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August 28, 2005

Coming home -- to what?

IRAQ VETERAN Daniel Cotnoir learned that Baghdad rules don't apply in Lawrence. The
former Marine sergeant, who was named 2005's ''Marine of the Year" by the Marine Corps
Times newspaper, was charged earlier this month with two counts of armed assault with intent to murder after firing a shotgun near a crowd of revelers outside his home. He had already reported their noise to police and, when a glass bottle shattered his bedroom window, Cotnoir allegedly feared for the safety of his wife and children. The story chilled me, not because I could have been part of the crowd, but because I imagined myself as the shooter.

http://www.nathanielfick.com/more/BosGlobe8-28-05.pdf

The Boston Globe
NATHANIEL FICK
By Nathaniel Fick | August 28, 2005

As a Marine officer from 1999 to 2003, I led platoons in Afghanistan and Iraq. Following two
combat tours, I left active duty to go to graduate school, thinking I could seamlessly return to
normal life. But even with a loving family, supportive friends, and solid future prospects,
homecoming derailed me for a year. I woke up to nightmares, shook uncontrollably during
Fourth of July fireworks, and felt myself switch into ''combat mode" when challenged. After a
driver cut me off on my morning commute and I envisioned gutting him with my car key, I
recognized classic symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.

According to the American Psychiatric Association, the disorder may result when people survive events ''that involved actual or threatened death or serious injury." Combat stress disorder, in its simplest form, is the persistence into civilian life of behavior that was necessary to survive in battle: hyper-vigilance, fear of crowds, aggression.

None of us can know what Cotnoir was thinking before he pulled the trigger, but he is certainly
an eligible candidate for the stress syndrome, and I see in his actions the anguish I felt after my own homecoming. What makes this so tragically significant is that Cotnoir is not alone.

A study at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington found that at least 17 percent of Iraq veterans experience anxiety, depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder. 425,000
American troops have served in Iraq since March 2003, which means that more than 70,000 may be suffering from psychological trauma. Indeed, its visible manifestations are growing.

The divorce rate for Army officers has tripled in the past three years, and the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans reports that its affiliates helped 67 veterans of Afghanistan or Iraq in 2004.

My Marine training stressed that I, as an officer, had three obligations to my country: to be
ready, always; to win, every time; and to return my Marines to society better than they were
when I got them. The first two are military duties, and we dedicated many years and countless
dollars to excelling at them. But the last cannot be done by the military alone. It is a social
obligation, one too often neglected and shortchanged.

The shooting in Lawrence can have the positive effect of focusing attention on society's
responsibility to our combat veterans. It has already intensified the debate in Massachusetts over whether to mandate mental health screenings for National Guardsmen returning from combat zones overseas. The screenings are only one step in the long process of reintegrating combat veterans, but mandating them would correct a dangerous oversight and better serve both veterans and the communities where they live. To have value, though, the screenings must be done right.

Members of the active-duty forces are already subject to post-deployment mental evaluation, as are the National Guards of several states. These screenings often involve little more than filling out forms.

I remember slogging through my own mental health questionnaire after leaving Iraq, answering
questions such as ''Did you ever feel that your life was in imminent danger?" Yes.
Or ''Check all that apply: I saw the dead bodies of a) enemy combatants; b) American forces; c) civilians; d) all of the above." D.

Answers like mine should have prompted some sort of follow-up, but none came.
Psychological screenings in a vacuum are worse than a waste of time because they give a false sense that someone has been ''cleared." The main lesson of my experience is that the recovery process takes time, and healing only happens in community. Screenings can be gateways to those communities, both formal ones such as therapy groups and counseling sessions, and the informal networks of friends, neighbors, and colleagues with whom we live.
In a war whose burden is borne almost exclusively by the tiny minority in uniform and their
families, veterans' care is one place we can all make a difference.

Nathaniel Fick is a student at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government. His combat
memoir, ''One Bullet Away: The Making of a Marine Officer," will be published in October.
© Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

August 22, 2005

NCOs learn to combat stress abuse

MARINE CORPS AIR STATION MIRAMAR, Calif. (Aug. 22, 2005) -- Eight noncommissioned officers from Marine Corps Air Station Miramar represented the air station at the 2005 NCO Substance Abuse Prevention Symposium sponsored by Marine Corps Community Services in Dallas Aug. 16 though 18.

http://www.usmc.mil/marinelink/mcn2000.nsf/ac95bc775efc34c685256ab50049d458/d9c474cc4f8682f2852570680079de90?OpenDocument&Highlight=2,PTSD
Submitted by: MCAS Miramar
Story Identification #: 200582518118
Story by Staff Sgt. Maria C. Villanueva

MARINE CORPS AIR STATION MIRAMAR, Calif. (Aug. 22, 2005) -- Eight noncommissioned officers from Marine Corps Air Station Miramar represented the air station at the 2005 NCO Substance Abuse Prevention Symposium sponsored by Marine Corps Community Services in Dallas Aug. 16 though 18.

The symposium, the first ever to be offered to NCOs Corpswide, helps junior leaders identify and possibly prevent Marines from turning to mind-altering substances, especially upon return from a combat zone.

The NCOs, the first Marines usually in positions to best identify troops at risk, spent the three days learning how to identify factors that can contribute to substance abuse and programs available to deter and assist those who are at risk.

Helping Marines who suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder was a common concern for most of the NCOs who attended the symposium, some of whom have been deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan as many as three times in two years.

According to statistics provided by the MCCS Prevention and Intervention Team, there is a 97 percent increase in Marines displaying dependency symptoms to substances like drugs and alcohol. The same statistics also show that those returning from combat zones are more likely to fall into these dependencies without knowing there are programs to assist them.

After serving in Iraq, Cpl. William G. Pollard, finance clerk, MCAS Miramar, noticed his best friend, another Marine, turned to alcohol to deal with domestic issues that arose while the two were deployed. Pollard said the resources that he received at the conference could have better helped him deal with his friend when the situation occurred.

"He was getting into a lot of trouble because of alcohol," said Pollard, a native of Aiken, S.C. "I could have been able to talk to him better and get him help at a lower level."

Sergeant Pablo P. Torrez, motor transport mechanic, 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, spent six months in Iraq and saw first hand the effects of combat stress on himself, his fellow Marines and overall mission readiness.

Torrez, a native of Keller, Texas, recently helped a fellow Marine deal with readjusting to garrison life after returning from combat. As a direct result of his intervention, Torrez saved the Marine's life.

"(PTSD) is something we should all focus on now," said Torrez. "In the future, I wouldn't second guess myself about getting anyone help."

Although many issues dealt with during the symposium were geared toward Marines dealing with negative factors, another tool discussed was the importance of spirituality when dealing with stressors.

Sergeant Joshua C. Collins, hygiene equipment operator, Support Company, 1st Combat Engineer Battalion, 1st Marine Division, served in Fallujah and recounted losing a Marine close to him in combat.

"When you lose someone you deploy with, you can't describe the hurt inside," said Collins.

He added that when he returned it was hard to explain what he went through with his family and friends who remained stateside. Collins said it was his spirituality that guided him through this very difficult phase of his life.

"Through my two tours in Iraq, I got the mission accomplished through Jesus Christ who strengthens me," Collins said.

Sergeant Andrew B. Williams, substance abuse counselor, Maintenance Battalion, 2nd Force Service Support Group, also served in the Middle East and can relate to how the other Marines have dealt and are dealing with the effects of stressors resulting from the Corps' operational tempo.

Williams described coming across a lot of Marines who witnessed traumatic events in theater and how many of them tried to cover up their emotions by not dealing with them at all.
Throughout the course, some of the speakers, many combat veterans from the Vietnam War-era, relayed experiences that the NCOs today were going through.

After his return, Williams admitted being more temperamental, depressed and having a "why me?" mentality but is currently undergoing counseling with his wife to deal with his emotions. While he said there were many things left to resolve, he is positive he will be able to work out the issues.

After taking the course, Williams said he now has better tools to help junior Marines before and after they deploy.

"A lot of Marines came back, and no one knew how to identify (the risks)," said Williams, a native of LaGrange, Ga. "The conference was a good idea, especially for the junior leaders of the Marine Corps.

"The more education I have, the better I am for the battalion. Good NCOs breed good NCOs. The better we improve ourselves, the better our younger Marines will be."

August 21, 2005

Injured Marine hopes to return to Iraqi battlefield

Huguenot resident Capt. Raymond Lopes was lucky to get out with his life, but wants to finish the job

http://www.silive.com/news/advance/index.ssf?/base/news/112463014412060.xml&coll=1


Sunday, August 21, 2005
By STEPHANIE SLEPIAN
ADVANCE STAFF WRITER
Marine Capt. Raymond Lopes spends three grueling days a week in physical therapy recovering from a bullet wound that nearly killed him when his company came under heavy insurgent fire in a small Iraqi town.

He stretches and exercises his right leg so he can walk without crutches. So he can drive long distances. So he can run again.

And there is one more reason.

Lopes, 43, a native son who grew up in Dongan Hills before moving with his family to Huguenot in 1976, wants to return to Iraq despite an injury that earned him a Purple Heart and may end his military career.

"I'll go back to Iraq again," he said with the conviction Marines are known for.

Sitting at his dining room table, his crutches leaning against the wall, Lopes launched into dramatic detail of his ordeal in Iraq.

At once excited and emotional, he spoke in a rapid-fire breathlessness, much like the way the bullets whizzed by on the morning of May 25. He described constant barrages of mortar fire, of rooting rebels from their homes and of almost leaving his body as he fell to the ground with a grave wound to his leg.

Around him at the table, his family sat speechless and still, listening to a story that seems new every time and realizing how close they came and how lucky they really are.

An inch lower, he could have lost his leg. An inch to the left, he could have bled to death.

"It's a bad injury, but I consider myself a gold medal winner," Lopes says. "I am walking and I will run again. Whether I will be able to stay in the Marine Corps is questionable. It's too early to tell, but the reality of that has set in."

Lopes, a Moore Catholic High School graduate, joined the Marine Corps after earning a marketing degree in 1985 from St. John's University, Grymes Hill.

His reason for enlisting was simple: "I wanted to be a pilot."

He saw a world few could only imagine from the cockpit of Marine aircraft. He was in the Soviet Union, he participated in the tail-end of Operation Desert Storm, he's been to Africa and Asia.

ASKED TO RE-ENLIST

After 13 years of flying, he turned in his wings to travel, but just after Sept. 11, 2001, the Marines asked him to re-enlist. He agreed, only if it meant going to Iraq.

He served seven months in 2003 with his parent command, the 2nd Battalion, 25th Marines, based in Garden City, L.I. When he returned in May, he was on temporary orders with the 3rd Battalion, 25th Marines, out of Cleveland, Ohio -- the same unit that lost 14 men in a deadly roadside bomb attack earlier this month.

Lopes' company was constantly under enemy fire at the Hadithah Dam along the Euphrates River, 150 miles northwest of Baghdad. Marine commanders decided it was time to head into town and take control.

A 17-vehichle convoy of about 120 Marines set out on May 25 at 3 a.m. They arrived two hours later into what Lopes described as a European-style town square, minus the fountains.

"Because we didn't want to lose 20 guys in one shot, we decided to walk in," said Lopes, who remained on the ground to provide radio communication to the F-18s circling above. "The desert trails we had been on turned into narrow streets. We entered the town. It was very, very quiet. Then we heard someone take an RPG (rocket propelled grenade) shot. We knew the fighting had started.

"I could hear the whistle go past my head. If this guy was shooting straight," Lopes continued, his voice trailing off. "We dove behind the walls and then all the houses exploded with fire. The Marines were in an ambush. It was a no-holds-barred fight.

"The company commander got up and told us to move forward. I started to run and I fell to the ground. I fell on top of the lance corporal in front of me. I knew I was hit. I didn't even hear the gunshot but my whole body shut down."

Despite his injuries, Lopes held fast to his 9-millimeter -- the only weapon he had left -- and fired until he was moved to the porch of a nearby home where morphine was finally administered.

"It did nothing to take the pain away," he said.
The battle raged for over an hour while Lopes and two other injured Marines waited to be shuttled to an aid station.

"They put me on a stretcher and I still had my 9-mil," he said. "The shooting gets intense. They had to lift us on the stretchers over the walls in the yards. They would put us down, shoot back at the insurgents and pick us back up again.

"I told them nobody better got shot while rescuing me," Lopes continued. "At that point I was the most scared because I couldn't do anything. All I had was my 9-mil. I was laying on my back. The insurgents were shooting and I was popping rounds off. I don't know if I hit anyone."

OTHERS NOT SO LUCKY

Finally, the three Marines were evacuated. It was then that Lopes witnessed something that will stay with him forever. A young Marine with a bullet wound to his chest slumped over.

"He looked like he fell asleep," Lopes said. "I kept telling him, 'You gotta wake up, you gotta wake up.' He was completely limp."

Sgt. David N. Wimberg, a volunteer firefighter from Kentucky who was no match for his nieces and nephews when it came to wrestling, was dead at 24.

"He died right in front of me," Lopes said.

Lopes was eventually put into a medically induced coma and woke up nine days later in the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.

The neck and head of his femur were shattered by an insurgent's AK-47. Screws now hold his leg together and a total hip replacement may await him as he gets older. His body blew up from the medication. He suffered a blood clot and other infections. He lost 30 pounds.

But he was alive.

"I was fighting my way out of Hadithah on a stretcher," he said. "I woke up nine days later from a medical coma and my mom was holding my hand. It was the same hand that held my 9-millimeter. I thought it was three hours later."

As Lopes told his story, his mother, Diane, left the dining room every few minutes in search of tissues. His grandfather, Michael Bonisisio, clutched a battered red Marine cap, and his grandmother, Frances, looked away remembering a brother lost in a long-ago war and a grandson almost taken too soon.

"It was bad," Mrs. Bonisisio said, referring to waiting for news of her grandson and of learning how her brother, Army Pvt. Leon Stasiak, died at 21 with 1,015 soldiers on the HMT Rohna off North Africa in 1943.

Mrs. Lopes spoke in a whisper when recalling the phone call that told her something had happened to her son. Some Marines were wounded, she was told. Her son's condition couldn't be confirmed. The next day, while driving, she heard that one of the injured Marines died. She broke down, not knowing.

"I thought they would be at the front door when I got home," she said.

It wasn't her son. He was already on his way to Maryland.

Mrs. Lopes and another son, Kevin, who lives in Oregon and took vacation time to be at his brother's side, were there when Lopes woke up.

"Hey, how you doing?" mom asked as her son opened his eyes for the first time.

Three weeks later, Lopes went home to Huguenot. His days are now filled with physical therapy at Staten Island University Hospital. He is writing stories about his wartime experiences, he is studying to go to law school.

He's been to a Boston Red Sox game where his role as a Marine was heralded despite his New York roots. He fulfilled his cravings -- several times over -- for Denino's pizza, which as any true Staten Islander knows, goes best before Ralph's Ices.

And he is waiting for word about his future as a Marine. He wants to go back to the men he left behind. He wants to go back because he believes there is hope for Iraq. The hope, he said, rests with the Iraqi children.

"The biggest thing is my friends are still over there fighting this war," he said, calling them the greatest Americans he has ever met. "Marines have been going to places with strange names for 200 years. We have casualties. People get killed, but we don't retreat. We win. We become Marines for places like Hadithah."

Stephanie Slepian is a news reporter for the Advance. She may be reached by slepian@siadvance.com.

Prev

August 18, 2005

Vet Stress Might Rise With Review of 72,000 PTSD Cases

From 1999 to 2004, the IG said, PTSD payments jumped by 149 percent, from a $1.7 billion total a year to $4.3 billion. To show the potential cost of not seeking evidence of stressors in PTSD cases, the IG said a 25 percent error rate would have caused "questionable payments" of $860 million for VA in 2004 and $19.8 billion over those veterans' lifetimes.

http://www.military.com/NewContent/0,13190,Philpott_081805,00.html

By Tom Philpott

August 18, 2005

Ronald Nesler of Las Cruces, N.M., a Vietnam veteran rated 100-percent disabled by post-traumatic stress disorder, learned this month that his case, as decided in 1997 by the Department of Veterans Affairs, lacked documents to support the finding of service-connected PTSD.
The VA regional office in Albuquerque advised Nesler in an Aug. 11 letter that he has 60 days to provide evidence he was exposed to the stressful wartime incidents described in his claim papers years ago.

"Otherwise, benefits, if confirmed entitlement is not established, may result in a change in your disability claims compensation," the VA letter warned. The sentence was set off by bold-face and underlined type.

Nelser's "permanent and total" disability award is suddenly at risk because of a VA inspector general review of 2,100 randomly-selected PTSD cases with 100-percent disability awards. The IG found that 25 percent, or 527 of them, lacked documents to verify veteran-reported evidence.

The IG review of PTSD cases was released in May, as part of a 200-page report on variances in VA disability compensation across the nation. Many more than 527 PTSD cases are at risk, however. The VA has announced it will review documents of 72,000 PTSD cases, those awarded 100-percent disability ratings from Oct. 1, 1999, through Sept. 30, 2004.

Over those five years, the number veterans awarded compensation for PTSD jumped by 80 percent, from 120,000 cases in fiscal 1999 to 216,000. The planned review of the 72,000 cases likely won't begin until January, said VA spokesman Scott Hogenson.

"Everybody talks about how PTSD is a very subjective diagnosis. This is not about diagnosis," said Hogenson. "This is about collecting the empirical paperwork that says, 'Yes, this individual was in this set of circumstances during this time in which these things happened, which may have led to post-traumatic stress.' "

Legitimate stressors in a veteran's service jacket might be descriptions and dates of combat engagements or "de facto" stress indicators like a Combat Infantry Badge or Purple Heart. The aim is to verify exposure to conditions that might leave a veteran with PTSD. The IG study suggested that claim examiners have been lax in demanding documents.

From 1999 to 2004, the IG said, PTSD payments jumped by 149 percent, from a $1.7 billion total a year to $4.3 billion. To show the potential cost of not seeking evidence of stressors in PTSD cases, the IG said a 25 percent error rate would have caused "questionable payments" of $860 million for VA in 2004 and $19.8 billion over those veterans' lifetimes.

Nesler, who has a wife and handicapped step-daughter, receives PTSD compensation of a little over $2500 a month. He said VA officials have assured him that a decision to lower his PTSD rating would reflect a VA mistake. It should not raise suspicion of fraud. They also have assured him, though not in writing, that his VA compensation won't fall. They do so, most likely, because Nesler has a 100-percent rating for prostate cancer. The VA presumes this cancer, if suffered by Vietnam veterans, presumably is from exposure to Agent Orange, a defoliant used widely during that war.

Nesler said his disability for cancer is not "permanent and total" like his PTSD award. He knows of many veterans treated for cancer who have seen their rating, and thus their pay, drop sharply following treatment.

A 1967 draftee, Nesler reached Vietnam in 1970. He served for 13 of his 14 months as a meteorological observer for B Battery, 6 th Battalion, 32 nd Artillery, part of the 1 st Field Forces Vietnam.

The whole war experience was stressful, Nesler said, though his unit came under fire only seven or eight days while he was there. His most disturbing memories, he said, are of atrocities committed by soldiers. Nesler said he saw an American soldier detonate a directional mine toward a small bus, filled with Vietnamese women and children, near the town of Ninh Hua.

The incident, he said, was covered up but the screams and faces haunt him still. Nesler said he also feels guilt for not having filed an official incident report.

Nesler, a staff sergeant, was discharged in 1975 after eight years. He wasn't feeling well and, as the years passed, he grew more anxious, had nightmares, insomnia and difficulty concentrating, all of which the VA later would tie to the war. In 1997, before VA approved his PTSD claim, Nesler gave to VA the names of a senior officer, two warrant officers and several senior enlisted soldiers who likely could verify the bus incident.

"I thought that was my proof," he said. A VA official told him only recently that the names were never contacted. Still, the VA ruled in 1997, based on "un-refuted evidence," that Nesler had served in a combat zone, had witnessed "a bus being bombed" and had a well-founded diagnosis of PTSD. It found "total occupational and social impairment" from a variety of symptoms.

Yet, Nesler said, he was in far better shape then than he is today.

"I have emphysema. I have cancer. I have a torn ligament in my shoulder. I have severe arthritis. I have PTSD…And I get this [letter] dropped in my lap. Right now my life is on hold ‘til I find out what's going to happen."

If the VA experience with 2100 PTSD cases is repeated in a review of 72,000 next year, one quarter of these vets, about 18,000, might feel their own stress levels rise as VA presses them to better document their claims.

To comment, write Military Update, P.O. Box 231111, Centreville, VA, 20120-1111, e-mail milupdate@aol.com or visit www.militaryupdate.com

August 15, 2005

Weaverville Marine annihilates insurgents

CAMP RAMADI, AR RAMADI, Iraq (Aug. 15, 2005) -- Insurgents have Cpl. Nicholas H. Cole and other combat engineers with 4th Platoon, Company A, 1st Combat Engineer Battalion, to blame when they revisit their weapons cache sites and find them empty or destroyed. (1st CEB)

http://www.usmc.mil/marinelink/mcn2000.nsf/main5/6EE0A64FD1C2DB508525706B003A746D?opendocument


Submitted by: 2nd Marine Division
Story Identification #: 200582863828
Story by Cpl. Tom Sloan

“Finding bombs is what we do,” said the 20-year-old Cole from Weaverville, Calif., during a recent weapons cache sweep through farmland on the southern edge of the Al Anbar capital city. “It’s our job.”

Cole and his comrades – a team of Marines skilled in finding hidden munitions -- are deployed here working alongside 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Cole said the combat engineers’ mission is simple: Find weapons and destroy them.

The Marines – commonly referred to as “Blast Masters” in the Corps because they routinely blow up enemy munitions with plastic explosives – accomplish their mission by conducting weapon cache sweeps. Often they take to the urban battlefield with infantrymen, and other times they go at it alone.

Armed with metal detectors, shovels and a keen sense for how the enemy thinks, Cole and his Marines, working in teams of two, scour the terrain for buried bombs, improvised explosives, mortars, artillery shells and other munitions.

“Everything we pull out of the ground,” explained the 2003 Trinity High School graduate, “helps save lives. The more we find, the less they have to blow us up with.”

The Marines have uncovered and destroyed hundreds of buried weapons caches in and around the city during the past six months they’ve been deployed, Cole said. The result, he said, is fewer weapons in enemy hands.

“I’ve noticed that after finding large caches,” he explained, “the mortar attacks have gone down and almost stopped.”

Cole has developed his own strategy for finding caches.

“I just think like the enemy and look in the place where they might hide the weapons,” he said. “We often find caches doing that.”

The Marines dealt the insurgency a blow to their weapons arsenal, Aug. 15, when they uncovered and destroyed more than 300 artillery shells and approximately 2000 rounds of rifle ammunition. What Cole labeled “a significant find” took place in several acres of fields located on the southern outskirts of the city.

“We were doing our standard sweep formation, covering the area along the rows,” recalled Cole of the mission. “The metal detector picked something up, and I went after it with my shovel.”

Cole’s partner, Cpl. Nicklas E. Schmitter, was operating the metal detector.
“Judging by the shape patterns the metal detector was giving off,” said 21-year-old Schmitter form Stockport, Iowa, “I knew something big was buried. But I had no idea the cache would be as large as it was.”

Cole didn’t have to dig very deep before he found what was buried. Two feet down he uncovered a cache that, after two hours of digging, netted more than 200 mortars. Cole and Schmitter took turns digging up the ordnance because of the size.

“I was digging the mortars out and they just kept coming,” said Schmitter. “It was like there was a never-ending supply.”

The Marines excavated the site, recorded the amount of munitions they found and destroyed the cache with a controlled detonation. After the mission Cole reflected on the day’s events.

“This was a good find,” he said. “Any find, though, is good because we’re taking weapons out of the bad guys’ hands and possibly saving Marines.”

August 11, 2005

RS Des Moines centurions share sucess secrets

Defying the odds, two Recruiting Station Des Moines recruiters received rare honors here Aug. 11, for signing up 100 recruits each over the past four years.

http://www.usmc.mil/marinelink/mcn2000.nsf/main5/116715CD6CC4865B8525707D004D1FF8?opendocument


Submitted by: 9th Marine Corps District
Story Identification #: 200591510224
Story by Staff Sgt. Bill Lisbon

RECRUITING STATION DES MOINES, Iowa (Aug. 11, 2005) -- Defying the odds, two Recruiting Station Des Moines recruiters received rare honors here Aug. 11, for signing up 100 recruits each over the past four years.

Dubbed “centurions,” after Roman warriors who commanded 100 men, Staff Sgt. Ryan C. Easton and Staff Sgt. Charles R. Rush each became two of only 170 9th Marine Corps District recruiters since 1982 to earn the title.

Yet with recruiting on the downswing, growing numbers of opponents to military service and lots of bad press, a grim, challenging battlefield lays in front of even the most hard-charging Marine.

So how did these two recruiters rack up the contracts? Most of their “secrets” are really no secret at all.

“The biggest thing is motivation out here — showing the kid you love being a Marine and what it’s done for you,” said Rush, 35, who works at Recruiting Substation South Omaha in Bellevue, Neb.

In fact, Rush will often let a prospective recruit put on his Dress Blues blouse and look in the mirror. Then he’ll pop the question: “So are you ready to be a Marine?”

Easton, 27, finds his drive in the results.

“After I began to put guys in and see the change I did for them, that was the motivation that kept me going,” said Easton. “The Marine Corps has done so much for myself, and I wanted to offer that to the other kids. ... Seeing how grateful they are is what drove me to write more contracts.”

Both agree one of the keys to attracting more poolees is use the ones you already have.

“Work your pool to death,” recommended Rush.

Poolees can be a recruiter’s eyes and ears in a high school, pointing out fellow students who are checking out the military. During Rush’s interviews with their friends, poolees would conveniently drop in to help quell apprehension. At least 25 percent of Rush’s contracts were referrals from his poolees.

Staying involved in the poolees’ lives and with their parents helps too, they said. Rush sends his poolees birthday cards and works out with them. Easton tries to keep parents “in the loop” to further ensure the poolee ships to boot camp.

Another key, said Easton, is knowing when to work.

Not only does this mean understanding when it’s the best time to phone kids at home or to cruise by the local hangouts, it is learning how long it takes to complete common tasks, like running police background checks or driving to a school, and scheduling accordingly.

Recruiters learn this by immersing themselves into an area as well as gleaning information from their predecessors, said Easton, who currently runs RSS Quad Cities in Davenport, Iowa, where he leads four recruiters.

Despite working toward a common goal, competition amongst fellow recruiters can fuel superior achievement, said Easton. RS Des Moines, like most stations, spotlights crackerjack recruiters and rewards them with informal awards like baseball bats or swords, as well as formal ones like meritorious masts. Every month he wanted to be on the top of the list.

“It just started adding up,” said Easton.

Above all, the real secret is just loving the job.

“Recruiting is self-gratifying,” he said. "You get what you put into it, and the more you put into it the better you feel ... about helping the youth of America.”

“Recruiting by no means is ever going to be easy,” Easton said. “If you make it fun, if you enjoy it, if you come out here with a positive attitude and say ‘I’m going to do this, I’m going to be successful’; in the end, the Centurion will be there.”

PHOTOS INCLUDED ON LINK ABOVE

Howitzer booms at Pendleton

MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. (Aug. 11, 2005) -- Earthquakes aren't the only things rumbling in southern California.

http://www.usmc.mil/marinelink/mcn2000.nsf/ac95bc775efc34c685256ab50049d458/9070c334279cee4b8525705a0052f871?OpenDocument

Submitted by: MCB Camp Pendleton
Story Identification #: 200581111616
Story by Lance Cpl. Ray Lewis

MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. (Aug. 11, 2005) -- Earthquakes aren't the only things rumbling in southern California.

2nd Battalion, 11th Marine Regiment, is breaking sound barriers with the M777 Howitzer-and for the first time, firing it at Camp Pendleton.

The artillery unit manned the cannon Tuesday to get familiar with the weapon that could be the future for artillery.

“It should be the weapon of choice for the 21st century,” said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Joseph M. Steet, battalion survey officer.

More importantly, the battalion is gearing up for Iraq with the newly fielded weapon system.

Positioned north of Las Flores, the remote field was sure to give the Marines plenty of practice space.

Howitzer cannoneers crouched under the canopies of camouflage netting waiting for their radio signal.

As soon as their tent received the call, the crew scurried to position themselves around the weapon.

Once every member was stationed, the team sent a round howling out the Howitzer puffing gusts of gray smoke.

The blast from the weapon rippled the air with its sound waves.

Unfortunately, it’s a disadvantage that comes with both old and new howitzers projecting a 155mm round miles in to the air.

However, both howitzers had their advantages.

“I miss the old Howitzers. The trails on the old Howitzers acted like a (wrestling ring), so when any other crews came over we’d wrestle or practice MCMAP,” Magpusao said.

“I don’t miss carrying it though,” Magpusao added.

That’s because the old M198 Howitzer weighed nearly 16 tons, while the M777 weighs 9 tons.

“It’s lighter,” plainly said Cpl. Robert L. Smith, Battery G, 2/11, driver.

If hooked up to a lunette, or carrying device, one Marine can carry it because it then feels like it only weighs 60 pounds, which makes it faster to transport, hitch and unhitch off of trucks.

Ultimately, 11th Marines are glad they can serve their country doing what they enjoy.

“We like our new Howitzer. It’s faster, lighter – period,” Sgt. Thomas L. Wilson, Battery G, 2/11 section chief.