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October 31, 2009

Marines leaving Al Taqaddum little by little

CAMP AL TAQADDUM, Iraq — Marine Corps participation in Operation Iraqi Freedom is drawing to a close as Marines, sailors and equipment make their way back home or to other parts of the globe. As part of the departure, one of the Marine Corps’ largest bases in the country is on its way to being in the hands of the Iraqi government once again.


10/31/2009 By Gunnery Sgt. Katesha Washington, Combat Logistics Regiment 27 (FWD)

Drawdown operations are in full swing at Camp Al Taqaddum, a base located about 50 miles west of Baghdad in western Al Anbar province. Before the base was in the hands of American military commanders, it was used as an Iraqi Air Force base during former president Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship. Today it is a vastly developed base that occupies approximately 12 miles of desert land.

Lately forklifts, flatbed trucks and tow vehicles have been the main source of traffic aboard the base as units continuously send equipment and gear to Afghanistan or back to the states.

But as the deadline gets closer for TQ, as it is locally called, to be returned to the Government of Iraq, those still left here acknowledge the enormous responsibility they have on their plates and are experiencing a nonstop operational tempo.

“They have done phenomenal,” Lt. Col. David P. Grant, commanding officer, 2nd Maintenance Battalion, Combat Logistics Regiment 27 (Forward), said of the progress his Marines and sailors have achieved in the cleanup of the Lakeside of the base since arriving in September 2009. “This (cleanup and retrograde mission) is not what we asked for and this is not what we expected, but this is what we got and the small unit leaders have been critical in [getting the job done.]”

Although the retrograde and clean up of the southern expanse of the base is one of the top priorities of the battalion, it is not the number one priority. The battalion is ultimately still responsible for providing general combat logistics support to all outlying units within Al Anbar province.

“The biggest concern is making sure we support the warfighter while we continue with our cleanup efforts. When we are down to the last toolbox, if a unit needs support at that time, we have to be able to provide that support,” Grant explained.

When Grant’s battalion arrived at TQ, they took responsibility for general support in Anbar province and for the clean up and closure of Lakeside from 2nd Supply Bn. At that time, 2,007 pieces of equipment and gear were still awaiting movement to either the Marine Corps Logistics Command (Forward) retrograde lot here or to the camp’s scrap yard.

Since then, they have significantly dwindled down the number of items left to be retrograded to a remarkable 1,265. .

One platoon in particular that is helping to make a dent in the battalion’s overall stock has disposed of or retrograded 67 percent of their inventory. Staff Sgt. Scott A. Motroni, Engineer Ordnance Maintenance platoon commander, Maintenance Co., 2nd Maint. Bn., said his platoon makes an average of two scrap yard runs per day and has thus far disposed of approximately 40,000 pounds of scrap material.

Motroni added that when they arrived at TQ in August, the platoon had 163 assets on its records. Nineteen of those assets were sent to the Defense Reutilization Management Office and 91 were sent to the Material Redistribution Center in Afghanistan for follow on use. He said the remaining assets will be sent to the Marine Corps Logistics Command (Forward) for redistribution to the U.S. or to Afghanistan. They also sent 38 large shipping boxes of repair parts and miscellaneous equipment to Afghanistan.

He credits his Marines for the substantial progress the platoon has made in their retrograde efforts.

“Our key to success is our Marines' determination to accomplish the assigned mission in the time frame given. We truly have an outstanding group of Marines and without their efforts we wouldn't have been as successful otherwise,” Motroni said.

A Combat Role, and Anguish, Too

From the series - Women at Arms

For Vivienne Pacquette, being a combat veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder means avoiding phone calls to her sons, dinner out with her husband and therapy sessions that make her talk about seeing the reds and whites of her friends’ insides after a mortar attack in 2004.

Please click above link for a video.

Slideshow - "Women in Their Own Words":

Published: October 31, 2009

As with other women in her position, hiding seems to make sense. Post-traumatic stress disorder distorts personalities: some veterans who have it fight in their sleep; others feel paranoid around children. And as women return to a society unfamiliar with their wartime roles, they often choose isolation over embarrassment.

Many spend months or years as virtual shut-ins, missing the camaraderie of Iraq or Afghanistan, while racked with guilt over who they have become.

“After all, I’m a soldier, I’m an NCO, I’m a problem solver,” said Mrs. Pacquette, 52, a retired noncommissioned officer who served two tours in Iraq and more than 20 years in the Army. “What’s it going to look like if I can’t get things straight in my head?”

Never before has this country seen so many women paralyzed by the psychological scars of combat. As of June 2008, 19,084 female veterans of Iraq or Afghanistan had received diagnoses of mental disorders from the Department of Veterans Affairs, including 8,454 women with a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress — and this number does not include troops still enlisted, or those who have never used the V.A. system.

Their mental anguish, from mortar attacks, the deaths of friends, or traumas that are harder to categorize, is a result of a historic shift. In Iraq and Afghanistan, the military has quietly sidestepped regulations that bar women from jobs in ground combat. With commanders needing resources in wars without front lines, women have found themselves fighting on dusty roads and darkened outposts in ways that were never imagined by their parents or publicly authorized by Congress. And they have distinguished themselves in the field.

Psychologically, it seems, they are emerging as equals. Officials with the Department of Defense said that initial studies of male and female veterans with similar time outside the relative security of bases in Iraq showed that mental health issues arose in roughly the same proportion for members of each sex, though research continues.

“Female soldiers are actually handling and dealing with the stress of combat as well as male soldiers are,” said Col. Carl Castro, director of the Military Operational Research Program at the Department of Defense. “When I look at the data, I see nothing to counter that point.”

And yet, experts and veterans say, the circumstances of military life and the way women are received when they return home have created differences in how they cope. A man, for instance, may come home and drink to oblivion with his war buddies while a woman — often after having been the only woman in her unit — is more likely to suffer alone.

Some psychiatrists say that women do better in therapy because they are more comfortable talking through their emotions, but it typically takes years for them to seek help. In interviews, female veterans with post-traumatic stress said they did not always feel their problems were justified, or would be treated as valid by a military system that defines combat as an all-male activity.

“Some of the issues come up because they’re not given the combat title even though they may be out on patrol standing next to the men,” said Patricia Resick, director of the Women’s Health Sciences Division at the National Center for P.T.S.D., a wing of the Department of Veterans Affairs.

While more men over all suffer from the disorder because they are a majority of those deployed, Dr. Resick added, “people underestimate what these women have been through.”

Indeed, at home, after completing important jobs in war, women with the disorder often smack up against old-fashioned ignorance: male veterans and friends who do not recognize them as “real soldiers”; husbands who have little patience with their avoidance of intimacy; and a society that expects them to be feminine nurturers, not the nurtured.

War as Equalizer

When Mrs. Pacquette joined the army in the ’80s — inspired by her father, who served in World War II — men often told her she did not belong. “Women were seen as weak and whiny,” she said. “Men had to go on sick call all the time but when a woman went on sick call, it was a big deal.”

Even before she was deployed to Iraq in 2004, however, she sensed what thousands of women have since discovered: that war would be an equalizer. And it was.

In early October 2004, her convoy of about 30 vehicles set out from Kuwait for Mosul, one of Iraq’s most violent cities. On the way, she said, they were hit three times with roadside bombs. One exploded 200 feet from the unarmored Humvee in which Mrs. Pacquette spent day and night pointing her rifle out an open window.

Gunshots arrived, too, on a bridge in Baghdad. Soldiers took up positions outside their vehicles, and an Iraqi was killed. “It was my birthday,” Mrs. Pacquette said. “I remember thinking, ‘Oh my God, I’m going to die.’ ”

Instead, she surprised even herself by remaining calm.

“There were guys on the ground that I was responsible for as an NCO,” she said, adding, “As a leader, I had to keep my fear inside.”

But later on, the war’s consequences began to weigh more heavily. On Dec. 21, an Iraqi suicide bomber walked into a mess tent at a base across the street from her own and blew himself up amid the plastic lunch trays, killing more than 25 people.

Then a mortar attack hit the motor pool where her unit worked. At the scene, she saw three of her friends torn up beyond recognition.

Recalling the scene nearly five years later, Mrs. Pacquette’s dark brown eyes began darting back and forth, as if looking for another rocket. She was in St. Croix, the island where she grew up, but her body stiffened like a wound coil — releasing only after her twin sister brought their faces together, in a silent hug that lasted several minutes.

Her mind had returned to the moment. And this emotional flashback is just one in a long list of post-traumatic stress symptoms that female veterans now know intimately. Fits of rage, insomnia, nightmares, depression, survivor’s guilt, fear of crowds — women with the disorder, like men, can and do get it all.

Mrs. Pacquette’s twin, Jamilah Moorehead, said she noticed it soon after her sister’s first tour. “In the middle of the night, I heard this loud noise and there was Viv,” Mrs. Moorehead said. “She was crouching as if holding a weapon and she was not even awake.”

A military doctor gave Mrs. Pacquette a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress in March 2005, but she refused treatment. “I didn’t want anyone to know,” she said.

That November, she returned to Iraq, where she said she managed to keep the disorder hidden because she often worked alone. She retired from the military in 2006, but is still struggling with how to face the diagnosis.

The worst part, she said, was seeing her personality harden. First, she lost the ability to trust the Iraqi soldiers she served with. Then at home, she said, she fell out of touch with loved ones, though her husband has stood by her side. Now simply standing in line with other people is enough to turn her into what she calls “a witch, but with B.”

Dr. Carri-Ann Gibson, Mrs. Pacquette’s therapist, who runs the Trauma Recovery Program at the James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital in Tampa, Fla., said the hardest part for women is that they often feel ashamed and guilty because “they’re not supposed to punch a wall, they’re not supposed to get aggressive with their spouse.”

Dr. Gibson said that for men, rage, paranoia and aggression are more accepted, while women are typically expected to snap back into domestic routines without any trouble.

“Women apply that pressure to themselves as well,” she said. “They live with that inner feeling of anger, and that’s why we see more events happening at home than actually out in public.”

Dr. Resick of the National Center for P.T.S.D. said much was still unknown about how the minds of men and women handle war. But at this point, she said, men and women differ mainly in how they manage similar symptoms.

“You put a man and a woman in a truck and they get blasted by an I.E.D., we’re not seeing big differences there,” Dr. Resick said, referring to improvised explosive devices. “That said, there are different context factors that affect how people cope.”

“The women — because they are not surrounded by other women, they may be surrounded by men — may withdraw more,” she continued. “The question is, Who are they with when they come home?”

Homefront Isolation

Many women traumatized by combat stress described lives of quiet desperation, alone, in just a few rooms with drawn shades.

Nancy Schiliro, 29, who lost her right eye as a result of a mortar attack in 2005, said that for more than two years after returning home, she rarely left a darkened garage in Hartsdale, N.Y., that her grandmother called “the bat cave.”

Shalimar Bien, 30, described her life, four years after Iraq, as a nonstop effort to avoid confrontation.

And for those with husbands or young children, finding a social equilibrium is especially difficult. Veterans like Aimee Sherrod, 29, a mother of two, say they constantly struggle to balance their own urge to hide with demands from loved ones to interact.

Ms. Sherrod said that five years after her last deployment to Iraq, she still makes only a few trips a week outside her home in Jackson, Tenn., usually to drop off or pick up her 4-year-old son at school.

She often feels like a failure because her son pushes for what she cannot handle. “I don’t take him to Chuck E. Cheese because I’ll get angry,” she said, noting that the arcade’s bells and bangs make her jumpy. “Take him to a park? It’s a lose-lose. I don’t like open spaces.”

She can identify a handful of causes for what her mind has become. In Baghdad with an Air Force rescue squadron from the fall of 2003 to the spring of 2004, she worked on helicopters, sometimes cleaning off the blood from casualties, and regularly receiving indirect fire. “I was getting mortared all the time,” Mrs. Sherrod said. “So someone was watching me.”

She also feels damaged from her time in Jordan, at the start of the Iraq war. One of only two women in her unit, she said, she was ostracized after asking to be shifted to nights because some of the men would not stop harassing her. Her superiors, she said, broke a promise to keep her complaint quiet and after that, the men in her unit lashed out. “This one guy said if I was on fire he wouldn’t even piss on me to put me out,” Mrs. Sherrod said.

Many female veterans report being treated with respect by male colleagues, more so as they proved themselves. But several women said in interviews that some men made their wartime experiences even harder.

Mrs. Pacquette said that on her second tour, in Baghdad, she took showers with an open knife on the soap dish after seeing a man flee the bathroom trailer, having just attacked a woman inside.

In Mrs. Sherrod’s case, the harm came more from being shunned by her unit. For months in Jordan, she said, she had no e-mail access. No phone. No friends. She was isolated.

So at home, she got used to pushing people away. On her first date with the man who became her husband, she told him she had post-traumatic stress, figuring he would not stick around. He did, but they have struggled to stay together.

She always wanted to be a mother, and described her first child as a product of a whirlwind return from war. She became pregnant with her son within a month of reaching home, she said, after a night of drinking. When she later got pregnant with her daughter, who is 9 months old, she said she still thought the doctors were wrong about her stress disorder.

Now, having finally accepted the diagnosis after connecting with other veterans online, she fears her own temper more than anything else.

The other day, in the car, she lost control when both of her children demanded attention. “I can handle one or the other,” she said, “but she was crying and he kept saying, ‘Mommy, mommy,’ so in the middle of the road, I stopped the car and yelled: ‘If you do not be quiet I’m going to turn around and hit you.’

“The look on his face broke my heart,” Mrs. Sherrod said. “He just wanted to talk to me. He wasn’t doing anything bad.”

She paused, then said: “I’m like that all the time.”

Homefront Ignorance

When Heather Paxton started working at the V.A. hospital in Columbia, Mo., two years ago, she discovered something she did not expect: no one saw her as a veteran.

Despite her service in Iraq, patients assumed she knew nothing of war. A male colleague who chattered about weapons dismissed her like a silly little sister when she chimed in.

“He’d give me the stink eye,” Ms. Paxton said. “He’d just walk away.”

For many female veterans today, war and their roles in it must be constantly explained. For those with post-traumatic stress, the constant demand for proof can be particularly maddening — confirming their belief that only the people who were “over there” can understand them here.

Men express similar sentiments; combat veterans of both sexes often complain about insensitive questions like, “Did you kill anyone?”

But women say they are also treated to another line of inquiry. Would male veterans, they ask, hear friends or relatives say, “How was the shopping?” Or “In that heat, how did you wear makeup?” Or “How could you have P.T.S.D. when you sat at a desk with a typewriter?”

Female veterans say they have heard them all.

They have also seen their sacrifice overlooked, in bars, where strangers slide past them to buy drinks for men who were never deployed; and at “welcome home” events where organizers asked for their husbands.

Tammy Duckworth, a former Black Hawk helicopter pilot who lost her legs to a rocket-propelled grenade in Iraq, said such experiences show that “we’re going through a change — just like in World War II with African-Americans, the military is ahead of the American public.”

What many do not realize, said Ms. Duckworth, who ran for Congress and is now the assistant secretary of public and intergovernmental affairs for the V.A., is that in war today, “it’s not a question, Can women can do a combat job. They just are.”

Some women have found ways to at least minimize the slight.

Ms. Paxton now has a picture above her desk, showing her, her mother and her brother, all in uniform.

Mrs. Pacquette has placed a decal on her cane (like many veterans, she has damaged knees and a bad back from lugging gear) that identifies her as an Iraq war veteran.

Sometimes, though, simple messages are not enough. Renee Peloquin, 25, a member of the Idaho National Guard, had to design a bumper sticker that says “Female Iraqi War Veteran” because the basic “Iraq War Veteran” message on her car led strangers to thank her long-haired boyfriend for serving, even though he has never spent a day in uniform.

“I’m so sick of being stereotyped,” Ms. Peloquin said. “Or being ignored, that’s a better word.”

The military and the Department of Veterans Affairs have worked hard to make the public more aware of women’s roles. There are now Army recruiting advertisements featuring women in war zones. The V.A. has bought hundreds of copies of the documentary “Lioness,” which profiles female veterans in Ramadi, while producing a video of its own with Jane Pauley that shows the history of military women.

Last year, the veterans’ agency also began a systemwide effort to make primary care for female veterans available at every V.A. medical facility nationwide. At Ms. Paxton’s V.A. in Columbia, and Dr. Gibson’s in Tampa, women’s centers take up separate wings of the hospitals, as the V.A. prepares for its population of patients who are women to double over the next few years.

For some women with post-traumatic stress, like Angela Peacock in St. Louis, the V.A. has been a godsend. She said that the doctors who helped her detoxify from drug and alcohol addiction saved her from suicide.

Many others, however, insist that the military, the V.A. and other established veterans organizations have not fully adapted to women’s new roles. The military, they say, still treats them like wives, not warriors.

Some therapists, case workers and female patients also say that because military regulations governing women’s roles have not caught up with reality, women must work harder to prove they saw combat and get the benefits they deserve.

V.A. officials, including Ms. Duckworth, say there is no systemic bias. V.A. statistics show that as of July 2009, 5,103 female Iraq or Afghanistan veterans had received disability benefits for the stress disorder, compared with 57,732 males.

But the V.A. did not provide the number of men and women who had applied, making a comparison of rejection rates impossible.

At best, women are caught in the same bureaucratic morass as men; the backlog for disability claims from all veterans climbed to 400,000 in July, up from 253,000 six years ago. At worst, women are sometimes held to a tougher standard.

Ms. Paxton is one of at least 3,000 female Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans with stress disorder diagnoses and no disability benefit, as shown by the V.A. statistics.

Serving in Tikrit, Iraq, five years ago with a civil affairs unit, she took part in missions several times a week on roads regularly rigged with bombs. She worked closely with two Iraqi translators who were killed — she saw one in his bullet-ridden car just after he had been assassinated — and she came home with nightmares, depression and anger.

Though she received a diagnosis of stress disorder by a V.A. doctor, she had her first disability claim rejected in 2006. A second refusal came a year later, and the third arrived in 2008, despite a letter verifying what happened from a captain with her unit.

Her V.A. case worker, Julie Heese, said the rejections highlighted what made the benefits system so challenging. “The claims process is a tough one because you have to have really clear evidence,” Ms. Heese said. She added that it works best “with a well documented battle or attack,” not with experiences that may go unrecorded, like the death of a translator.

Newly proposed V.A. rules easing requirements for documenting traumatic events could help Ms. Paxton’s case. But she said she feared a fourth disappointment.

She said she no longer cared about getting money. After experiencing the grave shock of war and its never-ending aftermath, she would like a little more recognition.

“Just admit that it happened,” she said, her voice rising, over a meal her husband cooked at their home in Columbia. “Then it’s over.”

Diana Oliva Cave contributed reporting.

Previous articles and videos in the "Women at Arms" series:

October 30, 2009

9 remain missing after collision off Calif.

By Gidget Fuentes - Staff writer
Posted : Friday Oct 30, 2009 17:19:44 EDT

SAN DIEGO — Marine Corps and Coast Guard officials held out hope Friday but feared the loss of nine service members after an AH-1W Super Cobra collided in the air Thursday night with a C-130 turbo aircraft near San Clemente Island.

To continue reading:


Marines return from Afghan mission

'Island Warriors' suffered 9 deaths on deployment to volatile south and west

KANEOHE BAY — Marine Lance Cpl. Larry Draughn lost both legs and part of his hand in May when he stepped through a doorway and set off a roadside bomb in Helmand province in southern Afghanistan.


Please click above link for video.

Friday, October 30, 2009

But the 22-year-old's motivation to survive turned out to be pretty strong.

Asked what went through his mind when the smoke and fire cleared, Draughn said, "Oh, man, everything. My wife and my kid. Just seeing them smile in the back of my mind knowing that I had to fight through for them."

He was walking again on prosthetic legs a month after he got to Walter Reed Army Medical Center for rehabilitation.

And yesterday, Draughn made sure he was there in a hangar at Kaneohe Bay to welcome fellow Marines and sailors home.

"I owed it to them," said the Ohio man, who now uses a cane. "They saved my life."

About 300 Marines and sailors with the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment returned to their base at Kaneohe Bay yesterday morning after a six-month deployment to a violent south and western Afghanistan.

Sabrina Kachurka, who was reunited with her husband, Lance Cpl. Eric Kachurka, 21, summed up what just about every family member was thinking.

"It's really a great feeling (that he's back)," Sabrina Kachurka said. "Just knowing where he was and the danger he was in — it was crazy. It's just really exciting, overwhelming."

When she spotted her husband coming off the charter Omni Air International jet, she ran and jumped into his arms. The couple's first wedding anniversary was earlier this month, and it was Eric Kachurka's first deployment as a Marine.

The "Island Warriors" were greeted by several hundred friends and family members in Hangar 105 at the Marine Corps base as a band played and tears of joy flowed.

The battalion of about 1,000 Marines and sailors deployed in May to Helmand and Farah provinces in its first combat tour of Afghanistan since 2006. They operated in an area the size of Vermont.

The unit was part of a surge of 21,000 extra U.S. troops ordered to an increasingly restive Afghanistan by President Obama. Other groups of 2nd Battalion Marines will be returning in coming days.

The Marines battled insurgents in the poppy fields, orchards and walled compounds of southern Helmand province. They also were based out of the desert terrain in western Farah province that was once part of an old caravan route.

Lance Cpl. Trevon Robinson, 21, who was with Fox Company in Farah province, said Afghanistan was a "huge change" from his last deployment to Iraq.

Iraq was a "hearts and minds kind of thing — dealing with the local people. In Afghanistan, it wasn't that way. It was more firefights and more (roadside bombs)," Robinson said.

Capt. Zachary Martin, the commander of Golf Company, said his Marines were involved in 15 to 20 major engagements that each lasted up to several hours, involved up to 40 to 50 enemy fighters and required U.S. helicopter or jet ground support.

"Well over a dozen" Purple Hearts for battlefield injuries will be awarded within his company, he said.

Chris Brummitt, an Associated Press reporter who was with Golf Company, said that by the end of June improvised explosive devices had killed one Marine and wounded seven. Eight Mar-ines and a Navy corpsman with the 2nd Battalion were killed on the deployment.

Martin said Helmand province is important because its opium finances the Taliban, and the district center of Now Zad — now abandoned — once was the No. 2 city in Helmand.

"You can tell it was a very verdant, successful and productive city at one time," Martin said. "So obviously reclaiming and rebuilding that would be a huge victory over the Taliban."

Martin said there was no U.S. involvement with the local populace or Afghan security presence at the start of the deployment, but "when we left, we had all those things."

Another Marine company has replaced Martin's unit, and he said an eventual improvement plan would have an international demining effort clear Now Zad of roadside bombs.

Another 1,000 Hawaii Marines with the 1st Battalion will be leaving for Afghanistan in about two weeks, but the area where they will operate has not been disclosed

Military aircraft collide off Calif. coast

By Thomas Watkins - The Associated Press
Posted : Friday Oct 30, 2009 10:36:48 EDT

SAN DIEGO — The Coast Guard and Navy were still hoping Friday to find survivors of a collision between a Coast Guard plane carrying two people and a Marine Corps helicopter carrying seven off the Southern California coast.

To read the entire article:


Task Force East Marines close chapter on successful deployment

AL ASAD AIR BASE, Iraq — Since the earliest days of the Marine Corps, all Marines have been taught they are riflemen first. This philosophy shines true with the Marines of Task Force East, II Marine Expeditionary Force Headquarters Group (Forward). As they depart Iraq, they do so knowing the basic training they received was the cornerstone for the experiences they shared here. With their deployment at its end, the Marines of TFE reflect on their overall experiences and lessons learned.


10/30/2009 By Cpl. Triah Pendracki, Multi National Force - West

“Task Force East has Marines from 42 different [military occupational specialties],” explained Capt. Patrick Boyce, the officer-in-charge of Al Asad Air Base’s Provost Marshal Office. “Our Marines are from the infantry, military police, supply, administration and even the band. It goes to show that any Marine, no matter what his MOS, can accomplish a mission when given the proper tools and leadership.”

After arriving at Al Asad Air Base, Iraq, in July, some TFE Marines were sent out on military movement teams throughout the Al Anbar province to assist the Iraqi Police with training.

“Our MMTs were working in Haditha, Baghdadi, Hit, Ramadi, Fallujah, Al Qa’im and Habbaniyah,” explained Capt. Matthew Reis, the executive officer for TFE. “The mission of the MMTs was to provide mobility and security to the Iraqi Police advisors and interpreters, so that the professionalization of the IP forces throughout the province could continue to flourish.”

“I had a great time in Al Qa’im,” said Sgt. Joseph Segal, an assistant convoy commander for an MMT. “I think we all have a sense of accomplishment when we see how far the Iraqi Police have come. It’s surprising, but some of us don’t want to go home just yet.”

The MMTs conducted key leader engagements with the district chiefs of police and aided in the facilitation of classes for the police to include improvised explosive device awareness and an investigator’s course.

While some of the TFE Marines were conducting their missions away from Al Asad, many Marines aboard the base had their own tasks to attend to.

“The Marines with TFE that remained here on base managed internal security, base safety and traffic regulations,” said Boyce. “We worked with the base reaction force for any internal issues and with explosive ordnance disposal for the many unexploded ordnance found on and around the base.”

The Marines also searched third country nationals on base for contraband items such as cell phones and cameras.

Before arriving in Iraq, all the Marines had roughly five months to train with one another in a variety of ways including tactics and room-clearing procedures.

“Some of the Marines who were originally military police were tasked out to different areas, so we had to train all the Marines from the different MOSs in the unit to the MP standard,” explained Boyce. “They took their missions and ran with them, finding better and easier ways to solve problems and accomplish their mission. They operated as well as many schoolhouse trained MPs.”

Many of the Marines can take everything they learned during their time with TFE and build upon their own professionalism.

“These Marines can go back to their offices and use the leadership skills they have all gained out here for their job, no matter what MOS they may be,” concluded Boyce. “Deployment changes you, but it changed these Marines in a great way.”

Even though they were separated from family and friends, the Marines of TFE maintained a positive attitude toward their mission and toward the Iraqis they worked closely with on the MMTs.

“My Marines were motivated to do their part in this mission,” said Gunnery Sgt. Chad Eddy, operations chief for MMT-5. “They were excited to do their job every day.”

It is a bittersweet ending for these Marines heading back to Quantico to fulfill their mission back in the U.S.

“Most of my Marines wanted to stay,” joked Staff Sgt. Jose Santiago, watch commander with the unit. “It was a great experience for all of us, but now we have to pack up and head home.”

Obama to meet military brass on Afghanistan

WASHINGTON (AFP) – President Barack Obama Friday meets his top military chiefs to talk strategy in Pakistan and Afghanistan in one of the final steps before deciding whether to send thousands more US troops to war.


by Stephen Collinson Stephen Collinson – Fri Oct 30, 5:00 am ET

Obama invited the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the heads of the branches of the US armed services, to the secure White House Situation Room to hear their input on his war plan and deliberations on troop numbers, officials said.

He will hold the meeting a day after his poignant visit to witness the return to home soil of fallen Americans from Afghanistan, after which he said the heavy sacrifice of US soldiers was weighing on his decision-making.

"It was a sobering reminder of the extraordinary sacrifices that our young men and women in uniform are engaging in every single day," Obama said in the Oval Office, hours after watching remains of 18 US servicemen flown home.

"Obviously the burden that both our troops and our families bear in any wartime situation is going to bear on how I see these conflicts.

"And it is something that I think about each and every day," Obama said, after the visit to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware.

Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said Thursday that the president was "at the end stages of what is this, sort of, close-hold, pre-decisional, confidential process over at the White House."

Other signs that Obama may be nearing a decision are coming in a flurry of leaks of aspects of the coalescing strategy to major US newspapers.

The Washington Post reported on Thursday that Obama had asked senior officials for an analysis of Afghan provinces to determine which regions are well managed and which are not, to guide his decision on troop numbers.

Earlier this week, The New York Times reported the White House was settling on an Afghan strategy that would send more US troops to protect top population centers, but recognizes that the insurgency cannot be completely eradicated.Related article: UC plea for security

Obama has spent weeks deliberating over a request by top war General Stanley McChrystal for 40,000 more troops to fight the escalating Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan, which warned the war could be lost without more men.

He has completed a string of in-depth discussions in the White House with senior aides, probing every aspect of US strategy in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Already fragile US public opinion on the war is being tested by a rush of recent casualties in Afghanistan, with October the bloodiest month for American troops of the eight-year conflict so far.

Expectations are mounting that Obama could reveal his answer to McChrystal's request before he leaves for an eight-day trip to Asia on November 11.

But he is believed unlikely to reveal his decision whether to reinforce the 68,000 US troops in the country before the Afghan run-off election on November 7.

Obama's trip to Dover, where remains of most US service members killed in Afghanistan and Iraq arrive, was the first time he had witnessed the transfer of returning bodies.

During his visit, the president solemnly walked aboard the aircraft for a prayer beside transfer cases holding the remains of 15 soldiers and three Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) personnel killed on Monday, during the deadliest month of the war for US troops.

Former president George W. Bush, had banned news coverage of returning bodies from foreign military operations, and did not attend repatriations himself.

On Tuesday, Obama told servicemen and women in Florida he would not "rush" a decision on which lives depend.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said this week only that the decision will be made "in the coming weeks."

Among senior officers expected at the White House on Monday were General James Cartwright, vice chairman of the joint chiefs; Army Chief of Staff General George W. Casey; General James Conway, commandant of the US Marine Corps; Admiral Gary Roughead, chief of naval operations; and General Norton Schwartz, air force chief of staff.

Vice President Joe Biden, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Joint Chiefs chairman Admiral Michael Mullen and other top Obama security forces were also due to attend.

October 29, 2009

Evansville Marine, wounded in Afghanistan, receives electric vehicle

ARLINGTON, Va. - An Evansville Marine injured in Afghanistan was one of 25 soldiers awarded personal mobility vehicles at a ceremony in Arlington, Va., on Thursday.


State Journal staff | Posted: Thursday, October 29, 2009 8:55 pm

The Segs4Vets program presented Cpl. Jacob Janes and other service members with two-wheeled, electric Segway PTs at the Marine Corps War Memorial, according to a statement from U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin, D-Madison, who was at the ceremony.

Janes lost both legs below the knees after he stepped on an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan in April. He was awarded the Purple Heart and other service medals.

The nonprofit, grass-roots Segs4Vets has awarded 356 Segways to disabled veterans since 2006.

San Luis Obispo High alumnus was in helicopter crash that killed four in Afghanistan on Monday

Man loses lower leg in Monday’s helicopter wreck; parents fly from the county to see him

A Marine captain and San Luis Obispo High School alumnus is recovering in a hospital in Germany after he lost one of his lower legs and suffered other serious injuries in a helicopter crash Monday in Afghanistan.


Thursday, Oct. 29, 2009

Worried friends and family have inundated the San Luis Obispo County relatives of 31-year-old Blake Dwight Smith with concerns about his safety and well-being.

His parents, Craig Smith and Georgina Pease, have flown to Landstuhl Army Regional Medical Center in Germany to be with him, according to Blake Smith’s stepfather, Dan Pease.

“We have heard directly from the hospital bed,” Dan Pease said. “Friends were able to visit him and e-mail us. He opened his eyes, and he recognized them, and he was trying to remove his ventilator so the hospital staff removed it for him.”

He’s conscious and aware, Pease said.

Pease and Blake Smith’s stepmother, Jody Smith, plan to fly to the Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland to see him when he is transported back to the United States for further medical treatment.

Georgina and Dan Pease live in San Luis Obispo; Jody and Craig Smith live in Atascadero.

Blake Smith, who was piloting a Vietnam-era Huey in the Helmand River Valley in Afghanistan, lost his left leg below the knee in the crash. He also injured his shoulder and arm and suffered other injuries, his stepfather said.

Pease had been told that his stepson is in stage 2 critical condition, which means that he is in critical condition but all of his vital signs are under control.

Four Marines were killed in the crash in which two helicopters collided. In a separate helicopter accident in another region of Afghanistan the same day, an estimated 14 died, including soldiers and Drug Enforcement Administration agents.

“We are really fortunate,” Dan Pease said. “We have somebody we can go see. Other families don’t. We are small-town America. It was our first time to experience this sort of tragedy. As hard as it is, there are people who can’t visit their children in the hospital.”

Blake Smith was born in the North County and attended schools in Atascadero before starting at Mission Prep in San Luis Obispo.

After two years, he transferred to San Luis Obispo High School, where he graduated.

Smith is single and has no children.

He served in the Air Force for four years, and then attended and graduated from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, Ariz. He followed that with stints as a flight instructor in Alaska and Seattle, and then he joined the Marines.

While he was expected to complete his current tour in Afghanistan next month, Pease said he believes Smith planned to make the military his career. He is in the Viper Squadron out of Camp Pendleton.

“How does any parent hold up in something like this?” Pease said. “It’s a parent’s worst nightmare that you can only imagine. If you were asking me about it yesterday, I couldn’t even talk to you.”

Ruth Kisselburg of Yuma, Ariz., Blake’s step-grandmother, said he has always been successful.

“He’s just a really intelligent young man,” she said. “He’s been up and going everywhere. He’s always had charisma, so much so I’ve told him he should be a politician. He can charm all the ladies, but the men like him, too.”

Kisselburg said that Smith’s mother hadn’t wanted him to join the military either time.

“Georgina cried for two weeks when he enlisted,” she said.

The last e-mail she received from her grandson was in August.

“He planned to buy a car and drive across the whole USA and stop at every tourist stop in the whole country,” she said.

October 28, 2009

Postal Service Announces Holiday Mailing Guidelines

BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan, Oct. 28, 2009 – U.S. Postal Service officials have announced recommended mailing dates for delivery by Christmas to U.S. servicemembers serving in Afghanistan and other overseas locations.


By Air Force Tech. Sgt. John Jung
Special to American Forces Press Service

First-class and priority mail for servicemembers stationed in Afghanistan should be sent by Dec. 4 for arrival by Christmas. The deadline for parcel airlift mail is Dec. 1, and space-available mail bound for Afghanistan should be sent by Nov. 21.

Officials recommend that parcel post mail to all military overseas locations should be sent by Nov. 13.

A chart with recommended mailing deadlines for all types of mail to various APO and FPO addresses is available at the Postal Service’s Web site at

Express mail cannot be used to mail packages to Afghanistan; however priority mail is available.

Priority mail packaging products, including priority mail flat-rate boxes, can be obtained free at any post office, or online at http://shop.usps.com. The priority mail large flat-rate box can be used to mail to any overseas military address, no matter the weight of the box, for $11.95.

The Postal Service offers free military care kits, designed for military families sending packages overseas. To order by phone, call 800-610-8734 and ask for the military care kit. Each kit includes two "America Supports You" large priority mail flat-rate boxes, four medium-sized priority mail flat-rate boxes, six priority mail labels, a roll of priority mail tape and six customs forms with envelopes.

"All packages and mail must be addressed to the individual servicemember by name, without rank, in accordance with Department of Defense regulations," said Air Force Master Sgt. Deb LaGrandQuintana, the 455th Expeditionary Communications Squadron official mail manager here.

Military overseas units are assigned an APO or FPO ZIP code, and in many cases, that ZIP code travels with the unit wherever it goes, LaGrandQuintana added.

The Postal Service places APO and FPO mail to overseas military servicemembers on special transportation destined to be delivered as soon as possible.

Mail sent APO and FPO addresses may require customs forms. All mail addressed to military post offices overseas is subject to certain conditions or restrictions regarding content, preparation and handling. For general guidelines on sending mail to servicemembers overseas, visit http://www.usps.com/supportingourtroops/.

Postal Service officials recommend taking the following measures when sending packages:

-- If you use a regular box, use one strong enough to protect the contents with no writing on the outside.

-- Cushion contents with newspaper, bubble wrap, or Styrofoam. Pack tightly to avoid shifting.

-- Package food items like cookies, fudge, candies, etc. securely in leak-proof containers.

-- Use pressure-sensitive or nylon-reinforced packing tape.

-- Do not use wrapping paper, string, masking tape, or cellophane tape outside the package.

-- Print your return address and the servicemember’s complete name, without rank, followed by unit and APO or FPO delivery address on one side only of the package.

-- Place a return address label inside the package.

-- Stuff fragile items with newspaper or packing material to avoid damage.

-- Remove batteries from toys and appliances. Wrap and place them next to the items inside.

-- Purchase insurance and delivery confirmation service for reassurance of package delivery.

(Air Force Tech. Sgt. John Jung serves in the 455th Air Expeditionary Wing public affairs office.)

October 27, 2009

N.C. Marines will take part in the commissioning of USS New York

CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. — North Carolina Marines from several units recently joined to form Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force 26. SPMAGTF-26 is scheduled to board the ship that will become USS New York, Oct. 29. The ship and embarked Marines will sail to New York City for the ship’s commissioning, Nov. 7, where it will be designated USS New York.
USS New York holds particular significance to the people of New York with 7 1/2 tons of steel recovered from the World Trade Center forged into her bow. The ship also honors the memory of those who lost their lives during the unprovoked attacks of 9/11.


10/27/2009 By 26th MEU Public Affairs, 26th MEU

USS New York holds particular significance to the people of New York with 7 1/2 tons of steel recovered from the World Trade Center forged into her bow. The ship also honors the memory of those who lost their lives during the unprovoked attacks of 9/11.

The 260 Marines who make up SPMAGTF-26 represent Marine Corps expeditionary forces that will deploy aboard USS New York in the future.

The ship and Marines will arrive in New York City, Nov. 2. During its approximate two weeks in New York, the ship will be open for public tours where the embarked Marines will showcase their equipment and interact with visitors.

USS New York will be the Navy’s newest Landing Platform Dock, a class of ship designed to embark Marine Corps units who can execute a wide range of missions. Improvements to this class of ship include a larger flight deck with an on-deck hanger, larger well deck for amphibious operations, enhancements to troop berthing and other areas. These advancements are designed to allow embarked Marines to prepare for and conduct operations more quickly and efficiently then previous versions of the LPD.

The flight deck will be capable of launching up to two MV-22 Osprey tilt rotor aircraft simultaneously. It can also serve as the launch point for Marine CH-53E Super Stallion, UH-1N Huey and AH-1W Super Cobra helicopters. The well deck is capable of supporting two Landing Craft Air Cushioned as well as the traditional Landing Craft Utility and Marine amphibious craft. The vehicle stowage areas offer more space and maneuverability for Marine land vehicles like the M1A1 Abrams tank, and others.

The 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit command element provided the majority of the unit’s members assigned to show case the Marine Corps’ future role on the ship.

The Aviation element will showcase Marine air assets capable of launching from USS New York. It is comprised of pilots, crew and support Marines for CH-46E, CH-53E, AH-1W, UH-1N and MV-22 Osprey aircraft, which come from II and IV Marine Air Wing. II MAW is providing a majority of support with aircraft from Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 366, Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 167, Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 467, Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 365 and Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 29. IV MAW is providing aircraft from Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 774.

The Ground Combat Element will highlight infantry assets able to deploy from USS New York. It contains conventional infantry reinforced with light armored vehicles, tanks, artillery, combat engineers and amphibious assault vehicles. 2nd Marine Division is providing support with elements from 2nd Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, who are augmented by elements of F Battery, 2nd Battalion, 12 Marine Regiment; 2nd Assault Amphibian Battalion; 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion; and 2nd Tank Battalion.

At the conclusion of the event, the Marines will return to their parent units aboard Camp Lejeune and Marine Corps Air Stations Cherry Point and New River.

October 26, 2009

Injured vet inspires legislation

Washington -- Former Marine Lance Cpl. Josef Lopez completed his third Marine Corps Marathon on a crisp fall Sunday, one of about 60 riding hand-cranked bikes on a course that passes by memorials to Jefferson, Lincoln and Washington.

Please click above link for photo.

Peter Urban • [email protected] • October 26, 2009

"I felt real good until the last two miles," Lopez said. "I couldn't move my arms much after that."

The final stretch, up a hill to the Iwo Jima Memorial in Arlington, Va., was awful, but the 23-year-old from Springfield did what Marines do. He grunted it out and finished in under three hours.

"Awesome," said Lopez, who has allowed his marathon training to slip while taking a full schedule of courses this semester at Missouri State.

Just over three years ago, Lopez lay in a hospital bed barely able to move. He had suffered a disabling reaction to a smallpox vaccination taken just before deploying to Iraq. About nine days after arriving in country, he felt his legs go numb.

He soon found himself paralyzed and in peril of dying. He was quickly transported to a military hospital in Landstuhl, Germany and then to the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., where he stayed for six weeks.

It was there, in Bethesda, that Lopez watched the marathon and told his mother he would be in the race the next year.

"I thought it was crazy," Barbara Lopez said. "At the time, he couldn't turn himself over."

Lopez was not an athlete in high school but enjoyed backpacking and was a percussionist in the marching band at Willard High School.

"I never really was much of a runner," he said, but the Marine Corps Marathon was a challenge he felt compelled to attack.

After returning home to Springfield, Lopez got a hand bike and began training. A year later, he finished his first marathon in around 2 1/2 hours.

The marathon itself is only part of the allure for Lopez. The weekend has also become a chance to catch up with friends, old and new. This year he met three of the nurses who helped care for him while he lay in a coma in Germany. He and his mother also met with Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., who has introduced legislation in his name.

The legislation would allow him and others severely injured by vaccine reactions to collect a one-time payment of up to $100,000 that is now available only to service members who suffer traumatic injuries. Lopez would have been eligible for $75,000.

"This is a loophole of the worst kind," said McCaskill. "It doesn't make any sense."

The Senate Armed Services Committee held a hearing on McCaskill's bill last week. Representatives of the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars testified in support of the change.

Congress included the initial benefit in a 2005 law as a one-time benefit to service members who suffered a life-altering injury. During debate on the measure, then-Sen. Barack Obama spoke in support, saying it provided an opportunity for the nation to carry out "a fundamental moral duty to take care of those men and women who've sacrificed to safeguard our freedom."

There was no opposition but the Veterans Administration determined that the law, as written, applied only to service members who suffered a traumatic injury and therefore did not apply to Lopez or others disabled by a reaction to the smallpox vaccine.

McCaskill hopes to get her bill approved this year but two chances slipped by last week. President Obama signed a V.A. health care reform bill into law and the Senate gave final approval to an annual bill that sets budget priorities for the Department of Defense -- neither included the McCaskill provision.

Barbara Lopez, a secretary at Central High School, first brought the issue to McCaskill's attention last year. The money, she said, would be a help.

"There was a big financial hardship for us that we just had to deal with," she said. "I've worked two jobs ever since, trying to pay people back who loaned me money, and Joe has ongoing expenses."

Barbara Lopez took a leave from her job to be at her son's hospital bedside for nearly two months. While she kept her secretary job, she lost two night jobs. Shortly after Lopez returned to Springfield to begin physical rehabilitation, his father died from a long illness.

Lopez also had to widen doors in his house and get a wheelchair ramp. He spent about a year in a wheelchair but is now able to walk with a limp for short distances. He is on medication to control spasms in his legs. His medical expenses have been covered by the VA since he was discharged in June, and he is attending college on the GI bill.

Barbara Lopez has written a soon to be published book, "First One Home," that documents the family's experiences since Lopez suffered an acute reaction to the smallpox vaccine.

While her focus has been on securing the $75,000 benefit, Barbara Lopez also wonders why the military continues to vaccinate against smallpox.

The military began the smallpox vaccination program in 2003 largely out of concern that Saddam Hussein would use biological weapons against U.S. troops.

The last case of smallpox in the United States occurred in 1949 and the last naturally occurring case in the world occurred in Somalia in 1977. The World Health Organization determined in 1980 that a global vaccination campaign had been successful in eliminating naturally occurring smallpox from the world.

October 25, 2009

Flag taken by Marine at Saipan draws attention

By Brandon Macz - The Lewiston (Idaho) Tribune via AP
Posted : Sunday Oct 25, 2009 17:17:58 EDT

LEWISTON, Idaho — It was during the Battle of Saipan in 1944 that Laverne Coulthard came to possess the flag. His squad had orders to cross Japanese lines to establish an observation unit on Mount Tapotchau.

Please go to the following link to read the entire article:


Marine reserves from Detrick heading to Afghanistan

About 145 Marine reserves from Fort Detrick are preparing to deploy to Helmand province in Afghanistan.


Originally published October 25, 2009
By Megan Eckstein
News-Post Staff

Along with five active-duty Marines with whom they've trained, the reservists fly to Camp Pendleton, Calif., this weekend to finish training for what is expected to be a seven-month tour of duty. They will leave for Afghanistan before Christmas, though officials speculated they'd probably leave by the end of November.

Company B of the 4th Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion comprises Marines from the Frederick and Baltimore areas, as well as from elsewhere in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia, said 1st Sgt. Martin Word, the company's senior adviser to the commanding officer.

The reservists are younger than many of their active-duty counterparts -- Word guessed the average age of the Marines in his company was 22 or 23 years old -- and are leaving full-time jobs or school to serve their country.

"We're gonna miss our families, but we signed a contract, so it's inevitable when there's a war going on," he said.

Though he knows some of the Marines' wives and relatives oppose the war and the company's deployment, he said they should still support their loved ones and trust that they'll take care of one another in Afghanistan.

"We gotta take care of each other and that's what I'm here to do, to take care of these guys to the best of my ability. I want them all coming home, I want them to have that parade down Market Street."

Easier said than done, said Word's wife, Wendy.

"You don't understand unless you're going through it," she said. "It's a mixed bag of feelings." Martin Word served in the Gulf War in 1990-91, when the two were just dating. But this time around, Wendy said, "the worry is on a whole other level ... there's more uncharted territory at this point in time, (the Gulf War) was kind of 'get in, get out,' and this has been going on for eight years."

As a Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, the reservists will be the "eyes and ears, the quick reaction" for other units in the area, said Maj. Joe Corbett, the top-ranking administrator at the reservists' training center in Frederick . This type of company is "very nimble, very quick to get around the battlefield" and can respond if a higher-ranking commander requests help in a nearby area.

Martin Word said the reservists would be working with local Afghan leaders to see what help they need, be it infrastructure upgrades or life's necessities. Though he can't promise to deliver everything they ask for, he said an important part of the Marines' work in the country is forging a good relationship with the leaders to help minimize Taliban and al-Qaida influence.

"Our mindset is, we're gonna go in here and help the good guys, and if we have to we'll defeat the bad guys if we run into that situation," he said. "We're not trying to impose our will, we're just trying to establish a relationship and say 'what kind of help do you all need? What are the townspeople saying that you could use?'"

Between now and their departure, the Marine reservists will be learning various languages and dialects spoken in Helmand province, as well as learning about the culture so as not to accidentally offend the local tribes.

Helmand province has been a trouble area for U.S. forces, with insurgents profiting from opium trade. But Word said he wasn't letting the region's reputation distract him.

"There's something wrong with you if you say you're not nervous," he said. "But you can have a positive attitude still, a positive nervousness. It's like, yeah, I'm a little nervous, but I'm ready and aggressive at the same time."

The bigger concern for the Marines, Word said, is leaving their families. He is worried about leaving behind a wife and 2-year-old triplets, Austin, Isabella and Patrick. He said he can rest a little easier because her family and friends have been traveling in to help her, but it's still hard to leave. Having a family to come home to only reinforces the Marines' goal:

"Get in, get it done, get out."

Women at war

This photograph from Afghanistan recently made rounds on the Facebook and e-mail accounts of folks whose work centers on military women's issues.


by Colleen Jenkins, St. Petersburg Times
October 25, 2009

This photograph from Afghanistan recently made rounds on the Facebook and e-mail accounts of folks whose work centers on military women's issues.

The image itself didn't surprise them. It showed four Marines resting at a makeshift patrol base, their guns and helmets propped up against the familiar dusty backdrop of an Asian battlefield. Two of the Marines seemed to be snacking. One picked at her foot.

Yes, her foot.

The four Marines were women, but the caption for the photo that ran above the fold on the front page of the New York Times earlier this month made no mention of their gender. They were identified simply as "American Marines." The braided hair and feminine features spoke for themselves.

Yet the very lack of attention given to the Marines' sex ended up drawing notice anyway. Lory Manning, a retired Navy captain, said she and her colleagues were struck by the matter-of-fact nature of the image's presentation.

"Isn't it amazing? It's just four Marines in a dugout. And nobody's pointing out that it's four female Marines," said Manning, director of the Women in the Military Project at the Women's Research and Education Institute in Washington.

Speaking by phone last week from their base in southern Afghanistan, the four Marines said the generic photo caption suited them just fine.

"For most of us, there's no such thing as a female Marine," said Lance Cpl. Jordan Herald, who is from Chenoa, Ill. "We do the same things, so there's no reason to classify us any different."

Today's American military is at some critical crossroads. The war in Afghanistan is in its ninth year, and things don't look good. Reports indicate that the Taliban are the strongest they've been since being pushed from power in 2001, the Afghan election is unresolved, and violence against American soldiers and Marines has risen.

President Barack Obama is considering whether to send an additional 40,000 troops to the country. The stakes are high: Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, candidly told his boss that inadequate resources would doom the United States' military efforts there.

Back home, Obama has pledged to end the "don't ask, don't tell" policy for gays in the military, and the Navy is considering allowing women to serve on submarines for the first time.

The latter news gives hope to those who support officially expanded roles for women in the Army and Marine Corps. On paper, Defense Department policy still bars women from serving in ground combat units.

But that policy, crafted in 1994, didn't anticipate the current realities that American troops face. There is no front line. The moment service members step on Iraqi or Afghan soil, they are in harm's way.

And though women technically are supposed to serve in jobs that keep them away from direct enemy contact — making specialties like infantry, armor, field artillery and Special Forces off-limits — the rules have increasingly been blurred and skirted as they prove their mettle during the extended conflicts.

In these wars, women serve as machine gunners. They drive trucks down roads booby-trapped with bombs. They tend to wounded colleagues as bullets whiz by. They patrol streets and dispose of explosives. In some cases, they kill.

The approximately 800 female Marines currently serving in Iraq and Afghanistan make up roughly 4.5 percent of the total Marine Corps force deployed there. More than 17,500 female soldiers are supporting the Army's efforts in those countries, or about 10 percent of the deployed force.

Some have received medals for valor. Others have paid the ultimate price. Since 2001, seven female Marines have been killed in action, all of them in Iraq. Eighty-two female soldiers have died in Iraq, and 10 lost their lives in Afghanistan, according to figures provided by those branches.

"Iraq has advanced the cause of full integration for women in the Army by leaps and bounds," retired Army Col. Peter R. Mansoor told the New York Times last summer.

Ironically, the expanded roles for women in the military have come about in countries that severely limit the freedoms of their own female citizens. Even as more American women climb the military ranks — last year, Ann E. Dunwoody became the first female four-star general — Afghan women still face oppressive restrictions on their basic rights and have to worry about their daughters being doused with acid as they walk to school.

The paradox goes further. The cultural barriers breaking down, perhaps inadvertently, in the American military are due in part to the cultural barriers that exist in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Most women in the those countries can't talk to or be seen by men who aren't related to them. To show sensitivity to local customs, female soldiers and Marines are called upon to search the women for weapons. They process and interrogate female detainees. And teams of female U.S. Marines have recently begun donning head scarves under their helmets in an attempt to build relationships with, and perhaps gain intelligence from, Afghan women in some of the country's most dangerous areas.

The four Marines featured in the New York Times were photographed "outside the wire" as members of these female engagement teams. Tasked with searching and engaging the women and children in villages located in southern Afghanistan, female Marines have effectively been pushed to the front lines out of necessity. The Afghan women won't speak to Western men, but maybe they'll open up to their own sex.

The four Marines spend most of their time stationed at Camp Leatherneck in Helmand Province, where they work alongside their male counterparts driving trucks, setting up radio communications and maintaining and building bombs and missile launchers.

Their names and ranks are Lance Cpl. Ryann Campion, Sgt. Kendra Herbst, Cpl. Kayla Boisvert and Lance Cpl. Jordan Herald. They have been in Afghanistan since spring.

The world of uniforms and service to country is in their blood. All four women have family members who have also served. But that didn't make their decisions to join the Marines any easier on their loved ones. Not in this war.

"My mom gave me the option of college or military. But I don't think she thought I was going to choose military, so she was scared," said Boisvert, a 22-year-old from Tyngsboro, Mass. Her brother, a fellow Marine, lost part of his right leg and the use of his right hand after he was hit by an improvised explosive device in Iraq in 2004.

"He didn't want me to do it," Herald said of her father, an Army sergeant who is also serving in Afghanistan. "But he knew it was something I wanted to do, so he supported me."

The women said they wanted to see new things, travel and earn money for college. They relish the challenge the Marine Corps offers.

"I go on any type of mission that is tasked because I want to experience it all," said Campion, a 19-year-old from Hatboro, Pa.

Their gender does set them apart, even if they are reluctant to acknowledge it. They have separate bathrooms, showers and living quarters at Camp Leatherneck. They feel like they have to try harder to prove themselves, and they don't want anything handed to them. They know the Afghan men aren't crazy about having them around and maybe some of their own male colleagues aren't either.

But they are also a part of the generation of female service members who have dispelled many of the fears people had about sending women into combat. The women serving in Iraq and Afghanistan have shown they are capable of handling the emotional and physical rigors of wars that high-ranking officials say could not have been fought without them.

"We're all trained the same," Herald said.

"No one is willing to admit inferiority to males," joked Capt. Abraham Sipe, the deputy public affairs officer who coordinated the phone interview for this story.

Herbst, a 24-year-old from Somonauk, Ill., chimed in.

"That's 'cause it doesn't exist."

Remembering the Brave Ceremony salutes servicemen

Seven months ago, a Montgomery County native, Marine Sgt. James R. McIlvaine, was killed while supporting combat operations in Anbar province in Iraq. Friday night, his citations were read aloud to his family and friends as 65 fallen servicemen were honored in the Remembering the Brave Ceremony at the National Museum of the Marine Corps, less than three miles from the Quantico Marine Base where McIlvaine once served.

Please click above link for photo.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Suspended aircraft, etched granite walls, photos of lost loved ones and mounted uniforms provided a fitting backdrop for a night that was about remembering, not mourning, according to Lt. Col. Steve Beck, founder of the Remembering the Brave foundation and ceremonies.

"The ideas of freedom are certainly larger than any of us," Col. Beck said in regard to the sacrifices made by men and women who serve in the military and the families they leave behind.

Fifty-nine families were given posthumous medals, freedom certificates and a yellow rose for each year of service contributed by their fallen loved ones. The ceremony and foundation are as much about honoring the families as they are about honoring the servicemen, according to Col. Beck

October 24, 2009

RCT-7 Takes Over Counterinsurgency Operations in Afghanistan

HELMAND PROVINCE, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan – Regimental Combat Team 7 took over counterinsurgency operations throughout southern Afghanistan from Regimental Combat Team 3 during a ceremony here Oct. 24.


Regimental Combat Team-7, 1st Marine Division Public Affairs
Story by Staff Sgt. Luis Agostini
Date: 10.24.2009
Posted: 10.25.2009 07:20

RCT-7, comprised of three infantry battalions and one artillery battalion, will build upon the foundation set by RCT-3, which included July's Operation Khanjar, the most significant Marine Corps operation since the battle of Fallujah in 2004, and the largest helicopter insertion since the Vietnam War.

"You can be proud of what you've accomplished in the Helmand River province," said Brig. Gen. Larry D. Nicholson, commanding general of Marine Expeditionary Brigade-Afghanistan. "As they write about this in the future, the Special MAGTF (Marine Air-Ground Task Force) and RCT-3 will be prominently featured."

After casing his unit's battle colors, signaling the end of RCT-3's mission in Afghanistan, Col. Duffy W. White, commanding officer, RCT-3, addressed the accomplishments of his Marines during their time in Afghanistan.

"RCT-3 and the MEB demonstrated the flexibility of today's Corps," said White, referring to the fact that elements from all three Marine Expeditionary Forces were pulled to comprise RCT-3. "The fact that we can come together overnight is a testament to the warfighting prowess of this organization. RCT-3 fought hard to protect the Afghan people, and we partnered with Afghan security forces, and it was done by using muscular strength and application of force."

While detailing the bravery and tenacity of his Marines, he also touched on the strides made in developing relationships with the Afghan population, a key component to a counterinsurgency victory.

"We've begun to earn the trust of the Afghans, which is the first step to victory," White said.

"We've asked a lot from our Marines, and they've exceeded my expectations at every turn," said White.

White would not finish without reminding the Marines and sailors in attendance of the sacrifices made by those who came before them.

"We will carry the memory of our fallen brothers who paid the ultimate sacrifice forever," White said.

Col. Randall P. Newman, the commanding officer of RCT-7, briefly commented on the ground gained in Afghanistan by RCT-3, and delivered an optimistic outlook for the following year.

"It's a great honor to come out here and work in Afghanistan," said Newman, who looks forward to partnering with Afghan national security forces, in an effort to assist the Government of Islamic Republic of Afghanistan with the establishment of their government.

Newman also joked on the aesthetic similarities between the forward operating base which the RCT-7 headquarters is located, and the U.S. home of the 7th Marine Regiment, Marine Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif.

"The Marines probably were thinking they were going to Camp Wilson," Newman said.

Regimental Combat Team 7 is comprised of the following units: 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, Marine Corps Base Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii; 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C.; 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, Marine Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif.; 3rd Battalion, 10th Marine Regiment, Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C.; 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif.; 3rd Battalion, 11th Marine Regiment, Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C., and 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C

First Marine RCT in Afghanistan Concludes Historic Deployment

HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan – The most significant Marine Corps operation since the Battle of Fallujah in 2004 and the largest helicopter insertion since the Vietnam War took place July 2 as Marines spread out into the Helmand River valley to secure what was called one of the most violent provinces in all of Afghanistan at the time.


Regimental Combat Team 3
Courtesy Story
Date: 10.24.2009
Posted: 10.24.2009 02:02

Regimental Combat Team 3 spearheaded Operation Khanjar – designed to deliver a swift and lethal blow to the insurgency as the name of the operation, Strike of the Sword, suggests – marking the highly anticipated unleashing of a strengthened Marine Corps force here.

3rd Marine Regiment deployed in November 2008 as the command element of Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force – Afghanistan, which encompassed just more than 2,000 Marines and sailors who served as a bridging force for the larger Marine Expeditionary Brigade that took control in May. After turning over authority to the MEB, 3rd Marines became the headquarters of RCT-3, the MEB's ground combat element.

Although Operation Khanjar was extremely successful, a great deal of work still needed to be accomplished. Several follow-on clearing operations ensued in some areas to weed out Taliban militants and give Afghan civilians the security and freedom of movement required to participate in the Aug. 20 national and provincial elections. In several areas, Marines were able to immediately transition from offensive operations to a more humanitarian mission by establishing positive relationships with local elders and setting conditions for development.

The Marines understood that progress in a counterinsurgency struggle takes place in three phases – clearing, holding and building. Some steps would occur more rapidly in certain regions, and each population center would provide unique challenges. The one thing that remained constant through all areas is the Marines' focus on protecting the civilian population. All RCT-3 subordinate commands experienced a unique environment but adapted to their specific situations and took the initiative from the insurgency.

1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment

What was once Taliban controlled real estate, Nawa district was wrested from insurgents by RCT-3's Marines in June and July.

1/5 arrived in country in June, established their headquarters at Forward Operating Base Geronimo and swiftly pushed their troops forward to Patrol Base Jaker, located adjacent to the Nawa district center, to begin work with the British soldiers who had been stationed there since March.

The day they got there, the Marines joined the fight to defend the patrol base. Daily firefights with insurgents were a part of the routine for the British soldiers and advanced party of Marines, until July 2, when the rest of the battalion, along with other elements of RCT-3, conducted a helicopter insertion behind Taliban lines.

On July 19, two weeks later, Marines and Afghan police and soldiers facilitated a large tribal shura at the governor's compound in Nawa distict. A shura is a meeting where locals voice their opinions and concerns to leaders who have the power to change things.

Lt. Col. William McCollough, commanding officer of 1/5, said, "This was the first time in over a year that this many elders felt safe enough to travel to the district center and make their concerns known."

McCollough informed the assembled elders that the Marines had been asked by the governor of Helmand province, Mohammad Gulab Mangal, to introduce themselves throughout the district, so they should expect the Marines to approach them in a friendly manner. And the Marines made good on their promise in spite of periodic insurgent attacks and random IED attacks, meeting residents in some of the district's most remote areas while providing security side by side with Afghan soldiers and police.

The challenge of earning the Afghan people's trust was successfully demonstrated as attainable a month later, on Aug. 23.

A joint morning patrol of Afghan soldiers and Marines was surprised by a premature IED blast less than a quarter mile down the road they were traveling on. The patrol's corpsman, Petty Officer 3rd Class Carlos A. Tobar, and squad leader, Sgt. Sean M. Cain treated a little boy and an older man for injuries they had received in the blast. The next day, the Marines patrolling through fields near where the incident took place were told by a farmer that the older man had pulled the kite string detonator on the IED, killing one insurgent and seriously injuring a second as they were hastily laying the mine, rather than letting them attack the approaching Marines.

Smiles, friendly interaction and emergency assistance like this made the Marines welcome in Nawa, but their cooperative contributions with the Afghan government made them neighbors. In September, the Marines provided security as the District governor's office distributed 300 metric tons of wheat seed, an alternative to the poppy many Afghan farmers choose as their cash crop. The wheat seed, along with 1,050 metric tons of fertilizer, was distributed in the Nawa district center and expected to reach more than 3,700 farmers in the region.
3rd Battalion, 11th Marine Regiment

The first ever Marine Corps artillery unit to deploy in battalion strength to Afghanistan, 3/11 left Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif., in June to take over the indirect fire mission for the Marines in Helmand province, with one organic firing battery and one reserve cannon battery. They also assumed control of a rocket battery – Battery R, 5th Bn., 11th Marines, who fire High-Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems – and a target acquisition platoon to enhance their fire-support capabilities in theater.

"I simply cannot say enough about the performance of these Marines and sailors, said Lt. Col. James Lewis, 3/11's commanding officer. "Our focus has always been on good gunnery which is made up of two elements – one, accuracy; and two, timeliness. On both accounts, the Marines of 3/11 [reinforced] acquitted themselves well and ably supported maneuver forces in the accomplishment of their counterinsurgency mission."

3/11, designated "Task Force Thunder," charged into the battle space and established what would become Firebase Fiddler's Green – a wide open patch of desert at the time. Nowadays it is a secure forward operating area for the battalion's gunline, motor pool and headquarters.

While in Afghanistan, 3/11 accomplished many Marine Corps firsts. They were the first composite Marine artillery battalion to ever deploy with rockets, cannons and counterbattery radars; the first Marine Corps artillery battalion to participate in a helicopter lift of the M777A2 howitzer to support combat operations; and the first Marine Corps artillery unit to fire the "Excalibur" round in combat. The Excalibur is a GPS guided artillery round – one of the newest additions to artillery technology.

2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment

In 2008, the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit and Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 6th Marines entered Garmsir as the first major ISAF presence in the district. The force cleared the insurgents from the most populated areas in the northern part of the district. British soldiers eventually replaced the Marines in late 2008 and held the positions previously cleared by 1/6.

2/8 kicked off operations in southern Helmand province under RCT-3 when they moved in to replace the British forces in Garmsir in late June, replacing the British Battle Group South soldiers at FOB Delhi near the district center and the forces occupying patrol bases to the south.

With the start of Operation Khanjar, 2/8 went on a grueling offensive. Two of the three line companies in 2/8, Golf and Echo, entered areas previously unoccupied by ISAF forces. Co. G moved 18 kilometers south on foot to an area called Koshtay, roughing the 120-degree heat and all too common IED and small-arms attacks along the way. Co. E conducted a helicopter insertion from Camp Dwyer into Mian Poshteh – becoming the most southern of any RCT-3 unit. "It's amazing what the Marines did," said 1st Sgt. Robert W. Pullen, Co. G first sergeant. "With a full combat load, they made it through this push with all of the firefights and IED's they encountered – as well as dealing with the heat – and did a phenomenal job."

Just 16 days after Khanjar commenced, Marines with Co. F, and Afghan National Army soldiers conducted an early-morning raid on a prominent Taliban-controlled bazaar near Mian Poshteh. "The purpose of the raid was to disrupt freedom of movement with the bazaar and to exploit the enemy force logistic base," said Capt. Junwei Sun, commander, Co. F. "This seizure means we invaded Taliban territory, discovered their caches, disrupted their log operations and squeezed them out of the area." Just over two months later, 2/8 established a patrol base within close proximity to this bazaar in order to deny the insurgents influence in the area for the long term.

These were not the only operations conducted by 2/8. Others by the battalion include Operation Kapcha Khufak I & II, during which the Marines successfully marginalized the insurgents' influence on the population in the area and set conditions for a secure environment where development and legitimate governance could take place.

"They have accomplished more than I could have imagined, and I am in constant awe of their accomplishments," said Lt. Col. Christian Cabaniss, 2/8's battalion commander. "The Marine Corps as a whole has every reason to be proud of them."

2/8 also effectively integrated an Estonian Expeditionary Task Force in September, which is currently operating as an organic infantry company for the battalion. The Estonian force enabled more effective operations in the central part of the district by having more forces concentrated in the area. This cooperation demonstrates that ISAF's mission is truly an international effort to help secure and rebuild Afghanistan. "They are good soldiers with good attitudes. I expect very good things from them," said Cabaniss, shortly after the Estonians arrived.

Cabaniss' unit experienced the most enemy contact of any battalion in RCT-3, but the commander remains optimistic about 2/8's progressive efforts.

"Although we are still engaged with the enemy almost every day, our area of operations is in fact very different from the place we arrived in months ago," said Cabaniss. "The Marines and sailors are changing the course of history here in Garmsir."

2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment

2/3 entered Afghanistan in May to relieve 3/8 prior to Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force – Afghanistan's transition to RCT-3 and the takeover by 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade. The area of operations for 2/3 was unique in many aspects. The AO was the largest for any single battalion within RCT-3, covering an area roughly the size of Vermont, and the only one boasting any substantial mountains. The Marines were also the only unit that extended into multiple districts and provinces.

Once 2/3 set in, its Marines began shaping operations to build up for a definitive strike on insurgents. In some locations, such as Deleram, the Marines were able to immediately pick up where 3/8 left off – boosting positive relationships with the local populace and winning their trust. Other areas were more challenging, such as the abandoned city of Now Zad. The city itself is still completely abandoned by its former civilian populace, but there are a number of neighboring villages that possess a substantial neutral population. 2/3 was the first battalion in the area with enough standoff from the enemy to have the ability to interact with these villagers. After their arrival, the Marines of Co. G immediately started to develop relationships with the citizens of Kwaja Jamal and Dahanah.

"It puts a human face on who we are, and it may make them less likely to help the Taliban," said 1st Lt. Jared Sprunk, an infantry officer with Co. G. "We are doing everything here – the full spectrum of counterinsurgency operations."

After discerning a pattern of life for the insurgents in the Now Zad region, 2/3 launched a major offensive called Operation Eastern Resolve II in August. During the operation, which commenced just a few weeks before the national and provincial elections, the Marines established a position between the insurgents and the village of Dahanna. Another major achievement in the operation was establishing a presence in the Dahanna Pass, which served as a logistical re-supply route for the insurgency. The Marines' intense efforts provided the security required to allow people to vote in the Aug. 20 elections.

Other significant accomplishments for 2/3 include the compacting of Route 515, which was initially cleared by 3/8 to connect the districts of Deleram and Bakwa. After the route was cleared, it continued to be plagued with IEDs. Today, the road is still dangerous but much safer due to the project 2/3 facilitated.

The final major operation 2/3 conducted was the clearance of the Buji Bhast Pass during Operation Germinate. Company F traveled into the dangerous pass to clear the route connecting the population centers of Golestan and Delaram in order to create more freedom of movement for local Afghans in the area and deal a blow to the insurgent presence there. The Taliban have killed significantly more civilians than Marines with their IEDs, and the ultimate goal of this operation, like all others, was to make the environment safer for Afghan civilians.

RCT-3 to RCT-7

RCT-3 has seen significant progress in southern Afghanistan with the drastic increase of forces over the last several months. After gaining a foothold and laying the early foundations for future success in the region, Regimental Combat Team 7 from Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif. has arrived to relieve RCT-3 as the MEB's ground combat element. RCT-7 will still have many challenges ahead.

"I am grateful for the opportunity of 3rd Marines to deploy as a headquarters for SPMAGTF-A and RCT-3, especially since the regimental headquarters hasn't deployed since the Gulf War," said Col. Duffy W. White, commanding officer of RCT-3. "The RCT-3 success is a good example of how well the Marine Corps has adapted to the counterinsurgency fight."

"I know RCT-7 is going to come in and exploit any successes we've had and continue to drive a wedge between the insurgency and the Afghan people," White said.

While 3rd Marine Regiment is based in Hawaii and many of its Marines will be redeploying to Marine Corps Base Kaneohe Bay, roughly half of RCT-3 is composed of individual augments who will be returning to their parent commands in Okinawa, Japan. Some of these Marines have been serving in southern Afghanistan for an entire year, others for six months.

As these Marines reunite with their families and friends in the coming days, RCT-7 will carry on as the world continues to watch the history being made in Afghanistan.

October 22, 2009

In Helmand, a model for success?

Before a battalion of U.S. Marines swooped into this dusty farming community along the Helmand River in early July, almost every stall in the bazaar had been padlocked, as had the school and the health clinic. Thousands of residents had fled. Government officials and municipal services were nonexistent. Taliban fighters swaggered about with impunity, setting up checkpoints and seeding the roads with bombs.


Click above link for photos

By Rajiv Chandrasekaran
Thurs., Oct 22, 2009

In the three months since the Marines arrived, the school has reopened, the district governor is on the job and the market is bustling. The insurgents have demonstrated far less resistance than U.S. commanders expected. Many of the residents who left are returning home, their possessions piled onto rickety trailers, and the Marines deem the central part of the town so secure that they routinely walk around without body armor and helmets.

"Nawa has returned from the dead," said the district administrator, Mohammed Khan.
Nawa provides one ground-level perspective into the debate over U.S. force levels in Afghanistan among members of President Obama's national security team. In this district, the war is being waged in the manner sought by Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan: The number of troops went from about 100 to 1,100, and they have been countering the insurgency by focusing on improving security for local people instead of hunting down the Taliban.

The result has been a profound transformation, suggesting that after eight years of war the United States still may be able to regain momentum in some areas that had long been written off to the Taliban. Insurgent attacks on civilians and NATO forces, once a near-daily fact of life here, have nearly ceased in Nawa and are far less common than they were in surrounding areas, a turnabout reminiscent of what happened in Iraq in 2008 after a sharp increase in American forces there.

But even if Nawa remains peaceful, replicating what has occurred here may not be possible. Achieving the same troop-to-population ratio in other insurgent strongholds across southern and eastern Afghanistan would require at least 100,000 more U.S. or NATO troops -- more than the double the 40,000 being sought by McChrystal -- as well as many thousands of additional Afghan security forces.

Nawa also is blessed with stable social dynamics -- the three principal tribes in the area largely get along -- and it has a district governor whom the Marines regard as unusually competent. The Helmand River valley contains some of Afghanistan's most fertile land, enabling reconstruction workers to improve livelihoods through agricultural assistance programs.

"We have to be very careful when we say we want to use Nawa as a model," said Ian Purves, a British development specialist who advises the battalion. "First off, will Nawa work as we want? And even if it does, there's no guarantee what we're doing here will work anywhere else."

The turnaround here remains fragile. Marine commanders in Nawa acknowledge that their gains could melt away if the Afghan government and security forces do not move quickly to deliver essential public services, or if U.S. troop levels are reduced here before stability is cemented. Many of the insurgents who left Nawa in July have taken refuge 10 miles to the northwest.

"The bone has not healed," said Lt. Col. William McCollough, the battalion commander. "If you take the cast off, it's going right back to a catastrophic situation."

McChrystal has not proclaimed Nawa a success or even cited it in discussions with White House officials as a justification for more troops, mindful that similar claims have been made in other parts of the country only to have those areas slip back into insurgent control. But no Marine from the battalion in Nawa has been killed in combat since late August, even as U.S. troop fatalities have spiked in other parts of Afghanistan. McChrystal and other senior military officials in Afghanistan hope that what is happening amid the canals and cornfields in this patch of southern Afghanistan is different and can be applied elsewhere. Nawa, one of his aides said, is "his number one petri dish."

Skeptics of McChrystal's strategy worry that the Afghan government will not move with haste to take advantage of security improvements created by the United States. Despite repeated requests, the government in Kabul has not yet sent officials to Nawa to help on issues that matter most to local people: education, health, agriculture and rural development.

Marine commanders and reconstruction experts remain optimistic that the government will start providing services here, but some residents are not waiting for Kabul to act. Last month, McCollough was alarmed by a report of a group of men digging holes along the road from the main irrigation canal to the bazaar. He feared that they were planting roadside bombs, but it turned out they were digging holes for electricity poles. Dozens of merchants had banded together to fund a homegrown hydropower project -- a 12-foot-high waterwheel fashioned from metal shipping containers connected to a generator.

To McCollough, the project is a sign that something unique is taking root. If residents were willing to invest, he reasoned, they must feel confident that conditions are going to improve. "This says, 'I believe in my future,' " he said.

Concentration of forces
For the first five years of the Afghan war, there were no NATO forces permanently stationed in Nawa. The British military, which became responsible for the area in 2005, did not have enough soldiers on the ground to perform more than occasional operations aimed at flushing out insurgents. When the British left, the Taliban returned.
In 2006, the British sent a team of about 100 soldiers to Helmand, largely to mentor local police and a small contingent of Afghan army personnel. They were quickly outmatched by the Taliban and forced to hunker down in a half-built government office that they said began to feel like the Alamo.

Taliban coffers swelled with protection payments from poppy growers and taxes on their fields, and the insurgents used their wealth to recruit legions of unemployed young men. Some residents openly welcomed the Taliban because a corrupt government and police provided no good alternative.

Then, three months ago, the 1st Battalion of the 5th Marine Regiment arrived. To U.S. commanders, the change in Nawa is the result of overwhelming force and overhauled battlefield strategy. The combined strength of U.S. and Afghan security forces in the district is now about 1,500 for a population of about 75,000 -- exactly the 1-to-50 ratio prescribed by U.S. military counterinsurgency doctrine.

McCollough said the concentration of forces, which prompted insurgents to retreat, allows him to practice the sort of counterinsurgency tactics McChrystal wants. Each of the battalion's 36 squads conducts two foot patrols a day to meet residents and reassure them -- often over cups of hot green tea -- that they are safe. "We have enough Marines to shake everyone's hand," McCollough said.

But translating handshakes into public confidence remains a challenge. On a recent afternoon, a team of Marine civil-affairs specialists drove to the village of Pakiran to investigate claims that Afghan security forces had bombed several pieces of farm equipment . When the Marines approached one farmer to inquire about damage to his water pump, he quickly ushered them into his walled-off compound. "Please don't tell anyone that you have come here," said the farmer, Mohammed Gul, a stout man clad in a black turban and a white shawl.

Gul accepted $300 to repair his shot-up pump, then invited the Marines to stay for tea. Capt. Frank "Gus" Biggio, a Marine reservist on leave from his job as a lawyer in the Washington office of Patton Boggs, peppered Gul with questions to help update a database maintained by the U.S. military command in Kabul.

"What's the biggest problem in this village?" Biggio asked, sitting on a straw mat with Gul. In the first weeks after the Marines arrived, the answer always related to security. But lately, the responses were becoming more varied, which the Marines regard as a sign of progress.

Water," Gul said. "There's not enough water in the canals to irrigate my fields."

Working on his fourth cup of tea, Biggio suggested that Gul raise his concerns with the district governor, who would be visiting with the Marines soon.

"Don't bring government officials with you," Gul said. "They're not good to us."

Rebuilding local services
The insurgents who left Nawa in July now operate from in and around the town of Marja, 10 miles away, amid a series of north-south canals carved into the sandy desert by the U.S. government in the 1950s and '60s as a way to counter Soviet influence in Afghanistan.

The canals helped turn the Helmand River valley into Afghanistan's breadbasket. But wheat fields have been replaced by the highest concentration of opium-producing poppies in Helmand, and the canals now serve as defensive moats that U.S. combat vehicles cannot cross, protecting the drug smugglers and insurgents who have taken shelter there.

"Nawa is only going to get so far as long as their next-door neighbor is Marja," said Brig. Gen. Lawrence Nicholson, the top Marine commander in Helmand.

But clearing out Marja would require more troops than the Marines currently have in Afghanistan. Hopeful that they will receive additional resources, Marine strategists are planning a significant operation in Marja in the coming months.

For now, the Marines are focused on another big risk to progress here -- the lack of basic services. They are working with diplomats and U.N. officials in Kabul to prod key ministries to set up offices in Nawa. The Marines also are setting up their own police training facility in Helmand, working with tribal leaders and local officials to identify solid new recruits and quickly increase the size of the force. Commanders here liken their efforts to the Sons of Iraq program Marines started in Anbar province, but here they are recruiting uniformed police instead of creating tribal militias.

Nonmilitary reconstruction efforts have also begun to gather momentum. The battalion's two civilian advisers are working with a team of U.S.-funded contractors to provide agricultural assistance to farmers, the Obama administration's top priority for Afghan reconstruction. The contractors plan to hand out shovels, gloves and even tractors over the next few months. They hope the goods will increase prosperity and jobs and reduce the number of disaffected young men who want to fight for the Taliban.

"Everyone makes promises to us -- the Americans, our government, even the Taliban," said Mohammed Ekhlas, a snowy-bearded elder of the Noorzai tribe. "If the Marines and the people in our government are true to their words, then there will be peace in Nawa. If not, there will be fighting again."

Landslide - Marines bring relief

CLARK AIR BASE, Philippines — Marines from the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit traveled to Baguio City, Philippines, to deliver food and clothing to landslide victims Oct. 4.


10/22/2009 By Lance Cpl. Chris Kutlesa, Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni

Authorities are reporting more than 185 people have been killed by flooding and landslides from tropical depression Parma.

With roads affected by the landslide, Marines arrived via helicopter to provide relief. It took five CH-46 Sea Knight helicopters, two trips each, to deliver nearly 4,500 family food packets and 2,000 clothing packages totaling 18,500 pounds.

“I think every Marine there was proud and satisfied with the work they were doing,” said Col. Paul L. Damren, commanding officer of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit. “This was a great opportunity to help relieve some of these people’s suffering. We were happy to help.”

Marines worked side by side with the Philippine Air Force and the Baguio City Police Department to unload items off of the Sea Knights and onto trucks waiting nearby.

Once the trucks were loaded, they were then driven to a nearby warehouse, where they will be divided and shipped to nearby neighboring cities.

Sgt. Cassandra Heil, a chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosive specialist with Combat Logistics Battalion 31, said she was impressed by the efficiency of the local police force.

This was Heil’s second time visiting Baguio City, the first time was to visit family members living in the region. Heil noted that not much seems to change in Baguio, including the small one-level homes that many locals reside in.

As Marines were delivering goods, locals were just beginning to return to their homes after previously being evacuated.

“I believe this is the most beautiful region in the Philippines,” said Heil. “I am glad we were able to come here and help. I would do it all again in a heartbeat.”

October 20, 2009

Pentagon Officials Announce 2010 Afghanistan Deployments

WASHINGTON, Oct. 20, 2009 – Pentagon officials today announced additional replacement units scheduled to deploy next year to Afghanistan as part of the requirement to maintain the current level of security efforts there, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said today.


By Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael J. Carden
American Forces Press Service

More than 11,000 soldiers from three units – two from the active duty Army and one from the Army National Guard -- will rotate into Afghanistan in the spring, summer and fall of 2010.

The units that received orders are:

-- 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, from Fort Campbell, Ky.;

-- 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment from Vilseck, Germany; and

-- 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry Division, Iowa Army National Guard.

The forces will be assigned to NATO’s International Security Assistance Force. Although commanders in Afghanistan haven’t officially determined the regions the units will operate in, they replace brigades in eastern and southern Afghanistan.

Also, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates approved deployment orders to Afghanistan for a squadron of MV-22 Ospreys from Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 261 from Jacksonville, N.C., at the request of commanders in Afghanistan, Whitman said.

The squadron is scheduled to deploy in November.

The squadron is made up of about 200 Marines who operate and maintain the aircraft, which have both vertical takeoff and landing capabilities. The aircraft is designed to perform missions like those of conventional helicopters, with the added benefit of long-range, high-speed cruise performance, he said.

Teams to raise cash for Wounded Warrior Project

By Ralph D. Russo - The Associated Press
Posted : Tuesday Oct 20, 2009 16:23:22 EDT

NEW YORK — Maryland and South Carolina will wear uniforms with camouflage designs during their games Nov. 14 to honor military veterans and promote the Wounded Warrior Project.

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Red Patchers, Dragons provide essential assets

USS DENVER AT SEA, (Oct. 20, 2009) – — A CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter hovers 20-feet above the ground, as Marines below link it to a cargo net filled with relief supplies. A signalman from Landing Support Platoon (LS Plt.) gestures to the pilot and the helicopter takes off baring the 14,000-pound load.


10/20/2009 By Lance Cpl. Michael A. Bianco, 31st MEU

Landing Support Plt., Combat Logistics Battalion 31 (CLB-31) and Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 265 Reinforced (HMM-265 REIN), served as two of the MEU’s major benefactors while participating in Humanitarian Assistance/Disaster Relief (HA/DR) operations in Indonesia from Oct. 9-14. The relief efforts provided aid in wake of several earthquakes that rampaged through the West Sumatra Province of Indonesia earlier this month.

Marines from HMM-265 REIN provided heavy-lift capabilities via CH-53E Super Stallion helicopters, while the LS Plt., commonly referred to as “red patches” because of the red patches worn on their service utilities, served as the helicopter support team (HST) during the HA/DR operations.

According to Jeffery Addison, a landing support specialist from LS Plt., the job of a red patch consists of various duties that support the establishment, maintenance and control of transportation missions on beaches, landing zones, ports and terminals used in support of Marine Air Ground Task Force (MAGTF) operations and deployments. While acting as an HST, the Marines ensure that the external load is both safely rigged and attached to the helicopters’ hook system.

The helicopters transported food, medical and shelter supplies to affected villages in the region. Both internal and external loads were used when delivering provisions.

Supplies are loaded into the cabin of a CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter during internal lifts. External lifts require supplies to be loaded into cargo nets and strung from the underside of the helicopter.

During external lifts, LS Plt. loaded cargo nets with as much as 14,000 pounds of supplies at a time.

“This was a great opportunity for us,” said Addison, a veteran of three HA/DR missions. “We are chosen for missions like this because of our MOS (military occupational specialty) and we are glad we can do our part in a time of need.”

Due to certain limitations and restrictions for establishing an operating cell ashore, the “Dragons” from HMM-265 REIN transported the LS Marines from ship to shore every morning. As soon as the red patches debarked from the helicopter, Indonesian locals drove trucks full of supplies onto the airfield and the mission of loading the air crafts became a joint effort.

During LS operations, other Marines, sailors and non-government organization (NGO) officials at time would assist in the mission in order to help expedite the delivery of goods to the people in affected areas.

“It really was a combined and joint operation,” said Addison, a Newburgh, N.Y. native. “When a truck would drive onto the airfield with a big load of supplies everyone came to give a helping hand. It was good because the more help we had made the load process faster and gave the chance to transport more than we estimated.”

Staff Sgt. Michael Krzystofczyk, landing support chief for CLB-31, said when serving as the HST it is important that the pilot and members of the HST be all the same page.

“Our job can become very hazardous in the blink of an eye when conducting HSTs,” said the Joliet, Ill. native. “This is one of the biggest aspects of our MOS. We have to constantly train with the Wing to make sure the missions go as smooth as possible.”

Maj. Don White, CH-53E Detachment officer in charge and maintenance officer for HMM-265 REIN, added, “The HST is an absolute necessity to the CH-53E in order for it to be able to execute its external missions. Without the HST, the CH-53E could not execute its external missions.”

Overall, the two elements of the MEU transported more than 130,000 pounds of supplies, 650 people including medical assistants, local military and dignitaries and completed more than 46 flight hours according to White.

October 17, 2009

New wheeled footlocker issued for deployments

By Amy McCullough - Staff writer
Posted : Saturday Oct 17, 2009 10:22:52 EDT

Say goodbye to sea bag drag.

Initial distribution of the Corps’ new Deployment Bag, a 10-pound footlocker on wheels, began in September and will continue for the next year, according to Marine Corps Systems Command. Manufactured by California-based ForceProtector Gear, the new bag can haul up to 75 pounds and is a significant upgrade from the service’s standard green duffel, which has remained largely unchanged for the past 25 years, officials said.

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October 16, 2009

In East Timor, teeth are a military mission for Camp Pendleton forces

Sometimes the best way to win hearts and minds is to take care of the teeth.


October 16, 2009
-- Tony Perry in San Diego

And so while Marines from Camp Pendleton are training with the military forces of East Timor, Navy medical and dental specialists are looking after the needs of civilians -- all part of a visit by the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit.

East Timor, part of the Malay archipelago, is 400 miles from Australia. U.S. military engineers are also refurbishing a school with a new roof, strengthened walls and a paint job.

Marine Col. Gregg Olson, commander of the 11th MEU, says that along with the combat training, the visit is an opportunity to get to know the East Timorese government and school officials before continuing on a six-month training deployment.

The 11th MEU flagship, the amphibious assault craft Bonhomme Richard, left from San Diego three weeks ago.

A Day in the Life on Forward Operating Base Geronimo

FORWARD OPERATING BASE GERONIMO, Helmand province, Afghanistan – People have the ability to adapt to their surroundings. Proof of this can be observed in the habitat of the Marines here.


Regimental Combat Team 3
Story by Cpl. Daniel Flynn
Date: 10.16.2009

It's been several months since Marines with 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 3, first arrived here, and even though operations continue 24 hours a day, life for the Marines here is a little more than just work and sleep.

"Life for me is pretty much post, QRF (quick reaction force) and sleep," said Lance Cpl. James Pursley, a guard force Marine. But the Bostic, N.C., native also added that while the FOB may seem meager in comparison to some of the larger, more-established bases in country, the Marines here have everything they need. Their base includes a chow hall, field-expedient bathrooms, showers and even a Morale, Welfare and Recreation tent with internet and phone access.

The MWR tent is also the chaplain's tent, where Marines can go and get personal items they are running low on, such as razor blades, shaving cream, soap and snacks. Also, they have a movie night there every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael Caldera, a religious program specialist, said, "We are here to do as much for the Marines as we can." He added that the MWR/chaplain's tent offers many different services and they also have snacks and coffee for the Marines.

"The only things I could do without are the sand storms," added a smiling Pursley. The flat desert terrain is a prime environment for the dust devils that blow through camp almost daily in the summer and are still common during the other seasons.

The Marines here continue the tradition of "practice like you play" by training in the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program, helping them to prepare for combat. They also have a gym with free weights to give them more to do than just pull-ups and running for physical training.

"Life on Geronimo is actually pretty good," said field wireman Lance Cpl. Eric Fisher.

So, while these Marines may be half a world away from home, they have adapted to their situation and have done what they can to bring a little bit of normalcy to being deployed in a war zone

Marines Clear Taliban From Buji Bhast Pass

FORWARD OPERATING BASE DELARAM, Farah Province, Afghanistan – Marines from 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment conducted Operation Germinate to clear Taliban insurgents out of a pass through the Buji Bhast Mountains near here Oct. 6-10, 2009. The pass is the most direct route from the southern plain here to the district center of Golestan District in the mountains, where part of 2/3's Company F is located.



Regimental Combat Team 3
Story by Lance Cpl. John Hitesman
Date: 10.16.2009

The first element of 100 Marines left here by convoy the evening of Oct. 7 headed for the southern entrance to the pass. Hours later, a second airborne contingent of 100 more Marines and Afghan soldiers flew into previously identified positions in the pass to keep the enemy from escaping into the mountains. The Marine and Afghan national army forces aimed to push the enemy out – one way or another.

"I figured it was either going to be a ghost town or it was going to be a significant battle," said Capt. Francisco X. Zavala, Company F commanding officer, "Unfortunately, there was some battle, but it was nothing my Marines couldn't handle."

As the ground-side element rolled through the pass, the rest of the Marines and ANA soldiers who had been inserted via helicopter blocked the eastern and northern exit routes. Their supporting mission was to stop and search Afghans fleeing the area and prevent any possible insurgent support from reinforcing their comrades.

It didn't take long for them to attract the wrong kind of attention.

"We saw spotters throughout the hills, and we were just waiting for something to happen," said Staff Sgt. Luke N. Medlin, the engineer platoon sergeant and part of the eastern blocking position.

A few hours after they assumed these blocking positions, the Marines and Afghan soldiers started receiving fire from machine guns, rifles and mortars from enemy positions in the surrounding hills. The Marines quickly dispatched the initial attackers and called in a UH-1N Huey, an AH-1W Super Cobra and an F/A-18 Hornet to destroy the enemy position further uphill.

"We were attacked from a well-fortified fighting position in the hills," Medlin said. "My Marines quickly returned fire, giving us time to maneuver and overwhelm the position with fire until air support got there."

Once the sound of gunfire died away, the Marines began searching the mud-brick buildings scattered throughout the pass to ensure they hadn't missed any hidden insurgents and introduce themselves to the people living there.

The Marines spent the next two days moving from compound to compound, working with the people and maintaining a visible presence in the pass to keep the enemy from trying to move back in. They did receive some small-arms fire, but it was quickly dealt with.

"During the clearing of one compound, a woman drew a pistol, aiming it at one of the Marines," said 1st Lt. Shane Harden, weapons platoon commander, F Company. "Lance Cpl. (Justin B.) Basham demonstrated extreme composure and great fire discipline not to shoot her. Within a split second he realized that he could use a non-lethal method to disarm her."

At first the people in the Buji Bast pass were skeptical and nervous when the Marines came into their villages, Harden said, but after explaining why they were there, the people accepted their presence.

"Luckily the people that were still in the compounds cooperated with us, once they seemed to understand why we were here and what we were doing. It really helped speed things along," said Lance Cpl. David W. Parrotte, an infantryman with Company F.

During the searches the Marines collected not only weapons and grenades, but also large supplies of IED-making materials, like batteries, connecter wires and open radios. They also found 2,000 pounds of ammonium nitrite and 1,500 pounds of sugar, which are both primary components of homemade explosives, according to Zavala.

In some of the compounds, anti-International Security Assistance Force propaganda was found and confiscated. Some of the contraband was linked to two men who were taken into custody.

On Oct. 10, the last day of the operation, male and female corpsmen were brought in to treat and assess locals while battalion commander Lt. Col. Patrick J. Cashman held shuras with elders in the villages. These meetings gave the residents a chance to ask questions and put in reimbursement claims for any goods or property damaged during the searches.

During the shuras, the medical personnel treated and assessed some of the local population for symptoms of sickness and injury. The 2/3's medical personnel treated approximately 300 people.

At each of the meetings, Lt. Col. Sakhra, commander of the Afghan 2nd Battalion, 2nd Brigade, 207th Corps, talked to elders about actions they should take to keep insurgents out of their towns and the pass. He talked about the power of unity against the Taliban insurgents who threaten their way of life and stressed that they need to trust the Marines and help them eliminate the threats.

"Lieutenant Colonel Sakhra did a fantastic job pointing out the responsibilities of the elders," said Cashman. "He has the cultural knowledge to tell them where they are wrong and how they need to change to save the lives of their people."

Cashman added that most of the problems in these small, isolated towns result from the younger men having no way to provide for a family or find legitimate work. So, some of them pick up a gun and take what they want. It is the responsibility of the elders to guide their people and help them prosper without using violence as an easy way to make a living.

After the meetings, the people were given food and water to take home, and instead of leaving immediately, the Marines and corpsmen stayed to give as much time as possible for the villagers to bring their sick and elderly for a checkup.

This four-day operation to clear insurgents out of the Buji Bhast Pass promises safer travel for Afghan people and coalition forces alike. But equally important are the first building blocks of trust laid down between the Marines and ANA and the residents of the pass.

Navy Corpsmen Teach Afghan Soldiers Lifesaving Techniques

FORWARD OPERATING BASE GERONIMO, Helmand province, Afghanistan – In a combat zone, as in life, there are many different skills which are important to have. One of the most important is basic medical training. Without at least a basic knowledge of first aid, a person is limited in the amount of risk they are willing to undertake to accomplish their goals.



Regimental Combat Team 3
Story by Cpl. Daniel Flynn
Posted: 10.16.2009 09:58

Several corpsmen with 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 3, working out of the battalion aid station here have been training Afghan national army soldiers in basic combat lifesaving skills. However, these Navy field medics are not only providing life-saving knowledge. The training is also a booster shot for the local ANA's confidence.

Petty Officer 1st Class Dennis Roseta is one of the instructors at the hour-and-a-half-long class every Monday and Wednesday at the ANA compound. The corpsmen teach the Afghan soldiers basic lifesaving techniques, such as applying pressure dressings and tourniquets and how to perform CPR.

The need for these classes was made clear recently after several badly injured Afghan soldiers were brought to the BAS after an IED blast. These soldiers still had open wounds which had not been treated because none of the ANA had the knowledge to do so, according to Chief Petty Officer Clarence Dean Conner.

That incident helped the corpsmen realized they could take the combat lifesaver techniques they had been teaching the Marines and start teaching the Afghan soldiers as well.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Rowell Salanguit said, "Most of the casualties the ANA have are from major bleeding." This is the reason they decided to start with the basics, teaching them how to perform CPR and dress wounds.

"They are very receptive, and interested in learning these techniques, and they love the fact that we are willing to teach them," said Roseta, a native of Bremerton, Wash. "They pick up on the training very quickly, and it shows during the practical application portion of the classes."

According to Conner, the Afghan soldiers are most receptive to a hands-on style of teaching. Because of the language barrier, simply explaining these techniques through an interpreter is much less effective than demonstrating and then coaching the students as they practice on each other.

More than teaching them these basic lifesaving skills, they have also provided them with some of their surplus supplies, to include bandages, tourniquets and other medical supplies.

"I take great pride in my corpsman skills, so I like being able to teach the ANA what I know," said Roseta.

More than just here at Geronimo, the corpsman throughout 1/5's entire area of operations are passing on as much knowledge as they can to the ANA to enhance the skills the Marines are teaching them about basic soldiering.

As of now, the corpsmen are planning to include the continuation of this training in their turn-over with those who will be replacing them when 1/5 is replaced by 1st Bn. 3rd Marines later this year, according to Conner.

The choice these Afghan men have made to become their country's protectors is a risky one. With the help of the Marines' first-line medical professionals, the docs hope to enable them to achieve greater things with their newfound confidence and skill to take care of their own when the need arises.

Military Limits Publishing Images of U.S. Casualties in Afghanistan

The U.S. military command in eastern Afghanistan on Thursday imposed a new ban on publication of photographs taken by embedded journalists that identify American war casualties.


By Ann Scott Tyson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 16, 2009

The restriction is outlined in ground rules for reporters embedded with U.S. forces battling Taliban insurgents in eastern Afghanistan along the Pakistani border. The new rules say that "media will not be prohibited from viewing or filming casualties; however, casualty photographs showing recognizable face, nametag or other identifying feature or item will not be published."

The new rules mark a change from a broader rule issued Sept. 30 that said, "Media will not be allowed to photograph or record video of U.S. personnel killed in action."

The restriction on publishing was prompted by controversy over an Associated Press photograph of a mortally wounded Marine. An embedded AP photographer took a picture of Marine Lance Cpl. Joshua M. Bernard during a firefight with Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan's Helmand province in August, and the AP published the photograph last month over the objections of Bernard's family and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates.

"After that incident, we felt that for the sake of the soldier and the family members that was what we needed to do," said Lt. Col. Clarence Counts, a spokesman for the U.S. military command in eastern Afghanistan. He said the earlier rules "left it too wide open with regard to protecting the soldier and his family members if we had a KIA," he said, referring to a service member killed in action.

Before the incident, the command's rules had stated that the news media would not be prohibited from covering casualties provided several conditions were met, including gaining written permission from the wounded before publishing any images that could identify them and waiting until after the notification of next of kin to publish photographs of those killed in action.

News of the Sept. 30 restriction was reported last week by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, leading to questions from lawmakers about whether it was appropriate.

"In retrospect we may have gone a little too far to the right -- so we modified it a little more," Counts said in a telephone interview from Bagram air base.

The revised ground rules ease the Sept. 30 restriction by allowing casualties to be photographed, but the publication prohibition remains. The new set of rules appears contradictory, though. Another provision permits release of images of wounded troops if they give permission, stating that "in respect to our family members, names, video, identifiable written/oral descriptions or identifiable photographs of wounded service members will not be released without the service member's prior written consent."

Counts said the revisions were designed to bring the eastern command rules in line with those of the overall headquarters of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.

Civil Affairs Marines Turn Attention to Improving Local Schoolhouse

HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan – Civil Affairs Marines with Company B, 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 3, visited a local school here, Oct. 8, to talk with teachers about refurbishing their schoolhouse.



Regimental Combat Team 3
Story by Lance Cpl. John McCall
Date: 10.16.2009
Posted: 10.16.2009 10:32

"We've been there a few times before, asking for the school to be opened," said Sgt. Scott Spaulding, 25, a civil affairs specialist from Annapolis, Md. "This was actually the first time that we saw students being taught there."

According to what locals have told Marines, three to four years ago a group of Taliban militants set off a bomb inside the school to keep children from attending. The explosion caused some structural damage. Windows were blown out and doors broken.

Since the bombing, the school house was closed with no one to look after the building until only recently.

"The whole school needs a lot of improvements. Only some of the classrooms are operational right now, and the well they have is broken," said Sgt. Christopher Velazquez, 23, a civil affairs team chief from Newark, Del. "We want to make it a fully functioning school."

With this school as their current focus, the civil affairs Marines hope to have more projects like this one in the future.

"Even though the project is moving slowly, I think it is better that way because it gives us a chance to make sure that things are being done right," Spaulding said. "I think we are making a difference, but it is going to take time for things to really change."

Indonesia, US Marine Corps to conduct joint exercise

Situbondo (ANTARA News) - The Indonesian and US marine corps will conduct a joint exercise in Karangtekok, Asembagus, Situbondo, East Java, according to the Indonesian Marine Corps on Friday.


Friday, October 16, 2009 20:35 WIB | National |

To be opened on Saturday (Oct 17), the joint exercise would involve 600 personnel from the US side and 630 from the Indonesian Marine Corps, First Lieutenant Mardiono from the Indonesian Marine Corps` information service said.

He said the operations assistant to Indonesian Marine Corps Commander, Col Ivan AR Titus, would lead the opening ceremony of the exercise.

"The ceremony will be preceded by an amphibious ship landing by marines from the two countries on the Banongan coast in Asembagus, Situbondo," he said.

Before a number of personnel and heavy-duty equipment would be landed using Landing Craft Utility in Banongan on Friday, to be followed later by the stationing of personnel and materials in Selogiri Mountain in Pasewaran and Karangtekok.

The US Marine Corps would deploy two ships, namely USS Rushmore and USS Ceveland, two LCUs, 17 AEV (amphibious vehicles) units and two CH-16 helicopters.

The exercise, the second so far, would be focussed on infantry activities, amphibious surveillance and combat assistance in the form of military operations in urban areas, jungle survival, amphibious landing, live firing, CQB and sniper skills," he said.

Besides tactial exercises, the activity to be led by Col Nur Alamsyah would also be marked by an engineers` civic action project which is a humanitarian aid project to be carried out in the form of classroom construction at a local state elementary school.

"There will also be a medical civic action project," he said.

Lt Col James Hensien, the commanding officer of Combat Logistics Battalion 11, through the US consulate general in Surabaya, said some of marines and seamen from the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) would conduct the joint exercise while others would help a local clinic to deliver health services.

"We are given an opportunity to conduct an exerise in a jungle and this will be a challenge for us as our personnel used to conduct an exercise in a desert," he said.

October 15, 2009

U.S. troop funds diverted to pet projects

Study finds $2.6 billion taken from guns and ammunition

Senators diverted $2.6 billion in funds in a defense spending bill to pet projects largely at the expense of accounts that pay for fuel, ammunition and training for U.S. troops, including those fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to an analysis.


Thursday, October 15, 2009

Among the 778 such projects, known as earmarks, packed into the bill: $25 million for a new World War II museum at the University of New Orleans and $20 million to launch an educational institute named after the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat.

While earmarks are hardly new in Washington, "in 30 years on Capitol Hill, I never saw Congress mangle the defense budget as badly as this year," said Winslow Wheeler, a former Senate staffer who worked on defense funding and oversight for both Republicans and Democrats. He is now a senior fellow at the Center for Defense Information, an independent research organization.

Sen. Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican, called the transfer of funds from Pentagon operations and maintenance "a disgrace."

"The Senate is putting favorable headlines back home above our men and women fighting on the front lines," he said in a statement.

Mr. Wheeler, who conducted the study, compared the Obama administration's requests for funds with the $636 billion spending bill that the Senate passed. He discovered that senators added $2.6 billion in pet projects while spending $4 billion less than the administration requested for fiscal 2010, which began Oct. 1.

Mr. Wheeler said that senators took most of the cash for the projects from the "operations and maintenance" or O&M; accounts.

"These are the accounts that pay for troop training, repairs, spares and supplies for vehicles, weapons, ships and planes, food and fuel," Mr. Wheeler said.

Raiding those accounts to fund big-ticket projects the military does not want, but that benefit senators' home states or campaign contributors, amounts to "rancid gluttony," he said.

The administration's budget requested $156 billion for the regular O&M; account and $81 billion for O&M; for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The bill passed by the Senate cut $2.4 billion from the regular account and $655 million from the war O&M; fund.

Senate appropriators insisted that the O&M; accounts, despite the cuts, do not shortchange the troops.

"The operation and maintenance title is fully funded," Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel K. Inouye, Hawaii Democrat, said during the debate on the bill. "There is no shortage. ... The committee is deeply concerned that the critical operational needs of our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines are met with the finest equipment available."

Money for the Kennedy Institute was inserted by Mr. Inouye and Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat. Sen. Mary L. Landrieu, Louisiana Democrat, and Sen. David Vitter, Louisiana Republican, sought the funding for the World War II museum.

Whitney Smith, a spokesman for Mr. Kerry, said the earmark was "a worthy investment."

"Sen. Kennedy served on the Armed Services Committee for 27 years, where he fought to deliver top-of-the-line body armor and armored Humvees to protect our troops and save lives. Educating Americans about these battles is a core mission for the Edward M. Kennedy Institute, which showcases one senator's ability to make a difference," Mr. Smith wrote in an e-mail. "This funding will help the Edward M. Kennedy Institute become one the nation's pre-eminent civic educational institutions, and Sen. Kerry is proud to have worked with Chairman Inouye to make it possible."

Mrs. Landrieu said she was "proud to fight" for money for the World War II museum, which is not just a "monument to the brave men and women who served during World War II," but also "a constant reminder to future generations about the tremendous sacrifice of millions of Americans." She added that the earmarked funds "will help to increase tourism to New Orleans."

Beyond those two earmarks, the largest in the Senate bill are:

- $20 million for Humvee maintenance at an Army National Guard installation in Maine, sponsored by Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia J. Snowe, Maine Republicans. The senators said cuts in the maintenance program proposed by the administration would result in the "layoff of 175 employees in a region already suffering" from the recession.

- $20 million for the Maui Space Surveillance System in Hawaii, requested by Mr. Inouye.

- $25 million inserted by Mr. Inouye for the Hawaii Federal Health Care Network. Mr. Inouye's Web site says the health care program "supports applied research, development and deployment of technology to improve access and the quality of care to service members, military families and impacted communities."

Laura Peterson, of Taxpayers for Common Sense, a nonpartisan spending watchdog, told The Washington Times, "Earmarks like these take money away from other defense programs that the Defense Department actually wants. While military health care is certainly a worthwhile venture, it's hard to see how a program located in Hawaii that openly favors Hawaii-based industries guarantees [the Department of Defense] the best value for such an exorbitant price tag."

Mr. Inouye had a total of 35 earmarks worth more than $206 million in the final bill, and the ranking Republican on the committee, Sen. Thad Cochran of Mississippi, sponsored 48 worth $216 million.

Mr. Cochran defended earmarking as part of Congress' responsibility to direct government spending.

"I am not ready to cede the power of the purse to any administration," he told The Times in an e-mail. "It is vested by the Constitution in the Congress." He added that appropriators had "reviewed the budget request very carefully, conducted public hearings and reported the appropriation bills that the committee thinks will serve the public interest."

In addition to the $2.6 billion in earmarks, the bill includes $2.5 billion for 10 Boeing C-17 cargo planes that the military says it does not need, and $1.7 billion for an extra DDG-51 destroyer not requested in the Pentagon's budget proposal.

Mr. Coburn mounted a rear-guard action on the Senate floor to try to restore some of the money to its original purpose. One proposed amendment restored $100 million to the accounts by correcting the economic projections used in the bill to estimate future costs. That passed, but other amendments to prevent the use of O&M; money to fund earmarks were soundly defeated.

Mr. Wheeler said senators had raided O&M; accounts to pay for narrowly targeted projects in every budget since 2002, with dire results for troops on the front lines.

"Air Force and Navy combat pilots training to deploy are getting about half of the flying hours they got at the end of the Vietnam War," he wrote in his analysis. "Army tank crews get less in tank training today than they did during the low-readiness Clinton years."

Mr. Wheeler told The Times that the figures were drawn from the Pentagon's budget justification.

Mr. Coburn said in May that the Navy had been forced to curtail at-sea training and flying because of a shortfall in 2009 O&M; funds.

The White House Office of Management and Budget has called on lawmakers to reverse the cuts.

"These reductions would hurt force readiness and increase stress on military people and equipment," the agency said.

The House approved its version of the bill in July. Ms. Peterson said that lawmakers still could restore the funding in the conference that reconciles the two versions of the bill.

The conference "presents a final opportunity for Congress to take their hands out of the cookie jar and put some dough where it's really needed - protecting our fighting men and women," she said.

Proposal could ease way for disability payments

By Kimberly Hefling - The Associated Press
Posted : Thursday Oct 15, 2009 13:10:33 EDT

WASHINGTON — Female soldiers and others serving in dangerous roles behind the front lines in Iraq and Afghanistan have long complained it was hard to prove their combat experience when applying for disability for post-traumatic stress disorder.

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First Lady Embarks on Mission to Help Military Families

WASHINGTON, Oct. 15, 2009 – First Lady Michelle Obama today vowed to make the voices of U.S. military families heard in the nation’s capital, and called on Americans to recognize the sacrifices made by those in uniform and their loved ones.


By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service

Addressing a crowd at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., the first lady said she and Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, have embarked on a fact-finding mission to determine the pros and cons of what military families experience today.

“We're working to make sure that your voices are heard in Washington and that we can figure out how to raise up best practices and make sure that our efforts in Washington are trickling down, to the folks who matter most,” she said. “And that's our servicemen and women and their families.”

Obama spoke mainly about the U.S. military at-large, but she also singled out one service branch: the U.S. Air Force, which has dedicated 2009 as the year of the Air Force Family. She also praised General Norton A. Schwartz, Air Force Chief of Staff, for carrying a mission similar to hers.

“That's a very important statement to make,” she said of the Air Force’s year-long salute to families. “And I was even more pleased when General Schwartz said the year would be devoted both to highlighting what's working for families and also figuring out what isn't working for families, so that we can take the steps to fix it.”

The first lady mentioned policies her husband, President Barack Obama, has overseen since taking office in January: pay raises for the military, increasing the size of the forces in order to relieve stress, better housing, programs to help spouses advance their careers and initiatives to help military families recover from the financial strain caused by the economic downturn.

“I think it's pretty clear that our men and women in uniform and their families have more than done their duty to this nation, so I think it now falls upon us, as a grateful nation, to do ours in return,” she said. “It's our turn to look out for you.”

Obama also mentioned legislation being discussed in Congress that would allow spouses time off to spend with their servicemember husband or wife in certain instances.

“Congress has been working to extend Federal Family Leave protection to the family members of our regular active duty personnel so that they can take time off from work to be with their servicemember for deployment- related activities or to attend important family responsibilities,” she said.

But providing the military and their families the support they've earned is a job that extends beyond government to everyday U.S. citizens, she said.

“Let's never forget that when our troops go off to war, they're protecting every single one of us and the freedoms that they fight for are ones that every single one of us as Americans enjoy,” she said.

Finally, the first lady called on Americans to help relieve the burden borne by military families, suggesting they help in their community by carpooling, cooking, or performing pro bono services if they have a professional skill.

“At the very least, each of us can do one simple thing, and that is to take the time to say thank you, just take the time to say thank you,” she said. “Thank you for the sacrifices that you are all making on behalf of this nation.”

The first lady vowed to use her position to ensure the country doesn’t overlook the sacrifices being made by the military and their families.

“There is no way that I can know intimately how hard it can be, but I am committed as first lady to spend every ounce of my platform trying to make sure that the country never forgets: that they don't forget our servicemembers, and they certainly don't forget those that are left here to keep it together,” she said.

8-year-old's lemonade stand helps out Marines

The neighbors joked that the prices at Mai Griffith's lemonade stand were too steep. They teased her that 75 cents a pop was three times the going rate.



Thursday, October 15, 2009
The Orange County Register

But it's for the Marines, the 8-year-old from Dana Point told them.

News of the girl turning lemons into lemonade and then into cash to help buy supplies for Marines spread, and she sold almost 50 cups' worth that she made with her father from lemons picked off their backyard tree. She also sold Arnold Palmers (lemonade and iced tea) – a tongue-twister for Mai, who pronounces them "Armold Palmers."

She handed over all her earnings to the 5th Marine Regiment Support Group at a carwash fundraiser the Dana Point nonprofit organization held this month.

"I thought it would be nice to donate money for Marines, because when you give money to them, they get care packages with clean socks," said the third-grader at St. John's Episcopal School in Rancho Santa Margarita.

As she was about to leave the carwash, Mai found $30 on the ground. She donated that money, too, bumping her total gift to $76.

"She was just absolutely convinced that there was some kind of special meaning to her finding the money, that she found it so she could give it to the Marines," said her father, Alec Griffith, a television producer.

"Not only is she unselfish and thinks of others, but she has integrity and honesty far beyond her years," said Terry Rifkin, director of the Marine support group.

Dana Point Mayor Lisa Bartlett gave Mai a certificate of recognition during a City Council meeting Monday.

"She'll be a wonderful community leader one day, I have no doubt about that," Bartlett said.

Monday also was the birthday of Mai's grandfather Ned Griffith, who was a pilot in the Army Air Corps and a World War II prisoner of war. Mai and her grandfather had a special bond before he died a few years ago, and he instilled in her a respect for members of the service, her father said.

A Camp Pendleton representative attended the council meeting and thanked Mai for donating her hard-earned money.

"I wish my old man could have been there to see it," Alec Griffith said.

When Mai asked her father if she could have a lemonade stand one weekend, he said yes but suggested she donate her money to a charity.

"Why don't I do it for the Marines?" asked Mai, who handsqueezed the lemons and helped add sugar and water to the mix.

Mai is the first child to raise money independently for the 5th Marine Regiment Support Group. At the carwash, Marines dressed Mai in combat gear and treated her like a "little princess," Rifkin said.

"I thought it was really fun," Mai said. "I got to dress up in some really heavy suits."

In a few weeks, the Monarch Beach Sunrise Rotary Club plans to give Mai a Service Above Self award.

Recruiting video pulled after Marines complain

By Dan Lamothe and Michael Hoffman - Staff writers
Posted : Thursday Oct 15, 2009 22:03:45 EDT

The Marine Corps moved fast to silence an Air Force military training instructor who boasted in a service-sponsored video that airmen are in better shape than Marines.

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Marine memento returned to owner in Loveland

Last week, Loveland veteran Tom Buchanan was given a Marine’s challenge coin that had been accidentally left behind at a local restaurant


Publish Date: 10/15/2009
By Sarah Bultema
Loveland Reporter-Herald

The embellished coins are presented to Marines as mementos of their service during a certain battle or time, and he knew it probably was important to its owner.

So Buchanan, the commandant of the Loveland Marine Corps League, took on his own challenge: to find the person it belonged to.

And a few days later, he did.

However, it wasn’t a Marine who had lost the coin. It was originally presented to a Navy sailor, 27-year-old Michael Ackman of Aurora, who had served as a hospital corpsman with the Fleet Marine Force in Iraq.

On his return to Colorado, Ackman gave the coin to his grandfather, Loveland’s Glenn New.

“It was such an honor,” said New’s wife, Patsy.

New cherished the coin, so much so that he carried it in his pocket everywhere he went.

“It reminded me of Mikey,” he said. “It’s like a good luck charm.”

About a month ago, New had the coin in his pocket, as usual, when he ate with his wife at Loveland’s Applebee’s.

That’s where it must have fallen out of his pocket.

Soon, New realized he’d lost his coin, but he didn’t know where.

“I felt really bad about it,” he said. “It meant a lot to me.”

The grandfather had given up on finding the coin — until Friday when he opened the Reporter-Herald to find a picture of his lost treasure.

“That’s my coin!” he remembered exclaiming.

Buchanan, desperate to find the coin’s owner, had turned to the newspaper in hopes of spreading the word.

The day the story ran, he received a call from New.

Monday evening, at the Applebee’s where it was lost, Buchanan returned the coin to New.

“It’s great,” New said when the coin was back in his hand.

After the exchange, New, his wife and Buchanan had dinner together (compliments of the restaurant) and shared stories about Ackman, who is stationed in Sicily.

“You know the importance of one of these things,” Buchanan said of the coin. “I love the story, all is well that ends well.”

However, from now on, New will be keeping his coin at home.

“I told him he can’t keep it in his pocket anymore,” Patsy New said.

Second Lady Visits Deploying Marines

WASHINGTON, Oct. 15, 2009 – Dr. Jill Biden, the vice president's wife, knows what it feels like to say goodbye to a son heading off to war and the joy of welcoming him home safely.


American Forces Press Service

Her son Capt. Beau Biden recently returned after a year-long deployment in Iraq with the Delaware Air National Guard's 261st Signal Brigade.

Yesterday, the Second Lady traveled to Camp Lejeune and the Marine Corps Air Station at New River, N.C., to be with other families who had to say goodbye to their sons, daughters, mothers and fathers. Eight hundred Marines of the 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion were set to depart for a seven-month tour in Afghanistan.

"We have a sacred obligation to help the men and women in our military," Dr. Biden said, "and that's why I'm here -- to talk to the families, to talk to our military, to talk to the Marines and see what they need, what their problems are, and their successes, and take it back to Washington."

While children scampered through the throng assembled for the informal meet and greet, Dr. Biden hugged Marines and family members, posed for photos and signed autographs, including one for Lance Cpl. Daniel Beldon's mother.

"From one Mom to another. Love, Jill Biden," she wrote on the shoulder of Julie Beldon's khaki-colored T-shirt. She also posed for a photo with the corporal and his mom, his two-year-old son Byron and wife Shayna.

As it turned out, the Marines and their families got a last-minute, temporary reprieve from another high-ranking Mom. They got to spend one more night together when Mother Nature sent stormy weather their way, delaying their flight until the next day.

October 14, 2009

Marines, Sailors Join Coalition in Exercise

ALEXANDRIA, Egypt, Oct. 14, 2009 – U.S. Marines and sailors were part of a four-nation coalition that stormed the beaches near here during a major amphibious assault demonstration Oct. 12.


By Marine Corps Capt. Clark D. Carpenter
Special to American Forces Press Service

The 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit and the Navy’s Bataan Amphibious Ready Group, as well as the Egyptian army and navy and Pakistani and Kuwaiti marines, took part in the assault as part of Exercise Bright Star 2009, which began Oct. 10 and ends Oct. 20.

“This was a team effort,” said Marine Corps Col. Gareth F. Brandl, the 22nd MEU’s commander. “Conducting operations like this with our partner nations now will help ensure we can conduct future missions in a proficient and professional manner.”

As part of the simulation, Egyptian special operations forces conducted beach reconnaissance prior to the assault. U.S. Marines followed with four AV-88 Harriers. Then amphibious assault vehicles, Humvees and landing craft came ashore.

The Marines have been planning for the exercise since June, said Marine Corps Lt. Col. David Owen, the 22nd MEU’s operations officer.

“There was a significant amount of detailed planning that went into this event to ensure success,” Owen said. “This is a great example of how we can work together with our partner nations in this region, regardless of any language barrier, and plan and execute very complex mission sets like the amphibious assault demonstration today.”

Troops from the various nations, along with 30 vehicles including aircraft, landing craft, amphibious assault vehicles and amphibious tracked vehicles, participated.

“This type of training is important, because it shows us what we can accomplish working with other forces from around the world,” said Marine Corps Cpl. Gabriel T. Church, a vehicle commander with Combined Anti-Armor Team, Weapons Company, 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, 22nd MEU. “As the theater reserve force, there are endless possibilities of what we may be asked to do -- noncombatant evacuations, humanitarian relief or combat operations. This training helps keep our edge sharpened if the situation calls for it.”
Established in 1981 as a result of the Camp David Peace Accords between Egypt and Israel, Bright Star is U.S. Central Command’s longest-running exercise. Co-sponsored by Centcom and its Egyptian counterpart, it’s designed to strengthen military-to-military relationships and improve readiness and interoperability among the United States, Egypt and coalition forces.

Highlights of this year's exercise include a naval exercise, a multinational amphibious assault demonstration, a multinational paratrooper jump involving 600 troops and a combined arms live fire exercise.

(Marine Corps Capt. Clark D. Carpenter serves with the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit public affairs office.)

Marines Spread Good Will With Vet Care

HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan, Oct. 14, 2009 – Marines here have brought new meaning to the expression “goat rope” by helping local farmers with free veterinary care for their goats, sheep and cows.


By Marine Corps Sgt. Scott Whittington
Special to American Forces Press Service

Marines from 4th Civil Affairs Group, attached to 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 3, hosted the project for Afghan livestock Oct. 9 in the Garmsir district center.

“It’s not just something nice to have,” said Marine Corps Capt. Micah P. Caskey IV, civil affairs officer. “This is the people’s livelihood.”

More than 60 farmers and a local veterinarian brought 717 animals – sheep, goats and cows – to the market to get veterinary care for treatment and prevention of worms and illnesses. Two military animal doctors – one each from the United States and Great Britain -- assisted with the civil action project.

U.S. Army Capt. (Dr.) John M. Winston III, one of the veterinarians, thought the clinic “was fantastic.”

“We directly engaged with and helped the Afghan people,” said Winston, a Georgia native with the 993rd Medical Detachment Veterinary Services.

This project is another example of cooperation among the Afghan government, Afghan national security forces and NATO’s International Security Assistance Force, Caskey said.

Caskey and others began meeting with local elders and other community members in July to ensure their outreach didn’t impinge on the local veterinary supply store or veterinarians. “The last thing we want to do is adversely affect the local economy,” he explained. “We bought medicine from the store and gave it out.”

When the Marines arrived at the front of the market to set up the animal pens, some local residents didn’t know what was happening. But as animals began lining up for treatment, the people got the idea and helped to spread the word.

“The people are feeling happy,” local fabric dealer Sheer Mohammad said through an interpreter.

Mohammad spread news of the one-day clinic to some friends who, in turn, brought their animals for treatment. “It’s a good thing you’re doing this,” he said, adding that he was surprised to see a foreign military giving free medicine for livestock.

As the farmers arrived, they checked in and took their animals to a waiting area. Once the vets were ready, the interpreter called off names. They then herded their sheep, goats and cows into the treatment area.

Some larger animals took a few Marines to wrangle. Although the project was concluded without major incident -- only a few sore toes from dancing cows -- the day had its share of unexpected challenges.

“The volume of animals in such a short time was a bit of pressure,” said British Royal Army Capt. (Dr.) Miles H. Malone, a veterinarian. “Having another vet there was key to its success.”

“We saw and treated more animals than expected,” added Caskey. “But more importantly, we showed the people their government cares about them.”

Plans for another vet clinic are being considered. However, since Regional Command South has only one vet on staff, Caskey said, he will forward the local vet’s contact information to incoming units so future coordination can include him on other animal-related projects.

(Marine Corps Sgt. Scott Whittington serves with Regimental Combat Team 3 public affairs.)

Bonhomme Richard ARG/11th MEU Arrives in Timor-Leste for MAREX-09

BONHOMME RICHARD, At sea (NNS) -- USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6), the flagship of the Bonhomme Richard Amphibious Ready Group (ARG), arrived in Savu Sea to conduct a multilateral exercise in cooperation with the government of Timor-Leste Oct. 14.


From Bonhomme Richard Amphibious Ready Group Public Affairs

During Marine Exercise 2009 (MAREX 09), ARG Sailors and embarked Marines from the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) are scheduled to participate in Theater Security Cooperation programs and training ashore with the Timor-Leste and Australian militaries.

"We're excited to work with our Timor-Leste and Australian partners," said Commodore Capt. Rodney Clark, the ARG commander. "The ARG/MEU team hopes to build upon a strong relationship with this new country and make a difference in the community."

Bonhomme Richard displaces 40,500 tons and features a 2.2 acre flight deck that will enable medical and dental personnel to travel ashore and assist local healthcare workers in providing care to local residents.

"The scope of the medical, dental and preventative medicine services the Navy harnesses afloat is an awesome capability not only for our own Marines and Sailors, but to those unfortunate few or many that may have suffered hardship," said Commander, Amphibious Task Force Surgeon Cmdr. Steven Gabele.

In addition to offering medical and dental assistance, ARG/MEU personnel will partner with local government and education officials to repair the roof of a secondary school as well as construct desks and chalk boards.

Bonhomme Richard Sailors and Marines have also volunteered to participate in local sporting events and visit children in orphanages in the country's capital city.

"It's a great thing. These projects not only meet needs [in Timor-Leste] but also meet the desires of Sailors and Marines to help people," said Cmdr. John Shimotsu, Bonhomme Richard's senior chaplain and community service coordinator. "One of the last things people remember is our ability to make a positive difference in the communities that we visit."

The ARG's other two ships, USS Cleveland (LPD 7) and USS Rushmore (LSD 47), are participating in the other portion of MAREX-09 in neighboring Indonesia.

The ARG also consists of the command element, commander, Amphibious Squadron 7; the ready group's flagship, USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6); Tactical Air Control Squadron 12, Detachment 1; Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 23, Detachment 3; Assault Craft Unit 1, Detachment B; Assault Craft Unit 5, Detachment F; Beachmaster Unit 1, Detachment B; and Fleet Surgical Team 9.

The Bonhomme Richard ARG is transiting the U.S. 7th Fleet area of operations and reports to Commander, Amphibious Force 7th Fleet, Rear Adm. Richard Landolt, who is headquartered in Okinawa, Japan

October 13, 2009

2/8 Marines Conduct Counter Insurgency Operations in Lakari Village

PATROL BASE LAKARI, Helmand province, Afghanistan – Winning Afghan trust has been the cornerstone of the success of Marines with Echo Company, 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, Marine Expeditionary Brigade-Afghanistan as combat operations take them farther south into Helmand province.


2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade
Story by Cpl. Michael Curvin
Date: 10.13.2009
Posted: 10.13.2009 02:54

By establishing open lines of communication and security for the villagers in their current area of responsibility surrounding Patrol Base Lakari, established Oct. 2, the Marines receive information valuable to their efforts to defeat the local insurgents.

"We're trying to defeat the enemy with unconventional means," said 1st Lt. Patrick M. Nevins, a platoon commander with Echo Company, 2nd Battalion, 8th Marines, MEB-Afghanistan. "We don't have to revert to our organic weapons in a COIN [counter insurgency] fight."

The Marines understand that to win this conflict, the population must support them, according to Nevins. By working together with the civilians, the Marines have improved security in a highly volatile area with aid from the U.S. Army and Afghan national army.

Taking the time to engage Afghan citizens and identify their concerns and issues contributes to efforts to gain the support of the local population.

By addressing the population's problems, coalition forces here are preparing these people for independence from insurgent domination, according to Nevins.

"This is their country," Nevins said. "Once we leave, they're going to be the ones responsible for continuing the work that we've done. They're the ones that have to live with the results. They have the greatest stake in what we do here."

Speaking with village elders before moving through their villages has produced positive results in this region, giving Nevins and his Marines a communication advantage over the enemy.

"I let them know that I'm here for them," Nevins said. "If there is anything they need then they can come talk to me. We're just working on building relationships and mutual trust."

Nevins says geography plays a major role in counter insurgency operations throughout Helmand province. Villagers close to ISAF installations depend on the security these compounds offer and the communication they provide, whereas populations living farther away from coalition positions are not able to see what coalition forces are doing for them.

As MEB-Afghanistan continues operations in southern Helmand province, more and more smiles greet Marines as they patrol through villages and surrounding areas. More often Nevins sees his Marines treated as friends by communities that once met them with suspicion.

"They welcomed us with open arms," said Sgt. Anthony D. Matthews, a squad leader with Echo Company, 2nd Battalion, 8th Marines, MEB-Afghanistan when his squad made their way for Lakari village for just the second time since moving into the area. "Even though we didn't give out stuff last time, they we're all over us."

Often Marines, weighted down with flaks, helmets and weapons, also carry brightly-colored stuffed animals and candy as the walk the village streets.

"They love us," Matthews said. "When we start getting a bigger presence, they'll recognize that we're here for them."

The patrols have also started to expose a shift in public opinion toward the Taliban and a new willingness by the Afghans to voice this shift.

"They hate them just like we hate them," Matthews said. "It seems like they learned to live with them" and now they realize there is a better life available to them.

The battle for popular support rages on here between coalition and insurgent forces. With each smiling face, the Marines rest a little easier. The more communication with villagers, the more information the Marines have to force Taliban fighters out of Lakari, Afghanistan

Fallen Marine's father wants change in Afghanistan

NEW PORTLAND, Maine — It was the last way John Bernard would have wanted his voice to gain prominence in the national debate over the war in Afghanistan.


By DAVID SHARP (AP) – October 13, 2009

The retired Marine had been writing to lawmakers for weeks complaining of the new rules of engagement he believed put U.S. troops at unacceptable risk in the insurgency-wracked country. He got little response.

Then Bernard's only son, 21-year-old Lance Cpl. Joshua Bernard — a Marine like his dad — was killed in an insurgent ambush in Afghanistan's volatile Helmand province, the latest victim of a surge in U.S. combat deaths.

Three weeks later, Joshua became the face of that toll when The Associated Press published photos of the dying Marine against his father's wishes and John Bernard was thrust into a national debate about the role of the press in wartime.

Suddenly, for all the worst reasons, John Bernard's voice was being heard.

The loss of his son and the furor over the photo have given new resonance to his view that changes must be made in how the war is fought before President Barack Obama sends any more troops to battle the Taliban and al-Qaida.

"For better or for worse, I may be the face of this. That's fine," said Bernard, sitting on his porch as he drank coffee from a Marine Corps mug. "As soon as someone bigger can run with it, they can have the whole thing."

Bernard's criticism is aimed at new rules of engagement imposed by Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the senior American commander in Afghanistan, five weeks before Joshua Bernard was killed. They limit the use of airstrikes and require troops to break off combat when civilians are present, even if it means letting the enemy escape. They also call for greater cooperation with the Afghan National Army.

Under those rules, John Bernard said, Marines and soldiers are being denied artillery and air support for fear of killing civilians, and the Taliban is using that to its tactical advantage. In a letter to his congressman and Maine's U.S. senators, Bernard condemned "the insanity of the current situation and the suicidal position this administration has placed these warriors in."

"We've abandoned them in this Catch-22 where we're supposed to defend the population, but we can't defend them because we can't engage the enemy that is supposed to be the problem," he said in an interview with the AP.

The military says the new rules, while riskier in the short run, will ultimately mean fewer casualties.

Before Joshua died, his father lived quietly as a professional carpenter and church volunteer.

That changed on Aug. 14, when Joshua was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade while acting as point man for his squad in the town of Dahaneh. He died that night on the operating table.

On Sept. 4, the AP distributed a photo of the mortally wounded Marine being tended to by comrades. Many newspapers opted against using the photo, and the distribution launched a fierce public debate, especially after Defense Secretary Robert Gates publicly criticized the AP.

John Bernard still believes the AP's decision to release the photo — to show the horror of war and the sacrifice of those fighting it — was inexcusable, but he says the bigger issue is how the war is being conducted.

As he sees it, the U.S. was right to go to war in Afghanistan after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, but eight years later the focus has shifted to counterinsurgency instead of hunting down the enemy. Marines are trained to "kill people and break things," not to be police officers and nation-builders, he says.

The Taliban "are tenacious and you have to fight them with the same level of tenacity," Bernard said. "If you're going to try to go over there as a peacekeeper, you're going to get your butt handed to you, and that's what's going on right now."

Bernard also disagrees with U.S. troops working side by side with Afghan soldiers and police. The mission on which his son was killed was compromised by someone who tipped off the Taliban, he says, citing gunfire from all directions that targeted the Marines' helicopter when it landed. Bernard believes the Marines were led into a trap.

Bernard writes a blog sharing his views with others.

"I don't think John changed because his son died," his pastor, the Rev. Valmore Vigue, said. "He was committed to this cause because he believed it was right, and that's why he's doing it."

It's been a little more than a month since Joshua was buried in a small cemetery about five miles from their 1865 farmhouse in the rolling hills of western Maine, where the leaves of maples, oak, birch and poplars are turning fiery red, orange and yellow.

Bernard has accepted the loss, but his grief is obvious. He pauses from time to time to take deep breaths as he speaks of his son. Several times, he closes his eyes, as if remembering.

Bernard, 55, joined the Marines in 1972 and served 26 years on active and reserve duty, leading a platoon as a scout sniper in the first Gulf War in 1991. Physically fit, with closely cropped hair and a Marine Corps tattoo on his arm, the retired first sergeant remains a competitive shooter.

He and his wife, Sharon, raised Joshua and their daughter, Katie, 25, in New Portland, population 800. The family attended Crossroads Bible Church in nearby Madison.

Father and son shared the same philosophy: service to God, family, country and Marines — in that order, Bernard said.

Joshua was quiet, polite and determined. He led a Bible study in Afghanistan and earned the call sign "Holy Man." He also was a crack shot — best in his company, his father said.

Bernard says the battle that claimed Joshua's life was just one example of all that's wrong in Afghanistan.

When four Marines were killed in another ambush, near the Pakistan border, a McClatchy Newspapers reporter embedded with the unit wrote that its request for artillery fire support was declined because of the rules of engagement. The reporter quoted Marines as saying women and children were replenishing the insurgents' ammunition.

In another recent incident, an Afghan police officer on patrol with U.S. soldiers opened fire on the Americans, killing two of them. The assailant managed to escape.

The solution isn't that complicated, Bernard said. He wants the U.S. military to return to its original mission of chasing and killing the Taliban and al-Qaida. Otherwise, he said, bring the troops home.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, raised Bernard's concerns to Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, during an Armed Services Committee meeting last month.

"Getting this right in the long run will actually result in fewer casualties," Mullen said, according to a transcript of the hearing. "That doesn't mean risk isn't up higher now, given the challenges we have and the direction that McChrystal has laid out."

Rep. Mike Michaud, D-Maine, also raised Bernard's concerns in a letter to Gates, requesting that someone from the Pentagon chief's office formally contact Bernard. So far, no one has.

As a retired Marine, Bernard said he's obligated to speak up. His son is now gone, but he said others are still at risk.

"We've got guys in harm's way getting shot at and getting killed," he said. "To me, it's immoral that anybody in this country wouldn't have that first and last on their minds."

Ship Built With WTC Steel Sails for Namesake City

USS New York, built with World Trade Center steel, sets sail for its namesake city

A Navy assault ship built with tons of steel salvaged from the World Trade Center towers began its journey to New York on Tuesday, sailing down the Mississippi River in a pea-soup fog as watchers along the levee strained for a glimpse.


By ALAN SAYRE Associated Press Writer
AVONDALE, La. October 13, 2009 (AP)

The USS New York, named to commemorate the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks , left the Northrop Grumman shipyard where it was built for the trip to its namesake city. The $1 billion ship will be formally commissioned in New York in early November.

The New York is 684 feet long and can carry up to 800 Marines. It has a flight deck that can handle helicopters and the MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft.

Four tugboats performed an intricate set of maneuvers to pull the warship from the dock at the New Orleans-area shipyard and turn it 180 degrees toward the waters of Gulf of Mexico. An armed Coast Guard speedboat and a helicopter flying overhead guarded the vessel. The ship will sail through the Gulf and around Florida before turning north and continuing to New York.

Deputy project manager Doug Lounsberry said the vessel was important to the builders, not only because it honors those killed in the terrorist attacks, but because workers were hit by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 during the early phases of construction.

"It's like raising a kid," Lounsberry said. "We're sending this one off to college. But after they leave, they remain near and dear to your heart."

Farther down the Mississippi, hundreds of people lined up along the river bank to watch the ship pass. Around 9:45 a.m., a man called "Here she comes!" prompting well-wishers to raise U.S. flags and camera phones, as the hulking warship emerged from the haze.

Tourists Dorice and Victor Brown and Christine Cox, of Sterling, Va., were getting coffee and pastries at a nearby cafe when they asked about the commotion and decided to check it out for themselves.

"It's awesome for anything so tragic to be so uplifting here," Cox said, just after the ship had passed.

Brian Corcoran, a mechanical contractor, brought his four children, who range in age from 12 to 5. He figured they might be a bit late for school but was OK with that, given the importance of the occasion.

"Hopefully, it's going overseas to do damage to them like it did to us," he said.

When terrorist hijackers crashed two jetliners into the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, destroying the twin towers and killing nearly 2,800 people, the ship was already on the drawing board. In September 2002, the Defense Department announced the selection of New York as the ship's name, honoring the city and state and those who died in the attacks.

About 7.5 tons of World Trade Center steel was melted at the Bradken Inc. foundry in Amite, La., and used in the New York's bow.

The New York revives a name held by at least four other Navy ships, including a Spanish-American War-era cruiser, a battleship that served in World Wars I and II and a nuclear submarine retired from the fleet in 1997.

The ship is a San Antonio-class amphibious dock vessel. The first four ships in the series — the USS San Antonio, USS New Orleans, USS Mesa Verde and USS Green Bay — are in service. Four other ships in the class ate under construction: Somerset and Anchorage at the Avondale yard, and Arlington and San Diego at Northrop Grumman's yard in Pascagoula, Miss.

Arlington and Somerset also carry names connected to the Sept. 11 attacks: Arlington for the attack on the Pentagon and Somerset for the Pennsylvania county in which United Airlines Flight 93 crashed after being hijacked.


Associated Press writer Becky Bohrer contributed to this story.

October 12, 2009

Advancing Marines test new Afghan war doctrine

BARCHA, Afghanistan, Oct 12 (Reuters) - Winning ground is one thing. Convincing Afghan villagers you will not leave, abandoning them to a vengeful Taliban, is a bigger challenge for U.S. Marines advancing deep into southern Helmand province.


Oct 12, 2009 3:58am EDT
By Golnar Motevalli

The Marines, part of a 10,000-strong force sent to Afghanistan this year, have pushed south into hostile terrain, winning ground and pledging to build the long-term trust and security needed to prevent insurgents from returning.

A day after taking over the former home of a local doctor which had been used as a post by the Taliban, the Marines were building it into a base and trying to win over local people.

"You have to make a decision, please. You want to work with us or you want to work with the Taliban?" the clean-shaven young Marine Captain Junwei Sun asked a wizened and bearded village elder at the first "shura" -- or meeting -- with local people.

The base is a sprawling, dry mud compound of rooms and a large courtyard, topped by a watch room which gives a panoramic view of the surrounding cornfields and villages.

"I'm good at fighting people like this (the Taliban). If you help me, I guarantee, over time we'll get security here," First Lieutenant Samuel Oliver said.

It took 200 men from the 2nd battalion 8th Marines two days to advance just 4km (2.5 miles) to Barcha in the face of insurgent attacks and a string of roadside explosive traps.

The eight-year-old war is at its most intense, with more than 400 NATO troops dead this year. U.S. Afghan commander Stanley McChrystal has told President Barack Obama he needs 40,000 troops to push back a resurgent Taliban and convince the population insurgents will not win.

The Marines in Helmand are field-testing McChrystal's counter-insurgency strategy of marching into populated areas and holding them so that government institutions can be set up.

Obama, under pressure from Democrats to pull back from the war and from Republicans to meet military requests, has said he will review overall strategy before deciding on reinforcements.


Villagers complained it was unsafe to walk to the local mosque, that there were no schools and that the Marines had detained an innocent man as a suspected Taliban member.

"If you tell me he is not Taliban, then I will let him go ... you promise me he is not Taliban?" Captain Sun asked.

The elders raised their hands and in unison said, "no he is not". The heavily armed Marines outside released the detainee.

But winning trust, while judging friend from foe, is not easy.

In nearby Darbishan village, Abdul Razak, 18, who lives in a simple mud brick hut in a cornfield, is having his eyeballs scanned by a U.S. Marine sergeant.

Razak is not an "individual of interest", or suspected insurgent, but Marines say keeping biometric data will enable them to track who lives nearby and build an informal census.

Razak knows the Marines outside his home and mosque, where he runs a small school, want information about the Taliban.

"The Taliban and the Americans come here and push us around ... I don't mind if they don't upset us, they can come here, but we are not the Taliban, they are not from here," said Razak.

The Marines, accompanied by a unit of nine Afghan soldiers, machete their way through tall corn fields to other houses.

In the next compound Hajji Abdul Khaliq is squatting and counting his worry beads. Khaliq's son, a doctor, is the village's main landowner but is in Helmand's provincial capital of Lashkar Gah, buying medicine for his practice.

"The Taliban were last here four days ago." Khaliq said. "I don't know them, they are not from the area, they are always from Pakistan or Iran."

Three women from the village sit in the corner of Khaliq's compound cleaning vegetables. "When there is war, we are very unhappy, when it's peaceful it's good, but we don't have Taliban here," 60-year old Hadiyeh said.

Marines Return Home, Afghanistan Questions Linger

About 150 Marines and sailors will return to Camp Lejeune from Iraq Monday. While the mission in that country winds down, the future of U.S. troops in Afghanistan remains murky.


Updated: 4:56 AM Oct 12, 2009

About 150 Marines and sailors will return home from Iraq to Camp Lejeune Monday. While the troops may not be called to return to that country anytime soon, the questions over possible troop build-ups in Afghanistan remain.

President Barack Obama and his war council have been wrestling with how many more troops might be needed in the 8 year-old Afghanistan conflict. Afghanistan was a hot topic on "Meet The Press," where Democrat Senator Carl Levin and Republican Senator Lindsey Graham disagree on the next step.

Democratic Senator Carl Levin said, "I had a personal conversation with McChrystal, and what he says is that, 'You want to find ways of showing resolve to the people of Afghanistan.' There are many ways to show resolve in addition to more and more combat forces...including many more trainers to get the Afghan forces to be a lot larger and a lot stronger."

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said, "The Afghan National Police are getting slaughtered. It's hard to train people, send them off to fight, when they get killed at their first duty station. So without better security the training element will fail. That's exactly what happened in Afghanistan. So we need more combat power. General McChrystal says 40-thousand -- in that neighborhood. I would go with the General."

On another Sunday morning show, Democrat Dianne Feinstein broke ranks with fellow democrats, saying more troops are needed.

Commander says Camp Pendleton's force is prevailing over Taliban

As President Barack Obama weighs sending more troops to Afghanistan and debate over the course of an increasingly difficult war rages in Washington, the commander of a Camp Pendleton battalion says his troops have tamed one slice of the country's volatile Helmand province.


MARK WALKER - [email protected]
Monday, October 12, 2009 10:00 pm

The 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment is now in its fifth month of operations in the Nawa district, an agricultural region of about 180,000 people along the Helmand River that was largely under Taliban control when the Marines arrived this spring.

While U.S. officials paint a portrait of increasingly deteriorating conditions, Lt. Col. William McCollough draws a different picture of what's occurred in his "battle space" in the volatile southern Afghanistan province.

"We are very far removed from the debate that is taking place," McCollough said Monday during an exclusive interview with the North County Times via satellite telephone. "All we can do is the mission that we have been given, and what I know very clearly is that we are winning here. The things we set out to do are being accomplished every day."

Among those accomplishments is making the district secure enough for its first council election in years to be conducted.

Speaking from his command post at Patrol Base Jaker, McCollough said his 1,100 troops are scattered at numerous outposts where they are partnered with 300 Afghan National Army troops and 300 Afghan police.

"We are in multiple positions and all of the people in those villages know every single Marine, an important and key piece to our success," he said.

What the troops have been able to do in their area, unlike the situation in many other regions, he said, is largely eliminate Taliban fighters and gain the trust of the local residents. It's the kind of success that strategists say is key to turning the tide in Afghanistan where 242 U.S. troops have died this year, the largest death toll there since the war began eight years ago.

Two lost

Two battalion troops have been killed in action: Sgt. William Cahir and Lance Cpl. Donald Hogan, both of whom died in small-arms firefights in August. The battalion also has seen about 65 troops wounded.

Most of the heavy fighting took place shortly after the battalion arrived in May.

"We thought initially that we might take more casualties, but the fighting was minimized because we were so lethal and able to kill the enemy in place," McCollough said.

His troops now encounter small groups of Taliban fighters about every other day, McCollough said, usually while patrolling on the fringe or outside the battalion's established "green zone" where the district's crops are produced.

"It's where the desert meets the green zone where we still have troops in contact," he said. "Once we've established a position, we've been able to hold it, but there are areas where we ran off the Taliban that they try to come back in."

For many other troops, the war hasn't been going as well as McCollough asserts. U.S. commanders in recent weeks have said the situation remains perilous in many regions and is complicated by an often ineffective and corrupt government.

On Sunday, U.S. Sen Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, called for a new, comprehensive strategy for Afghanistan before any more troops are sent to the country.

'Hold and Build'

McCollough is a slightly built Minnesota native who heads a battalion that was part of Obama's troop surge this year that has seen the overall U.S. military force in the country rise to nearly 68,000.

Whether more troops, and more local Marines, are headed to Afghanistan is now under consideration by the administration, which is wrestling with a request from the overall U.S. commander, Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who wants 40,000 more troops.

As McCollough and his troops begin a countdown to their expected return to Camp Pendleton around Christmas, two other Camp Pendleton units are gearing up for Afghanistan.

The base's 1st Marine Special Operations Battalion is headed there at year's end to take over command of special forces missions in the northern and western regions of the country. And earlier this month, the base announced it was reactivating the 1st Marine Expeditionary Battalion, a force of about 8,000, for an assignment to Afghanistan in the spring.

Those troops are expected to perform the kind of work McCollough's troops have been tasked with. After the initial clearing of enemy fighters, the Marines have focused on the "hold and build" aspects of counterinsurgency doctrine that call for maintaining ground won and building a rapport and trust with the residents.

"A little more than three months ago, this was Taliban country," McCollough said. "Now, this is our district where I am able to work with one governor, one police chief and one council."

Once the residents realized he and his Marines were staying in the villages and not just coming in, conducting firefights and leaving, McCollough said, the tide began to turn.

"The community quickly realized that the Marines were honorable and trustworthy and that we were here to help them," he said. "We've been able to clear the roads, and that helps spur economic activity. The people are feeling safer, and they now feel all right about traveling the district."

Augmenting the military presence are workers from the U.S. Agency for International Development, which provides economic assistance to developing countries.

Their effort, along with a commander's fund that McCollough can tap into, has helped rebuild bridges, fix buildings and develop new markets in the area.

These days, when his troops go out on patrol, they start by checking in with a village elder and then talking with other local officials and residents, many of whom now voluntarily tell the Marines about Taliban sightings and the location of suspected IEDs, or roadside bombs.

"When we first got here, it was the brave local who would tell us those things," McCollough said. "But five months later, we've earned enough goodwill and trust that the locals will tell us those things and IEDs are becoming far less prevalent."

Living in austere forward operating bases provides little contact with the outside world, but McCollough said every one of his troops has received a care package from family or supporters.

There are none of the large mess halls of the type that dot Iraq where U.S. troops can choose among hot meals and desserts and catch a little television, so certain cravings are prevalent, he said.

"Everybody wants a cold beer, a big thick juicy steak, and would like to be able to see the baseball playoffs and a football game."

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

October 11, 2009

Recon Marines revisit insurgents in Helmand

More than 130 Marines from Alpha Company, 2nd Reconnaissance Battalion, Marine Expeditionary Brigade-Afghanistan, accompanied by soldiers from the Afghan National Army, conducted an operation to disrupt insurgent activity in northeastern Helmand province.


Cpl. Aaron Rooks
Oct. 11, 2009

The Marines of Task Force Raider began Operation Butler in the early morning hours of Oct. 6 when they departed Camp Leatherneck in waves of CH-53E “Super Stallion” helicopters.

They began clearing the Salaam Bazaar in Now Zad district upon their arrival under cover of darkness, with little enemy resistance.

“The enemy did exactly what I expected them to do,” said Capt. Albert Flores, Alpha Company commander, 2nd Recon Bn. “We landed and the Taliban left right away. They did not want to face us head on because they know they can’t win.”

The Marines spent the remainder of day one raiding the bazaar alongside U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents in search of drugs and bomb-making materials.
Their combined search resulted in the seizure and destruction of more than 2,200 kilograms of poppy seeds, more than 60 kilograms of opium, a pressure-plate IED and more than 200 pounds of fertilizer used in producing explosives.

“We succeeded in disrupting the enemy’s logistics supply point for trafficking narcotics and explosive device-making materials,” said 1st Lt. Brandan Finn, platoon commander, 2nd Platoon, Alpha Company, 2nd Recon Bn. “It reduces their financial capabilities and allowed Afghan locals to see how proficient the Afghan soldiers were.”

This marked the second raid of the Salaam Bazaar in recent months. The reconnaissance Marines of Task Force Raider seized and destroyed a much larger amount of drugs and IED-making materials Aug. 12 when they first visited the bazaar.

Flores said he suspected insurgents in the area were resupplying the bazaar with similar materials.
“The bazaar is a great place for people to link up and traffic narcotics, weapons and IED-making materials,” Flores said. “We’re here to take away their ability to conduct these criminal acts.”
The Marines traveled farther south past the bazaar after destroying their finds despite the threat of repetitive indirect-fire attacks. Flores said their remaining mission in the operation was to “gain and maintain,” contact with insurgents in the area.

“We chased them for days,” Flores said. “They had no idea what to do.”

The reconnaissance Marines faced a much higher rate of enemy resistance in the form of indirect and small-arms attacks as they steadily pushed south in the days to follow.

The Marines moved south from compound to compound, overcoming what Flores described as “effective” insurgent mortar and rocket attacks. When needed, the Marines utilized Cobra attack helicopters and Harrier jets to suppress the enemy.

He said the Marines overcame even the most dangerous of situations, one in particular being a moment when insurgent mortars were landing dangerously close to the Marines of Alpha Company’s 2nd Platoon.

October 9, 2009

3/4, 3rd CEB depart for Afghanistan, Iraq

In the early hours of Monday morning, elements of 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, and 3rd Combat Engineer Battalion, bid farewell to their families, friends and fellow service members before departing for deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq.


10/9/2009 By Cpl. Nicholas M. Dunn, Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms

Approximately 320 Marines and sailors from Company I and Weapons Company, 3/4, gathered on Victory Field before heading to Afghanistan. Other elements of the battalion departed for the region last week. The ‘Thundering Third’ is the second Combat Center battalion to deploy in force to Afghanistan since 2nd Bn., 7th Marines, spearheaded the return of Marines to the country in April 2008.

“We’re going to be split between three different provinces in Afghanistan under 7th Marine Regiment,” said Capt. Ryan Benson, the commander of Co. I. “Our mission is to provide security and build infrastructure for the local populous.”

Benson, who led Marines in Iraq in 2004, said the battalion has been training for this deployment for almost a year, including a month-long stint at Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center Bridgeport, Calif.

“I expect them to perform exactly how they were trained,” said the Lake Villa, Ill., native. “Everything they trained for in [Enhanced] Mojave Viper was for this fight. The Marines are very well prepared for anything they are going to come into contact with over there.”

Despite the brisk temperature of the early morning air, morale among the Marines and sailors was high; they all felt like they were prepared for this deployment. Lance Cpl. Matthew Baker, a Tube-launched, Optically-tracked, Wire-guided missile gunner with Weapons Co., summed his feelings up in one word.

“Ready,” said the Baton Rouge, La., native.

For Baker, along with many of his fellow Marines, this is his first combat deployment. He said he has been preparing for this fight since he joined the Marine Corps.

“Afghanistan is where all of our [School of Infantry] instructors told us we’d probably be going,” he said. “Most of the training I’ve done has revolved around operations we’ll be conducting in Afghanistan.”

Meanwhile, at the 3rd CEB headquarters building, roughly 130 Marines and sailors from Company B, 3rd CEB were also saying goodbye to their friends and loved ones before departing the Combat Center for operations in Iraq.

While deployed to Iraq, Co. B will be responsible for building infrastructure and deconstructing the forward operating bases previously used by Marines, said 2nd Lt. Craig Zoellner, the adjutant for 3rd CEB.

As a result of the shift from troops in Iraq to Afghanistan, Co. B may be one of the last Marine Corps units to deploy to Iraq, said the St. Louis, Mo., native.

The rest of 3rd CEB is currently training for their upcoming deployment in support of combat operations to Afghanistan next year, Zoellner said.

Marine on mission to find special coin’s owner

Loveland’s Tom Buchanan — commandant of the Loveland Marine Corps League and a retired Marine himself — knows how important a challenge coin can be to a Marine.


By Sarah Bultema
Loveland Reporter-Herald

The embellished coins are presented to Marines as a memento of their service during a certain battle or time.

So when Buchanan was given a challenge coin that someone had lost at a local restaurant, he immediately committed himself to finding its owner.

“Challenge coins are a way to keep mementos of where we’ve been and what we’ve done,” said Buchanan, noting Marines can get fairly sentimental about these coins and what they represent.

“We want to get this Marine and his coin connected again.”

The red, black and gold coin was given to Buchanan by a manager at Loveland’s Applebee’s, 219 E. 29th St.

The manager had recently found it in one of the restaurant’s booths and was holding on to it in hopes the owner would come back.

After some time passed, the manager gave the coin to Buchanan, who was at the restaurant arranging the Loveland Marine Corps League’s upcoming breakfast fundraiser.

“He took out a tiny envelope, rolled out the coin and asked if I could help find the owner,” Buchanan remembered. “It seemed like a big task ... but you never know if you go out and ask.”

The coin’s inscription led to a few clues about its owner.

On the front, it reads: “Al-Anbar Province, Iraq,” as well as listing Camp Gannon, Camp Al-Asad and Camp Al-Qaim.

It has a date inscribed: Feb — Sept 2005.

The back of the coin is inscribed with “Third Battalion, Second Marines; Betio Bastards, Unus Supra.”

After asking around town and posting information on the league’s Web site, Buchanan turned to the Reporter-Herald in hopes of finding the coin’s Marine.

“This coin seemed like a pretty special one, since he served in battle,” he said.

“I’m putting the plea out there. If anyone knows this Marine or who it might belong to, please contact me.”

Buchanan can be reached at 667-6269 or through the league’s Web site, www.mcl-loveland-1250.com.

October 8, 2009

Over 50 tons of drugs seized in southern Afghanistan

KABUL, October 8 (RIA Novosti) - Afghan soldiers and U.S. marines seized some 52 tons of drugs and dozens of tons of explosives in Afghanistan's southern Helmand province, an Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman said on Thursday.



Mohammad Zahir Azimi said 1,800 kg (4,000 pounds) of heroine, 50 tons of hashish, and 30 tons of explosives were seized and destroyed during the raid on October 6-7 in Helmand's Kajaki district.

"The total cost of seized drugs is about $5 million," the spokesman said, adding several underground drug and explosive production laboratories were also destroyed by Afghan and American soldiers.

He said 17 militants were killed and three captured during the operation.

Since the Taliban regime was overthrown in the 2001 U.S.-led campaign, illegal drug production has risen by more than 40 times in Afghanistan, which is the world's leading producer of heroin.

According to estimates, about 90% of heroin consumed in Russia is trafficked from Afghanistan via ex-Soviet republics of Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

October 7, 2009

Marines Construct New Position Near Taliban Marketplace

PATROL BASE LAKARI, Helmand Province, Afghanistan – Since the first raid on Lakari Bazaar in mid July which turned up thousands of pounds of drugs and bomb-making materials, the Taliban has continued to use the market as a staging area for illegal activity – launching more than 20 attacks against coalition troops in the immediate vicinity from there.


Regimental Combat Team 3
Story by Sgt. Scott Whittington
Date: 10.07.2009

To stop this, more than 300 British troops conducted a second raid in the early morning hours of Sept. 30, seizing caches of weapons and killing several insurgents after receiving enemy fire. To ensure the Taliban didn't return to their illegal activity, Marines from Company D, 1st Combat Engineer Battalion and Combat Logistics Battalion 8 constructed a patrol base less than a mile from the bazaar. Afghan national army soldiers and Marines with Company E, 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, will occupy the new base to disrupt Taliban activity in the area.

"The base will give [2/8 Marines] an opportunity to project their influence on the Lakari market," said platoon commander 2nd Lt. Mark H. Tetzel, Company D, 1st CEB.

The engineer Marines arrived here 18 hours after leaving Forward Operating Base Delhi, more than 40 kilometers away, and went to work immediately under the 2 a.m. moonlight. This patrol base, 90 miles from Pakistan's border, is the southern-most base controlled by Regimental Combat Team 3.

"It's all about survivability," said Cpl. Joshua M. Firth, heavy equipment operator, 1st CEB. "The bigger the berm, the safer the Marines are on the inside, essentially. They won't have to worry about direct fire."

A 13-foot dirt berm was pushed up around an already-existing wall in the new compound, and an outer, shorter berm was constructed outside the larger one to make standoff room. According to Tetzel, this gives another layer of protection from threats such as vehicle-born IEDs.

Inside the compound, engineers using head lamps pounded away with hammers in the darkness, driving nails into prefabricated guard towers, a shower, a hygiene area and field-expedient burnout toilets. Marines from 8th Engineer Support Battalion were responsible for the creating pre-made structures and a group of them were attached to CLB-8. They frequently accompany the CEB Marines on their builds.

"This is CLB-8's third time to come out with us," said Tetzel, a former corporal and University of Akron graduate. "Those guys are awesome and won't stop until the job is done."

Throughout the engineers' deployment, they've built four observation posts, seven combat outposts of various sizes, and three patrol bases in Helmand province.

Building these posts and bases in the middle of towns and open desert takes a lot of moving parts. This build alone used the efforts of several units. Two Combined Anti-Armor Teams and Marines from 1st CEB's Route Clearance Platoon lead the 37-vehicle engineer convoy from FOB Delhi, on the lookout for enemy ambushes and IEDs. At the convoy's tail, 60 Afghan national army troops in vehicles provided security from anyone trying to sneak up behind. Those attached units provided security for the engineers to, at and from the construction site.

"Security is important because it allows the Marines to build the best product they can without worrying about what's behind them," said Staff Sgt. Randy C. Jaekel, motor transportation chief, 1st CEB and a Lincoln, Mo., native.

It took the engineers almost 60 nonstop hours to complete the build. With the project completed, the Co. E Marines moved into their new digs with the intent on eradicating the Taliban in the area and giving the local Afghans freedom to shop and run their businesses in safe market.

"We come in, build it and leave," said Tetzel. "We want to give 2/8 a good product."

Estonian soldiers integrate with 2/8 Marines

HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan — Many cultures throughout the world sustained themselves because they had men and women who had a warrior spirit and a willingness to fight for a common cause.


10/7/2009 By Sgt. Scott Whittington, Regimental Combat Team 3

A company of soldiers from the Estonian Army demonstrated this characteristic last year while supporting 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment in Now Zad, Afghanistan. Now they have another opportunity to continue NATO’s mission here with 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment in southern Helmand province.

“I would jump at the chance to serve with any Estonian unit in the future, and I appreciate the almost six months that I did have to learn and serve with them,” wrote Company F commanding officer Capt. Ross Schellhaas, in a 2/7 after-action report. The battalion, stationed at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif., finished their most recent Afghanistan deployment in November.

Estonian soldiers had similar thoughts of admiration for their brothers in arms. “The same basic soldier drills and common thinking on the battlefield made the cooperation very smooth,” said Estonian Capt. Villiko Nurmoja, liaison officer stationed at Forward Operating Base Delhi. “Working together with U.S. Marines is a privilege which some units never experience.”

Estonia, located in northeast Europe on Russia’s western border, has a population of 1.4 million people and is no stranger to conflict, transitioning from German control during WWII to a Soviet government for 50 years. In 1991, they became an independent nation, joined the United Nations and have been developing economically ever since. They have participated in NATO’s missions in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2003.

“They share the same risks, same harsh living conditions, and they have absolutely no issues with either of those,” said Maj. Mike D. Broyan, Regimental Combat Team 3’s future operations officer and Estonian integration planner. 2/8 and their Estonian attachment fall under RCT-3’s command in Helmand. “That’s what they want – to be in the trenches with us.”

The Estonian soldiers moved into 2/8’s battle space at the end of September and took over Patrol Bases Shamshad and Masood, previously occupied by elements from 2/8’s Company F. They share these bases with elements of the Afghan National Army and will continue the battalion’s counterinsurgency operations until 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment takes over later this year.

“They’re coming at the exact right time to set the conditions for the RIP (relief in place) and framework,” said Lt. Col. Christian G. Cabaniss, 2/8 battalion commander. “It will be hard for the insurgents to react to it.”

To prepare for the deployment, the Estonian Army participated in training similar to their American counterparts, like reaction drills and company-sized exercise simulations. The exercises were enhanced to reflect lessons learned from testimonials of real combat scenarios in Afghanistan.

“The situation in Helmand changes so often that units have to be very flexible to take over new TTPs (Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures) from previous units or coalition partners,” said Nurmoja. “Flexibility and open thinking save lives.”

Broyan boasted about the Estonians’ professionalism and said there is no question about their capabilities.

“They’re good soldiers with good attitudes,” Cabaniss agreed from his headquarters at FOB Delhi. “I expect very good things from them.”

The Viper strikes … again

MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. — The Lava Dogs of 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, concluded the second phase of the Clear, Hold, Build Exercise here Monday after five days of combined arms urban operations.


10/7/2009 By Sgt. Brian A. Tuthill, 1st Battalion (1/3

Companies Alpha, Bravo and Charlie of 1/3, along with attachments from Weapons Company and other reinforcements, each cycled through Range 210 for two days as part of their Enhanced Mojave Viper predeployment training here. Having already completed the platoon-level CHB-1 exercise, CHB-2 tested each company as a whole.

Marines conducted a live fire assault toward the town using amphibious assault vehicles to transport Marines, M1A1 Abrams main battle tanks to push through and blast away enemy positions, and artillery and mortars to hit objectives from a distance.

Once the company’s assault element reached the city streets, three platoons of Marines poured from the AAVs to clear each building of enemy targets and force the enemy to fight or flee.

Next, the Marines dug in for the night for the “hold” portion of the exercise, creating a secure perimeter and maintaining control of the town’s buildings.

After sunset, “Coyote” exercise controllers from the Tactical Training Exercise Control Group announced an enemy counterattack to take back the town. Marines tore away at targets in the distance from their positions with machine gun, rocket and individual rifle fire.

As enemy vehicles were sighted ahead of them, the Lava Dogs pummeled them with 81-mm mortar fire and intense machine gun fire. Illumination flares lit the night sky with a dull yellow glow as they floated over the targets, giving Marines an advantage in the dark while red tracer rounds streaked from machine guns and sparks flew from the metal targets when hit.

As the fight progressed, close air support was called in and the roar of an FA-18 Hornet was heard overhead as it released a joint direct attack munitions bomb onto the enemy position, lighting up the desert with its fireball and shaking the concrete structures with the blast.

Minutes later, the “thwop-thwop” of an AH-1 Cobra attack helicopter was heard closing in. It released multiple tubelaunched, optically-tracked, wire-guided missiles at the enemy, glowing-hot shrapnel exploded dozens of feet into the night like fireworks. On each pass, the Cobra delivered a punishing dose of gun fire on the vehicles, each round streaking through the sky from above with red tracers.

Once the fight was won, Marines settled in for the night, maintaining their posts and occupying the town. When dawn came, Pashtu-speaking role players approached the town to speak to the Marines.

This “build” portion of the exercise tested each company’s ability to interact successfully with the city’s key leadership and residents with respect to their language, cultural and civil needs.

Marines worked through their assigned linguists to help rebuild infrastructure of the town and to return control to its rightful inhabitants.

The Lava Dogs will soon begin the CHB-3 exercise and test their skills operating at the battalion level.

October 6, 2009

Marines, sailors rappel as ship sails

PACIFIC OCEAN — Marines and sailors of Battalion Landing Team 2/4 rappelled from a helicopter parked on USS Bonhomme Richard’s flight deck here Oct. 6 to an elevator platform three stories below.


10/6/2009 By Cpl. Jeffrey Belovarac, 11th MEU

“It’s pretty scary at first but nice once you’re on the ground,” said Petty Officer 3rd Class Joshua D. Thornbloom, 23, from Portland, Ore. “It doesn’t help that we’re leaning out over the rear of the helicopter with the ocean under us. The intimidation factor goes up a little bit.”

The Weapons Company members lowered themselves from the back of a CH-46 Sea Knight, many rappelling for the first time since recruit training, said 1st Lt. Jameson K. Norton, a 23 year old from Nashville, Tenn.

“Rappelling isn’t used much, but it’s a skill Marines can maintain while they’re with us,” said Norton. “It’s a great confidence booster.”

Norton said it gives a Marine the skill and confidence to descending arduous terrain.

Fast-roping, or free sliding down a rope through a hole, is the preferred method for expeditious helicopter exits over land, and Marines typically rappel from towers or cliff sides. However, while sailing aboard the amphibious assault ship, they improvised.

Battalion Landing Team 2/4 is the ground combat element of the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit, which is currently deployed to the Western Pacific.

Full Steam Ahead for Humanitarian Assistance Operations in Pacific Region

MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP BUTLER, OKINAWA, Japan (October 6, 2009) -- In the aftermath of Tropical Storm Ketsana that struck the Republic of the Philippines Sept. 25, U.S. Marines and Sailors based in Japan have come to the aid of the Philippine people.


Consolidated Public Affairs Office

Over past week more than 2,000 Marines and Sailors of III MEF and U.S. Navy ships carrying the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit have been assisting the Philippine government in providing relief to the hard hit areas around the Philippine capital of Manila.

More than 9,300 "family food packs", including bottled water, have been distributed around the capital. More than 1,400 medical and dental patients have been treated by Navy personnel and more than 18 tons of clothes, shoes and personal items have been distributed. U.S. service members also are assisting in debris-removal operations along side Philippine troops.

During "food drop" missions the Philippine and U.S. military team utilized different transportation methods to deliver the "family food packs." Crowded streets and heavy traffic initially proved to be obstacles for military vehicles conducting relief convoys. However, in order to overcome these obstacles the Philippine National Police volunteered police escorts to ensure an efficient movement of relief supplies to the affected areas.

"The first day was chaos trying to navigate the streets," said 28-year-old Cpl. Theodore Ramlal, a Morris Plains, NJ native and a motor transport operator with III Marine Expeditionary force. "Once we got the police escorts the food convoys were able to navigate the roads a lot faster, smoother and safer."

In addition to food drops, the Philippine and U.S. military team executed medical and dental civil action projects to offer medical and dental assistance.

The medical and dental teams were able to treat minor medical issues and provided antibiotics, antifungal creams, and vitamins.

"We've seen things here (in terms of the destruction) that we haven't seen before," said Lt. Cmdr. Todd Endicott, a Yakima, Wash. Native and a medical officer with III Marine Expeditionary Force.

Marines and Sailors have been removing debris from impassable streets at multiple sites in Manila and some surrounding areas. Philippine and U.S. military engineers and local community members worked together to clear roadways and neighborhoods. In addition, U.S. forces are repairing dikes and drainage systems so that the Philippine government can resume basic services.

Thus far more than 15 large dump truck-sized loads of debris have been removed from Manila.

Troops have also delivered more than 18 tons of clothes, shoes and toys to the Philippines as part of relief efforts. More than 700 boxes of personal items, which are donated by U.S. military families in Japan, have been flown to Manila. The donated boxes, each weighing approximately 50 pounds, contain clothing and personal items sorted by gender and age.

U.S. military planners are working along side their Philippine counterparts at the National Crisis Center in Manila to review, assess and prioritize relief efforts and projects.

A team of approximately 100 personnel comprised of Marines from III MEF flew from Okinawa to Philippines Sept. 29 to conduct humanitarian assistance assessments. On Sept. 30, U.S. Navy ships USS Denver, USS Tortuga, and USS Harpers Ferry, with embarked Marines and sailors of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit set sail from Okinawa towards the Philippines. On October 1, Brig. Gen. Mark A. Brilakis, commanding general of the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Brigade, flew from Okinawa to Philippines to lead planning and humanitarian assistance efforts. The USS Tortuga and USS Harpers Ferry are currently in Subic Bay providing support to operations ashore.

Indonesia Earthquake

Marines and Sailors are steaming toward West Sumatra Province, Indonesia aboard the USS Denver in response to Indonesian Government request for help in the aftermath of a 7.6 earthquake that struck the West Sumatra Sept. 30. The USS Denver with its embarked 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit and heavy-left helicopters has been diverted from Philippines and is sailing towards Padang, Indonesia, where it's expected to arrive sometime Thursday.

In addition to the USS Denver, Navy Destroyer USS McCampbell and the dry-cargo ship USNS Richard E. Byrd are also en route to Indonesia

The Secretary of Defense has authorized $7 million for relief operations in Indonesia

Marines in Afghanistan: A Day in the Life

Unbearable Heat, Constant Mud, No Showers and Taliban Shooting At them, Marines Still Don't Complain

CBS) Wednesday will mark the 8-year anniversary of the beginning of the war in Afghanistan, and the situation for American troops there is not getting any better



Oct. 6, 2009

The U.S. Marines in the country's south face the toughest fight, and the worst conditions, reports CBS News chief foreign affairs correspondent Lara Logan. They're surrounded by hard-core Taliban fighters in Helmand province, and the local people are often hostile - but sometimes war can deliver the unexpected.

CBS News Special Report: The Road Ahead

For Marine Sgt. Anthony Matthews, the unexpected came in the form of a kiss on the hand from an Afghan child as he taught the youngster a handshake.

Matthews, a father of two, can't resist reaching across the cultural divide - trying to pass on a few American traditions - even here in the most violent part of Afghanistan.

"When you see people that can't help themselves and you can provide them with just a little security, it's worth doing it, and that's the thing about it," said Matthews.

In Afghanistan, that means something different every day. Recently, Sgt. Matthews and the Marines of Echo company used a canal as a secret approach into a Taliban-held village.

After an hour in the water, Marine engineers came scrambling back; they'd found a series of roadside bombs.

It took five more hours of waiting in the water before the bombs were destroyed.

Most days, they have to force their way through thick cornfields because the ground they patrol is so heavily mined with roadside bombs.

Getting through these cornfields is hard because the ground is uneven and it's full of mud. The humidity is stifling and it's hard to breathe, but it's great for cover.

Back at the base, there's nowhere to shower, no way to get comfortable. It's blistering hot and filthy dirty. Marines sleep wherever they can. They haven't washed for months.

"As you can see, just living out in the dirt, that's never good. The shower situation, the bathroom situation... going out every day, getting shot at, walking through the mud... you're never dry you're always wet," said Matthews, "just stuff like that."

What makes it bearable? When the mail truck finally arrives with letters from home.

"It's a struggle. You worry about your Marines here, you worry about family at home, it's hard trying to keep your head in the game," said Matthews. "Try to keep your mind off of home as much as possible here."

Many of these Marines are on their third or fourth deployments, and a lot of them have small children and young wives at home. But you really don't hear them complaining. That's a big part of the Marine culture

Al-Qaida Showing Smaller Presence In Afghanistan

KABUL — Al-Qaida's role in Afghanistan has faded after eight years of war.


Robert H. REID | 10/ 6/09 09:46 PM

Gone is the once-formidable network of camps and safe houses where Osama bin Laden and his mostly Arab operatives trained thousands of young Muslims to wage a global jihad. The group is left with fewer than 100 core fighters, according to the Obama administration, likely operating small-scale bomb-making and tactics classes conducted by trainers who travel to and from Pakistan.

Assessing the real strength and threat posed by al-Qaida is at the heart of an evolving policy debate in Washington about whether or not to escalate the U.S. military presence in this country. The war was launched soon after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to root out al-Qaida and deny the militant movement a safe haven in a Taliban-ruled Afghanistan.

U.S. national security adviser James Jones said last weekend that the al-Qaida presence has diminished, and he does not "foresee the return of the Taliban" to power.

He said that according to the maximum estimate, al-Qaida has fewer than 100 fighters operating in Afghanistan without any bases or ability to launch attacks on the West.

"If the Taliban did return to power, I believe we are strong enough to deter them from attacking us again by strong and credible punishment and by containing them with regional allies like India, China and Russia," said former State Department official Leslie Gelb.

But Bryan Glyn Williams, a University of Massachusetts associate professor who monitors militant Web sites, told The Associated Press he has collected reports of large numbers of al-Qaida fighters in various provinces in addition to across the border in Pakistan.

Michael Scheuer, a former CIA analyst who tracked bin Laden for three years, believes the administration may have underestimated al-Qaida's role here because the organization prefers to work in the background providing logistics, propaganda and training to local allies.

Most of the foreigners fighting against NATO in Afghanistan are believed to be Pakistani Pashtuns and Uzbeks, who are harder to identify than Arabs because of ethnic similarities to Afghans.

NATO casualties have risen dramatically this year at the hands of a resurgent Taliban, and U.S. Gen. Stanley McChrystal is asking for up to 40,000 more American troops so that he can bolster security, especially in northern and western Afghanistan.

Opponents of that strategy, notably Vice President Joe Biden, prefer to maintain current U.S. troop levels – about 65,000 – and shift the focus to missile strikes and special forces operations in neighboring Pakistan, where many key al-Qaida figures have sought sanctuary.

Those critics believe the Taliban – a radical Islamist movement that emerged among the ethnic Pashtun community and ruled in Kabul from 1996 until 2001 – pose no threat to the United States. They say the real enemy, al-Qaida, lies across the border in Pakistan.

Although the Taliban never fully embraced al-Qaida's doctrine of global jihad, the movement has spread among ethnic Pashtuns in Pakistan, threatening the stability of that nuclear-armed country.

"When you see less and less of al-Qaida in an Islamist insurgency, it almost certainly means that it is more effective than when you saw more of it," Scheuer said. "I am sure that al-Qaida is still fielding some field-grade cadre to toughen the Taliban's ranks."

Some experts believe al-Qaida operates in Afghanistan through Lashkar al-Zil, or "Shadow Army," which is believed to have carried out attacks in eastern Afghanistan and Pakistan.

"In my opinion al-Qaida fighters from the Lashkar al-Zil are actively involved in all Taliban fronts, from Nuristan in the north to Helmand in the south," Williams said. "While foreigners do not play a considerable role in the current jihad, al-Qaida is definitely there."

Even those who doubt bin Laden's followers could stage a comeback won't rule out that possibility, given Afghanistan's tribal-based politics where alliances forged today are discarded tomorrow.

"Afghanistan is a complicated place that has always worked on the basis of discussions and deals where nobody comes out a complete loser and nobody comes out a complete winner," said Richard Bassett, the U.N.'s chief al-Qaida and Taliban watcher.

Nevertheless, al-Qaida's presence has vastly diminished since the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks that triggered a U.S.-led invasion a month later.

U.S. officials in Afghanistan rarely mention al-Qaida in sharp contrast to Iraq, where the U.S. military was quick to blame the group for most attacks against Shiite civilians.

If there are significant numbers of Arab al-Qaida members left in Afghanistan, they maintain a low profile. During the years of Taliban rule, many Afghans deeply resented the presence of swaggering young Arabs, who in turn looked upon their hosts as backward and primitive.

Bassett believes Taliban leader Mullah Omar would never allow al-Qaida operatives free rein again because he blames them for provoking the war that drove his Islamist group from power.

"Al-Qaida has sort of sensed their future lies more with the Taliban groups in Pakistan than with the Taliban groups in Afghanistan," Bassett said.

However, al-Qaida has maintained longtime ties with a number of key figures within the broad coalition that is fighting U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan.

Chief among them are Jalaluddin Haqqani and his son Sirajuddin, whose Pakistan-based forces are battling the Americans and their allies across eastern Afghanistan. NATO officials say the Haqqani group, among the most feared fighters in Afghanistan, may have taken part in the Saturday assault on a U.S. outpost in Nuristan province that left eight American soldiers dead.

Another faction with longtime al-Qaida ties is led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a former prime minister and rebel commander in the war against the Soviets in the 1980s.

"Al-Qaida is still very close with Hekmatyar and is also tight with the Haqqanis," said Bruce Hoffman, a counterterrorism expert at Georgetown University. "I think one of the problems is that the Americans see the Taliban as a monolithic entity."

Hoffman believes a U.S. failure in Afghanistan would be spun by al-Qaida as a victory that would invigorate the group regardless of whether it returned to Afghanistan in force.

"They faced annihilation seven years ago and they have certainly rebounded from that setback," Hoffman said. "Withdrawal would be an enormous tonic to them in two respects: the propaganda value would be a game changer. They would portray it as having defeated the only other superpower in the world."

Michael O'Hanlon, a research director of the Brookings Institute, agrees a Taliban victory "would be a big deal for us" because of the psychological boost it would give to al-Qaida and associated movements it inspires around the world.

"It would allow al-Qaida to say they got the momentum back, after a couple of years in which America did better against them in other locations," he said

Obama Rules Out Drawdown In Afghanistan, But Mum On Troop Increase

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama on Tuesday ruled out shrinking the Afghanistan war to a counterterrorism campaign. Yet he did not signal whether he is prepared to send any more troops to the war zone – either the 40,000 his top commander wants or a smaller buildup, according to several officials.


BEN FELLER 10/ 6/09 10:27 PM

House and Senate leaders of both parties emerged from a nearly 90-minute conversation with Obama with praise for his candor and interest in listening. But politically speaking, all sides appeared to exit where they entered, with Republicans pushing Obama to follow his military commanders and Democrats saying he should not be rushed.

Obama is examining how to proceed with a worsening war that has claimed nearly 800 U.S. lives and sapped American patience. Launched after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to defeat the Taliban and rid al-Qaida of a home base, the war has lasted longer than ever envisioned – eight years on Wednesday.

Obama said the war would not be reduced to a narrowly defined counterterrorism effort, with the withdrawal of many U.S. forces and an emphasis on special operations forces that target terrorists in the dangerous border region of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Two senior administration officials say such a scenario has been inaccurately characterized and linked to Vice President Joe Biden, and that Obama wanted to make clear he is considering no such plan.

The president did not show his hand on troop increases. His top commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, has bluntly warned that more troops are needed to right the war, perhaps up to 40,000 more. Obama has already added 21,000 troops this year, raising the total to 68,000.

Obama also gave no timetable for a decision, which prompted at least one pointed exchange.

Inside the State Dining Room, where the meeting was held, Obama's Republican opponent in last year's presidential race, Sen. John McCain, told Obama that he should not move at a "leisurely pace," according to people in the room.

That comment later drew a sharp response from Obama, they said. Obama said no one felt more urgency than he did about the war, and there would not be nothing leisurely about it.

Obama may be considering a more modest building of troops – closer to 10,000 than 40,000 – according to Republican and Democratic congressional aides. But White House aides said no such decision has been made.

The president insisted that he will make a decision on troops after settling on the strategy ahead. He told lawmakers he will be deliberate yet show urgency.

"We do recognize that he has a tough decision, and he wants ample time to make a good decision," said House Republican leader John Boehner. "Frankly, I support that, but we need to remember that every day that goes by, the troops that we do have there are in greater danger."

What's clear is that the mission in Afghanistan is not changing. Obama said his focus is to keep al-Qaida terrorists from having a base from which to launch attacks on the U.S or its allies. He heard from 18 lawmakers and said he would keep seeking such input even knowing his final decision would not please them all.

Several lawmakers described the exchanges as helpful and open. Different views emerged over just how much backing the president will get.

"The one thing that I think was interesting is that everyone, Democrats and Republicans, said, 'Whatever decision you make, we'll support it,' basically," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. "So we'll see."

The Senate's top Republican, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, said later: "I think Republicans will be able to make the decisions for themselves." But he added that Obama is likely to get significant Republican support if he follows the advice of his military commanders. Boehner agreed, saying "my colleagues on the House side will be there to support" Obama if he stays true to the mission of denying a haven for al-Qaida terrorists or Taliban militants who are fiercely fighting coalition forces.

Obama's emphasis on working off a strong strategy did not mean he shed much light on what it would be. He did, though, seek to "dispense with the more extreme options on either side of the debate," as one administration official put it. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss details of the closed-door meeting.

The president made clear he would not "double down" in Afghanistan and build up U.S forces into the hundreds of thousands, just as he ruled out withdrawing forces and focusing on a narrow counterterrorism strategy.

"Half measures is what I worry about," McCain, R-Ariz., told reporters. He said Obama should follow recommendations from those in uniform and dispatch thousands of more troops to the country – similar to what President George W. Bush did during the 2008 troop "surge" in Iraq.

Public support for the war in Afghanistan is dropping. It stands at 40 percent, down from 44 percent in July, according to a new Associated Press-GfK poll. A total of 69 percent of self-described Republicans in the poll favor sending more troops, while 57 percent of self-described Democrats oppose it.

The White House said Obama won't base his decisions on the mood on Capitol Hill or eroding public support for the war.

"The president is going to make a decision – popular or unpopular – based on what he thinks is in the best interests of the country," press secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters.

Defense Department Launches Photography Widget

WASHINGTON, Oct. 6, 2009 – American Forces Press Service, the Defense Department’s vehicle for news and feature content on the Defense.gov Web site, has unveiled a “widget” for photographs.


By Navy Lt. Jennifer Cragg
Special to American Forces Press Service

The widget, available under the Widgets tab on Defense.gov, allows users to receive the latest Defense Department imagery in real time on their own Web sites or social networking pages by cutting and pasting one short line of code.

The widget appears as a 240-by-156-pixel graphic box -- about 3 by 4 inches – and cycles through at least eight photos. It is updated frequently throughout the day.

Linda Kozaryn, director of eProducts at the Defense Media Activity, said the widget allows for the sharing of the best imagery from the Defense Department, Defense Media Activity and other military assets stationed around the globe.

“This is a wonderful opportunity to immediately provide the latest imagery to our audiences,” she said.

The widget is the latest example of the extension of innovative tools the press service has been adding in recent years to better disseminate the department’s news. In June 2008, AFPS launched its first widget, allowing users to receive AFPS articles in real time. To date, the AFPS widget has been downloaded more than a million times.

In addition to widgets, AFPS also uses other social media tools such as Real Simple Syndication, or RSS, as well as a weekly podcast and a Facebook page. Users also can follow AFPS on Twitter. A blog called “Family Matters,” dedicated to issues affecting military families, is another recent addition.

“We are trying these new social media tools to reach our audiences. We want to provide the latest Defense Department information on the sites they are visiting the most,” Kozaryn said.

AFPS provides news and feature stories on the Defense Department’s senior military and civilian leaders, policies and procedures, as well as military operations and humanitarian aid efforts. Seven AFPS writers cover the Pentagon and travel with the defense secretary, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and other senior leaders on their visits to stateside bases and overseas.

October 5, 2009

Taliban assault heats up US troop debate

A massive attack on US troops in a remote part of east Afghanistan has added more heat to the debate about the level of American engagement in the country.


By Lisa Millar for The World Today

October 5, 2009

At least eight American soldiers and several Afghan police officers were killed when hundreds of Taliban militants launched a daylight attack with mortars and machines guns on their compounds.

The commander of US troops wants another 40,000 soldiers added to the 68,000 already on duty there, a decision US President Barack Obama is considering.

America marks the eighth anniversary of being at war in Afghanistan this week. It is an anniversary that comes amid intense debate over America's place in the country and its current strategy.

Brigadier General Eric Tremblay is the spokesman for the International Security Assistance Forces. When he spoke to reporters on the weekend, the battle was still going on.

"We are on the second day of the operation. Reinforcement has been provided," he said.

"Quick reaction forces with the proper surveillance on the ground and normal framework operations are being conducted as we speak in the villages."

Back in Washington there is a fight - not as deadly - but just as serious.

The US commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, has asked for more troops, suggesting there will be a terrible mission failure if his wish is not granted.

Mr Obama is mulling over the decision. The two men met on the tarmac in Copenhagen just days ago, the first time since General McChrystal delivered his grim report on the military prospects.

'Not just about Al Qaeda'

General Anthony Zinni was once head of US Central Command. He has joined the voices urging the President to send additional troops.

"I do think we need those troops and I think General McChrystal has made an honest and thorough assessment as to what you need," he said.

"It begins with security. You can't do all the other things without it."

Americans are losing interest in winning a war in Afghanistan but Anthony Zinni says there is a bigger picture.

"I think we have to remember this is not just about Al Qaeda and the Taliban," he said.

"We have two nations out there with nuclear weapons; one of which had the Taliban 65 miles from their capital.

"We have the Taliban and others trying to provoke some sort of conflict between these two nations.

"We also have a Taliban that is stretching their influence into central Asia."

Even if the President decides to bump up the number of boots on the ground, he could face a battle in Congress.

Senator Carl Levin is the chairman of the Armed Services Committee and he is opposed to deploying more troops.

"I would not commit to more combat troops at this time. There's a lot of other things that need to be done to show resolve," Senator Levin said.

"What we need a surge of is Afghan troops. There is a marine captain out in Helmand Province who put it this way: He says our achilles heel is a shortage of Afghan troops.

"When I was in Helmand Province just a month ago, we were told by the local folks what they want is their Afghan Army to be strengthened and the ratio of marines to Afghan soldiers when we were down in Helmand Province was five marines for one Afghan soldier.

"That is exactly the wrong ratio. It ought to be reversed from that."

Mr Obama's own national security adviser, Jim Jones, says the discussion going on inside the White House is about far more than simply increasing troop numbers.

A decision on the wider strategy in Afghanistan is expected within the next few weeks.

October 4, 2009

Marines increase readiness with Afghanistan in mind

As policymakers debate whether to deploy more troops, training at Camp Pendleton and Twentynine Palms is being tweaked to reflect a counterinsurgency mission in mountain terrain.

Reporting from Camp Pendleton - In the power corridors of Washington, there is debate about whether to send more U.S. troops to Afghanistan. But here at Camp Pendleton, the training and deploying of Marines, with a focus on Afghanistan, continue.


By Tony Perry
October 4, 2009

In the last two weeks, 2,100 Marines and sailors have left here on what is scheduled to be a six-month training mission in the western Pacific and Persian Gulf but could easily turn into a combat assignment in Afghanistan.

Two hundred special-forces Marines from Camp Pendleton are in the final stages of training before leaving for Afghanistan. And on Friday, the Marines reestablished the 1st Marine Expeditionary Brigade with the goal of becoming the overall Marine force in Afghanistan early next year.

"Much like in Iraq, success is going to be measured not in weeks, not in months, but in years," Lt. Gen. Joseph Dunford, commander of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, said at a brief ceremony in which Brig. Gen. Joseph Osterman assumed command of the brigade.

Training here and at the base at Twentynine Palms, Calif., is being tweaked to reflect Afghanistan.

Afghan emigres are taking the place of Iraqi emigres as "role-players." More emphasis is being placed on coordination between air and ground forces. A program is being established for explosive ordnance technicians to learn to thwart Afghan-style roadside bombs.

The Marines' counterinsurgency strategy puts a priority on safeguarding the civilian population and training the Afghan army and police, not on confronting the Taliban. "You can't kill your way out of an insurgency," Osterman said.

The Marine force in Afghanistan, including an infantry battalion from Camp Pendleton, now numbers more than 11,000, under the command of a brigade from Camp Lejeune, N.C. Marine Commandant Gen. James Conway has said that the Marines could sustain a force between 15,000 and 18,000 in Afghanistan.

The amphibious assault ship Bonhomme Richard left San Diego on Sept. 25 with troops from the Camp Pendleton-based 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit. Two smaller ships left several days earlier.

The 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit is slated to train with nations friendly to the U.S. The Marines try to keep a unit afloat in the region at all times as a "force in readiness."

Marines and sailors from the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, also from Camp Pendleton, were on leave in Australia on Sept. 11, 2001. They were immediately ordered back to their ships and, within weeks, were in Afghanistan bolstering Afghan forces in toppling the Taliban regime.

Other Marine expeditionary units in recent years have been deployed to Kuwait and Iraq.

"If we're needed in Afghanistan, we'll be ready to take on the enemy and the terrain," Col. Gregg Olson, commander of the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit, said in an e-mail. "We practiced many mission profiles that can be readily adapted to any geography or culture."

In the briefings given to families before the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit's departure, parents and stay-behind spouses were warned that there was a possibility that the Marines would be sent to Afghanistan.

"It kind of woke them up," said Dawn Jones, the unit's family readiness officer.

The mention of Afghanistan, Jones said, drove home a message that is given to families before any deployment: that it is wise for every Marine and sailor to make out a will.

Marines Multitask at Patrol Base Fielder

PATROL BASE FIELDER, Afghanistan – All service members are trained to do a specific job – their military occupational specialty. However, sometimes they are also asked to maintain their proficiency in another one, like the mortarmen and amphibious assault vehicle operators with 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment here.



Regimental Combat Team 3
Story by Lance Cpl. John McCall
Date: 10.04.2009

"You have to know how to do another person's job. If you lose one of your Marines, someone has to fill in for him," said Sgt. Andres Gonzalez, 26, a mortarman from Chicago. We still do our job if they need us to. Right now there is not a real need for mortars or AAV operators, so we just do the job of a rifleman, he said.

The Marines who live at PB Fielder consist of mortarmen, AAV operators and scout snipers. They have all been operating as basic rifleman along with their original skill set.

Patrol Base Fielder is a newly occupied position. It was opened to make communicating with the local populace easier.

"With this new patrol base, we can easily interact with people, and they can come to us if they have any problems," Gunnery Sgt. Shawn Hughes, scout sniper platoon sergeant. "It is closer for people to come talk to us."

Before, the Marines now living here were occupying another post known by Marines as White Hill. White Hill provided a constant watch position on a road called Route 605 that vehicle convoys regularly use to re-supply various positions. Improvised explosive devices are a common occurrence on the 605. Now, White Hill is used only as an observation post whereas this new location is now a platoon-sized base of operations.

"It has been hard trying to have an effect on such a large area," Gonzalez said about having to cover the ground prior to moving here." I think we can help, but it is going to take time."

To help address the IED issue, scout snipers have joined the Marines at Fielder to help. They set up observation posts at night to catch enemy insurgents doing their dirty work.

"It's a game of cat and mouse out here," Hughes explained. "When we do patrols, it doesn't always work. We try to figure out their (the enemy) patterns so we can catch them in the act."

To combat IEDs Marines have been using foot patrols as a way to meet with the locals and establish good relationships.

"We are trying to make our presence here very friendly. We invite people to come and talk to us if they have any problems," Hughes said. "Everyone knows me by 'Gunny.' People I have never met before seem to know my name. It's really the Marines though. They're getting out there doing patrols, meeting people and really staying focused," explained the Roseburg, Ore., native.

Hughes intends to eventually use the patrol base to hold shuras for local Afghans to attend -- giving them the opportunity to voice their opinions and resolve any issues.

"I am here to listen and then pass it on up to the command where people can make things happen," Hughes explained.

The Afghan national army has been a big help in getting through to the locals. Marines work together with the ANA. They show them how to keep the area safe and work with the populace.

"Having the ANA here really helped improve the disposition with the locals," Hughes explained. "It helps build our rapport partnering with them. They like seeing us working together with the ANA."

One of the goals tied into building friendly relationships with the people is for them to feel comfortable enough to work with Marines and Afghan soldiers by giving them information that will lead to better overall security in the area.

"I think information will start coming in after the people see that we can help them," Gonzalez said.

October 3, 2009

Kaneohe Marine killed, another hurt during training exercise in California

A Kaneohe Marine was killed and another was injured when the truck they were riding in crashed near San Diego on Wednesday during a training exercise.


By Gregg K. Kakesako
POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Oct 03, 2009

Pfc. Zachary D. Tenbrook, 21, died of injuries sustained when the flat-bed truck in which he was a passenger rolled over. Lance Cpl. Christopher D. Mullen, 24, was in stable condition at Desert Regional Medical Center in Palm Springs, Calif.

The two were among 1,300 Kaneohe-based Marines in California preparing for deployment to Afghanistan this fall.

The training accident, which is being investigated, occurred at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, according to the Marines.

Tenbrook, of Middlebury, Ind., died at Robert E. Bush Naval Hospital in Twentynine Palms. He was from 3rd Supply Battalion, 3rd Marine Logistics Group, in Okinawa but was assigned as an ammunition technician to Kaneohe-based Headquarters and Service Company, 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment. Mullen, from Detroit, is a motor vehicle operator with the same company.

"The guy (Tenbrook) was a heavy lifter, a hard worker," said Lt. Col. James Baker, commanding officer of the 1st Battalion. "The ammo technicians in the battalion are making it possible for the Marines here to train hard" by quickly supplying the ammunition needed during live-fire events.

He added this praise does not come lightly and is echoed by the leadership in the battalion.

"No doubt the 1,350 members of Task Force 1/3 are feeling the loss of this Marine and are looking forward to returning to their families," Baker said.

Tenbrook's awards include the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal and National Defense Service Medal.

Mullen's wife and 5-year-old son were taken to the Hanson House, which provides temporary housing for families of critically ill or injured patients at Desert Regional Medical Center, in Palm Springs yesterday to be with him while he is hospitalized.

The accident occurred during a monthlong training exercise as the Kaneohe battalion prepares for its fifth wartime deployment. It has been to Iraq three times, and this will be its second deployment to Afghanistan where it will replace its affiliate unit, the 2nd Battalion, now in Helmand province

October 2, 2009

Marines, Sailors Bring Aid to Philippines

MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP BUTLER, Japan, Oct. 2, 2009 – The U.S. military is providing critically needed disaster-relief supplies to mitigate suffering and prevent further loss of life in the wake of Tropical Storm Ketsana, which struck the Philippines on Sept. 25.


American Forces Press Service

"Marines and sailors are working with the Philippine government to rapidly deliver humanitarian assistance and disaster relief to the areas the Philippine government deems most in need," said Marine Corps Lt. Col. Douglas Powell, spokesman for the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force.

U.S. military personnel are delivering relief supplies to remote areas by way of air and ground, providing limited medical and dental care and establishing long-range communication capabilities for relief efforts.

A team of about 100 3rd MEF Marines flew from Okinawa to the Philippines Sept. 29 to assess the situation. The next day, U.S. Navy ships USS Denver, USS Tortuga, and USS Harpers Ferry, with embarked Marines and sailors of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, set sail from Okinawa toward the Philippines.

Yesterday, Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Mark A. Brilakis, commander of the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Brigade, flew to the Philippines from Okinawa to lead planning and humanitarian assistance efforts.

Medical personnel attached to the MEU set up a medical civil affairs program at an elementary school in Marikina City yesterday that provided care for more than 760 medical and dental patients. A food-distribution mission yesterday provided more than 2,400 meals for Quezon City residents.

C-130 transport aircraft from the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing already have delivered humanitarian relief aid to the region. U.S. forces temporarily deployed in Zamboanga provided 20 personnel, a helicopter and
four Zodiac inflatable boats to move food and medical supplies and conduct initial rescue operations in the Manila area.

A 3rd MEF humanitarian assistance support team will arrive today to assess the operation and request additional support the areas hardest hit by the storm may need.

Battling the Taliban at close quarters

US helicopter comes under Taliban fire in Afghanistan

Click on the above link for a news video.

Friday, 2 October 2009 18:40 UK

The BBC's Ian Pannell has spent two weeks with the US Marines in southern Helmand province.

Sgt Harris knew the Taliban were watching and anticipated an attack.

He had intelligence to suggest the insurgents had spotted the patrol moving closer and that they were bringing their machine-guns forward.

"You hear them on the radio praying and then they say Allah Akbar [God is great] and open fire," he said.

Within minutes his prediction was borne out.

Shots landed nearby and the marines returned fire.

The deafening sound of a dozen rifles and machine-guns erupted, cartridges flying through the air, the thud of rounds hitting the ground.

We dived low behind a line of sand dunes for cover.

Wounded marine

Sgt Harris screamed orders over the deafening clatter to three groups of marines from Echo Company.

"Their rounds are getting close," a voice can be heard saying, before a series of urgent orders is issued.

"They're on your side of the canal; pick it up guns...

"Hey, get Chip shooting across the canal, get on that weapon...

"They're getting hit over there, you've got to shoot the ditch!"

One of the marines was shot through the chest and an emergency medical team was called in.

Such is the regularity of this kind of exchange that the sergeant knew that the insurgents would again open fire when the helicopter arrived to evacuate the wounded marine.

As two medical helicopters appeared on the horizon, the insurgents took aim.

Shooting down a helicopter would be an obvious public relations coup.

The marines stormed up the sand dune, stood on top and unleashed a violent, deadly volley into the Taliban positions.

In a storm of bullets and dust, the injured marine was whisked away for treatment.

Two days later, there was another similar gun battle. This time a marine was killed. In three months the regiment has lost 13 men and many more have been wounded.

This is what passes for "routine" at COP (Combat Outpost) Sharp in Mian Poshtay, a remote village in the southern Helmand River Valley.

Hold the ground

Every few days the marines from Echo Company face battles like this. It is the very edge of America's sphere of influence and where the insurgents are at their strongest.

Since the marines from Second Battalion, 8th Regiment arrived in Garmsir District, they have successfully engaged the insurgents, pushing them further away from populated areas; clearing, holding and building in line with modern counter-insurgency strategy.

But Mian Poshtay is their most remote, southerly base and here they have few resources to be able to push much further, let alone hold the ground.

It is a graphic illustration of why the overall commander of the Nato-led Isaf mission in Afghanistan has warned that without more troops, the mission could fail.

Cpl Robert Williamson is only 22 years old, yet he has already served two tours of Iraq and is now in Afghanistan with Weapons Company, part of the 2/8.

He has received two Purple Hearts for his service and has more experience than most here of dealing with insurgencies at the sharp end.

"In Iraq, the insurgents spray and pray, they pop over, shoot and run away. Here, these guys are actually staying and fighting and setting up ambushes."

He describes being caught up in gunfights and bomb attacks. Lance Cpl John Marrero makes a point that they all agree on, the need for more resources.

"We are making progress here, we have come a long way, but we need more troops on the ground right now."

The pressure is on to produce results and to do so within the next 12 months.

The commander of the regiment, Lt Col Christian Cabannis, says he must answer to two different audiences with very separate needs - the Afghans and the American public.

'Short-sighted strategy'

He acknowledges that next summer cannot look like this one in Afghanistan.

"The reality is that we should be able to show tangible progress within a year because if we can't, the nations that are participating are rightly going to go back and look and say 'is it worth our blood and treasure?'".

A small unit of Afghan soldiers patrols with the marines, trying to gather intelligence on the ground and win the support of local villagers.

The international community wants thousands more Afghan security forces trained and deployed as soon as possible. But that will take years to accomplish; a timeframe that looks increasingly unpalatable.

President Barack Obama is reviewing Afghan policy, for the second time this year.

There are a number of competing views with the military arguing for more resources and some, in particular US Vice-President Joe Biden, arguing for a scaling-back and a re-focusing on al-Qaeda targets instead.

But in a speech in London this week, Gen Stanley McChrystal criticised such ideas.

"A strategy that does not leave Afghanistan in a stable position is probably a short-sighted strategy," he said.

This has been the bloodiest year for British and American troops since 2001.

Most agree that the conflict is now at a critical juncture, with some calling for greater engagement and others for a less ambitious, tighter focus.

Whatever President Obama decides, the window of opportunity to win this war is rapidly closing and the next year will be critical to the future outcome.

October 1, 2009

Six-year legacy of Marine Corps regiments in Iraq followed by an Army brigade

Marines and soldiers stand ready in formation. Distinguished guests begin to filter in. Among them are prominent Iraqi government leaders, paramount sheikhs, Iraqi Police and Army generals, and U.S. military members from all services and units across Iraq. The air is thick with excitement, and more importantly, hope.


10/1/2009 By Cpl. Meg Murray, Multi National Force - West

More than six years of Marine perseverance led up to this single indispensable moment – the moment the last Marine Corps Ground Combat Element in Iraq would depart, having completed their mission in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

On Sept. 26, 2009, a date that will forever be marked in history, Regimental Combat Team 6, commanded by Col. Matthew A. Lopez, and RCT-8, commanded by Col. John K. Love, the last two remaining Marine Corps RCTs to deploy in support of OIF, transferred authority of their areas of operation to the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team (Advise and Assist Brigade) of the 82nd Airborne Division, commanded by Army Col. Mark R. Stammer.

The transfer of authority ceremony marked an occasion that is quite possibly the most historically prominent event for Marines in Operation Iraqi Freedom since the initial invasion in 2003.

“It is an understatement to say that we have witnessed historic events in Iraq this year, and today’s ceremony is certainly an example of positive change as we transition U.S. combat forces to a new formation – one whose name is synonymous with its mission, the Advise and Assist Brigade,” said Maj. Gen. R.T. Tryon, the commanding general of Multi National Force - West. “These gains have been accomplished not because of what the U.S. forces have done, nor because of what the Iraqi Security Forces have done. Rather, these achievements are a result of what we have done together in partnership with one another.”

RCT-6 and RCT-8 have served as the ground combat element for the Marine Air Ground Task Force in Western Al Anbar province for the last nine months, but as of Sept. 26, the Advise and Assist Brigade became the new ground combat element for MNF-W.

“There is an old saying that success is born of a thousand fathers, but that failure is an orphaned child,” said Lopez. “The success of the past nine months is indeed the work of a thousand fathers, those Marine and Army units that have gone before the RCT in the East, as well as our [Iraqi Security Forces] brothers.”

Standing on the shoulders of those who came before them, RCT-6 and RCT-8, working “ by, with and through” their Iraqi counterparts, accomplished many great successes. Among that long list of deeds are building schools for Iraqi children, bringing fresh drinking water to more than 100,000 people, providing the city of Karma with a development center, facilitating the provincial elections, promoting security initiatives in the East, and establishing district development strategies in the West.

“This historic period of time in Al Anbar could not have come to fruition without the hard work and dedication of Iraqi leaders, Iraqi Security Forces, and our Marine brothers-in-arms,” said Love. “[The Marines] have performed magnificently, working alongside their Iraqi counterparts to help forge a new way of life for the citizens of Al Anbar, and indeed, all of Iraq.”

As RCT-6 and RCT-8 head back to Camp Lejeune, N.C., they can proudly reflect on their accomplishments, knowing they have helped to provide the citizens of Iraq with a reason to look toward a future of peace, stability and prosperity throughout their sovereign nation.

Wounded Warriors prepare for next step

MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, Va. — For the men and women who put themselves in harms way for our country and return injured, little can be done to fully repay them for their sacrifice.


10/1/2009 By Lance Cpl. Jahn R. Kuiper, Marine Corps Base Quantico

The Quantico Career Resource Management Center, the Wounded Warrior Regiment and Marine for Life have taken a step by hosting the fourth annual career fair Sept. 22 at The Clubs of Quantico. The fair helps wounded warriors find a career path if they get out of the Marine Corps.

Approximately 65 vendors and 538 job seekers were at the event that was open to the public, but opened exclusively for disabled military service members for the first hour. Eleven wounded warriors attended.

"The job fair is great because it gets our transitioning service members in contact with companies who are looking for employees," said Richard Waller, the employment coordinator for Marine for Life. "It gives them an opportunity to sit down and be interviewed by an employer in a comfortable setting on base. A job seeker can submit his resume and ask questions about the company."

The vendors included law enforcement, electronic programming, engineering and financial consulting.

"Wounded warriors are the kind of people we like to hire," said Judith Brooks, a human resources representative for the vendor A-T solutions, an anti-terrorism training organization. "We recognize their abilities and not their disabilities. We certainly give the wounded warriors a high level of recognition when we are looking to hire. "

Brooks’ emotions were on the surface when she spoke of giving wounded warriors job opportunities.

"We recognize the sacrifices these individuals have made," Brooks said, while trying to hold back tears. "Our company is the founder of the EOD Wounded Warriors, a foundation that supports Marines injured from explosive ordinance disposal. We provide financial assistance to Marines and their families harmed by EOD incidents. Since we are an anti-terrorist company that focuses on EOD, we like to hire Marines that have experience with EOD."

The wounded warriors who came to the career fair saw it as a great way to connect with employers.

"It’s good see the opportunites the Marine Corps has opened up for us," said Cpl. Joseph Tarkett, an infantryman with 2nd Battalion 3rd Marine Regiment who was injured by shrapnel from an improvised explosive device.

"If you’re getting out, it’s good to get a head start," said Cpl. Noddia Carrier, a former G-1 administrator at Quantico. "Here I can find out what I need to get the job I want. You don’t know what jobs are out there until you look."

Service members and civilians are welcome to the next career fair in March. To find more information, visit www.quantico.usmc-mccs.org.

Humble hero earns bronze star

MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, Va. — Bullets were spraying down range at Gunnery Sgt. Christopher J. Clookey and his platoon during spring 2008 in Afghanistan. With a wounded Marine needing helicopter evacuation, Clookey purposely exposed himself to enemy fire in order to locate the direction of their fire. After pinpointing the enemy, he led his Marines to destroy the opposing force’s position. Afterward, Clookey was able to mark the landing zone to evacuate the injured Marine and save his life.


10/1/2009 By Lance Cpl. Jahn R. Kuiper, Marine Corps Base Quantico

Clookey received the Bronze Star with combat distinguishing device Sept. 24 at the Staff Academy here for his actions as platoon sergeant with 1st Platoon, Company A, Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 6th Marines Regiment, 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, II Marine Expeditionary Force, while in Afghanistan from March 15 to Aug. 10, 2008.

In addition to evacuating an injured Marine, Clookey and his Marines stormed and controlled an enemy machine gun bunker, killing three combatants, and destroying an enemy squad May 25 -29.

After the firefight Clookey didn’t speak of the event, because he said he believed it was his and his Marines’ job to destroy the enemy.

"I didn’t hear about it until months later while I was reading the witness statements," said Maj. Sean Dynan, Clookey’s company commander in Afghanistan. "Amongst the platoon, it was common knowledge, but no one thought about telling about it because they were under contact a lot. They just thought they were doing their duty. But what Gunnery Sgt. Clookey did was unique and inspiring.

Dynan tried to hold back tears as he said, "I’m very proud of Gunnery Sgt. Clookey and his platoon. He is a great example."

"This really should go to the Marines in my platoon," Clookey said. "They preformed beyond expectations and did exactly what they were trained to do. We were a very tight group and if there were any problems we solved them quickly. I’m very proud of my Marines and how they preformed in that situation."

Clookey’s family were left in the dark for nearly a year before they found out about his award. His family was both surprised and proud.

"We just found out about this a little over a week ago," said Lawrence Perras, Clookey’s uncle. "We were all very unaware about it. He never talks about what he does with the Marines. He keeps it to himself. He’s vey modest."

"I never imagined him doing anything like that, but you don’t know what you are going to do in a situation like that until you’re in it," said Gwen Thrasher, Clookey’s mother. "He’s always been a strong person, but growing up he was quiet and modest. I’m very proud of him."

When Clookey found himself in a situation where his life was in danger he thought about his Marines first, and because of that his selfless actions and leadership has earned him a place with Bronze Star recipients throughout military history.

Marines save elderly man in car accident

MARINE CORPS AIR STATION CHERRY POINT, N.C. — When Staff Sgt. Chavis P. Bowers began his morning commute Sept. 22, he had no idea just how important his combat lifesaver training would be that day.


10/1/2009 By Lance Cpl. Santiago G. Colon Jr. , Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point

But when Bowers, the maintenance chief for 2nd Low Altitude Air Defense Battalion’s motor transport section, came to the scene of an accident about two miles east of Havelock on U.S. Highway 70, his first instinct was to employ those very skills.

Bowers said he was heading from his home in Morehead City to the air station when he saw a man in the middle of the highway directing traffic. In a nearby ditch, 72-year-old Marcus Innis was trapped in his overturned pickup truck. Bowers immediately pulled over and grabbed his first aid kit, which he said he always carries for such an emergency.

Lance Cpl. Aaron Besio, also a Cherry Point Marine and a passenger in the other vehicle involved in the accident, was the first person who attempted to rescue Innis. Bowers saw the young Marine, with a cast on his leg, lying next to the driver-side window trying to cut Innis out of the crumbled vehicle. Besio explained he was having trouble getting Innis out because he could not cut through the driver’s seatbelt.

“I looked in and saw the guy,” Bowers said. “He’s upside down, he’s bleeding, and I said, ‘I gotta get him out of here.’”

Bowers said he positioned himself near the truck’s crushed, narrow window and used a box cutter to free Innis from his seatbelt.

“I reached in, grabbed his shoulder restraint and cut that,” Bowers explained. “I had to reach a little bit further in to reach the lap belt. He had mud and stuff all over him, and his truck was torn up.”

All the while, Bowers said he tried to reassure the frightened victim.

“I told him, ‘On three, I’m going to cut it,’” Bowers said, recalling how he removed the final restraint. “‘One, two, three’ … I sliced right through it and he kind of fell to the roof of the truck.”

Chief Drummond Figg of the Newport Fire Department, who was on the scene soon after Bowers, agrees Innis was in grave danger.

“When I got there, the Marines had already cut him out,” Figg said. “The vehicle dug out a hole in the ditch and water had started to fill up in the cab.

“There was a real possibility if the Marine had not cut him out, he would have drowned,” Figg added.

Bowers said he then pulled Innis from the vehicle and began to assess his condition.

“Having completed the Combat Lifesaver Course, I was sitting there asking him a couple of questions, ‘Can you wiggle your toes for me? Does your back or anything feel tingly?’” Bowers said.

Around this time a nurse arrived on scene and began treatment. Bowers left shortly thereafter, but said the rush from the incident continued to linger.

“Afterward, the adrenaline was pumping,” Bowers said. “Later on in the day, right when I got home, it was more of a sobering moment.”

But Bowers added he does not consider himself a hero. He said he thinks any Marine would have reacted the same way.

“It’s kind of like when you play a sport -- you get into the zone,” Bowers said. “I got in there and I did everything I was supposed to do.

“I think that’s what Marines are known for doing, reacting to situations and resolving them,” he said. “I think that’s what sets us apart.”