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September 30, 2009

Air-Ground team airlifts newest howitzers in historic first

HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan — In a historic combat first, Marines from Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 772, Combat Logistics Battalion 8 and 3rd Battalion, 11th Marine Regiment worked together to air lift two M777A2 lightweight howitzers from Fire Base Fiddler’s Green in Helmand Province and set them up for action at Forward Operating Base Golestan Sept. 28. A third was convoyed here to be carried by CH-53E helicopter the following morning.


9/30/2009 By Regimental Combat Team 3 Public Affairs Office, Regimental Combat Team 3

“When the Marine Corps decided to procure a lightweight 155mm cannon in the 1990s, it was largely driven by the need to have a more air transportable capability,” explained 3/11 commanding officer Lt. Col. James C. Lewis. 3/11, operating under Regimental Combat Team 3, is the only Marine artillery battalion in Afghanistan. “Our maneuver tonight is the first combat test of that capability.”

While the Marines were moving the artillery pieces across country, 3/11 still had to maintain their capability to provide support when needed for the Marines around Nawa and Garmsir, where 1/5 and 2/8 have been operating since early July. So 3/11 sent Marines to Golestan to receive and emplace the guns upon their arrival.

“Sending an advanced party down to set up the gun positions while maintaining firing capability was important,” said Gunnery Sgt. Marcus Chestnut, Battery I gunnery sergeant.

In order to successfully pull off this complicated maneuver, these units which don’t normally operate together had to work hand-in-hand, according to Chestnut. As it turns out, bringing them all together was the key to success.

Rather than towing the howitzers as an artillery battery is trained to do, these guns had to be transported between Fiddler’s Green and Golestan by air because of unique conditions here. That’s where HMH-772 and CLB-8 came in.

“The IED threat and terrain constraints were a huge factor deterring 3/11’s ability from being able to safely (move) the guns to this position,” said Staff Sgt. Bryan T. Housel, CLB-8 landing support platoon commander. “By externally lifting the howitzer and gun teams by air, we were able to safely move the weapons into place without the added risk of ground transport to the weapon or Marines.”

Marines on the five-man Helicopter Support Team, a part of Housel’s platoon, are responsible for rigging loads with cargo straps so they will be balanced under the aircraft. Once the aircraft arrives overhead, one of them must guide the pilot who can’t see what is taking place underneath and 30 feet behind him. After the aircraft is guided down over the waiting cargo, another Marine smacks the helicopter’s dangling cargo hook with a metal rod to dissipate the static electricity built up by its rotors. Two others then hook up the cargo – in this case a 9,800 pound artillery piece – all while the second largest helicopter in the world bobs and weaves within arm’s reach overhead. This process usually takes place in less than 30 seconds.

Sling-loading equipment or supplies under a cargo helicopter is dangerous business. However, after a successful lift, the feeling of accomplishment is impossible to ignore.

“I am so proud of my guys for how flawlessly and professionally they performed,” Housel said. “Safely lifting that piece of gear is no easy feat, but you would not have known it by watching them.”

Now that 3/11 has another footprint in Golestan, they will be able to provide on-call artillery support when the Marines on the ground there call for it.

“It’s a beautiful thing,” Lewis said. “The Marine Corps trains as an air-ground team and this is just a product of that coming together.”

September 29, 2009

NATO chief says more troops needed in Afghanistan

'We have to do more now, if we want to do less later,' says Anders Fogh Rasmussen. He says additional help is needed in training Afghan security forces.

Reporting from Washington - Stepping into an intensifying debate in Washington, the new head of NATO said Monday that more allied troops are needed in Afghanistan to help train the country's security forces.


By Julian E. Barnes
September 29, 2009

Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who took over Aug. 1 as NATO's secretary-general, said he agreed with an assessment last month by Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top American and allied commander in Afghanistan, who emphasized the need to secure Afghan cities.

"We have to do more now, if we want to do less later," Rasmussen said during a speech in Washington.

McChrystal has submitted, in addition to his assessment, a request for additional U.S. troops, but officials will not say how many he wants. Aside from the need for more trainers, Rasmussen said it was premature to discuss other troop needs.

The comments by Rasmussen, the former prime minister of Denmark, come as key members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization are making plans to pull their troops from Afghanistan.

They also come in the midst of a review launched by President Obama to help decide whether to stick with a strategy that requires more troops or downsize U.S. aims in Afghanistan. Administration officials plan a closed meeting today on the issue.

In his address at the Atlantic Council, Rasmussen stressed that allies would stay in Afghanistan as long as it took to succeed. But he said NATO countries must have a sense that there was "light at the end of the tunnel" and that Afghan security forces would assume more responsibility.

That transition, he emphasized, could not be done "on the cheap."

Rasmussen's remarks are considered significant because NATO commands troops sent by more than 40 countries and the U.S. There are 38,000 troops from other NATO countries, and the number of U.S. troops is to reach 68,000 by year's end.

Rasmussen did not say how many more trainers he believes are needed, or where they should come from.

However, acknowledging a strain between the United States and the rest of NATO, Rasmussen dismissed U.S. fears that the alliance is intent on leaving Afghanistan.

"None of this will be quick, and none of this will be easy," he said. "We will need to have patience. We will need more resources and we will lose more young soldiers to the terrorist attacks of the Taliban."

Public support for the Afghanistan war has been shaken in the U.S. and in many other NATO countries by a steady increase in violence, charges of fraud in last month's Afghan presidential election and continuing incidents of civilian casualties.

"We cannot simply continue doing what we are doing now," Rasmussen said. "Things are going to have to change. Public support for this mission in troop-contributing countries is falling."

In the long term, he argued, it is vital to establish a democracy in Afghanistan and to address governmental corruption and a lack of accountability.

But in the wake of the election problems and continued reports of corruption in Afghanistan, top Obama officials have voiced second thoughts about the wisdom of efforts to legitimize the government.

In the first of a series of strategy meetings, top national security officials, including Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, the head of U.S. Central Command, will meet today at the White House.

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said the meetings were designed to make "eventual determinations" about U.S. strategy. "This isn't going to be finished in one meeting," he said.

As the U.S. increases its troop level, other NATO countries plan to pull out their soldiers. The Netherlands is set to remove its troops next year and Canada will withdraw in 2011. Italy has also said it plans on reductions.

Rasmussen said that trend could accelerate if U.S. officials downplay the contributions of alliance members, leaving them "less inclined to make those efforts."

Gates and other officials have previously criticized some allies' restrictions on their troops' involvement in combat. U.S. officials also have criticized allied units for a lack of expertise in counterinsurgency warfare. Recently, however, Gates has praised the contributions of Canada, the Netherlands, Britain and Denmark.

"Talking down the European and Canadian contributions -- as some here in the U.S. do on occasion -- can become a self-fulfilling prophecy," Rasmussen said.

Troops to start receiving swine flu shots

By Lolita C. Baldor - The Associated Press
Posted : Tuesday Sep 29, 2009 19:03:33 EDT

WASHINGTON — Troops will begin getting required swine flu shots in the next week to 10 days, with active duty forces deploying to war zones and other critical areas going to the front of the vaccine line, a top military commander said Tuesday.

To continue reading:


September 28, 2009

VA to Provide Emergency Checks to Students Awaiting Benefits

WASHINGTON, Sept. 28, 2009 – Checks for up to $3,000 soon will be available to students who have applied for Veterans Affairs educational benefits and who have not yet received their government payment


American Forces Press Service

The checks will be distributed to eligible students at VA regional benefits offices across the country starting Oct. 2, VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki announced Sept. 25.

“Students should be focusing on their studies, not worrying about financial difficulties,” Shinseki said. “Education creates life-expanding opportunities for our veterans.”

Starting Oct. 2, students can go to one of VA’s 57 regional benefit offices with photo identification, a course schedule and an eligibility certificate to request advance payment of their housing and book allowance. Because some students don’t live near one of those offices, officials said, VA expects to send representatives to schools with large veteran-student bodies to work with veteran service groups in helping students with transportation needs.

A list of VA regional offices is available at http://www.vba.va.gov/VBA/benefits/offices.asp.

“I’m asking our people to get out their road maps and determine how we can reach the largest number of college students who can’t reach us,” said Patrick Dunne, VA’s undersecretary for benefits. “Not everyone has a car. Not everyone can walk to a VA benefits office.”

Although VA officials said they don’t know how many students will request emergency funds, about 25,000 claims are pending that may result in payments to students.

The funds VA will give to students now are advance payments of the earned benefits for housing and books, and will be deducted from future education payments. VA officials said students should know that after this special payment, they can expect to receive education payments on the normal schedule: the beginning of the month following the period for which they are reimbursed.

“This is an extraordinary action we’re taking,” Shinseki said. “But it’s necessary, because we recognize the hardships some of our veterans face.”

More than 27,500 students already have received benefits for housing or books under the new Post-9/11 GI Bill, or their schools have received their tuition payments, officials said.

Not Many ... but Much: ANGLICO Marines Help U.K. Hold Northern Post

LASHKAR GAH, HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan – The evening began with a small group of U.S. Marines and U.K. soldiers gathered around a campfire of dimly-lit candles and a teapot boiling over a small fire.


2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade
Story by Cpl. Aaron Rooks
Date: 09.28.2009

They talked among themselves for a few hours about girlfriends and wives back home, ice cream and weightlifting, among other topics. Not once, though, did they mention the insurgents located just to their north.

The group seemed almost unaware of the nearby dangers as the conversation continued. Only about 20 individuals manned the small area at Checkpoint North near the city of Basharan, but they seemed calm, collected and happy. They each went their separate ways later that evening, off into the shadows to their respective tents for the night.

"After so much time, everything becomes a way of life," said Cpl. Gavin Molitor, a radio operator, Firepower Control Team Alpha, 1st Brigade Platoon, 2nd Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company, Marine Expeditionary Brigade-Afghanistan. "Usually by the end of each day, everyone will gather around together and chat for a while. It helps us get by from day to day. But the overall mentality is to never get too relaxed or comfortable. We always have to be ready."

Everyone awoke the next morning to the sound of an explosion nearby that removed the calm serenity at the small checkpoint.

The Marines and U.K. soldiers left their mosquito net beds to support firing positions around the camp within seconds of hearing the explosion. They later learned that an improvised explosive device near a checkpoint to the south caused the blast. Each man then returned to his living area and started his day.

Random explosions from IEDs and small arms fire attacks have become a part of life for those manning CP North.

"We wait to get shot at," said U.K. Lance Sgt. Lee Davis, a vehicle commander with Number IX Company of the 1st Battalion, Welsh Guards. "We get shot at, then we wait some more until the next time."

The U.K. soldiers of Number IX Company and the four Marines of FCT-A, 2nd ANGLICO, currently man one of the northernmost posts in Task Force Helmand's area of operations. Although much of the area to the south is cleared of insurgent forces, the region to the north of the checkpoint remains a hostile, uncharted territory.

Staff Sgt. Robert Jernigan, team leader, FCT-A, 2nd ANGLICO, said the small number of coalition forces who man CP North creates his greatest worry living from day to day at the checkpoint. This is why Jernigan and his three Marines are currently attached to the U.K. infantry unit.

The Marines have the capability to call for indirect fire support, both from aircraft and artillery, when forces on the ground can't suppress the enemy in combat engagements.

"This whole area is a historical contact point for enemy forces," said U.K. Lance Sgt. Richie Tudball, a platoon sergeant at the checkpoint. "It's nice to know that if we ever get into a bind, the Marines can have an aircraft above us in about 90 seconds' time."

The checkpoint was calm for the remainder of the day. Jernigan said it has become very common for insurgents to attack their post regularly for a few days, then none at all for the next few.

They gathered around the same camp fire that evening, much like the night before and conversed about their prior deployment experiences and what they planned to do when they returned home, then went to sleep for another night.

The following morning, the Marines joined a group of between 10 and 15 U.K. soldiers to patrol the terrain around the checkpoint to clear the roadways for resupply convoys and provide security for locals in the area.

"They're reassurance patrols," Tudball said. "We know the Taliban is out there. We want them to know that we are not afraid of them."

The patrol took the soldiers and Marines through fields of crops and waist-high rivers, from CP North down to another U.K. post known as Tapa Parang and finally back up to the checkpoint.

The patrol returned to the checkpoint about an hour later, unscathed. But the normal trend reemerged when insurgents launched a small-arms attack on the checkpoint from the north and northeast shortly thereafter. The firefight lasted for about 20 minutes until insurgent fire ceased. The Marines and U.K. soldiers then returned to their daily routines inside the checkpoint. Some jumped into the nearby irrigation stream to cool off, some rested in their mosquito nets.

"We are continuing to hold this ground despite our limited numbers," Jernigan said, noting that he believed insurgents ceased their actions because of a helicopter then flying near the checkpoint. "That's why we're here, to provide the fire support to help us continue to hold this ground."

40 Taliban killed in western Afghanistan: Afghan army

KABUL — US Marines and Afghan soldiers killed 40 Taliban fighters in a joint operation in Afghanistan's west on Monday, the Afghan army said.


(AFP) – 1 day ago
September 28, 2009

"At the request of the local population an operation was launched by the Afghan army and the US Marines in the district of Bala Buluk" in the western province of Farah, Afghan army commander Jalandar Shah Dehnam told AFP.

During this operation 40 Taliban were killed and a number were injured, he said, adding that six Afghan soldiers had also been wounded.

"We do not know if the Americans sustained any casualties," he said.

A US army spokesman contacted by AFP confirmed that an operation was under way in Farah, but did not give further details.

Mohammad Younus Rasoli, deputy governor for the province said: "More than 30 Taliban have been killed and a number of others wounded."

The operation was launched overnight Sunday to Monday.

"These Taliban have come from abroad and set themselves up in this area," Rasoli said, a reference to Farah's border with Iran.

"Kidnapping and other crime has risen rapidly. That is why people living here have demanded action."

Dehnam said the operation was concentrated on the village of Shiwan.

"We have occupied the village and destroyed the Taliban bases. The insurgents have fled north" with 10 civilian hostages, he said.

Afghan forces made a number of intelligence-led arrests, Denham told AFP, adding that several local Taliban commanders were among the dead from the operation.

The Bala Baluk district has long been an insurgent stronghold, where violence flares frequently.

In May a US airstrike in the area killed a number of civilians, with the Afghan government putting the toll at 140. The US military said no more than 30 civilians were killed, but an inquiry by Afghanistan's human rights commission said 97 had died.

Afghanistan is facing a worsening Taliban-led insurgency, despite the presence of 100,000 US and NATO troops who are there to support its fledgling democracy.

The rebellion is at its worst since the hard-line Islamists were toppled from power in late 2001 by a US-led invasion

Air-Ground Team Airlifts Newest Howitzers in Historic First

CAMP DWYER, Helmand Province, Afghanistan – In a historic combat first, Marines from Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 772, Combat Logistics Battalion 8 and 3rd Battalion, 11th Marine Regiment worked together to air lift two M777A2 lightweight howitzers from Fire Base Fiddler's Green in Helmand province


Regimental Combat Team 3
Story by Sgt. Christopher R. Rye
Date: 09.28.2009
Posted: 09.30.2009 04:50

"When the Marine Corps decided to procure a lightweight 155mm cannon in the 1990s, it was largely driven by the need to have a more air transportable capability," explained 3/11 commanding officer Lt. Col. James C. Lewis. 3/11, operating under Regimental Combat Team 3, is the only Marine artillery battalion in Afghanistan. "Our maneuver tonight is the first combat test of that capability."

While the Marines were moving the artillery pieces across country, 3/11 still had to maintain their capability to provide support when needed for the Marines around Nawa and Garmsir, where 1/5 and 2/8 have been operating since early July. So 3/11 sent Marines to Golestan to receive and emplace the guns upon their arrival.

"Sending an advanced party down to set up the gun positions while maintaining firing capability was important," said Gunnery Sgt. Marcus Chestnut, Battery I gunnery sergeant.

In order to successfully pull off this complicated maneuver, these units which don't normally operate together had to work hand-in-hand, according to Chestnut. As it turns out, bringing them all together was the key to success.

Rather than towing the howitzers as an artillery battery is trained to do, these guns had to be transported between Fiddler's Green and Golestan by air because of unique conditions here. That's where HMH-772 and CLB-8 came in.

"The IED threat and terrain constraints were a huge factor deterring 3/11's ability from being able to safely [move] the guns to this position," said Staff Sgt. Bryan T. Housel, CLB-8 landing support platoon commander. "By externally lifting the howitzer and gun teams by air, we were able to safely move the weapons into place without the added risk of ground transport to the weapon or Marines."

Marines on the five-man Helicopter Support Team, a part of Housel's platoon, are responsible for rigging loads with cargo straps so they will be balanced under the aircraft. Once the aircraft arrives overhead, one of them must guide the pilot who can't see what is taking place underneath and 30 feet behind him. After the aircraft is guided down over the waiting cargo, another Marine smacks the helicopter's dangling cargo hook with a metal rod to dissipate the static electricity built up by its rotors. Two others then hook up the cargo – in this case a 9,800 pound artillery piece – all while the second largest helicopter in the world bobs and weaves within arm's reach overhead. This process usually takes place in less than 30 seconds.

Sling-loading equipment or supplies under a cargo helicopter is dangerous business. However, after a successful lift, the feeling of accomplishment is impossible to ignore.

"I am so proud of my guys for how flawlessly and professionally they performed," Housel said. "Safely lifting that piece of gear is no easy feat, but you would not have known it by watching them."

Now that 3/11 has another footprint in Golestan, they will be able to provide on-call artillery support when the Marines on the ground there call for it.

"It's a beautiful thing," Lewis said. "The Marine Corps trains as an air-ground team and this is just a product of that coming together."

6-month Japan tours are back

Thousands could go. What you need to know.

By Dan Lamothe
Staff writer
Sep. 28, 2009

The Corps is planning to send more Marines to Japan, with an artillery battery arriving before the end of the month and entire battalions eventually expected to deploy for regular six-month tours.


The assignments are part of the Unit Deployment Program, a 32-year-old arrangement that rotates units from the U.S. to Japan for training. The program has operated in a reduced capacity since March 2005, when the Corps began diverting many units that would have gone to Japan to the war zones instead, said Lt. Col. Douglas Powell, a spokesman in Japan with III Marine Expeditionary Force.

With a drawdown of forces in Iraq well underway, about 130 Marines with Echo Battery, 2nd Battalion, 12th Marines, based at Marine Corps Base Hawaii, are scheduled to arrive in Japan by Oct. 1. That could be just the beginning, though: The Corps is preparing to bring back other parts of UDP, including deployments for infantry battalions.

“We just haven’t seen those kinds of numbers in a while, and it affects everything from the amount of food in the chow hall to maintenance and storage space,” Powell said. The Corps is “anticipating the number of infantry battalions will increase in the future here,” he said.

So far, Marine officials will say only that they plan to send Echo Battery and a yet-to-be-named battery to replace it in 2010, leaving unclear how many UDP assignments the Corps will ultimately bring back. It also isn’t clear whether the expansion of the program will affect the Corps’ goal to give each Marine two months of dwell time for every month deployed, but Marine officials said UDP will be increased as commitments in war zones allow.

If UDP reverts to the structure in place before the Iraq war, it could mean at least 3,000 more Marines routinely deploying to Japan to conduct training missions, develop unit cohesion and work with other Pacific Rim countries, such as Thailand and the Philippines.

Before 2005, the Corps regularly sent four infantry battalions, an amphibious assault company, a light armored reconnaissance company and two artillery batteries to Japan through UDP. During the past few years, however, only one rotational battalion — currently 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines, of Camp Pendleton, Calif. — has remained in Japan to augment the Okinawa-based 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, and the AAV and LAR companies once assigned to Okinawa’s Combat Assault Battalion have been absent.

The Corps also diverted numerous artillery units bound for Japan beginning in 2005, with the last battery to fill a UDP assignment — Mike Battery, 3rd Battalion, 11th Marines, of Twentynine Palms, Calif. — deploying from August 2006 to February 2007, Marine officials said.

Aviation units have continued to fill UDP assignments, but those deployments have been cut back too. EA-6B Prowlers and CH-53D Sea Knight helicopters, once regular visitors, have not deployed regularly since 2005, Powell said. The Corps continues to send two squadrons of F/A-18 Hornets, with Marine All Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 553, of Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, S.C., and VMFA-225, of MCAS Miramar, Calif., currently deployed.

A return to the past
The decision to divert battalions from Okinawa occurred when it became clear U.S. forces faced a prolonged fight in Iraq. At the time, active-duty end strength was about 22,000 Marines less than it is today, which is about 202,000. The Corps simply could not spare four infantry battalions for UDP duty, said retired Lt. Gen. Jan Huly, deputy commandant of plans, policies and operations when the decision was made.

“If you have eight forward-deployed infantry battalions at any one time, then you need to have 16 back here in the barn in the United States or Hawaii to maintain the dwell time back home,” Huly said, referring to the time Marines spend at home between deployments. With six infantry battalions in Iraq and additional battalions in Okinawa, the Corps could not have managed even a 1-to-1 dwell time ratio in 2005, Huly said.

The decision to divert units was always temporary, however.

“From the political side of things, there was a concern (from Japanese leadership) with whether these battalions were coming back, and the answer was always ‘Yes,’” said retired Lt. Gen. Robert Blackman Jr., III MEF’s commander from July 2003 to July 2005. “We had to make some hard decisions in order to do the right thing in the Global War on Terror, and clearly the main effort at the time, at least from a troop concentration perspective, was in Iraq.”

Blackman spent months meeting with diplomats at the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo, Okinawa’s governor and others, discussing how a drawdown of sorts in Japan would affect the local economy and military relationships in the Western Pacific. Ultimately, the Corps decided to continue rotating in a battalion to deploy with the 31st MEU and preserve that valuable capability, he said.

“Without that battalion, there is no MEU, and the versatility and value of having a MEU in the Western Pacific is just extraordinary,” he said. “We needed that battalion to continue to exercise (with foreign militaries) and have that capability that could respond across the spectrum of possibilities.”

Overall, the number of Marines assigned to III MEF has been reduced significantly since UDP assignments were slashed, from more than 27,500 in fiscal 2004 to fewer than 21,000 last year, Marine officials said.

What to expect
Marines on UDP can expect busy days and travel to the U.S.’s major allies in the Western Pacific: Japan, Thailand, the Philippines, Australia and South Korea. Not all UDP Marines will visit each country, but their units will be incorporated into III MEF’s training schedule, which includes massive joint exercises such as Cobra Gold in Thailand, Balikatan in the Philippines and Talisman Saber in Australia, Marine officials said.

Capt. Todd Litvin, commander of Echo Battery 2/12, said the schedule for his first month of deployment is packed with training exercises on ranges in mainland Japan far from Okinawa. Artillery training is not allowed there, so Echo Battery will travel several hundred miles to Camp Fuji, a Marine base adjacent to a sprawling joint training area shared with the Japanese.

“We’ll operate for 24 hours at a time for a few days,” Litvin said. “You can’t really put a time limit on it. We have to take advantage of all the training opportunities that are presented to us.”

To cover the vast distances between Pacific Rim allies and training sites in Japan, transportation to exercises can range from commercial flights to rides on the WestPac Express, a water jet ferry operated for III MEF by Military Sealift Command. It can carry more than 900 Marines in airline-style seats on its upper deck, with 305 tons of equipment stored below.

UDP Marines will be encouraged to experience Japanese culture when not in their barracks, but they are required to sit through mandatory briefings that highlight the importance of respect and acting professionally, Litvin said.

“What we try to tell [junior Marines] is to get out and enjoy the experience … but that we need to appreciate differences in the Japanese way of life,” he said. “That’s something that has been missing with the Unit Deployment Program being stopped: There’s a good portion of junior Marines who haven’t been to Okinawa and experienced a deployment to Japan.”

‘Under the microscope’
These additional deployments come at a turning point in Japanese history — one that raises questions about how UDP will be perceived by a new ruling political party that has talked tough about getting more out of Japan’s relationship with the U.S.

On Aug. 30, the Democratic Party of Japan won an election in a landslide, ousting the Liberal Party of Japan that had held power since 1955 and maintained strong, friendly ties with the U.S. military. The new ruling party’s leader, Yukio Hatoyama, has said he wants his country to be on even footing with the U.S., and party officials say it is time to scrap unpopular plans to relocate MCAS Futenma from one part of Okinawa to another and instead move it off the island.

Marine officials, acknowledging the change of guard in Japan, don’t believe an increase in UDP assignments will be a problem.

“Sure, our numbers have been down by several thousand over the last few years, but this [increase in troops] should be transparent to Japan,” said Powell, the III MEF spokesman. “We’re not doing anything new here. There is nothing new that needs to be done.”

Experts say it may not be that simple, but are split on how significantly an increase in UDP missions may affect U.S.-Japan relations.

Bruce Klingner, an analyst with the Heritage Foundation, said UDP will likely face scrutiny from the new Japanese government, even if the Corps made it clear it always intended to return troop numbers to previous levels.

“The [new party] could resist an augmentation of Marine forces, even those on short-term deployments or, conversely, could see the UDP as a means to offset a permanent drawdown in U.S. Marine forces in Okinawa,” he said.

Marines arriving on UDP also must adjust to an environment with restrictions that do not exist in the U.S. In February 2008, Lt. Gen. Richard Zilmer, commander of III MEF, ordered all Status of Forces personnel on Okinawa to stay on bases or in their off-base homes after four Marines were arrested in separate incidents, including a staff sergeant charged with the rape of an Okinawan school girl. The restrictions since have been eased, but troops in Japan are still required to stop consuming alcohol by 2 a.m. at off-base bars and clubs, and adhere to liberty restrictions that require junior Marines with a red liberty card to stay on base between midnight and 5 a.m.

Litvin, Echo Battery’s commander, said his Marines are aware they will be “under the microscope a bit” as they deploy.

“We’ve explained the fact that the Unit Deployment Program has been shut down for the last few years, at least,” he said. “These guys are excited to be the ones to start it back up. We realize that we’re going to have to conduct ourselves accordingly.”

31st MEU commences fall patrol of the Asia-Pacific region

WHITE BEACH NAVAL FACILITY, OKINAWA, Japan (Sept. 28, 2009) – — Approximately 2000 Marines and sailors from the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) kicked off their Fall Patrol of the Asia-Pacific Region, Sept. 27.


9/28/2009 By Sgt. Rodolfo Toro, 31st MEU

The Denver Amphibious Task Group, comprised of the forward-deployed amphibious transport dock ship USS Denver (LPD 9), the forward-deployed amphibious dock landing ship USS Tortuga (LSD 46) and the forward-deployed amphibious dock landing ship USS Harpers Ferry (LSD 49), are scheduled to set sail for the Republic of the Philippines as part of Amphibious Landing Exercise 2010 (PHIBLEX ’10).

As part of PHIBLEX ‘10, the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the U.S. Armed Forces are slated to work alongside to provide healthcare, conduct engineering and community relation projects in remote regions of the country.

Bilateral training will also take place in order to improve interoperability, increase readiness, and continue to build professional relationships between the Republic of the Philippines and the United States.

According to Col. Paul L. Damren, MEU Commanding Officer, “Once armed with these core capabilities, the main effort will be to conduct operations that enhance the security capabilities of partner nations and alleviate the underlying conditions that give rise to instability.”

As a force in readiness, the MEU continually conducts non-combatant evacuation operations (NEO), foreign humanitarian assistance/disaster relief operations (FHA/DR) and amphibious raid exercises.

September 27, 2009

Marines Investigate Insurgents' Underground Highway

FORWARD OPERATING BASE DELARAM, Nimruz province, Afghanistan – Some people go cave exploring for fun, but when there is a possibility of stumbling on explosive materials, an armed enemy or a nasty surprise they've left to be triggered in the dark, it's about as far from fun as you can get.


Regimental Combat Team 3
Story by Gunnery Sgt. Chris W. Cox
Date: 09.27.2009

Marines from 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment are searching wet, pitch-dark tunnels ranging from 40 to 100 feet underground that connect the karez system – a network of wells and tunnels between the snow-capped peaks of the Buji Bhast mountains and the arid desert plain here. The karez system was originally constructed hundreds, maybe thousands, of years ago. These days, insurgents are using these tunnels as a form of covert transportation and storage for IED-making materials. The Marines are putting a stop to that.

"We've found evidence of weapons, dwelling, trash. We know they're down there," said Company E executive officer, 1st Lt. Husein Yaghnam.

"We can't collapse them because that will affect the farmers' irrigation system, but we can deter the enemy from using them," said the Toledo, Ohio, Marine. "It might open up opportunities just by deterring the enemy from using them."

What's it like descending along the sheer walls of these holes that travel all the way down to the limestone bedrock?

"It's kind of scary, because you don't know what's in the wells," said Personal Security Detachment platoon sergeant Cpl. Jason L. Paul from Shiprock, N.M. The PSD Marines provide security for the battalion commanding officer, Lt. Col. Patrick Cashman, who sometimes personally investigates the wells for his own situational awareness.

"They're usually 40 to 60 feet down – straight down – and it's really dark down there," he described. "Every time we head down, I always tell my guys to be careful."

Fortunately for these young men weighed down with gear, drinking water, weapons, ammunition and a flashlight, going down on foot isn't always the first option they try. Sometimes they send down a robot – with varying degrees of success.

"Yesterday we sent the bot into three holes. In the first one it could only go in about eight feet, so we had to go in, retrieve it and investigate on foot," said Markbot operator Cpl. Garrett Andrews the day after a series of tunnel hunts. "Later we sent the bot down but didn't see any man-made passages."

In addition to deterring the enemy from using the karez, the Marines are also trying to determine which wells will be irrigating which fields before planting season arrives in a few months.

"We're also looking at the locals growing poppy," said Paul. "Yesterday, we found one that is actually being used to water their fields."

By identifying which wells are directly connected to potential poppy farmers, the Afghan government may be able to convince them beforehand to grow a different crop as they are doing in neighboring Helmand province. Two different areas there – Garmsir and Nawa Districts – have seen a measurably decrease in poppy growth since government workers began distributing bags of wheat seeds around last year's planting season. This year's program is already in full swing.

Before that can begin here though the Marines still have a lot of work to do, and their recent activity around the ancient well system has drawn notice.

"Yesterday, the locals were driving by really close taking peaks here and there," said Paul. "The local insurgents see that too. They're looking at that to see if that's another way to get us. We're planning for that.

Marines See Change in Bakwa

COMBAT OUTPOST BAKWA, Farah province, Afghanistan – The Marines here have found fighting insurgents alone won't bring peace in this region. Experience has shown that Marines must also develop strong relationships with the locals to bring about positive change.


Regimental Combat Team 3
Story by Lance Cpl. John Hitesman
Date: 09.27.2009

A platoon of Marines living here from Company F, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment – have gained the locals' trust and respect through kind acts and helping their Afghan neighbors with tangible, everyday problems. These same people who hid from them and even hindered their efforts a short time ago are now assisting them with information and access.

Platoon commander 1st Lt. Marshal M. Pagaling believes that undoubtedly the activities of insurgent forces in Afghanistan are a problem, but to the average Afghan, stopping them is not a high priority. To them, survival of their families takes precedence. Simply putting food on the table is hard enough.

Pagaling's Marines have performed more than 300 different types of missions in their area, but it wasn't until they started spending time with the people that things started to change.

"When we first got here we would do multiple patrols a day," he said. "We would sometimes stay out up to 72 hours looking for the so called 'Taliban,' but the people were very standoffish. They didn't trust us as much as they didn't trust the insurgents."

"At first the people seemed very wary, and their children did not leave their sides like they do now. Matter of fact, sometimes it was hard to even get the people to come out and talk," added Lance Cpl. Steven E. McElfresh, a squad leader. "Things are different now, and it took time to get it that way."

Pagaling said the Marines learned that they needed to be more than just a force against the insurgents. They also needed to treat the people with respect. Through understanding the way they live and helping them solve their own problems, they would build trust and valuable relationships.

"Things are different now. When we pull up, we do not have to find people to talk with. They gather and want to talk to us. The children come right up to us in large groups, and we recognize them and know them," said McElfresh.

Another priority for these Marines is providing security for the contractors who are improving Route 515. Once finished, 515 will open up a safe highway for locals and coalition forces. The largest local bazaars in the area are at either end of the road – a distance of roughly 30 miles. Prior to being grated and smoothed, the only way local Afghans could get to these distant points to buy and sell produce, other foods and dried goods was by motorcycles, small vehicles and even wagons – none of which could be operated at high speeds because of the rough terrain and the road being littered with insurgent-placed bombs.

"People never used that road because it was too dangerous," said Pagaling. "We were barely able to drive up it without incident."

The Marines have been able to keep anyone from planting additional bombs on Rt. 515 with the help of the Afghan national police who have set up checkpoints along the road and local contractors who have successfully improved roughly 60 miles of it and Highway 1, the country's main artery.

The people are now using this safe form of travel daily for things that used to take days to accomplish – visiting the bazaars and family or travelling to seek guidance from distant elders.

"People use it all the time now, walking and driving," said McElfresh, a Partnersburg, West Virginian. "It is great. Getting somewhere that would have taken 45 minutes before, now only takes a few at the most. The road being done here has really helped us stay in touch with the villages around us, which also has helped us to further our relationship with the people."

The Marines now try and spend as much time with the locals as they can, promoting gatherings of the elders at the district center and hosting key leader engagements to promote the unity of the people.

"The changes that we have seen here are absolutely positive, especially what we have seen in the last couple of months since the road has been paved," said Pagaling. "We now push to unite the people, and the people with their government, because that is the biggest strength that they have against the insurgents that still exist in the area."

The Marine Corps' presence here is still needed but the Marines are very satisfied to be able to say they can see a change for the better in this rural and unforgiving environment

September 26, 2009

Plan to Boost Afghan Forces Splits Obama Advisers

WASHINGTON — As President Obama weighs sending more troops to Afghanistan, one of the most consequential decisions of his presidency, he has discovered that the military is not monolithic in support of the plan and that some of the civilian advisers he respects most have deep reservations.


Published: September 26, 2009
The New York Times

Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal’s troop request, which was submitted to the Pentagon on Friday, has reignited a longstanding debate within the military about the virtues of the counterinsurgency strategy popularized by Gen. David H. Petraeus in Iraq and now embraced by General McChrystal, the top American and NATO commander in Afghanistan.

General McChrystal is expected to ask for as many as 40,000 additional troops for the eight-year-old war, a number that has generated concern among top officers like Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the Army chief of staff, who worry about the capacity to provide more soldiers at a time of stress on the force, officials said.

The competing advice and concerns fuel a pivotal struggle to shape the president’s thinking about a war that he inherited but may come to define his tenure. Among the most important outside voices has been that of former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, a retired four-star Army general, who visited Mr. Obama in the Oval Office this month and expressed skepticism that more troops would guarantee success. According to people briefed on the discussion, Mr. Powell reminded the president of his longstanding view that military missions should be clearly defined.

Mr. Powell is one of the three people outside the administration, along with Senator John F. Kerry and Senator Jack Reed, considered by White House aides to be most influential in this current debate. All have expressed varying degrees of doubt about the wisdom of sending more forces to Afghanistan.

Mr. Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts and chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, has warned of repeating the mistakes of Vietnam, where he served, and has floated the idea of a more limited counterterrorist mission. Mr. Reed, Democrat of Rhode Island and an Army veteran, has not ruled out supporting more troops but said “the burden of proof” was on commanders to justify it.

In the West Wing, beyond Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., who has advocated an alternative strategy to the troop buildup, other presidential advisers sound dubious about more troops, including Rahm Emanuel, the chief of staff, and Gen. James L. Jones, the national security adviser, according to people who have spoken with them. At the same time, Mr. Obama is also hearing from more hawkish figures, including Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Richard Holbrooke, the special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan.

General McChrystal’s troop request, which has not been made public, was given to Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, by the general in a meeting in Germany on Friday. Admiral Mullen arrived back in Washington on Friday night with one paper copy for himself and one for Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates.

Mr. Gates has not endorsed General McChrystal’s request yet, viewing the situation as “complicated,” said one person who has spoken with him. But Mr. Gates, who will be an influential voice in Mr. Obama’s decision, has also left open the door for more troops and warned of the consequences of failure in Afghanistan.

Although Mr. Obama has called Afghanistan a war of necessity, he has left members of both parties uncertain about the degree of his commitment to a large and sustained military presence. Even some advisers said they thought Mr. Obama’s support for the war as a senator and presidential candidate was at least partly a way of contrasting it with what he saw as a reckless war in Iraq.

His decision to send 21,000 more troops to Afghanistan early this year, which will bring the number of American troops there to 68,000 this fall, was made hurriedly within weeks of coming into office to stanch the tactical erosion on the ground and provide security during Afghan elections.

But with those elections now marred by fraud allegations, the latest troop request is forcing Mr. Obama to decide whether he wants to fully engage in Afghanistan for the rest of his term or make a drastic change of course. Some advisers said the varying views reflected the complicated nature of a debate. The troop request follows the strategy unveiled by Mr. Obama in March to focus more on protecting the Afghan population, building infrastructure and improving governance, rather than just hunting the Taliban. On Friday, a United Nations report said that from January to August, 1,500 civilians were killed, about two-thirds of them by militants.

Admiral Mullen has endorsed the idea of more troops and will be at the table representing the military. General McChrystal and ambassadors from the region will get a chance to participate in meetings with the president through a secure video hookup.

Other officers, who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan and say they admire General McChrystal nonetheless, have privately expressed doubt that additional troops will make a difference. Others question the broader impact of such a buildup on the overall armed forces.

“If a request for more forces comes to the Army, we’ll have to assess what that will do in terms of stress on the force,” said an Army official, who asked not to be identified because General McChrystal’s troop request had not been made public.

General Casey, whose institutional role as Army chief is to protect his force, has a goal to increase by 2012 a soldier’s time at home, to two years at home for every year served, from the current one year for every year of duty in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Advisers who have Mr. Obama’s ear have raised other questions. Mr. Powell spoke with Mr. Obama about a variety of topics, but his remarks on Afghanistan resonated in the White House. “The question the president has to answer is, ‘What will more troops do?’ ” Mr. Powell told reporters before a speech in California last week. “You have to not just add troops. You need a clear definition of your mission and then you can determine whether you need more troops or other resources.”

In an interview, Senator Kerry, who met with Admiral Mullen last week, said that he had not made up his mind about the troop buildup, but that in Vietnam, “the underlying assumptions were flawed, and the number of troops weren’t going to make a difference.”

Senator Reed, who met with Mr. Biden, was more measured, but said the president needed to look at the capacity of Afghan forces and the prospects of reconciliation with moderate Taliban members. “You want to make sure you have the best operational plan to carry out the strategy,” he said.

Plan to Boost Afghan Forces Splits Obama Advisers

WASHINGTON — As President Obama weighs sending more troops to Afghanistan, one of the most consequential decisions of his presidency, he has discovered that the military is not monolithic in support of the plan and that some of the civilian advisers he respects most have deep reservations.


Published: September 26, 2009
The New York Times

Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal’s troop request, which was submitted to the Pentagon on Friday, has reignited a longstanding debate within the military about the virtues of the counterinsurgency strategy popularized by Gen. David H. Petraeus in Iraq and now embraced by General McChrystal, the top American and NATO commander in Afghanistan.

General McChrystal is expected to ask for as many as 40,000 additional troops for the eight-year-old war, a number that has generated concern among top officers like Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the Army chief of staff, who worry about the capacity to provide more soldiers at a time of stress on the force, officials said.

The competing advice and concerns fuel a pivotal struggle to shape the president’s thinking about a war that he inherited but may come to define his tenure. Among the most important outside voices has been that of former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, a retired four-star Army general, who visited Mr. Obama in the Oval Office this month and expressed skepticism that more troops would guarantee success. According to people briefed on the discussion, Mr. Powell reminded the president of his longstanding view that military missions should be clearly defined.

Mr. Powell is one of the three people outside the administration, along with Senator John F. Kerry and Senator Jack Reed, considered by White House aides to be most influential in this current debate. All have expressed varying degrees of doubt about the wisdom of sending more forces to Afghanistan.

Mr. Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts and chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, has warned of repeating the mistakes of Vietnam, where he served, and has floated the idea of a more limited counterterrorist mission. Mr. Reed, Democrat of Rhode Island and an Army veteran, has not ruled out supporting more troops but said “the burden of proof” was on commanders to justify it.

In the West Wing, beyond Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., who has advocated an alternative strategy to the troop buildup, other presidential advisers sound dubious about more troops, including Rahm Emanuel, the chief of staff, and Gen. James L. Jones, the national security adviser, according to people who have spoken with them. At the same time, Mr. Obama is also hearing from more hawkish figures, including Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Richard Holbrooke, the special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan.

General McChrystal’s troop request, which has not been made public, was given to Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, by the general in a meeting in Germany on Friday. Admiral Mullen arrived back in Washington on Friday night with one paper copy for himself and one for Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates.

Mr. Gates has not endorsed General McChrystal’s request yet, viewing the situation as “complicated,” said one person who has spoken with him. But Mr. Gates, who will be an influential voice in Mr. Obama’s decision, has also left open the door for more troops and warned of the consequences of failure in Afghanistan.

Although Mr. Obama has called Afghanistan a war of necessity, he has left members of both parties uncertain about the degree of his commitment to a large and sustained military presence. Even some advisers said they thought Mr. Obama’s support for the war as a senator and presidential candidate was at least partly a way of contrasting it with what he saw as a reckless war in Iraq.

His decision to send 21,000 more troops to Afghanistan early this year, which will bring the number of American troops there to 68,000 this fall, was made hurriedly within weeks of coming into office to stanch the tactical erosion on the ground and provide security during Afghan elections.

But with those elections now marred by fraud allegations, the latest troop request is forcing Mr. Obama to decide whether he wants to fully engage in Afghanistan for the rest of his term or make a drastic change of course. Some advisers said the varying views reflected the complicated nature of a debate. The troop request follows the strategy unveiled by Mr. Obama in March to focus more on protecting the Afghan population, building infrastructure and improving governance, rather than just hunting the Taliban. On Friday, a United Nations report said that from January to August, 1,500 civilians were killed, about two-thirds of them by militants.

Admiral Mullen has endorsed the idea of more troops and will be at the table representing the military. General McChrystal and ambassadors from the region will get a chance to participate in meetings with the president through a secure video hookup.

Other officers, who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan and say they admire General McChrystal nonetheless, have privately expressed doubt that additional troops will make a difference. Others question the broader impact of such a buildup on the overall armed forces.

“If a request for more forces comes to the Army, we’ll have to assess what that will do in terms of stress on the force,” said an Army official, who asked not to be identified because General McChrystal’s troop request had not been made public.

General Casey, whose institutional role as Army chief is to protect his force, has a goal to increase by 2012 a soldier’s time at home, to two years at home for every year served, from the current one year for every year of duty in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Advisers who have Mr. Obama’s ear have raised other questions. Mr. Powell spoke with Mr. Obama about a variety of topics, but his remarks on Afghanistan resonated in the White House. “The question the president has to answer is, ‘What will more troops do?’ ” Mr. Powell told reporters before a speech in California last week. “You have to not just add troops. You need a clear definition of your mission and then you can determine whether you need more troops or other resources.”

In an interview, Senator Kerry, who met with Admiral Mullen last week, said that he had not made up his mind about the troop buildup, but that in Vietnam, “the underlying assumptions were flawed, and the number of troops weren’t going to make a difference.”

Senator Reed, who met with Mr. Biden, was more measured, but said the president needed to look at the capacity of Afghan forces and the prospects of reconciliation with moderate Taliban members. “You want to make sure you have the best operational plan to carry out the strategy,” he said.

September 25, 2009

Marine celebrates 90th birthday with special flagpole ceremony

Once a Marine, always a Marine, is a slogan many Marines have heard at lest once during their career.


9/25/2009 By Sgt. Jereme Edwards, 9th Marine Corps District

Melvin Moore embodies that statement. Since 1946, Moore has raised the American and Marine Corps flags in front of his home -- in rain, shine, sleet or snow.

Former corporal Melvin Theodore Moore enlisted in the Marine Corps in Kansas City, Mo., in 1941 as an ammunition technician. He served in the South Pacific area from February 1941 to July 1944. He participated in the defense of Eniwetok, Marshall Islands from February to June 1944. He was honorably discharged from the separation battalion Camp Lejune, N.C. June 27, 1946.

Marines from Recruiting Substation North Indianapolis led an entourage of Moore’s friends, family and neighbors in celebrating, his 90th birthday, Sept. 18, which was affectionately named “Mel’s Day.”

What Moore lacks in stature, he more than makes up for with his quick wit, and timely remarks. “All you have to do is live until your 90, and everyone will recognize you,” Moore said joking with all in attendance.

“He fought in World War II in the South Pacific. He’s one of the few left that fought in World War II,” said neighbor Alan Vandermeer, during an interview with, a local television station.

“This man flies the US flag and the Marine flag everyday of the year. We thought it would be nice if [the Marines] raise the flag for him on his birthday,” said Vandermeer.

“As long as we can keep that eagle and flag flying, we’re okay, and we can get through anything,” Moore said to his guests.

Moore was surprised that the community took the time to honor him on his birthday. “I didn’t think anybody would do this,” Moore said. “But I am very pleased and very glad the Marines showed up here. It makes me feel very good.”

The event gave the participating Marines a sense of pride to be a part of it as well.

“I was definitely glad to be here,” said SSgt. William Genochio, a recruiter with RSS North Indianapolis. “With each passing year the number of members who served during the World War II era become less and less. I enjoy listening to the knowledge and pearls of wisdom they have to pass. It is my way of ensuring their legacy continues.”

Marine Honored for Service, Sacrifice

Harrisburg, Pa. - A local Marine wounded in Afghanistan was honored for his service and his sacrifice on Thursday night.


News Video:

09/25/09 12:01 pm | reporter: Valerie Pritchett producer: Myles Snyder

Rep. Sue Helm, R-Dauphin, issued a citation to the parents of Marine Lance Corporal Robert McHugh.

"I wish he could be here," said Dee McHugh, Robert's mother. "He knew of it and learned of it thorough a phone call I had with him and he was very appreciative."

McHugh, a 2006 graduate of Dauphin County Technical School and a native of Susquehanna Township, was injured August 26 when his team encountered an IED while on foot patrol. One of the Marines was killed in the blast. Six were injured. McHugh suffered wounds to his abdomen and legs.

His mother remembers the call. "You can only imagine the worse," Dee McHugh said. "You take a deep breath and try to capture your composure."

After treatment at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., McHugh returned to his unit at Camp Pendleton, Calif where he continues his rehabilitation.

"Physically, yes he will recover," Dee McHugh said. "Emotions, we'll have to deal with that as they come."

Robert McHugh was awarded the Purple Heart and received the President's Volunteer Service Award.

September 23, 2009

Marines go shopping to win Afghan hearts and minds

GOLESTAN, Afghanistan — Toting assault weapons while strolling among vegetable shops in combat gear may look strange, but US Marines believe buying groceries is key to winning Afghan hearts and minds.


By Claire Truscott (AFP) – 3 days ago

Ordinary shoppers aren't dropped off and trailed by armoured Humvees after a 36-kilometre (22-mile) trek through a treacherous, heavily mined pass. But these troops are stuck in the western Afghan desert fighting a war.

The Marines are followed by a crowd of children who scramble for the sweets they toss in the air. Elderly men in turbans and boys in long Afghan shirts stare as this strange parade passes through the tiny bazaar town of Golestan.

The Marines of 2/3 Fox Company are on the frontline of a new strategy to wipe out the Taliban, not with a rising body count but by gaining the confidence of ordinary people whose lives and futures are at stake.

The commander of more than 100,000 US and NATO troops in Afghanistan, US General Stanley McChrystal, has called for this shift in emphasis and warned his superiors that without more resources, the war could be lost within a year.

His men on the ground agree.

Major Rafael Candelario of the US Marines 2nd Battalion said that after eight years of fighting to stop the Taliban returning to power in Afghanistan, humanitarian efforts are now the key to success.

"If we keep killing people we are going to keep coming here. We need to help the local people. As I said to my wife, if we don't do this right our son will be coming here in 10 years' time," Candelario said.

McChrystal's classified assessment of the war was leaked to US media this week. It is being considered by his superiors in NATO and the US military, as well as by President Barack Obama's White House.

In the 66-page document, McChrystal emphasises counter-insurgency tactics that concentrate on protecting the civilian population and enlisting their loyalties for the authorities and not the rebels.

McChrystal will submit a request for more troops this week but the Obama administration will not decide on the issue until it completes a review of war strategy, the Pentagon said on Wednesday.

"Definitely we would like to have more people to push into more places," Candelario said. "But for the area we are focused on now, it's for us to spread the message that we are here to stay and to assist."

Success in the Afghan desert is difficult to measure as the villages alternate between hostility and welcome for the Marines.

The unit passed through the Buji Bhast Pass in the western province of Farah -- a minefield that is littered with improvised explosive devices (IEDs) deployed by the Taliban with precision to kill troops and civilians alike.

Officers agree that Taliban tactics are evolving -- IEDs are getting bigger and more sophisticated in answer to the developing strategy of the international and Afghan security forces.

But as civilian casualties rise, often the blame is laid on the foreign forces -- not the Taliban who detonate the IEDs -- just for being here.

"This kind of war takes time," said camp commander Captain Francisco Xavier Zavala.

"It takes time to develop this relationship with the locals, it takes time to build trust. It's not something that happens overnight."

The reception the Marines received in Golestan was mixed. Some villagers eyed the soldiers with suspicion. Others said they were welcome if it means the fighting and the killing will stop.

"They can win the war and hearts of the people if they hold meetings, sit together with the elders and the mullahs and talk with them and say 'What's your problem? Why are you fighting me?'" said Abdul Hadi, a 20-year-old shopkeeper.

"But they must be united, fight the Taliban and bring security or the people will not be happy," he said, speaking to AFP through a Marine interpreter.

Lieutenant Colonel Jeff Rule said he took hope from a Sunni Muslim "awakening" in Iraq, which in conjunction with a US troop surge slashed violence.

"In Iraq in 2007 the first six months had the highest casualties and people were saying the insurgents were winning.

"Then the people made a decision that Al-Qaeda was much worse than coalition forces."

Marine readies for 4th Iraq tour

Sgt. Doug Osborn, 27, has already earned a Purple Heart
MUNCIE -- A Purple Heart recipient from Delaware County has volunteered to return to Iraq for his fourth deployment there.


By NICK WERNER • [email protected] • September 23, 2009

Sgt. Doug Osborn, 27, leaves today for Camp Pendleton in California for a month of preparation and last-minute training before heading overseas with the 3rd Battalion 24th Marines.
"Since I was part of the beginning, I want to see how the country has changed and what our sacrifices have done for the country," Osborn told The Star Press on Tuesday. "I want to see for myself firsthand that we've done some good."
Osborn, a 2000 Delta High School grad, first deployed to Iraq in 2003, suffering shrapnel wounds in his left arm from a grenade blast during combat near Al Kut. The injury earned Osborn a Purple Heart.
Osborn returned in 2004, fighting in the first battle of Fallujah, and again in 2005, training Iraqi police and Iraqi armed forces.
He left the Marines full-time in 2006 but joined the Marine Reserves in 2007, seeking out a Terre Haute company that he knew would be deployed.
Since returning home he has worked in lawn care and home remodeling.
"After three deployments, I just wanted to come home and take a break," he said. "Once I was back home, I just kind of got bored again."
Osborn is limited in what he can say about his upcoming deployment, except that he will be serving in Anbar province again for seven months.
Delaware County Veteran Affairs Officer Jerry Griffis tipped The Star Press to Osborn's deployment.
"I've heard of two and even three," Griffis said. "Four seems like a lot."
Griffis said he was unaware of other veterans in Delaware County who had served four deployments in the War on Terror, though he noted others may exist.
Jerry Newberry, communications director for the Veterans of Foreign Wars, said serving four deployments is not as unusual as many civilians or older veterans like himself might think.
In his reporting for a radio show and Web blog, Newberry has encountered many soldiers who have deployed four times and at least one serviceman who had volunteered for a fifth deployment.
"I can't even remember how many who stepped up to the plate time and time again," he said.
Information on how many servicemen and women had deployed four times or more in the War on Terror was unavailable Tuesday.
Osborn joined the Marine Corps after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
As a teenager learning about U.S. history, he had promised himself he would join the military if the nation ever came under attack.
He still has two pieces of shrapnel in his arm from his 2003 injury.

1/8 Marines and sailors return from Iraq

Friends and family of the 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, gathered together in the early morning hours of Sept 18, 2009, aboard Camp Lejeune, N.C., to welcome home their Marines and sailors.


9/23/2009 By Pfc. Clayton L. VonDerahe, 2nd Marine Division

“I’m glad my son is back on U.S. soil and he has all his parts still intact,” said the father of Lance Cpl. Jason Morgan, a rifleman with Company A. “I’m very proud and anxious to see my son.”

The battalion’s main objective during their seven-month deployment was to provide security for Al Asad Air Base and Camp Al Taqaddum, Iraq.

“My Marines did a fantastic job,” said Lt. Col. Daniel Sullivan, the battalion commander, speaking about his battalion’s service in Iraq. “It took a lot of mental toughness and endurance to finish strong.”

As the Marine Corps’ role in Operation Iraqi Freedom continues to wind down, the return of 1/8 is yet another in a long series of homecomings.

“The Marines did an outstanding job; they knew their mission and put their best foot forward,” said Sgt. Maj. Timothy Ruff.

As the Marines gathered their bags and reunited with their loved ones, they expressed their gratitude to return home after a successful deployment.

“It feels great,” said Lance Cpl. Dan Linskey, a machine gunner with Company C. “I was really ready to come home and I’m glad to see my mom and my sister.”

For more information on the II Marine Expeditionary Force, visit the unit’s web site at www.iimefpublic.usmc.mil.

Reserve LAR company prepares for return to U.S

CAMP AL TAQADDUM, Iraq - Lt. Col. Kenneth R. Kassner, the commanding officer of 3rd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, officially relieved the Marines of Company E of their duties during a ceremony held aboard Camp Al Taqaddum, Iraq, Sept. 16, 2009


GySgt Katesha Washington, Combat Logistics Regiment 27

The company, a reserve unit based out of Syracuse, N.Y., was augmented to 3rd LAR Bn from 4th LAR Bn to serve in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom from November 2008 to October 2009. For more than 150 days they lived and operated out of their armored vehicles as they conducted continuous combat operations in Ninewa province, Iraq.
Although the company is an organic element of a reserve unit, Kassner attributed their success throughout the deployment to their ability to seamlessly blend with the active components of 3rd LAR Bn.
“Your integration into 3rd LAR Bn allowed the unit to become a stronger, more capable war fighting team,” Kassner said to the Marines.
Kassner also recognized five Marines within Company E with Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medals for the superior performance of their duties which significantly contributed to the battalion’s overall mission accomplishment.
One of the award recipients, Sgt. Nicholas J. Castaneda, a Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical specialist by trade, served as a Joint Coordination Center operator during the battalion’s fifth deployment and his second. He was credited withleading eight combat missions to interdict smugglers along the Syrian border while exposing himself to a high level of risk, which resulted in the seizure of millions of illegally smuggled tobacco products and several weapons systems.
His award citation also recognized his work to improve the partnership between U.S. and Iraqi security forces. But it is the camaraderie and strong bond that he developed with the rest of the battalion’s leathernecks that he will mostly remember and cherish.
“I met some of the best Marines and some of the greatest friends I will ever know,” he said of his fellow Marines. “I am going to take the camaraderie we built with each other and cherish it forever.”
Before Castaneda and the rest of the Marines in Company E were able to build that mutual bond of trust and camaraderie, they first had to show their active duty comrades that they were just as hard core and dedicated to accomplishing the mission as the rest of the ‘Wolfpack’ – the nickname and call sign of the battalion since its activation in the 1990s.
“We have had more to prove and had to raise the bar because of the stereotypes that come with being reservists,” Castaneda explained. “But we proved to the battalion and to ourselves that we can accomplish any mission given to us.”
Now that the company will return home and demobilize, the men of the “Grappler” company, as they are affectionately known, will go back to the United States to pick up where they left off as firefighters, police officers, engineers, plumbers and college students, among other occupations.
Regardless of their civilian jobs, the battalion CO was impressed with the Marines’ performance in light of the fact that they operated for so long in such brutal conditions.
“The nature of our mission can truly be considered expeditionary and it’s a
testament to the caliber of our Marines that they were able to conduct operations with their Iraqi counterparts of the 11th [Iraqi Army] Brigade in one of the most austere and geopolitically dynamic regions in Iraq.” He said.

As Kassner went on to say in his speech to his men, the Marines of Company E have earned their place in Wolfpack history because they exemplified the motto of 3rd LAR Bn – ‘the strength of the wolf is the pack and the strength of the pack is the wolf.’

September 22, 2009

U.S. Troops Cleaning Out 'Garages' in Iraq

Office of the Secretary of Defense Public Affairs
WASHINGTON - American forces are cleaning out a "very, very big garage" in its drawdown in Iraq, the deputy commander of Multi-National Corps - Iraq said, Sept. 22.


Story by Jim Garamone
Date: 09.22.2009
Posted: 09.22.2009 02:10

Air Force Maj. Gen. James P. Hunt, during a videoconference from Baghdad with Pentagon reporters, said moving equipment out of Iraq is like a giant assessment and cleaning.

There are 125,000 American service members in Iraq, down from a peak of roughly 180,000. That number is to remain constant through the Iraqi elections in January. After that, the number of U.S. troops is to drop to 50,000 by August 2010, with all American forces out of the country by the end of 2011.

But the drawdown of U.S. forces already has begun with equipment, Hunt said. "We're going to do it just like you do back home when you have to empty out your garage," he said.

The command already has closed more than 200 bases and facilities and processed almost 50,000 pieces of equipment.

When cleaning the garage, people take the cars out and put everything on the driveway just to see what they have, Hunt said. "And that's what we're doing here," he said. "We essentially have done an inventory, and we have been amazed at how much stuff has gathered in six years."

The units are looking at what things they have and deciding what they will need through the end of 2011. "They're packing it up, and they're shipping it out. And we are doing that on a daily basis," he said. "Essentially every base in Iraq is going through their garage and cleaning out what they've got so that they only have the mission- essential things left."

As the last troops withdraw from the country, the mission-essential materials will leave with them. "So this is a major science-of-war operation," he said. "It's a very, very big garage."

Another sign of the withdrawal was the Sept. 17 closure of the Camp Bucca internment center in southern Iraq, Hunt said.

"As part of that closure and in accordance with our security agreement, we have released almost 6,000 detainees and transferred just under 1,400 detainees to Iraq since January 2009," he said. "We have worked closely with the government of Iraq to ensure these releases and transfers were done in a safe and orderly manner."

September 21, 2009

McChrystal: Bigger force a must for Afghan war

By Anne Gearan - The Associated Press
Posted : Monday Sep 21, 2009 12:49:03 EDT

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama’s top commander in Afghanistan has told him that without more troops the United States could lose the war that Obama has described as the nation’s foremost military priority.

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Marines await word on deployment

Troop assignments not yet clear
In a little noticed development last week, Defense Secretary Robert Gates ordered 2,500 to 3,000 more troops to Afghanistan as soon as possible to meet imminent threats from roadside bombs.


MARK WALKER | Posted: Monday, September 21, 2009 8:00 pm

Gates was responding to a request from the overall U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, for more bomb disposal and route clearance teams, medical rescue units and intelligence specialists. All are needed to combat the rising use of roadside bombs, the No. 1 troop killer in Afghanistan.

Which troops are getting those assignments remained unclear Monday. But as military officials and the Obama administration debate the next steps in the fight for Afghanistan, more local Marines and sailors are preparing to be sent to the front lines.

Maj. Eric Dent, at Marine Corps headquarters at the Pentagon, said it is unclear if more Marines will get the call to join the more than 11,000 leathernecks already in Afghanistan.

"We still don't know if the Marine Corps is going to get tasked with this or not," Dent said.

Camp Pendleton officials also said they were awaiting word to see if some of the immediate needs McChrystal has identified will be filled by Marines and sailors from the base.

Camp Pendleton's 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment has been deployed in the country's volatile Helmand province since the spring.

More than 200 members of the base's 1st Marine Special Operations Battalion are heading to Afghanistan in the coming days to take over management of special forces missions in western and northern Afghanistan.

By year's end, the U.S. is expected to have 68,000 troops in Afghanistan, along with 32,000 from NATO countries. The U.S. now has about 62,000 troops there.

The additional 2,500 to 3,000 anti-roadside bomb troops are not expected to increase the troop level beyond the 68,000 now authorized because McChrystal has indicated he may send a like number home.

But military advisers have been suggesting in recent weeks that a troop surge is needed to tame a recalcitrant insurgency. President Obama is weighing that option, among others.

Several thousand Camp Pendleton Marines and sailors will be aboard ships in the Middle East in the coming weeks as the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit sails from San Diego in the next few days.

Throughout the height of the Iraq war, local troops on similar cruises were often ordered into battle. That could happen to the 11th MEU troops if President Barack Obama orders a buildup beyond the already approved 68,000.

So far this year, 211 members of the U.S. military have died in Afghanistan compared with 155 total U.S. deaths in all of 2008, a figure that was the highest annual death toll since the war began in fall 2001

2/8 draws enemy out to fight

HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan — Around here, some Marines say a quiet day is a boring day, and a day they clash with the enemy, while unwelcome, is more personally satisfying.


9/21/2009 By Sgt. Scott Whittington, Regimental Combat Team 3

A squad of Marines with Company E, 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, patrolled southeast from here Sept. 6, 2009, prepared to encounter the enemy while also hoping to identify some of the post’s blind spots.

When they stepped off, they had received information that told them the enemy might show themselves. Since their July 2 helicopter insertion, only 14 of their nearly 70 days here have been empty of enemy contact.

“Even though the Marines have suffered some losses here, the Marines are still completely motivated about their jobs,” said Capt. Eric A. Meador, Co. E commander.

After crossing an open field with irrigation trenches, members of E Company’s 2nd Platoon reached a deep canal with a foot-deep stream running through it.

Meador explained, the majority of his area of responsibility doesn’t have regular enemy contact, but this particular piece of real estate was notorious for being an enemy ambush site.

But the Marines were ready as they scaled the embankment on the canal’s far side. As reports had predicted, the enemy was waiting and greeted them with an IED blast that injured no one and a spattering of small-arms fire that only heightened their alertness.

To the south, in front of the crouched Marines, was a wind-swept cornfield with nearly 8-foot-tall stalks and broad leaves in motion making enemy movement difficult to see. Despite the limited visibility affecting both sides, the enemy had positioned themselves into an arrow head, facing the Marines in the middle. As one side would shoot, the other would attempt to advance farther onto the Marines’ flank. The bad guys maneuvered as close as 75 meters – their muzzle blasts getting louder with each bound.

Squad leader Cpl. Evan Steele called a halt. With rounds whizzing overhead, Lance Cpl. Michael R. Webb, 22, the squad-automatic weapon gunner from Louisville, Ky., and the rest of his team countered the enemy push by moving up along a tree line.

“I don’t think too much about what I’m feeling during a fight,” Webb said. “I just fight.”

Seeing their movement, the insurgents prematurely detonated a second IED, thinking the Marines were closer to it than they were. Steele then radioed for mortar rounds to blanket both enemy positions. “Shot out,” Marines yelled as they heard the tubes launch 81 and 60 mm mortars from a mile away. A few seconds later, the rounds splashed on target with a sound like a rapid-fire, kettle-drum solo.

Pushing along the tree line, the Marines spotted one insurgent, and engaged him causing his quick retreat. The Marines then turned to engage a second tree line ahead of them where more insurgents had taken position in and near a building. Cpl James Greenlee, 23, machinegun squad leader from Coppell, Texas, fired a deafening light-anti-armor weapon into the corner of the structure the enemy was popping out and firing from.

Shortly after that explosive thud, the enemy fire stopped. Some of the insurgents left the area on motorcycles. Two were captured not too far away.

“It’s always good to get HE (high explosives) down range,” said Pfc. Janos V. Lutz, 21, machine gunner and a Davie, Floridian. “It definitely shut them up.”

The Marines, not knowing what else lay in the cornfield ahead, pulled back to COP Sher under the whopping rotor sounds of an AH-1W Super Cobra attack helicopter and a UH-1N Huey gunship overhead.

“They come back wet and muddy with a smile on their faces, because they know they’re doing what they joined to do,” said Meador, a William Carey College graduate. But he stressed there have been no civilian casualties reported here, “The Marines understand the balance between counterinsurgency and building relationships. They are very aware of what they are shooting at.”

E Company still has more work to do before the people of Garmsir will be able to pursue their life and livelihood without fear of the Taliban. However, if the results of this recent action are any measure, the Marines here will continue to make quick work of the enemy and soon replace the sounds of gunfire and explosions with playing children and farmers in the fields.

Funeral set in Anderson for Highway Patrol trooper

ANDERSON, SC — Law enforcement officials from across the state will be coming to Anderson on Wednesday to pay their respects to Lance Cpl. Jonathan S. Nash, a graduate of the city’s Oakwood Christian Academy.


By Mike Ellis (Contact)
Monday, September 21, 2009

Nash was killed while escorting a Saturday morning memorial ride in honor of another fallen trooper who died 17 years ago on the same road.

The funeral for Nash will be at Anderson County’s Civic Center, because Nash’s Oakwood Baptist Church does not have the capacity for what South Carolina Highway Patrol officials expect to be more than 1,000 mourners.

Nash, 41, worked for the Highway Patrol for 15 years after serving as a U.S. Marine during the Gulf War. The memorial ride down Highway 1 in Camden was for Trooper Hardy Godbold, who died in a collision on the same road during a 1992 pursuit.

Nash’s parents live in Anderson. He is survived by his wife and 14-year-old daughter. Nash lived in Union; he was born in Florida.

“He was the all-American guy,” said Chili Childers, who went to school with Nash at Oakwood Christian Academy. “He was the epitome of what a man should be, he really was,” said another classmate, Chris Bowen. “He just had the ability to bring everybody together.”

Godbold’s family organized the annual charity ride in 2006. On the ride this weekend, six police motorcycles and two police cars were escorting several other motorcycles when a vehicle pulled out of a parking lot and struck Nash’s motorcycle.

Nash grew up in Anderson and graduated from Oakwood in 1987.

Ron Wilkins, assistant administrator of the school when Nash attended, said he remembers the trooper as an exceptional athlete.

“He was always very intense, particularly when he played sports,” Wilkins said.

Wilkins said Nash was the second of 29 people in the 1987 graduating class to have died too young.

The Rev. Benny Bagwell, who was Oakwood’s administrator while Nash was a student, talked with Nash 11 years ago at the funeral for the other 1987 graduate.

“We talked in the parking lot that day about how he was proud to be a trooper,” Bagwell said. “He would have made any man proud to have him as a son.”

Nash was a freshman at Oakwood during Wilkins’ first year there, 1983.

“He was a little bit unusual because most of the time ninth-graders didn’t play varsity-level sports,” Wilkins said.

But Nash played varsity soccer and basketball as starter for four years at the small school, Wilkins said.

Childers recalls meeting with Nash a few years ago to relive their time on the basketball court and talk about their lives.

“I can’t say enough about him. He was one of the nicest guys you ever wanted to be around, but he knew how to compete,” Childers said. “He was always in the front, always leading the charge.”

While Nash was active in sports, and voted most athletic boy as a senior, Wilkins said, he was quiet in the classroom.

“If all of them were like him I wouldn’t have a job,” said Bowen, an assistant principal at T.L. Hanna High School. “He was just what you want your son to grow up to be.”

Bagwell said Nash was always the military type and appeared in school plays as a Roman soldier.

Nash joined the Marines immediately after he graduated from high school and left the military in 1993 with a degree from Lander College.

Childers and Bowen said joining the Marines was Nash’s goal from the time they first met him.

“From the absolute moment I met him in eighth grade he was always our leader, our captain,” Bowen said.

“When his service was done and he had spent time in Desert Storm, it was no surprise at all that he went to do something in uniform,” Childers said.

Nash had been a member of the patrol’s motorcycle team since 2004. The fatal collision happened in Kershaw County, but at the request of the Kershaw sheriff, Richland County sheriff’s deputies are handling the investigation.

“His sudden death is a heartbreaking loss for the entire law enforcement community,” said Highway Patrol director Mark Keel, in a statement.

Bagwell, who will give a sermon in the funeral, said he has looked back at Oakwood’s yearbook, to the page where seniors gave their “last will and testament.”

Nash was typically brief and to the point. After the usual “I, John Nash, being of sound mind and body, do hereby leave,” the only words were the enthusiastic Marine greeting: “Ooh-rah!”

September 20, 2009

An Interview With the Lion of Al Qaim

CAMP RAMADI, Iraq – As Regimental Combat Team 6 prepares to hand over military operations in Iraq's Al Anbar province after over five years of Marine Corps presence, to 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division (Advise and Assist Brigade), we talked with the man once known to some Iraqis as the "Lion of Al Qaim," Marine commander, Col. Matthew Lopez.



1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division Public Affairs
Story by Spc. Michael MacLeod
Date: 09.20.2009

Q: During your first deployment to Iraq, you were an infantry commander of 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 6. After the fall of Baghdad, you were tasked with rebuilding the infrastructure of Karbala. How did that experience help you decide how to proceed in Karmah, the last hot spot of insurgency in Al Anbar province?

A: In Karbala, we were very successful and had a great relationship with the people.

Some of the philosophies and habits of thought that our general officers demanded back in 2003 have continued to make us successful today. General Mattis, the division commander back then, came up with the term, "No better friend. No worse enemy." That really became our mantra on how we thought and acted. It's even more relevant today in the non-kinetic side of operations.

Another one was, "First, do no harm." The way it was explained to me was, if you had to kill one innocent Iraqi in order to capture Saddam, then Saddam would go free that day. So those kinds of habits of thought – early lessons learned and captured by our general officers back then – were absolutely brilliant because they carried through six years later.

Q: You are referring to the 5-3-5 concept. Can you explain?

A: To teach young Marines and young soldiers how to act, it's even more important to teach them how to think. "No better friend. No worse enemy" and "First do no harm" are some of the pearls of wisdom that were never really brought together in a tactical [standard operating procedure]. It doesn't matter if Marines can mimic the phrases if it doesn't alter their behavior, so we took five habits of thought (the two above, plus sturdy professionalism; be hard to kill; and Complacency kills) and we formalized them so that every Marine did not have to discern what we meant.

Additionally, we took rules we never violate – unity of command, geometry of fire, and guardian angel – and we solidified those into a written SOP.

[The final five refer to] the critical tools of our trade: doing proper planning using pre-combat checks and inspections, rehearsals, and confirmation briefs before we step out the gate to ensure everyone's on the same sheet of music. And when we come back from a mission, we do our after-action review and lessons learned.

Our SOP narrows down how we think about what we do for a living, how we think about how we are going to operate, and the habits of action dictate how we are going to do it.

Q: Have you seen 5-3-5 save lives in Al Anbar?

A: I've seen 5-3-5 save lives every day, not just here, but in the United States. If a Marine is a sturdy professional, he doesn't let his buddy drink and drive. I think 5-3-5 has really expedited the maturing [of Marines] and helped to bring these young Marines together as one team.

Q: Karbala is primarily Shia, while Anbar is primarily Sunni. How did that affect your mission?

A: There are significant differences between the two in terms of the lineage from the Prophet Muhammad. Culturally, you have differences due to geography, but I also think that, early on, our lack of understanding of those religious differences, and the fact that religious differences don't automatically transcribe to cultural differences, was part of our arrogance and misunderstanding of the situation. I've had many Iraqis tell me the divide was magnified by coalition forces. Obviously it was a factor in the sectarian violence. I think those religious differences were hijacked by Al Qaeda in 2005-06 and used against the people, but I don't think the differences are as predominant as it was first sought out to be. The political coalitions we see unfolding for the national elections show the Iraqi people are willing to work across the Shia-Sunni divide.

Q: It has been over five years since you led 3/7 against al-Qaida in Al Qaim near the Syrian border. With regards to the losses of Maj. Richard Gannon, Cpl. Jason Dunham (who received the Congressional Medal of Honor), and many other Marines, and your own sacrifices for which you received a Silver Star, has time changed your perspective of the event?

A: I had over 23 Marines make the ultimate sacrifice back there in '04. Maj. Rick Gannon and Cpl. Dunham are just two of the 23 that I lost. In addition to that, I had over dozens of amputees in one battalion alone and over 400 wounded. In a way it has been very therapeutic to come back to Iraq time-and-time again, and to be able to see the results of those sacrifices. When you see that kind of violence and have those kinds of losses, sometimes it's easy to lose perspective. Being able to see that those sacrifices weren't made in vain makes it a little bit easier. It never gets easy. You still grieve for the families.

Q: In 2005, you attended the Joint Advanced Warfighting School where you received a master's degree in the planning and execution of joint, multinational, and interagency operations. How did that change how you conducted business when you returned to Iraq?

A: That year was a great year to study the profession of warfighting at the joint level. It better enabled me to serve on the [Multi-National Forces – Iraq] staff when I worked as the USJFCOM Forward Support Element to General [David] Petraeus. It also better allowed me to serve at the Joint Forces Command as the deputy director of J9 (executive agent for interagency). That helped me address the situations when I came back to Iraq when the majority of my time and efforts were spent, not on a kinetic fight, but eliminating the root causes and working with the interagency and the Iraqi government.

Q: What played into your deliberations as to how to quell the violence in Karmah?

A: My higher headquarters did a great job providing me with the resources and capabilities I needed. Based on previous experiences, we know it's always better in an insurgency to make sure you have the support of the local population. You don't do that with boots on the ground or bullets; you do that by helping to eliminate the root causes. That's exactly what we did in Karmah. We allowed the local leadership in Karmah to prioritize what needed to be done in the area. We had tremendous help – the local sheikh's council, the local government, the people of Karmah, and the ISF. We have been very successful because of all those contributions and the hard work of young Marines, soldiers and sailors.

Q: You can't put a price on life, be it Iraqi, Marine or paratrooper, but with respect to the total cost of the war, do you think the American taxpayer is receiving a good value on the $7 million already spent on the Karmah Initiative?

A: They're getting a great return on their investment, because it's not just about protecting the lives of Americans. As deploying service members, we understand and accept risk. Equally important is improving the lot in life of the Iraqis. Over the last nine months, the overall total we spent in Karmah has been more like $11 million, with a plan in place to spend in excess of $20 million.

We didn't come here to occupy this country. We came here to free it from Saddam Hussein, and then to create democracy and a free-market economy so that we can be long-term partners with the Iraqi people.

In Karmah, we brought water to 100,000 people and schooling to over 7,000 young children. Those are the kinds of investments that will help the Iraqi people get back on their feet to support a new, democratic Iraq.

Q: In light of family separation, how do you explain the value of what you and RCT-6 have accomplished in Al Anbar to your family back home?

A: The most precious asset we have is time. No amount of money can buy time. My son fully understands what [Operation Iraqi Freedom] is. The children of American servicemen and women see it firsthand. They experience the separations. The children, the spouses and significant others, in my book, are the heroes of what we do because they pay a great sacrifice so we can go out and do what our country asks us to do.

If nobody is willing to stand up and do the right thing, my kid has no future. He understands that his dad is out there standing up to do the right thing. Even for a seven-year-old, he understands that he has a lot of great freedoms, and that his dad is one of the guys going over here to make sure that somebody else in another part of the world also has those freedoms.

I'm teaching him to be responsible and that there is always greater value in serving other people than in serving yourself.

Q: What advice have you given the incoming commander replacing you on how you would proceed in Al Anbar over the next 12 months?

A: The old saying that success is born of a thousand fathers is very true in this case. I have every confidence that Col. [Mark] Stammer and [1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division (Advise and Assist Brigade)] will continue to be successful as they have throughout the unit's history. It's a great honor for these soldiers to have been picked to be the first executors of the new advise-and-assist brigade concept.

From what I've seen over the last 25 years, that's going to be the way of the future. There are not going to be many countries or causes that are going to take us on, military on military. As a uniform military service, we have to better find out how to prevent these things in the first place.

The Army's confidence in the 82nd [to test the AAB concept] is a great testament to Col. Stammer's leadership and the performance of the brigade, and I think AAB will be absolutely critical for future capabilities of the US Army. I wish the entire 82nd a very peaceful and successful tour.

Arlington TX Marine Dies Helping Car Accident Victims

Lance Cpl, Alvaro Rios, United States Marines, age 23, passed away on September 20, 2009 while rendering aid to car accident victims.


He was born on January 29, 1986 in Dallas, Texas to Felipe and Maria Rios who survive him. Alvaro is also survived by his beloved wife, Maria Del Rosario Zuleta; son, Nathanial Giovanni Rios; sister, Jessica Rios; brother, Edgar Rios; maternal grandparents, Sigifredo Gallardo and Rosa Reyes; paternal grandparents, Antonio Rios and Julia Gonzalez; mother-in-law, Maria Abrego, father-in-law, Denys Zuleta; and by numerous aunts, uncles, cousins, and by many friends. Alvaro was a 2004 graduate of Seagoville High, lifelong member of El Buen Pastor Church, and was currently serving in the United States Marine Corps Reserves. Visitation begins on Wednesday September 23, 2009 from 5:00 p.m. until 9:00 p.m. at Laurel Oaks Funeral Home. Visitation continues on Thursday September, 24, 2009 from 9:00 a.m. until 9:00 p.m. at the funeral home. A prayer service will be held at 7:00 p.m. on Thursday evening. Funeral services will be held on Friday September 25, 2009 at 10:00 a.m. at the Laurel Oaks Funeral Home Chapel with Pastor Ramiro Santos Officiating. Burial will follow at Laurel Oaks Memorial Park with full military honors.

Wounded warriors get new best friend

By Eloise Aguiar - The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted : Sunday Sep 20, 2009 9:46:48 EDT

KANEOHE BAY, Hawaii — Marine Corps Base Hawaii’s latest recruit breaks the mold with his laid-back attitude and nonregulation hairstyle. But he’s highly trained and devoted to his unit.

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September 19, 2009

Viper Pilot Earns Distinguished Flying Cross

CAMP LEATHERNECK, Helmand Province, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan – A Marine with Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 169, nicknamed the Vipers, recently received one of the highest honors of a Marine aviator for acts of heroism during Operating Iraqi Freedom.


Marine Aircraft Group 40
Story by Lance Cpl. Samuel Nasso
Date: 09.19.2009

Maj. Richard D. Joyce, an AH-1W Cobra pilot with the Vipers of Marine Aircraft Group 40, Marine Expeditionary Brigade Afghanistan, received the Distinguished Flying Cross with combat distinguishing device here July 29 from his previous commanding officer, Army Col. Clayton M. Hutmacher, the commanding officer of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne). Joyce earned the honors for his efforts in supporting a special operations mission during OIF March 2, 2007.

During the operation, Joyce provided fire support for a ground force pinned down by enemy fire. His actions allowed the troops to break contact and move to an extraction point.

"He remained in contact after his wingman's aircraft was damaged by hostile fire and conducted numerous close engagements against multiple vehicle mounted air defense artillery systems," according to the award citation signed by Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. James Conway.

Prior to being assigned to the 160th, Joyce participated in a rigorous selection process that began with detailed screening by Headquarters Marine Corps followed by another assessment from the Army. Once selected, Joyce became a pilot with Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne), making him one of only five Marine pilots to serve in that command since 1993.

"It was a great opportunity and eye-opening experience," said Joyce. "The most important thing is that not a single ground troop got hurt and secondly, not a single pilot got hurt. Everybody went home safely, and the bad guys paid the price in the end. That is success to me."

Joyce was glad to see his previous commanding officer when Hutmacher stepped on deck and acknowledged him for his hard work that particular day.

"I know any other pilot would have done the same exact thing in the given situation because this is what we train for," Joyce explained.

"He very well deserved the award," said Lt. Col. Thomas Dolan, the Vipers commanding officer. "His courage, discipline, will to stay in the fight and refusal to give up on fellow comrades proves it."

Joyce, a native of Milton, Fla., aspired to be a Marine Corps aviator at a young age, following in his father's footsteps as a Cobra pilot. His father served as an instructor at a flight school aboard Naval Air Station Whiting Field, Fla., just outside of Milton.

He pursued his aspirations by joining the Marine Corps in 1995 after graduating from Florida State University with a bachelor's degree in criminology. He completed flight school in 1998 and served with HMLA-369, MAG-39, out of Okinawa, Japan, before serving in the unique billet with the 160th.

Joyce has since moved on from his days flying in support of Army troops, returning to a Marine squadron. In a new environment, given a new situation and facing a new enemy, he said there is no other place he would prefer to be than here supporting Marine Expeditionary Brigade-Afghanistan.

"Our marquee mission is to provide close air support, transport supplies, and provide a presence that intimidates the enemy," said Joyce. "Once they (insurgents) hear the rotors, they tend to scatter, and if we can provide that sense of security and relief for the ground guys to get a minute to relax, then that is success."

September 18, 2009

Ship repairs keep 11th MEU Marines on dock

By Gidget Fuentes - Staff writer
Posted : Friday Sep 18, 2009 6:23:51 EDT

Other ships carrying MEU are scheduled to depart on time
SAN DIEGO — Problems with its steam service turbine generators are delaying Friday’s planned deployment of amphibious assault ship Bonhomme Richard, Navy officials confirmed late Wednesday.

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September 17, 2009

Proxy wedding means Marine's widow, baby unwelcome

MARYVILLE, Tenn. – Hotaru Ferschke just wants to raise her 8-month-old son in his grandparents' Tennessee home, surrounded by photos and memories of the father he'll never meet: a Marine who died in combat a month after marrying her from thousands of miles away.


By KRISTIN M. HALL, Associated Press Writer Kristin M. Hall, Associated Press Writer – Thu Sep 17, 5:38 am ET

Sgt. Michael Ferschke was killed in Iraq in 2008, leaving his widow and infant son, both Japanese citizens, in immigration limbo: A 1950s legal standard meant to curb marriage fraud means U.S. authorities do not recognize the marriage, even though the military does.

Ferschke and his bride had been together in Japan for more than a year, and she was pregnant when he deployed. They married by signing their names on separate continents and did not have a chance to meet again in person after the wedding, which a 57-year-old immigration law requires for the union to be considered consummated.

"She is being denied because they are saying her marriage is not valid because it was not consummated — despite the fact that they have a child together," said Brent Renison, an immigration lawyer in Oregon who has advised the family.

Hotaru Ferschke and the baby, Michael "Mikey" Ferschke III, are staying for now on a temporary visa at the home of her parents-in-law, in the Smoky Mountains town of Maryville. Robin and Michael Ferschke Sr., who are fighting for their daughter-in-law to stay, have emblazoned their son's picture on everything from a blanket draped on the back of the couch to a waving banner on the fence outside.

The 22-year-old Marine radio operator met the young Japanese woman at a party while he was stationed in Okinawa. Though neither knew much of the other's language, something clicked.

"He called me after they met and he goes, 'Mom, I am in love,'" Robin Ferschke said.

The couple were together about 13 months before he left for Iraq in April 2008. He had proposed and they were trying to conceive a baby before he deployed, Hotaru Ferschke said.

About two weeks after he left, she found she was pregnant. He wanted to get married quickly so she could start getting health benefits as the spouse of an American soldier, she said.

They agreed on a proxy wedding, which has a long history in the military and in some other cases where bride and groom can't be in the same place for a ceremony.

Procedures for a proxy marriage vary by country. Some take place by phone while others require a proxy to physically stand in for the absent partner during a ceremony.

Japan doesn't require a wedding ceremony, and couples getting married only have to complete sworn affidavits proving they are legally free to marry and register at a Japanese municipal government office, according to the U.S. Embassy. Hotaru Ferschke said she and her husband got their proxy marriage simply by completing the paperwork and their marriage was final on July 10, one month before he was shot during a house search.

The U.S. military recognizes proxy marriages for couples separated by war and helps facilitate them. The Marines are paying survivor benefits to Ferschke and her baby.

Proxy marriages are legal in at least four U.S. states. One of the most famous proxy weddings in recent history was that between Ekaterina Dmitriev in Texas to Russian cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko in 2003 as he was floating in the international space station.

Pregnant and alone in Japan, Ferschke tried to apply for permanent residency in the United States and was denied.

Kenneth Sherman, a field office director for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services who handled the Ferschke case, declined to answer questions from The Associated Press about it. In a letter to the widow, Sherman said he believed that U.S. law required the denial, although he found the situation "personally distressing."

"You have already sacrificed so much for your country and your soon-to-be born son has lost a father," Sherman wrote.

Renison, who advocates for foreign spouses of American citizens, said the widow ran into a complicated and confusing set of immigration rules regarding marriage to foreigners.

The Immigration & Nationality Act says that, for the purposes of immigration law, the definition of spouse does not include a "wife or husband by reason of any marriage ceremony where the contracting parties thereto are not physically present in the presence of each other, unless the marriage shall have been consummated."

A number of immigration laws passed in the 1940s made it easier for brides of American GIs to immigrate, but a consummation requirement passed in 1952 for proxy weddings was designed to curb marriage fraud.

"It's supposed to prevent people from marrying somebody they are not really intending to have a life with. The law essentially requires them to have met after the marriage," said Margaret Stock, a lawyer who assists military families through the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

"What's odd about this case is that it appears the consummation part of the law was already met, but it was prior to the marriage."

There's no mention of consummation prior to the wedding in the statute, which Renison considers outdated and in need of reform.

"Well, 1952 was a different time," Renison said. "And back then, I'm sure they considered having sexual intercourse out of wedlock to be just fornication."

Historian Nancy Cott, who wrote a book called "Public Vows: A History of Marriage and the Nation," said proxy marriages have been commonly used by Japanese and Korean immigrants to America. But Cott said U.S immigration authorities have never liked this type of marriage "because it is inconsistent with Western Christian ideas of how marriage takes place."

The Ferschke family is hoping a private bill introduced by U.S. Rep. John Duncan this summer will allow Hotaru to stay in the U.S., but each setback has become a reminder of their loss. A private bill affects the case of just one person, rather than changing the law as a whole.

"We still have a hard time accepting this," Robin Ferschke said. "We're trying to go forward, celebrate his life, but then every time we turn around we get a constant reminder."

The private bill was referred to a subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee in July but will likely need a Senate co-sponsor to move forward. With Congress facing a massive health care reform package as it goes back into session this month, there may not be enough time to get the legislation passed before Hotaru Ferschke leaves in January.

"She's like my daughter," Robin Ferschke said. "I know my child chose the perfect wife and mother of his child."

September 16, 2009

22nd MEU leaves Kuwait, returns to sea

Staff report
Posted : Wednesday Sep 16, 2009 9:20:08 EDT

Members of the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit are back to sea after training for more than a month in Kuwait.

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After son's death in Iraq, father embeds with unit to tell his story

When the news came, Darrell Griffin hurled the phone.
Then he got in his car and navigated the madness of Los Angeles highways, thankful only for the time it gave him to think about what he would say to his family. Later, consumed with the grief of losing a son, Griffin drew the drapes in his bedroom and made his world mimic the darkness in his heart


By Moni Basu
September 16, 2009

After he buried Darrell "Skip" Griffin Jr. and after the sympathy calls faded, the elder Griffin, like every American who has ever lost a beloved soldier, struggled to resume life's normal rhythms.

But this is where Griffin's journey veered from others and took a twist so unique that it made the U.S. Army bend its rock-hard rules. The 55-year-old accounting consultant, who opposed Vietnam and had never served in combat, traveled to the epicenter of the Iraq war. There, he would trace his son's last days.

The result, "Last Journey: A Father and Son in Wartime," is a common story about a father-son relationship, told in an uncommon way.

The education of a warrior

Griffin's eldest son joined the Army for all the reasons listed on recruitment posters. He wanted to serve his nation and straighten himself out in the process.
He became a soldier's soldier: never disobeyed an order and went beyond the call of duty. He served two tours in Iraq and was awarded a Bronze Star with Valor for dragging a fellow soldier to safety through a hail of enemy gunfire.

The father who had avoided the draft during Vietnam by joining the National Guard understood that the Army was his son's way of helping others.

He had been a rebellious child and often spent long hours in detention, where he read voraciously: Nietzsche, Descartes, Herodotus, Plato. In Iraq, he would rely on intellectual writings to ponder lofty concepts like what constitutes a just war.

Both Griffin men had misgivings about Iraq and whether it was the right place to battle radical Islam.

Skip began a conversation with his father.

What would it feel like to kill?
"The whole thing about philosophy is that it leads to more questions," Griffin recalled. So it was OK for his son, the tough staff sergeant who had the words "Malleus Dei" ("God's hammer") stenciled on his equipment, to question the war.

At his father's urging, Skip began to record his experience. He started a blog.

He snapped a photo of the first man he shot: 12:33 p.m. April 21, 2006, according to the time stamp on his camera. The man wore a blue sweater and a white jacket that turned crimson.

Skip spoke to his father, often in e-mails, about that kill, about every subsequent one and about all the ugliness he witnessed in a faraway land.

December 9, 2006: "This is no way for a human being to live; living with violence and intrigue on every street corner, where you can't even trust your own neighbors for fear that they might be someone on the opposing side. Once again I had to push this heartbreaking thought deep into my heart because I was a Squad Leader leading nine heavily armed young men and trying to bring them home alive."

Several weeks later, Skip's unit was in the thick of battle in the Shiite heartlands of Najaf and Karbala. He wrote home about "apocalyptic" battles in which he saw "hundreds of blown apart bodies."

January 30, 2007: "Dad, I have seen what hell must be like when we assaulted this compound. ... There were fathers bringing up their dead babies to me and shoving them into my arms for help."

When Skip came home on leave, father and son talked over a bottle of Merlot. Griffin noticed what so many other parents do about their war-weary children. Skip was as loving as ever, but the killing had changed him.

"He seemed to have a need to constantly play certain scenes over again in our conversations," Griffin would later write. "As we dissected these scenes into smaller and smaller pieces, his feelings of guilt began to percolate to the surface. Still, he always ended every talk with: 'Dad, I love you.' "

Skip wanted to pen a book of his musings on war. But his work was left unfinished when he was felled by a sniper's bullet March 21, 2007.

Embedding with his son's unit

After the funeral, Griffin knew that he had to finish the book as a final gift to his son. He also knew that it would have to be radically different than the philosophical essays Skip had envisioned. It would have to focus on Skip's death.

From the military, Griffin had received skimpy incident reports and the results of an autopsy. The only way he could fully tell his son's story would be to travel to Iraq and spend time with Skip's unit.

"I had to do it," Griffin said. "My life was incomplete. My son's life was incomplete."

Griffin wrote to everyone he could think of to enlist help, including Gen. David Petraeus, then the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq. Petraeus told Griffin that he was asking for the near-impossible, especially since military operations in Iraq were in high gear.

Amazingly, a few weeks later, Griffin found himself on a C-130 transport plane from Kuwait to Baghdad. He would join Skip's unit in the 2-3 Stryker Brigade, at a base near the Baghdad airport.

"I was very impressed by Mr. Griffin's determination and commitment to finish what his son had begun and to spend time with his son's former unit to do it," Petraeus told CNN. "In my view, his situation was truly unique, and thus it was one in which we decided to make an exception to normal practice."

Griffin landed in Baghdad with a fear that transcended roadside bombs and mortar rounds. How would his son's unit treat him? What would he say? What would he ask?

He took care to refer to his son as "Griff." That's how his Army buddies knew him. He slept on a cot in a metal containerized housing unit just as his son had. He heard the gravel crunch under his boots as he walked through the base, following his son's footsteps.

Despite the awkwardness, the soldiers opened up. Griffin could tell they were hurting, too. "It was bound up in them," Griffin said. "They wanted to talk about it and get it out." Sometimes, they shut the video camera off and just cried together.

Griffin's commitment to the book helped shield him from the painful details he was about to learn, the story of his son's last day.

Skip was standing in the hatch of a Stryker armored vehicle, just 15 minutes outside the gates of the base. The familiar rat-a-tat of small arms fire filled the air. Confusion reigned. Sgt. Christopher Pacheco noticed that Skip's legs were limp.

The soldiers pulled his body back into the vehicle and desperately wrapped his head with gauze to stop the blood. Skip's breathing was labored, erratic.

He was transported to a combat hospital but died before he could be airlifted to Balad Air Base, where a specialist in head trauma waited.

"Last Journey: A Father and Son in Wartime" has received warm reviews. In the seventh year of the war, myriad books on Iraq have sprouted on store shelves. But this has been lauded for its unique voice.

These days, Griffin attends events celebrating his work and regularly visits Skip's grave at Los Angeles National Cemetery, where a headstone reads:

"Darrell Ray Griffin Jr

S Sgt

U.S. Army. Iraqi Freedom

Mar 13 1971 - Mar 21 2007


Beloved husband son and brother"

The elder Griffin is glad he fulfilled his promise and was able to tell his son's story beyond the facts spelled out on a cold grave. He looks to the heavens and knows his son is smiling down at him, saying "Dad, we did it."

September 15, 2009

3/7 Wraps Up Training at MCMWTC With FINEX

MARINE CORPS MOUNTAIN WARFARE TRAINING CENTER BRIDGEPORT, Calif. – The Marines and Sailors of 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, wrapped up their training evolution at Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center Bridgeport, Calif., with a final exercise Sept. 1 through Sunday.


Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, Twentynine Palms
Story by Cpl. Robert Kyle
Date: 09.01.2009
Posted: 09.15.2009 12:56

The FINEX was a culmination of the past three weeks of training the battalion conducted here, which included mountain mobility training and Afghan culture classes.

Each company in the battalion was assigned to areas of operations throughout the training center.

Company K was assigned to cover six-kilometer area of operations filled with fields, streams and thick woods, known as Landing Zone Penguin.

The company was responsible for the security and well-being of the inhabitants of a small, simulated village located in the heart of the LZ surrounded by enemy insurgent activity, and faced several issues like construction and water needs.

1st Lt. Gustavo Martinez, the Co. K commanding officer, said the villagers did not welcome the Marines' presence at first, but quickly grew to understand his company was there to help.

"The biggest thing I learned from this training was the cultural aspects of the Afghans, and the do's and don'ts with the Afghan role players, said Martinez, a Stockton, Calif., native.

Martinez took part in several key leader engagements with the village elders to discuss the issues facing the village and said he admired the way Afghans conduct meetings.

"One thing I found interesting was how the elders never cut straight to business," he said. "We always asked about family, friends and other things before we talked about the village's problems."

Sgt. Nick Brandau, an instructor with the Unit Training Group here, said Martinez and the rest of the company stood out from other companies in the battalion.

"Everything went well with [Co. K]," said Brandau, a Topeka, Kan., native. "They set up security well in and around the village, and worked really well with the villagers to establish teamwork."

Not everything went so smoothly for other companies in the battalion.

In another village, a firefight broke out, which ended in civilian casualties. Word of the incident quickly reached the villagers in LZ Penguin, but was put to rest by Martinez during an early morning meeting with the village elders.

"You can't apologize for the actions of war," said Martinez after the meeting. "You can only justify your actions. If we apologized for our mistakes we'd never get anywhere."

Pfc. Eric Harsy, a rifleman with Co. K, said he enjoyed the different types of training he received here.

"I really liked learning the subtle differences between the Iraqi and Afghan people," said Harsy, a Madison, Wis., native. "The survival classes and mountain mobility classes were all good training, but I'll be happy to be back in Twentynine Palms."

The battalion made its way back to the Combat Center Wednesday, and is slated to continue training for an upcoming deployment next year.

Corps to launch new ad campaign

Staff report
Posted : Tuesday Sep 15, 2009 21:36:18 EDT

The Marine Corps will launch a new TV advertising campaign Saturday during the Florida-Tennessee college football game on CBS, focusing on what it takes to become a Marine, recruiting command officials said.

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11th MEU, Bonhomme Richard ARG to deploy Friday

Staff report
Posted : Tuesday Sep 15, 2009 19:49: EDT

OCEANSIDE, Calif. — About 4,500 Marines and sailors will deploy from San Diego on a scheduled deployment to the Western Pacific and Persian Gulf regions, Navy officials said Tuesday

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September 14, 2009

2/8 Marine Regiment Mortars Shower Improvised Explosive Device Planters, Patrol Investigates Before Shura

COMBAT OUTPOST SHER, Helmand Province, Afghanistan – With no regard for civilian life, the Taliban have been placing improvised explosive devices in roads, farmland and canals. The weapon has proved to be one of the most effective weapons in the Taliban arsenal


Story by Sgt. Scott Whittington
Date: 09.09.2009
Posted: 09.14.2009 01:55

Marines have been using their keen eyes and intelligence gathered from the civilian populace to locate bomb emplacements and the planters in the act.

Marines with Company E, 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment observed a group of Taliban IED planters, placing the explosive mid-morning Sept. 9. In reply, mortarmen with Weapons Company fired a series of 81 mm mortars in concert with Howitzers fired by Marines from 3rd Battalion, 11th Marine Regiment.

"The enemy could be clearly seen planting the explosives, lacing a tree line and rolling out wire," said Capt. Eric A. Meador, commanding officer. "They were also carrying AK-47s."

"It's nice knowing I'm getting rid of the enemy," said Cpl. Christopher R. O'Rourke, mortarman, Weapons Company, and Mobile, Ala., native. "It's one less enemy that's around to hurt our guys."

Following the shots, an AH-1W Super Cobra attack helicopter and a UH-1N Huey gunship flew over the area and rained down 20 mm machine gun fire and rockets on the insurgents' location. Once the dust and smoke had cleared, it was estimated four insurgents had died in the attack. The ones that survived the initial attack were seen fleeing the area. A squad of Marines and a few attached elements trekked outside the wire here to investigate shortly afterwards. An hour later, those Marines detonated the first of six IEDs they found. They also discovered a house containing IED building materials.

"The enemy doesn't seem to care who they hurt," said Lance Cpl. Mathew C. Price, 21, a squad automatic weapon gunner from Springville, Ala., who was on the patrol. "I'm just glad we found them before one of us or a little kid tripped them."

This attack came just four hours before the district governor and 2/8's battalion commander, Lt. Col. Christian Cabaness, were to attend a shura here to address villagers' concerns and discuss the future of the area.

"Security for the shura is more important than killing Taliban," said Meador. He added that building relationships with the people is the most important mission for the Marines.

This area of Helmand is notorious for Taliban activity and one of the major concerns of the villagers is road safety and the Taliban presence. Marines have engaged enemy targets nearly every day since the battalion's helo insertion July 2 at the beginning of Operation Khanjar.

So far, the Marines have found more than 35 IEDs in the area, using scanning equipment and information provided by the local villagers.

"It was great that we caught them in the act," said Gunnery Sgt. William C. Broadbent, company gunnery sergeant. "We saved Marines' lives."

Last week, a Marine Combined Anti-Armor Team captured five IED planters in the eastern desert area and with today's attack, the Marines grow closer to ridding the area of Taliban insurgents and restoring peace to the region

September 12, 2009

Mountain training prepares docs for Afghanistan

By Gidget Fuentes - Staff writer
Posted : Saturday Sep 12, 2009 9:09:46 EDT

PICKEL MEADOW, Calif. — With more Navy medical personnel on track to deploy to Afghanistan, officials at the Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center are injecting more reality into the center’s mountain medical courses.

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54 Hours of Valor: female Marine awarded Combat V

First Lt. Rebecca M. Turpin received the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal with Combat Distinguishing Device at Combat Logistics Battalion 3’s Warriors’ Field Sept. 4, for her actions under enemy fire during the battalion’s last deployment to Afghanistan from October 2008 to May 2009.


9/12/2009 By Lance Cpl. Alesha R. Guard, Marine Corps Base Hawaii

Although categorized as a supporting unit, CLB-3’s triumphant efforts to carry out their mission while under enemy attack provides an example of the vital role of every Marine, regardless of their Military Occupational Specialty.

The First Hour (Daily Dose)

First Lt. Rebecca M. Turpin woke up to her alarm at 1:30 a.m. after a couple hours of restless sleep. She was in the third month of her first deployment, and today she would be leading her second convoy as a platoon commander for Motor Transportation Company, CLB-3. She was nervous, but confident.

For Turpin, it was just another day in theatre, and she looked forward to getting her daily dose of motivation – working with her Marines.

The Second Hour (80 Miles To Go)

Combat Logistics Patrol 1 departed Forward Operating Base Bastion in Southern Helmand Province, Afghanistan, at 4 a.m. for what they thought would be a standard day-long cross country movement to FOB Musa Qalah, more than 80 miles away. Regularly providing the six functions of logistics to five forward operating bases and three combat outposts, the battalion’s mission that day was to provide logistical support including supplies and maintenance to Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 8th Marines, as well as supplies for United Kingdom troops.

“If our Combat Logistics Patrols did not deliver necessary supplies and services, capabilities would be severely reduced,” Turpin said. “Our missions had to be successful, especially because of the limited supplies and equipment in the [area of operation] at the time. Every Marine in the patrol knew this and they always put mission accomplishment first.”

The Seventh Hour (Off Roading)

The 18-vehicle convoy, consisting of Medium Tactical Vehicle Replacements (MTVRs) and Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles (MRAPs) started heading north toward Wadi after exiting Route 1 (the only paved road in Afghanistan), to begin their rocky off-road journey through sand dunes, dry river beds and gravel.

“All of the FOBs are located off Route 1, so you have to drive through the desert to reach them on open terrain,” Turpin said. “The MTVRs and MRAPs make about a foot wide track so it’s very obvious when a patrol has been through terrain. Therefore, each time we went on a mission we would take a different off-road route, because if they see tracks, [the enemy will] plant IED’s nearby.”

Shortly after leaving the paved road, an improvised explosive device hit vehicle nine, destroying the driver side wheel.

“Turpin immediately provided direction on immediate actions to cordon the site, sweep for secondary devices, and have the Explosive Ordnance Disposal team assess the site,” wrote Lt. Col. Michael Jernigan, commanding officer, CLB-3, in his award reccomendation. “EOD found two additional IEDs, and she directed them to exploit the IED for intelligence and then destroy them in place in order to continue with the patrol.”

The only thing Turpin remember’s going through her mind was that she didn’t want any of her Marines getting hurt. As the convoy pushed on, Turpin continued to think ahead, planning for the patrol’s next move.

The 15th Hour (Deja Vu)

Eight hours later, the patrol was still pushing forward, with the rich darkness of the night limiting visibility, even with night vision goggles.

“I’ve never used NVGs more than on that patrol,” Turpin said. “I was constantly looking around asking myself – are there people moving in that village; are we coming up on a tough crossing point?”

Suddenly, another IED exploded, hitting vehicle one of the convoy. It destroyed the attached mine roller, littering the surrounding area with metal fragments, making it impossible to sweep for secondary IEDs.

“Lt. Turpin directed the sweeping to the rear of the vehicle and had it reverse in its own tracks in order to remove the vehicle out of the danger area and not endanger more Marines,” Jernigan said.

Turpin then coordinated with higher headquarters to have a new mine roller delivered via a United Kingdom helicopter support team. While Turpin ordered the immediate sweeping and clearing of a hasty helicopter landing zone, 2nd Platoon, Motor Transportation Company, CLB-3 worked together at Bastion to assemble the mine roller for external lift to the convoy.

“The United Kingdom’s British forces were wonderful,” Turpin said. “If I could work with them again, I’d love to.”

The 24th Hour (No Sleep ‘Til Musa Qalah)

After the convoy received and installed the new mine roller, Turpin continued leading the mission forward, pressing on without sleep. At this point, Turpin said she realized that leading the mission was much like the Obstacle course - she knew she’d simply have to take one event on at a time.

“Marines are the most impressive people I have ever encountered, and being given the opportunity to lead Marines and work with them, especially under the most challenging circumstances, is my motivation,” Turpin said.

The 35th Hour (Sinking Feeling)

Around the halfway point of the convoy’s trek, the patrol began making its way through a medium-sized village with men farming their land and children playing soccer in the streets. Shortly after entering the village, the routine movement was interrupted.

“The men in the village began rushing the women and children into the houses and began gathering; I had a sinking feeling when I saw this,” Turpin said. “I heard my gunner yell, ‘RPG!’ and heard the RPG strike our refueler's engine block, disabling the vehicle.”

The hit initiated a complex attack with small arms fire and several more RPG’s from multiple firing positions from covered areas in the village.

An RPG struck the engine of Vehicle 15, the refuel MTVR, resulting in a mobility kill.

“It’s like a huge crack that you can feel in your chest,” Turpin said of the RPG’s.

Turpin immediately ordered return fire and directed the lead vehicles to pull back out of the kill zone, form a security perimeter around the downed vehicle and rig it for tow.

As two of the vehicles became disabled, Turpin directed the patrol to provide cover for the Marines rigging and towing one vehicle and repairing the air compressor on the other. Only later would Turpin find out the Marines took a smashed soda can to cover the bullet hole in the compressor to create a seal, returning air to the brake lines, miraculously fixing the vehicle.

“I was like, ‘You guys are amazing,’” Turpin said to the innovative Marines.

As the convoy returned fire and suppressed the enemy, Turpin wrote to the Combat Operations Center at Bastion, “Troops In Contact!”

“[Then] our Joint Tactical Air Controller coordinated our air support with Cobra helicopters and other fixed-wing air support that were redirected to our position,” Turpin said. “Our machine gunners engaged the positively identified fighting positions, and once all vehicles were able to roll, we moved out of the valley.”

The Cobras escorted the two wreckers through the valley as they expertly traversed the terrain while pulling the MTVR’s.

“The Marines driving the wreckers were so experienced and they made the vehicles accomplish some amazing feats,” Turpin said.

The 37th Hour (Out Of The Valley)

After the Marines completed repairs and tow rigging, Turpin moved to the lead vehicle for better visibility of the terrain and controlled the movement of direction in order to break contact. She directed the convoy to pull back from the village; however, the two wreckers, each pulling a downed MTVR, could not traverse the terrain. Turpin then utilized the Cobras to scout better egress routes for the wreckers. Once a route was found, she ordered the wreckers and two security vehicles to take the new course, splitting her platoon.

“The Marines never gave up and just worked through any problem we encountered, especially those mechanical and equipment issues,” Turpin said. “The Marines are incredible at doing the most with the least, and thinking outside the box to get the job done.”

Once half the patrol was out of the valley, suddenly the rear of the convoy was attacked with four RPGs and machine gun fire.

“I was just thinking, ‘We have got to get these Marines out of this valley,” Turpin said. “The more that happened, the initial shock begins to wear off and you get into the zone of dealing with the problem at hand.”

Turpin directed four separate ‘gun runs’ from the Cobras which released four 10 x 2.75-inch high explosive rockets and two-hundred 20 mm rounds of ammunition, eliminating the enemy threat located within nearby trench lines and an irrigation tunnel complex. She broke contact and again continued the CLP-1's mission.

“While still engaged, she was able to calmly redirect the movement of the convoy to take a different direction and still give guidance to the air officer for air support,” said Gunnery Sgt. Isaac Hart, platoon sergeant, Motor Transport Company, Combat Logistics Battalion 3.

The 54th Hour (Two And A Half Days Later)

More than two days after its beginning, the patrol reached its destination, arriving at FOB Musa Qala at 10:30 a.m., Dec. 15. Fighting fatigue, Turpin then carried out the mission of supply distribution and maintenance as well as directed the repairs of the downed vehicles.

Five days later, CLP-1 made its way back to Camp Bastion with no other incidents.

“Throughout the mission, Lieutenant Turpin led by example and set the standard of calm under fire,” Jernigan wrote. “She ensured that her Marines effectively fought their way out of dangerous situations and completed her logistics resupply mission. Her efforts ensured the delivery of vital combat logistics support to FOB Musa Qalah while eliminating several enemy threats along the way.”

Turpin said it was the Marines' actions during the two and a half day patrol which enabled mission success and ensured the safe return of all personnel.

“No matter how long the patrol went on, how tired and hungry the Marines and corpsmen were, they did everything they were asked to do and more,” Turpin said. “They supported one another, each did their own part, and by all elements of the patrol working so fluidly and efficiently, this patrol concluded with zero casualties. I think that the success of a logistics patrol is not measured when everything goes perfectly, but by how the Marines and corpsmen react and behave when everything goes wrong.”

Turpin humbly said receiving the medal meant her superiors saw fit to award her for doing the job she was assigned to do.

“I am honored by the award, but feel that I was completing my assigned duties as per my billet, by directing the Marines and corpsmen that themselves completed the mission and made our deployment a success,” Turpin said.

Since February 2003, a total of 12 female Marines have received the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal with a Combat “V.” Turpin is the seventh female company grade officer to be awarded this medal and device.

September 11, 2009

The children of 9/11 on the frontline

Eight years ago they were boys, now they're fighting in Afghanistan
Eight years ago today 2,974 people died in the September 11 attacks. It led the western world into a war on terror that British and American soldiers are still battling out today. Many of Echo Company, 2nd Battalion, 8th Marines, now stationed in the US Marines’ most remote outpost in Helmand, Afghanistan, were just children when the World Trade Center was attacked - but they still remember where they were.


By Terri Judd in Mian Poshtay, Helmand
Friday, 11 September 20

Lance Corporal Kody Torok, 19, of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (USMC)
Kody Torok had just turned 11 when the school principal came into class to explain that the Twin Towers had been hit in a terrorist attack.
"I didn't really understand the magnitude of it. I had never heard of the World Trade Center and definitely didn’t know where Afghanistan was. I just remember the parents starting to pull other kids out of school. I went home and watched the news."

But from that day, he insisted, he knew he was gong to join up, following in the footsteps of his grandfather who served as a Marine in World War II. At 17, he signed up.

"The whole day of September 11 I wanted to defend my country. I wished I was older so I could go and join. I still remember it. I think of it every time we go out on patrol.

"It is good to come out here and fight people who are associated with the people who masterminded the attacks. It makes me feel good."

But he said he saw a wide division between those that had been firing at them almost every day for the past two months and those who were simply trying to survive in this lethal environment.

"We are here to help these people, so that their little kids can walk around safely."

Private First Class Janos Lutz, 21, Davie, Florida (USMC)
Janos Lutz can remember the television images of Afghans cheering the attacks on the World Trade Center when he was a 13-year-old boy.

"I always wanted to join the military but that pretty much set it in stone. It makes it a little bit personal, especially today. I hope we get into a pretty big fight."

A youngster with a passion for the history channel, he already knew not only of Afghanistan but the Taliban when the attack happened.

"I remember New York a few months afterwards. It was very, very weird. There were National Guardsmen in fatigues. It felt like martial law."

Like many of his fellow young Marines he insisted that day still remained in their mind but not as keenly as the loss of a close friend, Lance Corporal Charles "Seth" Sharp, killed on 2nd July.

"All the mortars on the 3rd July said For Sharp. We still talk about September 11, about where we were. But you fight for your friend. And we fight so the people round here can have their lives back. I don’t think the people back home get it at all."

Specialist Rabmal Sadal, 23, Santa Maria, California (US Army)
Rabmal Sadal was brought us as a child in Afghanistan and says he will always remember landing back at Bagram Airbase, Afghanistan, on 3 May 2009.

"I remember it was 2am and I wrote in my diary 'My first day back'. When the sun rose on the mountains covered in snow. I thought it was one of the most beautiful things I had ever seen. My parents had told me stories about Afghanistan, about the mountains and it was breath taking. I will never forget it."

Born in Kabul, his family moved to California when he was a small child and September 11 had a dramatic personal impact.

"Two towns over from where I lived there was an Indian guy who got shot at a 7-11 (store) and killed. He wasn’t even a Muslim. I got into a couple of fights at school. My mum took me out of school for a couple of months. We stayed at home."

Today, he said he is proud to be the Pashtu speaker for the Marines, their "eyes and ears", as his family more than most understand the cruelty of the Taliban.

He also has an even greater sympathy for the local people and a drive to create a peaceful world for them.

A proud American, his deployment has nevertheless engendered feelings of returning to his roots.

"I see the food and it is something I would eat at home. They make the bread the same way my Mom would make it except she makes it in a modern oven."

Lance Corporal Joshua Apsey, 19, Tampa, Florida (USMC)
Joshua Apsey had just turned 11 when he watched Air Force One, taking President George Bush, from Sarasota to Washington on 11 September 2001, pass above the playground at Progress Village Middle School.

"I saw a clip of the Marines training. People were saying it was the best option to send in the Marines. It looked pretty cool and exciting. That’s when I decided I was going to join. The day I turned 17 I swore in."

"At first it was all about glory and respect. It didn’t take long for that to go away. Now it is all about family and making sure the people around you have happy lives."

The son of a police officer, who had enjoyed a pretty shielded upbringing, his only knowledge of war was watching films and video games with his best friend. Today they are both mortar men serving in Combat Operating Post Sharp in Afghanistan.

"I don’t really think about September 11. To be honest sometimes I have no idea why we are here and other times I know it is to help the people. In America we have this feeling, this calling to police the world. We feel it is our job. I can understand that. I can see why we are here to help people."

Lance Corporal Nicholas Elliott, 20, Columbus, Ohio (USMC)
Twelve-year-old Nicholas Elliott remembers his band teacher at Dublin Sciota High School telling him the about the attack.

"I didn't know what the World Trade Center was. In seventh grade I had no idea I would end up here. In seventh grade I was more worried about what the girls thought about me than anything else."

But throughout his childhood, the legacy of September 11 2001 resonated. Having settled on a military career at 15, he joined up two years later. But his parents refused to co-sign his application if he joined the infantry so he became a radio operator.

"There were a few guys buried in the cemetery in my town and at school we would have a big assembly each year to recap on what happened. My mom had a friend in the Pentagon, a few offices from where they got hit. He survived but it was close."

That day may be a distant and fading memory but it still provides the simplest answer as to why he is in Afghanistan.

"It seems like so long ago but I just know why I am here. It means more that I am over here and I am actually fighting for what happened."

Petty Officer 3rd Class Sam 'Doc' Walters, 21, Seattle, Washington (US Navy)
For Sam Walters it is a tragedy closer to home that drives him forward. When Lance Corporal Charles "Seth" Sharp, a 20-year-old from Georgia known for his irrepressible sense of humour, was shot in the neck on the day the Marines landed in Mian Poshtay – the most southern outpost in Helmand, it was Hospital Corpsman Walters who tried in vain to save his life.

"I was one of the last people to treat him. When he died I carried his body on to the chopper. It is not that I do not think about September 11 but when I feel aggression that's not the thing that comes to mind."

Sam Walters was the son of an American father and Greek mother growing up in Thessalonika when the United States was hit by its worst terrorist attack. At school he received sympathy from some as well as gloating from those who believed America had it coming.

At the age of 19, he moved to the United States and signed up. "September 11 is one of the reasons I joined up but not specifically. I was American and I couldn't express that."

Today, he insists he has a greater understanding of why he is in Afghanistan, it is less about revenge and more about driving the Taliban and following in his forefathers footsteps - from Gettysburg to Fallujah.

Nevertheless, he explained: "There are those who want to get back at those who did it. It is not a very educated or very modern point of view but it is primeval. You can't help it. After somebody hits me I am going to hit him back."

Lance Corporal Edgar Maza Machado, 22, Miami, Florida (USMC)
Originally from Columbia, Edgar Maza Machado admits to a real sympathy for the Afghans in this remote part of Helmand.

"Columbia is a beautiful place but there are a few ugly people who make it miserable. I look at Afghanistan and think it is a good place but some times the enemy makes it miserable. The first day we landed, 2 July, I looked down on the vegetation and the villages and thought this is actually a beautiful place. A couple of hours later there were gun shots. I thought 'They have got to go, they have got to go'."

Aged 14, L/Cpl Machado remembers the silence in his school the day of September 11, the fear of those who had family and friends in New York and the fact that his neighborhood streets, normally full of children playing basketball, were deserted.

"Noone was outside that day playing. Everyone was focused on the news, sitting in doors trying to make sense of the situation."

Today he insisted he would find some time to reflect on the events of that day.

"Some people feel sad, some people feel angry. My mood every time that the anniversary comes round is that I am just quiet. It still gets to me, the stupidity of people. It was one of the reasons I joined up. That and making something out of myself," explained the young man who dreams of opening his own restaurant.

Now renown in Echo company as their fastest mortar man, he said: "When we were in Iraq, I was thinking why are we here. I was confused. But Afghanistan makes a lot more sense."

Lance Corporal Mathew Price, 21, Springville, Alabama (USMC)
The fear and terror he saw on September 11 2001 and the worry of a friend whose father worked in the Pentagon, instilled in 13-year-old Mathew Price a life long hatred of terrorists.

"That's the whole reason we are here. When people say it sucks here, it is miserable, it is bullshit, I always take time to remember that. When I am bummed out or depressed, I remember why we are doing this. They hit us first, it is pay back."

He said he felt a strong sense of protecting family and friends back home.

"They hit us on American soil. We fight them over here. We choke them out, don't give them - al-Qa'ida or the Taliban - any room to breathe, put pressure on them so they cannot push out and expand. We will take the hit and let our families and friends back home stay safe. We keep the war on their land. If we sat back and did nothing, I don't doubt they would attack us."

But he said he had taken on board the complexity of the fact that, as well as targeting the Taliban, his job was to help the local people.

"Sometimes it is hard. We are here to help but you look at somebody and you don't know if three hours later he is the one shooting at you or if he is just a man trying to raise a family and grow his crops. It is hard deciphering the enemy from the local."

First Lieutenant Ted Hubbard, 25, Rye, New York (USMC)
A boarding school pupil on 11 September 2001, Ted Hubbard spent the whole day trying to find out if his family was safe.

"I felt I should have been there to help out but I was only 17 at the time. I was always patriotic but it certainly pushed me to join the military. At the back of my mind we are at war and I felt it was necessary to participate."

Far more than revenge, his job he said was to prevent a repeat of that day.

"It is not retaliation but preventing something like that happening again, to make Afghanistan for the people, to give them education and health care and a normal life so that their children have an option rather than becoming a terrorist."

He said he understood why many Americans were weary of seeing young men dying in wars abroad but felt strongly that if they gave up, it would come back to haunt them.

"We are Marines and it is our job. If they want to attack me that’s fine. I have a big support system, I have a gun. When they go after civilians that is unacceptable. That's why we don’t go after civilians."

He insisted his battle was with the Taliban, not the locals that inhabit this remote, agricultural area.

"I have no resentment to the local people. They are just poor people hoping to live their lives just like people on September 11 wanted to live their lives. People here had nothing to do with it. I am sure they have never heard of the World Trade Center."

Corporal Andrew Bryant, 21, Syracuse, New York (USMC)
As a New Yorker, Andrew Bryant felt the full force of the impact of September 11, the girls crying in his class and those who had families up in the city. For two weeks his school remained shut as local people volunteered to help out with the relief effort.

"I got home and my Mom was watching TV and crying really hard. Three friends had family at the World Trade Center. A guy in my class, his uncle died."

A lot of his friends, he explained, now had commemorative tattoos portraying the Twin Towers with flags and banners.

"Now I think the patriotism has died. People just want to get out of here. I think they have forgotten the anger and grief of 9/11. I wish they could see how real it is out here."

Taking the fight to the Taliban, he said, had given him a sense of relief.

"I am sure everybody back home will be thinking about it. My fiancée will see it on TV and think about the connection of me being out here.

"When you first join up you are all gung ho. But then you start thinking about your family and making it home. It boils down to the guy next to you. All I want to do is make it back along with all my guys."

September 10, 2009

Jefferson County Sheriff defends soldier's funeral procession

JEFFERSON COUNTY — The Jefferson County sheriff has offered a stern response to a woman complaining she was inconvenienced by a procession accompanying a soldier's casket.


staff and wire report / Sept 10, 2009 / St. Louis Post-Dispatch

The woman wrote an e-mail to Jefferson County Sheriff Glenn Boyer after she had a hard time driving around the procession escorting the casket of Sgt. William Woods, who was killed by Taliban fighters in Afghanistan.

Sgt. 1st Class William "Brian" Woods

In his response, Boyer called the complaint self-serving and noted that her inconvenience was of little consequence considering what America's soldiers go through.

Boyer's response has made its way to the Internet, where it is getting a strong reaction as it is e-mailed around the country by soldiers and military groups.

Boyer is a Vietnam veteran.

Boyer said he sent a copy of his response to the complaint internally to sheriff's department employees so they would know his position should the department receive similar complaints in the future. He assumes some of the employees sent it on to friends and colleagues. From there, it landed on military, police and news websites across the country.
Emails about soldier's funeral procession

Boyer estimates he has received more than 200 e-mails.

"She was a citizen who deserved an investigation and an answer to her complaint," Boyer said. "I wrote it from the heart. It took me about five minutes."

Boyer said he would not release the name of the woman who wrote the letter.

"It's not about releasing her name and allowing others to chastise her or cause her any more inconvenience," Boyer said. "What it's about is, making people understand that there are people willing to sacrifice their lives so they can complain about things like that."

September 9, 2009

Marines Scale Back Vests in Afghan Fight

DARVESHAN, Afghanistan -- Marine Corps command in Southern Afghanistan is scaling back protective body armor vest requirements in a move that trades less protection for improved mobility.


September 09, 2009
Military.com|by Kimberly Johnson

The decision by commanders to allow Marines to dress down their "scalable plate carrier" body armor to essential ballistic plates is as much to let them to combat extreme temperatures as it is to empower them with the mobility to take on Taliban insurgents, according to one top infantry officer.

The heat was the major factor for the Marines based in southern Helmand, who spend about 90 percent of their time patrolling on foot, explained 2nd Battalion, 8th Marines Commander Lt. Col. Christian Cabaniss.

Marines still wear the same plates, but for certain duties may now remove additional vest features, such as the cumbersome neck guard and groin protection, he said.

"What it does do is let heat escape,” Cabaniss said, then added. "When temperatures are around 130 degrees, heat is a major issue for me.”

The result is that in the months since their June deployment, Marines are getting used to the drastic temperatures and heat casualties are fewer, he said.

It was only about a year ago that the Corps turned to the lighter, Eagle Industries-made SPC vest after Marine Commandant Gen. James Conway publically panned the bulkier modular tactical vest during a visit with deployed troops.

"For the most part, we think the [SPC] vest has particular application in Afghanistan because, once again, if you're climbing up and down mountains you want to be protected, but you don't want to be weighed down so much that you're just going to be sapped," Conway said last year.

The decision to scale back on body armor doesn't apply to all Marines across the board, and it doesn't come without some additional risk.

"I was willing to accept a little bit of risk for fragmentation," Cabaniss said. "The bullet stopping power is all still there. But to me the heat was a greater threat. So in balancing, I've authorized that when they do foot mobile patrols they can wear a little less."

"I make decisions about body armor based on the mission and the threat to the Marines, and it's worked," Cabaniss explained.

Levels of body armor Marines wear is considered "mission specific," according to Maj. Thomas Garnett, executive officer for 2/8.

"At this point, our battalion commander has his policy of, if you're going to be in a MRAP [mine-resistant armor vehicle], doing missions where you're not going to be out foot mobile, then wearing more armor makes sense. They're air conditioned, and why wouldn't you want to wear something if you don't have to get out and be walking around a lot. It just gives you a little more protection," Garnett said.

"As far as a small-arms round hitting you, you have the exact same coverage where you wear your plates," Garnett said. The SPC's design and fabric allow increased ranges of movement, including the ability to easily swivel necks and heads, "which you need when you're out doing dismounted operations," he said.

Before deploying, the battalion Marines thought they would all be wearing the modular tactical vest, so everyone trained in them.

"It wasn't well liked," Garnett said. Marines on foot patrols routinely have to run from position to position, a task made more cumbersome by the bulkier MTV.

"The Marines are much more comfortable" in the SPC, he said. "Honestly, if you look at total weight difference, it's probably not that drastic for a fully combat-loaded Marine. It's more of the ability to let heat escape from your body out of a little bit more of an opening up towards your neck."

Improved mobility also means you don't have to put in as much physical effort to move, he said.

"Having a Kevlar turtleneck on, it's just not the most comfortable thing in the world," he added.

The SPC makes all the difference. "We've had guys walk 20 kilometers in all that gear and not one heat casualty," Garnett said.

Some Marines, however, like the vest for simple reasons.

"I like the plate carrier because I can tie my own shoes," said Cpl Evan Snead, an MRAP driver. "But it doesn't disperse the weigh like a MTV." Drivers such as Snead, and gunners, typically are all issued the MTV, he said. "I'm a walking Hesco barrier right now."

Kandahar World’s Busiest Single-Runway Airport

With the increase in forces in southern Afghanistan, Kandahar Airfield has become the busiest single-runway airport in the world.


9/9/2009 By Lance Cpl. Gregory Aalto, Marine Aircraft Group 40

Peaking in late May at an estimated 5,500 flights per week, the airfield has maintained more than 5,000 flights per week through June and July, said Col. Bill Buckey, the airfield's operations officer, a Marine augmented to NATO's International Security Assistance Force.

Previously, the busiest single-runway airport in the world was the London Gatwick Airport, averaging around 5,000 flights per week.

Marine Attack Squadron 214 "Black Sheep" and Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 352 Detachment A, both with Marine Aircraft Group 40, Marine Expeditionary Brigade-Afghanistan, are the only Marine aviation units solely based here.

Controlling the heavy amount of air traffic is Midwest Air Traffic Control, a contracted company from Kansas City, Mo., said Buckey, who is serving a six-month tour in Afghanistan's second-largest city.

"This is the first time NATO has ever owned a base this big. It's really amazing how everyone is cooperating. I'm pretty impressed," said Buckey, a native of Sacramento, Calif.

The total flights at Kandahar are also higher than some of the busiest airports in the world per runway.

London Heathrow Airport averages 4,600 flights per runway per week and Charles de Gaulle International Airport in Paris averages 2,700 flights per runway per week.

The numbers are skewed because unlike civilian airports, Kandahar has military fixed and rotary wing aircraft, unmanned aerial vehicles as well as civilian flights and light civil aircraft, said Buckey, who is also a trained F/A-18 Hornet pilot.

As operations in southern Afghanistan continue, the tempo for Kandahar Airfield will continue in order to provide aerial support to the International Security Assistance Force's counterinsurgency mission.

September 8, 2009

Dozens gather for Marine's homecoming

DENVER - It's been one month since Staff Sergeant Jesse Cottle was seriously injured in Afghanistan. In that time he has had six surgeries and lost both of his legs.


News video - Marine Homecoming

News video - A hero's welcome

posted by: Sara Gandy
September 8. 2009

Cottle was on his fourth tour of duty when he was injured in Afghanistan. The Marine had three previous tours in Iraq; this was his first in Afghanistan. Cottle was working to detonate roadside bombs when he was hit.

"When we initially got the report of his injuries they said they were bilateral amputations which means below the knees," Cottle's aunt, Teri Landreth said. "By the time they got him out of Afghanistan and into Germany they had to take one of his legs higher because they couldn't save one knee.

"And then by the time they got him to Bethesda they had to take the other one," she explained.

Cottle has most recently been recovering in Bethesda, Maryland where he will have to learn to walk again.

The Fort Collins resident was eager to take leave however, to be in Colorado for his aunt's upcoming wedding.

"Oh gosh, I'm finally getting married. So that's what he told his commanders. 'Well, if there's any way I could go home to see my aunt finally get married I would love to be able to do that,'" Landreth said.

On Tuesday morning, Cottle arrived at Denver International Airport in time for the wedding festivities.

The Marine was greeted with smiles, salutes, applause and even a bugle. More than 100 family, friends, veterans and strangers gathered at the airport to give Cottle a hero's welcome.

"I was warned of a little something but I was a little . . . especially right out of the elevator, 'Bam.' It was pretty surprising to say the least but it's very touching at the same time," Cottle said.

Cottle's northern Colorado community has been planning for his return with the help of dozens of community members and organizations including Loveland's country music station that helped spread the word of Cottle's homecoming.

Cottle will stay in Colorado through the weekend before heading off to San Diego to be fitted for his prosthetic legs.

First on Cottle's to do list when he gets home, "Crack open a cold beer."

Saluting a 'last great adventure'

Oh, it was a good life. A cushy life. Clean and comfy, polished and primped.


Nicole Brodeur
Seattle Times staff columnist
Tuesday, September 8, 2009

But it all left Adrienne Sardelli wanting.

So, a few weeks ago, she sold everything she owned, put her Bellevue town house on the market, shipped her car to her son in New York and moved to Baghdad, where she is one of six duty managers at the USO in Baghdad International Airport.

Think about that for a moment. One minute you're standing in your walk-in closet, perusing your business suits, and the next, you're in a trailer in the desert on the other side of the world, shlumphing into body armor.

One night you're sleeping in one of your three plush bedrooms, the next you're bunking in a 14- by 12-foot trailer with a stranger across the room.

As for the danger?

"I think there is always a chance of something happening to anyone," she said. "But I don't feel any more vulnerable here than I would walking around in America."

Sardelli, 57, is committed — just as her son Richard was when he joined the Marine Corps four years ago at age 19.

Sardelli didn't understand his decision at first; her father served in World War II, but the military was never a platform of their family's life.

Then Sardelli visited her son at Camp Pendleton, in California, where he finished basic training.

"You would be amazed at how many of these kids never had any support," she said. "Their parents were so against the war. ... My heart went out to them."

At the time, she was an executive assistant. She was busy, but wanted to stay connected to soldiers like her son, so she joined a "Marine mom" group in Issaquah, then volunteered at the USO center at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

Not long ago, her company folded. At the same time, she heard that there was a new USO center in Baghdad, and applied.

"I was scared, but I saw an amazing opportunity to do something that I am passionate about," she said.

The center, which opened July 4, is essentially two trailers: one with a bank of telephones that are direct-dial to the United States, and another with free Internet access and PlayStation systems. Soldiers also can choose from a library of books, record themselves reading one and then send the DVD, the book and a note to their children.

Care packages are "pouring in," and it is Sardelli's job to sort and distribute them, along with creating a "family atmosphere."

Most of us are pretty clear about our feelings on the war and the people who put us there. But when it comes to the troops, we struggle with what to do. Sardelli has taken a bold step that many of us wish we could take.

"I think everybody at home truly cares, but I don't think anybody has a true idea of what people are giving up to serve."

Some of the soldiers on the base are living in tents. The true sufferers are those in the forward operating bases who are sleeping in trenches. Some in Afghanistan are sleeping in caves.

"I look at all of these men and women and what they have given up to serve their country. ... We don't understand the extent of their sacrifice," she said.

With that in mind, what's a year of Sardelli's life for those who could lose theirs any day?

"It may be my last great adventure," she said. "And I am so humbled."

Marine's Award-winning Past Leads to His Significant Presence

CAMP AL TAQADDUM, Iraq - Prior to enlisting in the Marine Corps, every potential Marine sits down with a recruiter and picks out the reasons they want to join from a stack of colorful cards with the words travel, education and discipline, among others that describe most of the reasons someone would make the decision to commit.



2nd Marine Logistic Group Public Affairs
Story by Lance Cpl. Melissa Latty
Date: 09.08.2009

For Sgt. Justin D. Toren, a driver and operator for the 2nd Marine Logistics Group (Forward) commanding general's personal security detail, his reason was not in the cards. Toren joined during his junior year of high school after the terrorist attacks that occurred Sept. 11, 2001.

"I remember listening to the news on the radio on my way to school. They said we had been attacked, but they didn't have a lot of details," Toren said, reflecting back to his high school years. "I got to school and we watched the news in class. That's when I knew I was going to join the Marine Corps."

Toren, along with three friends from his class, enlisted shortly after the tragedy occurred.

Toren joined the Corps to become an infantryman. He said he wanted to be a machine gunner like his great uncle, who served in the Marine Corps from 1949 to 1953 and was a Korean War veteran.

Toren started his military career off successfully. At boot camp he was meritoriously promoted to the rank of private first class after breaking the overall record on the rifle range. Toren accredits his excellent marksmanship skills to his country-boy roots where he would take part in common shooting sports.

Immediately following his graduation from the School of Infantry at Camp Pendleton, Calif., where he received specialized training as a machine gunner, Toren was sent to Movement Company 4, 1st Marine Division. Four days after reporting to the unit in January 2003, he deployed to Iraq for the first time.

After setting foot in the desert, Toren was attached to 2nd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, where he assisted with building enemy prisoner of war camps throughout Iraq for two months.

Shortly after, he was reassigned to Company A, 1st Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, to be a combat replacement for fallen Marines. His experiences with the unit would later become a big part of Toren's life.

During his time with Alpha Company, Toren worked his way through the ranks, initially as an ammunition man, then to a gunner, and finally as a team leader.

Although combat engagements were not as common at that time in the war, the living conditions were not exactly what many U.S. service members are accustomed to today.

"It was rough living then; nothing like we have it now," he said. "We didn't have a base to come back to. We would take over an area that seemed secure and that's where we would sleep."

After 11 long months of being deployed, a special relationship had formed between the Marines.

"When I was first assigned to the company, we were known as just Alpha Company," Toren said. "After the invasion we had a name, we were known as the Alpha Company Raiders.

"We shared a bond unlike anything else," he continued. "From the inside looking out you can't explain it, and from the outside looking in, you will never know."

Sgt. Maj. Robert Young, the 3rd Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, sergeant major and Toren's former company first sergeant while with the Alpha Company Raiders, spoke of Toren's brave actions that helped save the lives of his comrades.

"While serving as a gunner for Company A, Toren did something that I have never seen before," Young said. "While receiving enemy fire, grenades were being thrown to the roof of the building where Toren and other fellow gunners had set up an overwatch position.

"He just kept throwing them back and firing at the enemy," Young continued. "Realizing the enemy was standing directly below him and outside of his field of fire, Toren inverted his M-240G medium machine gun, annihilating the enemy and securing the section's location."

Toren's heroic actions during this deployment made him stand out in the eyes of Young, as well as those of his peers.

"Toren is the machine gunner of machine gunners that I have ever known," Young said. "He is probably one of the toughest Marines I have ever encountered, and I would put him in my battalion any day."

It wasn't long after returning from his first deployment that Toren was packing up for his second.

In May 2004, Toren deployed with Battalion Landing Team, 1st Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment,attached to the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. He participated in Operation Danger Fortitude, an operation designed to establish and occupy Forward Operating Base Duke, and Operation Ripper Sweep, an operation intended to clear and secure the roads leading into the city of Fallujah.

"My second deployment was definitely more eventful than my first," Toren said. Toren's actions during his second deployment earned him a Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal with Combat Distinguishing Device.

He deployed once more with the Alpha Company Raiders before reporting to the 2nd Marine Logistics Group to be a Battle Skills Training School instructor, where he shared his knowledge with young Marines preparing for deployment.

Toren, who has a unit tattoo on his left forearm that reflects his pride of being an Alpha Company Raider, was once approached by one of the students in his class.

"This young Marine, fresh out of boot camp, came up to me asking if I used to be Lance Cpl. Toren," he said. "Looking at him pretty dumbfounded, he continued saying his company first sergeant in boot camp told him a story about a Lance Cpl. Toren who was with Alpha Raiders."

After sharing his story with the class, Toren noticed the Marines hung on to his every word as he finished the day's lesson.

"Anything I said, and everything I taught that day, I guarantee they will never forget it," he said.

The sergeant is now on his fourth deployment serving as a member of the PSD for the 2nd MLG (Fwd) commanding general. Toren, along with the 13 other PSD Marines and one Sailor, was chosen to guard the general because of his previous combat experience.

"Learning the job of being personal security was pretty difficult," Toren said. "After six years of being a grunt, your instinct is to push forward and gain ground in any combat situation. Now, it's all about one guy. You do whatever it takes to ensure his safety and then you get away from the threat. It's not an easy mission."

Toren's dedication to the job, however, ensures mission accomplishment, as shown through his actions during past deployments.

"Toren constantly demonstrates ingenuity when dealing with unconventional tasks," said Sgt. Harry Johnson, a fellow PSD Marine. "Often times you think you are about to be involved with a near impossible project, but with Toren you know that the job will be done."

Toren was recently combat meritoriously promoted to the rank of sergeant. His success in the Marine Corps has been a never-ending streak since recruit training.

Toren, a former farm hand and bull rider, said he has never once regretted his decision to join the Marine Corps.

"Up until September 11, the military wasn't even in the cards for me," he said. "That day changed my life, and I'm glad it did."

September 7, 2009

MarSOC battalion to take joint command

By Trista Talton - Staff writer
Posted : Monday Sep 7, 2009 10:58:20 EDT

CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. — Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command is about to mark another first.

To continue reading:


September 6, 2009

Change would streamline PTSD claims for vets

By Karen Jowers - Staff writer
Posted : Sunday Sep 6, 2009 8:16:30 EDT

The Department of Veterans Affairs is moving closer to simplifying the process for many veterans to link post-traumatic stress disorder to their military service, whether in a war zone or not, which opens the door for disability benefits.

To continue reading:


Inspectors to ensure Marine units police gear

By Dan Lamothe - Staff writer
Posted : Sunday Sep 6, 2009 8:17:08 EDT

The Corps is bringing back the Field Supply and Maintenance Analysis Office, an inspections organization that officials acknowledge had a reputation for harshly enforcing equipment accountability before it was phased out six years ago.

To continue reading:


Logistics Marines Recognized for Iraq, Afghanistan Service

CAMP LEATHERNECK, Helmand Province, Afghanistan – Leaders from Combat Logistics Company 151 and Combat Logistics Regiment 2 recognized 21 Marines Aug. 31 for their service in two different combat zones.



2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade
Story by Cpl. Aaron Rooks
Date: 09.05.2009

The Marines, who were awarded the NATO Medal and Afghanistan Campaign Medal, traveled to Helmand province, Afghanistan in early July after serving in Iraq's Al Anbar province for more than four months while assigned to Combat Logistics Battalion 4, 2nd Marine Logistics Group (Forward).

According to 1st Sgt. Charles Hutto, CLC-151 first sergeant, the logistics company from CLR-2, Marine Expeditionary Brigade-Afghanistan, came to Afghanistan with a smaller than normal staff, but soon realized that certain conditions required more maintenance Marines.

A harsher-than-expected environment, coupled with damage caused by combat operations, led MEB-Afghanistan leaders to conclude additional assistance was needed, and they turned to Marines serving in Iraq f or support.

"The Marines who came from Iraq allowed us to push a larger percentage of our Marines out to the forward operating bases as maintenance teams," Hutto said. "This helped prevent units from being forced to send their gear all the way back to Camp Leatherneck."

Col. John Simmons, the commanding officer of CLR-2, expressed gratitude to the Marines of CLB-4 for the assistance they were able to provide during a time when the operational tempo was at its peak.

The Marines from CLB-4 that were sent here are trained in all facets of maintenance, with expertise in vehicle, generator, heavy equipment, electronics, and weaponry maintenance.

Some of them even joined those of CLC-151 on trips out to various forward operating bases and combat outposts during their time in the brigade's area of operations.

"We were stoked," said Elkton, Md., native Cpl. Kevin Delancey, a generator mechanic who came from Iraq. "This is the hot spot for the action right now. This is where everyone in the Marine Corps wants to be."

Corpsmen ship nearly $3 million worth of supplies to Afghanistan

CAMP AL TAQADDUM, Iraq – As more U.S. troops are being sent to the fight in Afghanistan, the possibility of more troops being injured rises. To ensure those responsible for saving limbs and lives are equipped to handle such an enormous task, sailors with the 2nd Medical Logistics Company at Camp Al Taqaddum, Iraq, have sent about $3 million worth of medical supplies and equipment to the region.


September 6, 2009
Gunnery Sgt. Katesha Washington

The shipment of the much-needed gear does more than just keep military doctors and corpsmen well-stocked to handle any emergency; it also helps to reduce the military’s footprint in Iraq. With millions of pieces of gear still left to ship out of Iraq, anything that can be retrograded back to the U.S. or to Operation Enduring Freedom will bring military planners one step closer to reducing its footprint in Iraq. But the major concern during the drawdown process, says Chief Petty Officer Adrian V. Dimla, the officer-in-charge of 2nd MEDLOG, is making sure he continues to support his own units in Iraq while also looking out for his fellow medical professionals in Afghanistan.

“The biggest challenge we face here at MEDLOG is continuing to receive and ship gear and equipment in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, while at the same time continuing to sustain the units within Multi National Force – West,” he said.

Some of the most sought-after items requested by military doctors and corpsmen in Afghanistan include pharmaceuticals, tourniquets, bandages and surgical gloves.
Dimla and his 13 junior sailors are honored to have the opportunity to help out their fellow hospitalmen even if they are thousands of miles away.

Since arriving to Al Anbar province in early March 2009, 2nd MEDLOG sailors have provided seamless logistical support to units throughout Iraq including its own command, the 2nd Marine Logistics Group (Forward), and its subordinate units. Their mission is to provide medical equipment and supplies to the Marine Air-Ground Task Force, as well as to provide logistical support to meet the requirements for missions such as disaster relief, humanitarian relief efforts and peacekeeping operations.
The logistics company currently has 14 sailors at Camp Al Taqaddum who are working from sunrise to sunset to consolidate the last pieces of gear and equipment before their replacements arrive in September.

Recently, they inspected, packaged and staged in preparation for shipment, 161 pallets, tri-wall boxes, and three, 40-foot International Organization for Standardization containers in order to make the transition with their counterparts easier and to prepare them for a successful tour. Traditionally, the incoming unit would handle a job that large, but Dimla explained that although he could have just left the work for them to do, it was important that he saw this project through to completion.

“[We did it] because it's the right thing to do. We started this retrograde process and have taken a lot of pride in the amount of gear that has been shipped out to OEF. The majority of this gear is leaving in the next few shipments and we will be able to see the completion of this task and make the transition smoother.”

As Dimla and his team prepare to end their seven-month deployment, they look back on their time in Iraq and know they’ve made a difference – in the overall mission of the U.S. military in Iraq and to their Navy brethren who are fighting to keep Marines alive in Afghanistan.

September 5, 2009

22nd MEU Marines Save Artificial Lives to Learn

CAMP BUEHRING, Kuwait – The sound of rifle shots crackle through the air. Explosions can be heard in the distance. Wounded men cry out for help, their blood seeping into the hard ground. Marines rush to the aid of the wounded, their training fresh in their minds. They can save these lives.


22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit Public Affairs
Story by Staff Sgt. Matthew Epright
Date: 09.05.2009

Like a scene out of a modern war movie, and just as simulated, Marines and Sailors from the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit used the Camp Buehring, Kuwait, Medical Simulation Training Center to test their Combat Life-Saver skills Aug. 25.

"They have mannequins that react like a live casualty, with respiration and a pulse. They blink and they bleed," said Petty Officer 1st Class Joseph Rawson, a hospital corpsman who trained the Marines in the CLS skills.

Fast-talking Philadelphia native Rawson said the Army's MSTC replaces the usual method of testing, which consists of Marines pretending to use first aid supplies on notionally wounded comrades.

"We really aren't allowed to practice a lot of stuff on each other," he said. "This gives them a little more visual feedback and it puts them a little more in the scenario."

That feedback is vital to teaching caregivers how to physically perform what they are taught in the classroom.

"The more hands-on training you can get on these skills, the better off the people are going to be," said training facilitator Lorenzo Saenz. "It needs to be second nature and muscle-memory is absolutely where it's at."

"It's good to actually see what you're doing," said Sgt. Timothy Wagner, a Marine with the MEU and native of Bellevue, Ohio.

Wagner, on his third deployment with the MEU, went through both the CLS training and the MSTC simulator last deployment. He said the sound effects were an effective addition over the previous training.

"This year, they did the noise simulations, so you know what to do when you're under fire," he said, explaining how he had to screen out the distractions. "You just patch up all the holes on the victim and just keep them alive and get them ready for casevac."

Rawson says it's all about training how you fight.

"If you train in the situation to where you can drown out surrounding noises, it just gets you in that mindset of how you're going to react to that casualty," he said.

He went on to explain he even had the Marines wearing their full combat load, with Modular Tactical Vests, Kevlar helmets and rifles, just to add to the level of realism.

"If you're not wearing the proper gear, you're not going to be able to figure out how it's going to hinder you, how you can work around it," Rawson said. "It was an opportunity for them to adjust themselves to a whole new set of skills."

Wagner says the training is excellent, not only for Marines like him who are constantly deployed, but for any Marine.

"You could be someone that is just at a training site, setting up tents. The wind blows, one of those tents breaks and a pole jabs through someone," he offered as an example. "What do you do?"

Corpsman with 2nd LAR killed in Afghanistan

Staff report
Posted : Saturday Sep 5, 2009 11:31:42 EDT

A Navy corpsman was killed Thursday while supporting Marines in southern Afghanistan, according to the Defense Department

To continue reading about Fallen Hero, Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Benjamin P. Castiglione, of the 2nd LAR:


Joint team to relocate entire Alaskan town

Staff report
Posted : Saturday Sep 5, 2009 8:52:35 EDT

The town of Newtok, Alaska — population 350 — is sinking. Rising Arctic temperatures mean the nearby Ninglick River is growing, the permafrost on which the town stands is melting, and the tiny village doesn’t have much time left.

To continue reading:


September 4, 2009

3/7 sends rounds down range at Hawthorne

MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. — Marines and sailors of Weapons Company, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, departed Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center Bridgeport, Calif., Aug. 24 to conduct live fire training exercises at the Hawthorne Army Ammunition Depot, Nev.


9/4/2009 By Cpl. R. Logan Kyle, Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms

The company spent the entire day Aug. 25 firing the M-240B medium machine gun, and the M-2 .50 caliber and MK-19 heavy machine guns.

“The Marines fired at targets anywhere from 900 to 2,000 meters away today,” said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Matt Carpenter, the battalion’s gunner. “These weapons can cover a lot of ground, and the Marines should have a lot of confidence in their abilities after this training.”

Pfc. Christopher Bass, a Tube-launched, Optically-tracked, Wire-guided missile gunner with Weapons Co., cross trained on the M-240B and said it was nice to get behind a machine gun again.

“With a TOW you pretty much aim and fire one round, and that’s it,” said Bass, a Slinger, Wis., native. “I like firing machine guns because they move around a lot more and give you a lot more feedback.”

The Marines fired from high and low angles of at least 30 degrees, maximizing the efficiency of the exercise, Carpenter said.

“Being high above or well below a target makes it harder to determine how far away it is,” said Carpenter, a Loysville, Penn., native. “On flat ground you can use the football field method to determine how far away a target is, but when you’re firing from high or low, you have to use other methods to put rounds on target and that’s what it’s all about.”

He said the mountainous desert Hawthorne provides is crucial in giving Marines the most realistic training possible.

“This area, based on its terrain, is an excellent site for machine gunners to train,” he said. “There are only a few units in the Marine Corps that have the opportunity to train in an area like this.”

The training was especially important to Cpl. Omar Salazar, a former administrative clerk, who lateral moved into infantry earlier this year.

“I’m taking a lot away from this training, not only from today but everything we’ve been doing here and in Bridgeport,” said Salazar, a Rosemont, Calif., native. “I’m just taking it all in and learning as much as I can.”

MCMWTC personnel also used the training to gather data to possibly put together a mountain machine gunner’s course in the future.

The unit returned to MCMWTC Aug. 26 and is currently engaged in the battalion’s final exercise.

100 Days in Helmand

They are not the first Marines in Afghanistan, nor are they the first Marines in Helmand province. Combined Task Force-58, the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, Task Force 2/7, Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force-Afghanistan, Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command … these Marine units have also trod the unforgiving ground of southern Afghanistan


US Marine Corps News
9/4/2009 By MEB-Afghanistan, Public Affairs Office

But on May 29, 2009, Col. Duffy White, commanding officer of SPMAGTF-Afghanistan, transferred control of the battlespace to Brig. Gen. Larry Nicholson, commanding general of Marine Expeditionary Brigade-Afghanistan. Thus began a new chapter in Marine Corps expeditionary operations as the 10,000-strong MEB, nicknamed Task Force Leatherneck, began planning for decisive operations while Marines secured perimeters and crews of Seabees tackled the challenges of creating forward operating bases at sites that had been nothing but dust days before.

Sept. 6 marked 100 days since MEB-Afghanistan assumed control of its battlespace, and in that time, the landscape that greeted the brigade in May has changed considerably. Four thousand Marines, in conjunction with Afghan National Security Forces, poured into the Helmand River valley July 2 to commence Operation Khanjar (Strike of the Sword) to protect the populace from insurgents, criminals and narco-traffickers who had, until then, kept the area in a destabilized condition.

Four forward operating bases, 10 combat outposts, six patrol bases, and four ancillary operating positions, helicopter landing zones and an expeditionary airfield have replaced miles of stones and sand throughout Farah, Helmand, Kandahar and Nimruz provinces, many in circumstances as challenging as the senior Marine here has ever seen.

“I’ve had the great honor and privilege of being able to visit routinely our Marines living in the most rugged and Spartan conditions out at the front,” said Nicholson. “Those Marines don’t have a lot of creature comforts … and this is tough, this is hard work.”

Lt. Col. Matthew Kolich’s unit, Regimental Combat Team 3, is responsible for operations in southern Helmand province, an area known as a Taliban stronghold. He sees the results of the Marines’ efforts in increased interaction with locals and more frequent visits by the provincial and district governors.

“The local nationals are starting to come over to our side,” said Kolich, assistant operations chief for RCT-3. “The Taliban are on their last legs in some areas ... Locals are capturing Taliban and turning them over to Afghan security forces. Over the last few weeks, we have been able to make huge strides in freedom of movement.”

The Marines and sailors of Marine Aircraft Group 40, the brigade’s aviation combat element, have helped facilitate the improvements since the brigade’s arrival. The group’s aircraft have flown almost 12,000 flight hours providing airborne tactical and logistical support.

While the pilots and aircrews conduct the assault support, close-air support, strikes on targets and crucial resupply operations, there is a behind-the-scenes element working 24/7 to make sure the aircraft are ready for the steady flow of tasks they are assigned in support of the MEB and other ISAF forces. Aviation maintenance personnel have completed more than 18,000 maintenance hours since the group first arrived in Helmand.

Col. Kevin Vest, commanding officer of Marine Aircraft Group 40, said the staggering workload shouldered by the ACE is easy to explain.

“Our accomplishments here are a testament to the efforts of our Marines and the leadership of our staff NCOs,” said Vest. “In the harshest conditions I’ve ever seen for aviation, with no shelter, they work day and night, in blowing sandstorms trying to maintain these extremely complicated machines. Their work is inspirational.”

The logistical requirements have been as daunting in the MEB’s area as anywhere. Marine Wing Support Squadron 371 arrived in theater during March 2009 as the first element of the MEB and conducted Reception, Staging, Onward Movement & Integration (RSO&I;) as well as Camp Commandant functions for all MEB-Afghanistan forces flowing into theater.

Working together with Naval Maintenance Construction Battalions 5 and 8, the MWSS “Sand Sharks” coordinated the use of heavy equipment, conducting a swap of personnel at dusk and dawn to ensure 24-hour construction operations of the Camp Bastion Airfield’s parking expanse made with aluminum matting, also known as AM2.

MWSS personnel also continued to prep the battlefield by conducting HLZ site surveys at the multiple FOBs and COPs throughout the area of operations providing expert assessments and ensuring a safe flight and landing environment for Marine aviators. In some cases, the fine sand of Afghanistan caused dangerous “brown-out” conditions, rendering some sites unusable until MWSS-371 established safe and secure HLZs. At Camp Dwyer, the Sand Sharks also completed an assault strip, an expeditionary airfield built on top of the harsh Helmand desert floor that can accommodate the Marine Corps’ biggest fixed-wing asset, the KC-130J Hercules.

The Sand Sharks’ AM2 construction projects were the largest ever built in a combat zone, and the Bastion expanse is the largest continuous AM2 expanse anywhere, according to squadron Commanding Officer LtCol. Dave Jones.

“(We’ve) witnessed the mental attitude of the Marines and sailors change from an attitude of ‘Where do we begin?’ to one of ‘What can we do next?’” said Jones.

Similarly, the Marines of the Brigade Headquarters Group have been here since the beginning with a can-do attitude, setting up the camp and establishing facilities and routines as well as providing perimeter security for the sprawling Camp Leatherneck, which is increasing in size even today. Reassigned from their normal role as an artillery battalion, the Marines of 5th Battalion, 10th Marine Regiment have as diversified and essential a mission as any unit here.

The Marines of Combat Logistics Regiment 2 have provided a lifeline to the forces in the south, conducting more than 300 exhausting convoys over hundreds of miles of dirt roads sown with improvised explosive devices, delivering more than 20,000 pallets of bottled water, and more than 2,300 pallets of MREs by ground convoy or in one of 380 Helicopter Support Team missions, where pallets of cargo are attached to a hovering helicopter.

The AM2 matting so crucial to airfield and HLZ construction was too heavy to be airlifted, so the “loggies,” along with soldiers from the U.S. Army’s 100th Brigade Sustainment Battalion, coordinated to have it trucked to the required sites.

1stSgt Christopher Combs of Headquarters and Services Co., CLR-2, said his Marines’ work in air-delivered supplies is “probably more support via air than the last five years in Iraq combined. The long hours, austere conditions and sweltering heat don’t seem to affect the Marines and the support they provide. They never say no and always find a way to make it happen.”

Chow halls at the various bases have served more than 3,500 pallets worth of hot chow and brigade vehicles have distributed and used more than 2 million gallons of fuel. Yet the numbers tell only a small part of the story of the changing face of Helmand province.

In Garmsir district, Marines worked with the district governor and local Afghans to reroute the Helmand River. The project – known as the Saraban Sluice Gate project – had an immediate, positive impact on the living conditions of community residents and highlights efforts by brigade forces to empower the Afghans to “meet their own needs.”

This theme reappeared in the supporting role International Security Assistance Force troops played in Afghan elections Aug. 20. Brigade forces supported Afghan police officers and soldiers as they set up and protected 24 polling stations within the MEB’s area of operations.

“It’s important to remember that three quarters of those polling stations were in areas that 60 days ago there would have been no election,” Nicholson said. “They were in areas we uncovered during Operation Khanjar and while nationwide there were less people who voted, certainly in Helmand province and the MEB area of operations, a significant number of people voted that would never have had the opportunity previously.”

The brigade has also had its share of visitors, who have come from around the world to see the progress firsthand. U.S. military leaders Gen. David Petraeus, Adm. Michael Mullen, and Gen. Stanley McChrystal have each visited Camp Leatherneck during the MEB’s first 100 days, as have British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and former PM Tony Blair. U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus have visited their Marines and sailors, and Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. James Conway, accompanied by Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps SgtMaj. Carlton Kent recently spent time with Marines and sailors in the field as well.

Whether it’s greeting distinguished visitors or ensuring the security of a national democratic election, the Marines and sailors of the MEB have shown incredible flexibility and adaptability, according to Kolich.

“The flexibility of the force is notable – especially those taking up multiple roles,” he said. “And the Taliban did not have the effect that they were hoping to have during the elections. It is a testament to the Marines that they can act in the warrior spirit one day and transition to a more civil affairs role the next.”

Nicholson views civil affairs efforts and an emphasis on mitigating civilian casualties and property damage as essential to success in any fight, but especially in any counterinsurgency.

“The population is key,” said Nicholson. “We understood early on that civilian casualties were counter-productive and we had to work very quickly to establish ourselves in the communities that we were going to go in as being helpful, as offering something the Taliban couldn’t and have never offered – that’s hope and a future.”

The MEB has established comprehensive training programs for the Afghan police and army forces as part of its efforts to establish trusting and cooperative relationships within the civilian population. Marines have dedicated thousands of hours working alongside Afghan troops and police officers, training them in a variety of combat and security force operations.

“In many of the areas that we’re in there has been no evidence of local government for many years,” said Nicholson. “So the arrival of Afghan police, the arrival of the Afghan army, I think in many ways indicates to the people that there is a government and that government is concerned about them.”

With heliborne insertions in multiple operations and locations, route clearance and resupply convoys, counter-insurgency and close combat, and election support and civil engagement, Marines seem to have run the gamut of operations here in Helmand, but they continue to impress their leaders with their efficiency, effectiveness, and professionalism.

Sgt. Maj. Eugene Miller, RCT 3 sergeant major, summed up the feelings of all senior leaders throughout the entire MEB.

“The Marines have performed superbly. The further you go out (from Camp Dwyer), the higher the morale. These Marines want some and are getting some. They’re doing the exact things they came into the Marine Corps to do – to fight, win and accomplish those things they thought of when they joined.”

Change of command for Marines serving in Iraq and Afghanistan

In a ceremony with military traditions dating back centuries, a new Marine general took command Friday of Marines and sailors serving in Iraq and Afghanistan as part of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force.


September 4, 2009 | 8:48 pm
Tony Perry, reporting from Camp Pendleton

Lt. Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr. assumed command from Lt. Gen. Samuel Helland, who is retiring after 41 years of military service starting as an Army enlisted soldier during the Vietnam War.

Marine Commandant Gen. James Conway, in a statement read to several hundred Marines and visitors gathered for the change of command, praised Helland’s role in leading Marines to success “from the desert of Anbar (in Iraq) to the plains of the Helmand Valley" in Afghanistan.

Helland praised Marines and sailors who serve in war zones “in the hottest part of the day and the darkest part of the night.”

Dunford, with combat command experience in Iraq, also assumes the role of commanding general of Marine Corps Forces Central Command. Helland has held the two jobs for nearly two years.

In his farewell message to his troops, Helland reflected on the Marines and sailors killed and wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan: “Their sacrifices will be long remembered by people everywhere whenever the words freedom, liberty and justice are spoken.”

Gates Objects to News Photo of Dying Marine

WASHINGTON - Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates used the strongest terms in trying to persuade the Associated Press to refrain from running a graphic picture of a Marine taken shortly after the service member was wounded in southern Afghanistan, Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said here today.


Office of the Secretary of Defense Public Affairs
Courtesy Story
Date: 09.04.2009

Lance Cpl. Joshua M. Bernard later died on the operating table Aug. 14.

The Marine's family in New Portland, Maine, asked the Associated Press not to run the photo, which was taken by Julie Jacobson, who was embedded with the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marines, in Afghanistan's Helmand province.

The AP put out a series of photographs of the Marine patrol, and Gates objected to one showing Bernard clearly in anguish while being treated. He had just been hit in the legs by a rocket-propelled grenade.

When Gates heard the AP was going to send the photo to its subscribers, he called Thomas Curley, president and chief executive officer of the news service, asking him to pull the photo, Morrell said.

Morrell quoted the secretary as saying to Curley, "I'm begging you to defer to the wishes of the family. This will cause them great pain."

Curley told the secretary he would reconvene his editorial team to re-examine the release.

The secretary followed his call with a letter to AP. "I cannot imagine the pain and suffering Lance Corporal Bernard's death has caused his family," the secretary wrote. "Why your organization would purposefully defy the family's wishes knowing full well that it will lead to more anguish is beyond me. Your lack of compassion and common sense in choosing to put this image of their maimed and stricken child on the front page of multiple American newspapers is appalling. The issue here is not law, policy or constitutional right – but judgment and common decency."

Curley got back to Morrell later yesterday afternoon and said his crew had "seriously considered the secretary's concerns and the families concerns ... but ultimately decided that they wanted to proceed with pushing out this image to their clients," Morrell said.

Morrell said Gates was extremely disappointed that the Associated Press did not adhere to the wishes of the family. The vast majority of news outlets did not run the photo, he added.

The Corps teaches Harvard

Staff report
Posted : Friday Sep 4, 2009 15:17:56 EDT

Harvard Business School recently touted the Marine Corps’ leadership philosophy as effective not only on the battlefield but in the office, too.

To continue reading:


Gates: AP decision 'appalling'

Defense Secretary Robert Gates is objecting “in the strongest terms” to an Associated Press decision to transmit a photograph showing a mortally wounded 21-year-old Marine in his final moments of life, calling the decision “appalling” and a breach of “common decency.”


Mike Allen Mike Allen – Fri Sep 4, 10:38 am ET

The AP reported that the Marine’s father had asked – in an interview and in a follow-up phone call — that the image, taken by an embedded photographer, not be published.

The AP reported in a story that it decided to make the image public anyway because it “conveys the grimness of war and the sacrifice of young men and women fighting it.”

The photo shows Lance Cpl. Joshua M. Bernard of New Portland, Maine, who was struck by a rocket-propelled grenade in a Taliban ambush Aug. 14 in Helmand province of southern Afghanistan, according to The AP.

Gates wrote to Thomas Curley, AP’s president and chief executive officer. “Out of respect for his family’s wishes, I ask you in the strongest of terms to reconsider your decision. I do not make this request lightly. In one of my first public statements as Secretary of Defense, I stated that the media should not be treated as the enemy, and made it a point to thank journalists for revealing problems that need to be fixed – as was the case with Walter Reed."

“I cannot imagine the pain and suffering Lance Corporal Bernard’s death has caused his family. Why your organization would purposefully defy the family’s wishes knowing full well that it will lead to yet more anguish is beyond me. Your lack of compassion and common sense in choosing to put this image of their maimed and stricken child on the front page of multiple American newspapers is appalling. The issue here is not law, policy or constitutional right – but judgment and common decency.”

The four-paragraph letter concluded, “Sincerely,” then had Gates’ signature.

The photo, first transmitted Thursday morning and repeated Friday morning, carries the warning, “EDS NOTE: GRAPHIC CONTENT.”

The caption says: “In this photo taken Friday, Aug. 14, 2009, Lance Cpl. Joshua Bernard is tended to by fellow U.S. Marines after being hit by a rocket propelled grenade during a firefight against the Taliban in the village of Dahaneh in the Helmand Province of Afghanistan. Bernard was transported by helicopter to Camp Leatherneck where he later died of his wounds.”

Gates’ letter was sent Thursday, after he talked to Curley by phone at about 3:30 p.m. Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said Gates told Curley: “I am asking you to reconsider your decision to publish this graphic photograph of Lance Corporal Bernard. I am begging you to defer to the wishes of the family. This will cause them great pain.”

Curley was “very polite and willing to listen,” and send he would reconvene his editorial team and reconsider, Morrell said. Within the hour, Curley called Morrell and said the editors had reconvened but had ultimately come to the same conclusion.

Gates “was greatly disappointed they had not done the right thing,” Morrell said.

The Buffalo News ran the photo on page 4, and the The (Wheeling, W.Va.) Intelligencer ran an editorial defending its decision to run the photo. Some newspapers – including the Arizona Republic, The Washington Times and the Orlando Sentinel – ran other photos from the series. Several newspaper websites – including the Akron Beacon-Journal and the St. Petersburg Times – used the photo online.

Morrell said Gates wanted the information about his conversations released “so everyone would know how strongly he felt about the issue.”

The Associated Press reported in a story about deliberations about that photo that “after a period of reflection,” the news service decided “to make public an image that conveys the grimness of war and the sacrifice of young men and women fighting it.

“The image shows fellow Marines helping Bernard after he suffered severe leg injuries. He was evacuated to a field hospital where he died on the operating table,” AP said. “The picture was taken by Associated Press photographer Julie Jacobson, who accompanied Marines on the patrol and was in the midst of the ambush during which Bernard was wounded. … ‘AP journalists document world events every day. Afghanistan is no exception. We feel it is our journalistic duty to show the reality of the war there, however unpleasant and brutal that sometimes is,’ said Santiago Lyon, the director of photography for AP.

“He said Bernard's death shows ‘his sacrifice for his country. Our story and photos report on him and his last hours respectfully and in accordance with military regulations surrounding journalists embedded with U.S. forces.’”

The AP reported that it “waited until after Bernard's burial in Madison, Maine, on Aug. 24 to distribute its story and the pictures.”

“An AP reporter met with his parents, allowing them to see the images,” the article says. “Bernard's father after seeing the image of his mortally wounded son said he opposed its publication, saying it was disrespectful to his son's memory. John Bernard reiterated his viewpoint in a telephone call to the AP on Wednesday. ‘We understand Mr. Bernard's anguish. We believe this image is part of the history of this war.

The story and photos are in themselves a respectful treatment and recognition of sacrifice,’ said AP senior managing editor John Daniszewski.

“Thursday afternoon, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates called AP President Tom Curley asking that the news organization respect the wishes of Bernard's father and not publish the photo. Curley and AP Executive Editor Kathleen Carroll said they understood this was a painful issue for Bernard's family and that they were sure that factor was being considered by the editors deciding whether or not to publish the photo, just as it had been for the AP editors who decided to distribute it.”

The image was part of a package of stories and photos released for publication after midnight Friday. The project, called “AP Impact – Afghan – Death of a Marine,” carried a dateline of Dahaneh, Afghanistan, and was written by Alfred de Montesquiou and Julie Jacobson:

“The U.S. patrol had a tip that Taliban fighters were lying in ambush in a pomegranate grove, and a Marine trained his weapon on the trees. Seconds later, a salvo of gunfire and rocket-propelled grenades poured out, and a grenade hit Lance Cpl. Joshua ‘Bernie’ Bernard. The Marine was about to become the next fatality in the deadliest month of the deadliest year of the Afghan war.”

The news service also moved extensive journal entries AP photographer Julie Jacobson wrote while in Afghanistan. AP said in an advisory: “From the reporting of Alfred de Montesquiou, the photos and written journal kept by Julie Jacobson, and the TV images of cameraman Ken Teh, the AP has compiled ‘Death of a Marine,’ a 1,700 word narrative of the clash, offering vivid insights into how the battle was fought, and into Bernard's character and background. It also includes an interview with his father, an ex-Marine, who three weeks earlier had written letters complaining that the military's rules of engagement are exposing the troops in Afghanistan to undue risk.”

September 3, 2009

AP IMPACT: Calm _ Then Sudden Death In Afghan War

DAHANEH, Afghanistan (AP) ― The pomegranate grove looked ominous.

The U.S. patrol had a tip that Taliban fighters were lying in ambush, and a Marine had his weapon trained on the trees 70 yards away. "If you see anything move from there, light it up," Cpl. Braxton Russell told him.


Sep 3, 2009
ALFRED de MONTESQUIOU, Associated Press Writer

Thirty seconds later, a salvo of gunfire and RPGs — rocket-propelled grenades — poured out of the grove. "Casualty! We've got a casualty!" someone shouted. A grenade had hit Lance Cpl. Joshua "Bernie" Bernard in the legs.

A Marine and son of a Marine, a devout Christian, Iraq war veteran and avid hiker, home-schooled in rural Maine, Bernard was about to become the next fatality in the deadliest month of the deadliest year since the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.

The troops of Golf Company, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marines had been fighting for three days to wrest this town in southern Afghanistan from the Taliban who had ruled it for four years. As dusk approached on Friday, Aug. 14, things had quieted down. The Taliban seemed to have gone. Another day had passed in the long, hard slog for U.S. troops serving on the parched plains and mountains of Afghanistan, in a war that has steadily intensified.

Then, as the Marines were enjoying some downtime, reports of mortar, machine-gun and sniper fire sent them scrambling again. The 11 Americans and 10 Afghan soldiers edged their way into the town's abandoned bazaar. With them were Associated Press correspondent Alfred de Montesquiou, AP photographer Julie Jacobson and AP Television News cameraman Ken Teh.

Eyes scanning rooftops for gunmen and the ground for buried bombs, the patrol pushed past shops still smoldering from U.S. mortar shells, past Taliban posters on the walls exhorting the populace to fight the Americans. Bernard, his face daubed in gray and brown camouflage paint, was the point man.

A young Afghan in front of the family store showed the patrol a patch of upturned earth in a ditch. It was here that insurgents had fired their mortars a few minutes earlier.

"But don't say I told you, or they'll kill me," the man said.

As he spoke, the Marines got word of the ambush being readied nearby. Two Cobra helicopters circling overhead fired Hellfire missiles at a mortar position. The Marines weren't sure this had settled the matter with the Taliban. They pushed on.

Then they reached the pomegranate grove.


At first Jake Godby thought Bernard had stepped on an explosive device. Godby, a 24-year-old 2nd lieutenant from Fredericksburg, Va., quickly regrouped his men and directed the returning fire.

The squad found itself stuck under sustained and heavy fire with a wounded man on a narrow crossroad — buildings behind them, insurgents hidden in the orchard in front of them, and a large puddle from a broken water pump in the middle. Godby had the troops advance to the cover of a mud wall and an irrigation ditch. The orange streaks of bullets whizzing in every direction grew visible as the light faded.

"That's when I realized there was a casualty and saw the injured Marine, about 10 yards from where I'd stood," Jacobson would write in her journal. "For the second time in my life, I watched a Marine lose his. He was hit with the RPG which blew off one of his legs and badly mangled the other. ... I hadn't seen it happen, just heard the explosion. I hit the ground and lay as flat as I could and shot what I could of the scene."

Bernard lay on the ground, two Marines standing over him exposed, trying to help. A first tourniquet on Bernard's leg broke. A medic applied another.

"I can't breathe, I can't breathe," Bernard said. Troops crawling under the bullets dragged him to the MRAP, the mine-resistant armored vehicle that accompanied the patrol.

"The other guys kept telling him 'Bernard, you're doing fine, you're doing fine. You're gonna make it. Stay with me Bernard!' He (a Marine) held Bernard's head in his hands when he seemed to go limp and tried to keep him awake. A couple more ran in with a stretcher," Jacobson recalled in the journal.

"Another RPG hit the mud wall on the other side of the street from where we were, about 5 yards away. It was a big BOOM, and I just lay my face in the dirt and everything went quiet for about 10 seconds. It was just silence like I was wearing noise-canceling headphones or like world peace had finally descended upon the earth. The air was white with sand. Then I started feeling the rubble fall down around me. And I thought, 'Is this what it's like to be shell shocked? Am I all still here? I can't believe I am.'

"I was fine and surprised at how calm I was and that I could actually still hear."


The rocket-propelled grenade exploded in a powerful pinkish blast, lighting up the scene and briefly knocking out de Montesquiou and Staff Sgt. Alexander Ferguson. When Ferguson recovered, he helped haul Bernard inside the vehicle. Bernard was driven back to base some 500 yards from there, receiving first aid along the way. Minutes later, a helicopter evacuated him to Camp Leatherneck, the main Marine compound in southern Afghanistan. His vital signs were stable when he left.

At the ambush site, the fighting continued uninterrupted for 10 to 15 minutes. The men could see the grenades coming in at them, and even some of the machine gunners. They estimated they were facing six to eight fighters.

Adding to the confusion, an Afghan soldier with the troops fired his own grenade at the insurgents, but he hadn't checked whether anybody was close by. A Marine was knocked out by the back-blast.

Another grabbed the Afghan by the collar. "Once he stopped shooting, we were able to get control of the situation," Russell said.

Some Marines are uneasy patrolling with the Afghan National Army. For one thing, there's a language barrier. During the shootout at the orchard, the patrol's Afghan interpreter disappeared and took cover, leaving the Marines unable to coordinate their moves with the Afghan soldiers.

"They're not lacking courage, they're just lacking training right now," said Russell, 22, from Stafford, Va. "At least they were shooting in the right direction."

The fighting ebbed with nightfall. Godby and some of the Marines equipped with night vision glasses pushed deeper into the orchard, but the insurgents were gone. Intelligence pointed to three enemy dead, several Marines said, but it could not be confirmed.

That night, officers assembled the platoon in a darkened room of the run-down house where the Marines had camped after taking Dahaneh two days earlier. There the officers delivered the news: Bernard had died of a blood clot in his heart on the operating table. He was Golf Company's third fatality since arriving in Afghanistan in May.

Bernard was the 19th American to die in Afghanistan in August. Fifty-one Marines, soldiers and seamen lost their lives that month. Of the 739 Americans killed in and around Afghanistan since 2001, 151 died last year and 180 so far this year.


Down a rural dirt road in New Portland, western Maine, John and Sharon Bernard sat on their porch and talked about their son.

Joshua, they said, loved literature and showed early interest in the Bible and Christianity. "He had a very strong faith right from the beginning," his mother said.

His father described him as "humble, shy, unassuming — the very first to offer help." He didn't smoke or drink, and always opened the door for others. His main friends were his church group, whom he would visit when on leave, and his sister Katy, 20.

Bernard's father is a retired Marine 1st sergeant. Three weeks before the Aug. 14 ambush that killed his son, he had written to his congressman, Rep. Michael Michaud, expressing frustration at what he described as a change in the Afghanistan rules of engagement to one of "spare the civilians at all cost." He called this "disgraceful, immoral and fatal" to U.S. forces in combat.

Joshua loved videogames and snowboarding, and hiked parts of the Appalachian Trail with his father. He hoped to become a U.S. marshal.

"Service and personal honor," is how his father summarized his son.


Three days after Bernard's death, as his belongings were being packed for shipment to his family, Cpl. Joshua Jackson, his squad leader, was still referring to him in the present tense.

"He definitely doesn't hesitate," said Jackson, 23, from Copley, Ohio. "He's very good, he definitely has the nerves to do what he's needed to do."

He called Bernard "a true-heartedly very good guy ... probably one of the best guys I've known in my entire life."

The hardest part is "just wondering if there's something that I could have done different, or maybe prevented him from dying," Jackson said. "But that's something we've all got to deal with."

"I think it's got to do with being a Marine; you just carry on," said Godby. That night he got two hours of sleep. Before dawn, his platoon took part in a raid on a suspected Taliban stronghold.

Bernard was determined, his comrades said. That's why he was chosen as the squad's point man and navigator, moving at the front of his unit.

Lance Cpl. Jason Pignon, 22, from Thayer, Ill., was his close friend. They had been in the same platoon since 2007 when they joined "the Fleet," as Marines call the units preparing to deploy. They served together near Fallujah in Iraq in 2008, and again in Afghanistan.

During the firefight, Jacobson had wrestled with a question every war photographer faces: whether to offer to help save a life, or keep out of the way of the professionals and go on shooting pictures. She wondered whether the Marines would be upset that she went on photographing.

Some of Bernard's comrades asked to see the photos. In her journal she described them flipping through the images she had captured that day:

"They did stop when they came to that moment. But none of them complained or grew angry about it. They understood that it was what it was. They understand, despite that he was their friend, it was the reality of things."


It had all gone very quickly. It was late afternoon when the Taliban fired their first RPGs. It was dusk when the Marine was driven away in the armored vehicle. And it was night when the patrol returning to base saw the dark silhouette of the helicopter that flew him away.

Lance Cpl. Joshua "Bernie" Bernard was 21 years old.

Camps offered to families of deployed troops

By Karen Jowers - Staff writer
Posted : Thursday Sep 3, 2009 20:50:53 EDT

Service members and their families who have experienced deployments within the last 15 months are eligible to attend a free four-day camp at one of four national park locations, sponsored by the National Military Family Association.

To continue reading:


Journal Entries Of AP Photographer In Afghanistan

(AP) The operation started really early Wednesday morning on this town called Dahaneh. It's south of Now Zad a few miles. It is Taliban-controlled. Alfred (Associated Press writer Alfred de Montesquiou), and Ken (AP Television News Cameraman Ken Teh) were put on the assault helicopter which landed outside the compounds they intended to raid. I was stuck on a 7-ton truck with ANA (Afghan National Army) soldiers, an NPR reporter and another American guy, who is a civilian military adviser.


Sep 3, 2009
JULIE JACOBSON, Associated Press Writer

Initially, we, the women, (Jacobson and reporters for National Public Radio and Armed Forces Network) were going to be left at ANP hill with the backup troops. After I found that out, I (we) did some pushing and polite complaining and they finally got us on these trucks. ANP Hill is all the way back in Now Zad. I was NOT going to sit up there with all the stuff going on in Dahaneh hoping the troops at ANP got called on. It was clear it was a female thing and very frustrating. I never want to start claiming discrimination, but it was just so obvious. So, we ended up on the 7-ton, which at least got us to Dahaneh that morning.

We left at 2:30 a.m., a long, long convoy of military vehicles with a bulldozer on tank tracks leading the way and basically creating a new path for us to follow. His job was basically to clear our path of IEDs all the way to Dahaneh. It was a slow drive over maybe five miles, lasting four hours. Just inside the pass which marks the north end of town, gunfire started from all around. A few rounds passed above or near us, but most of it was from the village itself or behind us, from the hillsides down on other trucks and vehicles in the convoy. The little AK-47 pops were met with thundering beats from 50 caliber machine guns mounted on the MRAPs (mine-resistant armored cars). A few mortar shells hit the ground less than 100 meters from us. At some point we pushed farther into town a little ways, and I could see Marines on a rooftop. I also noticed Ken and Alfred up there. I was just itching to get out of that truck. Eventually, by 9 a.m. we did. We entered the compound and I headed straight for that roof along with FOX News, who was also in a 7-ton. They weren't happy because they weren't in the main assault. I met up with Alfred and Ken.

Before I could get started and while we were lying behind a wall, Alfred told me about our colleague Emilio (AP photographer Emilio Morenatti) who was embedded with the Strykers in Kandahar and that he and the APTN guy with him had been hit by an IED. Emilio lost a foot, and Andi (AP videographer Andi Jatmiko) broke his legs and ribs. It was upsetting news to hear, and made it difficult to concentrate fully on what I was doing. Although, I was clear of mind enough to keep my head down.

I spent about a half hour up on that roof and then went downstairs to file a few photos quickly. Sometime around 10:30 as I was just finishing filing, an aircraft flew in and dropped a bomb on a house not far from us. The shooting ceased immediately. They later confirmed 10 dead Talibs (Taliban fighters). So all was calm and quiet through the late morning into the afternoon.

About 16:30, we were gathering to go on the first patrol through the village. Just as we were about to step through the door of the compound, gunfire erupted outside along with RPG (rocket-propelled grenade) fire.

When I say compound, it means a home basically. The homes here are made of two or more buildings surrounded by high brick and mud walls. The walls are at least a foot thick and usually more and very strong.

I learned quickly the difference between a bullet passing overhead and one that has ricocheted off something. A passing bullet merely pops as it breaks the sound barrier. A ricochet has a strange whirring noise to it.

Needless to say, they dropped the patrol. Sniper fire also started coming in from the mountainside behind us. Marines on the roof suddenly had to switch sides of the roof and crouch behind a wall. I crawled up there for a bit trying to make a picture of something. Three of the Marines were tucked low trying to mark the sniper so they could call in an air strike. The others were just sitting up there smoking looking bored. But occasional bursts of fire continued until dark, when the Taliban retreated. They know the Marines have the advantage in the dark with their night vision scopes. Only two more shots were fired in the night. After that, all was calm and we slept in the various rooms of the house, on the floor, some on carpets some on padded mattresses.

Thursday, Aug. 13, 2009

Today we went out on clearance patrols with the ANA. Basically we swept through town searching houses to clear the village of Taliban. The ANA did most of the searching with the Marines in support with security. This day is particularly important because it turned things around for me with the whole female thing.

It was freakin' hot. About 115 degrees. The patrol started at 11 a.m. I don't know whose bright idea it was to start it at that time. We started walking in two columns. Not five minutes out of the post gunfire erupted from the hillside to our right. We all just started running for cover behind walls. The ANA dropped into holes to provide cover but I don't think they ever fired a shot. They just kind of sat there staring. All the cover fire came from the Marine support vehicles.

So we sprinted about 70 yards to a corner compound and made the turn. We had about three more 100-yard sprints over open ground. I did them all and was sitting there after the last one wondering if I was going to make it through the day if we were going to have to run like that the whole day. My flak jacket weighs 23.5 pounds. My camera is about 5 with the lens on. I was carrying another 2-pound lens plus my Camelback with 3 liters of water, and some other misc. stuff.

So there I was doing these 100-yard sprints with about 35 pounds on me in that heat. And as I sat there wondering if I'd keep up or tank and feeling like a wimp, the squad leader suddenly says "OK, we gotta slow down or we're not going to make it. From now on we set up security as we go and take it slow. Don't forget to drink lots of water." I felt a lot better. It wasn't just me who was breathing heavily. So we pushed on through town, searched a few houses. Heard some gunfire from other parts of town. It was a pretty uneventful search for our squad. But I kept up as they climbed over walls, on rooftops, etc. I never lagged behind. I stuck with them and didn't utter a word of complaint. I popped a Clif Blok in my mouth every so often. Earlier in the morning I drank 1.5 liters of water with Gatorade powder mixed in. I believe that's what kept me going.

Around 3 p.m. we reached the southern line of where we wanted to be. We stopped, rested in the shade and waited for other squads. At some point one of the Marines said, "FOX News dropped out. They couldn't hack it. Hey look, Jacobson from AP is still here." They thought it was funny that the FOX guys tanked. Later back at the post, the squad leader said to me, "Jacobson, thanks for coming with us today. You were a good trooper." Now, I have to say that felt really good considering the fact that when he first realized I was coming with his squad in the morning, he sighed, practically rolled his eyes. It was clear he did not want a woman on his patrol. After that day, I did not get any more such reactions from anyone. In fact they would come seek me out and let me know when they were going to go do stuff.

Saturday, Aug. 15, 2009

Yesterday the day was all pretty calm. There had been no shots fired. Village leaders came to meet with the Marine commanding officer and the ANA commanding officer. One guy asked the Marine captain to give him back his 30 kilos of confiscated opium. The answer was no. We went out to the new outpost built on the edge of town for the ANA and raised the Afghan flag to the Afghan national anthem, with both U.S. and Afghan troops present around mid-afternoon.

But then, just as everyone was believing that Dahaneh had been taken, we had attacks on the house the Marines and ANA were using as a command post. They started by somehow creeping up on the back wall of the house and shooting scattered AK-47 rounds into the yard. Everyone scrambled for cover. Then they started firing mortars and RPGs in addition to the AKs. The Marines on the rooftop responded with heavy fire. Alfred, Ken and I all climbed up on the roof to do our jobs up there.

As soon as we got up there, the shout of "INCOMING!!!" rang out. We all hit the deck. Luckily, the Taliban miss a lot. But there were three more incoming calls before I was able to get up and run over to the wall where all the Marines were positioned shooting. One of the shots was an RPG which hit the side of the house. One mortar shell hit the side of the house also. The other mortar shells landed just outside the walls.

It was late afternoon and a patrol was going out as soon as the shooting calmed down a little. Marine attack helicopters were now circling overhead and the Taliban usually stop shooting when they come around. So the patrol went out. Alfred and I accompanied them. We slowly made our way through the abandoned bazaar seeing scorch marks on the walls of the shops and rubble in the street. Notes posted on columns by the Taliban were read by the ANA soldiers who were with us. The notes urged villagers to fight the Marines.

It was sunset when we had left the compound. As we left the bazaar we walked along a narrow street lined by tall compound walls. At a break in one wall some men in a family were sitting outside watching us curiously, and I thought a little too nonchalantly. It was almost like people peering outside their homes during a Wild West showdown to see what might happen.

As the sun finally disappeared behind the mountains behind us we came upon an intersection with an open field bordered by a short mud brick wall. The squad leader, Cpl. (Braxton) Russell, came over to the wall where I crouched next to a Marine who had his gun trained on a stand of pomegranate trees about 70 yards away. As it turned out, some of the locals we had passed, upon seeing ANA soldiers, came out and told them where the Taliban were lying in wait. The message was relayed by radio up to the front of the stack where I was, that basically the Taliban had eyes on us and would attack if we got any closer. It was dusk.

Cpl. Russell said to the Marine, "If you see anything move from there, light it up," and then he went back to his position in the gun turret of the MRAP. The Marine looked at me as I stood there struggling to get my footing next to the ditch near the wall and keep my head below the top of the wall at the same time. He said, "If you see me drop to a knee, that's a clue that I'm going to start shooting."

Not 30 seconds after he said that, the Taliban attacked with an RPG and then with gunfire. The explosion which felt close by startled us both. He looked at me, I said I was OK, and then we noticed the grass to my right begin to catch fire from the sparks from the explosion. I bolted to his left and then all hell broke loose with M16, 50-Cal, AK-47 fire all over. The Marine next to me started to run back the direction the explosion was. I didn't want to stay in that spot because there were Afghan soldiers there and they aren't very good, so I followed the Marine.

That's when I realized there was a casualty and saw the injured Marine, about 10 yards from where I'd stood, with his legs just hanging on by skin. For the second time in my life, I watched a Marine lose his. He was hit with the RPG, which blew off one of his legs and badly mangled the other. He lost consciousness a few minutes later just before they got him into the "ambulance." I hadn't seen it happen, just heard the explosion. I hit the ground and lay as flat as I could and shot what I could of the scene even though I didn't think I could use those casualty pics based on our media rules of engagement. It was also dusk at that point and very hard to shoot with such low shutter speeds. There was lots of yelling.

The injured Marine kept saying, "I can't breathe, I can't breathe." The other guys kept telling him "Bernard, you're doing fine, you're doing fine. You're gonna make it. Stay with me Bernard!" He held Bernard's head in his hands when he seemed to go limp and tried to keep him awake. A couple more ran in with a stretcher.

This whole time amidst gunfire, I lay flat on my stomach trying to brace my camera steady, but not doing very well at a ½ second. It was strange to be worrying about my shutter speed with all the bullets flying overhead. At the same time I kept trying to gauge whether or not to drop the camera and help the Marines with the injured man. I remember feeling that as my first instinct when we had first approached him, but saw that there were two guys with him and decided I was not needed.

So all this is going on and as they were trying to help him, (it was just too dark to see what exactly they were doing), another RPG hit the mud wall on the other side of the street from where we were, about five yards away. It was a big BOOM, and I just lay my face in the dirt and everything went quiet for about 10 seconds. It was just silence like I was wearing noise-canceling head phones or like world peace had finally descended upon the earth. The air was white with sand.

Then I started feeling the rubble fall down around me. And I thought, "Is this what it's like to be shell-shocked? Am I all still here? I can't believe I am." One of the Marines looked my way, and I told him I was good, and he told me to head for cover of the MRAP, so I did. Alfred, the writer, was there and was relieved to see me. He said he saw me lying on the ground and was worried until he saw me move. I was fine and surprised at how calm I was and that I could actually still hear. I kept trying to shoot from behind the MRAP, wanting to move up to the wall again around the soldiers who had finally gathered there shooting.

But a freakin' Afghan soldier shot an RPG with five Marines standing behind it and almost fried them all. Plus at that point, I was not sure I wanted another round of RPGs sitting next to the wall. Those walls are pretty thick and strong, but I just couldn't be sure.

Gunfire continued for several minutes more before things finally quieted. They had already moved the injured Marine out. Alfred and I stood in a doorway of a home compound, and it was also pretty daggum dark at that point. There was still a touch of light in the sky a bit, but not enough to shoot. I tried, but it did no good. I couldn't see enough to focus and couldn't hold steady for very long. It was frustrating. I shot some video just for the sound because the APTN guy had decided to stay behind and continue shooting what he saw on the roof of our post.

When the MRAP pulled away leaving us exposed, Alfred pulled a cowering ANA guy out of the door so we could stand there. A minute later a Marine came running up to us yelling "Has this house been cleared?!" It was to their rear and could have been a good ambush point. I shrugged my shoulders and just said, "I don't know, there was an ANA guy here but I don't think he did anything." There was another one of them sitting down the street up against the wall away from all the action. He was just sitting there, legs crossed with his weapon in his lap like he was waiting to be served tea. A flare lit up the sky. I made a few frames.

Shortly after, we decided to push back to the command post. The Marines said another squad was coming to do a night sweep through the orchard.

Someone started yelling for the translator, Franky. (They have American nicknames for the 'terps, 'cause they can't pronounce the real ones.) Franky didn't answer. They walked up and down yelling for him, worried that something had happened in the chaos. Then someone realized he was sitting in the 7-ton truck. He had retreated there when the firing started. Not a good thing, because it prevented the Marines from coordinating with the ANA.

We slowly began to push back. Cpl. Jackson asked me if I wanted night vision goggles to see to make my way back. I declined. I could make out their shapes in the dark, it was enough. As we made our way back, the night squad passed us going the other way, faces masked. They seemed like phantoms moving in the dark, intensely quiet, saying nothing to us as they passed.

We made it back to the command post just as the Black Hawk medevac helicopter was taking off with Bernard inside. Later in the night, we learned that Lance Cpl. Joshua M. Bernard had made it to the hospital at Camp Leatherneck but had died of a blood clot in his heart on the operating table.

Wednesday Aug. 19, 2009

The last few slow days have allowed me to reflect some on the events of Friday, the 14th. I did not ever formally meet Bernard. There are some 50 men in a platoon, and every day we were going out with different squads, so I have not really gotten to know the guys too well. ...

I shot images that day well aware that those images could very possibly never see the light of day. In fact I was sure of it. But I still found myself recording them. To ignore a moment like that simply because of a phrase in section 8, paragraph 1 of some 10-page form would have been wrong. I was recording his impending death, just as I had recorded his life moments before walking the point in the bazaar. Death is a part of life and most certainly a part of war. Isn't that why we're here? To document for now and for history the events of this war? We'd shot everything else thus far and even after, from feature images of a Marine talking on a SAT phone to his girlfriend, all the way to happy meetings between Marines and civilians. So shooting the image was not a question.

To publish or not is the question. The image is not the most technically sound, but his face is visible as are his wounds. Many factors come into play. There's the form we signed agreeing to how and what we would cover while embedded. It says we can photograph casualties from a respectable distance and in such a way that the person is not identifiable. Then you think about the relatives and friends of Bernard. Would you, as a parent, want that image posted for all the world to see? Or even would you want to see how your son died? You'd probably want to remember him another way. Although, it was interesting to watch the Marines from his squad flip through the images from that day on my computer (they asked to see them). They did stop when they came to that moment. But none of them complained or grew angry about it. They understood that it was what it was. They understand, despite that he was their friend, it was the reality of things.

Then there's the journalism side of things, which is what I am and why I'm here. We are allowed to report the name of the casualty as soon as next of kin has been notified. It is necessary and good to recognize those who die in times of war. But to me, a name on a piece of paper barely touches personalizing casualties. An image brings it home so much closer. An image personalizes that death and makes people see what it really means to have young men die in combat. It may be shocking to see, and while I'm not trying to force anything down anyone's throat, I think it is necessary for people to see the good, the bad and the ugly in order to reflect upon ourselves as human beings. It is necessary to be bothered from time to time. It is too easy to sit at Starbuck's far away across the sea and read about the casualty and then move on without much of another thought about it. It's not as easy to see an image of that casualty and NOT think about it. I never expect to change the world or stop war with one picture, but only hope that I make some people THINK beyond their comfort zones and hope that a few of them will be moved into some kind of action, be it joining a protest, or sending that care package they've put off for weeks, or writing that letter they keep meaning to write, or donating money to some worthy NGO, or just remembering to say I love you to someone at home. Something. I believe that is why I decided to send the photo in to the NY desk despite what the media rules of engagement said, to start some conversation about it and hope that it will move out there. It bothered me too much not to have at least some discussion about it. And with great respect and understanding to all the opposing arguments to publication, I feel that as journalists it is our social responsibility to record AND publish such images. We have no restrictions to shoot or publish casualties from opposition forces, or even civilian casualties. Are those people less human than American or other NATO soldiers?

So, debate amongst yourselves or maybe just to yourself. Send me your thoughts if you like. Enlighten me if you disagree.

Thursday, Aug. 20, 2009

Today was election day. One civilian showed up to vote around 3:30 p.m. The other voters were all the Afghan soldiers and police from here. There was a suicide bomb threat. The streets were pretty empty all over as far as I heard from some police who had gone out. The polling place was delayed opening because the ballots delivered were lacking the presidential ballots. So the Marines had to fly them in from another town in the province. Other than that, and a couple mortars that hit a ways from here, all's quiet.

EDITORS: These are excerpts from journal entries by AP Photographer Julie Jacobson while she was embedded with U.S. Marines in Afghanistan's Helmand province before and after the death of Lance Cpl. Joshua Bernard on Aug. 14, 2009. The date at each heading refers to when Jacobson wrote her entry, not necessarily to when the events took place

September 2, 2009

Marine's Grandmother Foils Ransom Hoax

A scam artist who tried to prey on a Maine grandmother is none the richer despite his effort to scare her into paying a $3,000 ransom for her grandson, a Marine on the war front in Afghanistan.


(Sept. 2) --

Bette Anne Cushman, of Hebron, Maine, said that a man called her around 10 a.m. Monday, claiming to be her grandson, Marine Staff Sgt. Luke Medlin. The caller said he was on leave in Canada and needed money.
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David Guttenfelder, Getty Images
Marine Staff Sgt. Luke Medlin takes cover from enemy fire June 20 in Afghanistan. Bette Anne Cushman, Medlin's grandmother, believes that a scam artist saw this photo and then tracked her down and phoned her with a fake ransom demand.

Although the phone reception was poor, Cushman said she could tell the man didn't have Medlin's Midwestern "twang."
"I began to think, 'Something here isn't quite right,'" she said Wednesday in a phone interview with AOL News. "I said, 'You are really pulling my leg -- this is quite cruel. What is it you want?'"
At that point, the call got ugly. The man said Medlin would be decapitated if Cushman didn't pay a $3,000 ransom. And he told Cushman that she would be harmed if she called the authorities.
Cushman can't recall exactly how long the call went on. But she ended it -- and reported it to police and the Pentagon.
"I was shaking like a leaf because he told me knew where I live," she said. "What really scared me was, how did he know I had a grandson in Afghanistan?"
Cushman guessed that the caller may have gotten information on her grandson from a June 20 wire service photo of him during a battle in Afghanistan. From there, the scam artist could have researched Medlin's family and tracked her down.
Cushman said an official at the Pentagon told her the caller probably wouldn't be caught.
"He said they are so clever at what they do that catching them is almost impossible. He said alerting the public is what's important," she said.
Maj. April Cunningham, a Pentagon spokeswoman, told AOL News the Defense Department doesn't know how many military families have been targeted by such hoaxes. People who get such calls should contact local police, as well as the relative's military unit or the family support group assigned to that branch of the military, she said.
To watch a video of Cushman talking about the hoax, visit the Web site of WMTW-TV , the Portland television station that first reported her story.

Marines operate out of enemy compound

KHOUSARI AHBAD, HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan — Marines with Company C, 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, have been using formerly Taliban-owned real estate as a base of operations for nearly two months now.


9/2/2009 By Lance Cpl. John M.McCall, Regimental Combat Team 3

During their time here, the troops have seen many changes and learned a few lessons since their arrival July 2.

“When we first got here it was like a ghost town. We would go out on patrol and not see a single person,” said Lance Cpl. Colin Newman, 20, a rifleman from Somerset, Wisc. “Now, a lot of the locals that moved out are starting to come back. We’re seeing much more activity around here.”

Company C’s 3rd Platoon is currently living in what was once a Taliban safe house. During the battalion’s opening operation in Helmand Province, Marines discovered the compound.

“There were sleeping bags lined up outside, and there was food recently cooked when we got there,” said Sgt. Kevin Woods, 22, a squad leader from Early, Texas. “A few compounds away, we found a cache consisting of more than 20 pressure plates, jugs of HME (homemade explosive), anti-tank mines and anti-personnel mines.”

Unfortunately, before uncovering the cache, one of the platoon’s vehicles ran over an improvised explosive device, injuring two of their comrades.

“I don’t remember much of what happened after the explosion. I just remember having a bad feeling about that compound,” said Lance Cpl. Samuel Meyer, 20, a machine gunner from Pasadena, Calif. “The next thing I remember is waking up in the hospital.”

Meyer was the turret gunner in the vehicle during that patrol. After the IED detonated, he was ejected from inside and landed in a nearby canal. 21-year-old Lance Cpl. James Buttery, a rifleman from Las Vegas, was driving when all this happened.

“We were about to pass the compound and everything just went black,” Buttery said. “I woke up in the driver’s seat and saw the side doors had been blown open. Meyer was out of the turret and my face was covered in blood.”

Buttery had smashed his face against the steering wheel during the explosion. Luckily, both Marines escaped with only minor injuries.

“I feel grateful to be alive. It could have been a lot worse,” Meyer said.

After all the dust had settled, Marines searched the nearby compound, uncovering the enemy hideout.

Living in that compound today, Marines with 3rd Platoon conduct operations throughout the area surrounding it and work together with the local populace to keep incidents like the one July 2 from happening again.

“We do a lot of security patrols in this area. We go around to compounds and let people know that we are in the area and to come talk to us if they have any information about enemy activity,” Newman said.

The Marines of 3rd Platoon have found a place to call home for the time being and will continue to get to know their neighbors for the remainder of their seven-month deployment.

Hunting Taliban different than what they expected: Marines gain small victories without fighting

KHOUSARI AHBAD, HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan — For the Marines of Company C, 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, hunting the Taliban takes patience and flexibility. Even on days when they don’t get what they expect, being seen and speaking with the locals is a small victory.


9/2/2009 By Gunnery Sgt. Chris W. Cox, Regimental Combat Team 3

On Aug. 25, 2009, the Marines from 1st Platoon began their day with the intent of looking for a fight. A patrol, like any of the countless ones they’ve undertaken since their arrival here, but based on a guess that insurgents might try to ambush them. With that knowledge, the Marines prepared themselves to hit back.

A few days earlier, the Taliban had critically injured a child while trying to emplace a hasty IED for them during a similar morning patrol. This day, despite their expectations, the Taliban didn’t show themselves where the Marines expected them, and probably for a good reason.

“They shot themselves in the foot in that village,” said 1st Platoon commander 1st Lt. Patrick O’Shea. “I think if they were to show up there, the villagers would kill them.”

In this war, where the main focus is the wellbeing of the local people, these young men, whose average age is 23, have a difficult job that is not usually associated with the hard-hitting Corps. Tactical restraint is the name of the game.

“The fighting mentality is always going to be in your mind. You have to put that to the side,” said 23-year-old team leader Cpl. Joseph M. Misek, from Salem, Ore.

“Like today, we went out expecting a fight,” he said. “We’re trained enough to be able to go from one way of doing business to another. Now it’s just habit for us.”

These Marines have been living in this agricultural district since early July. For two weeks after their helicopter insertion, they lived in only what they had carried with them. Then combat engineers built a berm around a small, secure area they could call home.

Today, they live in accommodations they’ve mostly built for themselves, using camouflage nets and ponchos to create shade from the 120-degree heat and humidity. It’s the only respite after a four- to six-mile foot patrol with at least 70 pounds of gear riding on their shoulders and back.

Despite the enemy presence, however, most of these patrols are simply an opportunity to interact with the locals.

“Before it was a pretty new thing for them – they hadn’t seen Marines before,” Misek explained. “Now, they’re more willing to talk with us, to converse with us. Kids aren’t afraid to talk with us.

“We’re showing the good side of the Marine Corps,” he said. “We’re more than just security.”

One sure method to gauge how welcome they’ve become in this society that values its privacy is the way the children approach the Marines as they hike through towns and cornfields. Their helmets, bullet-proof vests and sunglasses make them look alien to the children who have never been past the edge of their village, but they approach the riflemen without fear.

“When we first landed they were hesitant because it was the first time they had seen U.S. troops,” said squad automatic weapon gunner Lance Cpl. Alex Torres from Farmersville, Calif. “You could tell they wanted to talk to us. They just needed that first kid to go out and ask us, and the rest just followed along.”

Except for the experienced among them, this is not what these young Marines expected to see coming to this country that has seen consistent conflict for more than 30 years. It’s a challenging mission for the Marines who are brought up expecting to make their living fighting their way to success. Accomplishing a counterinsurgency mission, where they smile, wave and play with children, is not what they’ve mentally prepared for until just prior to this deployment. The fight with the Taliban, who have been made up to be an effective fighting force that melts into the shadows, is far less than expected.

“The biggest thing is probably frustration,” O’Shea said about dealing with the insurgents. “They’ve been built up with such an aura around them as this unstoppable force. The people are smothered with a blanket of fear.

“When we go ask, ‘Are the Taliban here?’ they all tell us, ‘No Taliban here. They’re somewhere else.’ You can never get a straight answer,” he continued. “They don’t want to say that they are because they’re scared.”

“I think the Taliban didn’t live up to their hype,” 21-year-old Torres agreed. “They were made out to be these fierce warriors, not scared of getting contact. When we landed, they were nowhere to be found. They only take a couple of shots at us, and they’ll leave.”

Contrary to what the global media and initial reports described, the Taliban militants here are not the masters of warfare some have portrayed them to be.

“They’re unwillingness to engage us in a fight – you know, they shoot a couple of shots and they run. They plant an IED and they hide,” O’Shea said. “Even without all our gear, a rifleman against one of these (goons) is no contest.

“If we could just pin them down, we could defeat them no questions asked,” the University of San Diego graduate said. “They can outmaneuver us, but that is to say they’re good at running away.”

Winning a conventional fight here is not their mission. Earning the trust of the people and training Afghan national security forces, which 1st Platoon is doing on every patrol, is what will label this mission a success.

When the Marines first arrived, the local residents were under the impression that Americans would make promises and leave like others had before them, but over time, local perceptions have changed for the better.

“I got the Afghan equivalent of we’ll believe it when we see it,” O’Shea said.

By the same token, with the Marines visiting every day, O’Shea says he’s gotten feedback that tells him things have gotten better.

"‘We like you. You talk to us. You have tea with us,’” locals have told him. “I’ve been invited to dinner. It’s good to be doing it right from the beginning.”

Even with the feeling of success though, it is difficult to quantify victory in a counterinsurgency.

“From a conventional sense, it’s easier to measure success: so many tanks, so much damage. It’s a much more nebulous way of measuring success,” he said. “Did we get fewer mean looks today? Were people happier to see us?”

Even though living and working in Afghanistan is not what they expected, the Marines here are creating success where others from around the world have fought for it unsuccessfully for decades.

Winning here takes a different skill set. Fortunately, it is one they have clearly demonstrated they can master, if the smiles and words of thanks from those who live nearby are any measure.

September 1, 2009

Gates hands Marine keys to new house

Teal Moran stood at a window of her family's brand-new two-story home on Monday afternoon, staring at a growing throng of Boy Scouts waving American flags and Marines standing at attention in dress uniforms.


By LINDSAY WISE Copyright 2009 Houston Chronicle
Sept. 1, 2009, 1:17AM

“We're really low-key people, so this is kind of crazy,” said the 29-year-old Texas A&M; graduate. She turned to her husband and fellow Aggie, Marine Corps Capt. Daniel Moran, with a stunned grin of her face. “This is, like, ridiculous.”

The couple — and the crowd lining the streets of their Cypress neighborhood — were awaiting the arrival of U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who came to the Houston area Monday to present Capt. Moran with the keys to his new home.

The four-bedroom brick house was custom built for Moran by Helping A Hero, a nonprofit that has constructed 14 homes for local disabled veterans since 2006.

“It represents a new beginning and a down payment on a bright future for Daniel,” Gates said during the key presentation ceremony.

Moran, 28, medically retired from the Marine Corps last month after being seriously injured during his second tour of duty in Iraq three years ago. Monday's event marked the fourth time he'd met Gates, who was president of A&M; when Moran and his wife were students there.

As Gates recounted, he first shook hands with Moran when he handed the young man his diploma upon graduation from A&M.; The second time, Gates was visiting injured service members at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, where Moran was a patient.

“He asked me to personalize a graduation-day photo of us,” Gates recalled. “I was honored but, after meeting Daniel, I came away thinking I should be the one seeking an autograph.”

The third time was at half time of a Texas A&M; football game in 2007, when the secretary of defense presented Moran with a Navy Commendation Medal with Valor in front of 80,000 screaming fans.

Injured twice
On Oct. 9, 2006, Moran suffered a concussion from the explosion of a homemade bomb in Ramadi, Iraq. Despite his injury, Moran urged doctors to let him return to his platoon. Less than two weeks later, another improvised explosive device killed three of his Marines and wounded Moran, who sustained third-degree burns over 50 percent of his body. The blast also seared the inside of his lungs.

Moran's new home has special air filters to protect his vulnerable immune system.

Extra air conditioning units keep the place cool, since Moran's damaged body can't regulate his internal temperature.

After more than 30 surgeries and years of intense rehabilitation and therapy, Moran says he's ready to start the next phase of his life with wife Teal and their two children: Trey, 4, and Macy, 2. The couple are expecting their third child soon.

“What can I say?” Moran said. “Words don't do justice. So what can do justice? I can tell you right now, it's going to be how I live my life, with honor, courage and commitment.”