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November 30, 2009

The measure of success

At Quantico, fired-up Marine recruits struggle to meet expectations that seem impossibly high

Finally, it is here: Tyler Martin's first real step on the road to becoming a Marine. His debut comes in the form of a routine physical fitness test.


Video - Learning to Lead:

By Christian Davenport
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 30, 2009

It's meant to get a base-line reading on candidates in last summer's Officer Candidates School at Quantico Marine Base in Virginia. But for Martin, any test is an opportunity to shine. A perfect score is 300. Anything less, in his mind, would be a failure.

Martin, a former baseball star at Mount Vernon High School in Fairfax County, powers through the sit-ups so quickly that the instructors have to stop him when he hits 100. Same with the pull-ups: He hits 20 and has to stop, although he has at least 10 more in him.

Martin, 22, arrived at Quantico in July, confident, ready. He had been preparing all year -- really, his whole life. There had never been any question: He was going to be a Marine. Unlike many others in his class, the second-largest at the base since Vietnam, he wasn't worried about whether he would survive the six weeks of training, but whether he'd finish at the top of his class.

The Marine Corps is expanding, hungry for officers to fill the ranks for the fights in Iraq and Afghanistan. But just because it needs more bodies doesn't mean that it's lowering its standards. If anything, the wars have made last summer's selection all the more important: In combat, bad officers get good Marines killed.

Martin grew up in a military family. A sign on the front door of his home, in the Alexandria part of Fairfax, reads "Land that I love"; one on the lawn says "Proud American." For a time, he lived on a Marine base, Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, where the men in uniform became his superheroes -- life-size action figures who carried rifles, drove tanks and flew the fighter jets that blazed through the blue skies of his childhood.

His mom and dad served in the Navy. Three grandparents served, too. It was simply Tyler's turn.

Not that he was coerced. His parents wanted him to make his own decision -- and go to college. But the military was always there, a fixed point on the horizon. By the time he arrived at Quantico, Martin looked and acted like a Marine: with dirty-blond hair cropped to regulation, shoulders-back posture and fluency in corps lingo, in which walls are "bulkheads" and doors, "hatches."

Seeking a perfect start

Time for the three-mile run. If Martin makes it in 18:00 flat, he'll get his 300 and be off to a perfect start. Should be no problem. He has been running all spring, preparing for this moment. He can do it in 17:30; with good legs, a few seconds better. He takes off confidently. He paces himself, knowing that he tends to start too fast, especially when he's amped up, as he is now.

One mile down, he feels good. Two, even better. It's a little tricky, because the Marines don't let candidates wear watches, so he can't mark time. But he's rolling, motoring toward the perfect 300 and a future that has always been waiting for him and that is now, finally, just beyond the finish line.

With a few hundred yards left, he squints to view the clock in the distance -- looks like 17:35. Although he could walk the rest of the way and still finish with enough time to pass, he breaks into a full-on sprint, determined to make 18:00. His chest heaves, his legs burn as he crosses the finish line.

He looks up, expecting to see something like 17:58. That would be a personal disappointment, not nearly what he's capable of, but good enough for 300 and the perfect start to his military career.

But the stopwatch doesn't play along with the future that's supposed to unfold. He checks, then checks again to make sure he hasn't misread the clock, which reads, inconceivably: 18:01.

'It's awesome'

One week in, Martin writes home: "I have never met madder people than the instructors." But he handles them as if they were menacing dogs: "If you show confidence, they back off and move on."

Week two, and his spirits are still high. "It's awesome," he says, although he slept just a few hours the night before.

Week three, some candidates begin to crack, even a platoon-mate who stealthily crosses off the days remaining before Marine rules permit him to quit.

But Martin writes to his parents with childlike enthusiasm: "The stamina course is cool. It was a mile and a half of obstacles in the woods. We had to go up hills, through a swamp, crawl under barbed wire, climb walls and other stuff while carrying our rifles, the kind of stuff I was excited to do here."

The display of confidence is designed to assure his family he's okay. But his never-let-'em-see-you-sweat attitude is also meant to convince himself he can't be broken.

The Marines have other plans. "We will find your weakness," says Maj. Brad Kroll, operations officer at the school. That's what Quantico is all about -- pushing, pushing, pushing until the fissures show. It's a matter of physics: The human body and mind can only take so much. The sergeant instructors always win.

The Marines have designed exercises to be virtually impossible. Four candidates, carrying three eight-foot planks, have 10 minutes to cross a 12-foot-wide body of water.

Failure is not only inevitable: Failure is the point. Failure is how the Marines determine who can become an officer. Those who hold it together, those who fail with composure and dignity, ultimately make the best leaders.

Martin doesn't realize it, but he must fail to succeed.

To stay or to go

The Marines boast that if not a single candidate is up to their standards, they'll fail the whole class and start over. But the truth is, they want candidates to persevere.

Which is why, at the end of the third week, the candidates are rewarded with a field trip to the National Museum of the Marine Corps near the base. It's a well-timed reprieve designed to make those considering quitting think twice.

Without the sergeant instructors on their backs, they soak in the museum's stories about Iwo Jima and Belleau Wood. If candidates still aren't motivated to stick around, the Marines have another tool: a small band of recruiters.

"Where do you see yourself next Friday?" Lt. Rick Earley asks a candidate who wants to drop.

"Chicago," the candidate says.

"You're sold? You're going home?"

He's tired, worn out. Done. The military is not for him, the candidate says. "I don't want to be there bringing down the platoon."

"Let me stop you right there," Earley says. "What do they call the candidate who finishes last?"

Earley pauses, eyebrows raised, waiting to deliver his punch line. The candidate stares ahead blankly, not playing along.

"They call him, 'Sir.' " You're almost there, Earley says.

It's a good effort, but the candidate's mind is made up. Within a week, he's Chicago-bound.

Fighting fatigue

The museum exhibits stir Martin, reaffirming his passion to become a Marine. But a few nights later, he's ordered to stand fire watch. That means that in addition to studying for exams and preparing gear for the next day, he will spend an hour of his night patrolling the barracks. He'll be lucky to get three hours of sleep.

In the morning, the sergeant instructor notices an almost imperceptible smattering of dirt on the floor and orders everyone who had fire watch the night before to repeat the duty.

At lights-out the next night, Tyler naps from 9 to 10 p.m. Then he gets up to prepare his uniform for inspection -- a single loose thread can lead to what seems like the apocalypse. He cleans his boots, re-stencils his gear. His turn on fire watch lasts from 2 to 3 a.m., and then he sleeps again.

But he's up about an hour later to help clean the barracks, lest any more dirt be found and the candidates be ordered on fire watch again.

So, on a night of getting three hours of sleep and after a day of more physical activity than most Americans endure in a month, Martin sleeps two hours and 15 minutes -- and not all at once.

Still, he refuses to show any weakness. His eyes are bloodshot, and his speech is slow and slightly slurred. But he tries to mask it under a confident smile, like a drunk driver evincing sobriety. His boots are clean, his creases crisp, his posture perfect.

But one small detail reveals Martin's utter exhaustion.

The name stenciled on his canteen reads: "KARTIN."

A couple of nights later, Martin pops out of bed, certain that it's 5 a.m. and that the instructors are waking the platoon for reveille. He shakes his rackmate awake, and the two stand at attention in the darkness for several minutes, in complete silence, too afraid to move.

Finally, in their half-sleep, they realize they're the only ones standing. The sergeant instructors are nowhere in sight.

It's only 3 a.m., two hours before reveille. Two more hours to dream of the instructors, who were now everywhere, inescapable, pervading even the dark recesses of sleep, ready to pounce on any candidate who fails to see that accepting limitations is a necessary hurdle on the road to success.

Tuesday: Spurning the safe path.

November 29, 2009

New family systems improves link to Marines

By Trista Talton - Staff writer
Posted : Sunday Nov 29, 2009 9:03:43 EST

CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. — The message on Gail Kroger’s cell phone said her son was home from Afghanistan.

To continue reading:


Newly deployed Marines to target Taliban bastion

Obama expected to give war plan in speech

KABUL -- Days after President Obama outlines his new war strategy in a speech Tuesday, as many as 9,000 Marines will begin final preparations to deploy to southern Afghanistan and renew an assault on a Taliban stronghold that slowed this year amid a troop shortage and political pressure from the Afghan government, senior U.S. officials said.


By Greg Jaffe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 29, 2009

The extra Marines will be the first to move into the country as part of Obama's escalation of the eight-year-old war. They will double the size of the U.S. force in the southern province of Helmand and will provide a critical test for Afghan President Hamid Karzai's struggling government and Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal's counterinsurgency strategy.

"The first troops out of the door are going to be Marines," Gen. James T. Conway, the Corps' top officer, told fellow Marines in Afghanistan on Saturday. "We've been leaning forward in anticipation of a decision. And we've got some pretty stiff fighting coming."

The Marines will be quickly followed by about 1,000 U.S. Army trainers. They will deploy as early as February to speed the growth of the Afghan army and police force, military officials said.

The new forces will not start moving until Obama outlines his new strategy in a speech at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. The revised plan, which faces a war-weary and increasingly skeptical American public, is expected to call for 30,000 to 35,000 new troops in a phased deployment over the next 12 to 18 months.

The parceling-out of reinforcements is driven in part by Afghanistan's lack of infrastructure, which cannot immediately support a larger U.S. force. The phased approach will also allow the president to cancel some of the additional reinforcements if the counterinsurgency strategy advocated by McChrystal, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, does not show results or if the Karzai government does not meet goals for stamping out corruption and providing for the Afghan people, White House officials said.

The first place Obama will look for results is Helmand, a Taliban-dominated province that has been McChrystal's primary focus for much of this year and has been the site of some of the bloodiest fighting. Earlier this year, about 10,000 Marines moved into the area and pushed Taliban fighters out of several major cities there. The Marines then began to rebuild the long-absent Afghan government and police forces in the area.

The U.S. offensive, however, did not dislodge the Taliban from such places as Marjeh, a city of about 50,000 people in central Helmand that remains a major center for the opium trade. After several months of fighting, senior Marine officials concluded that they did not have enough troops to expand into Marjeh and a handful of other Taliban havens while holding on to the gains they had made in the province.

"Where we have gone, goodness follows," Conway said. "But the fact is that we are not as expansive as we would like to be, and those probable additional number of Marines are going to help us to get there."

The Marines' inability to push the Taliban out of these key sanctuaries led some Afghans in the area to doubt U.S. resolve. The Taliban has used its haven in Marjeh to produce roadside bombs and plan attacks on areas where Marines were trying to build the local government and police forces. This month, Taliban fighters from Marjeh killed three Afghan city council members in nearby Nawa, which Marines have held up as a major success story in the province.

"The two questions I get from Afghans are 'When are you leaving?' and 'Why aren't you going into Marjeh?' because that is where the real enemy is," said Brig. Gen. Larry Nicholson, senior Marine commander in the province.

Marine commanders have little doubt that the additional 9,000 troops moving into the province will push the Taliban out of its remaining sanctuaries in Helmand. But the gains will be transitory if U.S. forces do not build effective local police forces and foster a government that is relatively free of corruption and can provide for the Afghan people, U.S. officials said. "This will be a credibility test for the [Afghan] government to see if it can deliver," said Rear Adm. Gregory Smith, a spokesman for McChrystal.

Already there is cause for concern. The Afghan government appears likely to commit only 60 percent of the troops that Marine and local Afghan commanders estimate that they need for the assault, a senior Marine official in Helmand said. That means more Marines will probably have to be posted in the city after the initial attack to ensure that the Taliban does not return.

"To have American Marines standing on a corner in a key village isn't nearly as effective as having an Afghan policeman or Afghan soldier," Conway said.

Karzai intervened to halt an attack into Marjeh by U.S. Special Operations forces and Afghan troops this year after residents in the area complained of excessive civilian casualties, senior military officials said. The coming assault on the city will be a measure of Karzai's willingness to buck allies with ties to the opium industry, these officials said.

The other major area of concern is whether the Afghan government and the U.S. military can meet the aggressive new growth targets laid out for the Afghan army and police force in the Obama administration's war strategy. "We have to increase recruiting. We have to increase retention, and we have to decrease attrition this year," said Lt. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV, who leads the U.S. training effort in Kabul, Afghanistan's capital.

The administration's new plans for the Afghan army and police, which will probably be a heavy focus of Tuesday's speech, call for increasing the size of the army to about 134,000 troops by October, four years earlier than the initial goal of 2014. To meet that target, the Afghan Defense Ministry must bring in about 5,000 new recruits a month and dramatically cut attrition in battalions.

This month, the ministry missed its monthly recruiting goal by more than 2,000 troops.

Afghan soldiers and police officers were recently given a 40 percent pay increase, but it is too early to tell whether the extra money will fix the recruiting problem, U.S. officials said.

"The extra pay literally brought us to parity with what the Taliban are offering," a senior military official in Kabul said.

November 27, 2009

At Quantico, the ultimate test

Fighting two wars, Marines hold new leaders to higher standard

There is no yelling. No invective. No spittle-laced derision.


Learning to Lead



By Christian Davenport
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 27, 2009; 8:53 AM

Instead, there is a soft, warm welcome for the dozens of young men and women reporting to Officer Candidates School at Quantico Marine Base in Virginia.

Arriving in polos and khakis, they check in at their leisure, anytime between 8 a.m. and 11:59 p.m., filing off buses or dropped off by well-wishing parents at what could just as well be the first day of college.

This is no Parris Island, the legendary boot camp in South Carolina where the drill instructors' ferocity explodes almost the instant that recruits arrive. But for the next six weeks, as Col. Rick Mancini told the candidates in his orientation speech, "every part of your body, your mind, your spirit will be tested. . . . Your world will be rocked."

For the U.S. Marine Corps, this season's crop of candidates is vitally important. Marines are leading the way in Afghanistan and continuing the fight in Iraq, with increased numbers to satisfy the demands of the two simultaneous wars. The Marines need more young men and women who are willing to face combat while most of their peers stay home.

And so last summer, the deadliest since the war in Afghanistan began, Quantico welcomed its second-largest officer candidate class since the Vietnam War.

Despite the surprisingly easy start in July, this will be a grueling, sleep-deprived test for the 310 members of India Company. Those who pass can return next summer for another round of training toward becoming officers in the Corps. But 15 to 30 percent of the candidates usually wash out, which is fine with the Marines, who know that not everyone is right for the rigorous lifestyle.

On the eve of leaving for OCS, Jacob Lovelady, 21, pronounces himself "very nervous." Other candidates arrive with their hair preemptively sheared, but Lovelady, who grew up near Frederick, shows up with a thick mop of brown curls, as if holding on to the last vestiges of civilian life. He has wide eyes and is thin and fit, but he's not a natural athlete; he spent his high school years performing in dramas such as "The Glass Menagerie."

Tyler Martin, 22, of Alexandria is eager to take the next step toward his childhood dream of becoming one of the few and the proud. Martin, a star high school baseball and football player and son of a Navy Corpsman, spent part of his childhood at Camp Lejeune, a sprawling Marine base in North Carolina.

Arthur Colby, 20, of Washington reached Quantico after a life in elite private schools, drawn by a sense of duty and patriotism that many of his peers consider antiquated, even strange.

Three young men, just weeks removed from college, emerge from dense Virginia woods onto a barren parade ground, about to be shorn, outfitted and processed, rendered virtually indistinguishable from 307 other would-be officers.

Not all of them will make the cut.

Hurry up and fret

The ease of the first day at OCS takes Lovelady by surprise, but even more unnerving is that the quiet cordiality continues the next day as the candidates spend hours picking up gear, getting haircuts and filling out forms.

This can't last, he knows. At some point, the sergeant instructors -- Quantico's name for drill instructors -- will unleash their fury.

But when? Anticipation turns to anxiety, then fear. By the third day, even Lovelady, as nervous as he is about what's in store, just wants the training to begin in earnest. This is a special kind of torture: hell delayed.

It's the Corps' way of telling candidates they are no longer in control of their lives. Although they don't realize it, they are already learning their first lesson. The agonizing wait is a small-scale version of what it's like on the eve of combat. The enemy is coming. Be vigilant.

Then it comes.

"Shut up! SHUT UP! Shut your whole face," a sergeant instructor screams at a candidate who wasn't talking in the first place. Leaning in closer so their faces are inches apart, the instructor screams in rapid-fire, staccato bursts: "You didn't friggin' shave. You have a beard for a face. You're disgusting."

The sergeant instructors shout at every misstep, real or perceived, in a primal, almost orchestral pitch while the candidates stand at attention by their bunks. It's a decades-old ritual called pickup.

"Hiroshima," is how one staff member describes it.

Another sergeant instructor prowls up and down the middle of the squad bay, looking for someone to pick on.

He finds a candidate at the end of the line and orders him to "scream at the top of your lungs!"

The candidate could take a quick moment to check the instructor's uniform to get his rank right. But a split-second delay would invite more screaming and perhaps give the instructor cause to rip him for "eyeballing." Better to keep his gaze focused straight ahead and guess.

"Aye, aye, gunnery sergeant!" the candidate yells.

He guesses wrong.

"It's STAFF SERGEANT!" the instructor yells, angry as ever. "Scream: 'staff sergeant.' "

"Aye, aye, staff sergeant!"

"HUH?" the instructor says.

"Aye, aye, staff sergeant!" the hapless candidate yells, louder this time.

"There you go again with that sweet mouth. OPEN IT UP AND SCREAM!"


The volume finally satisfies the instructor, who prowls back up the line looking for his next victim.

"This is it," Lovelady thinks. He can't help but let slip a surreptitious smile, not because he's amused -- there's nothing funny about this -- but because at long last, reality has set in.

A sergeant instructor screams, "FASTER, FASTER, FASTER," as Lovelady rummages through his gear, trying to find his padlock. Now he'll finally know whether he's cut out for this.

A brother's example

Much as he wanted to become a Marine, Lovelady always wondered whether he had what it took. But he had to try. At 21, his life was, he thought, utterly ordinary. He was shy, even awkward, and felt more comfortable with his science fiction novels and hiking in the woods than at parties.

Lovelady, a mediocre student at Boonsboro High School, near Frederick, spent two years at Hagerstown Community College before raising his grades to get into the University of Maryland. He had hoped college would help him figure out not only what he wanted to do with his life, but also who he was.

Much as he wanted to become a Marine, Lovelady always wondered whether he had what it took. But he had to try. At 21, his life was, he thought, utterly ordinary. He was shy, even awkward, and felt more comfortable with his science fiction novels and hiking in the woods than at parties.

Lovelady, a mediocre student at Boonsboro High School, near Frederick, spent two years at Hagerstown Community College before raising his grades to get into the University of Maryland. He had hoped college would help him figure out not only what he wanted to do with his life, but also who he was.

But Lovelady said he felt as if he didn't fit in on campus. Instead of going to football games and frat parties, he found himself going home to Frederick every weekend to be with high school friends and his family. College was a road to "a soulless nine-to-five job," he said, a clichéd existence. "Go to work, come home, kiss the wife, watch TV."

His older brother had enlisted in the Army, a decision Lovelady thought at the time was rash. But that move later came to seem brave, extraordinary and, above all, original -- especially when his brother came home after a year in Iraq, talking not just of combat patrols but also of volunteering in a burn clinic.

His were the sort of stories you don't always see on the news, inspiring Lovelady to think that, like his brother, maybe he could do some good.

Why not join the military? As the thought morphed from idle speculation into serious consideration, Lovelady took it another step. Why not the Marines? They were tougher, he thought, more elite. And why not become an officer? Make that college education, a prerequisite for the officer corps, really mean something.

Now, at Quantico, Lovelady was ready to live an extraordinary life. But the mere act of volunteering offered no guarantees. Not only was he being indoctrinated into Marine culture; he was also being evaluated to see whether he was worthy of its vaunted heritage.

The next six weeks would be an elaborate, excruciating job interview.

Exposing weakness

Nothing is ever fast enough. Nothing is good enough. The instructors find fault in everything, although all they do at first is run the candidates through the most basic of chores that, without the constant screaming and exhortation, would be kindergarten-simple: Put your boots under your rack. Hang your poncho in your wall locker. Get out your toiletries.

The yelling lasts all day, sergeant instructors working in relentless shifts. The top-of-their-lungs screaming wrecks their vocal chords and forces them to yell from the diaphragm, which produces an unnatural, guttural growl that's almost incomprehensible but always intimidating.

Their job is to expose weakness -- not show their own, which requires a little sleight of hand. They steal away backstage to sip hot water and honey, pound Red Bull and pop Excedrin for their throbbing heads and Motrin ("Vitamin M") for their aching bodies.

The candidates never see this, of course, just as they never see instructors eat, sleep or perform any basic human function besides breathing. In front of the candidates, the instructors are always in character: invincible, imperious, almost inhuman models of strength, their authority absolute and unquestioned.

Hour after high-decibel hour, the commands roll on, even through meals, when instructors have success where perhaps the candidates' mothers did not: "YOU WILL EAT SALAD."

'I want my freedom'

It takes less than three weeks before Lovelady thinks about quitting.

Hardly any sleep. Five-mile runs. Twelve-mile humps. More pull-ups, push-ups, crunches than he can count. And the academic exams on Marine history, general military studies, weapons, land navigation. His already skeletal body grows more gaunt; his eyes are misty and vacant, making him seem years older.

"Starting to crack just a little today," Lovelady writes in his journal. "It's hard to remember why I'm here. What all of this [stuff] is for. . . . I want to go home so badly. . . . I want my freedom. I want to go to Borders + sit + read for as long as I want. I want to drive around with windows down, music on, sunglasses, sipping a diet coke."

Knowing this day would come, because it comes for nearly everyone, his recruiter had had Lovelady write himself a letter on the day he left for OCS. "Take it out when you're starting to hurt during the third week," he had said.

Lovelady reaches into his wallet and pulls out a folded sheet.

"Jacob. Don't give out now. You know you can accomplish this. . . . Push through the pain and earn what you have been fighting for."

Lovelady folds it back up, determined, at least for now, to continue. He can't help but think there was no way the person who wrote that letter could possibly foresee the pain of the past three weeks.

If the next three weeks are anywhere near as tough, he's going to need more than encouraging words.

Next: The necessity of failure.

Much as he wanted to become a Marine, Lovelady always wondered whether he had what it took. But he had to try. At 21, his life was, he thought, utterly ordinary. He was shy, even awkward, and felt more comfortable with his science fiction novels and hiking in the woods than at parties.

Lovelady, a mediocre student at Boonsboro High School, near Frederick, spent two years at Hagerstown Community College before raising his grades to get into the University of Maryland. He had hoped college would help him figure out not only what he wanted to do with his life, but also who he was.

November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving in Afghanistan

Mangulzai, Afghanistan -- As Americans turn off the lights in their homes Thursday after a day of celebration, a group of U.S. Marines and their families will just be starting theirs.


by Richard Tomkins

The first units of 1st Battalion, 5th Marines are scheduled to land in California Thursday night after nearly seven months in Afghanistan.

With the joy of reunion will be the satisfaction of knowing they made a difference, no little matter in a war in which skirmishes substitute for decisive battles and in which “progress” in winning over the local population is measured in small incremental steps.

The 500 or so Taliban in Helmand Province’s Nawa District -- 400 square miles of desert and farms near the Helmand River -- have in the main been driven out to other areas. Small Taliban cells remain and infiltrators are a problem, but villagers once terrified of being seen interacting with American and Afghan troops in any way now do so more frequently and increasingly provide live-saving information on hidden mines and suspicious persons.

“People have to know we (the Marines and Afghan forces) are not going to leave, that troops will stay to protect them,” said Capt. Brian Huysman, commander of Charlie Company, 1-5.

“We’re telling them that this unit is leaving but is being replaced by another. We’re putting out flyers saying the same and during the transition our Marines will be taking out some of the new guys and introducing them around.”

With increased security has come distribution of seeds to farmers for winter wheat. That wheat, the Afghan government hopes, may eventually help supplant the district’s traditional winter crop and a major source of funding for the Taliban -- opium poppies.

Government aid projects for villages -- better irrigation systems, schools and medical clinics -- are now being planned with the direct involvement of village elders.

Proof positive for the Marines of their success in counter-insurgency came just prior to the start of what the troops call the “rip out.” Weapons Company’s 81 Platoon, operating from an outpost near the villages of Mangulzai and Baghrabad, rounded up 19 suspected Taliban terrorists in just a few days. Eleven of those men, after subsequent investigation by Afghan authorities, were deemed guilty of terrorist activities and sent to prison. Seven of those 11 were detained directly as a result of local villagers informing the Marines of their presence, activities and exact whereabouts.

“This has been a tremendous week,” 1st Lt. Clint Hall, commander of 81 Platoon, said. “It couldn’t have happened at a better time.”

First Battalion, 5th Marines are coming home. For those still on the isolated outposts in the Helmand River Valley Thanksgiving will be observed in their own special way, with brief thoughts of families at home, comrades lost and the camaraderie that keeps them going in between patrols.

“Now that it’s down to the wire you need to be thinking about here,” 1st Sgt. David Wilson told Marines on a Charlie Company outpost.

“You’ve have proved you can do the job, keeping these people safe. Slacking off is just not acceptable. Don’t give it up in the final two minutes of the last quarter. It’s too late in the game to be complacent, it’s too close to going home to get blown up.

“Stay focused,” he said.

For Marines here there won’t be dining halls with heaps of turkey that you’ll see on television news reports from large bases such as Bagram and Kandahar. The Marines of 1-5 will awaken shivering in unheated tents or on cots in the open (it was 25 degrees the other morning) and will eat their meals amid the hinterland dust.

Traditional holiday fare will be helicoptered and then trucked to them, but may not make it on time. Many outposts have already anticipated that problem. At outpost Green Nine, for example, there are three turkeys fattening up in their compound. The Marines, with the help of Afghan police sharing the facility, bought the birds from friendly villagers and will do the butchering and cooking themselves over an open fire.

At Combat Outpost Sullivan, chicken parts are being bought for cooking -- as well as vegetables -- from local merchants.

Home is just a blink away for them. But the war goes on.

November 25, 2009

Legal Services Support Team Makes a Difference for Deployed Service Members

AL ASAD AIR BASE, Iraq – After returning from a two-week mission in Iraq, a Marine makes a call to his wife, assuring her that he has returned safely. She is relieved, but panic creeks into her voice as she tells him that creditors have been calling their home asking about mortgage payments and threatening foreclosure. She anxiously asks her husband what went wrong and how to deal with it. The Marine is baffled, and he knows he needs legal assistance.


II Marine Expeditionary Force (Fwd)
Story by Cpl. Meg Murray
Date: 11.25.2009
Posted: 11.25.2009 01:23

This is an imagined scenario, but if it were to happen, it is where the Multi-National Force - West Legal Services Support Team comes in. They provide legal assistance and advice to deployed service members. This professional team of legal gurus deals with military justice, family law, divorce, separation, Service Members Civil Relief Act, landlord/tenant issues, powers of attorney, wills, immigration and much, much more.

"You will get Marines who are extremely happy with the advice you give them, and sometimes they aren't so happy," explained Capt. Keith Anthony, a trial counsel and legal assistance officer for the LSST. "But, people that we can give advice to and help through a tough time ... that's the most important thing for us."

The team currently consists of only three Marines, Anthony, Staff Sgt. Brandi Falcon, legal chief, and Capt. Terence Kiernan, defense counsel officer. At most, the LSST has only had five members working together at one time, but this small section has handled an immense amount of work.

"The staff have been extremely motivated ... everything has gone well," said Kiernan. "They're doing a great job."

As for the most important part of their work, Kiernan believes every service member's issue is of equal magnitude.

"I don't think you can determine what the most important thing is we've done. What we're helping someone with is the most important thing to us at that point."

This job is one that gives back. A few of the team's accomplishments include saving a service member's house from foreclosure, helping numerous service members gain U.S. citizenship, and helping Iraqi interpreters who have worked for the U.S. government for more than a year acquire their green cards.

"Like any job, there are good days and there are bad days," said Anthony. "But, I think when we look back on it, we will be happy with the Marines we've been able to help, the commands we've been able to help, and the fact that we've done something most people don't do."

The team is preparing to wind down and redeploy in the next few months, but the peace of mind and sound advice they have freely provided to deployed service members has changed many lives forever.

Cookin' Up a Dust Storm: Marine Puts TLC Back Into Chow

COMBAT OUTPOST NUKHAYB, Iraq – In a small corner of Iraq known as Combat Outpost Nukhayb, Marines fended for themselves in the chow hall for some time. When they got a hankering for some down-home cooking, someone whipped up a meal on the four-burner stove, but without much extra time in their busy schedules, many found solace in the microwave oven. Cpl. Ryan Schmidt, a cook with Marine Wing Support Squadron 472, intends to make a few changes to the menu.



II Marine Expeditionary Force (Fwd)
Story by Cpl. Joshua Murray
Date: 11.25.2009
Posted: 11.25.2009 01:25

For nearly two months now, Schmidt has made his mark on COP Nukhayb's kitchen and served the men and women there with the intention of improving and maintaining healthy eating habits.

"You've got a lot of Marines here who lift weights, so I've got to think about protein for them," Schmidt explained. "We try to keep a starch, meat and vegetable without a lot of sweets. I keep away from frying foods and stick with baking because it's better for them, even though it might take a little longer to cook the healthy way."

Schmidt's day consists of waking up hours before anyone else to make sure the Marines and sailors have a hot meal before the day begins, and after nearly five hours of breakfast preparation and serving, he begins dinner preparation. Lunch is the only meal the service members are expected to make on their own.

"I love it here," Schmidt emphasized. "I like seeing the satisfaction on peoples' faces when they get chow. They come in with their eyes glowing and they eat and say thanks, and at least I know that they enjoy it."

Besides a few other augmented Marines from MWSS-472, Schmidt's unit resides on Al Asad Air Base, where chow halls are enormous structures that serve tens of thousands of meals every day. Cooking for a few versus thousands holds pros and cons for Schmidt, because he appreciates the individuality he can bake, boil or sauté into every meal he serves at COP Nukhayb.

"It's not that food at chow halls is bad, but they cook it in such quantity that they can't give it much [tender loving care]," Schmidt said. "When you cook chow, you have to put your care into it and care whether or not people will like it because it's a reflection of yourself. I'd rather be here every morning cooking chow and making it my own than anywhere else."

Schmidt doesn't spend all of his time cooking alone though. A corpsman makes cooking and cleaning a nightly hobby of hers alongside COP Nukhaybs's head chef.

"Being corpsmen, we put the Marines before ourselves, and I like doing what I do with the Marines and to be able to cook chow for them as well," mentioned Petty Officer 2nd Class Anastatia Dobbs, a corpsman with MWSS-472. "It's a good way of bonding with them. It's more like a family this way because I consider Marines my family away from home."

Schmidt, Dobbs and even the occasional passerby joins in to make every meal the best with the accouterments they have at their disposal. No matter the undefined roads their deployment may take them down, those who rest their heads at COP Nukhayb can be sure at the very least, a hot meal will always be on the table.

3/4 Marines Face Two-front Engagement During Operation North Star

FARAH PROVINCE, Afghanistan – At first glance, the area known as the Buji Bhast Pass in southern Afghanistan looks much like the rest of Farah province. Mountain peaks tower over vast desert valleys spotted with small adobe villages, herds of grazing animals and local farmers tilling their fields.



Regimental Combat Team-7, 1st Marine Division Public Affairs RSS
Story by Cpl. Zachary Nola
Date: 11.25.2009
Posted: 11.25.2009 07:39

Whereas other areas in the region are proving relatively receptive to coalition forces, the pass and surrounding towns remain a haven for Taliban fighters.

Threats and kidnappings, made by armed enemy fighters in the dead of the night, have sent a wave of fear and compliance over local villagers. This forced obedience, coupled with a high number of Taliban fighters lurking in nearby mountains, has produced an area hazard to both coalition forces and local Afghans alike.

The danger was apparent when Marines and sailors from India Company, 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, visited surrounding towns of the Buji Bhast Pass area as part of Operation North Star, Nov. 15-17.

The key to securing the pass, which serves as a line of communication between the populated areas of Delaram and Golestan, lies in securing the trust and assistance of the local villagers.

Before laying the foundation for a more permanent and healthier relationship with the villagers,
coalition forces must first earn the respect and influence of the towns' elders.

"The elders are key to holding any kind of relationship with the local populace," said 1st Lt. Scott Riley, 25, the executive officer for India Co. "They want to help the coalition forces. They want us there, and they make it well known, and the fact that the Taliban are still [in the area] really worries them."

The operation initiated such a plan on the first day by visiting the town of Gund, which lies on the pass' southern door step, but the town quickly proved to be unlike other provincial areas.

On past patrols, India Co. has often been greeted by the curious, but sociable farmer, or local children in search of gifts. Upon its arrival to Gund, the company was welcomed by Taliban gunfire from fighting positions in the surrounding mountains.

Undeterred by an enemy incapable of matching the Marines' firepower, the patrol continued with its mission, and attended a shura with the town's elders the following day.

The Taliban's fear of elders' power and influencing could encourage local Afghans to support the provisional government was evident shortly after the meeting had concluded.

Taliban small-arms fire from the surrounding hills again targeted the Marines in a futile attempt to harass and disrupt any progressive discourse between the Marines and their Afghan hosts.

"[The Taliban] responding to the shura in that matter. [By] shooting at us, they're just trying to reinforce their presence there to the locals. They wanted to let [the locals] know, 'Hey, we're still here, we see you talking to the coalition forces, and we don't like it,'" said Riley, a native of Wake Forest, N.C.

Taliban fighters increased their efforts to reinforce their influence over the region later in the day. This third attempt by insurgents targeted the Marines, using an improvised explosive device.

"We turned around to look at how beautiful the valley was up there with all the mountains, when we saw a huge plume of smoke and dirt shoot up. Then we waited and eventually heard the explosion," said 2nd Lt. Robert Fafinski, a platoon commander with India Co. "We were pretty sure somebody had died, and eventually we were able to learn from the locals that it was the IED emplacers."

The failed emplacement only strengthened the Marines' message that uninhibited Taliban movement and violence poses the same threat to local villagers as it does to coalition forces. As the operation moved to the nearby village of She Gosa Janobi, India Co. used the incident as an example of the Taliban's disregard for the safety of those Afghans living in the Buji Bhast area, and to promote coalition support of Afghan national security forces.

Another shura was held with the elders of She Gosa Janobi, while dismounted patrols through the town allowed the Marines to speak with villagers directly.

The Marines listened to local concerns about security, shared food with those in need, briefed local farmers and businessmen about new Afghan laws pertaining to agricultural fertilizer use, and dispersed hand-cranked radios.

"We were able to pass out a good number of [radios]," said Fafinski, from Chaska, Minn. "It was very rewarding for the Marines to see the joy on the Afghan faces, when they heard music in their villages for probably the first time ever."

In addition to playing music and the call for prayer, the radios will also help keep Afghans in the Buji Bhast area better informed about their role in safeguarding the local area.

Keeping focus key for Marines on way home

COP JAKER, Afghanistan | Members of the 1st Battalion, 5th Marines are heading home, with the first units due stateside just in time for Thanksgiving dinner.


By Richard Tomkins
Wednesday, November 25, 2009

For the rest, the most dangerous period is just beginning. It's called the "Rip," or "Relief in place," -- the time when tantalizing thoughts of home make it easy to lose concentration, and a new unit unfamiliar with the turf arrives to take over.

"Its too late in the game to be complacent. Its too close to going home to get blown up," 1st Sgt. David Wilson howled at his Marines in the Nawa district of Helmand province when none would admit to dreaming of home.

The incoming forces, meanwhile, are at the forefront of what is expected to be a major buildup, with as many as 35,000 additional troops arriving over the coming months.

President Obama, foreshadowing a long-awaited announcement on his plans for the Afghanistan war, said in Washington on Tuesday that he is determined to complete the mission begun almost a decade ago against al Qaeda and its Taliban hosts.

"After eight years, some of those years in which we did not have, I think, either the resources or the strategy to get the job done, it is my intention to finish the job," Mr. Obama said during a joint appearance with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

"And I feel very confident that when the American people hear a clear rationale for what we're doing there and how we intend to achieve our goals, that they will be supportive."

For the Marines at Combat Outpost (COP) Jaker, finishing the job means staying focused long enough to get home in one piece for Christmas. And that means there will be no holiday from duties on Thursday. Patrols will be conducted as usual, and checkpoints along main roads will be manned.

There will be holiday food, of course, if the helicopters and supply trucks can deliver it on time. But there won't be the catered dining halls and decorations enjoyed on rear bases and featured on television news programs at home. It will be chowing down in the dust.

In case the helicopters don't make it, Marines have three live turkeys purchased from villagers, stashed in a pen, awaiting slaughter and cooking over an open fire.

And on Friday morning, Sgt. Wilson and fellow noncommissioned officers will keep driving the same message:

"They [the enemy] try to take advantage of a new unit coming in and try to demoralize them with RPGs [rocket propelled grenades], IEDs [improvised explosive devices, or roadside bombs] and sniper fire," said Staff Sgt. Jason Lyne, of Charlie Company.

The 5th Marines, from Camp Pendleton, Calif., have been in Afghanistan since late spring and in the Nawa district since midsummer. They're handing over responsibility for 400 square miles of desert and farmland and 90,000 people to 1st Battalion, 3rd Marines, from Hawaii.

About 500 Taliban gunmen were thought to be in the district when the 5th arrived. Most have been pushed into the neighboring district of Marjah, where there are no U.S. forces, but they continue to reinfiltrate in small numbers to intimidate the local population and plant IEDs, U.S. troops say.

"There are still people moving around," said Charlie Company's commander, Capt. Brian Huysman. "We aren't seeing the 20-, 30-man elements anymore. It's more three-, five-man cells planting IEDs."

Capt. Huysman's unit operates in a 54-square-mile area. COP Jaker, where a new district center is being built, is the hub. It's little more than a large compound of dust and gravel surrounded by dirt barriers. Five sub-COPs, or patrol bases, have been established in the company's area as a cordon, of sorts, to hamper insurgent passage and facilitate daily interaction with villagers.

Each patrol base has 20 Marines or less, as well as a half-dozen or so Afghan police.

"There isn't a local who doesn't see a Marine and an Afghan policeman every three to five days," Capt. Huysman said. "And they see we aren't shaking people down like the Taliban, kicking in doors or disrespecting their religion.

"IEDs remain a threat, but the people started pointing them out to us soon after we came here."

The Taliban continues its efforts to maintain influence on Nawa's people, and it's understandable. The district is valuable real estate. Its prime winter crop in the past has been opium.

"The drug trade remains a major source of revenue for anti-government forces and organized crime operating in and around Afghanistan," a September report from the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime said.

"Poppy talks here," said Master Sgt. David Dial of 1-5's Weapons Company.

Sgt. Dial, who with a squad of Marines manned an austere outpost called Norzai, said farmers had told him the Taliban taxed the crop and/or acted as middlemen in its sale. In some instances, he said, farmers said they were ordered to grow it.

With increased security in the district, the Afghan government is trying to nudge farmers into abandoning the illicit crop. Each of 4,800 Nawa farmers the government has registered and approved is receiving 220 pounds of winter wheat seed and has been warned that opium will be confiscated and buyers interdicted by anti-narcotics police.

Capt. Huysman and other Marine officers said the key to helping maintain security in his area is the knowledge that NATO's International Security Assistance Force has no plans to leave the district.

"The people need to know the Marines are staying," Capt. Huysman said. As part of the effort to reassure villagers that security will be maintained, flyers are being handed out explaining the transition, and meetings are being held with village leaders.

Outgoing Marines, who are leaving in phases, are also mentoring their replacements.

"They've had the same training you had before coming here, but you know the area," Sgt. Wilson told a squad of Charlie Company Marines at Green Nine, an outpost near the Nawa district capital. "You're going to have to watch these guys.

"You have to set them up for success. Their success is going to have everything to do with the groundwork laid here."

Incoming Marines will partner with outgoing Marines on daily patrols through villages and fields. Those leaving will brief the others on specific security points in their areas of responsibility, tell them who the key leaders are and introduce them to villagers.

"They need to know everything you've learned here," Sgt. Wilson exhorted.

The first main-body units from 1-5 are scheduled to be home Thanksgiving night. Those left behind will be back in the United States by the middle of next month.

The time for a Marine to think about home, Sgt. Wilson said, is when he is on the plane that's carrying him out of Afghanistan.

November 24, 2009

India Co. Marines stomp Range 410A

MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. — Marines and sailors with Company I, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, known as the Cutting Edge, stormed the Combat Center’s Range 410A Nov. 19, to prepare for a possible deployment next year.


11/24/2009 By Lance Cpl. M.C. Nerl, Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms

“The Cutting Edge” was at the range seeking to improve their platoons’ abilities to shoot, move and communicate as a build-up to their next deployment, said 2nd Lt. Joshua Waddell, a platoon commander with the company and a native of Virginia Beach, Va.

The company began by breaching concertina wire and then assaulting on an enemy strong point using suppressive fire from mortars, hand grenades and small-arms fire from individual Marines as they took multiple enemy positions, Waddell said.

“This is the culmination of small unit action,” Waddell said. “We’ve worked our way up to a platoon-level attack on a Soviet-style strong point. We’ve been practically living in the field – training and advancing from individual and buddy team levels to the squad level. Now we’re at the platoon level of a combined arms attack.”

Waddell said his Marines gain a better understanding of how to coordinate with others and use their resources to take on an enemy stronghold.

“The Marines learn a lot about how to combine adjacent units and other weapons systems,” he said. “They’ve come to the point where they can effectively conduct a fluid planned assault on an enemy position and they’re growing as a team.”

Waddell said his Marines show better assurance in their abilities, and of their fellow warriors thanks to this training.

“All our training is paying off,” he said. “They have more confidence in each other and in their leadership.

“They can conduct a combined arms exercise very efficiently,” he continued. “They’ve learned a great deal about how a Marine air-ground combat team functions, and they’re able to employ all their weapons assets very well.”

Waddell said the weapons being used by his Marines are giving them a better grasp of what they will experience in an operational environment overseas.

“Doing these exercises has taught them to use mutual support and help one another in accomplishing a mission,” he said. “Plus, they’re getting to throw explosives. Any Marine can enjoy doing that.”

Several Marines agreed with Waddell.

“We’re building ourselves up rapidly as a team,” said Lance Cpl. Christopher Ryan Maroney, a rifleman with the company, and a native of Pueblo, Colo. “Exercises like this are essential in fine-tuning those of us who have done it before, and especially for the younger guys who haven’t done it more than once or twice.”

Pfc. Rick Waithers, another rifleman with the company, said he could see the difference in himself and his platoon after they took part in the training.

“It’s an awesome feeling to be part of something that moves, shoots and communicates that efficiently,” said the Cleveland native. “You never get to see the big picture being just one guy with a rifle, but the whole time you’re charging out there, you know there are mortars, machine guns, air and artillery all at your back to make sure the enemy gets what they have coming. It’s a good feeling to be on the side with all the power and know-how.”

“The Cutting Edge” does not know when they will deploy, but they are keeping their bayonets sharp to be ready to take the fight to the enemy.

Vice President Opens Home to Recovering Troops

WASHINGTON, Nov. 24, 2009 – As Army Sgt. First Class John Wright lay in a hospital room after being wounded in Afghanistan this summer, he probably didn’t envision himself feeling especially thankful a few months later.

Please click above link for photos at end of article.

American Forces Press Service

While on a dismounted patrol in Kandahar province in July, Wright led his platoon through a dangerous area where he thought a weapons cache was hidden. As he walked in the direction where he thought the stockpile was located, his foot triggered an improvised explosive device.

“I don’t remember the blast or the pressure or the heat from the explosion,” he said. “I just remember waking up afterwards and realizing that my leg was missing.”

Last night, Wright and other wounded warriors recovering at local Fisher Houses and their families joined Vice President Joe Biden and the vice president’s wife, Dr. Jill Biden, at their residence here for a family-style Thanksgiving meal.

“I think it was a wonderful thing that the vice president and his wife did to open their home to soldiers and wounded warriors,” Wright said today in an interview. “The hospitality was amazing, the conversation was great. I sat right next to Dr. Biden for part of the meal, and the other part of the meal, the vice president sat down with me. The conversation was common folk conversation. It was Anywhere, USA.”

Though Wright is now fitted with a prosthetic leg that allows him to walk, he needs a wheelchair until he’s able to build his endurance to remain mobile for long periods of time. “Within 3 to 4 months, I should be able to ditch the wheelchair and be able to walk,” he said optimistically.

Speaking to Wright and about 35 other wounded warriors, military families and other guests, Biden recalled that the vice presidential home through the years has hosted presidents, heads of state and famous world leaders.

“But I can say without fear of contradiction, never before has this place been accorded such honor as with your presence here today, and I mean that sincerely,” he said. “You possess more courage, dignity and a sense of patriotism than any other group of Americans.”

The Bidens, whose son Beau served in Iraq as a captain in the Delaware National Guard, felt the sacrifice a family experiences when their loved one is deployed over the holidays.

“Thanksgiving is just a few days away, and this year I feel especially thankful that we have our son Beau home with us, because like Joe said, we’re a military family,” she said. “I’m a military mom, and I remember what it was like on Thanksgiving for our whole family. We pretended like everything was OK, but our hearts felt heavy. I know how many of you feel or many of you have felt.”

Dr. Biden, who has reached out to military families across the country since her husband joined the campaign trail, said she tries to impart a message to Americans.

“One thing I’ve tried to do is to say to American families, ‘Reach out to a military family in your community,’” she said. “It doesn’t matter what you’re doing. Take them cookies. Put a wreath on the door. Stuff a stocking. Take some books over for their children. Whatever it is, reach out to a military family and say, ‘Thank you.’”

As Wright continues his physical recovery at Walter Reed Army Medical Center here, he also has embarked on another form of recuperation: learning to be comfortable with his place in society.

“When I got hurt, I kind of wanted to stay within myself and draw away from the public eye because of my injuries,” he said. “I was kind of self-conscious about my scars. I didn’t really want to interact with anybody, except my wife and my family.”

But the more he interacted with the world outside his family, he said, the more his sense of normalcy began to return. A family-style dinner like last night’s, he added, is a welcome shift of focus away from his injuries.

“You tend to focus on other activities such as the football game last night or the upcoming holiday season -- other than just, ‘Oh, I got hurt, and now I’ve got this godawful scar, and now I have this leg,’” he said. “So it’s very helpful. The social interaction really helps the psyche.

“It’s a shame that more people did not accept the invitation because I wouldn’t have missed it for the world,” he continued. “It was the chance to meet the vice president and his wife, and just come to find out that they’re normal Americans that like to open their home to wounded warriors.”

Obama to Give Afghan Strategy Decision on Dec. 1, Official Says

Nov. 24 (Bloomberg) -- President Barack Obama will announce his decision on the next steps in the war in Afghanistan on or about Dec. 1, according to a U.S. official familiar with the issue.


By Tony Capaccio and Roger Runningen

Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Admiral Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, are expected to discuss the decision before Congress that same week, and General Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, would testify the following week, the official said.

At a news conference today with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Obama would say only that he will unveil his decision “after Thanksgiving.” He said his administration’s review of Afghanistan strategy has been “comprehensive and useful.”

Obama conducted his final strategy session last night, meeting with his top military and foreign policy advisers for about two hours on the question of how many additional troops to commit to the war as well as a “strategy for getting them out,” press secretary Robert Gibbs said today.

“After completing a rigorous final meeting, President Obama has the information he wants and needs to make his decision and he will announce that decision within days,” Gibbs said in a statement.

At the previous strategy session on Nov. 11, Obama expressed dissatisfaction with the options being presented, and the administration issued a statement saying the “president believes that we need to make clear to the Afghan government that our commitment is not open-ended.”


Obama has said he wants to set benchmarks to measure improvements in Afghanistan’s military and government, including the ability to deliver services to the civilian population and efforts to reduce corruption. The president also has said wants to lay out a path for an exit strategy for a war that began in 2001.

Obama said today he’s confident that when Americans hear “a clear rationale” for the U.S. presence and “how we intend to achieve our goals, that they will be supportive.”

After eight years in Afghanistan, the U.S. hasn’t committed “either the resources or the strategy to get the job done,” the president said. “It is my intention to finish the job.”

McChrystal requested 40,000 more troops to fight the Taliban, which harbored al-Qaeda before being toppled in the invasion following the Sept. 11 attacks. The U.S. contributes about 70,000 of the 110,000 foreign forces waging the Afghan war.

$1 Million Per Soldier

White House Budget Director Peter Orszag has estimated that each additional soldier in Afghanistan could cost $1 million, for a total that could reach $40 billion if 40,000 more troops are added.

Michigan Democrat Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said last week that higher-income Americans should be taxed to pay for sending more troops to Afghanistan.

An “additional income tax to the upper brackets, folks earning more than $200,000 or $250,000” a year, could fund more troops, Levin, a Michigan Democrat, said in an interview for Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital With Al Hunt.”

Gibbs said before last night’s meeting that the idea of a so-called war tax hadn’t come up in Obama’s discussions.

The president has told the Joint Chiefs of Staff that “we have to take into account how much all of this is going to cost over a five-year, 10-year period,” Gibbs said yesterday.

The U.S. also is urging other members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to contribute more to the war. NATO foreign ministers are due to meet in Brussels on Dec. 3-4.

Germany to Reassess

Germany’s defense minister said last week that his country, the third biggest contributor of troops in the war, would reassess after Obama announces his revised strategy and allies meet in London in January to devise a plan for handing authority back to the Afghan government. The German government of Chancellor Angela Merkel last week supported extending the term of the country’s military presence in Afghanistan through next year, maintaining the upper limit at 4,500 troops.

Britain, which has 9,000 soldiers in Afghanistan, has pledged to add 500 more if other nations bolster their contributions. Levin said he wants NATO to provide half the additional forces that might be needed.

Among the 17 administration members listed as participants in last night’s strategy session were Vice President Joseph Biden, Clinton, Gates, National Security Adviser James Jones, and, by videoconference: Karl Eikenberry, the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, McChrystal and Anne Patterson, the U.S. ambassador to Pakistan.

Republicans pressured Obama for a decision.

“We encourage you to adopt General McChrystal’s recommendation and to provide him with the forces that will give us the highest chance for success with the lowest risk to the safety and security of our forces,” House Republican Leader John Boehner and 13 others said in a Nov. 20 letter.

No smoke machines or lasers, just a sandstorm as Lt. Dan plays Afghanistan

CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan -- There was no rock star, just an actor who likes to play the bass guitar.


Posted on Tuesday, 11.24.09
McClatchy Newspapers

There were no smoke machines or lasers, just a low-grade sandstorm and the failing light of an Afghan winter afternoon on Tuesday.

But for a crowd of 400 Marines, soldiers, sailors, airmen and contractors, Gary Sinise and his Lt. Dan Band might as well have been U2.

The crowd roared and snapped photos as the band - named for the character Sinise played in the movie "Forrest Gump" - ripped through a long set of high-energy cover tunes, including "Purple Haze," "Smooth" and "Sweet Home Alabama" in one of the couple of dozen USO shows it plays each year.

The dust, the danger, the boredom all were gone for a couple of hours.

"They're awesome," said Sgt. Kevin Hamlett, 24, of Durham, N.C. "Everybody here knows every word to every song they're playing, and they're great."

The concert helped lift the burden of eight months in Afghanistan, he said.

Hamlett was among a group of Camp Lejeune-based Marines who had the equivalent of box seats: a spot beside the gun turrets of two hulking mine-resistant trucks flanking the stage.

Lt. Dan brought some popular reinforcements: model Leeann Tweeden and actress Kristy Swanson, who at one point each climbed onto one of the trucks to flirt and mug for pictures with the Marines.

"We appreciate what you guys do for us, and we don't take your service for granted," Sinise told the hooting crowd. "We're not going to forget you."

Sinise said this was the first time that Lt. Dan had been able to play overseas during the taping of his TV show, "CSI: NY." Usually, he said, he can get away only long enough to play weekend shows on U.S. bases.

This time, though, he'd been able to get a couple of extra days off and bring the band to Afghanistan for Thanksgiving.

November 23, 2009

Not everyone sold on combat policing training

By Dan Lamothe - Staff writer
Posted : Monday Nov 23, 2009 19:21:03 EST

Grunts everywhere, prepare to face the Crips of Kabul.

The same techniques used by inner-city cops to fight street gangs in the U.S. are headed to Afghanistan — this time to root out insurgents, collect intelligence on improvised explosive device networks and build sources in Afghan villages.

To continue reading:


Operation Blue Spoon underway aboard Al Asad

As the clouds and drizzle of the rainy winter season roll into Iraq, many Marines with Multi National Force - West are rolling out. The gradual drawdown of Marines aboard Al Asad Air Base has sparked the idea for Operation Blue Spoon.


11/23/2009 By Cpl. Meg Murray, Multi National Force - West

Operation Blue Spoon was set into motion by II Marine Expeditionary Force Headquarters Group (Forward), and it focuses on cleaning up areas of the base that have been neglected over the past six years.

Though the official mission of the operation is to reclaim, document and dispose of excess materials on Al Asad Air Base, to accomplish the end state of a sanitized base for future use, Maj. Matthew Mestemaker, the commanding officer of II MHG (Fwd) Headquarters and Service Company, explained the significance of the mission for Marines.

It's just the right thing to do, said Mestemaker. The Marines have been here on Al Asad for the past six years, and we're getting ready to leave. When we do, we want to leave it better than when we came aboard.

Marines from 3rd Battalion, 24th Marine Regiment, and II MHG (Fwd)'s Personnel Security Detachment, Truck Detachment, and Heavy Equipment platoon have volunteered personnel and equipment, like 7-ton trucks and forklifts, to assist in the operation.

We pick a starting point and pick up big materials, like scrap metal, and take it to [Defense Reutilization and Marketing Office], explained Lance Cpl. Cory Strong, a mortarman with Weapons Company, 3rd Bn., 24th Marines. After all the big stuff is gone, we police call for things like water bottles and cardboard. We're picking up any of the messes we've made over the past few years.

According to Staff Sgt. Scott Barnes, who is in charge of the working parties as the II MHG (Fwd) H&S; Company gunnery sergeant, the operation began during the last week of October, and is scheduled to conclude around the end of November.

Though some remnants of war will always remain a part of the scenery aboard Al Asad, Marines are working hard to ensure future units, either U.S. or Iraqi, inherit a fresh start.

1st MarDiv CG visits Range 400, shows support for 3rd Bn., 7th Marines

MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. — Maj. Gen. Richard P. Mills, the commanding general of 1st Marine Division, came aboard the Combat Center Nov. 20 to show support for 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, as they participated in Enhanced Mojave Viper as part of their pre-deployment training.


11/23/2009 By Pvt. Michael T. gams, Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms

Mills, a native of Huntington, N.Y., observed Company L, 3rd Bn., 7th Marines run through the Combat Center’s Range 400. Mills said taking part in this type of training shows it is important to senior division leadership to support the Marines and sailors and cares about each individual in the division family.

“Having the general come out here to show his support is impressive, given his schedule,” said Sgt. Maj. Troy Black, the battalion sergeant major for 3rd Bn., 7th Marines. “There’s nothing like showing the Marines their senior leadership cares about them.”

Staff Sgt. Joel Reilly, the platoon sergeant with Weapons Platoon, Co. L, 3rd Bn., 7th Marines, agreed with Black, saying it means a great deal to him and his fellow warriors to see the highest levels of leadership takes time to ensure their pre-deployment training is going well and giving the unit the skills and tools necessary to succeed overseas.

While 3rd Bn., 7th Marines, doesn’t have a designated mission or orders to deploy yet, the battalion is participating in EMV training to ensure they will be ready to answer the nation’s call, said Black, a native of Louisville, Ky.

Mills said he was impressed by the company’s tenacity and professionalism on the range.

“It is a complicated training evolution,” said Mills about Range 400. “It put a lot of pressure on the small unit leaders, but they handled it excellently.

“All of the Marines out there were focused and understood the importance of the training,” he said. “I was especially impressed with the [noncommissioned officers]. They’re ensuring their junior Marines know their jobs and they are constantly teaching and mentoring their Marines to make them better and get them ready to get to the fight.”

November 22, 2009

O.C. Marine is called a hero at Afghanistan memorial service

Lance Cpl. Justin Swanson was killed Nov. 10 when a bomb exploded under his Humvee. He was 'full of love for his family and home and dedicated to the protection of others,' his commander says.


By Tony Perry
November 22, 2009

Reporting from Forward Operating Base Geronimo, Afghanistan -- Lance Cpl. Justin Swanson's battalion commander thought of his own sons as he remembered the young Marine from Orange County in a solemn memorial service Saturday at this outpost in Afghanistan.

If his boys, ages 6 and 9, become Marines, Lt. Col. William McCollough said, "I hope they show the same courage and resolve as Justin."

Swanson was "full of love for his family and home and dedicated to the protection of others," said McCollough, commander of the Camp Pendleton-based 1st Battalion, 5th Regiment.

Swanson, 21, who graduated from Buena Park High School in 2006, was killed Nov. 10 when a bomb exploded beneath the Humvee he was driving. Another Marine suffered a broken neck and is being treated at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.

Swanson was the fourth Marine from the 1-5 killed during the seven-month deployment that is set to end within weeks. The overall Marine force, the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade, has had 40 members killed and 150 wounded severely enough to require evacuation.

Sitting outside in a makeshift chapel with sandbags forming an altar and the U.S. and Marine Corps flags nearby, several hundred Marines and sailors, and a dozen Afghan soldiers, heard Swanson praised as outgoing and fun-loving but serious in his attention to his Marine duties.

"Justin always wanted to come to a combat environment with his friends and do something important for his country," Sgt. Miguel Bautista said. "I love you, brother."

With the service being filmed for Swanson's family, Lance Cpl. Jonathan Nutt, who grew up in Anaheim, said, "Your son touched not only my life but all of our lives. He's a hero in my book."

Lance Cpl. J.M. Jones said that Swanson "was a good guy -- still is. I'm never going to forget you."

As the U.S. death toll in Afghanistan has mounted, memorial services have been commonplace and have a stylized ritual. The memorial for Swanson ended as many have: a bagpipe recording of "Amazing Grace," a last roll call, and then taps.

At the end of the service, a long line of Marines, enlisted and officers, waited to approach the display of dog tags, boots and an inverted rifle. Many had tears in their eyes as they knelt and said farewell.

Finally, a CH-53 helicopter landed nearby, its huge rotors kicking up a cloud of dust and making a deafening noise. Marines in full battle gear rushed to jump aboard -- grieving, but continuing the U.S. mission in Afghanistan.

November 21, 2009

In Golestan, changing mission could mean troops must move on

By Drew Brown, Stars and Stripes
Mideast edition, Saturday, November 21, 2009


When U.S. Marines first entered this stark, scenic valley nearly two years ago, their mission was to build up local security forces and eliminate the Taliban resistance.

To continue reading:


HMLA-367 'Scarface' Introduce Yankees

CAMP BASTION, Helmand province, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan – The sound of four blade rotors echoes across the Helmand sky, as the UH-1Y Huey helicopter made its first combat deployment with Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 367 "Scarface."


Marine Aircraft Group 40
Story by Lance Cpl. Samuel Nasso
Date: 11.21.2009
Posted: 11.21.2009 12:18

The squadron arrived in October, with the first UH-1Y helicopters arriving Oct. 23 on the back of a C-17 aircraft. The UH-1Y made its first flight Nov. 4.

"You wanna mess with me? Okay. You wanna play rough? Okay. Say hello to my little friend," said the character Tony Montana in the movie "Scarface."

The UH-1Y is the "little friend" of HMLA-367, as it brings increased speed and carrying capacity, offering a better option for the Afghan terrain than the UH-1N model did for HMLA-169, the squadron being replaced by HMLA-367 in Afghanistan.

The UH-1Y is the most significant and recent upgrade to the battle-proven UH-1N Huey, which has been around since Vietnam. The duel engine "Yankee" is equipped with a modified four blade, all composite rotor and has upgraded engines and transmissions to give it increased payload and performance capabilities.

"This aircraft is more agile, has greater speed, range and loiter time, carries more weight and is more survivable on the battlefield," said Lt. Col. William Randall, executive officer of HMLA-367, Marine Aircraft Group 40, Marine Expeditionary Brigade-Afghanistan. "All this results in better overall support for that Marine on the ground."

It has been a long time coming for the upgraded Huey.

"I spent five years as a developmental test pilot at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md., where I was involved in the initial ground test, flight test and evaluation of both the UH-1Y Huey and the AH-1Z Cobra," said Randall. "Overall, I have spent almost 11 years of my career working on getting the UH-1Y to the fleet. It's been a great pleasure to see the aircraft come out on its first combat deployment."

The UH-1N has been everything the Marine Corps has wanted it to be, but the UH-1Y simply has more to offer the aviation community and ultimately, the Marines on the ground.

"For years, the Huey community has been unable to perform many of their utility missions simultaneously," said Capt. Alexis Paschedag, a department of safety and standardization officer for HMLA-367. "While the 'November' was able to perform different missions sequentially, the new UH-1Y is able to perform a myriad of utility missions on the same sortie."

As the transition begins between the Vipers of HMLA-169 and Scarface, and from the UH-1N to UH-1Y helicopters, the mission of the light attack squadron remains the same.

"Other than the UH-1Y, Scarface is a lot like the Vipers, whose main effort is giving that Marine or sailor on the ground the best support possible," said Capt. Curt Rose, a pilot training officer for HMLA-367.

"The level and type of support that we can provide the ground combat element is greatly increased. Our ability to go farther, faster, carry more internal cargo and passengers and stay on station longer will greatly enhance the Marine Corps' overall combat effectiveness on each and every mission we support," said Randall.

"The UH-1Y transition is significant because it's never been deployed to Afghanistan or Iraq - a definite milestone in Marine Corps aviation history," said Rose.

The results of the transition will require time to assess, but the first UH-1Y on the flight schedule brought more ordnance to the fight, showing the immediate impact of the new air power in Afghanistan.

ANGLICO Marines Ensure Estonian Success in NATO Effort

PATROL BASE MASOOD, Helmand province, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan –"It was well planned," said Estonian 1st Lt. Alar Karileet, following an insurgent attack near Patrol Base Masood in late October. "The Taliban were in three positions of four to five men each."


2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade
Story by Cpl. Aaron Rooks
Date: 11.21.2009
Posted: 11.21.2009 07:38

Taliban insurgents fired on the Estonian patrol of soldiers with Company C, Expeditionary Estonian Task Force, in an open field less than a half mile from the patrol base.

Marine Capt. Ryan Petersen, an artillery officer and Joint Terminal Attack Controller with 2nd Brigade Platoon, 2nd Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company, Marine Expeditionary Brigade-Afghanistan, sat in the Estonian Combat Operations Center at Masood as the firefight took place, receiving coordinates where enemy fighters were located. Shortly after, one high explosive artillery round landed on the insurgent position.

"The rounds were effective and suppressed the Taliban attack," said Petersen, of Mishawaka, Ind.

A second firefight broke out less than 10 minutes later from a different enemy position as the Estonian patrol moved to assess the damage caused by the artillery round. Petersen, still in the COC, performed the same actions. A second artillery round, the same kind as before, landed on the second position.

"Artillery we asked for made a direct hit on one position, and no one shot at us from there again," Karileet said.

There was never a time, in more than two months of combat operations, where Estonian soldiers left the protective wire of Patrol Base Masood or Patrol Base Shamshad, located less than four kilometers away from each other, without the presence of a force multiplier. That force multiplier came in the form of five Marines from 2nd ANGLICO, MEB-Afghanistan.

The team of Marines, led by Petersen, gave the Estonian soldiers the ability to fully integrate themselves into Marine battle spaces in the Helmand River Valley. The Marines provided the liaison capability with nearby 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, as well as the ability to call for indirect fire and aircraft support in the forms of fire missions, over watch and surveillance.

Estonia, which is located along the Baltic Sea in Northern Europe, is one of NATO's newest and smallest members. Estonian soldiers spent the past couple months working to maintain security in Masood and Shamshad. October's firefight was the first in the Masood District in many weeks.

"[The Estonians] are good infantrymen," said Maj. Matthew Maz, platoon commander, 2nd Brigade Platoon, 2nd ANGLICO. "We provide the necessary enablers to allow them to do what they are good at."

November 19, 2009

Nawa Leaders, Marines Discuss Security, Human Services During Shura

HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan – Afghanistan's Nawa District Gov. Abdul Manaf and Lt. Col. William T. McCollough, commanding officer of 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, met with local Afghans to discuss security and human service concerns during a shura at Patrol Base Fielder, Helmand province, Afghanistan, Nov. 10.


Regimental Combat Team-7, 1st Marine Division Public Affairs
Story by Lance Cpl. John McCall
Date: 11.19.2009
Posted: 11.19.2009 10:15

A shura serves as a meeting for Afghans to voice their opinions and concerns to leaders who have the power to change things.

"You have to come together and work with each other," said Manaf. "The enemy can't hurt you if you outnumber him."

McCollough urged the people of Nawa to help stop the violence and turmoil caused by members of the Taliban.

Improvised explosive devices have become the enemy's weapon of choice in disrupting the battalion's efforts in keeping Nawa safe.

"Things have improved here, but mines are still being planted," McCollough said. "I am asking you for your help until we reach the day where mines are no longer being put in the road."

Manaf talked with a group of village elders, allowing them to voice their opinions on current issues happening in the area. Access to water was one of the major problems locals addressed. The district governor assured them that help was on the way.

"We are having engineers fly in from other countries to help get water to you," Manaf said.

As the Marines of 1/5 near the end of their seven-month deployment, Marines continue to stay focused on providing security for the people of Nawa.

"We are doing the best that we can to get the bad people out of your community," McCollough said. "We want to help you, but you have got to trust us and trust the ANA (Afghan national army)."

Officers duke it out

MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, Va. — Student officers in Company A at The Basic School conducted martial arts-based training Nov. 18 on Landing Zone 7.


11/19/2009 By Lance Cpl. Lucas G. Lowe, Marine Corps Base Quantico

Referred to as “LZ drills” in the TBS training matrix, the day consisted of body sparring, ground fighting using Marine Corps Martial Arts Program techniques, combat conditioning exercises and, of course, pugil sticks.

Instructors from the Martial Arts Center for Excellence instructed the officers in each training area and supervised their performance.

“The purpose of LZ drills is to allow the lieutenants to meet their training requirement hours for pugil sticks,” said Sgt. Matthew D. Lankenau, a martial arts instructor trainer at the MACE. “They train in groups of different MCMAP belt levels. For some, they’re working on getting their tan belts.”

Whether the lieutenants were getting their first taste of MCMAP or sustaining their skills, all six platoons in the company got an equal dose of combat conditioning.

The team-building exercises forced the Marines to work in unison toward a common goal.

“Here the officers learn to work together as a team,” said Lankenau. “Each event has its own underlying purpose.”

The officers in training are used to overcast conditions and low temperatures by now. Morale is not hard to maintain for them.

“We keep ourselves motivated by relying on each other,” said 2nd Lt. Chris Norgren, a student officer with sixth platoon. “If we all go through it together, it’s not so bad. Today is our final sparring sessions before some of us test out for the first time. It’s a good time, really.”

The lieutenants’ motivation took the form of loud chanting as they gathered around the octagonal pit where Marines went one-on-one with the pugil sticks. Many considered their time in the octagon the main event of LZ drills. Officers roared with approval each time someone was struck to the ground by a fatal head blow.

“We’re getting an understanding of the combat mindset Marines are expected to have on the battlefield,” said 2nd Lt. Thomas Flinn, a student officer with third platoon. “It’s a competitive atmosphere where we go up against our peers. This is necessary, because, regardless of MOS, we’re all Marines, which means we’re all warfighters.”

November 18, 2009

Medicine men: MEB-Afghanistan docs treat from the castle

KHAN NESHIN, Helmand province, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan –It would be hard to recognize the young boy bounding out of the medical tent nestled inside the castle walls. The boy was limping from scratches on his leg only moments before. An inflated surgical glove serves as a new play thing for him and his friend. Although this was only a flesh wound, Navy corpsmen spending a few moments to provide basic remedies shows the locals that U.S. forces are here to help in an area once poisoned by insurgent presence.


November 18, 2009
Cpl. Jenn Calaway

A free clinic runs two to three times weekly at the Khan Neshin Castle – located in the “Fishhook” region of the Helmand River valley – offering townspeople a convenient alternative to the long trek to the nearest Afghan hospital in the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah, which can take days and, for most, is unaffordable.

“No government has had a doctor here in 30 to 35 years. Every little thing from a sore throat to broken limbs is important,” said Army Staff Sgt. Richard A. Bettis, Psychological Operations Chief working with 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, Marine Expeditionary Brigade-Afghanistan. “They love us around here and this is why. All these little things start adding up.”
The trust wasn’t easily won, however, said CWO2 Christopher Wright, civil affairs officer for Delta Company, 2nd LAR.

“You should have seen it when we first got here in July,” Wright said. “There was no one out here in the shops, they wouldn’t come near us. Now, they’re letting their kids come inside the castle walls to be treated by our docs.”

In a community where the majority of land is owned by generations of farmers, minor injuries can go for years without being treated.

“We see a lot of surface wounds that have infected over time and now require small surgical procedures,” said Lt. Cmdr. Todd D. Bell, assistant battalion surgeon for 2nd LAR. “It’s our goal to give long-term care so that doesn’t continue.”

“One of my favorite patients came in every couple days for

Bonhomme Richard Amphibious Ready Group Enters 5th Fleet

INDIAN OCEAN (NNS) -- After transiting the western Pacific Ocean, the Bonhomme Richard Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) entered the U.S. 5th Fleet Area of Operations this week to relieve the Bataan ARG.


Story Number: NNS091118-07
Release Date: 11/18/2009 4:56:00 PM
From Bonhomme Richard Amphibious Ready Group Public Affairs

While deployed to the region, Sailors and Marines from the Bonhomme Richard ARG and the embarked 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) will conduct Maritime Security Operations (MSO), which help set conditions for security and promote regional stability and global prosperity.

"We've been training for the MSO mission in this region for quite some time," said Capt. Rodney Clark, the ARG's commodore. "We're ready to execute when tasked."

While transiting the U.S. 7th Fleet AOR en route to the 5th Fleet AOR, the ARG/MEU team participated in humanitarian projects during Marine Exercise 2009, sending Sailors and Marines ashore in Indonesia and Timor-Leste to provide medical and dental care to more than 2,000 patients in cooperation with local health care officials.

Sailors and Marines also volunteered in over a dozen community service projects during four port visits in the area. Projects ranged from cleaning kennels at an animal shelter in Guam, repairing playground structures in Phuket, Thailand, and interacting with children at orphanages in Dili, Timor-Leste.

Maritime Security Operations develop security in the maritime environment and complement the counterterrorism and security efforts of regional nations. From security arises stability that results in global economic prosperity. These operations seek to disrupt violent extremists' use of the maritime environment to transport personnel and weapons or serve as a venue for attack.

The Bonhomme Richard ARG consists of three ships – amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6); amphibious transport dock ship USS Cleveland (LPD 7); and amphibious dock landing ship USS Rushmore (LSD 47).

In addition, the ARG includes the command element, Amphibious Squadron 7; Tactical Air Control Squadron 12, Detachment 1; Helicopter Sea Combat 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.

To keep up with USS Bonhomme Richard, visit them on Facebook http://www.facebook.com/ussbhr.

November 17, 2009

Marines Welcome Replacements To The Afghan Fight

This month, the more than 800 Marines of 2nd Battalion, 8th Regiment are finishing their deployment to Afghanistan. Some units of "America's Battalion," are returning this week to Camp Lejeune, N.C., after months fighting the Taliban. NPR reporters have been following these Marines since they left North Carolina in May.


by Tom Bowman
November 17, 2009

Sgt. Richard Lacey is on one of his final patrols with Fox Company. The Marines from 2nd Battalion, 8th Regiment are working the fields and pathways of southern Helmand province, an area Lacey knows well after spending months here.

"This area we're in, we been hit from two or three times with heavy volumes of fire," Lacey says.

On this day, Lacey is also something of a teacher, instructing Staff Sgt. John Nickerson about the dangers of his new neighborhood. Over here, the likely places for roadside bombs. Over there, the favorite lair of a sniper.

"You just throw 203 rounds in there?" Nickerson asks, referring to targeting the troublesome spot with M203 grenade launchers.

Especially the first IED that hits them, that'll be a wake-up call for them.

- Marine Sgt. Richard Lacey on what newly arrived Marines can expect in Afghanistan
"Yeah, they shot rockets into us," Lacey replies.

Nickerson and his fellow Marines from the 2nd Battalion, 2nd Regiment are just moving in. Their uniforms are clean, not like those of 2/8's Fox Company, which are torn and stitched after months of jumping over drainage ditches and kneeling on rocky trails. More than a few combat boots are split open near the toes.

The Marine replacements of 2/2 don't have all their equipment yet. Nickerson sheepishly admits he doesn't even have a radio.

"It's hard to tell what's going on. I don't have no com or anything, man. That's why I keep asking. Sorry I'm bugging you," he tells Lacey.

"No, you're good," Lacey replies.

What does trouble Lacey is the gung ho spirit of some of these new Marines, the itchiness to get into the battle. He is doing his best to try to caution his replacements.

"Their lieutenants especially are real eager to get out there. A lot of it is probably because it's their first time being on a deployment. So, they want to get out there and show their company commanders what they can do," Lacey says.

"I've told their squad leaders they need to calm their lieutenants down or somebody's going to get hurt," he says.

After a patrol, Lacey and his squad are lounging outside their tent, on furniture they've fashioned from the steel framework of the large sandbags that rim their outpost.

Lacey says the seasoned squad leaders know how to handle the eager young officers.

"They all know. They've been on deployments before. So they've talked to their lieutenants and everything. So, especially the first IED that hits them, that'll be a wake-up call for them," he says.

Lacey is not the only one who shares these feelings about the newly arrived Marines.

David Gilkey/NPRA Marine with Fox Company relaxes at a base in Helmand province. The Marines of 2nd Battalion, 8th Regiment are preparing to head home after a six-month deployment.

David Gilkey/NPRA Marine with Fox Company relaxes at a base in Helmand province. The Marines of 2nd Battalion, 8th Regiment are preparing to head home after a six-month deployment.
"You look at them and I just kind of hope that's not how I was when I first got here," says Lt. James Wende, who was just as eager for battle when he first got to Afghanistan. "But they definitely have a long way to go and a lot to learn. It's kind of like the senior class looking at the freshmen coming in in the fall."

The freshman class — the Marines from the 2/2 — stand at the back during Fox Company's nightly operational meetings, taking notes. They cluster around a large map at the command center.

"Their success really just depends on how much they're willing to take in what we've learned — our mistakes and our victories, if you will — and just learn from it as much as they can," says Wende of San Antonio, Texas.

"A lot of it is intuitive You have to learn a lot of it on your own," he says.

Part of what the newly arrived Marines have learned so far is how several months in the field have changed their fellow Marines.

A few hundred yards behind their patrol base in southern Helmand province is a smaller outpost, set high on a bare dirt hill. Marines call it "The Rock." Some say it's haunted. It's just a series of dugouts and trenches with camouflage netting. There is no electricity or running water.

A handful of Marines have been stationed at this lookout — keeping watch for about two weeks. They are slowly losing their military bearing. Pvt. Joseph Salesky and the others are shirtless and bearded.

"They looked at us like we were cavemen," quips one of the Marines.

For all the joking, the Marines of Fox Company hope their replacements can pick up where they have left off — disrupting the Taliban and setting up small outposts. The next step is the long, slow process of reaching out to the Afghan population.

As the handover continues, Cpl. Matthew Pierce, a scout sniper with the 2/2, is finishing up one more patrol, soaking up as much as he can during this transition period. He learns that a nearby tree line was a spot insurgents used to direct small-arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades at the Marines.

Pierce and other Marines clatter over a metal foot bridge built by British troops, who just four months ago looked upon the now veteran 2/8 Marines as the green troops.

Pierce deployed to Iraq last year. Now he knows he's in a more dangerous place and he's happy for any advice.

"Definitely. Any time we get to go out over the area, they give us input on bad areas, good areas. Where they've been hit, where they not been hit. Who's good, who's bad," Pierce says.

Soon, Pierce and his fellow Marines will have to find out the answers to those questions on their own.

3/4 Marines Patrol Farah Village, Build Trust

FARAH PROVINCE, Afghanistan – Marines and sailors from India Company, 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, made its way into the village of Kace Satar, Afghanistan, Nov. 11, with a mission: protect the locals, and gain their trust.


Regimental Combat Team-7, 1st Marine Division Public Affairs
Story by Cpl. Zachary Nola
Date: 11.11.2009
Posted: 11.17.2009 12:45

The Marine's of 3/4 believe that providing security and building relationships in these small villages will help disrupt enemy activity in their area of operations.

"The little towns are where most of the Taliban forces come and terrorize the people," said Cpl. Bradley Penn, a section leader with 3/4. "They then have the opportunity to store things [in the towns]. So if we don't go to the little towns, then we won't have the opportunity to find those caches of ordinance they use in [improvised explosive devices] or any weapons systems they may have."

The first of the four patrols headed into the town to visit with the local Afghans after setting up security and performing gear checks.

The Marines took necessary precautions with their route and made sure not to disturb the local farm fields as they carefully navigated their way through the outskirts of the town.

The first patrol, led by Penn, was met by local elders and other villagers upon entering the town.

Following an exchanging of pleasantries, the elders guided the patrol down the village's many dusty pathways, while talking with the Marines about their key concerns which include the village's water shortage.

The second patrol into the city proved a test of the Marine's training.

The Marines had spotted a possible enemy observer on a ridge overlooking the town. Once the patrol's security element confirmed their belief of possible enemy observation, the Marines switched into high gear and surrounded the possible threat.

"I thought worst-case scenario, it could be someone with [binoculars] looking at our patrol, and that he could be a forward observer and maybe [the Taliban] were going to try to [indirect fire] on us," said Cpl. Nic Rodriguez, 22, a vehicle commander with India Co. "The only thing that was going through my head was that I wanted to get my guys up there as soon as possible to see what it was and assess the threat at the time."

The patrol identified the individuals as an Afghan man and some children who were playing in holes they claimed were created by mortars during the Afghan-Soviet War in the 1980s, the platoon's interpreter explained.

The incident allowed the vehicle commander to observe his Marines in a real-life situation in a combat environment.

"There were some good points. The intensity [the Marines] had was amazing, even if it was just someone we thought had [binoculars]. They treated it very professionally," said Rodriguez. "I liked the way I saw the Marines take it seriously."

The Marines and sailors of 1st platoon were ready to return to their forward operating base after the third patrol had concluded, but not before addressing the town's water shortage and determining a possible course of action.

"At that time I began to talk to the village elder, who seemed very happy we were there to help out," said Rodriguez.

The fourth patrol was able to help the village by passing out additional food and water to local children. Once the patrol reached the village center, the Marines distributed all remaining food and water to the local Afghans in need.

"The food and water was a gesture of 'Hey, we're here to help,'" said Penn, from San Antonio.

Marine Corps Base Hawaii holding memorial service today to honor 10

The Second Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment will hold a memorial service this morning at Marine Corps Base Hawaii to honor nine Marines and one sailor who sacrificed their lives while supporting Operation Enduring Freedom during their deployment this year.


Tuesday, November 17, 2009
Advertiser Staff

Those honored were:

•Lance Cpl. James D. Argentine

•Lance Cpl. Travis T. Babine

•Lance Cpl. Joshua M. Bernard

•Petty Officer 3rd Class Anthony Christian Garcia

•Cpl. Christian A. Guzman Rivera
Sgt. Jay M. Hoskins

•Lance Cpl. Matthew R. Lembke

•Lance Cpl. John J. Malone

•Lance Cpl. Alfonso Ochoa, Jr.

•Lance Cpl. Joshua R. Whittle

Approximately 1,000 Marines and sailors with the "Island Warriors" departed for a seven-month deployment last May to Farah province in Afghanistan. They played a role in the continuing stabilization, security and counter-terror efforts still under way. The battalion returned earlier this month and in late October.

November 16, 2009

School is in session at the castle

RIG DISTRICT, Helmand province, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan – First-grade student Yaar Gul bats a fly from his eye-lash with one hand as the other follows along in his school book. He repeats after his instructor again and again, “Nomads live under the tent. Nomads have a tent. Nomads sleep in the tent.”


November 16, 2009
Cpl. Jenn Calaway

Though Yaar may be too young to realize it now, he’s on his way to becoming the first in a long line of farmers to receive any formal education.

The school began accepting students like Yaar at its location near the Khan Neshin castle in Rig District when Marines from 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, Marine Expeditionary Brigade-Afghanistan secured the area upon their arrival in July.

“Some of these kids travel for up to three kilometers to come to class here,” said Jason Ariz, a cultural advisor and interpreter working with Marines and soldiers protecting the village. “Going to school hasn’t been an option around here for at least five years.”

Though concerns about the Taliban still linger and there are rumors they have threatened the lives of those who cooperate with the Americans, parents greatly value the opportunity for education and willingly send their children on the trek through the fields to the schoolhouse.

“This is as old fashioned an area as Afghanistan gets,” said Army Staff Sgt. Richard A. Bettis, a psychological operations team chief helping to secure the region. “It’s impressive that they’re this open to cooperating with Americans"

With 120 students strong and two local instructors, the school’s future looks bright.

“You should see the students when the teacher comes in. They’re incredibly disciplined,” said Ariz.
The school is only able to facilitate grades one through three, however, because that’s where the teachers’ formal education stops.

“We need better salaries so more people will come to teach here,” said Salam Abdullah, the primary instructor, who has to scurry from class to class to keep up with the overflow of students. “It is good because the students are coming back every day because they know the Americans keep the area safe for them.”

If the Taliban is a threat, young Yaar doesn’t seem to notice. He and his fellow classmates kick rocks back and forth with Marines and soldiers on their way to school, practicing English words and teasing the Americans on their poor attempts at Pashtu phrases.

“It’s really rewarding to be a part of this and see these kids wanting to go to school,” said Ariz. “When I talk to them now, they have all sorts of goals and things they want to do with their life.”
Yaar pondered a long time on the question of his favorite subject in school and finally decided it was a tie between his Koran studies and mathematics.

“He says he wants to be a doctor,” Ariz translates as Yaar smiles and nods enthusiastically. “So he can help people grow big and strong like the Americans.”

The district governor of Rig is trying taking strides to provide education for more children in the region. Temporary schools are slated for nearby Qual-E-Now and Divyalok, but finding funding is difficult.

“The best guess around here is it’s been 10-plus years since any type of government has been established here,” said CWO2 Christopher Wright, civil affairs officer for Company D, 2nd LAR. “It’s just good to see these kids with books in their hands, because if the Taliban had their way, it would probably be homemade bombs.”

November 14, 2009

Marine Finds Innovative Ways to Exercise in Combat Zone

HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan – Suspended off the side of a towering vehicle by cargo netting, 1st Lt. William R. Goodwin, the executive officer for Mobility Assault Company, 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion, pushes himself up for one more repetition. Goodwin built a fitness tool using duck tape, cargo netting and ratchet straps, to perform multiple exercises off the side of a vehicle, aboard Camp Dwyer, Helmand province, Afghanistan.


Regimental Combat Team-7, 1st Marine Division Public Affairs
Story by Lance Cpl. Walter Marino
Date: 11.14.2009
Posted: 11.14.2009 04:05

Goodwin proves six days a week that when it comes to working out, just about anything can be used to exercise. Sand bags, 6-by-6 inch wooden logs, and ammo cans filled with dirt and rocks are just some of the make shift equipment used in his workout routine.

"I use sand bags for my triceps workouts, ammo cans for one-arm rows, and wooden logs for my bicep training," said Goodwin, 24, from Stanley, N.C.

Previously deployed to Iraq, Goodwin is no stranger to adapting to his environment.

"A lot of people say when you get to a forward operating base, there's nowhere to workout," Goodwin said. "But you can use anything to workout, an MRE (Meal-Ready-to-Eat) box, or sandbags. You just have to use your imagination."

The benefits of exercise are as plentiful as the massive variations of workouts. Daily exercise helps with depression, high blood pressure and diabetes. For Goodwin, exercise is his way to reduce the stressors of a combat zone and a way to find focus.

"It's a stress relief. That's why it's important in combat," Goodwin said. "I just put my headphones in and I forget about my stresses. After I workout, I find I can always focus better. We need this out here with the rigors of combat."

According to Goodwin, nutrition is a key part of fitness too often overlooked.

"If you don't eat right your body can't grow," Goodwin said. "It's amazing how good nutrition makes you feel. A lot of people skip breakfast, but that's bad. Breakfast jump starts your metabolism. I'm not talking about Pop Tarts though. I'm talking about some protein found in eggs and meat."

In the Marine Corps, a commonly used quote is, "complacency kills." It's a reminder that consistent improvement is direly important. For Goodwin, complacency isn't a factor.
"Every time you walk by a pull-up bar you should do five pull ups. In a little while, you'll be surprised in how many you can do," Goodwin said. "One of my prouder moments was when I got a 300 on my physical fitness test. For me there's no reason why a Marine shouldn't get a good score. My average PFT is around a 285, but now that I've gotten a 300 PFT. "My goal is to get a 300 every time."

Every year Marines have a physical fitness test consisting of a max set of 20 pull-ups, 100 crunches and a three-mile-run. Each pull-up is worth five points, each sit-up is worth one point, and a run time under 18 minutes is worth 100 points. All together, a perfect score is 300.

"If you practice fitness you'll be able to focus better. People get caught up with work, but you should always make time for (physical training)," said Goodwin, a North Carolina State University graduate. "That's what makes us different from the other services."

Essex rejoins PHIBRON 11 and 31st MEU during Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force Led Exercise

USS ESSEX, At Sea (Nov. 14, 2009) -- —
In a display of flexibility, coordination and efficiency, more than 1100 Marines, sailors, and assets assigned to the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, (MEU) embarked aboard the forward-deployed amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2) and the forward-deployed dock landing ship USS Tortuga (LSD 46) at White Beach Naval Facility during an in-port reconfiguration, Nov. 9-11.


11/14/2009 By Sgt. Rodolfo Toro and Essex PA Office, 31st MEU

The reconfiguration reunited the USS Essex with Amphibious Squadron 11 (PHIBRON 11) in preparation for Annual Exercise 21G (ANNUALEX 21G) scheduled for Nov.12-18. ANNUALEX 21G is an annual, bilateral exercise conducted between the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) and U.S. Naval Forces.

The Japanese led exercise is designed to improve both forces’ capabilities for coordinated, bilateral operations in the defense of Japan. In particular, ANNUALEX 21G will focus on enhancing military-to-military relationships, improving command and control, air, undersea and surface warfare.

“This deployment is a great opportunity for our Marines to play a part in ANNUALEX,” said Gunnery Sgt. Jorge Jerez, combat cargo assistant, Ship Company, PHIBRON 11. “I’m sure everyone is excited to be a part of the great relationship we have with the JMSDF.”

The USS Essex is commanded by U.S. Navy Capt. Troy Hart and is the lead ship of the only forward-deployed U.S. Amphibious Ready Group. The vessel serves as the flagship for Command Task Force 76 (Task Force 76), and Hart is the Navy's only forward-deployed amphibious force commander. Task Force 76 is headquartered at White Beach Naval Facility, Okinawa, Japan, with a detachment in Sasebo, Japan.

“We always look forward to embarking the 31st MEU,” Hart said in an interview with a USS Essex reporter. “Their professionalism has always been a major factor to our success working together, and this is another chance for us to build on that success,” explained the Lansing, Mich. native.

That professionalism and great working relationship allowed the Navy and Marine Corps team to reconfigure in less than two days for ANNUALEX 21G.

While embarking aboard the USS Essex and USS Tortuga, combat cargo and MEU Logisticians moved approximately 15 Helicopters, 90 vehicles and 250 pieces of MEU equipment. Additionally, they streamlined the cross-decking of Marines and sailors from the 31st MEU’s Battalion Landing Team 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines (BLT 2/5), Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 265 Reinforced (HMM-265 REIN), Marine Attack Squadron 513 (VMA-513) and Combat Logistics Battalion 31 (CLB-31) aboard the two ships.

The reconfiguration demonstrated the flexibility of the 31st MEU and PHIBRON 11 to jointly realign and distribute assets after reuniting with the USS Essex.

The embarkation on the USS Essex came after the 31st MEU and PHIBRON 11 completed two major bilateral exercises despite not having its lead ship the USS Essex.

They completed Amphibious Landing Exercise 2010 (PHIBLEX ‘10) with the Armed Forces of the Philippines and Korean Incremental Training Program 2010 (KITP ‘10) with the Republic of Korea Marine Corps.

In addition to these exercises, the Navy and Marine Corps team were also embarked aboard the forward-deployed transport dock ship USS Denver (LPD 9), the forward-deployed dock landing ship USS Harpers Ferry (LSD 49) and USS Tortuga (LSD 46) during two unexpected humanitarian relief missions less than a month ago.

U.S. forces provided aid to the Republic of the Philippines after several typhoons unleashed torrential downpours that flooded the region, and in the Western province of Sumatra, Indonesia in the aftermath of several earthquakes.

The longstanding history and experience between the 31st MEU and PHIBRON 11 enables the teams’ smooth interoperability.

According to Col. Paul L. Damren, 31st MEU Commanding Officer, “The MEU itself traces its history back to the Vietnam War when it was initially formed as Special Landing Force Alpha in March of 1967. Interestingly, the MEU was teamed up back then with U.S. Navy ships from Amphibious Ready Group Alpha or Task Group 76.4 which is the designator for Amphibious Squadron 11, our modern day Navy partners.”

Celebration of 234 years brings deployed Marines together

CAMP AL TAQADDUM, Iraq — Marines from Combat Logistics Regiment 27 (Forward) woke up with the Iraqi sun aboard Camp Al Taqaddum, Iraq, knowing that the day, Nov. 10, marked 234 years of the Marine Corps’ existence.


11/14/2009 By Lance Cpl. Melissa A. Latty, Combat Logistics Regiment 27 (FWD)

The regiment’s junior Marines formed up outside the base’s replica of Tun Tavern, the original birthplace of the Marine Corps, to march to the dining facility aboard base to enjoy a special meal to commemorate the event.

The rest of the day was filled with the same camaraderie. Marines greeted each other with a proud “happy birthday Marine,” as they passed one another around the base.

A cake-cutting ceremony was also held later in the day where Col. Vincent A. Coglianese, the CLR-27 (Fwd) commanding officer, stood before the regiment to deliver a motivational speech.

“This is a special day for all Marines,” he began. “For some of you, this will be one of many birthday celebrations you will attend throughout your careers.”

Coglianese continued, reminding the Marines of the past and present heroes, such as the old Corps’ Sgt. Maj. Dan Daly, who received two Medals of Honor throughout his noteworthy career, and a present generation hero, Cpl. Jason Dunham, a rifle squad leader with Regimental Combat Team 7, 1st Marine Division, who in 2004 in Karabilah, Iraq gave his own life when he threw himself on top of a grenade to save the lives of at least two of his fellow comrades.

“The Marine Corps birthday celebration is a time [when] we remember our lineage and reflect on how we as Marines are living up to the accomplishments of those who went before us,” Coglianese said.

Similar birthday ceremonies are held around the world wherever Marines are stationed or deployed. However, this ceremony meant something more to the deployed Marines of CLR-27 (Fwd).

“Having a birthday reminds us that no matter where we are in the world and no matter the situation, that we are the elite,” said Lance Cpl. Christopher Vian, an electric-optical ordinance repairman with CLR-27 (Fwd). “No other branch of service can stand next to us and be as proud or as honored as the Marines. I am and always will be proud to be a United States Marine.”

A motivational video was played along with a message from the Corps’ commandant, Gen. James T. Conway, and Sgt. Maj. of the Marine Corps Carlton W. Kent. It highlighted the generations of Marines and the similarities that remain in the level of valor that the service upholds.

The commandant’s video message ended with a scene at a replica of Tun Tavern, where the two most senior leaders, along with past and present Marines, raised their glasses for a toast.

“Marines, family members and friends of the Corps, we ask that wherever you are celebrating tonight, that you raise your glass or your canteen cup and join us in a toast,” Conway said.

“To the great nation that we defend, a nation founded on hope and freedom for all,” Kent finished.

The ceremony concluded with the playing of “Anchors Away” and “The Marines Hymn” where the Marines and sailors, in both the ceremony and audience, proudly stood at the position of attention soaking up the familiar notes.

Following the ceremony the Marines gathered to enjoy refreshments and camaraderie.

“This will be a memorable birthday for us as an organization and our unit,” Coglianese said. “It will probably be the last time a Marine regiment celebrates our Corps’ birthday while serving forward-deployed to Operation Iraqi Freedom, and like the Commandant has said before, ‘We are leaving under a pennant of victory.

“It is an honor for our regiment to be afforded the opportunity to close out the final chapter of the Marine Corps’ contributions to OIF,” he continued. “We walk in the footsteps of many heroes, both past and present.”

Despite Marines’ presence, fear of Taliban persists in Afghan town

By Drew Brown, Stars and Stripes
Mideast edition, Saturday, November 14, 2009

DELARAM, Afghanistan — Marines have maintained a presence here for two years, but they say residents’ fear of the Taliban continues to underlie every facet of life.

To continue reading:


Medal of Honor recipient Lewis Millett dies at age 88

Medal of Honor recipient Lewis Millett of Idyllwild died Saturday morning at Jerry L. Pettis Memorial VA Medical Center in Loma Linda. He was 88.


Saturday, November 14, 2009
The Press-Enterprise

"He had a brief hospitalization. He came in the day before Veterans Day," said hospital spokeswoman Annie Tuttle.

Col. Millett had various health problems over the last three to five years, including diabetes, said Mike Goldware, a family spokesman.

A cause of death was not announced. Funeral arrangements were pending.

Col. Millett was a regular at patriotic events locally and across the country. In April, Col. Millett served as grand marshal for the Salute to Veterans Parade in Riverside. Earlier this year, a park in San Jacinto was dedicated in his name.

"He was a regular at the (Riverside) National Cemetery," Goldware said. "If he could get on board a military transport, he would go anywhere for the troops."

Col. Millett was born in Mechanic Falls, Maine, on Dec. 15, 1920. He enlisted in the Army Air Corps in 1940 and served as an air gunner, then joined the Canadian Army when it appeared the United States would not enter World War II.

"He joined the Royal Canadian Army after President Roosevelt said in a speech that no American boy would fight on foreign soil," Goldware said.

He returned to the U.S. Army in 1942 upon the United States' entrance into World War II and served in the 1st Armored Division. After making sergeant, he was awarded a battlefield commission.

According to his Medal of Honor Citation, then-Capt. Millett distinguished himself "above and beyond the call of duty in action" in Korea, after he and his men came under heavy enemy fire on Feb. 7, 1951.

He ordered and led a bayonet counterattack up the hill, killing enemy soldiers in hand-to-hand assault during which he was wounded by a grenade blast. But by early afternoon, his company had taken the hill.

He was presented the Medal of Honor by President Harry S. Truman in July 1951.

He retired as a colonel in 1973 after a 31-year career in which he served in World War II, Korea War and the Vietnam War.

November 13, 2009

O.C. Marine killed in AfghanistanFriday, November 13, 2009

ANAHEIM, Calif. (KABC) -- A 21-year-old Marine from Anaheim was killed in combat in Afghanistan.


News video:

November 13, 2009

Lance Cpl. Justin J. Swanson, who was based at Camp Pendleton in San Diego County, died Tuesday while supporting combat operations in the southern Helmand Province.

"I just never thought in a million years it would be him," said Swanson's mother, Mary Hargrove.

"There's been so many people that have come and called and just, he's touched so many lives. He was wonderful. He was my rock, you know, kept me centered," she added.

Swanson was killed when his convoy was struck by an IED, an improvised explosive device. He was in an area that has seen a lot of action, but Hargrove says when she spoke with her son he tried to downplay the dangers.

"Last time I talked to him he said, 'Mom it's OK, there's nothing really happening,'" said Hargrove. "But I knew he wasn't telling me the truth, and he wasn't. I don't know if people realize there's full on war going on over there."

Swanson enlisted in the Marine Corps in July 2006 after he graduated from Buena Park High School. He was a rifleman with the 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 7, 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade, 1st Marine Division, I Marine Expeditionary Force.
Hargrove said her son always wanted to be a Marine, and he was proud to be fighting for his country. During his tour in Afghanistan, he was awarded a Purple Heart.

"I asked him one time and he said, 'I'm over there to keep them from coming over here. To keep us safe here,'" said Hargrove.

After two tours in Afghanistan, Hargrove says her son was ready to come home. He was scheduled to return on Dec. 15.

His military decorations also included a Combat Action Ribbon, National Defense Service Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal, Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Humanitarian Service Medal and Sea Service Deployment Ribbon.

November 12, 2009

Marines welcome Iraqi Air Force

CAMP AL TAQADDUM, Iraq — The Iraqi Ministry of Defense directed that one detachment of helicopters from 4th Squadron, Iraqi Air Force, be located at Camp Al Taqaddum, Iraq, in order to provide a rotary wing transportation capability to the Anbar Operations Command, a command center for all Iraqi security forces in Iraq’s Al Anbar province.


11/12/2009 By Lance Cpl. Melissa A. Latty, Combat Logistics Regiment 27 (FWD)

The detachment arrived at Camp Al Taqaddum Nov. 7 and was greeted by Marines of Combat Logistics Regiment 27 (Forward).

The Iraqi Air Force was formed in 1931 and was originally under British command. The service started out small but grew quickly, gaining more than 950 aircraft and becoming one of the largest air forces in the Middle East region by 1988.

In 2003, when the United States initially invaded Iraq, Saddam Hussein ordered that the majority of the aircraft be disassembled or buried and ordered them to not defend the country’s airspace against U.S. forces. The Iraqi Air Force appeared non-existent during the invasion and during most of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Currently the IQAF is in a rebuilding process to strengthen their air power capabilities.

The detachment of 17 Iraqi Air Force personnel, consisting of 11 maintenance staff, five pilots and one engineer, came from Basra and Taji and brought with them two Iraqi Air Force Mi-17 helicopters.

The Iraqi airmen are enthusiastic and optimistic about their new mission.

“We are very happy to be here and to see all of the welcoming faces of the Marines,” said Iraqi Air Force Staff Lt. Col. Hammadi Muhammad, a pilot and safety officer with 4th Squadron.

CLR-27 (Fwd) supported the initial setup of the detachment by providing them with life support and acted as a bridge between the IQAF and the U.S. Army brigade that will be taking over after the Marines depart the base, said Maj. Robert J. Gallagher, the air operations officer for CLR-27 (Fwd).

“The Marines are currently providing the IQAF with buildings for work, living quarters, electricity, water, facilities for maintenance, and a place to refuel,” Gallagher said. “We are setting them up to stand on their own when U.S. forces leave TQ.”

Five U.S. Air Force advisors arrived along with the detachment and will train and mentor the IQAF until they are able to operate on their own. The U.S. airmen make up the Joint Air Operations Integration Team, 321st Air Expeditionary Advisor Group, Iraqi Transition and Advisor Mission.

The JAOIT has spent approximately six months advising the IQAF squadron prior to accompanying them to Camp Al Taqaddum.

“We will be here until we get them to a point where they are fully operational,” said Air Force Maj. Ash Cannon, an advisor to the IQAF. “Our goal is to create a credible and competent air force that can provide both national and regional stability for the country to be able to defend itself as a sovereign nation.”

The IQAF squadron will be providing direct support for Staff Maj. Gen. Abdule Aiziz, the commander of the Anbar Operations Center. They will be supporting his missions as he circulates from base to base to see his commanders and visit with U.S. forces, said Gallagher.

Marines, Afghan soldiers hunt Taliban

HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan — Afghan National Army soldiers and Marines with Weapons Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, conducted an operation to clear out compounds in Norzai, Afghanistan, Nov. 6.


11/12/2009 By Lance Cpl. John M. McCall, Regimental Combat Team 7

Under the cover of night, Marines maneuvered to a nearby village and waited until sunrise to begin searching compounds for caches of illegal drugs, weapons and improvised, explosive device-making material.

“We hit all the houses that we were trying to get to,” said Lance Cpl. John Franke, 20, an amphibious assault vehicle operator from Greenville, S.C. “Besides looking for weapons caches and IED-making materials, we were trying to catch an IED maker that is supposedly living in one of the villages.”

Marines did their best to clear out as many compounds as they could before losing the element of surprise. With the help of ANA soldiers, Marines were able to move faster and cover more ground.

During their searches, Marines were very cautious of improvised booby traps – a tactic used by the enemy. Each route used by troops was carefully swept using a metal detector.

“I was a little bit nervous, but I’ve been trained how to use the sweeper, so I knew I could do it,” said Frankie, 20, from Greensville, S.C. “I just wanted to make sure I did the job right. Even if that meant taking my time, because I don’t want to see any of these guys get hurt.”

Nearing the end of their seven-month deployment, Marines aren’t taking any chances when it comes to keeping each other safe.

“We try to search houses often to keep (enemy insurgents) guessing,” said Staff Sgt. David Dial, 29, a section leader from Newnan, Ga. “We didn’t find anything this time but no one got hurt either so I guess things worked out.”

Federal Officials Pledge Support for Hiring Veterans

WASHINGTON, Nov. 12, 2009 – Senior federal officials today pledged their support of President Barack Obama’s directive to increase the hiring of military veterans.


By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

Obama signed the executive order Nov. 9 that calls on each federal agency to establish a veterans’ employment program office designed to help former servicemembers get through the maze of paperwork as they apply for federal positions. It also mandates that agencies train personnel specialists on veteran employment policies.

The order also directs federal agencies to work with the departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs to develop and apply technologies designed to help disabled veterans.

Earlier today, Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis appeared at a U.S. Chamber of Commerce event where she told civilian employers they should consider military veterans as employees of choice.

Solis said establishing a veterans’ program office within most federal agencies is part of a program designed to transform the federal government into the model employer of America’s veterans.

Later today, several senior government officials met with reporters during a press conference held at the Labor Department.

America owes a great debt to its military veterans, Veterans Affairs Deputy Sec. W. Scott Gould said at the press conference.

“We can reach out to them with something as simple, as pragmatic, as practical as a job; a good job in government,” Gould said.

And, veterans’ hard-won experience, he said, constitutes “an asset we can now bring into government.”

It is imperative, Gould said, that government agencies assist veterans to become aware of government jobs, help veterans translate their military skills into civilian parlance, and to help them adjust to their new civilian environment.

Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry told reporters that the president directed him “to do right by our veterans.”

America’s veterans “are valued, they are experienced, and they are trained,” Berry said. Consequently, he said, it would be foolish not to provide veterans with more opportunities to continue to serve in the federal workforce after military service.

“And so, we want to make sure that they know they are welcome and we will have a job for them,” Berry said. “We will find one that matches their skills, their passions and their interests and their abilities.”

After finding the right job, he said, each veteran will be mentored to help them adapt and transition into the civilian work culture so that they can succeed.

The government-wide Council on Veterans’ Employment, chaired by Solis and Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki, will play a key role in the veterans hiring program, Berry said.

Solis’ and Shinseki’s influence, vision and leadership will make the program a success, Berry said. This week, he said, OPM will release a list of the numbers of veterans working at federal agencies.

“And our goal is to have every one of those numbers increase, so that those percentages go up,” Berry said.

The United States “arguably has the best-trained, best-equipped and best-led military force the world has ever seen,” said Gail McGinn, acting undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness.

The president’s veterans employment initiative “will showcase the leadership and technical skills our military members have to offer,” McGinn said, and “will bring back that wonderful talent into our civilian workforce.”

The Defense Department already is the largest federal employer of military veterans, McGinn noted. Today, about 342,000 defense civilians are veterans, she said, making up about 45 percent of the department’s civilian workforce.

“I work side by side with veterans every day,” McGinn said. The skills veterans learned in the service, she said, “serve them very, very well working within the Department of Defense.”

The department has two Web sites that provide employment information for veterans, as well as a toll-free phone number where they can talk to career advisors, she said.

The department, McGinn said, also provides transition programs for separating military members that feature resume writing, skills assessments, interview-process training, and jobs-search techniques.

“We also provide special help to our wounded, ill and injured servicemembers whose careers have been cut short due to the injuries received in Iraq or Afghanistan,” she said, through the “Hiring Heroes” career fairs. Thirty one of these career fairs, she said, have been run across the United States since 2005.

The largest of the fairs, conducted in June at Walter Reed Army Medical Center here, attracted more than 570 job seekers, McGinn said.

The career fairs, she said, provide servicemembers, many of whom still are recovering from wounds, the opportunity to visit with potential employers, get on-the-spot interviews, and often, job offers.

“At DoD, we are extremely proud of our servicemembers and fully aware of the value that they bring to the federal government,” McGinn said.

The interagency process launched by Obama’s executive order “will clear a pathway for more federal jobs for our servicemembers,” McGinn said, and “will allow them to look throughout the federal government to find the right fit and the best federal job for them.”

The Department of Homeland Security’s mission of securing the homeland requires dedicated people “willing to do whatever it really takes to get the job done,” said Jeff Neal, DHS’s chief human capital officer.

Military veterans, Neal said, have “all the types of qualifications that we are looking for in DHS, and they have proven time and time again, when their country has called on them, they are ready to respond.”

Neal said his agency plans to employ 50,000 military veterans by 2012.

“We want to show the veterans of America that DHS is one of the places where you are welcome, where you are valued, where you can build a second career and continue your service to America,” he said.

U.S. Afghan Envoy Said to Advise Against More Troops

Nov. 12 (Bloomberg) -- Karl Eikenberry, the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan and a former top military commander there, has recommended that President Barack Obama not send more troops to the country for the time being, a U.S. official said.


By Viola Gienger and Roger Runningen

The advice, which counters a troop-increase request from the current American commander in Afghanistan, was sent by cable to Washington, the official said yesterday on condition of anonymity.

The Washington Post, which earlier yesterday reported Eikenberry’s advice, said the ambassador expressed concern about deploying more troops before Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his government take stronger steps to fight corruption and mismanagement.

U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley declined to comment. The White House didn’t immediately respond to a request for a response.

Obama met with his top national security advisers yesterday to consider four options for the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan and to discuss how long it would take to put each in place. An administration official said afterward that Obama hasn’t made a final decision on the troop-increase request by General Stanley McChrystal, who commands U.S. and NATO-led forces in Afghanistan.

The president believes the U.S. needs to make clear to the Afghan government that America’s commitment to the country isn’t open ended, said the official in a statement, issued on the condition of anonymity. The official also said that governance in Afghanistan must improve within a reasonable period of time.

Strategy Options

The president doesn’t plan to accept any of the strategy options that have been presented and is seeking revisions to make clear how and when the U.S. would turn over responsibility to the Afghan government, the Associated Press reported yesterday, citing an unidentified administration official.

Obama met for more than two hours with Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Joint Chiefs Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen, General David Petraeus, who commands U.S. forces in the Middle East and Asia, Richard Holbrooke, special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, and others.

McChrystal joined by teleconference from Afghanistan. He wants to add as many as 40,000 troops to a U.S. force there that’s scheduled to number 68,000 by the end of the year, including 21,000 that Obama authorized earlier this year.

“There’s been a lot of discussion about the additional resourcing” as well as “a refinement of objectives,” Petraeus said on CNN before the meeting. “I think that we are indeed nearing a decision.”

‘Purposeful and Deliberate’

The session was Obama’s eighth with his national security team on the Afghan decision.

“The president is doing this in a very purposeful and deliberate way,” White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said yesterday. A decision may come after Obama returns Nov. 19 from a four-nation visit to Asia, he said. That trip begins today.

Once a decision is made, the president “will take the time to explain” it to the American people, Gibbs said. That could come in a nationally televised address, a speech to the military or some other forum.

“All allies await the American decision,” Anders Fogh Rasmussen, North Atlantic Treaty Organization secretary general, said in an interview in London with the British Broadcasting Corp. He declined to comment on how many troops he wants on the ground.

‘Increasingly Difficult’

Obama named Eikenberry as the ambassador to Afghanistan earlier this year. The general previously served two military stints in Afghanistan, including one as the head of American and NATO forces there.

At his Senate confirmation hearing in March, he termed the situation in Afghanistan “increasingly difficult” and said “time is of the essence.”

He said “there will be no substitute for more resources and sacrifice,” while also calling on the U.S. and its allies to sharpen their focus on strengthening the capabilities of the central and local governments to provide security, health care, education and jobs for the populace.

Afghanistan may be able to take more responsibility for security next year, opening the way for western forces there to pull out, Rasmussen told Sky News. “We will hand over responsibility to the Afghan security forces as their capacity develops,” and that “can start next year.”

‘Turn the Tide’

Ten Republican members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, including John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, sent Obama a letter yesterday asking him to “fully support General McChrystal’s call for additional resources and troops.”

“On this Veterans’ Day, young Americans are fighting in Afghanistan in what General McChrystal describes as a situation headed toward defeat unless we act while we still have the opportunity to turn the tide and regain the initiative,” the senators wrote in the letter.

The president honored military veterans yesterday in a speech at Arlington National Cemetery for the national holiday, saying that “no commemoration, no praise” can match their service.

“Our servicemen and women have been doing right by America for generations,” Obama said. “There is no tribute, no commemoration, no praise that can truly match the magnitude of your service and your sacrifice,” he said. “As long as I am commander-in-chief, America’s going to do right by them.”

Obama spoke after laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns, a white marble sarcophagus housing the remains of unknown American soldiers from World Wars I, II and the Korean conflict.

Obama’s trip to Japan, Singapore, China and South Korea will be his first journey to Asia as president. Jeff Bader, senior director for Asia at the National Security Council, said in a briefing for reporters Nov. 9 that the president would consult with allies on aid to Afghanistan.

Get educated: Ins, outs of Post 9/11, Montgomery GI Bills

MARINE CORPS AIR STATION IWAKUNI, Japan — A good mind is a terrible thing to waste, but failing to maximize GI Bill benefits is just plain foolish.


11/12/2009 By Cpl. Joseph Marianelli, Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni

Although most service members still have plenty of time to make a decision, at some point they will need to decide whether or not to opt into the Post 9/11 GI Bill or remain under the Montgomery GI Bill.

While this article will serve as a down-and-dirty guide explaining important differences, there is no way to account for every possible nuance in a person’s situation.

For most people, opting into the Post 9/11 GI Bill will give the best benefits; however, there are ways to make the Montgomery GI Bill more beneficial.

Here are the top 9 things to keep in mind:

1. Plan ahead.
Although this cannot be emphasized enough, if you take nothing else from this article, planning ahead is the most important step when it comes to using any GI Bill benefits.
Planning will allow you to maximize your benefits.

2. Verify coverage with the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Once a plan has been created, individuals should check to ensure they will be covered under the GI Bill they plan to use.

3. How the different bills can be used:
The Post 9/11 GI Bill can only be used when working toward a degree, undergraduate or graduate.
For career choices requiring certification tests, the Post 9/11 GI Bill will only pay for one test.
The Montgomery GI Bill can be used for non-college degree programs, on-the-job and apprenticeship training, flight training, licensing and certification, national testing programs, entrepreneurship training, co-op training, tuition assistance top up and tutorial assistance.
Some of the latter could be covered under the Post 9/11 GI Bill but only if it is part of a degree; e.g., some aviation engineering degrees require flight training and because the training is part of the degree the Post 9/11 GI Bill should cover those costs.
Ultimately the benefit user needs to contact Department of Veterans Affairs to verify coverage.

4. Eligibility:
For both bills, an honorable discharge is required.
In addition, service members must have served three consecutive years and paid $1,200 toward the Montgomery GI Bill to use it. Service members who served two consecutive years or more but less than three years are eligible for a percentage.
To receive 100 percent benefits under the Post 9/11 GI Bill, service members must have served at least 36 cumulative months after Sept. 10, 2001 or served 30 continuous days on active duty and been discharged due to service-related disability.
Less time results in a reduced coverage percentage.
Service members can receive a percentage of benefits if they served an aggregate of 90 days after Sept. 10, 2001.
Exact percentages based on time served can be found near the very bottom of the following Web site: http://www.gibill.va.gov/GI_Bill_Info/CH33/Benefit_Comparison_Chart.htm.

5. How the two bills pay once eligibility is determined:
The Montgomery GI Bill is paid as a monthly lump sum directly to the benefit user. Currently, for a full-time student the rate is $1,368 per month for those who have served three or more years, but that amount can increase based on needs; e.g., a benefit user wants to take several certification tests exceeding the $1,368 per month.
So long as the tests meet coverage eligibility, they will be paid for; however, this will affect the total remaining months of coverage. The limit is $2,000 per test, but individuals may take as many tests as they wish.
A good way to think of the Montgomery GI Bill is this: right now, 36 months of GI Bill coverage is worth approximately $49,248 (36 x $1,368).
The value is only approximate because the lump sum amount is recalculated annually.
The Post 9/11 GI Bill pays tuition and fees directly to the school based on the pay tables at the following Web site: http://www.gibill.va.gov/GI_Bill_Info/CH33/Tuition_and_fees.htm.
For active duty personnel, the Post 9/11 GI Bill will pay 100 percent tuition while on active duty.
Also, the Post 9/11 GI Bill will pay monthly BAH at the rate of an E-5 with dependents, regardless of rank upon end of active service, based on the zip code of the actual institution where courses are being taken. To determine BAH, input the institution’s zip code at the following Web site: http://www.defensetravel.dod.mil/perdiem/bah.html. Don’t forget to select E-5 for rank.
Students attending schools outside the U.S. that do not have a main campus within the U.S. receive $1,333 for 2009.
If the school does have a main campus in the U.S., BAH is calculated by the zip code of the main campus located in the U.S.
Students must attend one credit hour over what the institution attended considers part-time to be eligible for BAH.
Active duty personnel are not eligible for BAH.
Students taking only online courses are not eligible to receive BAH, but if they take one class at an actual institution they qualify for BAH.
Any kickers a service member received as an enlistment or retention incentive will be added onto the monthly BAH at the rate of up to $950 per month for critical military occupational specialties, and up to $350 per month for retention.
The Post 9/11 GI Bill will also pay a lump sum book stipend at the current rate of $41.67, for those who are 100 percent eligible, per credit hour, up to 24 credit hours per year.
Active duty personnel are not eligible for the book stipend.

6. Opting into the Post 9/11 GI Bill is permanent;
individuals cannot go back to the Montgomery GI Bill, but they can go from the Montgomery GI Bill to the Post 9/11 GI Bill at anytime.
There are several points to consider here.
First, if Montgomery GI Bill benefits have been used, upon switching to the Post 9/11 GI Bill, benefits will be pro-rated month for month; e.g., if a person has used 6 months under the Montgomery GI Bill, upon switching to the Post 9/11 GI Bill, the person will have 30 months of coverage under the Post 9/11 GI Bill.
Second, if individuals completely exhaust their Montgomery GI Bill benefits, they will receive 12 more months under the post 9/11 GI Bill giving a total of 48 months of benefits.
Third, if a individuals already paid the $1,200 into the Montgomery GI Bill and they switch to the Post 9/11 GI Bill, they will receive the $1,200 with the last basic allowance for housing check once all Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits have been exhausted. If the Montgomery GI Bill has been used, the $1,200 will be pro-rated based on how much of the Montgomery GI Bill benefit was used. For those who topped up their Montgomery GI Bill, only the initial pay-in of $1,200 will be returned.
Fourth, the Montgomery GI Bill is good for 10 years from date of last discharge or separation while the Post 9/11 GI Bill is good for 15 years from date of last discharge or separation. If a service member is called back, the time completely resets upon the new discharge or separation date.
If the 10 years is almost up and benefits have not been used, opting into the Post 9/11 GI Bill will grant the additional five years.

7. Benefit transfer to spouses or dependents can be done only under the Post 9/11 GI Bill, and service members are required to have served at least six years and reenlisted for four more years.
Reenlistment requirements vary for service members close to service limitations and who have surpassed 10 years already.
Under the Post 9/11 GI Bill, a service member can only transfer benefits while on active duty; e.g., if a service member with a spouse and one child allocates benefits only to the spouse and leaves the military, the service member will not be able to transfer any benefits to the child later. But, if the service member allocates any percentage to the child and the rest to the spouse, the service member will be able to modify the percentages as desired later.
Spouses may begin using benefits immediately and all the stipulations applying to the service member in terms of use will apply to the spouse. Remember, while on active duty, service members, and by extension their spouses, do not rate the BAH or the book stipend given under the Post 9/11 GI Bill.
For children, the 15-year time limit to use benefits does not apply, but the service member must have completed 10 years of service before children may use benefits.
Once children reach 26 years of age they are no longer eligible for benefits.
While children are using the benefits, they will receive BAH and the book stipend.

8. Students who drop out will have to return a pro-rated percentage of received funds to the Department of Veterans Affairs.
People choosing to take time off or dropping out should immediately contact the Department of Veterans Affairs to explain the situation and find out what they will have to pay back.

9. Once benefits are applied for, the final step before payment will be processed is to find the Veterans Affairs certifying officer at the institution. This last step is the only way to get paid.

Anaheim Marine killed in Afghanistan

ANAHEIM Justin J. Swanson talked about duty and discipline and about being a role model for his family when he signed up for the U.S. Marine Corps a few weeks out of high school.


November 12, 2009 2:31 PM

Lance Cpl. Swanson of Anaheim died earlier this week in the blast of an improvised explosive as he participated in combat operations in southern Afghanistan. He was 21 years old.

"I'm in the United States Marine Corps. Ooorah!!!" he wrote on his MySpace page. "I love what I do ... and I'm good at what I do. ... I like being number 1 and being the best at whatever it is I do."

Swanson was serving in the Taliban stronghold of Helmand Province when he died of his injuries from an improvised explosive device, the Department of Defense announced on Thursday. His death on Tuesday came on the official birthday of the U.S. Marine Corps, and a day before Veterans' Day.

His family could not be reached for comment.

Swanson enlisted in the Marines in 2006 and was based at Camp Pendleton with the 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, I Marine Expeditionary Force. Officials at the base said he was on his second deployment after returning from Iraq last year.

A close friend, Daniel Ramos, 21, of Fullerton, said Swanson volunteered to go to Afghanistan. "He didn't want to stay back," Ramos said. "He was ready to go."

Swanson grew up in a neighborhood in Anaheim where role models were in short supply. He had talked since high school about joining the Marines, in part to set an example for his two younger brothers and two younger sisters, Ramos said.

He went to Buena Park High School, where – according to his MySpace page – he majored in football. He was a laid-back student, and his teachers sometimes thought they were more worried about his future than he was.

But many of them said he was something special. Michelle Johnson, who taught him freshman English, called him a "diamond in the rough, full of enthusiasm." And school counselor Cindy Chow remembered a student workshop, when a small boy came forward to say he was being picked on.

It was Justin Swanson, the big football player, who "made it a point to say, I have your back," Chow said.

Swanson visited the school a few months ago, and spoke to students in English teacher Ron Carcich's classroom about finding their way in life. Carcich remembered Swanson not as the well-disciplined Marine standing at the front of the classroom, but as the student who never seemed to take anything seriously.

"Don't worry, Mr. C.," Swanson would tell his teacher. "I'll make it."

"He'll never be married. He'll never have children," Carcich said. "It's the loss of what could have been, what was just starting to be."

"It tore me to pieces," he said. "I cried like a baby."

November 11, 2009

1/5 Marines Provide Clean Water to Afghans, Keep Area Safe

HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan – Marines with 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, recently funded a well construction project to provide clean water for local Afghans.



Regimental Combat Team-7, 1st Marine Division Public Affairs
Story by Lance Cpl. John McCall
Date: 11.11.2009
Posted: 11.11.2009 02:32

The project, funded by 1/5's civil affairs Marines, also created jobs in the community, as local Afghan workers were contracted to dig three wells.

"Having these wells built is something that people have been asking us to do for a while now," said Cpl. Leland Van Leer, an amphibious assault vehicle operator with 1/5. "Now that we were able to get them dug, they see that we can help them."

1/5's civil affairs Marines fund work projects, collect census information, conduct battle damage assessments and visit government buildings to survey any possible improvements.

Along with restoring basic human services in the area, Marines and Afghan forces have also kept the area safe. The Marines and Afghan national army soldiers patrol the surrounding area, while also learning about the way Afghans live and things they can do to help.

"When we do patrols we try to focus on the people, not just providing security. If we were only providing security we would keep our distance from people and not interact with them," said Lance Cpl. Christopher Reyes, a squad leader with Weapons Company, 1/5.

Marines help Afghans as much as they can, but want them to learn to do things and solve problems without the help of coalition forces.

"Our goal is to keep [local Afghans] safe by providing security, but we also want to help them get started in the right direction to be able to take care of themselves," said Reyes, a 23-year-old from Mesquite, Texas. "A lot has changed for the better. The men that were paid to dig the wells understand that we are here to help them, but they have to learn to do things on their own, too."

Marines here are well liked by the local populace. However, citizens were not very accepting of the troops when they first arrived in August 2009.

"When we first got here, it was a completely different story. They were afraid of us and no one wanted to talk to us. They didn't trust us at all," said Van Leer, a 20-year-old from Kaysville, Utah.

The combined efforts of Marines and Afghan forces have helped the local populace embrace their presence in the area.

"People are very friendly toward us now. They want to socialize and come to us when they have any problems," Van Leer said.

Marines, Afghans, British Observe Remembrance Day

HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan – Marines from 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, and 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 7, participated in a Remembrance Day ceremony aboard Forward Observation Base Delhi, Helmand province, Afghanistan, Nov. 8.


Regimental Combat Team-7, 1st Marine Division Public Affairs
Story by Lance Cpl. Dwight Henderson
Date: 11.11.2009
Posted: 11.11.2009 08:17

The provincial reconstruction team, a multinational organization which coordinates the civilian effort and civilian development, the commanding officers of 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marines, and 2nd Battalion, 8th Marines, and the commander of Regimental Combat Team 7, Col. Randall P. Newman, attended along with members of the Afghan national security forces including Lt. Col. Gulai Khan, the police chief, Lt. Col. Gul Agha Amiri, commanding officer of 7th Kandak Afghan border police, Mir Hamza National Directorate for Security district chief, and Lt. Col. Abdul Hai, commanding officer of 6th Kandak, 3rd Brigade, 205th Corps, Afghan national army.

The ceremony, headed by Peter Chilvers, a British native and the stabilization advisor for the PRT, consisted of a few readings from the chaplain, a lying of a wreath on the monument, the playing of Amazing Grace, and two minutes of silence. The two minutes of silence will also be recognized throughout the commonwealth, Nov. 11.

"It means a great deal here in Garmsir," said Chilvers. "This place was a British base. The British and U.S. operated and fought together here, and now it's the U.S. fighting here."

A small monument made in 2007 by the 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards, served as the centerpiece to the ceremony

It features a British flag that flies above a small cross, which sits on top of a small mound of rocks held together by cement.
On the front of the rocks lies a plaque with 14 names inscribed into it. Above it, another inscription reads, "To commemorate those members of the British Armed Forces that gave their lives in Garmsir District."

Remembrance Day is celebrated on the Sunday closest to Nov. 11, and is meant to commemorate the ending of World War I, known for ending on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.

Similar to our Veterans Day and Memorial Day, Remembrance Day is celebrated throughout the Commonwealth, and is meant to remember all the veterans and victims of war.

"It was a tremendous honor to participate in the British ceremony," said Lt. Col. John E. McDonough, the commanding officer of 2/2. "I feel really fortunate that we could share that special day with them. 2/8, the British, and 2/2, as well as the commanding officer of RCT-7, all coming together at Camp Delhi, it was a great way to commemorate that day."

November 10, 2009

White House says no final decision yet on Afghanistan

WASHINGTON — The White House denied President Barack Obama had come to a decision on sending US reinforcements to Afghanistan amid mounting speculation he had made up his mind on a troop buildup.


(AFP) – 11/10/2009,

"Reports that President Obama has made a decision about Afghanistan are absolutely false," James Jones, US national security adviser, said in a statement.

"He has not received final options for his consideration, he has not reviewed those options with his national security team, and he has not made any decisions about resources," said Jones, a retired general.

"Any reports to the contrary are completely untrue and come from uninformed sources."

Citing unnamed officials, McClatchy newspapers reported over the weekend that Obama was leaning towards sending more than 30,000 troops, and CBS television reported on Monday evening that the president had "tentatively" decided on deploying close to 40,000.

The reports cited three combat brigades as part of the buildup as well support troops, and an additional contingent for training Afghan security forces.

Defense officials acknowledge three combat brigades would be available for a possible troop buildup, including one drawn from the 10th Mountain Division based at Fort Drum in New York state.

That brigade was earlier scheduled to deploy to Iraq in January but has been told to stay put pending new orders.

A brigade from the 101st Airborne Division in Kentucky and a brigade of Marines would also be available. Army brigades are about 3,500 to 5,000 troops each, while a Marine brigade comes to about 8,000.

Speculation on Obama's decision has increasingly focused not on whether he will send more troops, but on how many forces he will deploy in response to a request for his commander for tens of thousands of reinforcements.

In the latest indication Obama appeared to be moving towards a troop increase, the US Army chief of the staff, General George Casey, said on Sunday that he supported sending in reinforcements as requested by the commander, General Stanley McChrystal.

"I believe that we need to put additional forces into Afghanistan to give General McChrystal the ability to both dampen the successes of the Taliban while we train the Afghan security forces," Casey told NBC television's "Meet the Press."

Casey's view carries particular weight as he has voiced concern over the strain on the army from repeated deployments in two wars.

As commander in Iraq until 2007, Casey was skeptical of a "surge" of more troops, fearing it would provoke more unrest and impose a huge burden on a stretched military.

Some military officials have expressed frustration at the pace of Obama's deliberations that have stretched over two months, while Republicans in Congress have accused the president of dithering over McChrystral's troop request.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said earlier on Monday that Obama faces a "pivotal moment" as he weighs whether to send more troops and is unlikely to announce his decision until after his scheduled return from a trip to Asia on November 19.

After attending Tuesday's memorial service for the 13 killed in a shooting spree at the Fort Hood military base in Texas, Obama is due to meet his senior commanders on Wednesday again in the situation room to discuss Afghanistan.Analysis: More Fort Hoods possible

As the top commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, McChrystal has asked for tens of thousands of additional troops to fight a deadly insurgency by Taliban militants and Al-Qaeda linked groups.

McChrystal has presented a number of options in a troop request to the president, including a maximum of 80,000 troops, another option of about 40,000 and a third scenario with some 20,000, according to US media.

There are more than 100,000 NATO-led troops now stationed in Afghanistan, including nearly 68,000 American forces.

In a grim assessment of the war that was leaked in September, McChrystal warned that the mission in Afghanistan would end in failure without more troops.

He also called for shifting focus on cities and villages instead of sparsely populated rural areas, and suggested demanding more accountability from the Kabul government in return for international aid.

Lejeune descendant reads birthday message to MEU Marines

INDIAN OCEAN — Lance Cpl. Kyle Lejeune quietly withdrew from the podium after reading Lt. Gen. John A. Lejeune’s words to hundreds of 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit members Nov. 10. He said reading his great-great grandfather’s historic message during a Marine Corps birthday celebration was something he always wanted to do.


11/10/2009 By Cpl. Jeffrey Belovarac, 11th MEU

The ceremony was held on the mess deck of the amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard, currently sailing in the Indian Ocean and home to more than 1,200 11th MEU Marines deployed as a quick-reaction force.

“Our ceremony today reminds us of the connection we have to our duties afloat,” said Col. Gregg P. Olson, the 11th MEU’s commanding officer. “We are, in fact, soldiers of the sea and have been so since our founding.”

Foul weather had Marines celebrating the 234th birthday indoors, in a crowded ship’s mess, seats filled and walls covered shoulder to shoulder.

Celebrating the birthday only once before, Lance Cpl. Lejeune, from Naperville, Ill., said it was just a matter of time before he had the chance to read his ancestor’s message.

“It’s an honor to be part of a ceremony with so much tradition and history in it,” said the 24 year old. “Getting to read something from someone who is straight bloodline means a lot.”

It has been tradition and a Marine Corps order since 1921 to have Lt. Gen. Lejeune’s message read every year on Nov. 10.

“To have a direct descendent of the 13th commandant aboard makes today even more special,” said Olson. “That eternal spirit that has animated Marines of every generation is literally embodied here in Lance Cpl. Lejeune.”

When the message finished, four Marines wheeled out a cake. Olson cut the cake using a noncommissioned officer’s sword, and a narrator explained that the sword was a reminder that Marines are a band of warriors.

Following another Marine Corps tradition, Olson handed the first piece of cake to the oldest Marine present, Master Gunnery Sgt. Roland Salinas from the MEU’s command element. Salinas took a bite and passed the cake to the youngest Marine present, Lance Cpl. Elton A. Ricketts from Company E, Battalion Landing Team 2/4, the MEU’s ground-combat element.

“I thought it was nice just to celebrate on deployment,” said Ricketts, a Deltona, Fla., native. He said not many people get to say they were the youngest at such a ceremony.

The cake was made by the ship’s food-service personnel. Among them was Lejeune.

“My name gives me big shoes to fill,” said Lejeune. “I’m going to try to fill those shoes to the best of my ability.”

Marines Celebrate 234th Corps Birthday in Austere Conditions

HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan – Approximately 300 Afghanistan-deployed Marines and sailors with Regimental Combat Team 7 celebrated the 234th Marine Corps birthday here in more austere conditions than the lavish ceremonies to which many Marines stateside are accustomed.



Regimental Combat Team-7, 1st Marine Division Public Affairs
Story by Staff Sgt. Luis Agostini
Date: 11.10.2009
Posted: 11.10.2009 10:53

Standing at attention with rifles slung across their backs, the Marines and sailors celebrated the 234th Marine Corps birthday with fellow warriors from RCT-7 in a sand-covered lot, surrounded by concertina wire and Mine-Resistant, Ambush-Protected vehicles.

And the Marines here, like Sgt. Esequiel Romero, wouldn't have it any other way.

One year ago, Romero was making final adjustments on his Marine Corps blue dress uniform, ensuring any loose threads were removed, ribbons and medals were aligned and brass buttons polished.

He was getting ready to celebrate the 233rd Marine Corps Birthday at the Sheraton San Diego Hotel with approximately 500 fellow Marines and guests from Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, Calif. He and his friends enjoyed drinks poolside before the ceremony commenced, and spent a night out on the town in San Diego's Gaslamp Quarter.

On Nov. 10, 2009, the former drill instructor from San Antonio, donning a sand-covered, desert-brown, camouflage uniform, with a rifle slung across his back, and a 9 mm pistol strapped to his right thigh, shared in the tradition Marines across the globe hold sacred.

"It feels better celebrating it here than back home, taking all of the luxuries out of the equation. The luxuries don't make a celebration. Celebrating with fellow Marines does. Here, we are more worried about being here for each other, enjoying the simple things we have here," said Romero, 30, who serves as a unit movement control center clerk with RCT-7, tracking unit movements throughout southern Afghanistan.

Other Marines throughout southern Afghanistan celebrated the Corps' birthday as well. At Forward Operating Base Delaram, Afghanistan, home to the Marines of 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, Marines paused to celebrate the Corps' birthday, and the grand opening of the FOB's dining facility.

In other areas of the country, Marines continued pushing forward conducting counterinsurgency operations in support of Afghan national security forces.

The processions were the same as any other Marine Corps birthday celebration.

A four-man color guard marched the colors into the center of the lot. The RCT-7 adjutant, Capt. Ethan R. Astor, read Gen. John A. Lejeune's message.

Birthday messages from Gen. James T. Conway, commandant of the Marine Corps, and Brig. Gen. Larry D. Nicholson, commanding general, Marine Expeditionary Brigade Afghanistan, were read.

A three-layered yellow cake with the Marine Corps emblem designed on top was rolled across sand to the center of the lot, where the unit's commanding officer, Col. Randall P. Newman, and the youngest and oldest Marine present, shared a piece of cake.

While many Marines were accustomed to the ceremony's sequence of events, the impact gains greater significance experiencing them in a combat zone.

"Hearing Gen. Lejeune's message is always the same. The feeling of being a Marine is always the same. Being here, though, puts into perspective the sacrifice we are making," Romero said.

"This one had ten times more importance than any other one I've been to. On previous birthdays, you remember Marines that sacrificed, but this time, it's the guys next to you that are sacrificing, guys you know. It created a drive for my guys to excel the way they did, because I'm sure they felt the same," said Master Sgt. Brian M. Velloza, 46, RCT-7 mess chief from Brooklyn, N.Y.

The absence of the festive atmosphere did not detract from the spirit of camaraderie or the honoring the tradition of the date Marines hold sacred: Nov. 10, 1775.

"No one here is celebrating the birthday wondering, what kind of dress or shoes is my date going to wear, are where are we going to celebrate afterwards. They're more worried about taking care of one another, making sure morale and esprit de corps is high," said Romero, who has deployed twice to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. "I'd rather be here on the day of our birthday, than [back in the United States]. Here, you can lead young men and women in combat, especially those young devil dogs on their first deployment."

Marine Corps League honors wounded warriors

Marine Corps League Detachment 061 honored Purple Heart recipients representing three generations at a banquet Saturday that celebrated today as the 234th anniversary of the founding of the U.S. Marine Corps.


By Andy Fillmore

Published: Tuesday, November 10, 2009 at 6:30 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, November 9, 2009 at 10:18 p.m.

Those honored included Lance Cpl. John Doody, wounded in combat in Iraq in 2007; three-time Purple Heart recipient, Gary Newell, who served in Vietnam; and Marvin Whiteaker, a victim of the 1983 Beirut barracks bombings.

The Purple Heart, established by President George Washington and bearing his profile, is awarded to service members of any military branch or civilian nationals killed or wounded in action against an enemy of the United States.

Doody, 26, said he joined the Marines in response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

He was deployed to Iraq, where he suffered multiple gunshot wounds to his leg. He contracted a severe blood infection, then suffered a stroke and lack of oxygen to his brain, rendering him unresponsive and unable to move.

Some doctors told his mother he might never wake up.

In February 2008, Doody entered a rehabilitation program in Tampa and was released 10 months later. Although immobile and confined to a wheelchair, he has become responsive to conversation and continues to improve.

"He's a miracle," said his mother, Christine Ott.

"[First] he said he would be a mortar man and be out of fire, but when he got his combat action ribbon, he told me, 'Don't worry, Mom, they shoot over our heads and run off,' " Ott said.

On his Marine dress blue uniform, Doody wore insignia identifying his participation in Operation Iraqi Freedom and the Global War on Terrorism. Predominant on his chest was his Purple Heart.

When asked if he would go through it again, he said without hesitation: "Yes, I would, because America needs it."

Marine Corps League Detachment 061 senior vice commander Dick Hauck introduced Newell and Whiteaker following a presentation of colors by the Marion County Young Marines, headed by retired Marine Master Sgt. Don Williams.

Newell joined the Marines in the 1960s and served in the Vietnam War during what he called the "Kennedy Camelot" days.

We followed the example of our [World War II veteran] fathers to fight for our country, he said.

Newell, 63, is a veteran of the battle at Khe Sanh where "1,800 Marines [were under siege by] three divisions of the North Vietnamese army," he said.

He urged veterans to talk about their personal experiences, saying he endured some problems he attributed in part to post traumatic stress disorder.

He also spoke about the enduring message of the Purple Heart medal.

"We spilled our blood for an ideal that this country was founded on freedom for everyone," Newell said. "Someone has to pick up the saber. If these kids didn't do it, where would we be after 9/11?"

Whiteaker, 46, said he joined the corps in the 1980s because he always wanted to be a Marine.

After being injured in Beirut, he said, "I was bandaged [from my neck to my torso] and they called me the 'Walking Q-Tip.' "

"President Reagan pinned on my Purple Heart," he said.

Whiteaker assisted Doody with his dress uniform before the banquet and said he instantly bonded with the young man.

After Purple Heart recipients Henry Baggett and Larry Thacker were introduced, a cake was presented and the first piece went to Millie Schipski, 86, who served in a paymaster's office from 1943 to 1945.

According to tradition, Hauck said, Schipski passed that serving to Doody as the youngest serving Marine in attendance.

November 9, 2009

Lejeune IDs NCO killed on base

By Trista Talton - Staff writer
Posted : Monday Nov 9, 2009 20:48:57 EST

JACKSONVILLE, N.C. — A Camp Lejeune Marine accused late last week of killing a noncommissioned officer is now in the base brig after spending several hours in a local hospital being treated for self-inflicted wounds, Marine officials said Monday

To continue reading:


November 8, 2009

Marines Inhabit Taliban Fortress

HELMAND PROVINCE, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan – Marines possess an uncanny ability to call any place "home," whether it's a mixture of sand and gravel, or in this instance, a Taliban compound.


Regimental Combat Team-7, 1st Marine Division Public Affairs
Story by Lance Cpl. John McCall
Date: 11.08.2009
Posted: 11.08.2009 11:37

Marines with Weapons Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, have been operating out of what Marines refer to as "the mansion" here, since Aug. 1.

According to what local Afghans have told Marines, the compound belonged to a drug lord who was having it built to house his entire family. However, the construction was never completed because he was arrested and taken to prison.

Marines were sent to the compound to clear it out, believing it was a Taliban stronghold. They expected resistance when taking over the compound, but were met with an empty home in need of some landscaping.

"It was a real mess when we first got here," said Cpl. Jacob Mikesell, 22, a mortarman from Papillion, Neb. "There was grass growing up to our chests, the buildings had mounds of dust covering everything and trash was thrown all over the place."

The compound consists of two, three-story buildings, which Marines and Afghan national army soldiers inhabit.

The two main buildings are made out of mostly marble and concrete, wooden window frames and doors with designs carved into them. Colored tiles cover the outside. The compound is surrounded by gigantic walls, giving it the look of a castle from outside. Marines can't help but call their home a mansion.

"After we moved in, locals told us that most of the Taliban in the area had run away," said Sgt. Nicholas Hine, a squad leader with Weapons Co., 1/5. "But we know there are still some here who are trying to coerce the population to go against us."

Marines conduct foot patrols and vehicle mounted patrols daily to keep the surrounding area safe.

Other Weapons Company forward operating positions rely on being supplied with food and water from the mansion. During local village visits, Marines promise to provide security and help them the best that they can with their issues and concerns.

"We collect a lot of census information and atmospherics too. We try to get to know people by talking to them, learning where they live and understand what problems they have," said Hine, a 24-year-old from Mohnton, Pa.

Sources say Obama plans Afghan surge

More than 30,000 troops would be deployed next year

WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama is nearing a decision to send more than 30,000 additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan next year, but he may not announce it until after he consults with key allies and completes a trip to Asia later this month, administration and military officials have told McClatchy Newspapers.


November 8, 2009 in Nation/World

As it now stands, the administration’s plan calls for sending three Army brigades from the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, Ky., and the 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum, N.Y., and a Marine brigade, for a total of as many as 23,000 additional combat and support troops.

Another 7,000 troops would man and support a new division headquarters for the international force’s Regional Command South in Kandahar, the Taliban birthplace where the U.S. is due to take command in 2010. Some 4,000 additional U.S. trainers are likely to be sent as well, the officials said.

The first additional combat brigade probably would arrive in Afghanistan next March, the officials said, with the other three following at roughly three-month intervals, meaning that all the additional U.S. troops probably wouldn’t be deployed until the end of next year. Army brigades number 3,500 to 5,000 soldiers; a Marine brigade has about 8,000 troops.

The plan would fall well short of the 80,000 troops that Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. military commander in Afghanistan, suggested as a “low-risk option” that would offer the best chance to contain the Taliban-led insurgency and stabilize Afghanistan.

It splits the difference between two other McChrystal options: a “high-risk” one that called for 20,000 additional troops and a “medium-risk” one that would add 40,000 to 45,000 troops.

The officials, all of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to discuss internal administration planning, cautioned that Obama’s decision isn’t final, and won’t be until after administration officials discuss it with NATO allies at a Nov. 23 meeting of the alliance’s North Atlantic Council and its Military Committee.

Coalition forces now total 67,000 U.S. troops and 42,000 troops from other countries. The Army’s counterinsurgency manual estimates that an all-out counterinsurgency campaign in a country with Afghanistan’s population would require about 600,000 troops.

Although the administration privately is holding out little hope of persuading Canada or the Netherlands to abandon their plans to withdraw combat troops, much less getting additional allied troops, it wants to avoid creating the impression – at home and abroad – that the U.S. “is going it alone” in Afghanistan, said one military official.

Administration officials also want time to launch a public relations offensive to convince an increasingly skeptical public and a wary Democratic Congress that the war, now in its ninth year and inflicting rising casualties, is one of “necessity,” as Obama said earlier this year

Marines to build urban training site in Islands

$7.9 million facility will help meet requirements for predeployment

The Marine Corps will expand its use of special effects in infantry training next year, with an expansive urban training facility anticipated in Hawaii and high-tech immersion trainers planned in North Carolina and California, Marine officials said.


Sunday, November 8, 2009
By Dan Lamothe
Marine Corps Times

The next-generation Military Operation on Urban Terrain facility planned for Marine Corps Base Hawaii is expected to cost $7.9 million. Officials say it will help Marines meet predeployment requirements while reducing the need for travel to the Mainland.

Currently, most Hawaii-based units conduct such training at the Marine Corps Air-Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms, Calif.

New Infantry Immersion Trainers are planned for Camp Pendleton, Calif., and Camp Lejeune, N.C.

The new facilities will incorporate many of the same methods to familiarize Marines with what they'll see in war zones, including the use of foreign role players, digital holograms that resemble insurgents and special effects that simulate improvised explosive blasts and the chaos afterward.

The Corps chose to expand its immersion facilities to increase the number of Marines who receive the training. Since the existing trainer opened at Pendleton in fall 2007, about 12,400 trainees have gone through it, Marine officials said. A smaller immersion trainer overseen by the Marine Expeditionary Rifle Squad program based near Quantico is used to assess combat gear, but does not train large Marine units.

taste of combat

The "hyper-realistic" immersion trainers are important, Marine officials say, because they give Marines a chance to experience a taste of combat before they actually deploy, to test themselves while hearing different languages in tense situations and discern who is — and is not — the enemy.

But the Corps hasn't been able to provide this type of training to as many Marines as it would like.

"One of the things that we realized through the experience at Camp Pendleton is that the IIT that they put in the old tomato factory just had limited through-put," said retired Lt. Col. Rich Engelen, a range requirements officer with Training & Education Command, based at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va. "They had an ability to host squads for training, but not in the volume that they wanted."

Construction on the facilities has yet to begin, but planning is under way for all three facilities. The completion date for the Pendleton facility is May 2010, while the Hawaii facility could open in October and the Lejeune shoothouse could open in early 2011.

The facilities will offer Marine units training options that don't exist now. At Pendleton, some units will be able to train for days, maneuvering through existing outdoor urban training facilities before sending squads of Marines through both the indoor and outdoor immersion trainers, Engelen said.

A conceptual drawing for the new Pendleton Infantry Immersion Trainer shows it could have dozens of buildings, a marketplace, cemeteries and mosques. Like existing outdoor urban training facilities, it also will have observation decks on the second floor of buildings, where the units can be observed during training.

"We're going to make a concerted attempt to make this more realistic," Engelen said. "One of the problems is that there is no solid definition of what immersion is. Everyone sort of understands that it's the temporary suspension of belief to make you believe that you're somewhere that you're not, but we want to make it as good as we can."

More role players

The facilities will likely incorporate even more role players who speak languages such as Pashtu, which is common in Afghanistan, Engelen said. They interact with Marines during training sessions, acting out scenarios that can range from friendly group meals to deadly ambushes.

The planned trainer in Hawaii also will break ground for the Corps. It will build on the service's Military Operation on Urban Terrain concept, but offer four separate training areas with increasing levels of complexity, Engelen said.

"There will be some very basic structures that can teach some urban skills, then, as you ramp up, the most complex area will have irregular roads and paths, agricultural areas and other structures," he said. "Conceivably, a company could come in, run distributed operations in the simple part then have an entire company take the final objective."

MOUTs already exist on bases across the Corps, including Lejeune, Pendleton and Twentynine Palms. There are no holograms at MOUTs, however, and the facilities are typically large enough to send at least a company of Marines through, rather than a squad.

Afghanistan: Marines bring some calm in Helmand

But many residents in the insurgent heartland fear the U.S. troops may leave abruptly, leaving the area for the Taliban to retake.

Reporting from Nawa, Afghanistan - When 500 U.S. Marines descended on this Taliban stronghold overnight, Afghan civilians were immediately suspicious about the intentions of the heavily armed Americans.


By Tony Perry
November 8, 2009

One question dominated all others: How long will the Americans stay? Five months later, there is still no clear answer.

"The No. 1 question the Marines get is: 'When are you going home?' " said Brig. Gen. Larry Nicholson, an Iraq combat veteran and now the top Marine in Afghanistan. "They can't believe we're staying."

Three battalions landed 4,500 troops in Helmand province in the early hours of July 2, the largest airborne assault since Vietnam.

But the long-term U.S. commitment to Helmand is unclear, as President Obama and Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top commander in Afghanistan, continue to reevaluate U.S. strategy.

One issue is whether U.S. forces should be massed more closely to large population centers, including Kabul, the capital, which could mean depleting the forces in rural regions like Helmand.

In mid-June about 200 Marines arrived here to relieve a beleaguered British platoon. Days later, 500 more arrived in helicopters to establish a central base, called Geronimo, and then smaller ones, including Cherokee here in Nawa.

After 10 days of intense fighting, the Marines pushed Taliban fighters out of several small villages. The troops fanned out and announced to startled villagers that they had arrived to protect the population from the Taliban.

But a whisper campaign, which Marines blame on the Taliban, suggested that the Americans would leave as soon as President Hamid Karzai was reelected. The message was clear: Anyone who cooperates with the Americans is marked for death.

"They're very hesitant to trust us, and I don't blame them," said Capt. Frank "Gus" Biggio, a Washington, D.C., lawyer and Marine reservist who heads a civil-affairs team in Nawa. "For centuries, they've seen foreigners come and go, promises made and broken."

The 1st Battalion, 5th Regiment, which was assigned to protect Nawa, is set to return home to Camp Pendleton by Christmas. Advance elements of its replacement, the 1st Battalion, 3rd Regiment from Hawaii, have already come to be introduced to the elders and be seen in marketplaces and other gathering spots. They will be on a seven-month deployment.

The Marines have held numerous meetings with village elders to convince them that they will protect the community until Afghan security forces are strong enough to take over. In return, the Marines asked for information on Taliban fighters' movements and methods, including roadside bombs.

Dusty, sunbaked Helmand is considered the insurgency's heartland. A person who is helpful and friendly with the U.S. one day may be helping the Taliban the next, Marines said.

"There are no quick fixes here, no resting on your laurels," said Lt. Col. William McCollough, commander of the 1-5. "It's up one day, it's down another day."

In the 1960s, the U.S. poured millions of dollars into building canals to irrigate the province's fields of corn, wheat and fruit trees.

Officials of the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development who arrived shortly after the Marines are planning to upgrade the canals, using local labor. They also hope that with more water, the farmers will not plant the opium poppies that supply the world heroin market and provide funds for the Taliban.

After the Marines arrived, Taliban fighters fled a few miles away to a community called Marja. The Marines have made no secret that, together with the Afghan national army, they plan to rout the Taliban from Marja in a sweep akin to that of the November 2004 battle of Fallouja, Iraq.

Nicholson, the Marine commander, calls Marja a "cancer in Helmand" that he is eager to eliminate.

Throughout the province -- though not in Marja -- Marines patrol daily, in Humvees or on foot, sometimes accompanied by Afghan soldiers. Marine civil-affairs teams, along with the civilian agencies, are working to win the confidence of villagers with small projects that hire local people to clear roads, take care of schools and build bridges.

The Marines are putting up plywood buildings to replace the hastily erected tents that house their troops, communication gear and other things. McCollough hopes the effort will thwart the village chatter about the U.S. leaving soon.

"In Afghanistan, that's a permanent structure," McCollough said of the buildings.

Though there may be anxiety about the future, everyday life for many people in Helmand has improved: Outside Nawa, the Taliban no longer has checkpoints on roads to extort money from people. A school, closed by the Taliban, is reopening.

The biggest change may be the flourishing marketplace. Under the Taliban, few storekeepers dared open lest they face extortion or punishment for selling Western goods.

But on Friday, dozens of stalls were open along two dusty streets, offering vegetables, fruit, candy, clothing, toys, motorbike parts and slaughtered chickens.

Several Afghans interviewed expressed differing opinions on whether the Americans would keep their promise not to leave abruptly. Some refused to talk about the Americans.

Nabi, 25, who goes by one name, has a U.S.-paid job clearing canals. He shrugged his shoulders when asked whether he thought the Americans would stay.

"I don't know," he said, with some hesitation. "Only God knows."

[email protected]

Fox NFL pregame show to be aired from Afghanistan

NEW YORK – The Fox NFL pregame show will be broadcast from a military installation in Afghanistan on Sunday.


Assoicate Press
Sat Nov 7, 12:19 pm ET

The six-man announcing team traveled to an undisclosed location in the country this week to honor servicemen and women three days before Veterans Day. The two-hour special begins at 11 a.m. EST.

"It's been so surreal, it's hard to describe," Fox analyst Michael Strahan said of the trip. "To witness so many young, smart, committed and capable men and women is inspiring. We're here to show our appreciation for their service and sacrifice, and all they want to do is show their appreciation to us for coming here."

The idea for the show came about when Fox Sports chairman David Hill was passing through the airport in Dallas last spring. He noticed military personnel walking through the terminal were going mostly unnoticed, and he wanted to do something about it.

The commentators participated in a humanitarian aid drop as part of the trip.

"We're flying over the mountains of Afghanistan in a C17 loaded with pallets of essential supplies, and to see that cargo roll out the back of the plane and the parachutes deploy was quite an experience," analyst Jimmy Johnson said. "I'll never forget it."

November 7, 2009

Marines patrol, make friends in Helmand province

HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan — The Now Zad region in Helmand Province has been the site of constant tension between coalition and Taliban forces. Both sides have realized the road to victory begins with winning the support of the region’s civilian population.


11/7/2009 By Cpl. Zachary J. Nola, Regimental Combat Team 7

While the Taliban has chosen to force support through intimidation, manipulation and unrestrained violence, coalition forces have chosen to gain support by showing support by protecting, listening and interacting with locals through security patrols to the area’s towns.

That’s exactly what the Marines and sailors of 3rd Platoon, Company L, 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment did as they made their way by foot to visit with the local populace here Nov. 2.

The patrolling Marines arrived at Khwaja Jamal, a small town in the southern Now Zad region, where patrols are visiting the town’s elders daily, to gain support for coalition forces and information about local concerns and Taliban activity.

“We are trying to get to the people, talk to them, find out what’s most important to them, and how we can separate them from the Taliban and give a free country and free government to Afghanistan,” said Capt. Andrew E. Terrell, the company commander for Co. L, 3/4. “They’re really the critical piece. Without the people we can’t stabilize this country and give them a free government.”

The Marines handed out gifts, such as pens, pencils and other small trinkets, as they were welcomed by Khwaja Jamal’s children upon entering the town’s small marketplace. Locals slowly began to make their way into the marketplace as well and spoke with the Marines about local issues once security was established.

This constructive dialogue was made easier by the presence of Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police, who made the long and dusty walk with the Marines.

“[The ANA] are important because this is their town. They know the area, they know what’s happening out here and they get [information] from the civilians,” said Lance Cpl. Carlifrederick Organo, a machine gunner with Weapons Platoon, Co. L. “The ANA were helping the Marines out by talking to the elders and little kids. We got a lot of info on the patrol.”

The Afghan national security forces provided security, passed out the small gifts to the local and helped ease any tension that may have existed with their presence.

“I think the locals feel more comfortable with their own people being around,” said Cpl. Alex Pirila, 22, a squad leader with Co. L, 3/4. “I know if someone came into my town I’d feel better if they were being shown around by someone I knew or someone I knew spoke my language.”

Although 3/4 has only been in country in support of Afghan national security forces for a short while, advancement in Khwaja Jamal can be seen on both the short and long term spectrums.

“We’ve only been here a month, but it feels like the locals have definitely warmed up to us,” said Pirila, a 22-year-old from Phoenix.

“When I was here two years ago with the British, we couldn’t even walk to Khwaja Jamal without being mortared,” said Terrell, a 29-year-old native of Tampa, Fla. “Now we can go down there, we can interact with the people and we can go to their shops. Everyone is willing to talk to us, and a lot of progress has been made.”

Once conversations between the Marines of Co. L and local residents concluded, the Marines and their Afghan comrades began their trek back to their post, continuing to communicate and gain valuable information from their Afghan friends along the way.

Obama aide says no to troop surge in Afghanistan

A US presidential aide says the auxiliary troops, Washington is likely to deploy to Afghanistan, would be consumed by the volatile situation in the war-torn country.


Sat, 07 Nov 2009 18:51:34 GMT

President Barack Obama's national security adviser, James Jones, said, "You can keep on putting troops in, and you could have 200,000 troops there and Afghanistan will swallow them up as it has done in the past," Der Spiegel reported.

Speaking to the German periodical, the retired US Marine Corps general said, "I believe we will not solve the problem with troops alone. The minimum number is important, of course. But there is no maximum number, however."

The US-led forces invaded Afghanistan in 2001 to overthrow the Taliban regime for supporting al-Qaeda - which US officials hold responsible for the September 11, 2001 attacks - and to "bring an end to the suffering of the Afghan people."

Less than 110,000 troops are currently under US command in Afghanistan. Violence, however, stands at its highest after eight years of so-called counterinsurgency operations.

US-led forces have, so far, fallen short of arresting or eliminating any key militant leaders while killing countless Afghan civilians during clashes with the Taliban and attacks on alleged militant hideouts.

The American commander of the US-led forces, General Stanley A. McChrystal, however, has asked for some 40,000 extra 'boots on the ground.'

"Generals always ask for more troops," Jones said reacting to the motion.

He also warned of growing violence in neighboring Pakistan, where many militant leaders have fled to since the beginning of the invasion. "The danger from there is growing."

November 6, 2009

'Brothers at War" takes intimate look at combat life

Nov. 6--"I've been waiting for this film since the early days of the war," writes Roger Ebert about "Brothers at War," which he calls an "honest, on-the-ground documentary" about American soldiers fighting in Iraq.


By John Beifuss, The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, Tenn.

The Samuel Goldwyn Films release screens at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at Malco's Stage Cinema, 7930 U.S. 64. Admission is $7, or $5 with military ID.

The screening was organized by On Location: Memphis, a group "dedicated to promoting education, cultural diversity, and economic development through cinema arts," according to its mission statement. The organization is known for its annual On Location: Memphis International Film Fest, held in April.

"Brothers at War" is an intimate, first-person chronicle of filmmaker Jake Rademacher's trip to Iraq, where he was embedded with combat troops in an attempt to understand the experiences and motivations of his two soldier brothers, serving in the Army in Iraq.

Shot during what the filmmaker describes as "the darkest hours of the insurgency," before the troop surge of 2007, the movie's "cast" includes National Guard snipers, Army Intelligence spies and Marines training Iraqi soldiers to be responsible for their own "battle space."

One of the film's executive producers is Gary Sinise, awarded the Presidential Citizens Medal by President George W. Bush in 2008 for his support of U.S. troops and efforts to improve the lives of Iraqi schoolchildren.

Some critics have labeled the film a vanity project for its director and an apology for the war; but most reviewers have praised the movie for taking audiences deeper into the daily lives of the soldiers than previous Iraq documentaries. Ebert writes that the film is "not pro or anti-war ... It is simply about men and women...," with the filmmaker inviting audiences to see the soldiers' war "as more of a reality and less of an abstraction."

For more information, visit onlocationmemphis.org and brothersatwarmovie.com

Osprey Joins the Fight in Afghanistan

CAMP LEATHERNECK, Helmand province, Afghanistan – In another history-making moment for Marine Expeditionary Brigade-Afghanistan, the first MV-22B Ospreys entered the Task Force Leatherneck area of operations today, alighting in three waves at Camp Bastion Airfield.


2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade
Story by Cpl. Thomas Hermesman
Date: 11.06.2009
Posted: 11.06.2009 02:16

Making the long journey from the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit aboard USS Bataan in the Indian Ocean to the Bastion Airfield in the Helmand desert, the 10 tiltrotor aircraft are the first of their kind to operate in Afghanistan.

The unique design of the Osprey allows for not only vertical takeoff, but conversion to fixed-wing flight at much faster speeds than helicopters.

"I am very excited to have these new birds here," said Lt. Col. William Depue, executive officer for Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 263 (Reinforced), adding that the aircraft's increased speed and range will "cut the size of the area of operations in half."

The Ospreys, which formed the bulk of VMM-263 (Rein) with the 22nd MEU will join Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 261 as part of MEB-Afghanistan's aviation combat element, Marine Aircraft Group 40.

"Although we are not the Marines who will operate these birds here, we were happy to be a part of getting them into theater," said Depue.

The Ospreys will be used for medium-lift assault support, transporting troops and cargo throughout the MEB's area of operations, and will augment the other fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft that have worked tirelessly since the MEB's arrival in Afghanistan in May, flying more than 19,000 hours.

300 Marines return home safely from Afghanistan

OKINAWA, Japan (November 6, 2009) -- Approximately 300 Okinawa-based Marines returned from an Afghanistan deployment Sunday.


Consolidated Public Affairs Office

About 170 of the returning Marines were attached to Regimental Combat Team 3's headquarters element and more than 100 were attached to RCT-3's 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, said 1st Lt. Kurt Stahl, RCT-3's public affairs officer.

In Helmand province, Afghanistan, Marines orchestrated the largest helicopter insertion since the Vietnam War. During the July 2 insertion, Marines spread into the Helmand River valley to secure what was considered one of the most violent provinces in all of Afghanistan at the time, Stahl said.

RCT-3 spearheaded Operation Khanjar - designed to deliver a swift and lethal blow to the insurgency- marking the highly-anticipated unleashing of a strengthened Marine Corps force there, said Stahl.

In November 2008, 3rd Marines deployed as the command element of Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force - Afghanistan, with more than 2,000 Marines and sailors serving as a bridging force for the larger 2nd 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, said Lt. Col. Daniel Yaroslaski, commander to 3rd Combat Assault Battalion, 3rd Marine Division, III Marine Expeditionary Force.

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 humanitarian missions by establishing positive relationships with local elders.

Progress in a counterinsurgency struggle took place in three phases - clearing, holding and building.

Steps occurred more rapidly in some regions and each population center provided unique challenges, said Stahl. But in all areas the Marines' focus remained 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, he said.

2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment

The area of operations for 2nd Bn., 3rd Marines, was the largest for any single battalion within RCT-3, roughly the size of Vermont, and the only one with any substantial mountains. The Marines were also the only unit that extended into multiple districts and provinces.

Marines began shaping operations in the region to build up for a definitive strike on insurgents. In some locations, such as Deleram, Farah province, Marines maintained positive relationships with the local populace. Areas such as the abandoned city of Now Zad, Helmand province, were more challenging. The city had been abandoned by its former civilian populace, but a number of neighboring villages possessed a substantial neutral population. The Marines of 2nd Bn., 3rd Marines, were the first in the area with enough ability to interact with these villagers. After their arrival, Marines developed relationships with the citizens of Kwaja Jamal and Dahanah, villages surrounding Now Zad.

"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 Company G, 2nd Bn., 3rd Marines. "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, 2nd Bn., 3rd Marines, launched a major offensive, Operation Eastern Resolve II, in August. During the operation, which started a few weeks before national and provincial elections, Marines established a position between the insurgents and the village of Dahanna. Another major achievement of the operation was establishing a presence in the Dahanna Pass, which served as a logistical re-supply route for the insurgency. The Marines' efforts provided the security required to allow people to vote in the Aug. 20 elections.

The final major operation 2nd Bn., 3rd Marines, conducted was clearing the Buji Bhast Pass during Operation Germinate. Company F, 2nd Bn., 3rd Marines, cleared the route through the pass to Golestan and Delaram to create more freedom of movement for locals.

RCT-3 to RCT-7

RCT-3 saw significant progress in southern Afghanistan during the course of the deployment, said 1st Lt. Kurt Stahl, RCT-3's public affairs officer.

After gaining a foothold and laying the early foundations for future success in the region, RCT-7 from Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif., arrived and relieved RCT-3 as the MEB's ground combat element Oct. 24, Stahl said.

"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," White said.

"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.

Though 3rd Marine Regiment is based in Hawaii and many of its Marines will redeploy to Marine Corps Base Kaneohe Bay, roughly half of RCT-3 was composed of individual augments who will be returning to their parent commands throughout Okinawa.

Some of these Marines have been serving in southern Afghanistan for a year, others for six months

November 5, 2009

Marines save lives, assist Afghan National Army

FARAH PROVINCE, Afghanistan — As Seaman Jared D. Wilson, a corpsman with Company I, 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, stepped into his humvee on the morning of Nov. 2, he knew he very well could find himself in the position of saving lives.


11/5/2009 By Staff Sgt. Luis R. Agostini, Regimental Combat Team 7

He didn’t expect it to be Afghan lives.

On the evening of Nov. 1, the Marines of Company I, 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment were tasked with the security of a re-supply convoy the following morning for the Afghan National Army.

The Marines have been down this road before. Part of the route the Marines have taken from their forward operating base to their final destination has been identified as a Taliban hotspot.

“The last time we went down that route, we found three, 100-pound IEDs. It was kind of nerve-racking,” said Petty Officer 3rd Class Joshua J. Azarte, also a corpsman with Co. I, 3/4.

“That’s a bad place. We’re finding IEDs all of the time over there, and last time, we took indirect fire that came really close to our trucks,” said 2nd Lt. Robert R. Fafinski III, the commander of 1st Platoon, Co. I, 3/4.

After a two-hour delay waiting on the Afghan National Army right outside of the FOB, the convoy made its way to the Afghan Uniformed Police checkpoint, with Ford pick-up trucks of Afghan National Police and Afghan National Army soldiers integrated.

The Marines have learned to exercise patience and develop their mentoring skills with the Afghan forces. From departure times to picking up trash, the Marines are trying to lead by example when it comes to military discipline.

“We’re going to continue working with them. It looks like their heads are in the right place, they just need more mentoring,” said Lance Cpl. Jacob Fournier, a section leader with Co. I, 3/4.

Although labeled as a security mission, the Marines were looking to “get some.” Because of the previous attacks on the Marines in the same location, the Marines were hoping to draw fire from any enemy forces in the area and do what Marine “grunts” are known for: seek, close with and destroy the enemy.

About an hour into the convoy, a domino effect of red brake lights brought the convoy to a complete stop. An Afghan truck driver waved down the lead vehicle of the convoy, and through a Pashtu translator embedded with 1st platoon, informed the Marines of a nearby car accident.

The Marines didn’t take any chances, keeping a strong sense of vigilance while investigating the scene.

“Myself and a bunch of the Marines approached the scene thinking it was an ambush. Within 30 seconds, we switched gears from expecting enemy contact to a lifesaving mission,” said Fafinski.

Wilson approached the scene, and immediately noticed signs of a potentially fatal car accident. A rear bumper, glass, windshield and a shoe was strewn throughout the road.

As the Marines and Afghan forces made their way off of the right side of the road, they immediately knew the accident was no ambush.

An Afghan family of nine fell victim to an off-road accident. The injured Afghans lay near a totaled, white, hatchback vehicle. Two Afghans were pronounced dead on the scene.

Although ruled a car accident, Fafinski believes the family may have been swerving, trying to avoid a possible IED. He believes this for good reason.

About two weeks ago, an Afghan family struck a Taliban-emplaced roadside bomb, killing one and wounding several others.

“They’re hitting their own people. Not only does it disgust me, it makes me want to get them a lot more,” Fafinski said.

Wilson and Azarte immediately went to work, prioritizing their new patients for triage.

The “docs,” as the Marines refer to them, have completed extensive training and participated in numerous field exercises, including Mojave Viper. Mojave Viper is a 40-day field exercise at Marine Corps Air-Ground Combat Center, Twentynine Palms, Calif., required for all Marine infantry battalions deploying to Iraq or Afghanistan. Part of the training includes mass casualty exercises, which Marines and corpsmen learn to work as a team to treat a multitude of simulated casualties.

But this time, it was for real.

Three of the injured passengers looked to just suffer cuts, bruises and shock. As they were identified, the corpsmen moved on to the more serious injuries.

The Afghan family was driving from Lashkar Gah to Afghanistan’s Nimroz province, to treat the grandmother for hypertension. She was now being treated for a severe foot injury, which at first glance, may have required amputation.

The Marines, corpsmen and Afghan forces began working together in a concerted effort. The platoon sergeant, Staff Sgt. Paul V. Cooke, began coordinating a casualty evacuation for the injured Afghans requiring urgent care, while the rest of the Marines cordoned off the area.

The Afghan soldiers offered what help they could, from communicating with the family members able to speak, to providing security on the main road.

The corpsmen tended to the wounded, which included the grandmother, two boys and a young girl.

While dealing with the wounded, the corpsmen kept the Afghan and Islamic code of conduct in mind.

“I asked the interpreter to ask permission from the son to treat the injured women,” said Wilson, a 21-year-old from San Dimas, Calif. “The son didn’t hesitate to allow us to treat them.”

Within 30 minutes, two UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters landed within the vicinity of where Sgt. Randolph J. Chatfield, a section leader with 1st platoon, popped yellow smoke.

The coalition of Marines, sailors and Afghans again worked in unison, loading the patients onto stretchers and transporting them from the accident site to the helicopters.

“They responded very well,” said Azarte, a 21-year-old from Tucson, Ariz.

“If we didn’t have the interpreter and the ANA, it would’ve been a lot harder to treat those people,” Wilson said.

“They showed genuine care. They were willing to do what they could, but comfortable enough to know that we had it in control,” said Cooke, a 31-year-old from Grant’s Pass, Ore.

The injured were taken to FOB Delaram, where they received treatment from the Army’s 67th Forward Surgical Team. From there, they were flown to an Afghan hospital in Kandahar, where they will receive CAT-scans for head trauma and any possible neck and spinal injuries.

As the helicopters departed with the Afghans, the Marines and Afghan forces pushed forward to complete their original mission, but not before being delayed again by several hours, due to a possible roadside bomb.

“I’d rather spend six hours finding out it’s not an IED, than .3 seconds finding out that it is,” Cooke said.

The Marines completed the re-supply under the cover of darkness and with the use of night-vision goggles. After returning to the FOB, the Marines cleared their weapons, cleaned out the vehicles, and waited for the platoon leadership to give their intelligence debrief, which included praise heaped on the corpsmen.

“The corpsmen handled themselves well and took care of it pretty good,” said Chatfield, a 23-year-old from Kona, Hawaii.

“It’s Doc Wilson’s first deployment, but it looked like it was his fifth. That was his show,” said Fournier, a 21-year-old from Lanesboro, Minn.

“The corpsmen kept their cool really well. They had tactical patience, and dealt with a lot more than expected,” said Cooke.

“If this was a football game and we were giving out a game ball, I’d give it to the corpsmen and the platoon sergeant,” said Fafinski, a 24-year-old from Chaska, Minn. Fafinski mentioned Cooke due to his performance in coordinating the casualty evacuation.

“After it happened and we got back in the trucks, I had a deep feeling of confidence in our corpsmen. One of my lance corporals, Lance Cpl. Joel Fadden, looked at me and said, “it’s sure nice to know that the corpsmen know what they are doing.’ If he thinks like that, I’m sure all of the Marines are thinking it too.”

November 4, 2009

Students bond with Marine

Sergeant went to thank them for gifts … and got a welcome-home party in return
Just in time for Veterans Day, Marine Sgt. Andrew Valora went to an Oro Valley elementary school last week to give his thanks for a classroom's support while he and others were deployed overseas.


By Randy Metcalf, The Explorer

He got a surprise welcome-home party at Copper Creek Elementary School.

Last year, Valora and the rest of Marine Wing Support Squadron 371 were "adopted" by Lynn Thacker's 2nd-grade class at Copper Creek. While the Marines were deployed in Afghanistan, the class sent a care package consisting of 10 boxes filled with a video of them singing "God Bless the U.S.A.," snacks, and bathroom essentials such as waterless toothbrushes, soap and deodorant.

"They sent a whole bunch of stuff, stuff we were really short-handed on," said Valora. "They knew the right things to send. And we were so under-equipped while we were out there, for the first couple months, that this was absolutely fantastic. It was very nice to feel that support, especially from such a young audience."

He left for his most recent of five tours in March, and returned Oct. 6. As soon as he got back, Valora intended to thank each of the students individually.

During his visit to the school, family friend Lori Edwards organized a surprise welcome-home party with music, singing, drinks, treats and photographs of Valora with each student.

"I wasn't expecting this at all," Valora said.

Edwards' daughter Jaden was in Thacker's class last year. That's how the class came to sending goods to Valora and his fellow troops. Sending the gifts to the troops seemed like a small gesture, but teacher Thacker knew sending the goods meant a lot to the soldiers.

"The American spirit is alive and well in Tucson, Arizona," said Edwards. "I think this blessed us more than it blessed Andrew, if that is even possible."

As a class project, Thacker teaches her students about symbols such as the American flag. She tries to help her students understand what it means to be an American.

"They learn that … the flag stands for freedom," Thacker said. "I have always been big on respecting everyone, and also the flag. So whenever we say the Pledge, they understand why we say it."

She said the welcome-home party for Valora brought everything full circle, with the students and staff getting to meet Valora face-to-face.

Valora grew up on the Northwest, and completed his schooling within the Flowing Wells School District. After graduating from high school in 2002, he worked at a nursery doing landscaping, then at Home Depot. He did not want to get stuck working at the same place for 20 years, and wanted to travel, and figured the Marine Corps would be a good way to do that.

Valora has been to Iraq, Afghanistan, India, Singapore, Australia, the United Arab Emirates, Dubai and Hawaii since joining the Marines in 2003.

Valora's squadron, the "Sand Sharks," is based out of Yuma

During Veterans Day Week, State Farm® to Help America Say Thank You to Members of the Military and their Families

During the week of Veteran's Day (Nov. 8-14), as a way of helping the country say "thanks for being there" to our nation's service men and women, State Farm will donate $1 to Fisher House Foundation for each "thank you" sent via its Thanks For Being There Web site. Fisher House Foundation, a military families support organization, will receive a donation of up to $50,000 from State Farm.

Bloomington, IL (PRWEB) November 4, 2009 -- A new Web site launching today, ThanksForBeingThere.com,
lets people express their thanks to others through social media by creating and posting personal "thank you" messages accompanied by a photo or short video. During the week of Veterans Day (Nov. 8-14), as a way of helping the country say "thanks for being there" to our nation's service men and women, State Farm will donate $1 to the Fisher House Foundation for every thank you sent.


Fisher House, a military support organization that is there for military families whose loved ones are undergoing treatment at military or Veterans Affairs (VA) medical centers, will receive a donation of up to $50,000.

"My family was fortunate enough to take advantage of Fisher House's services when I was injured during my service in Operation Iraqi Freedom and recovering at a military medical facility," said Troy O'Donley, State Farm employee and president-elect of State Farm's employee Military Affinity Group (MAG). "State Farm has a long-standing commitment to supporting members of the U.S. Armed Forces, and I'm excited to see my company help America say 'thank you' to them. This important job is stressful to individuals and families, and this type of appreciation means so much to so many."

ThanksForBeingThere.com encourages Americans to express gratitude to those who have made an impact in their lives. Anyone can send a thank you in three easy steps by visiting ThanksForBeingThere.com. In addition to appearing on the site, people can share their messages via email and on their personal social media pages. The number of thank you messages is tallied on the homepage and site content is searchable allowing visitors to experience the power of people coming together in one place to reach out and thank others.

The goal of Fisher House Foundation is to ensure families of wounded service men and women have a "home away from home" on the grounds of major military and VA medical centers, enabling family members to be close when their loved one is hospitalized for an unexpected illness, disease or injury. There are 43 Fisher Houses located on 18 military installations and 13 VA medical centers in the U.S. and overseas in Germany, and all homes are operated and maintained by the Army, Navy, Air Force or Department of Veterans Affairs. In 2008 alone, these comfort homes have saved military families more than $12 million in lodging expenses.

"Fisher House is delighted to be the beneficiary of the ThanksForBeingThere.com campaign," said Jim Weiskopf, Fisher House Foundation Vice President. "State Farm's initiative honors America's heroes - its service men and women - while raising money enabling us to build more Fisher Houses to assist military families and increase awareness for our programs."

About State Farm®:
State Farm insures more cars and homes than any other insurer in the U.S., is the leading insurer of watercraft and is also a leading insurer in Canada. State Farm's 17,700 agents and 68,600 employees serve 81 million policies and accounts - more than 78.7 million auto, fire, life and health policies in the United States and Canada, and more than 1.9 million bank accounts. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company is the parent of the State Farm family of companies. State Farm is ranked No. 31 on the Fortune 500 list of largest companies. State Farm's commitment to the military extends more than 65 years with a world-class military leave policy and through its support of programs like the employee Military Affinity Group, Adopt-a-Soldier, and the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR). For more information, please visit statefarm.com® or in Canada statefarm.ca®.

About Fisher House Foundation
Fisher House Foundation is best known for the network of 43 comfort homes on the grounds of major military and VA medical centers. The houses are 5,000 to 16,800 square foot homes, with up to 21 suites, donated to the military and Department of Veterans Affairs by Fisher House Foundation. The Foundation provides support to families of patients receiving care at the nearby medical center and has ensured that families of service men and women wounded or injured in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom do not pay for their stay at a Fisher House or other base facility if they are on a wait list. For more information on the work of Fisher House Foundation, go to fisherhouse.org, or call toll-free (888) 294-8560.

November 3, 2009

Marines Seek To Tame Afghan 'Snake's Head'

The marketplace of Garmsir in Afghanistan's Helmand province is bustling. A long line of shops sells piles of pomegranates, oranges and okra. Consumer goods are trucked in from Pakistan, ranging from children's toys to motorcycle spare parts.


by Tom Bowman
November 3, 2009

Just a few months ago, American and Taliban forces battled in the streets here.

But just a couple of weeks ago, it was safe enough for a visitor from the United States to stroll about without a helmet or body armor.

Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts shook hands and chatted with vendors at the stalls, like he was campaigning back in Boston's Faneuil Hall Marketplace

What brought about this change? About 4,000 infantry Marines. They swept in by helicopter in early July, fanning out across Helmand province to patrol for Taliban fighters. They have made some progress, bringing peace to areas that were once under the grip of Taliban control.

The Marines built heavily fortified outposts, like the one that squats just outside the Garmsir marketplace.

Lt. Col. Christian Cabaniss is the commander of the Marine's 2nd Battalion, 8th Regiment — known as "America's Battalion."

His Marines are responsible for this area, called the "snake's head" — so named because on the map, the green cultivated areas create what appear to be a bulbous head, attached to a long thin body that stretches south along the lush Helmand River valley.

"The northern half of the snake's head is transitioning from 'hold to build,' and that's what we're trying to continue farther south," Cabaniss says.

"Hold to build" is counterinsurgency talk for helping the Afghan government bring back a sense of normal life, like the marketplace.

But there is more work to do.

"Of the top 20 districts that we rate right now as the most dangerous, nine of those remain in Helmand," says Maj. Gen. Michael Flynn, the military's top U.S. intelligence officer in Afghanistan.

On a recent mission from Garmsir, the Marines pushed south into the snake's neck — just six miles south — where they found roadside bombs, or IEDs.

David Gilkey/NPRMarines talk with villagers while on patrol outside Patrol Base Hassan Abad in Helmand province.
When Marines first came here back in July, they were involved in running gun battles just outside the gate at this patrol base. Now there's another problem, says Sgt. Richard Lacey.

"The IEDs are there, it's not just all them talking. You're not going to see them until you get on them, unless you know what to look for. Since we've been here, we've kind of learned what to look for, where to stay away," Lacey says.

As the Marines continue to move south, they are fighting to set up more patrol bases. Once they do, they make the first tentative efforts to reach out to the local population.

"This is a very isolated area. You don't just come in from the outside and just start talking to people in the community," says Cabaniss. "The more and more they're comfortable and they feel we're going to stay and the government is going to deliver, the more likely they are to tell us things. And when they start telling us, the Taliban has no sea to swim in. They're going to have to leave."

That's the theory, anyway. Lacey knows it doesn't happen overnight. There is progress, but it is slow, he says.

"I think from the time we got here until now has actually kind of improved, from them trusting us and telling us where stuff is, and we'll go out and blow it up," Lacey says.

The Marines quiz farmers and village elders for any information on the insurgents. They promise local projects, schools, roads and bridges.

But it is a tough sell here, and even tougher as the Marines move a few more miles down the snake's body to another marketplace in the town of Lakhari.

Two months ago, the Marines pushed the Taliban out of this marketplace, and the American troops set up an outpost here.

The Marines say that Afghan families are finally starting to move back into the area.

That is welcome news to Brig Gen. Larry Nicholson, the Marine brigade commander who on this day is visiting Lakhari. He asks his Marines about road projects that could help build relationships with locals.

But a major challenge to building local relationships is the lack of Afghan forces. There are only 800 Afghan soldiers in Helmand province, compared to 4,000 Marines. And Nicholson admits that many Afghan police are corrupt and incompetent.

"We are vetting our police. And my assessment ... is that probably 3 to 4 out of every 10 we have probably need to really go home," Nicholson says.

The Afghan government has some presence in the area, but Nicholson says it is nowhere to be seen in these rural areas. Nicholson and other officers know that they have a tenuous hold on Helmand.

Nicholson says he needs more Marines here to take the fight to the Taliban.

"Absolutely. Again, there are areas, frankly, that with more Marines, there are more areas we could get to and do the kind of things we've done in Helmand, there's no question," he says.

A tough area confronting the Marines is Marja, in Helmand, just west of the snake's head. It is a sprawling district of markets and towns with about 200,000 residents.

It is also a center for drug traffickers and the Taliban. If more American troops are sent to Afghanistan, this is where they might end up.

Back in May, U.S. forces raided the area, seizing tons of opium and bomb-making equipment. There are no American troops in Marja now, nor are there Afghan army or police.

But Marja isn't the only problem for the Americans in Helmand province.

At dusk, on a patrol, the Marines bring a State Department adviser named Carter Malkasian to meet a local Afghan leader. The Afghan is named Mullah Aminullah — the Marine's call him "Joe Pesci." Like the characters the actor Pesci plays, the mullah is short and strident — and the Marines are wary of him.

The mullah and the U.S. adviser sit cross-legged in a plowed cornfield, and the mullah lists his grievances. The mullah tells the American that his people fear the Taliban and also fear the Marines.

"Please don't be scared of the Marines," Malkasian tells the mullah. "They want to protect people. Sometimes they have to stop and check people. But they're not going to do anyone any harm. They're not going to hurt you. They're not going to put you in prison. They're just trying to check everyone, to make sure that no one is doing anything dangerous."

But the mullah is more afraid that the Taliban will see him with the Americans. Speaking through a translator, he tells the Americans that he is scared to be speaking with them. "Because during the night, maybe the Taliban will come and kill us." It has happened in other villages many times, he adds.

A few hundred feet from where the meeting is taking place, the Marines find two roadside bombs and detonate them. One of them is on a road next to the mullah's mud house, but he tells the Marines he has no idea who planted the bombs.

And with that, he stood up and said it was time for prayers — and stumbled across the field toward his mosque.

After four months, the work has only begun for the Marines in Helmand province.

November 1, 2009

Business owners announce reward fund in shooting

Liquor store owner: Fund raised $2,000 within about an hour

Jackson small business owners have started a reward fund to draw out information about who shot locksmith Troy Mitchell while he was working at an apartment complex earlier this week.


• November 1, 2009

Mitchell, 44, died late Thursday night at Jackson-Madison County General Hospital. Emotional family members stood with local political leaders and business owners as they announced the reward fund at a news conference Saturday in the parking lot of Lynnwood Wine and Spirits and Meineke Car Care Center off North Parkway.

The liquor store's owner, Bob Lindsey, said the fund had raised $2,000 after about an hour of phone calls to other business owners on Saturday morning. By mid-morning Monday, donations can be made at Jackson BancorpSouth bank locations, he said.

He said the fund's goal is to bring in a surge of money that could greatly increase the incentive for information that will lead to the capture of those behind the shooting. If the money is not needed as a reward, Lindsey said the dollars will be routed toward Crime Stoppers or Mitchell's family.

But, "This is the ideal case for this (fund) to work on," said Lindsey, who is a retired state trooper and criminal investigator.

Mitchell was shot in the face Wednesday morning while working on a car at Guardian Courts Apartments. No arrests have been made, but police have said they think robbery was the motive. Family members have said his wallet and cell phone were taken in the attack.

A witness reported that four black men ran through a courtyard at the complex and crossed Hollywood Drive shortly before police arrived, but police have said they do not know if that was related to the attack.

Mitchell was a retired Marine combat veteran and the father of seven sons. His oldest son, Joey, 27, spoke for the family at the news conference, calling his father "one of the greatest men to ever walk the planet" and urged those with details on who shot him to provide that information to police.

"The vile filth who did this don't deserve to walk freely," he said.

Speaking at the news conference, Jackson Mayor Jerry Gist said he was heartened by the effort to build a reward fund and lauded the work of Jackson police.

"These guys are good, and this person or these persons will be brought to justice," Gist said.

Lindsey said he and Jackson's 11 other liquor store owners are taking collections for Mitchell's family at their stores until at least next weekend. He said he does not know how much has been gathered so far for the family, but a collection bowl at the checkout counter in his store was packed with donations.

Other ways to donate to the Mitchell family:

Donations and care packages are being collected for the family at the 105.3-FM radio studio at 122 Radio Road in Jackson.

Donations can be made to a memorial fund set up through Patriot Equality Credit Union at 57 Directors Row or 351 Martin Luther King Jr. Drive.

Donations to an Englewood Baptist Church contribution account can be sent to First State Bank at 450 Oil Well Road in Jackson. These donations should be labeled "Englewood Baptist Church FBO Troy Mitchell Family."

A West Tennessee Healthcare Foundation fund has been established to help Mitchell's family pay for medical bills and funeral costs.

- Nicholas Beadle,

Colorado Marine among missing in crash off California coast

A Colorado Marine is one of nine people missing after a midair collision off the coast of Southern California on Thursday.


Denver Post staff and wire reports
Posted: 11/01/2009 01:00:00 AM MST

As of Saturday, the mission was still considered search and rescue, not search and recovery, officials said.

Coast Guard officials said they would continue to search overnight.

Parker native 1st Lt. Thomas Claiborne was aboard a Marine Corps Super Cobra helicopter that collided with a Coast Guard C-130 cargo plane about 15 miles off San Clemente Island. Claiborne and fellow Marine Maj. Samuel Leigh of Maine were aboard the helicopter. A crew of seven Coast Guard members was on the C-130.

Claiborne graduated from Chaparral High School in 2002, according to 9News.

Kenneth Claiborne,

Thomas Claiborne's father, said Saturday that the family was not making any public comments.

In May 2006, Thomas Claiborne was commissioned into the Marine Corps. He reached the rank of lieutenant by May 2008, according to a Marine Corps statement.

Claiborne had received the National Defense Service Medal and the Global War on Terrorism service medal.

On Thursday, Claiborne and Leigh were conducting a routine training operation when the crash occurred at 7:10 p.m.

Nearly 48 hours after the accident, the mission was still considered search and rescue, Coast Guard Petty Officer 2nd Class Jetta Disco told The Associated Press on Saturday.

Six Coast Guard cutters, three Navy ships and multiple helicopters were searching 644 square miles of ocean, but rescuers were concentrating on a debris field 50 miles off the San Diego coast. Rescuers have found debris from both aircraft, but there was no sign of the crew members or their bodies.

The accident happened in airspace that was not controlled by the Federal Aviation Administration and inside a so-called military warning area, which is at times open to civilian aircraft and at times closed for military use, FAA spokesman Ian Gregor said. He did not know the status of the airspace at the time of the crash.

Minutes before the collision, the FAA told the C-130 pilot to begin communicating with military controllers at Naval Air Station North Island in San Diego Bay, but it was not known whether the pilot did so, Gregor said.

The Coast Guard identified its seven missing personnel as Lt. Cmdr. Che J. Barnes of Capay, Calif., aircraft commander; Lt. Adam W. Bryant of Crewe, Va., co-pilot; Chief Petty Officer John F. Seidman of Stockton, Calif., flight engineer; Petty Officer 2nd Class Carl P. Grigonis of Mayfield Heights, Ohio, navigator; Petty Officer 2nd Class Monica L. Beacham of Decaturville, Tenn., radio operator; Petty Officer 2nd Class Jason S. Moletzsky of Norristown, Pa., air crew; and Petty Officer 3rd Class Danny R. Kreder II of Elm Mott, Texas, drop master.