessman, has been named chairman of the Committee. The announcement took place aboard USS NEW YORK during a ship visit here at the Northrop Grumman shipyard. The committee is a non-profit, non-governmental organization that is responsible for organizing welcoming activities leading up to the formal commissioning ceremonies of USS NEW YORK in New York City in November 2009.


USS NEW YORK, a San Antonio Class amphibious ship designed to deliver Marines where and when needed in defense of the country, has 7.5 tons of steel from the World Trade Center buildings attacked on September 11, 2001 forged into the bow stem, the foremost portion of the ship that cuts through the water. When USS New York arrives in New York Harbor on November 2, 2009, the ship will pass under the Verrazano Bridge and be joined by a flotilla of boats from Federal, State and City organizations, as well as local municipalities, ferry companies and private boats.

"The USS NEW YORK Commissioning Committee is pleased to name Woody Johnson its chairman," said retired Rear Admiral Robert A. Ravitz, Co-Chairman of the USS NEW YORK Commissioning Committee. "Woody Johnson will be a true friend to the ship's crew, and we are proud to have him at the helm of the committee. Mr. Johnson will not only ensure that the ship receives the send off it deserves, but more importantly, that that sailors and Marines who serve as her crew will receive the support they need."

"I am deeply honored to serve as chairman of the USS New York Commissioning Committee," Mr. Johnson said. "This ship will be the pride of New York. It will remind all those before it that we will never forget those we have lost and those serving to ensure our security. As the USS NEW YORK enters New York Harbor, I look forward to welcoming her and her crew along with all New Yorkers and all Americans."

The Commissioning of USS NEW YORK will take place on November 7, 2009 on Manhattan's West Side. Commissioning is the centuries-old ceremony in which NEW YORK will become a unit of the operating forces of the United States Navy. USS NEW YORK will be open for public visiting during the commissioning week.

Commander F. Curtis Jones, USN, a native of Binghamton, NY, will be the ship's first Commanding Officer.

About the USS NEW YORK Commissioning Committee

The commissioning committee is comprised of a group of civilian volunteers who are responsible for the events surrounding the commissioning ceremony as well as fundraising to support the educational and special needs of the crew.

For more information on USS New York or to make a donation to the Commissioning

Committee, please visit the official website of the commissioning: http://www.ussny.org/


USS NEW YORK, a state-of-the-art stealth ship, is the sixth ship to bear that name. She is named for New York (State) because she contains 7 1/2 tons of special steel from the World Trade Center forged into her bow. The ship has a crew of 360 sailors and Marines, and carries 700 Marines when deployed. Landing Craft Air Cushion (LCAC) and Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft are used to deliver the Marines. The ship will be home ported in Norfolk, Virginia.

August 17, 2009

Bigger Corps stops calling up IRR Marines

By Trista Talton - Staff writer
Posted : Monday Aug 17, 2009 16:56:09 EDT

The Corps has stopped putting Individual Ready Reserve Marines on involuntary orders, phasing out recalls as the active-duty force has grown to 202,000.

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Marines find large opium cache near Delaram

NIMRUZ PROVINCE, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan – Marines from Company E, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, Marine Expeditionary Brigade-Afghanistan, and soldiers from the Afghan National Army retrieved about 1,300 pounds of opium during a raid of a suspected opium storage compound to the south of the city of Delaram, Nimruz Province, Afghanistan, Thursday, July 30, 2009.


August 17, 2009

The seizing of the drugs prevents the purchase of weapons and explosive materials local terrorist groups use to hurt the Afghan populace as well as coalition forces.

“This is a very important find for us,” said 2nd Lt. Matt E. Carwile, a platoon commander from the military police company supporting 2nd Bn., 3rd Marines. “Those drugs help support the terrorists we are here to get rid of.”

During the initial search of the compound, an ANA solider and a Marine found a locked room that contained about 500 pounds of opium. After a more extensive search, about 1,300 pounds of opium were found scattered throughout the compound hidden in walls and under the floors.

“When we entered the building you could smell the strong, sweet, distinguishable smell of the opium all throughout the building,” said Capt. Robert J. Tart, commanding officer of Company E and the on-scene commander during the raid.

Although not a counternarcotics force, the Marines have received some training in detecting opium refineries and storage facilities. The knowledge of the excessive growing and distributing of narcotics in this region, and the fact it has been the largest financial resource the Taliban utilizes, has led the Marine Corps to incorporate counternarcotics training into their pre-deployment training schedule.

“The more we searched the more we kept coming up with,” said 1st Lt. Patrick A. McFarland, a Company E platoon commander. “Thankfully we have had after action reports from other battalions and units which told us [drug traffickers] would hide things in the structure itself.”

McFarland said the Marines could tell this was a hot spot because of the amount of attention that it was given by the locals in the surrounding compounds. Several villagers came out to see what the Marines were investigating. This led the Marines to believe they had found something of value and decided to investigate in more detail, thus leading to their discovery of the drug cache.

“Drugs are used to fund the buying of weapons and improvised explosive device-making materials,” said Tart. “Preventing the drugs from being sold is an indirect way to stop the sale and distribution of weapons and IEDs that are being used to hurt the people we are here to protect.”

The adult male of the household was taken into custody for further questioning.

According to Carwile, finding a drug cache of that magnitude really shows the progress Marines and Afghan National Security Forces are making in this region.

“This just lets the people know we are here to do our jobs,” said McFarland. “To help get rid of the war they have endured for the past thirty years.”

A large amount of the funds for the terrorist activity in Afghanistan comes from the sale and distribution of opium, a drug derived from the poppy plant. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, each year Afghanistan produces about $4 billion worth of opium, making up 92 percent of the world’s global output.

Marines Walk Afghan Tightrope of Death

We were crouched down in a field, the earth steaming with the heat of the sun and the air thick with humidity. Two Marines were kneeling down beside me.
"All we've done since we got here is get blown up," one of them said. And then they started to talk.


August 17, 2009
Posted by Lara Logan

On a patrol exactly like this one a few days ago in southern Helmand province, they had been walking along the canal. One of their Marines stepped on a relatively small explosive device hidden in the ground, most likely a landmine.

The problem was, that mine was linked to a bigger explosive device in a deadly daisy chain that did not miss its mark. The Marine who was walking behind was hit by the bigger, secondary explosion.

"We ran as soon as we heard it go off but when we got to the canal the only thing that was there was his body armor. He was nowhere," they told me, "just gone."

So they started to search. Some distance away, they found their friend's arm, his watch still attached.

An Aug. 10, 2009 photo shows Marine Lt. Victoria Sherwood, left, of Woodbury, Conn., waiting with members of a Female Engagement Team for a security detail to take position before making contact with locals in the village of Khwaja Jamal with Golf Company, 2nd Batallion, 3rd Regiment of the 2nd MEB, 2nd MEF in the Helmand Province of Afghanistan.

"I just cannot get that picture out of my head, I keep seeing it, his arm just lying there with his watch. I can't stop seeing it."

It was hours later when they found the rest of him. It would take much longer for the shock to wear off, and the fear to subside.

(CBS)These Marines know their job. They know the terrain and they're learning about the people pretty fast. They also know their enemy.

In this part of Helmand province, landmines and roadside bombs are the weapon of choice. The roads are literally awash with improvised explosive devices. Entire areas are mined by the Taliban, with hundreds of IEDs.

Just to gain access, Marines are walking a tightrope of death every day.

The Marines in Helmand are part of a U.S. surge some 10,000-troops strong meant to secure Taliban-held parts of the country ahead of this Thursday's presidential elections. Candidates must end their campaigning for that vote tonight, but making many areas safe enough to get out the vote is still very much unfinished business.

The Taliban has enjoyed almost eight years of freedom here. Apart from a few British troops that wandered their way every now and then, much of this province had never seen any significant foreign troop presence — until some 10,000 Marines flooded the area on July 2.

The Marines have pushed the Taliban further south, but there are still areas even they have never been. Hard to imagine that, when the U.S. and NATO have been fighting this war for so long, but completely true.

The terrain in Helmand is as relentless as the enemy. The heat burns into your body, tearing you down bit by bit. There is no shade, no shelter from the sun. The earth soaks up the warmth like an oven and spits it back at you when you come to the end of the day. A clinging, soaking humidity that wraps itself in a sickly blanket around your body.

(CBS)These are the skinniest Marines I have ever seen, and I've been in some rough places with Marines, like Ramadi in Iraq, where more Americans died than any other part of the country.

But here, I stare in amazement — and some horror — at the uniforms hanging off their lean bodies. There isn't an inch of excess anywhere. Every uniform is worn thin and faded, hanging off wily frames that still manage to haul over a hundred pounds of gear and weapons and patrol for miles.

These Marines have what they need to fight — and just enough to survive.

They don't seem to care. I don't hear them complaining or even talking about it. They make do with what they have and get on with it. It's as if they don't even think about it much anymore.

When you gather around at night, exhausted after a long day, the talk is not of what they will do when they get back. It's of memories and good times back home. It's of the men they have lost, the battles they have fought, the lives they hope to have beyond this place some day.

I think back to the first U.S. soldiers that landed at Bagram Air Base just north of Kabul back in 2001. A young soldier was standing with his weapon as a group of journalists gathered. One of the Afghan soldiers I knew well walked by, and I greeted him with the normal Islamic greeting, "As-Salaam-o-Alaikum," and he responded.

The American soldier stared at me, slightly surprised and nonplussed, not understanding the exchange.

"That's how you greet people in this part of the world," I said to him, "didn't they teach you that before you invaded?"

"No ma'am," he answered politely and looked away, to end the conversation.

What a different Army and Marine Corps the U.S. has today. Many are fluent in the local language where they serve, almost everyone can say a few words. The essential terms for making friends and earning respect — words like hello and thank you, those are second nature.

Here on the base, there is an Afghan soldier who runs a small kiosk, selling things that Marines really want — cigarettes and cold drinks. It's good business for him and welcome respite for the Marines who have access to no comforts here.

But what I enjoy most is watching how they interact. The exchange of words, sometimes a joke, sometimes a deal. The small jibes that are symbolic of sincere affection.

It's not a panacea. It's not a cliché that will save the country. It's just a very human moment in a very inhuman place

2nd LAR Marines interact with locals in southern Helmand

HELMAND PROVINCE, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan – The Marines from 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, Marine Expeditionary Brigade-Afghanistan face many obstacles as they strive to bring peace to the population in southern Helmand.


August 17, 2009

To overcome these obstacles, they have switched some of their traditional tactics and have established a favorable operating atmosphere with Afghan leadership.

By opening discussions with tribal leaders and giving aid to the local populace, the Marines are not only winning popular support, but are also opening lines of communication and establishing friendly relationships with communities in southern Helmand Province.

The morning of July 29, 2nd LAR Marines mounted Light Armored Vehicles and traveled to a nearby village. Along the way they came across a creek bed and dismounted from their LAVs.

As they moved along, the Marines met a farmer who, after some conversation, offered them directions to his village’s elders.

Upon arriving at the village, the Marines tried to determine the elders’ opinions of coalition forces operating in the area and talk about the possibility of placing an Afghan National Army or Afghan National Police compound in their community.

“First it starts with talking to the village elders,” said 1st Lt. Joseph R. Gazmen, 2nd LAR’s adjutant and native of Downey, Calif. “Culturally, here, everything centers on the older generation, so much so, that even when they look at me, it would be with an air almost of disdain because I’m 25.”

According to Gazmen, the purpose of seeking out the village leaders was to discuss the community’s capabilities with regards to helping coalition forces establish stronger security in the area. In this particular situation, the village leaders talked about what land they were willing to give and what their limitations are.

“Obviously there’s going to be concessions made on both sides,” Gazmen said. “That’s the thing; you have to feel out the climate first.”

The elders not only discussed land, but also included any reservations they had toward a future International Security Assistance Force and Afghan National Security Force presence. With culture playing such a large role in the hearts of many Afghans, their concerns were met by the Marines with respect and dignity.

“Even when we came into the town, one of the elders was concerned that our presence was scaring the children,” Gazmen said. “The Marines were instructed to position themselves in less visible places in the town. The elders want to make sure it is a peaceful coexistence. Many of the people here have been detached from the presence of government for such a long time, so they haven’t really seen a large [military] presence. For someone like that, this situation can be understandably intimidating.”

Although this was the first meeting between the two groups, Gazmen said he is confident a working relationship is beneficial for both parties involved. From here, the Marines returned to Combat Outpost Payne to relay to their chain of command the next steps in securing a compound for ANSF troops.

The work of 2nd LAR’s Marines has provided them occasions to show the Afghan people they are here to help. By following the rules and respecting Afghan culture, 2nd LAR is gaining many allies within the villages of southern Helmand Province.

“A lot of these people just want to live their lives,” Gazmen said. “A lot of them tell us that they are happy we’re here, and they like the security we offer.”

In a country where the enemy lies among the people, it can be hard for Marines to know how to react to certain situations. With the use of training received prior to their deployment, 2nd LAR’s Marines have been able to make such distinctions on and off the battlefield.

“You got to know when to pull the trigger and when not to pull the trigger,” Gazmen said. “A counter-insurgency environment is far more complicated than straight up kinetics. That’s the one thing I’ve noticed about these Marines, even when they’re taking contact, they’re practicing that good restraint and looking for an appropriate response since we’re following the laws of armed conflict and the rules of engagement.”

These Marines have been able to not only bring the fight to the Taliban, but they have also brought aid and kindness to Afghan locals that will undoubtedly pay off in the future.

For many Marines, their time aboard COP Payne represents their first time interacting with the people of Afghanistan. There may be differences between where the Marines come from and the Afghans, but they don’t let that interfere with their daily interactions with each other.

“I think the other Marines view the Afghans as pretty good people by how they talk about them,” said Pfc. Daniel R. Weiss, a mortarman from the battalion and native of Buffalo, N.Y. “We understand the difference between the locals and the Taliban, and I think the locals understand that we’re trying to help them.”

MEB-Afghanistan receives first of new MRAPs

CAMP BASTION, Helmand Province, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan – A new Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicle featuring upgraded suspension systems arrived here August 17.


August 17, 2009

The upgraded MRAP, known as a Category 1 “Cougar,” features the same independent suspension system used on the newest 7-ton trucks operated by Marine forces.

“This truck offers the Marines survivability and the ability to get anywhere they need to get in Afghanistan,” said Paul D. Mann, the manager for the MRAP Vehicle Program at Marine Corps Systems Command. “It’s our best performing, survivable vehicle.”

The vehicle, which was recently retrofitted with the suspension system, will be used as a training tool for Marines, who will receive more than 200 ISS Cougars throughout the next year.

According to Maj. Trent Bottin, Marine Corps Systems Command liaison officer to Marine Expeditionary Brigade-Afghanistan, this vehicle represents the leading edge of what will be “a complete refit of vehicles for the Marine Corps” in Afghanistan, the vast majority of which will be seen near the end of this year.

Maj. Timothy Cooley, the brigade’s ordnance and maintenance management officer, said the ISS Cougars will offer a much smoother ride and will be better able to handle southern Afghanistan’s rough terrain. The newly-improved Cougars, said Cooley, will offer several benefits to their future Marine users in addition to safety and maneuverability.

“Marines are familiar with this type of vehicle and they already work with the suspension,” he said. “It will also be less maintenance intensive because it’s a proven suspension system.”

Cooley said he hopes to start getting the vehicles out to units within the next month, stating that this will be a “win-win” situation for Marines in the future

August 16, 2009

Afghans told they can vote _ as mortar shells fly

KHAWJA JAMAL, Afghanistan — The governor had good news for the Afghans who met him here Sunday: Residents in this southern village can finally register to vote in the upcoming election.


By ALFRED de MONTESQUIOU (AP) – August 16, 2009

The local Taliban's message was less cheery: They were busy firing mortar shells at U.S. Marines trying to secure the district ahead of Thursday's ballots for president and provincial councils.

Thus, the picture was decidedly mixed for the 150 residents who showed up for a meeting in Khawja Jamal, a village about a mile (2 kilometers) from Taliban lines in the Now Zad district of southern Helmand province, a longtime Taliban stronghold.

Simply attending the meeting meant risking Taliban retaliation.

Now Zad has witnessed intense fighting between insurgents and Marines, who are trying to cut militant supply lines, establish an Afghan government presence and establish enough security for people to vote safely in the Thursday balloting.

Helmand Gov. Gullab Mangal said he was the first Afghan government official to enter the district in three years.

He flew in on a helicopter and was accompanied at the meeting by the top U.S. Marine in Afghanistan, Brig Gen. Lawrence Nicholson. Mangal said a polling center would be established in the village — likely to be the first in the district.

"The registration people are here today, already trying to get the voters' identities" ahead of the election, Mangal told villagers amid tight Afghan and U.S. military security measures as Cobra helicopters circled overhead.

Nicholson, who commands the 2nd Marines Expeditionary Brigade, described the meeting as "helicopter diplomacy:" ferrying in the governor so he could try to win support for operations by NATO and U.S. forces.

Nicholson also hailed the progress made by a joint Marine-Afghan army offensive on Dahaneh, a nearby village that had been occupied by militants who are gradually being forced out.

"It demonstrates for the larger campaign of the coalition forces and the Marines that the enemy is not safe anywhere," Nicholson told The Associated Press.

Still, insurgents managed to fire six mortar shells directly at the Marines' main Forward Operation Base in Now Zad on Sunday, the AP saw. Troops responded with over a dozen mortar shots aimed at the part of the valley under Taliban control.

The exchange occurred just as Helmand's governor was raising the Afghan national flag on a nearby Marines' outpost where Afghan police are meant to settle.

Gaining the trust of villagers in the opium-producing Helmand province is crucial because these ethnic Pashtun people represent the bulk of Afghans. Helmand is the Taliban's spiritual heartland and most of the insurgents are Pashtun. The ethnic group is considered a critical voting bloc for candidates running for Afghan president.

Essex Says Sayonara to 3/5 BLT, Offloads 31st MEU

OKINAWA, Japan (NNS) -- The forward-deployed amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2) offloaded the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) Aug. 13 after successfully completing Talisman Saber 2009


Story Number: NNS090816-06
Release Date: 8/16/2009 9:14:00 PM

By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Greg Johnson, USS Essex Public Affairs

During the offload, Essex Sailors and combat cargo Marines moved approximately 75 vehicles and 300 pieces of MEU cargo as well as dozens of aircraft assigned to the 31st MEU's Aviation Combat Element (ACE). This offload was especially significant for Battalion Landing Team, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines (BLT 3/5), which debarked Essex for the last time.

Elements of the 31st MEU typically rotate annually. BLT 3/5 Marines are returning to their homeport of Camp Pendleton, Calif. Battalion Landing Team, 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines (BLT 2/5), will take its place with the 31st MEU.

"It's been a great experience," said Marine Capt. Matthew Esposito, company commander, Headquarters and Service Co., BLT 3/5. "We were rotating in and out of Iraq before coming here, and it's been completely different. We've done a complete 180 and are now focused on ship-to-shore movement. In the time we've been here, we've learned a lot about moving an entire element from the ship to the beach."

Throughout the past year, BLT 3/5 has been a key element in numerous exercises throughout the Asia-Pacific region, including exercises Cobra Gold, Balikatan and Talisman Saber.

"Being able to train in different types of environments has been helpful," said Cpl. Andrew Desoto, a BLT 3/5 rifleman from Tucson, Ariz. "We've been able to work with other countries' militaries and compare tactics and techniques."

Throughout their tenure aboard Essex, BLT 3/5 Marines also took the opportunity to experience some of Asia's most unique locations.

"It's been really fun," said Cpl. Jake Simmerman, a BLT 3/5 rifleman from Houston. "I've had a chance to see some different places throughout Asia, some places I wouldn't have been able to see on my own dollar, and it's an altogether totally different world over here."

While BLT 3/5 Marines have taken advantage of forward-deployed training and exotic port visits, most of them are looking forward to returning home.

The 31st MEU is the only permanently forward-deployed MEU, maintaining a presence in 7th Fleet at all times as part of III Marine Expeditionary Force and is based out of Marine Corps Base Camp Smedley D. Butler, Okinawa, Japan.

Essex is commanded by Capt. Troy Hart and is the lead ship of the only forward-deployed U.S. Amphibious Ready Group and serves as the flagship for Task Force (CTF) 76, the Navy's only forward-deployed amphibious force commander. CTF 76 is headquartered at White Beach Naval Facility, Okinawa, Japan, with a detachment in Sasebo, Japan.

August 15, 2009

Female Marines key to reaching Afghan women

By Alfred de Montesquiou - The Associated Press
Posted : Saturday Aug 15, 2009 12:23:02 EDT

KHAWJA JAMAL, Afghanistan — Put on body armor, check weapons, cover head and shoulders with a scarf

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Journalist Joined Marines After 9/11

Marine Sgt. Bill Cahir, 40, a former Washington-based journalist and congressional staffer who joined the Marines after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, was killed in Afghanistan on Aug. 13, his unit and friends reported. He was an Alexandria resident.


By William Branigin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, August 15, 2009

Sgt. Cahir, who had been serving in Afghanistan's Helmand province with the Marines' 4th Civil Affairs Group, was killed by "enemy fire," a member of the unit said in a posting on its Facebook page. The death was confirmed by friends of Sgt. Cahir's. No other details were available.

Helmand, in the southern part of Afghanistan, is a stronghold of the radical Islamist Taliban movement and has been the scene of some of the heaviest fighting in recent months involving U.S. forces.

Sgt. Cahir (pronounced "care") moved to the Washington area in the early 1990s and became a staffer on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. In 1999, he joined the Newhouse News Service in Washington as a regional reporter for small dailies owned by the chain in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

He joined the Marine Corps as a reservist in 2003. After serving tours in western Iraq from 2004 to 2005 and 2006 to 2007, Sgt. Cahir returned to Newhouse. He resigned in January 2008 to run for Congress in Pennsylvania's 5th District; he lost in the Democratic primary. He had spent the past year working for Booz Allen Hamilton.

William John Cahir was born in Bellefonte, Pa. He graduated from Penn State University with a degree in English in 1990.

Survivors include his wife of three years, René E. Browne of Alexandria, who is pregnant with twin girls; his parents, John and Mary Anne Cahir of State College, Pa.; two sisters; and a brother.

Marines Exercise Alternative PT on 'any Given Sunday'

CAMP DWYER, Helmand Province, Afghanistan – Though there was no stadium with thousands of screaming fans or a grassy playing field, the spirit of competition filled the searing air in the Desert of Death.


Story by Sgt. Scott Whittington
Date: 08.15.2009

Marines from Regimental Combat Team 3's administration, logistics and communications sections met on a dusty field here for a friendly game of flag football Aug. 9, 2009. With 24/7 operations, the Marines used this physical training session as a way to let off some steam toward the latter half of their deployment.

Admin and comm joined forces against the log team for the 11-on-11 match. Though log's team had the drive to win, the Ad/Comm team's unstoppable ground game proved too much to handle. Ad/Comm took the victory 10-1 in the late-afternoon dust bowl.

The score didn't matter though, according to Gunnery Sgt. Victor Marks, log team captain. It was about the camaraderie of the Marines.

Ad/Comm's speed and maneuvering skills played the key role in their domination of the game.

Quoting Tom Hanks' character in the movie "Forrest Gump," Ad/Comm's Sgt. Jesus Rubalcado, originally from 3rd Marine Regiment, said his team was "as fast as the wind blows."

Multiple players from the Ad/Comm team scored touchdowns, and to pick only one player who stood out would be too difficult, according to Ad/Comm's team captain, Master Sgt. Eli Ginez. "It was a total team effort."

Log's team made gallant efforts to move the ball down the talcum-powder-like field, but a series of interceptions and incomplete passes plagued their squad.

"Lack of communication was a major factor in our performance," said Staff Sgt. Joseph Cusimano, log team captain. "Next time we will be more prepared, and we look forward to a rematch."

US Marines battle Taliban

US Marines were locked in battle with Taliban fighters late on Friday, as they continued efforts to secure the strategic town of Dahaneh in the southern Afghan province of Helmand.


News Video:

2009-08-15 09:56 BJT

The Marines were aiming to cut Taliban supply lines in the town and enable the government to open a polling station there ahead of next Thursday's presidential elections.

After two days of fighting, Marines helped Afghan officers raise the Afghan flag over the town on Friday morning after tribal elders assured the Americans no Taliban were left there.

Achary Martin, Captain of Marines, said, "This is probably the first time the flag of Afghanistan is flown in Now Zad district in several years so I think this is a good day."

But soon after the flag-raising ceremony, the Marine base in the town came under small arms, machine gun and rocket-propelled grenade fire, sending Marines running for cover.

A patrol was sent out to find the gunmen and ended up locked in a lengthy gunfight which continued into the night. Elsewhere in the province, a suicide bomber attacked an Afghan army base, killing a soldier and wounding four other people. The bomber rammed his vehicle into the base's gate in the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah. Three civilians and a soldier were among the wounded.


August 14, 2009

3/7 receives new commander, sergeant major


Marines, sailors, friends and family members gathered at the Combat Center’s Lance Cpl. Torrey L. Gray Field Aug. 7, for the 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment’s change of command and relief and appointment ceremonies where the battalion received a new commanding officer and sergeant major


8/14/2009 By Cpl. R. Logan Kyle, Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms

Lt. Col. James Woulfe relinquished command to Lt. Col. Clay Tipton, and Sgt. Maj. James McCook handed over the senior enlisted seat in the battalion to Sgt. Maj. Troy Black during the ceremony.

Tipton returned to the Combat Center after serving with the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit, and Black, a Louisville, Ky., native, returned after serving as the sergeant major of the Officer Candidates School at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va.

In addition to training Marines at OCS, Black has also served in various billets aboard Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island, S.C., and as the regimental drill master.

Other highlights of Black’s career include his involvement in the Malta Summit between President George H.W. Bush and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, and Operations Desert Storm, Desert Shield, Millennium Falcon, Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom.

Tipton, an Orrville, Ohio, native and former member of 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, said he is happy to return to the Combat Center and the 7th Marines.

“I was obviously excited, honored and humbled,” said Tipton. “I think the desert is a great place to challenge Marines. Marines here work hard, train hard and are focused on preparing themselves to go fight battles. My philosophy here is to accomplish the mission while taking care of Marines and keeping them combat ready through training.”

He also said he expects four major things from the Marines and sailors under his charge.

“The things that are important to me and what I expect are good order and discipline, mental and physical hardness, doing the right thing and having strong backs and hard feet.”

The battalion is gearing up to head to the Mountain Warfare Training Center, Bridgeport, Calif., next week and is slated to deploy next year.

“The Marine Corps’ first priority is to accomplish the mission at hand,” Tipton said. “The first and foremost thing in my mind is to get this battalion combat ready, and if sent in harm’s way, to bring everyone back home safely.”

Bill Cahir, Express-Times reporter-turned-Marine sergeant, killed in Afghanistan

Former Express-Times correspondent and U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Bill Cahir has been killed in combat in Afghanistan, family and friends said Thursday.


by Sarah Wojcik
Friday August 14, 2009, 12:35 AM

The Marine Corps could not immediately confirm Cahir's death. A casualty branch officer at Headquarters Marine Corps said a staff sergeant had been assigned to the family but efforts failed to reach the staff sergeant.

A friend of the family said Cahir's wife, Rene, was told that Cahir, 40, was killed in Afghanistan's Helmand River Valley. The friend said Cahir had been deployed in the spring.

Another friend, June Weaver, confirmed the death to The Associated Press.

Politico.com reports that a posting on the Facebook group for Cahir's unit, the 4th Civil Affairs Group, said, "The 4th CAG lost Sgt. Bill Cahir to enemy fire in Afghanistan today."

Cahir's wife is expecting twins, according to Deborah Howell, Cahir's former boss at Newhouse News Service.

The Associated Press reported Wednesday that Marines were meeting heavy resistance in Afghanistan's southern province of Helmand. The fighters continued into the town of Dahaneh despite roadside bombs and gunfire.

Cahir enlisted with the Marine Corps Reserves in 2003, despite that at 34 years old he was bumping up against the military's age limit.

Cahir wrote a first-person account of his experience in boot camp for The Express-Times in 2004. It was published on the Fourth of July. Read his account.
Howell called Cahir's determination to enter the Marine Corps a late calling in his life. Despite her attempts to talk him out of it, she said Cahir was steadfast in his decision to enlist.

"He just had to do it. And finally, you know, you just have to say I understand you have to do this," Howell said. "He regretted nothing."
Express-Times Editor Joseph P. Owens said Cahir was determined to serve his country after the Sept. 11 attacks rocked the nation. Owens said word of Cahir's death "stunned and devastated" him.

"Bill Cahir was a great American. The horror of the murders of 9/11 inspired him to do service to this country," Owens said Thursday. "He did everything he could to become an active serviceman. And he accomplished his dream."
Martin K. Till, president and publisher of The Express-Times and lehighvalleylive.com, remembers Cahir's sudden interest in the Marine Corps as a drastic but important change in the correspondent's life.

"He wanted to do it and thought it was the right thing to do for himself and his country," said Till, a U.S. Army Special Forces veteran. "This is just shocking to me. I just can't believe it."
Cahir served two tours in Iraq in Ramadi and Fallujah from August 2004 to March 2005 and then again in Fallujah from September 2006 to April 2007.

Cahir worked as a Washington, D.C., correspondent for The Express-Times from the late 1990s before leaving his beat to join the Marines and then run for Pennsylvania's 5th Congressional District in 2008. He lost in the Democratic primary.

U.S. Rep Charlie Dent, R-Lehigh Valley, said he remembered frequent interviews and conversations with Cahir about politics during Cahir's days in the nation's capital. He called him a fair-minded and exceptional journalist.

"He's just a completely decent, honorable man," Dent said. "My thoughts and prayers go out to his family."
One poignant discussion Dent had with Cahir concerned a memorial ceremony for two servicemen Dent had attended during a trip to Afghanistan. Dent recalled the thousands of soldiers and officials lining the processional route as the caskets were loaded into a plane.

"I remember talking to Bill about that," Dent said. "I never thought it would be him."
Pennsylvania Democratic Party Chairman T.J. Rooney said Cahir gave back to his country in all aspects of his life: as a journalist, public servant and serviceman. Rooney said his former colleague and friend has now given the greatest sacrifice.

"We mourn his loss in ways that are unspeakable," Rooney said. "He was a good, good man and he leaves behind a great, great family."
Mary Isenhour, executive director of the Pennsylvania Democratic Party, described Cahir as a "phenomenal person."

"He was an incredible, incredible guy," Isenhour said. "So this is just really, really sad."

2nd MEB families rest assured after town hall meeting

Families of Marines and sailors deployed with 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade had a chance to voice concerns to Lt. Gen. Dennis J. Hejlik, commanding general, II Marine Expeditionary Force, at a town hall meeting aboard Camp Lejeune, N.C., Aug. 11, 2009.


8/14/2009 By Cpl. Meghan J. Canlas, 2nd Marine Logistics Group

“Tonight provided an opportunity for [Hejlik] to field questions and address concerns of the family members,” said George Dentel, family readiness officer for II MEF.

Questions focused on a wide range of topics including the length of the deployment, leave, mail, income tax concerns, morale of the unit and even suicide.

“Suicide is always a concern,” Hejlik said. “Any time you lose a Marine or sailor, you lose an asset you will never get back. But I would tell you that from what I’ve seen, morale in Afghanistan is better than Iraq. Marines and sailors love what their doing. They’re living expeditionary – sleeping on cots, just starting to get regular showers and hot [meals,] but morale is absolutely great!”

Another big issue was connectivity issues between the families and their deployed loved ones

“Afghanistan isn’t Iraq. The infrastructure is not like it is in Iraq,” Hejlik explained. “Things are slowly getting up to connectivity. [Brig. Gen. Lawrence D. Nicholson, commanding general, 2nd MEB,] just opened the first internet café, but I’ll tell you what, do this – write a letter. You’d be amazed at what a letter does for morale on both sides!”

After discussing the long-range plan for Afghanistan, family members brought up the possibility of Marines and sailors being extended past their end of active service date.

“There is no stop-loss in the Marine Corps,” Hejlik confirmed. “If a Marine or sailor is scheduled to [leave the military at the expiration of their contract], they will not be stopped.”

As the evening progressed, family members felt more at ease with the knowledge they gained.

“He was very honest and humorous,” said the wife of 1st Lt. Adam Pierce, intelligence officer, Combat Logistics Regiment 2, 2nd MEB. “I wanted to make sure my husband and I had the same information, and [Hejlik] addressed all of my concerns.”

As the evening drew to an end, Hejlik expressed how the Marine Corps/Navy family support system’s efforts have an uplifting affect on troops in Afghanistan.

“We always thank Marines and sailors for what they do because they do it so well, but I couldn’t have stayed in the Marine Corps for 39 years with out the backbone of family,” He explained. “You really are the strength behind the Marine or sailor.”

A day in the life of a Marine combat outpost

ANP HILL, Afghanistan (AP) -- Cpl. Justin Thompson crawled out of his rat hole dug deep into a wind-beaten, barren hilltop. Stepping over mounds of protective sand bags, he watched the sun rise over the Now Zad valley, a Taliban stronghold.


August 14, 2009
Associated Press Writer

Thompson is part of a small Marine force that keeps watch over the deserted town of Now Zad.

About 10 miles (16 kilometers) away, Marines from the same company are fighting to drive the Taliban out of the town of Dahaneh. But Marines stationed on ANP Hill are removed from the battle, relegated to keeping an eye on insurgent movements elsewhere in the Zad valley.

Three years of intense fighting between the Taliban and NATO forces have chased away Now Zad's 30,000 inhabitants, leaving what had been one of the largest towns in southern Helmand province deserted.

The Marine company lacks the firepower to force the Taliban out of their positions just a mile away. So the Marines of ANP Hill keep watch over the area from their lonely outpost.

"Things can drag pretty slowly up here," said Thompson, of Manchester, Tenn., who is on duty six hours out of every 18. His unit has been stationed on ANP Hill for over three months, with that many still to go. The position's name, ANP, stands for Afghan National Police - even though no Afghan government official or police official has been stationed in the valley for years.

"The biggest thing here is not shooting the people who don't need to be shot," says 1st Lt. Malachi Bennett, of Tampa, Fla., the outpost's commander and -at 26- one of the oldest men on the hill. He says the platoon has been making some progress at befriending residents on the outskirts of town and luring them away from the Taliban.

"At first, villagers looked at us like animals from a zoo," Bennett said early this week from the command post, where the briefing room is an earthen pit with an old Russian anti-aircraft battery that serves as a beam to hold the ceiling. "Now they come to talk to us on patrols."

Life on ANP Hill is Spartan. The Marines have no air conditioning despite temperatures that can reach 125 degrees Fahrenheit. The men sleep alone or in pairs in tiny dugouts barely 4 feet high that they've dubbed "Hobbit Holes," a reference to J.R.R. Tolkien's dwarflike character.

"It's great, I love being up in the outpost," Thompson said. "You get to know everybody, and there's less hassle, it's much more relaxed."

Afghanistan is Thompson's third deployment. He's spent seven months "with some intense war stories" near Haditha in Iraq in 2006, and another "pretty peaceful" seven months in Fallujah in 2008.

Helmand is different from Iraq, Thompson said, because the Marines have learned their lessons from years of counterinsurgency. "In this type of fight you can't be 'gung-ho, kill everything,'" he said. "You'll just be turning more people against you."

Thompson jokes with his friends about injury, or death, during patrols.

He feels sorry for the villagers and children he meets on patrol. "We're here to kick butt," he says. "But you also want to do what you can to make their life a little bit better."

For now, Thompson feels international forces are spread too thin to make much of a difference.

"Once they put a lot of Marines out here, it will get a lot better," he says.

Though his unit is isolated and therefore vulnerable, Thompson says its position on high ground prevents most Taliban attacks. In the last two months, there's been one Taliban shooting here - from so far away, he says the gunmen were probably "spraying and praying."

The main base in town, meanwhile, has received mortar fire. Two Marines have been killed and seven seriously wounded by roadside bombs while on patrol.

The outpost on the hill sometimes has a locker-room atmosphere. Under the shade of a parachute spread out as a tent, Marines have assembled their own power gym, where they exercise when the sun becomes less punishing in the late afternoons.

While troops in full battle gear rotate on guard posts or to watch a nearby helicopter landing pad, Hard Rock music can be heard blasting across the center of the camp. Some Marines play with Static, the mascot hedgehog they found here; others throw the ball to Cpl. Clay, the platoon's bomb-sniffing Labrador.

In the evenings, off-duty troops play endless games of poker while wild dogs across the valley howl at the rising moon. Others watch DVD movies on their laptop computers. "Sometimes we can watch three or four in an evening," Thompson said.

Scattered in the darkness, several Marines also call families and girlfriends at home. The calls are sponsored by U.S. companies or charities, and the Marines get 20 minutes of free satellite phone every two days, if officers don't enforce "River City" - a communications blackout because there's been a casualty.

"It's faster and more reliable than the mail," said Thompson, who's been waiting for his birthday deliveries from Tennessee for the past three weeks.

Much of Thompson's life has been like this since he enlisted with the Marines in 2005, turning 20 on his second day at boot camp. Raised by his mother and his grandparents in a working class town where most people go to vocational college, Thompson said the Marines Corp. was his natural choice after high school, because he felt no inclination to further study.

He's just re-enlisted for another four years. Most of his pals did the same. He doesn't want to be "one of these guys who becomes a civilian and ends up splitting burgers ... or delivering pizza."

When his time is up in 2013, Thompson says he might enlist again. But his girlfriend, who's finishing college to become a teacher, wants him to come back and settle down. Thompson might then become a police officer, because handling guns is the only thing he's trained for.

"It'll be like the American Dream, she'll be a teacher, I'll be a cop, we'll have a white picket fence in a small town," he said. "You can't beat that."

Marines go further into town on 2nd day of offensive

By Alfred de Montesquiou - The Associated Press
Posted : Friday Aug 14, 2009 12:01:33 EDT

DAHANEH, Afghanistan — U.S. aircraft and missiles pounded Taliban mountainside positions around Dahaneh on Thursday as Marines pushed through mud-brick compounds searching for militants in the second day of fighting to seize this strategic southern town.

To continue reading:


August 13, 2009

Restrictions limit ability to return fire

By Alfred de Montesquiou - The Associated Press
Posted : Thursday Aug 13, 2009 9:01:47 EDT

DAHANEH, Afghanistan — The British jet called in by U.S. Marines had the Taliban position in sight, but the pilot refused to fire, a decision that frustrated Marines on the ground but was in line with new orders by the top U.S. commander to protect civilians.

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Bill Cahir, journalist, soldier, great American, killed in Afghanistan

Express-Times correspondent Bill Cahir wrote this front page account of his U.S. Marine boot camp experience that appeared in the newspaper July 4, 2004. Our valued co-worker, friend and journalist was killed in active duty in Afghanistan.


by Joseph P. Owens (for Bill Cahir)/The Express-Times Thursday August 13, 2009, 10:45 PM

Nasty recruit' survives boot camp at age 34

By BILL CAHIR The Express-Times

Stripped naked in the office shower room, I was appalled.

I had been jogging every other day for several months. Still, when I looked in the mirror, the man I saw was fat and soft, almost unbelievably so. I wondered:

Was there a United States Marine in there somewhere?


The recruiter was ignoring my calls.

Apparently the Marine Corps wasn't dying to sign up a 34-year-old reporter from Washington, D.C. Ordinarily, the Marines recruit young men and women 17 to 27, and college graduates as old as 29. I was far past the regular cutoffs.

Diligence produced a meeting with an officer in charge of recruiting in the Baltimore-Washington region. The major was intrigued. He had me take the Marine Corps physical fitness test.

I ran the three-mile track in 21:10, did six pull-ups and 84 crunches. A perfect score was 18 minutes, 20 pull-ups and 100 crunches. My run time was decent. The recruiters took up my cause.

I met with a sergeant and a captain at the 4th Civil Affairs Group, a Marine Corps reserve unit headquartered at Bolling Air Force Base in Washington. Assured I would take orders from younger Marines, they signed their names to an age-waiver application.

The paperwork, sent up the chain of command, was approved with bracing speed. The offer:

* Go to Parris Island for 13 weeks and survive basic training;

* Enroll in Marine combat training at Camp Geiger, N.C., and complete the second stage of combat education; and

* Attend a school in Norfolk, Va., and learn to become a Marine Air-Ground Task Force planner.

If I signed, I would ship out in just 22 days.

Visiting Fort Meade, Md., I deliberated. I would enter as a private first class, not an officer. I would lose thousands of dollars in civilian salary. I probably would be activated and sent to the Middle East.

There it was: My last, best chance to serve.

I had one final opportunity to be a Marine, to learn martial arts, to shoot, to speak a new language, to make whatever contribution I could to the war on terrorism.

I had nearly enlisted after graduating from college, after working a few years and after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Each time I hesitated.

In October 2003, the recruiter asked the decisive question: In the future, would I look back and regret my inaction if I didn't enlist?

I signed.


I charged at the 8-foot wooden wall, leapt up and grabbed the flat plank on top.

To my surprise, I managed to hoist myself up and roll my body over.

I fell into the sawdust below, ready for the next challenge on the Parris Island obstacle course.

"Get back, Ca-heer!" my drill instructor bellowed, deliberately mispronouncing my name, which sounds like "care."
"Get back and do it again!"

Arms leaden, I wondered: Why was the DI forcing me to scale the wall a second time?

It didn't matter. I hollered, "Aye, sir!"

I took a second run at the wall, leapt up and stalled. I didn't have the arm strength.

"Yeah, yeah!" the DI, crouching atop the wall, shouted into my face. "Some things don't get easier with age, do they, Ca-heer?"

That did it. I wasn't going to be labeled the lazy old man in front of several platoons.

Again I pulled, this time shuffling over the top plank and plunging into the sawdust. I wasn't setting any speed records. But I hadn't quit.

"Nasty recruit!" another DI shouted as I trudged past.


I stood up from my meal and started the walk along the tables, hoping to make it to the milk dispenser.

One of the four DIs erupted: "No f---ing way! No f---ing way!"

A second DI joined the chorus: "In some countries, that's a crime against the dead!" He was pointing at my food. I had stuck a fork in my baked chicken and left the utensil sticking straight up in the air.

"Get back! Get back and sit down!" shouted the second DI.

"Aye sir!" I shouted.

But I forgot to give the greeting of the day. I had not shouted, "Good afternoon, gentlemen!" Immediately I was surrounded by three DIs from my platoon.

"You haven't learned a thing here, have you, Ca-heer?"
"You're too stupid to get it right, aren't you, college boy?"

"I guess we just walk away from DIs and don't give them the courtesy of a greeting! That's what you've been taught!"

My senior drill instructor, the fourth noncommissioned officer in my platoon and a staff sergeant by rank, interrupted the storm.

"All right," he said. "Get your milk."


The DI grabbed my M16A2 service rifle, pushed the plastic hand guard against my forehead and bent me backwards until I was pinned against my bunk, also known as a rack.

"Ca-heer, I've been waiting for you to show one ounce of intensity in your f---ing body, and you can't do it, can you, you motherf---ing communist p---y!" I made a mental note of the insult. The epithet was the most creative I'd heard to date.

I was a college-educated reservist. I was older than the DIs, and in my civilian job I earned more money than they did.

Later, the DIs made it clear they were worried about what I might write about them. "You don't know my specialty, do you?" one raged. "Counterintelligence! You'll never see me coming!"

But I admired their toughness. At three required points during training, I signed paperwork saying the DIs hadn't abused me verbally or physically. I didn't believe they had.

The drill instructors worked more than 100 hours each week. They performed the workouts required of the recruits, and more. They had mastered several military trades - marksmanship, first aid, land navigation - and practiced the best methods for teaching those skills.

It was a fighting man's world. The DIs thrived in it. They had earned their stripes, and they were preparing us for ours.


It was my third day on the rifle range.

I had nearly qualified twice, shooting a 186 and a 175. But the minimum score was 190.

If I failed again, I probably would be dropped to another platoon. That would mean falling back to an earlier phase of training, getting lumped in with another bunch of recruits, and getting hollered at by a new set of DIs.

It would mean writing home to tell relatives of a new graduation date. It would mean staying longer in the drill instructors' universe.

There I sat, hoping to qualify on my third try, carrying the wrong weapon. I didn't have my own rifle.

Earlier, my platoon was ordered to unlock all rifles from our racks. Several of us were absent, having been sent to medical, to dental or to pick up laundry.

I unlocked a weapon belonging to a neighboring recruit who was absent. That part I got right: I was supposed to take his rifle from his bunk.

But before being hustled to the range, I had passed off my own weapon to another recruit and held onto my neighbor's. What a mistake!

I kept mum. My neighbor had qualified as a rifle expert. Maybe I could do the same.

I shot, but the wind and elevation settings on this M16A2 were different than mine. I couldn't figure it out. I was spraying bullets far above the target.

"Let me see that rifle," the marksmanship instructor said. "Why, this isn't even your rifle! Why didn't you say anything?"

I didn't have an answer. I was supposed to be more mature than the other recruits. I was terrified of being dropped.

The instructor called over a DI from another platoon, and the two men pulled me from the rifle range. They escorted me to the warrant officer's tower and called one of the drill instructors with my platoon.

To my amazement, the DI from my platoon showed up in a van and disembarked with my rifle in his hands.

"I guess that's what you've been taught! Walk off with the wrong weapon!" he shouted.

"No, sir!" I replied.

"Hey, Ca-heer!" shouted the DI who had taken me to the tower. He was waving his hands over his head as if doing jumping jacks. "This is you tonight!"

I knew I'd do a furious bout of calisthenics as punishment for my error.

But the marksmanship instructor took it in stride. He had me try again with recruits taking part in the afternoon session. I shot a 199.

"You qualified, journal," the instructor said, using his nickname for journalist.


We survived physical fitness drills, obstacle and confidence courses, martial arts training, the rifle range, rappelling from a 50-foot tower, swim week, and the chamber in which we were exposed to tear gas.

Finally it was time for the Crucible, the 54-hour march and series of military challenges that marked the culmination of our training.

It was late January.

It was cold - above freezing, but not much.

It rained.

We saw other recruits in 20-man teams who had completed the daytime infiltration course with bayonets fixed. They had crawled through puddles of water, slid under barbed wire and thrust their bayonets into tires mounted on wooden dummies.

We too completed the course and, panting and sore, found ourselves soaked from bellies to shins.

I had shed 18 pounds since arriving at Parris Island. I was 38 pounds lighter than when I had first started getting into shape. I knew I could take it.

We learned we would have to complete the same course again that night, in the dark.

As darkness fell, we were ordered to take off our sweatshirts and any other cold weather gear. We would wear only green cotton T-shirts and damp camouflage utility uniforms.

The DIs marched us to an abandoned airstrip. They ordered us to sit on the asphalt and wait for the opportunity to start.

Fogs of breath rose above our formations. The cold penetrated the swollen joints in our hands.

"We'll be watching," the DIs hollered. "Anyone who tries to go around the puddles will be sent back! You'll do it over!"

Ordered to advance, my team of 20 walked through the trees that constituted the first part of the course. Flares lingered overhead. Shadows made by the burning phosphorous danced through the forest. Simulated explosions and machine-gun fire blasted from our right and left.
We came to an open field and a series of sandy trails that led under barbed wire fences. We dropped to our chests and crawled into the puddles. Water soaked our shirts and trousers.

"Yeah, yeah!" shouted the DIs. "Hurry up, Ca-heer! Go through it!"

They followed us throughout the course, which was maybe 250 yards in length. I advanced through every puddle, including one at the end that might have been 12 feet long. I helped another recruit drag an ammunition can full of sand.

We finished. Another recruit looked at me and cursed. I was dirtier and wetter than anyone else. But I had stayed with my team, and we had finished together.


My entire family came to Parris Island for graduation.

All my relatives and my girlfriend had sent letters to keep up my spirits. Their best wishes had helped steel me against the insults and failures.

We walked to our cars after the ceremony. I was a Marine.

Free to take 10 days off before reporting to Camp Geiger, I heard a familiar voice.

"Good job, Ca-heer," shouted a DI.

I looked over. It wasn't one of the noncommissioned officers from my platoon. It was the one who had taunted me with the jumping-jacks motion on the rifle range. He and the marksmanship instructor had saved me when I took the wrong weapon out to shoot.

"Aye, sir," I shouted back.

U.S. Marines Fight House-to-House in Afghan Taliban Stronghold

EXCLUSIVE: FOX News' Greg Palkot is the only reporter traveling with a combined force of 500 Marines and Afghan soldiers as they carry out day two of air and ground assault Operation Eastern Resolve. The operation is aimed at liberating a key town in Northern Helmand province of Taliban and to secure a strategic pass used by Taliban fighters. What follows is Palkot's latest report.



Thursday, August 13, 2009

Day two of Operation Eastern Resolve is drawing to a close. We are with Golf Company, with the 2/3 Marines, they have had a pretty busy day. And camera man Mal James and I spent some time with the Marines in this very dangerous town. It got off to a little bit of a rough start.

We’ve been hearing Taliban fire all around us, coming into contact with the Marines. I can hear it right now.

These Marines are working with another squad, another platoon as they work their way down this village trying to clear this place. But the Taliban aren’t giving up.

The Marines are going house to house, they’re going compound to compound to make sure that there are no militants remaining and they’re doing it while the Taliban that the Marines didn’t kill yesterday try to kill these Marines today.

Morning patrols faced some fairly stiff resistance — the Taliban firing from positions in the mountains surrounding the town, as well as sniping positions in town as well.

Not an easy job, but they’re doing it, and the sense today is that a corner has been turned. Hot temperatures here today though, and some very tired Marines here tonight.

Remembering Guadalcanal

“I came here [to Quantico] to tell a story,” said Alexander J. Mlodzianowski, former Marine and veteran of the World War II battle for the island of Guadalcanal.


8/13/2009 By Lance Cpl. Lucas G. Lowe, Marine Corps Base Quantico


At 95, Mlodzianowski stands erect, wearing a windbreaker and an inviting smile that twists the lines age has made on his face. His white hair is covered by a faded cap bearing the Marine Corps seal. He is the blueprint of an affable grandfather. However, when Mlodzianowski enlisted in the Marine Corps in March 1942, his physique intimidated people as much as it impressed them. At the time he was 27 years old and weighed 170 pounds. Hard labor in the coal yards around his hometown of Lawrence, Mass., in addition to an athletic lifestyle, had conditioned his body well, and at the time he joined the Marine Corps, Mlodzianowski was lifting more than twice his body weight.

He happened to be working out at a local gym when President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared war on Japan.

“I dropped everything I was doing and headed home. On my way I stopped by the pub where my friends would gather. They had heard the news. We got to talking, and one of the guys there said, ‘Let’s go to Boston and sign up for the Marines!’”

The battle for Guadalcanal has been too often neglected as a part of history, according to Mlodzianowski, whose daughter, Mary, encouraged him to come to Quantico’s Oral History Division. Mlodzianowski also has a personal stake in the story of Guadalcanal.

“I know I’m getting old,” he explained, “and I wanted to make sure I passed this bit of history along before it gets too late.”

It has been more than half a century since Mlodzianowski has discussed his experiences on Guadalcanal with 5th Battalion, 11th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division. Friday marked the 67th anniversary of the morning the first wave of Marines hit the beach on Guadalcanal on Aug. 7, 1942.

The morning of the Marine Corps’ first amphibious landing, Maj. Gen. Alexander A. Vandegrift, then the commander of 1st Mar. Div., offered the troops a few words of encouragement: “God favors the bold and strong of heart,” he said. Vandegrift later became the 18th commandant of the Marine Corps and on April 4, 1945, became the first Marine on active duty to achieve the rank of four-star general.

Among those whom Vandegrift addressed the morning of the landing on Guadalcanal was Mlodzianowski, whose billet as line sergeant meant he would spend most of the next five months on the island completely alone, laying communication lines under the cover of dense jungle.

Mlodzianowski recalled leaving his ship to land on Guadalcanal with the first wave of the invasion.

“I get on this half-ton truck and they lower me in a net all alone on the landing barge. I’m looking around like, ‘Hey, isn’t anybody coming with me?’ I’m all alone.
“As I landed I got caught between to infantry units firing, and I was in the middle, so I spent my time in a brook there up to my neck in the water. I could here the bullets coming in over my head. I figured, ‘If I get in the water, I won’t get hit.’”

Equipped with mostly World War I-issued gear, which was common in the beginning of the Second World War, Mlodzianowski set out into the Japanese-infested interior of Guadalcanal in his jeep to begin laying the communication lines that enabled Marines at the front to contact the rear for necessities such as ammunition and food.

Mlodzianowski was wounded for the first time in September when shrapnel from nearby shelling hit his ankle. To make matters worse, Navy Rear Adm. Richmond K. Turner, the commander of the Pacific Fleet at Guadalcanal, had pulled his amphibious force out of the waters surrounding the island the third day of the battle due to intense Japanese harassment of its ships, leaving the Marines to fend for themselves without Navy support. Therefore, Mlodzianowski could not be medically evacuated from the island.

Never minding his wound, Mlodzianowski resumed his labor of laying down communication lines, persevering for another five months when he, along with the rest of the division, shipped for Australia on Dec. 23, 1942. He would spend the next year in Australia, taking frequent trips into the country’s interior and getting to know the local populace, which included white ranchers descended from the British colonization period as well as the more primitive Aborigines.

“I got a 72 [-hour leave] one time and walked for 25 miles into the countryside outside Sydney,” recalls Mlodzianowski. “I got to this ranch and figured I would stop and get a glass of water. Someone sitting outside asked me what sort of uniform I was wearing, and I told him, ‘U.S. Marines.’ Then he took me by the arm into his house and fed me a whole dinner. I guess he knew we more or less saved the whole country.”

Mlodzianowski’s warm reception at the remote home of an Australian rancher might very well be due to the success of Marines who held their ground against the Japanese in the Coral Sea region.

Some historians have inferred that Japan’s plans were to annex Australia, but these plans were hampered by the Marines at Guadalcanal.

Mlodzianowski had had enough of seeing the world by the time World War II ended and his military service was terminated. He returned to Lawrence, Mass., and spent most of the rest of his life working in textiles, content with keeping his memories of the war to himself.

Today, Mlodzianowski does not put off an aura of arrogance for actions that took place 67 years ago in the South Pacific Ocean, although he could probably get away with it. His merits as a former Marine include three separate citations: one from President Franklin D. Roosevelt for successes at Guadalcanal, a regimental citation from the secretary of the Navy for seizing and maintaining Guadalcanal and a personal citation from President Harry S. Truman for service to his country.

Rather, Mlodzianowski seems eager to share his story of war with the world, specifically with Marines several generations removed from his. He wants them to know.

He came to Quantico with a story. Now he has told it.

August 12, 2009

22nd MEU trains in Kuwait

Staff report
Posted : Wednesday Aug 12, 2009 12:40:45 EDT

Members of the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit began training in Kuwait in early August.

To continue reading:


Effort Aims to Secure Southern Afghanistan for Elections

WASHINGTON, Aug. 12, 2009 – Hours into the new Operation Eastern Resolve II in Afghanistan’s Helmand province, defense officials report that U.S. Marines and Afghan soldiers are confronting “some resistance” as they work to secure the area for the Aug. 20 elections.


By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

The Marines and Afghan soldiers launched the offensive earlier today in Helmand province’s Now Zad district. Much of the operation is centered on Dahaneh, a Taliban-held southern Afghanistan town, and the surrounding mountains.

The mission was ordered to disrupt insurgent violence and intimidation campaigns and provide freedom of movement for Afghans to vote in upcoming provincial and national elections, military officials at Camp Leatherneck in Afghanistan reported.

About 100 Afghan National Army soldiers and 400 Marines and sailors from Marine Expeditionary Brigade, part of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, are conducting the operation. Marines from Marine Aircraft Group 40 provided helicopter lift and other aviation support for the mission.

The operation is proceeding as planned, and forces have confronted some opposition, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman told reporters. No casualty information is available, he said. Marine officials later reported that casualtiers are "very light."

The mission is representative of those planned up to and after the Afghan elections. “This is a sustained effort that will be ongoing throughout the country,” Whitman said.

The upcoming elections will be the first the Afghans have organized, run and administered since the 1970s.

“Our mission is to support the Independent Election Commission and Afghan national security forces. They are the ones in charge of these elections. Our job is to make sure they have the security to do their job,” said Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Lawrence D. Nicholson, commanding general of Marine Expeditionary Brigade Afghanistan.

Coalition forces are working to secure as much of Afghanistan as possible in the days leading up to the Aug. 20 national elections, Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell told reporters yesterday.

“Keep in mind, we are dealing with an enemy here that is doing everything in its power to discourage Afghans from executing their constitutional right to head to the polls – through intimidation, through violence,” he said. “We are trying to make sure that is minimized, if not eliminated.”

The Regional Command South area, which includes Helmand province, is particularly challenging, Morrell said. He credited a stronger coalition presence and expanded operations such as today’s Operation Eastern Resolve II with laying conditions so more polling places than initially expected will be able to open.

Nicholson emphasized today that the coalition has no stake in which candidates win the election. “While we encourage every Afghan to exercise his right to vote, who he or she votes for is none of our business,” he said.

“It is our wish to see that these elections are as credible, secure and inclusive as possible, that they result in a legitimate outcome, [and] that the Afghan people and the world recognize [them] as the will of the Afghan people,” Morrell said yesterday.

Marines assault Taliban town in Afghanistan

DAHANEH, Afghanistan — Helicopter-borne U.S. Marines backed by Harrier jets stormed a Taliban-held town in southern Afghanistan before dawn Wednesday in an operation to secure the country ahead of presidential elections.


By ALFRED de MONTESQUIOU (AP) – August 12, 2009

The troops exchanged heavy fire with insurgents, killing at least seven. Associated Press journalists traveling with the first wave said militants fired small arms, mortars and rocket-propelled grenades after helicopters dropped the troops over Taliban lines. Fighting lasted more than eight hours, as Harrier jets streaked overhead and dropped flares in a show of force.

The Taliban put up such fierce resistance that Marines said they suspected the militants knew the assault was coming.

Other Marines met heavy resistance as they fought to seize control of the mountains surrounding Dahaneh in the southern province of Helmand. Another convoy of Marines rolled into the town despite roadside bomb attacks and gunfire.

It was the first time NATO troops had entered Dahaneh, which has been under Taliban control for years.

U.S., NATO and Afghan troops are working to protect voting sites around the country so Afghans can take part in the country's second-ever direct presidential election on Aug. 20. Taliban militants have vowed to disrupt the elections, and attacks are on the rise.

Marines said they killed between seven and 10 militants in Wednesday's push and seized about 66 pounds (30 kilograms) of opium, which the militants use to finance their insurgency. Troops hope to restore control of the town so that residents can vote in the election.

The new offensive, named "Eastern Resolve 2," is designed to break the monthslong stalemate in this southern valley where the Taliban are solidly entrenched. By occupying Dahaneh, the Marines hope to isolate insurgents in woods and mountains, away from civilian centers.

"I think this has the potential to be a watershed," said Capt. Zachary Martin, commander of Golf Company, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marines, who led the assault.

The goal is to cut off the Taliban from a major rear base, and reclaim the area's market district. It is hoped this would have a ripple effect through neighboring villages, making civilians more willing to cooperate with NATO forces. The Taliban levy taxes and maintain checkpoints in Dahaneh, which serves as a main trading route through northern Helmand, which produces 60 percent of the world's opium.

"In the long term, it could have tremendous effects for the entire province," said Martin, whose company is based in Naw Zad, five miles (10 kilometers) to the north.

A combined force of some 500 U.S. and Afghan troops took part in the attack, which included helicopters, snipers, and female Marines brought in to interact with Afghan women during the compound-by-compound search conducted by Afghan forces who accompanied the Americans.

The Marines arrived in helicopters under cover of darkness, but at morning light, militants unleashed their weapons.

Marines cried out "Incoming!" as the whistles of Taliban weaponry approached. A heavy rocket targeted a Marine outpost, but flew over the small base, while a mortar round landed just 20 yards (meters) from a Humvee on the town's outskirts.

"Just a few meters further and I'd be dead," said Corp. Joshua Jackson, 23, from Copley, Ohio, after one round landed nearby.

Progress into the town was slowed by a heavy machine gun the Taliban had in one of the streets. Militants also brought in a truck to fire heavy missiles. Marines said the Taliban's reputation for firing poorly aimed shots and fleeing had not proved true here.

"This is a Taliban home down here, so for once they're not running," said Lance Corp. Garett Davidson, 24, of West Desmorins, Iowa.

Fighting was made harder for the Marines by the fact insurgents were shooting from house rooftops and courtyards, potentially putting civilians in danger. But large numbers of civilians — perhaps 100 — were seen fleeing on foot in the early morning, leaving the Marines confident that those left in the town were militant fighters.

Martin said the Marines would strictly limit the type of weapons they used and would stick to a "proportional response" when under fire to limit civilian casualties.

After militants fired volleys of rockets from a mud-wall compound, the Marines called in a missile strike, and Capt. Zachary Martin said seven to 10 militants inside were killed. No civilians were inside, he said.

"We were tracking these individuals, they were there ... and then boom, and they weren't there," Martin said.

Martin confirmed suspicions among the Marines that the fierce resistance indicated that the Taliban had been tipped off about the operation beforehand. "I'm pretty sure they knew of it in advance," he said.

Once the second largest-town in Helmand, Naw Zad has been almost emptied of its 30,000 inhabitants after three years of near-constant fighting. Taliban lines begin barely a mile (a kilometer) from the Marines' forward operating base, set amid minefields with hundreds of homemade explosives. By occupying Dahaneh, the Marines say they can outflank the insurgents in Naw Zad valley and isolate them in woods and mountains.

By late morning a contingent of Afghan Army soldiers had driven into the section of the town now controlled by the Marines, and some Marines were preparing to head out for the first NATO patrol ever in Dahaneh. It planned to reach out to civilians possibly huddled in their homes as sporadic but fierce outbursts of intense gunfire continued through the morning.

The target at the start of the operation was two suspected Taliban compounds, which were raided commando-style by a group of Marines dropped behind enemy lines. A second group drove in from the Marines' main base in Naw Zad. Their goal was to secure what Marines have been calling "The Devil's Pass," a narrow passage between two steep hills that controls the entrance to the Naw Zad district.

The offensive follows "Eastern Resolve 1," which was the Marines' initial push out of Naw Zad in early spring. This first move was of limited effect, because U.S. troops were too thinly spread at the time to control areas they managed to claim from insurgents.

Casualties have mounted as U.S. and NATO troops ramp up military operations following President Barack Obama's decision to deploy 21,000 more American forces to Afghanistan this year to cope with the rising Taliban insurgency.

Last month, U.S. and NATO deaths from roadside and suicide bomb blasts in Afghanistan soared six-fold compared with the same month last year, as militants detonated the highest number of bombs of the eight-year war, according to figures released Tuesday.

August 11, 2009

Training to Prevent Tragedy; 24th MEU Marines prepare for worst case scenario

Marines and sailors with Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment and Combat Logistics Battalion-24 teamed for a week of mass casualty drills, practicing the evacuation, evaluation and treatment of casualties here beginning Aug. 3.


8/11/2009 By Lance Cpl. David Beall, 24th MEU

U.S. ARMY BASE FORT A.P. HILL, Va (Aug. 10, 2009) —

A mass casualty is any event resulting in enough Marines being injured that logistical capabilities are overwhelmed and a mass casualty team is required to treat and evacuate victims to where they can receive required treatment.

“The reality is that a mass casualty (situation) can happen anywhere anytime, and it’s important to have as many personnel trained to be able to respond to that as possible,” said HM2 Jason B. Smith, corpsman, Special Operations Training Group, II Marine Expeditionary Force. “The purpose of this training is to aid medical personnel as well as their security element in increasing their proficiency in the art of a mass casualty. Some Marines participating have no experience with mass casualty team or even a drill, making this training essential for them.

“I’ve never done mass casualty training before so I hope to get a better understanding of the process and the different steps of actually getting the casualties in through the triage, onto the birds (helicopters) and back to the ship to receive further medical treatment,” explained Cpl. William T. Ramage, supply clerk, CLB-24, 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit.

The training also gives Marines and sailors a chance to work together and learn how the team works to accomplish the mission.

“We’re all getting ready to deploy, so this training helps the teams get used to each other, become more familiar with each other and build a trust within the team,” said HM3 Adam J. Voegtle, corpsman, H&S; Company, BLT 1/9, 24th MEU. “It gives them a chance to see how they will react if this situation were to occur in real life; that way we will know how to work together smoothly in real life.”

At the end of the day, the teams gained proficiency and successfully accomplished their mission of getting casualties to safety.

“I think it went fantastic, the enthusiasm and effort that the Marines put into the training, and their willingness to learn was great and I can’t say enough about how proud I am of both the sailors and the Marines here,” said 1st Sgt. Sean C. Morgan, company first sergeant, H&S; Company, BLT 1/9, 24th MEU.

Afghanistan-bound Marines rehearse wide range of enemy encounters


Marines and sailors of the 7th Marine Regiment held small, training sessions during a pre-deployment exercise here July 27-Aug. 14 to prepare for a deployment to Afghanistan as part of Regimental Combat Team 7.


8/11/2009 By Cpl. Zachary J. Nola, Regimental Combat Team 7

Marines participated in a mine-detecting, practical application, which covered improvised, explosive device attacks on vehicles, and were introduced to counter-IED systems.

Marines and sailors of the regiment were also subject to simulated attacks, including suicide bombers and indirect fire, as well as a base-wide mass casualty drill.

The smaller sessions provide a more accurate gauge of the Marines’ combat readiness and ability to retain the information learned at more formal training exercises.

“The realism of a combat situation isn’t necessarily done when you say, “Okay, everybody get ready, at this time we’re going to do this, and this is going to happen and this is going to be your part.” It does no good,” said Gunnery Sgt. Henry J. Rimkus, Jr., the Headquarters Company gunnery sergeant for 7th Marines. “I like to keep everything as small as possible, the fewer amount of people knowing as possible, so when (the attack) comes, I can actually see [the Marines’] reaction.”

No matter how small or trivial the training may seem, it plays a role in a Marine’s combat readiness, Rimkus said.

“[The Marines] need to realize that every bit of training you get, everything you do, plays into a combat situation and it plays for combat readiness,” said Rimkus, a 33-year-old native of Great Falls, Mont. “No matter what your rank is, no matter where you are, take on every bit of training, every procedure and every [standard operating procedure]. It’s there for a reason.”

A simulated attack on the camp’s front gate was a good way to help educate some of the regiment’s junior Marines about base security, said Cpl. Daniel Lindenlaub, a rifleman who was the acting corporal-of-the-guard during the attack.

“This is vital for them,” said Lindenlaub, 25, from Layton, Utah. “They come from all the different shops, so interior guard is obviously something new to them, and also something that is very important as far as base security goes.”

The mass casualty exercise gave Marines the chance to practice coordinating with the corpsmen they will deploy with, said Petty Officer 3rd Class William Morell, a hospital corpsman with Regimental Aid Station, 7th Marine Regiment.

“There is absolutely no level you can put on this training,” said the 21-year-old Morell, from Ontario, Calif., who has previous deployment experience with 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment. “It’s extremely beneficial, and it’s of the upmost importance, especially for the type of environment we are going to.”

Once the training concludes in mid-August, the regiment will be better prepared to conduct counterinsurgency operations as the ground combat element for Marine Expeditionary Brigade-Afghanistan.

11th MEU readies for deployment

By Gidget Fuentes - Staff writer
Posted : Tuesday Aug 11, 2009 7:26:41 EDT

More than 2,200 Marines and sailors will head to sea Monday for the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit’s third and final predeployment training exercises at sea.

To continue reading:


Support Marines train for MarSOC deployments

By Trista Talton - Staff writer
Posted : Tuesday Aug 11, 2009 14:23:41 EDT

Marines who support the Corps’ elite units spend long days — and a lot of brass — preparing to deploy.

To continue reading:


1/9 Marines ride in memory of fallen brother

On April 22, 2008, Christian Haerter was in Sag Harbor, N.Y., listening to the news at work when a broadcast announced two Marines were killed in Iraq. Christian took a step outside for a breath of fresh air and shortly afterward, saw a sight every parent fears.


8/11/2009 By Lance Cpl. Brian D. Jones, 2nd Marine Division

Two Marines in dress blues were heading his way with his ex-wife, JoAnn Lyles, following closely behind in tears.

“You never see Marines here, not in the Hampton area,” said Christian. “Everyone that drove past knew exactly why they were here.”

On that day, their only child, Lance Cpl. Jordan C. Haerter, a rifleman with Weapons Company, 1st Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, was killed during a suicide bomber’s attack in Ramadi, Iraq.

Jordan and another Marine, Cpl. Jonathan T. Yale, an infantryman with 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, were manning a defensive position outside their unit when a suicide vehicle-borne IED roared toward the entry control point they protected. The pair remained at their post and poured fire into the oncoming truck, stopping the explosive-laden truck short of its intended target and forcing a premature explosion, thus saving the lives of several dozen Marines, sailors, Iraqi policemen and civilians at Joint Security Station Nasser.

For their actions that day, Haerter and Yale were posthumously awarded the Navy Cross, the nation’s second-highest award for battlefield valor.

“I’m absolutely certain that every moment of his life led up to those six seconds in Ramadi,” said Jordan’s father.

“He didn’t do anything different from what any other Marine would have done,” Christian believed his son would have said.

Just over a year later, emotions were high for both parents July 25, 2009, when 23 Marines who served in the same platoon as Jordan arrived in Sag Harbor – not as bearers of dreadful news, but to ride in the Second Annual Soldier Ride, The Hamptons, in honor of Jordan and his family’s sacrifice.

“I am thankful to 1/9 for supporting Jordan,” said JoAnn. “It puts life in me when these guys are around. They have taken me in as family, they’ve extended that to me and it’s really nice.”

The ride was an organized fund raiser for the Wounded Warrior Project and dedicated to the memory of Jordan. The fund raiser was a success, bringing in an estimated $230,000 in donations.

“The importance of this weekend was threefold,” said 1st Lt. Daniel J. Runzheimer, Jordan’s platoon commander. “Honor one of our brothers, raise awareness and support for wounded veterans and most importantly, to show Jordan’s family the Marine Corps does not forget its families.”

Sag Harbor welcomed the Marines from 1/9 with open arms, donating Marine Corps biking jerseys and the bikes they rode, as well as a dose of New York hospitality.

“[The ride] showed the support of the American public for its service members and we got to honor our fallen brother, Jordan C. Haerter, and ensure that he is never forgotten,” said Cpl. Corey L. Teague, a Marine who was saved by Jordan’s actions.

A bus full of wounded warriors from all branches of military arrived at the start and finish point of the ride, American Legion Hand-Aldrich Post 924. All riders with disabilities were provided the adaptive equipment they needed to cycle and led the Marines on the 65-mile ride through the Hamptons.

Local motorcyclists with the American Legion Riders of Post 924 cleared the roadway for the approximate 186 riders who participated. Another several hundred more participated in a four-mile walk or run event to help raise money for the occasion.

“It’s a huge honor to have Jordan’s name associated with something that’s going to help so many people, and having the Marines here made it very special to me,” said Christian.

Since their son’s death, Christian and JoAnn actively participate in anything they can to help make the lives of returning veterans better. Christian said he looks to veterans as selfless heroes, who sign up to serve their country during a time of conflict and do the job most people would never volunteer to do.

“It was important to be here for a good Marine and a better friend,” said Lance Cpl. Paul A. Mendenhall, one of Jordan’s fellow 1/9 Marines. “Any Marine who is a hero, such as Haerter, is worth being here to support him, his friends and family.”

Christian said the ride and other acts of strangers made him realize the wide impact his son’s life had on people.

“It’s unbelievable how Jordan’s life has touched others’ lives,” he said.

Christian went on to tell the stories of a stranger carrying a black case with a trumpet inside asking his permission to play taps over Jordan’s resting place, and how he has witnessed a retired master gunnery sergeant stop by Jordan’s resting place almost every day for a moment of silence.

Lance Cpl. Ernesto Trevizo, another Marine saved by Jordan’s actions, expressed how he and the other Marines would go to the end of the world and back for Jordan’s mother, if that is what it took to support her.

By riding with the wounded warriors to raise money and awareness, the Marines from 1/9 experienced many Americans’ gratitude. They rode not only in memory of Jordan, to give a little back to their brother who gave all, but also supported and paid their respects to his family, while meeting and thanking many wounded warriors for their sacrifices along the way.

“It is important now, but was equally important before Jordan’s death, that these Marines bond and form a tight family,” said Runzheimer. “They become responsible for one another and go to great lengths to take care of each other. When a Marine knows he is truly part of a family, there is no limit to what he will strive to accomplish.”

Soldier Ride is a program of the Wounded Warrior Project that provides key rehabilitation opportunities for this generation of wounded warriors and raises public awareness for those who have been injured while fighting overseas.

The Wounded Warrior Project is a nonprofit organization, whose mission is to honor and empower wounded warriors, offers numerous services and programs to assist injured servicemen and women upon their return and throughout their rehabilitation and to aid in the transition from hospital bed to an independent, productive life. More information can be found at: www.sr.woundedwarriorsproject.org. or www.empirestatechallenge.org

For more information on the II Marine Expeditionary Force, visit the unit’s web site at www.iimefpublic.usmc.mil.

August 9, 2009

Obama Moves Toward Troop Question at Crux of Afghan War Review

Oct. 8 (Bloomberg) -- President Barack Obama and his advisers moved closer to the crux of their Afghanistan strategy review, whether to boost the number of U.S. troops in the war as they considered the role of Pakistan in fighting terrorists.


By Viola Gienger and Nicholas Johnston

Defense Secretary Robert Gates last week provided the president a copy of a troop request from General Stanley McChrystal, the new top commander in the field, and other officials in the deliberations have received it too, Defense Department spokesman Geoff Morrell told reporters at the Pentagon yesterday. Morrell declined to reveal the contents except to say it includes a recommendation and alternatives.

The president met for about three hours yesterday, the eighth anniversary of the start of the war, with a group of advisers including Gates, McChrystal, Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Joint Chiefs Chairman Admiral Michael Mullen and General David Petraeus. The U.S. ambassadors to Afghanistan and Pakistan participated by videoconference, as did McChrystal.

The session, the third of at least five such meetings, was to include discussion of “all aspects of our posture and policy toward Pakistan and its link to Afghanistan and the regional conflict that we’re dealing with,” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said yesterday before the group convened.

Obama is considering whether to continue with a war strategy he approved in March that emphasizes protecting and supporting Afghan civilians and training local army and police. That approach would require a change in tactics and more troops than the 68,000 the U.S. is scheduled to have in the theater by the end of this year, McChrystal said in an Aug. 30 assessment of the security situation in Afghanistan.

Discussion of Forces

Troop levels might enter the discussion “as early as Friday” or next week, Gibbs said yesterday.

The troop request went to Obama without the standard formal written comments from the chain of command, which includes Gates, Mullen and Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in the Middle East and Central Asia. They will provide their analysis at Obama’s request, Morrell said.

McChrystal may seek as many as 40,000 additional forces, Arizona Senator John McCain, the top Republican on the Armed Services Committee, has said.

“There has to be a surge” of troops for Afghanistan, McCain told reporters at the Capitol yesterday. “there has to be a significant increase in troops on the ground, and there has to be an overall strategy such as we employed in Iraq, adapted to Afghanistan.”

NATO’s Role

The 28-nation North Atlantic Treaty Organization also was given a copy of McChrystal’s troop request, Morrell said. Including the U.S. share, NATO leads a total of 103,000 troops from 42 nations fighting the war and training the Afghan national security forces.

The administration has signaled that a decision on the policy will come within weeks. Obama told lawmakers during a White House meeting earlier this week that his decision will be based on pursuing the strategy that best will prevent terrorist attacks on the U.S. and its allies, according to an administration official who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity.

Pulling all U.S. troops from Afghanistan isn’t under consideration, Gibbs has said.

Obama must make a decision in the face of lagging public support in the U.S. and complex conditions on the ground, said retired U.S. Army General Barry McCaffrey.

Obama doesn’t have “a lot of latitude,” said McCaffrey, who teaches at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and travels on orders to review field operations. “He can’t get out. He can’t go in significantly. I don’t know how this one is going to come out.”

Afghan Forces

One point of general agreement is the need to increase the size of the Afghan army and police beyond the current goal of 230,800.

Petraeus, the commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East and Central Asia, said earlier this week that McChrystal’s view that as many as 400,000 Afghan army and police will be needed “is in the ballpark.”

Gibbs yesterday stressed the need to build up Afghanistan’s security forces. The U.S. “can’t fix the problem” without a “robust” Afghan army and police force, he said.

Members of Congress and the administration are divided over the U.S. approach. Vice President Joe Biden is advocating a counterterrorism approach that focuses on combating the al-Qaeda terrorist network through the use of drones and special forces and would avoid adding troops. In Congress, some Democrats are urging Obama to take a cautious approach and many Republicans back a more robust military campaign.

Representative Sheila Jackson Lee, a Texas Democrat who is co-chairman of House caucuses on both Afghanistan and Pakistan, warned that a troop increase could “reignite the war” in Afghanistan. Democrats aren’t united on the issue, she said.

“There probably is a reasonable amount of support” in the House for increasing troop levels, she said in an interview yesterday. “There is also a vocal opposition.”

August 7, 2009

Corpsman killed in Afghanistan

Staff report
Posted : Friday Aug 7, 2009 19:34:14 EDT

Military officials on Aug. 6 identified a sailor killed in southwestern Afghanistan as Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Anthony C. Garcia.

To continue reading about Fallen Hero, Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Anthony C. Garcia, of the 2/3:


Deployed 'docs' show diligence in Iraq

Every Marine unit conducting missions in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom has one thing in common: dedicated hospital corpsmen always prepared to deal with illnesses and injuries, both great and small.


8/7/2009 By Cpl. Triah Pendracki, Multi National Force - West

Hospital corpsmen with II Marine Expeditionary Force Headquarters Group (Forward), serve with Marine and naval units across the Al Anbar province and provide quality medical care at a moment’s notice for their fellow service members.

“I just recently came back from Blue Diamond out by Camp Ramadi,” said Petty Officer 3rd Class Josua Badillo, a corpsman with the II MHG (Fwd) Group Aid Station. “We get tasked out to go to any unit within II MEF (Fwd), sometimes for five weeks, sometimes longer.”

When these ‘docs’ are not embedded with units, they work at the GAS aboard Al Asad Air Base, Iraq, caring for several different units under II MEF (Fwd) with services such as sick call, dental and sports medicine.

“We provide medical care for the command element, transition teams, intelligence battalion and 8th Communications Battalion,” said Seaman Derek Meluzio, a hospital corpsmen with II MHG (Fwd) GAS.

The staff at the GAS, like most other Marine and naval units, are very close with one another.

“Meluzio and I went to boot camp and corps school together,” said Badillo.
“It was a wild time at corps school at Great Lakes [Illinois] with him,” added Meluzio.

“It’s funny how we are like a big family of brothers and sisters,” joked Petty Officer 1st Class Jordan Brown, a corpsman at the GAS. “I seem to be more like the mom of the bunch though, always keeping them in check.”

While these docs daydream about what cars they’re going to buy when they get back from Iraq, and exchange playful insults with willing patients, they all realize how important their obligations are to their fellow service members.

“No one can do anything without a corpsman,” explained Petty Officer 2ndClass Chad Mangrum, a corpsman at the GAS. “Sailors don’t leave their ports and Marines can’t leave the wire without one of us. Every unit that has Marines and sailors needs corpsmen; there’s no way around it.”

August 6, 2009

Don’t Fear the Reaper

As if 10 weeks of 16 hour days in constant motion aren’t exhausting enough, Marine recruits from Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego have to endure a 54-hour training evolution at Camp Pendleton, Calif., appropriately named “The Crucible,” before they can graduate basic training. The Crucible is jam-packed with obstacles in a combat-like atmosphere where sleep is reduced to four hours a night at most and food for two days is provided by only two Meals Ready to Eat, each of which only carry around 1,200 calories verses the 4,000 calories service members may burn each day, according to the Institute of Medicine.


8/6/2009 By Sgt. Jaime Paetz, 12th Marine Corps District

After the end of the third tiresome night of the Crucible, recruits have only one last hurdle to clear.

It was at this last stretch that I joined the recruits of Golf Company, 2nd Battalion, Recruit Training Regiment, who’d been awake since 2 a.m. readying their selves and their 60 lb. packs for their last Crucible challenge, a 10-mile hike. They picked up their M-16 A2 service rifles and full combat gear including flaks and helmets. They were fatigued, and they were starving.

In an attempt to maintain a similar state as the recruits’, I made sure I had little to eat the day before, took only four hours of rest and made my pack heavy. I woke up at 1 a.m. to get ready and then drove an hour from MCRD San Diego to the starting point for the hike. I was tired when I arrived at 2:30 and could only wonder how worn out the recruits already were and how much pain the blisters on their feet were causing them before we even stepped off.

I walked by the platoons of Golf Co. and noted the handfuls of recruits wrapping their feet, checking their weapons, chugging water and waiting.

The moon was full and gave every shiny or light surface on the ground a bluish glow. I found my way to the front of the formation and before I could introduce myself to the leaders hiking on my left and right, the order to begin moving echoed throughout the air.

We kept a moderate pace as we hiked in relative darkness and dipped in and out of a steep riverbed. After hiking several miles on a gentle incline, we approached a very grim, steep hill the recruits had been mentally preparing to climb for days now: “The Reaper.”

“It’s a real gut check,” said Sergeant Maj. Mark Oloughlin, the 2nd Battalion sergeant major and a seasoned drill instructor. “And you have to remember these recruits are already exhausted and weak.”

I began my ascension as the recruits took a few moments at the foot of the hill to take one last breather. My 5’3” figure was bent over at almost a 90-degree angle to compensate for weight of the pack I carried as I climbed an almost 70-degree incline. My heart began pounding, and the same beat began pounding in my legs. The Reaper’s summit was only a quarter of a mile away. My heart felt like it was going to pound out of my chest at 50 feet, but I didn’t slow down until I reached the top because I didn’t want to feel the full toll the climb was taking on my body.

These recruits had been mentally and physically broken down. So what was driving them to climb over the Reaper? One recruit said it’s what’s around the corner that kept him going strong.

“My legs have been aching since we hiked out for the Crucible,” said Aldo Estrada, a recruit from Glendora, Calif. “They’re burning now, but it’s that motivation that keeps me going.”

Once the hike is over, the recruits will be handed the Marine Corps emblem device, the Eagle, Globe, and Anchor, and called Marines for the first time.

“I want to feel that pride. We’ve gotten this far, and we just need to finish. In a couple of hours we’ll be Marines, and that’s pretty exciting,” said Estrada.

Once we all reached the summit, the drill instructors guided their platoons through several stations, reading them the biographies of a different Marine Medal of Honor recipient posted at each location.

The recruits re-wrapped their sore feet, chugged water and savored the severely-needed nutrients in the oranges they received.

The rest of the hike was all downhill and it seemed to be the longest stretch. We hiked the remaining five miles back with the rising sun and the raising temperature. I began to feel the places on my feet where I’d rubbed my skin completely off my heels, but I knew it was nothing compared to the feet of the recruits around me. I started to walk faster, hoping the adrenaline would keep the pain at a distance until we finished the hike.

It wasn’t long before the dirt turned into a paved road and we were back at Edson Range, where the recruits stepped off for the Crucible just days before. We were now completely drained, hot and filthy. It was only 7:30 a.m. and the day had just begun.

The recruits stopped alongside the range’s parade deck to stage their packs. They dusted each other off and waited for their drill instructors’ command to march on deck. After 10 weeks as hell-raising dictators, the recruits’ drill instructors were now their mentors, their big brothers-in-arms.

“I think they want us to be prepared for the most stressful situations,” said Chris Kupka, a recruit with Plt. 2145 who will one day join the ranks as an Amphibious Assault Vehicle crewman.

“It’s part of what we do. In a time of war, you need to fight through pressure and fatigue,” he said, “and I think that’s why they yelled so much and kept us moving fast. This is just a simple version of what I’m going to be going through.”

August 5, 2009

Feeding a need

Densfords seek assistance with meals program that supports military families as they visit injured or ill servicemen at National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda

Military service is a family tradition for Peggy and Joe Densford's family. Two of their three children are Marines — Capt. Nathan Densford, 30, is currently serving his third tour in Iraq as an air operations officer. Sgt. Seth Densford, 25, a veteran of Afghanistan, is currently serving at Camp Lejeune, N.C. Nathan is a 1997 graduate of Great Mills High School. Seth is a 2002 graduate of St. Mary's Ryken


Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2009
Staff writer

"They are the eighth generation in my family to serve," Peggy said of her sons.

On Joe's side of the family, his father was one of six sons who served on active duty during World War II.

So, Joe and Peggy aren't surprised by the mix of anxiety and pride that they feel about their sons' decision to serve. For generations their family has dealt with those feelings.

But the Densfords felt a need to be involved … somehow.

For the past two years they have volunteered with the Purple Heart Family Support program that provides meals and a listening ear to families of Marines and sailors visiting their loved ones as they are treated at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda. It's a program that is in need of additional funding, and the Densfords are hoping the St. Mary's community will provide some help.

"It's more than just serving meals … there's a lot of social interaction," Joe said of the moral support offered by the program.

"For me, it's just so I could do something," Peggy said, as she and her husband sat in his law office in Leonardtown. "You have to do something."

When Seth was going through boot camp, another military parent told the Densfords about MarineParents, a group that provides support for Marine families and Marines and community awareness programs. The group was particularly helpful to Peggy, she said, to let her know what Seth was doing at boot camp and what that whole process was like.

It was from MarineParents that the Densfords learned about the meal-serving project, the Purple Heart Family Support program, which would become their volunteer project of choice. Peggy was already familiar with the need for such a service from her mother's experiences visiting her father while he was at the Bethesda medical center for eight weeks.

"We knew why they needed it," Peggy said of the program.

Every weekend, The Galley, the hospital-run cafeteria at Bethesda, and the food court are closed for business. While the hospital continues to provide meals for the patients, those visiting their injured or ill family member are left to search for food. It's a challenge.

"You can imagine how hard it is to leave the side of your wounded child or spouse, especially when they have first arrived from overseas," Peggy said.

The National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda is the designated hospital for wounded sailors and Marines returning to the continental United States from Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom.

"It's a large complex," Joe said. "There's a very large hospital facility. There are no stores, no houses … there's really not a lot around it." The complex is enclosed with gates and is located on Wisconsin Avenue, across from the National Institutes of Health.

A Metro stop is within reach of Bethesda, but that can be time-consuming and intimidating to people visiting, many of whom are from out of town. Many are far away from what would be their normal source of support — their families, churches, friends, who would naturally provide meals during an illness or injury.

The Densfords told a story about one out-of-town mother visiting the Bethesda medical center who hadn't left her son's bedside for three days. The mother had been living off food from the candy machine in the hall. When volunteers brought her some food, "she burst into tears," Peggy said.

Peggy said the need is particularly acute for the family members of more seriously wounded servicemen. "They're walking around like zombies, and they can't even talk," she said, describing what she has observed at the hospital.

The Densfords have been involved with the volunteer meals program for the past two years. They travel to Bethesda one day a month and with other volunteers help distribute meals that are purchased from a nearby California Tortilla. The volunteers generally take turns supplying drinks and cups. Meals are distributed to patients and hospital staff also, when possible.

It costs $800 to $900 to serve about 100 people, Joe said.

"They're always so grateful," Peggy said of the response, and then added with tears in her eyes of one particular group of visitors she remembered who were visiting newly arrived wounded — "They just sat there and wanted you to sit with them."

The Purple Heart Family Support program relies on donations to continue to provide the meals service. The program has seen its funding decline. "When the economy tanked, the donations dried up," Peggy said.

In July, the group suspended meals delivery due to lack of funds. Meals will be served once in August thanks to funding from another group, Heart of a Marine.

The Densfords are hoping for community support for the meals program. Peggy noted that the need is particularly high right now with all the wounded Marines and sailors coming to Bethesda due to the recent operations in Afghanistan. "We need the money now," she said. "The Marines are coming in now."

The Densfords are hoping that an area business might offer financial support for the program.

It's a volunteer job that has come to mean a lot to the Densfords. "What you gather from [visiting Bethesda] is the enormous sacrifice those people have made … not temporary but long-term problems," Joe said, referring to the loss of limbs and other serious injuries.

"You just hope someone would do it for you," Peggy said of the meals program.

[email protected]

If you want to help

The Purple Heart Family Support program needs funding to continue offering meals and a listening ear to family members visiting Marines and sailors at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda.

Donations to the program are tax deductible and can be mailed to MarineParents.com, Inc., P.O. Box 1115, Columbia, MO 65205; designated for the Purple Heart Family Support program.

For more information call 573-449-2003. For more information about MarineParents, visit www.MarineParents.com.

August 4, 2009

Marines fighting Taliban strive to win Afghan locals' trust

HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan — Marine Staff Sgt. Michael Garrett sprints through a cloud of smoke and dust raised by the blast from a buried bomb.

Click above link for photo and map.

August 4, 2009
By Tom Vanden Brook, USA TODAY

Somewhere nearby he hears a Marine cry out: "Casualties! Casualties!" Garrett arrives at the outer wall of a housing compound and finds some of his men sprawled on the ground. Others stumble around, shell-shocked from the blast, temporarily unable to hear their own voices.

No one is badly hurt, but Garrett recognizes that Fox Company of the 2nd Battalion, 8th Marines is in for a long, hot day. "Hopefully, everybody gets out of here alive today," he mutters.

A few miles away, but seemingly a world apart, sits another walled cluster of homes. Here, the Marines arrive the next day to a reception that may not be warm, but isn't lethal. Afghans talk with Marines; children beg them for sweets. A villager notices Marines hoisting themselves over a wall, gets their attention, and points out a shortcut.

The contrast between the two housing compounds in Afghanistan's Helmand River valley, a longtime stronghold of the Taliban militant group, illustrates the challenges facing Marines as they implement a new strategy that emphasizes winning the trust of the local population.

Using some of the 21,000 extra troops that President Obama has ordered to Afghanistan this year, the Marines are setting up small patrol bases in far-flung areas that largely had been neglected during the first seven years of the war.

By providing security, rather than just focusing on killing insurgents, the Marines hope to convince locals to turn on the Taliban and eventually hand control over to the Afghan army and police — mirroring the tactics that helped turn the war in Iraq a few years ago.

"We win when the people really believe that the government is here to help them," says Lt. Col. Christian Cabaniss, the battalion commander. "We can't kill our way out of an insurgency. All security does is create a vacuum. It takes the Taliban out. We'll show them that our brand of security is a lot nicer than the Taliban's."

Yet, some areas of Afghanistan have been so lawless for so long that it's extremely difficult for the Marines to establish that first critical point of contact. They're encountering armed resistance in some cases, and an equally formidable foe — fear — in others.

Hours after Garrett's unit came under attack, an Afghan man in the same troubled compound sought Garrett's help filing a claim for damages that a bomb had caused to his home. It was exactly the sort of conversation that can help forge a longer-term relationship, but it took place deep inside the man's courtyard — because the man fears the Taliban would behead him if they knew he was talking to Americans, Garrett says.

Trouble spots can be especially hard for the Marines to identify because they often co-exist with relatively peaceful areas — as happened with the two unnamed compounds that Garrett's unit encountered near the village of Hassan Abad, about 400 miles southwest of Kabul.

In an insurgency, "every village has its own microclimate," says John Nagl, a counterinsurgency expert at the Center for a New American Security, a Washington think tank.

Nagl says control of a particular area — "even (a) neighborhood or street," he says — can hinge on a variety of factors including how long Afghan security forces have been there, whether there are any insurgent bases nearby, and even what tribe the local population belongs to.

At the safer housing compound, locals seem to understand why the Americans are there. Many even feel safe enough to approach them and ask for medical help.

"This is God's will that they come here for our security," says Abdul Ali, 50. "We don't like the Taliban. Whoever can bring us peace is who we want."

Down the road at the troubled compound, the Marines believe the Taliban have been active for a longer period of time, says Capt. Junwei Sun, 31, Fox Company commander.

The Marines are racing to learn more — taking photos, iris scans, fingerprints, and names of the compound's residents to compile a database of suspected insurgents, just as was done in troubled areas of Iraq.

Ultimately, though, the best intelligence likely will come from whatever Garrett and his men are able to glean while headquartered at their new patrol base nearby.

Almost 'paradise'

The "Jugroom" base is a fortress made up of fabric and steel-mesh cylinders of packed soil and rock called Hescos. The floor is gravel. Temperatures routinely soar above 120 degrees, drawing Marines in their downtime to cool off in the irrigation ditch that runs through their outpost.

There's no TV, no Internet, and they line up to make brief calls home by satellite phone. There's one hot meal a day, the remainder are packaged Meals Ready to Eat (MREs).

It's not an easy life, and the Marines seem to revel in it.

"We're a refrigerator away from paradise," Garrett says.

Well before dawn, Fox Company and a group of Afghan soldiers under Garrett's command rouse themselves for a march toward a group of homes near the village of Hassan Abad. Intercepted communication from the Taliban suggest they're waiting to attack, Garrett says.

The Marines are particularly exposed during such missions — the paths in this area appear too small for a Humvee, much less Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles (MRAPs), the armored trucks designed to help troops withstand roadside bombs.

"At home, we trained up for 50% vehicle, 50% foot patrols," says Gunnery Sgt. Denis Desmarais, 29, an explosives expert. "Here, it's 90% on foot."

At 6:50 a.m., as Marines approach the compound, they hear the first blast from an improvised explosive device (IED).

Bursts of gunfire erupt. Some rounds are close enough for Garrett to order his men to take cover. A half-hour later, the bomb explodes that dazes his men.

In all that day, the Marines find five IEDs, made of fertilizer and fuel and triggered remotely by copper wires buried in hard-packed dirt. One of the bombs, evidently designed to kill Marines scrambling to rescue victims of the first, fails to detonate. It's uncovered by explosive ordnance technicians, hacking through the dirt with hunting knives.

"This place is just riddled with IEDs," says Sun, the Company commander. "Every time we come here we get shot at."

In other areas of Afghanistan — such as Jalalabad, where the U.S. military has made significant inroads and Afghan security forces are better established — locals often provide tips as to where IEDs are hidden.

Until that kind of trust takes root elsewhere in the country, though, the danger will remain high: At least 43 U.S. troops were killed in Afghanistan in July, making it the deadliest month of the entire war. Three more U.S. troops died in a militant ambush in eastern Afghanistan on Sunday, bringing the U.S. death toll for August to six, the Associated Press reported.

For Garrett's platoon, the attacks end by mid-morning, allowing Marines and Afghan soldiers to conduct house-to-house searches for bomb-making equipment. Many of the residents say they knew about the bombs, and where they were planted, but wouldn't tell Marines because they feared retaliation from the Taliban.

An elderly man trembles as he tells this to Garrett through an interpreter.

"Yeah, I know," Garrett tells his interpreter. "Nobody sees anything."

'We'll have to kill them'

Some militants will be easier to convince to lay down their weapons than others, Sun says. Some of them are paid by the Taliban to attack U.S. and Afghan troops, he says. In other cases, parents are compelled, through death threats, to have their sons join the fight. Those are the types who often will switch sides if security can be established, Sun says.

"There is a handful of extremists you can't flip," Sun says. "We'll have to kill them."

There are some potential glimpses of a brighter future. When Garrett's unit sets out on its mission to the calmer compound, the troops charged with looking for IEDs with handheld metal detectors are able to quickly find a clear path. There were times the day before that they couldn't take a step without hearing beeps indicating the buried metal of bombs' trigger wires.

The troops quickly cross fields of corn, flooded paddies of rice and gardens filled with ripening tomatoes, okra and melons. Children drive sheep and goats to pens and pull cows to pasture. A man tends a field with hundreds of chest-high marijuana plants. The Marines laugh and snap pictures. It's hardly the Welcome Wagon, but residents don't seem hostile.

"I like the Afghan soldiers," says Sardar Mohammed, 10. "I don't like the U.S. They fight, but there is no clear effect."

The boy's criticism amuses Garrett. He's pleased the child views the Afghan soldiers positively. "It's their country," Garrett says. "They'll have to take care of it."

Next door, Abdul Ali, the boy's neighbor, clasps Garrett's hand and thanks him.

Meanwhile, work is underway to buttress the improving relationships with economic aid. Cabaniss, the battalion commander, points to a project, funded with $20,000 from emergency funds, that allowed the local government to unplug a sluice gate and improve irrigation around the town of Garmsir.

More Afghan forces needed

Time may be running out for such efforts to take hold, says Arturo Munoz, a expert on Helmand province at the RAND Corp., a think tank.

"In southern Helmand today, the central government has one last chance to get it right and provide law and order to the citizens of this region," Munoz says. "If it fails in this mission, then the ultimate objectives of this (Marine) campaign in Helmand likely will not be met."

There are about 10,000 Marines in Helmand, 4,000 of whom are involved in the offensive. U.S. Sen. Jack Reed, a Rhode Island Democrat and member of the Armed Services Committee, says the current U.S. strategy is sound but manpower is still short. "One element that is in short supply is Afghan soldiers," he says.

Cabaniss and Col. George Amland, deputy commander of the Marines in Helmand, acknowledge that there aren't enough Afghan security forces involved as of now. About 650 soldiers took part as Marines swept south into the province July 2, and reinforcements are promised.

The Afghan soldiers who are present often need training. Garrett's men were accompanied by an Afghan unit led by 1st Lt. Saifur Rahman, 22, as they searched houses. They appeared willing to fight, though Rahman complained during the first patrol that his men didn't have time to break for lunch. Rahman says he joined the Afghan army because he couldn't find another job.

On the second day, one Afghan soldier fired warning shots at what turned out to be a family heading to a wedding party. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the new commander of coalition forces in Afghanistan, has put renewed emphasis eliminating civilian deaths, which he said eroded support for the government in years past.

Garrett barked at the Afghan soldiers: "No more shooting. No more."

Unlike the previous day's 10-hour marathon, this patrol ends before lunch. No shots were fired at U.S. or Afghan troops, and they don't find any IEDs. They return to their base. There, they'll have time to eat and check their gear.

"We'll send them back on patrol later," Garrett says. "No days off here."

Pentagon reviews social networking on computers

WASHINGTON – The Pentagon is reviewing the use of Facebook and other social networking sites on its computers with an eye toward setting rules on how to protect against possible security risks.


By PAULINE JELINEK, Associated Press Writer Pauline Jelinek, Associated Press Writer – Tue Aug 4, 11:44 am ET

The Marine Corps on Monday issued an administrative directive saying it was banning the use of Marine network for accessing such sites as Facebook, Twitter and MySpace. The order doesn't affect Marines' private use of such networks on personal computers outside of their jobs.

However, the service's computer network already effectively blocks users from reaching social networks, officials said. Marine officials said part of the reason for the new ban was to set up a special waiver system that govern access for Marines who need to reach the sites as part of their duties.

Deputy Defense Secretary William Lynn, meanwhile, ordered a review of both the threats and benefits of using emerging Internet capabilities, which the military has widely used for recruiting, public relations and sharing information with allies and military families, officials said Tuesday.

Lynn noted that the sites and other Web 2.0 capabilities "have rapidly emerged as integral tools in day-to-day operations across" the department.

"However, as with any Internet-based capabilities, there are implementation challenges and operations risks that must be understood and mitigated," Lynn said in a memo issued Friday.

He said he wants the report by the end of the month on the subject and that the Pentagon will issue a policy no later than Sept. 30.

The Marines, in a statement, said the "very nature of social networking sites creates a larger attack and exploitation window, exposes unnecessary information to adversaries and provides an easy conduit for information leakage."

The U.S Strategic Command also last month issued a warning to all services that it was thinking about a ban on Web 2.0 sites.

The various local network administrators, military services and base commanders already may have other systems for blocking certain kinds of use, but officials are trying to come up with a uniform policy for across the department, Lt.Col. Eric Butterbaug, a Pentagon spokesman, said Tuesday.

August 3, 2009

Patrol Base Jaker – Under Construction

When 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment's Headquarters and Services Co. arrived at this location in mid-June, 40 British soldiers were harassed daily by insurgent gunfire. It was nothing more than a "hot LZ" according to some of the Marines here. Within a few days of their arrival, the Marines increased their numbers with elements of the battalion's B and C Companies. With stronger numbers and more firepower, the insurgents slowly began to get the point. Now, there hasn't been a firefight in the vicinity of the base since June 21. That was one week prior to the July 2 kickoff of Operation Khanjar, a major in which Marines spread across the Helmand River valley to deny insurgents freedom of movement and provide security for the people in the region.


Story by Lance Cpl. John McCall
Date: 08.03.2009

Today, this small outpost consisting of only enough room for the few British and Afghan national army soldiers and the reinforced company of Marines is getting a face lift.

Marines with 1st Combat Engineer Battalion, along with heavy equipment operators from Combat Logistics Battalion 8, have been working day and night since July 29 to expand PB Jaker, building barriers and observation posts and improving overall security.

"It was so small before. Now we're going to be able to fit a whole company in here. It's really going to open the place up," said 1st Lt. Rodney Malone, 27, a combat engineer with 1st CEB.

Malone and his Marines have been conducting the same operation at four other forward operating bases throughout the province for nearly a month with the help of CLB-8

"It's kind of the same basic thing," the Marine from Eden, Idaho said. "Once you get going, it's like clockwork getting all the Hesco barriers set up."

The barriers are basically giant sand bags – metal mesh and fabric filled with dirt – that create a wall around what used be the open field that is this place. By increasing the size of this patrol base, the Marines will improve security by establishing more observation posts at locations around the base.

"There's no standardized way to make an observation post. We try something new whenever we build, but it comes down to what we have available to us," said combat engineer Staff Sgt. Brian Polst, 27, of Edelstein, Ill.

The new observation posts are different from those 1st CEB built in Iraq. With experience, the engineers have learned how to improve the basic design of an observation post. These new OP's will give watch standers increased visibility and more range of motion if they have to engage the enemy. There's also a bonus gift from the engineers.

"We try to make them as strong as possible," Polst said. "Building a roof that can withstand indirect fire and sides strong enough to hold up against a rocket propelled grenade."

Marines with 1st CEB have constructed FOBs many times before and fortified established positions similar to PB Jaker during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

"We built up a lot of positions in Ramadi in 2006," Polst said of his Iraq tour. "It's a little different here. The area is a more rural environment. When I was in Iraq, it was an urban environment – a lot more dirt work here, building from scratch. 1/5 is trying to leave as little a foot print as possible in Afghanistan. They're trying to avoid taking over houses and buildings."

In September, 1/5 hopes to open a local school in a building currently housing Company C. The expansion of PB Jaker will allow those Marines to vacate that building and begin improving and readying it for the first day of school.

Once construction is complete here, the 1st CEB and CLB-8 Marines will move on to the next FOB and start making improvements there.

August 1, 2009

Destroyer christened in honor of MoH Marine

By Philip Ewing - Staff writer
Posted : Saturday Aug 1, 2009 14:40:26 EDT

BATH, MAINE — Debra Dunham swung true with her silver bottle of champagne Saturday, cracking it against the bulbus sonar dome on the bow of the Navy destroyer that bears the name of her son. With its traditional alcoholic bath, the hull known as DDG 109 took its real name: “Jason Dunham.”

For more about the christening of the USS Jason Dunham:

Click above link for photos.

Fallen MoH recipient’s helmet lives on

Staff report
Posted : Saturday Aug 1, 2009 9:03:16 EDT

Five years after Cpl. Jason Dunham died in Iraq, his former commander delivered the shattered remains of his helmet to the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Triangle, Va., save one piece that will be sealed within the mast of a Navy destroyer named in Dunham’s honor.

For more about Cpl. Jason Dunham:


Navy Christens Newest Arleigh Burke-Class Ship Jason Dunham

BATH, Maine (NNS) -- The U.S. Navy christened the newest Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer, USS Jason Dunham (DDG 109), Aug. 1 during a ceremony at Bath Iron Works, Bath, Maine.



Story Number: NNS090801-03
Release Date: 8/1/2009 3:53:00 PM
From Defense Media Activity

"I can tell the crew of the USS Jason Dunham, that you can not have a better namesake, nor a better sponsor. This ship, USS Jason Dunham, will always remind individuals that freedom is in fact not free. It is paid for by those great young men and women who wear the cloth of our nation," said retired general and former commandant of the Marine Corps Michael Hagee, who served as guest speaker.

Deborah Dunham served as the sponsor of the ship named for her late son. In accordance with Navy tradition, she broke a bottle of champagne across the ship's bow and christened the ship.

She said her son would be very proud of the honor to have a ship named after him.

"It's an honor to be able to do this for Jason. I appreciate the fact that they chose to name the ship after Jason, but I like the idea that they'll be able to carry his name on in history. I'm hoping that somebody, a child in school some day, will see the name 'Jason Dunham' and look it up and find out what he did with his citation. Maybe, that will encourage them to go to the Medal of Honor Society Web site and find out what other men have done for our nation, also.

"These men carry on their heroic actions very quietly and very humbly. So, if this is a way of putting it out there, of what this whole entire fraternity of men have done for our country, I'm glad that he could be a stepping stone for that," said Dunham.

The new destroyer honors the late Cpl. Jason Dunham, the first Marine awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions during Operation Iraqi Freedom. On April 14, 2004, Dunham's squad was conducting a reconnaissance mission in Karabilah, Iraq, when his battalion commander's convoy was ambushed. When Dunham's squad approached to provide fire support, an Iraqi insurgent leapt out of a vehicle and attacked Dunham. As Dunham wrestled the insurgent to the ground, he noticed that the enemy fighter had a grenade in his hand.

Dunham immediately alerted his fellow Marines, and when the enemy dropped the live grenade, Dunham took off his Kevlar helmet, covered the grenade, and threw himself on top to smother the blast. In an ultimately selfless act of courage, in which he was mortally wounded, he saved the lives of two fellow Marines.

In November 2006, at the dedication of the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Quantico, Va., then-President George W. Bush announced that the Medal of Honor would be awarded posthumously to Marine Cpl. Jason Dunham.

During his speech, Bush said, "As long as we have Marines like Cpl. Dunham, America will never fear for her liberty."

Bush presented Cpl. Dunham's family with the Medal of Honor during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House on Jan. 11.

"Today, Jason takes his rightful place in naval history alongside his storied legacy in the annals of the Marine Corps," said Secretary of the Navy, Ray Mabus.

"Though Jason is no longer with us, his name will live on in this magnificent warship that represents the best our nation has to offer. Jason's spirit -- as a warrior, fighter, and one who never gave up, even in the face of great challenges -- lives on to lead all of the men and women who will ever serve aboard USS Jason Dunham, in home waters and abroad. In the fighting spirit of its namesake, the men and women of USS Jason Dunham will never back down from any challenge put before them," said Mabus.

"It's clear that having 'Jason Dunham' written on the stern of this ship will always force the crew to think about why they're serving and what they're giving and what they expect of themselves. So, what Jason taught the rest of us is something that they can always think about as they serve on that ship, wherever it may take them," said Michael M. Phillips, author of "The Gift of Valor: A War Story," a book about Cpl. Dunham and actions leading up to his Medal of Honor.

The ship's prospective commanding officer is Cmdr. Scott Sciretta who will lead the crew of 276 officers and enlisted personnel of the 9,200-ton vessel.

"This ship as far as the maritime strategy is the most capable warship in the world," said Sciretta. "It can do anything. You name the mission, our Navy is ready to meet the maritime strategy. This ship is the most capable warship in the world."

"This is the greatest honor of my life. I cannot stress with anything greater in my heart anything that I feel, to have the opportunity to meet Dan and Deb Dunham and their lovely family, the sacrifice that Jason made for this country, the sacrifice that Dan and Deb continue to make for this country on a daily basis. I'm deeply honored," continued Sciretta.

In the spirit of this Marine, USS Jason Dunham will continue protecting America's liberty by providing a dynamic multimission platform to lead the Navy into the future. Utilizing a gas-turbine propulsion system, the ship can operate independently or as part of carrier strike groups, surface action groups, amphibious ready groups, and underway replenishment groups. The ship's combat systems center on the Aegis combat system and the SPY-Ld(V) multifunction phased array radar. With the combination of Aegis, the vertical launching system, an advanced anti-submarine warfare system, advanced anti-aircraft missiles and Tomahawk cruise missiles, the Arleigh Burke-class continues the revolution at sea.

"I feel incredibly honored to be here today to christen the USS Jason Dunham," said Mabus. "To honor a Marine who made the ultimate sacrifice, so that others Marines could live and so that America could continue to represent the values that we do. To have a Navy ship named after such a Marine is in the great tradition of our naval forces. And USS Jason Dunham is going to represent us well, around the world, in a lot of different capacities, for decades to come.

"This is one of the most capable ships that the Navy has. It's one of the most capable types of ships that any navy has ever had. It can mount simultaneous defenses and attacks. Air, sea, underwater. It is truly an integrated fighting machine. And it's got other things too. It can deliver humanitarian aid. It can deter some aggression. It can reassure allies. It is an incredibly capable ship, in an incredibly capable navy, in an incredibly complex world. And it's something that we need, and it's something that's going to serve us well.

"It shows what values we have in the United States. Not only in the Navy and Marine Corps, but as a country. The values of character, of honor, of sacrifice, of the willingness to give to something bigger than ourselves. And I think that the name Jason Dunham on this ship, what he stood for, the character that he had, the actions that he took, will represent us well as this ship sails in our fleet for a long time to come," said Mabus.

"He would think it was an absolute hoot, and he would just enjoy it to no end. I do think Jason would find it a huge honor," said Dunham's mother.

"It would be our duty and pleasure to be with the ship and be a part of the ship for the rest of the ship's life or my life and the children's lives, and I'm really looking forward to a family cruise," said Dunham.

Additional information on Arleigh Burke class destroyers is available at http://www.navy.mil/navydata/fact_display.asp?cid=4200&tid;=900&ct;=4

New warship named for lifesaving Marine

Corporal who covered live grenade with body honored at christening

BATH, Maine - In a solemn ceremony punctuated by talk of courage, service and sacrifice, the mother of a Marine corporal on Saturday christened a warship honoring her son, who died after covering an exploding grenade to protect his comrades in Iraq.

See photos at above link.

updated 7:48 p.m. CT, Sat., Aug 1, 2009

After composing herself and taking a deep breath, Deb Dunham smashed a bottle of champagne over the bow of the 510-foot warship Jason Dunham, then held the bottle aloft to the cheers of hundreds.

She was joined by the Marines who served with her son, by her husband, Dan Dunham, and their daughter Katelyn Dunham.

Retired Gen. Michael Hagee, a former Marine commandant who was with the Dunhams when their son died at Bethesda Naval Hospital days after the explosion, said Jason gave the "gift of valor." Hagee said the warship will serve as a reminder that freedom "is paid for by the men and women who wear the cloth of this nation."

"They are willing to give up everything that is important: love, marriage, children, family, friends," Hagee said of the 22-year-old Marine. "I can tell you I've always stood in awe of that."

At the Bath Iron Works shipyard, a special place was reserved for those who served with Dunham in Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines. Dunham's company commander, Maj. Trent Gibson, Sgt. Bill Hampton and Cpl. Kelly Miller, who were present the day Dunham died, were among them. Hampton and Miller were next to Dunham when the grenade detonated. Their lives were saved by Dunham's actions. They suffered burns and shrapnel wounds but recovered.

Hagee said Dunham, from Scio, N.Y., seemed destined to be a Marine: He reminded the audience that Dunham's birthday was the same as that of the U.S. Marine Corps.

Dunham served as squad commander on his first tour in Iraq, and he chose to extend his enlistment so he could serve the entire tour with his Marines. He vowed to bring his squad home alive, and was true to his word. They all came back.

Dunham won the Medal of Honor for his actions April 14, 2004, as his squad sought to engage insurgents after a convoy was ambushed.

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While the squad searched vehicles, the driver of a Toyota Land Cruiser jumped out and attacked Dunham. They fell to the ground, where the fight continued.

Dunham shouted: "No, no, no! Watch his hand!" as the attacker pulled out a grenade. Dunham covered the explosive with his body and his helmet as it went off. He died eight days later.

Before the ceremony, Dunham's mother said it was fitting that the ship that would bear her son's name is a guided-missile destroyer. "It's an honor Jason would really get a kick out of," she said.