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December 27, 2007

Germantown Assists Iranian Dhow

MANAMA, Bahrain - Whidbey Island-class dock landing ship USS Germantown (LSD 42) provided assistance to an Iranian fishing dhow Dec. 27 in the Arabian Sea.

http://www.military.com/features/0,15240,159021,00.html

Navy News | December 27, 2007

A boarding team from Germantown visit, board, search and seizure team supplied the crew of 33 mariners with water. All mariners appeared to be in good health and no other assistance was required.

Germantown is currently conducting Maritime Security Operations (MSO) in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations.

MSO help set the conditions for security and stability in the maritime environment, as well as complement the counterterrorism and security efforts of regional nations. These operations seek to disrupt violent extremists' use of the maritime environment as a venue for attack or to transport personnel, weapons or other material.

Germantown Provides Assistance to Iranian Dhow

From Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Central Command/5th Fleet Public Affairs

MANAMA, Bahrain (NNS) -- Whidbey Island-class dock landing ship USS Germantown (LSD 42) provided assistance to an Iranian fishing dhow Dec. 27 in the Arabian Sea.

http://www.navy.mil/search/display.asp?story_id=34128

Story Number: NNS071227-01
Release Date: 12/27/2007 9:17:00 AM

A boarding team from Germantown visit, board, search and seizure team supplied the crew of 33 mariners with water. All mariners appeared to be in good health and no other assistance was required.

Germantown is currently conducting Maritime Security Operations (MSO) in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations.

MSO help set the conditions for security and stability in the maritime environment, as well as complement the counterterrorism and security efforts of regional nations. These operations seek to disrupt violent extremists' use of the maritime environment as a venue for attack or to transport personnel, weapons or other material.

For more news from Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Central Command/5th Fleet, visit www.navy.mil/local/cusnc/.



Colin Smith a beacon of strength and hope for all who face adversity

Strength. Strength to survive. Strength to overcome long odds. Strength to cope with overwhelming adversity. Strength to hope for a better future. And strength to work hard at making that future happen.

http://www.morningjournal.com/site/news.cfm?newsid=19147518&BRD=1699&PAG=461&dept_id=46368&rfi=6

12/27/2007

So many people in this world need that kind of strength on any given day. For those who are seeking it, we recommend reading our Christmas Day story about the phenomenal recovery of 20-year-old Colin Smith, a living example of all those forms of strength, and more. If you don't have the newspaper handy, just go to our Web site, www.morningjournal.com, and click on the word ''GO'' next to the search box at the top right-hand side of the page, then scroll down through the archived stories and click on the headline for Colin's story: ''Always smiling.''


Colin was shot in the head while on patrol with fellow U.S. Marines in Iraq on Oct. 30, 2006. That terrible wound cost him a large portion of his brain and skull, and the fact that he survived at all would qualify as a miracle in most anybody's book. But Colin has done far more than merely survive.

Quick action by fellow soldiers and military surgeons undoubtedly saved his life. But doctors then told his family that Colin would likely spend the rest of his days in a vegetative state and never walk or talk again.

Colin's strength took over where modern medicine dared not presume to go.

First, Colin regained consciousness. He spent nearly a year in hospitals, but now he is living in Lorain with his father, who is devoted to helping him regain his faculties.

Today, as the headline said, Colin is always smiling. He is relearning how to walk and to talk, and he is determined to relearn how to read and to drive a car.

Considering the amazing recovery he has achieved to date, we can believe he will achieve his goals.

Equally amazing and gratifying, Colin says he forgives the man who shot him. That perhaps shows the greatest strength of all at work in Colin.

They say there are no heroes anymore, but they have never met Colin Smith. He's a true American hero, and for his service to our country, for his remarkable physical strength and his profound inner strength, we humbly want to say thank you, Colin. By your example, you give all of us strength and hope. Good luck.

December 26, 2007

Couple buys Christmas dinner for Pendleton

The Associated Press
Posted : Wednesday Dec 26, 2007 8:10:21 EST

TULSA, Okla. — “Somebody took care of my Marine, so I wanted to make sure I was going to take care of someone else’s Marine,” said George Gibbs, describing why he and his wife Rachel spent about $4,500 on food and shipping costs to give more than 70 Marines at Camp Pendleton, Calif., a barbecue spread for their Christmas dinner.

To continue reading:

http://www.marinecorpstimes.com/news/2007/12/ap_marinedinners_071223/

Assistant CMC visits leathernecks in Afghanistan, delivers message from gold star mother

KABUL, Afghanistan (Dec. 26, 2007) -- The assistant commandant of the Marine Corps made a quick stop at Camp Eggers today and passed a message from a modern day Marine Corps hero’s family to Kabul-area Marines.

http://www.usmc.mil/marinelink/mcn2000.nsf/main5/AF9D57CAD88577E0852573BD005165C9?opendocument

Dec. 26, 2007; Submitted on: 12/26/2007 09:49:04 AM ; Story ID#: 200712269494
By Staff Sgt. Luis P. Valdespino Jr., Combined Security Transition Command - Afghanistan

Marine Gen. Robert Magnus was on the move throughout the country, but made it a point to praise leathernecks here and to pass on a message from the Debra Dunham. The mother of the late Marine Cpl. Jason L. Dunham, Medal of Honor recipient, gave the general a message to share with deployed Marines.

“Deb Dunham asked me to bring a simple three-part message,” Magnus said.

“First, ‘Thank you.’” the second-ranking Marine said. “Now this is a ‘gold star’ mother saying thank you, so she knows exactly what she’s thanking you for.” Mothers of American military men and women killed in combat have been referred to as gold star mothers since the early 1900s.

“Second, keep doing what you’re doing. Keep doing your mission.” Magnus said. “She knows that your mission is fundamentally important.

“I want your family to someday feel as comfortable as they felt on Sept. 10, 2001,” he added.

“The third part of the message is, ‘please take care of each other,’” the general said. “That’s exactly what Cpl. Dunham was doing when he was on his mission.”

The general briefly spoke about Dunham’s heroic act in saving the lives of his fellow Marines in Iraq when he covered a grenade, which ultimately cost him his life.

Magnus told the Marines that he recognized the difficulty in being away from family during the holidays, but told them that it is good to be with their Marine Corps family, as an alternative.

“This is a great time to be a warrior and a Marine,” he said. “You are God’s gift to your family ... The Marine Corps is God’s gift to the United States ... and to the Afghan people and the Iraqi people.”

He also reminded the Marines that it is important for them to consider serving an additional combat tour, or staying in the Marine Corps longer, as well as to encourage young Marines to do the same.

“Your Marine Corps is at war. Your buddies are at war,” Magnus said. “You know why you’re here now. You’re here to help these people win back their neighborhoods and so we don’t have another 9-11, and you know that.

“This mission is not over by a long shot, and you know that,” the general added.

December 25, 2007

Many Santas make Christmas merry for Marines

ABOARD USS TARAWA(Dec. 25, 2007) -- It was Christmas all month long for Marine and sailors from the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) thanks to a steady stream of mail from families and Americans back home who wanted to make them merry this Christmas.

http://www.marines.mil/marinelink/mcn2000.nsf/0/273BBBDE6E5465F5852573BD0031B982?opendocument

Submitted by: 11th MEU
Story by: Computed Name: Staff Sgt. Sergio Jimenez
Story Identification #: 20071226437

“We were overwhelmed, but in a positive way,” said Cpl. Ryan J. Burrell, postal clerk, 11th MEU (SOC), of the thousands of greeting cards and care packages that began arriving since the end of November for members of the MEU who are embarked aboard the Tarawa. The tons of good cheer came from family, private citizens and volunteer from corporations and nonprofit groups all across the U.S.

Burrell said the MEU got more than twice the mail they normally receive.

“There’s nothing like working six straight hours of your day just sorting mail,” said Burrell. “It’s hard work, but It’s all worth it. We get to play Santa Claus.”

But the postal Marines were not the only Santas on the job.

On ship, Postal clerks got help from dozens of Marines and sailors who worked together on several delivery days to carry the mail from the pier to the ship and up and down narrow ladder-wells to deliver letters and boxes to eager servicemembers.

Back home, they got help from volunteers from “Operation Santa,” a support-the-troops organization from Seattle, Washington and the General Mills Corporation in Minneapolis, Minn., through their Operation: Soldier Phone Home initiative and the Marine Corps’ Key Volunteer Network. All three organizations sent handwritten holiday greeting cards and care packages stuffed with treats by children and citizens of all ages. Operation Santa even sent several Christmas trees complete with lights.

The Marines also received a special shipment of care packages, greeting cards and letters from Cub Scout Pack 872 and elementary school boys and girls from St. Anne School in Laguna Niguel, Calif. The scout pack adopted the Marines and Sailors of the MEU during their "Salute to Service" ceremony at St. Anne in October.

In another part of the country, boy and girl scout troops, churches and private citizens teamed up with General Mills company employees nation-wide to thank servicemembers for their service, dedication and sacrifice.

According to Rhonda Affield, a General Mills employee and mother of Cpl. David W. Affield, command element, 11th MEU (SOC), together, they sent the MEU and other units 10,000 hand-written greeting cards and thousands of dollars in calling cards.

Those thousands of cards turned into many special individual moments for Marines and sailors on the ship.

“It was very moving,” said Cpl. Shevis D. Iloncai, a calibration technician from Charleston, S.C., after reading a card from an elementary school boy who wrote about his hobbies, that he likes to play soldier and to describe how cold it is Minnesota. Iloncai, who is a member of Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 16, Camp Pendleton, Calif., said his card was very nice and that he plans to write the boy back to thank him for putting a smile on his face.

MALS-16 is attached to Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 166 (Reinforced), Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Can Diego, Calif., the MEU’s aviation combat element. The 11th MEU (SOC), Camp Pendleton, Calif., is embarked aboard the Tarawa and other ships of the Tarawa Expeditionary Strike Group. They have been at sea since leaving San Diego Nov. 4 on a scheduled six-month deployment through the Western Pacific Ocean and Arabian Gulf regions.

On Christmas Night here, Lance Cpl. Jordan S. Kellem, motor transport operator from Pismo Beach, Calif., is standing guard duty while the ship steams across the Arabian Sea. Kellem, who is with G Battery, Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, Camp Pendleton, Calif., takes a moment to read a card he received from a 5th-grade girl named Leanna from Orono Intermediate School, in Orono, Minnesota.

“She said she likes to snowboard,” Kellem tells a combat correspondent. “She is learning multiplication and division and she thinks it’s ‘awesome,’” he said. “I can picture her sitting at her desk, writing this to me because I used to like to do stuff like that.”

Kellem said he remembers picturing a servicemember in green camouflage standing guard in the rain or in the field somewhere overseas. “I always wondered how he felt to be getting my card,” What he was thinking and if his card made him feel closer to home?

Many years later, and thousands of miles away from his loved-ones, Kellem smiles and says he finally knows.

***For more information about the 11th MEU (SOC) visit their website at http://www.usmc.mil/11thmeu.

Contest win unites Marine family for holiday

Rhonda Gallagher was upstairs in her west Wichita home Thursday when she heard a knock on the door and some unexpected commotion.

http://www.kansas.com/news/local/story/263975.html
Click on above link for photo.

Posted on Tue, Dec. 25, 2007
BY RON SYLVESTER
The Wichita Eagle

"Mom, get down here," voices yelled.

At the bottom of the stairway stood a sight she hadn't seen in six years: all four of her sons and their families.

"I remember seeing them all and wondering if it they were really here," Rhonda Gallagher said.

John and Rhonda Gallagher's four sons are U.S. Marines. Three of them recently have been, or soon will be, deployed to Iraq.

Three of them planned on making it home for Christmas.

But the second-oldest, Staff Sgt. Tim Gallagher, had been saving to take his wife and three children to a sister-in-law's wedding in April. A 28-year-old drill sergeant at the training center for recruits in San Diego, Tim told the family he couldn't save for the wedding and Christmas trips.

Cpl. Joe Gallagher, serving with his younger brother, Patrick, at nearby Camp Pendleton, entered a contest sponsored by a local radio station requesting special Christmas wishes.

Joe, 23, had just returned from his second tour of duty and had spent as much time in Iraq as he'd been a Marine. Patrick Gallagher, 20, deploys to Iraq next month.

Joey, as his brothers call him, is known for being the quiet one. So it surprised everyone that he took the initiative to write to KIOZ, a San Diego rock radio station, about how he wished all of his brothers could be in Wichita for Christmas with their parents and sister.

"After we beat him up all those years, he still decided he wanted to be with us for Christmas," said the oldest brother, Capt. John Gallagher IV, 30, who came to Wichita from , Camp Lejeune, N.C., where he is stationed.

The radio station gave Tim $1,000 to drive to Wichita with his family.

Joe and Patrick kept the secret from the rest of the family.

"When we answered the door, there was quiet for several moments," said John IV. "We just couldn't believe he was standing in the doorway."

The family hadn't been together at Christmas for six years. The oldest of John and Rhonda Gallagher's five grandchildren is 5. The youngest turns a year old on New Year's Eve.

"This is the first time we've had grandchildren at Christmastime," Rhonda said.

It may be fitting that Tim was the last to arrive -- and the Christmas surprise -- since he was the first to enter the Marines.

The sons' father, John Gallagher III, worked 32 years as an engineer for the Kansas Department of Transportation before retiring. He'd never served in the military.

But when the others saw Tim graduate from the San Diego training center, they ended up Marines, too.

John went to officers training school after graduating from the University of Kansas. Joe is in his second year as a corporal.

"I'm very, very proud of them," Rhonda Gallagher said.

Will 15-year-old Mary be the next Marine?

"Not if we can help it," John IV said.

Of course, they tried to talk Patrick out of enlisting, too.

Patrick just got promoted to corporal.

Always smiling

Colin Smith always has a smile on his face. His sincerity and charm shine through it, making it impossible to not smile back. His smile radiates energy that can be felt by those around him.

http://www.morningjournal.com/site/index.cfm?newsid=19143316&BRD=1699&PAG=461&dept_id=566374&rfi=8

Morning Journal Writer
12/25/2007

Looking at him it's hard to imagine what he's been through. He laughs every chance he gets, making a conscious effort not to take things too seriously.

He's a typical 20-year-old guy with a girlfriend and dreams of becoming a firefighter. He dresses in the latest jeans, logo T-shirt and hooded sweatshirt. He's not shy. Colin greets people with his smile, pauses for a second to collect his thoughts, concentrates, give a stern hello and holds his hand out to shake.

The only thing that makes Colin different is that he wears a helmet. And even that is temporary.

Colin was serving with the 2nd Battalion 8th Marine Regiment in Iraq when he was shot in the head while patrolling near Al Anbar Province on Oct. 30, 2006. The bullet went through his helmet and through his brain, destroying a large portion of his it -- damaging the lobes that control speech and movement.

The injury shattered part of his skull, forcing him to wear the helmet to protect what is left of his brain. Robert Smith, Colin's father, said it bothered Colin at first when people stared at the protective gear.

''I told him, ÔLook, you're wearing a helmet and you're not on a skateboard, what do you expect?''' Robert said. Colin arrived home several months ago and is living with his father and stepmother in Lorain, where they are adapting to physical and mental restrictions placed on him by the injury.

Colin has lost much of his ability to speak or understand spoken or written language. During his rehabilitation, he will need to relearn the most basic functions of everyday life.

Doctors said Colin would never walk or talk again. Today, he is considered a miracle. He can walk with the assistance of someone who holds on to the back of a belt wrapped around his waist. Colin does not have use of his right arm or leg, but luckily he is left-handed and the right leg can be used for balance.

He understands what people are saying, but has difficulties finding the words to respond. He uses verbal cues from those around him to get to the words. Each phrase Colin says on his own is added to a list. Every day he recites the phrases to restore them to his memory bank. The list has grown considerably over the last few months.

He carries around an index card that explains his injury and the resulting condition. When he can't find the words fast enough, he simply hands the person the card.

Colin has two goals for his recovery: To be able to read and to be able to drive again.

''We're working on it, since they said he'd never ever talk again,'' Robert said. He hopes to one day see his son get married and have a family.

Robert said the first time he heard his son laugh was music to his ears. ''I knew it was in there, but to actually hear it was earth shattering,'' Robert said. ''He's been smiling like that since day one.''

After being shot, Colin's fellow Marines put out a distress call, but they soon found out it would take 40 minutes for rescuers to get to them. Two nearby gunship pilots heard the call and rushed to his aid. They jettisoned weapons and ammunition from the plane, loaded in Colin, flew across enemy lines and got him to a military hospital within 15 minutes of the attack.

The next day he was flown to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, where doctors held out little hope for his survival after seeing the amount of damage. Doctors called his father and told him to book the next flight to Germany.

''The military doesn't beat around the bush,'' Robert said. ''They told me he had a critical injury.''

Robert took out a pen and paper and began expressing his thoughts in writing to try to prepare himself for the loss of his only son. A veteran himself, Robert respected Colin's decision to serve his county, but he never prepared himself for this.

''I know you're gone now,'' he wrote.

But Colin was still alive. He had survived two days with a severe head wound. Maybe there was a chance, Robert thought.

He didn't want to sit at Colin's bedside and be on deathwatch and told the doctor he would not be flying out to Germany. Days later, Robert received word Colin had stabilized and was on his way to the Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. Robert stayed with Colin at Bethesda while he was in a coma. Robert knew that his son's strength and above all else, his stubbornness, would help him pull through.

Colin woke up three weeks after arriving at Bethesda.

Doctors still can't explain it. As the weeks progressed, Colin continued to improve. But Robert didn't need an explanation. His son was back.

''If there is anyone out there with a similar circumstance, not just military guys, there's a lot of people out thereÉ whether it's cancer or being wounded in the war you can't control it but you can control how you react to it,'' Robert said. ''There is so much strength from within when you accept things.''

When Colin arrived at Bethesda, doctors said at best he would be in a vegetative state. As the weeks passed, Colin stunned doctors and served as an inspiration to everyone around him. On Dec. 11, he was transferred to a veterans clinic in Minneapolis, a level one poly-trauma unit. He uttered his first words in January and was released from Minneapolis in September. He now receives treatment at a veterans' clinic in Cleveland.

''Colin inspired me before he was injured,'' Robert said. ''He is a very strong individual. What he's done during his recovery is so like him, it doesn't even surprise me.''

Colin went back to Bethesda in the summer for a skull transplant.

The polycarbonate plate was a perfect fit. Colin's family was elated, but 10 days after the surgery, the transplant became infected and it had to be removed immediately.

After the transplant was removed Colin said he felt ''angry, frustrated, disappointed.'' Robert said Colin doesn't get mad often, but he was furious when the transplant failed. He is slated to try again next month.

During his return visit to Bethesda, Colin made an effort to visit families whose children suffered similar injuries.

''We returned to the fifth floor to ICU where we started,'' Robert said as Colin listened. ''They rounded up families of soldiers not likely to survive. They were given the same prognosis as us. Colin shocked them out of shock. They cried at what he had accomplished.''

But they didn't want to give the families false hope. Colin's rapid recovery was considered a miracle.

''His neurosurgeon said he never thought in 10 years he'd go as far in six months,'' Robert said, adding that the doctors said he could still make a full recovery. ''We know we will go farther than we are now.''

Robert said Colin would sit at the wounded soldiers' bedsides and hold their hands or give them a hug. Ê

''He let them know they weren't alone,'' Robert said, as he looked at Colin.

''Right?''

''Right,'' Colin said.Ê

Three families Colin spoke with had very different outcomes. One soldier followed Colin to Minneapolis and continues to recover. Another soldier went to Richmond, Va., and can already drive a car again. The third soldier died about a week after being introduced to Colin. The family visited him before the funeral to thank him for giving them a week of hope.

Robert and Colin have accepted the injury and Colin said he forgives the man that shot him.

Robert looked at Colin as he stared back.

''Do you forgive the man who shot you,'' he asked Colin.

''Yes,'' Colin said with a smile.

Any mention of the Marines brings a smile to Colin's face. Several weeks ago, Colin helped prepare care packages for his Marine buddies who were recently called back to Iraq on Oct. 31 -- a day after the anniversary of his injury. More than 10 of his friends took the time to call Colin before shipping out.

The Smiths have met a lot of wonderful, caring, generous people during their journey over the last year. They have received all kinds of support, from all kinds of people.

During this holiday season, Colin and Robert want people to look at the big picture and laugh.

''Find something to laugh about,'' Robert said as he looked at Colin. ''Even in the lonely days of the ICU, the nurses would pop in and they, from years of practice, didn't dwell on the injury. They would crack jokes and laugh.''

The father-son team also encourages people to get out and help someone else.

''Give yourself a reason to feel useful. There are people out there who need you,'' Robert said.Ê

This Christmas, Colin and his family will gather and give thanks for being together, something that became a reality through strength, love and laughter. And Colin's big smile will continue to serve as inspiration to all those around him.

jbracken@morningjournal.com

December 24, 2007

Marines have Christmas Eve party at sea

ABOARD USS TARAWA (Dec. 24, 2007) -- Marine and sailors from the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) didn’t let the high humidity of the Arabian Sea and thousands of miles of separation from their families and friends keep them from celebrating Christmas here.

http://www.usmc.mil/marinelink/mcn2000.nsf/main5/DD0B7FCFD2C148D0852573BB0064997D?opendocument

Dec. 24, 2007; Submitted on: 12/24/2007 01:18:48 PM ; Story ID#: 20071224131848
By Staff Sgt. Sergio Jimenez, 11th MEU

Instead, the Marines and sailors from Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 166 (Reinforced), threw a Christmas Eve party complete with drinks, cake and festive cookies in the Tarawa’s hangar bay.

HMM-166 (REIN) is from Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Can Diego, Calif., and is the MEU’s aviation combat element. The 11th MEU (SOC), Camp Pendleton, Calif., is embarked aboard the Tarawa and other ships of the Tarawa Expeditionary Strike Group. They have been at sea since leaving San Diego Nov. 4 on a scheduled six-month deployment through the Western Pacific Ocean and Arabian Gulf regions.

After an all hands formation surrounded by helicopters and fixed wing aircraft, Lt. Col. Jack P. Monroe, commanding officer, HMM-166 (REIN) commended the Marines and sailors for a job well done and then entertained them with jokes and handed out prizes to those who could answer Christmas and Marine Corps trivia.

“What made Frosty the Snowman come alive,” Monroe asked someone in the crowd. “A hat,” said the Marine correctly to receive a prize. Prizes included basketballs, footballs, board games and small electronic items that were donated by members of the unit’s Key Volunteer Network back home.

With the ship steaming across the ocean through the darkness, many of the Marines found ways to make the best of things. With drinks and cookies in hand, some Marines beat the heat by moving their groups and conversations closer to the giant open bay doors to feel the breeze from outside.

Over the microphone, Gunnery Sgt. Christian Bull, squadron gunnery sergeant, told the Marines to help themselves to the snacks and a piece of cake before it melted away.

“Grab a lot of cookies,” he said. “But tomorrow, I want to see a lot of Marines on treadmills.” Or maybe the next day, he said, remembering that the commander had given the Marines Christmas day off.

Pfc. Derrick Baisa, aviation suppy technician, from El Paso, TX., who is on his first deployment, was happy to be getting the day off from work. He was also the proud owner of a large dartboard he won by naming an ornament as one thing that hangs from a Christmas tree. Although he was glad to be a winner, he said he couldn’t help feeling a little sad because he misses his wife back home. “It’s hard to be away from family. I don’t care what anybody says.”

That’s why Baisa said he appreciated the efforts of SgtMaj. Chermaine M. Harrell, squadron sergeant major, and other members of his unit who planned and made this party happen. Getting together with friends is helping him and others keep their spirits up, he said.

Because Christmas is such an important family event, Monroe made family a big theme of the party. He personally congratulated three Marines who had children born during their deployment. Monroe asked these Marines to answer special questions. One was asked to state the birthdays of his other children and another to state his anniversary. Both answered correctly and received a prize.

“Marines, do yourself a favor and don’t ever forget the answers to those questions, because your wives will always ask you at the most inopportune times,” said Monroe, drawing laughter and “Devil-Dog” grunts from the crowd.

Sgt. David J. Garcia, UH-1N “Huey” crew chief, from Phoenix, AZ, and new father, was asked the birth weight of his child. His wife gave birth to a baby girl Dec. 2. “She was born 5 lbs-15 oz,” he said confidently and correctly and received a prize from Monroe.

“I wish I could have been there to see her birth,” said Garcia, who is on his third deployment. But since he couldn’t, he made the best of the situation.

“When I found out she was born, I ran to the United Through Reading office to videotape myself reading a book to her,” said Garcia. “When she’s older, I know she’ll understand I was away doing something important for our country.”

Although he'll spend this Christmas away from home, Garcia said he refuses to let being separated from his loved-ones get him down. Instead he looks forward to the future and sends a message to his wife and newborn daughter. “I love you and I’ll be home soon.”

Parents folded into family readiness efforts

By Andrew Tilghman - Staff writer
Posted : Monday Dec 24, 2007 12:49:16 EST

Many parents of junior Marines know little about the Corps and how it operates — and now there’s a campaign underway to bring them into the loop.

To continue reading:

http://www.marinecorpstimes.com/news/2007/12/marine_family_readiness_071221/

December 22, 2007

Marines teach martial arts to Maldivians

REGIONAL HEADQUARTERS KADHOO, LAAMU ATOLL, Maldives (Dec. 22, 2007) -- Six Marine Corps Martial Arts Program instructors and one instructor trainer from the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) recently trained soldiers from the 20th Special Task Force, Maldives National Defence Force, here.

http://www.usmc.mil/marinelink/mcn2000.nsf/main5/870FAB6432B0F790852573BF00554422?opendocument

Dec. 22, 2007; Submitted on: 12/28/2007 10:31:20 AM ; Story ID#: 20071228103120
By Cpl. Scott M. Biscuiti, 11th MEU

The MNDF soldiers from the island nation got a rare opportunity to build their martial arts skills and warrior ethos by learning from Marine martial arts instructors Dec. 15-22.
Sgt. Gustavo Terrazas, a MCMAP instructor trainer and Santa Ana, Calif. native, was tasked with tailoring an intensive martial arts course for 60 MNDF soldiers.

“I had to design a training schedule that would give them the most tools in the least amount of time,” he said.

Terrazas said he started with a tan belt base and added selected gray and green belt techniques throughout. To train their mental discipline, Terrazas taught MNDF instructors how to build a soldier’s warrior ethos.

“One thing that makes MCMAP successful is the three disciplines it contains,” Terrazas said. “They are mental, character and physical discipline, also called the MCMAP synergy. The only way to build a complete warrior is to practice all three disciplines.”
In addition to basic throws, punches and kicks, the students were introduced to boxing, pugil sticks and a cohesion room, an intense circuit training course that focuses on team work and unit cohesion.

“It was a new experience fighting the way (Marines) do,” said Sgt. Yoosuf Rasheed, a 20th STF instructor who attended the course. “The intensity of the fighting adds a different dimension to the training. The students said they found the fights realistic and gained confidence in themselves.”

The Marine instructors also threw some drills at the soldiers to challenge their abilities and push their mental and physical limits. One such drill was the cohesion room.

“The purpose of the cohesion room was to build unity within a squad and for the soldiers to be able to fight in a combat engagement when completely fatigued,” Terrazas said.
Working as a team, each individual squad had to complete a certain amount of time in the room before they could leave. If one member did not complete a specific exercise, more time was added.

“The cohesion room was a great experience and really built our mental strength,” Rasheed said. “The room worked and we really came together to do our best.”
Terrazas said he received positive feedback from the instructors at the conclusion of the training and that he is confident that they gained valuable knowledge for future MNDF soldiers.

“I know this training is going to help them,” Terrazas said. “All the NCO’s I’ve talked to already have plans to implement things we have taught them into their training.”

**For more information about the 11th MEU (SOC) visit their website at http://www.usmc.mil/11thmeu.

***For high resolution images contact Staff Sgt. Sergio Jimenez at jimenezs@11meu.usmc.mil.

Brothers transition from football field to battle field

RAMADI, Iraq (Dec. 22, 2007) -- Some Marines in the infantry claim those who they work the closest with as their family; even further their brothers. Two assault men with Fox Company in Ramadi have not only the birth certificates, but also the DNA to prove in fact they are brothers.

http://www.usmc.mil/marinelink/mcn2000.nsf/main5/9977B191DF7D4945852573B90027FDAB?opendocument

Dec. 22, 2007; Submitted on: 12/22/2007 02:16:48 AM ; Story ID#: 2007122221648
By Lance Cpl. Charles E. McKelvey, II Marine Expeditionary Force (FWD)

Fraternal twins, Lance Cpl.’s Brad and Scott Stys, assault men, Fox Company, 2nd Battalion 8th Marine Regiment coin the term brothers in arms. The 22-year olds are just two of the many Marines supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom and conducting daily infantry operations.

After attending college for two years at Rowan University in New Jersey the brothers decided college wasn’t for them at that time. The Stys brothers then visited their local recruiter’s office with one goal in mind to become infantry Marines.

“We just knew it was the right thing to do at the time,” said Brad. “Our grandfather was a Marine in the South Pacific during World War II and our father was in the 101st Airborne during Vietnam. We were just brought up that way; we knew we were Marines long before we even joined.”

Before the brothers decided to fight together they played together. The Stys brothers, natives of Hunterdon County, New Jersey, were both starting wide receivers while in college and say they compare a lot about football with the Marine Corps.

“We’ll talk about it a lot,” said Scott. “How similar being a football player is to being an infantry Marine. Just like in football if everyone does there job it all comes together as a whole. That goes for an individual in a squad to the platoon and all they way up.”

Although both the brothers belong to Fox Company, Brad and Scott perform very different jobs. Brad, a member of the jump platoon serves as part of the personal security detachment for the company commander.

“I’m a turret gunner in the lead vehicle with Fox Company jump,” said Brad. “We run the mobile patrols as well as go on foot patrols with the company commander.”

Scott who works with a group of Marines embedded with Iraqi Police describes his day’s routine a little different.

“We do a lot of security patrols and make sure the people in our area are safe and are doing ok,” said Scott. “Aside from that we also provide the quick reaction force for our area and stand post protecting where we live.”

Prior to the deployment not everyone knew just how many Stys’ there really were in Fox Company.

“Before coming to Iraq we would have people come up to one of us, kinda confused, and say they just saw us on third deck in uniform and shortly after on first deck with PT gear,” Scott said. “I guess they just thought we changed really fast,” added Brad.


For the company, welcoming a set of twins was something most of them were familiar with. The addition of the Stys brothers ensured this was the third deployment in a row Fox Company would embark on with a set of twins in its ranks.

“I could tell these Marines were leaders from the first day I met them, when I picked them up from the School of Infantry,” said 1st Sgt. Robert Williamson, first sergeant, Fox Company, 2nd Battalion 8th Marine Regiment. “After I talked to them I knew they were good to go and from that point on it’s been an honor to have them in the company.”

Williamson, who remembers his first set of twins in the company, says the toughest part about dealing with twins is the fact that you want to keep them together, but at the same time you have to keep them apart.

“There was an incident last year with the previous set of twins I had when one of them got shot,” said Williamson. “You just never know what’s going to happen and in this case in showed it was beneficial to have had them separated.”

The separation of the twins isn’t just to prevent damage control when things go bad. Williamson said aside from the leadership they bring to the company they also evoke a competitive side in everyone.

“One of the best things about these guys is they’re very competitive,” said Williamson. “They make everyone want to compete; to be the best. Whether it’s the brothers competing to see who the better of the two is, or their squads competing to see who can get the job done better, they bring that level of competition.”

Making a good impression for anyone who’s new to an infantry unit can be hard, but both the brothers seem to have figured it out.

“They’re both outstanding Marines,” added Williamson. “Brad is on the commanding officers mobile, and he’s the guy we feel comfortable riding in his truck knowing that he’s doing his job. Scott not only was put up for company Marine of the month, but is also filling in as the Corporal of the guard a month into his first deployment. These Marines are telling guys on their second deployment to fix themselves.”

Although Williamson still has difficult distinguishing them apart, he’s got his mind made up on one thing about the brothers.

“If they keep up with the pace they’re going at, there’s no doubt in my mind that these Marines will be squad leaders after this deployment,” said Williamson.

As for made up minds; Williamson isn’t the only one sure of the Stys’ future after this deployment. Both the brothers have both short term and long term goals in the making.

“I’m really looking forward to spending some time on the beach,” said Scott. “That’s something we haven’t gotten to do in a while.”

After the Marine Corps, college is of the utmost importance for both Scott and Brad.

“We both plan on going back to school after our four years in the Marines Corps,” said Brad. “We’re looking forward to playing football again and graduating with degrees.”

Although the Stys’ don’t plan on making a career out of the Marine Corps they said they’ll never forget the things the Corps has taught them.

“One of the greatest things about the Marine Corps is the leadership,” said Scott. “You get to see a lot of different leadership styles and from that point pick and choose which ones you like as you mold yourself as a leader.”

Marine Cpl. Eric Morante fights to find purpose in rehab grind

Last of two parts
Part one may be found here:
http://www.marine-corps-news.com/2007/12/blasted_off_an_iraqi_bridge_cp.htm

SAN ANTONIO – Marine Cpl. Eric Morante's face darkens with effort, his mouth compressed in a tight line as he struggles for balance while doing abdominal crunches on a big blue exercise ball.

http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/news/longterm/stories/122307dntexmorante2.1717ed.html
Please click on above link for photos and a video link.

12:26 PM CST on Sunday, December 23, 2007
By DAVID McLEMORE / The Dallas Morning News
dmclemore@dallasnews.com

Eight, nine, 10 ... halfway through the third repetition. Sweat drains down his face, pooling into a dark circle on the front of his T-shirt, covering the Marine insignia. Eleven, 12, 13 ... he wobbles, then straightens to finish out the rep.

It's a challenge with two feet on the ground. And Eric's right leg ends in a smooth stump just above where his knee should be.

He wipes his face with a towel, hops up on one leg into his wheelchair and peels off the foam-and-rubber prosthetic liner covering this stump, pouring out a thin stream of sweat onto the towel.

The legend on his shirt reads, "Pain is weakness leaving the body."

He moves on to the weight machine, attacking it with intensity. "I exhaust myself. Some days, my muscles just shake," he says. "It's my choice."

On April 20, Eric and seven other members of the Marine squad he led were seriously injured when a suicide bomber set off a dump truck filled with 3,000 pounds of explosives under a highway bridge checkpoint at Saqlawiya in Anbar province, roughly 50 miles west of Baghdad.

All survived, though all but two were seriously injured and sent to military hospitals across the country.

On that day, Eric and his squad members entered life among the wounded and became a statistic in a war that has claimed 4,200 lives and resulted in more than 30,000 injured in nearly five years of combat. On that day, Eric began his long journey toward recovery and a new life. A hero on the battlefield, he worked with quiet courage back home to re-establish his identity and sense of purpose, which until now had been inextricably linked to his status as a Marine.

His left cheek was crushed by debris and his front teeth cracked. His left wrist was shattered and is now held together with 10 titanium pins. A thin scar runs along his forearm, leading down to fingers that can only partially curl closed.

On May 26, Eric arrives at the Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio on a stretcher to begin his recovery at the new Center for the Intrepid, a four-story drum of a building that houses what the Army proudly calls a $50 million rehabilitation center for wounded warriors.

It's July 2. Eric works out three times a day at the center – on isometric and weight machines. He undergoes long, grueling sessions of floor exercises that not only retrain muscles in the remainder of his right leg but also strengthen the chest and abdomen to help his body adjust for the missing limb.

It's all preparation for his prosthetic leg.

That's what Eric has been waiting for impatiently. He works with a purpose.

"When I got here, I made a vow to be up on both feet when my guys come home," he says.

It's going to be a tight squeeze. It's early July, and Fox Company, 2/7 Marines is scheduled to return to the Marine base at Twentynine Palms, Calif., at the end of August.

Putting away the crutches

"Eric's at the stage where he's adapting to the new normal," says his center therapist, Fred Jesse. "His only limitations will depend solely on what he thinks he can't do."

Typically, above-the-knee amputees start with a limb that has a mechanical knee moved by a hydraulic system. The patient steps down, pushing a piston that allows the knee joint to move. The patient kicks out, stepping forward.

It's good for a slow, steady pace but gets balky when the pace speeds up.

Sometimes Eric pushes too hard with his new leg.

He limps a little now, having rubbed a sore spot on his thigh. The prosthetic also needs to be adjusted frequently because of shrinking tissue in the residual leg.

"I was focused on getting the leg," Eric said. "I want to get one I can run with. They even have ones for use at the beach and water. I have to keep focused on the next step."

He can still feel sensation in his missing leg, a phenomenon called phantom pain, resulting from messages that damaged nerves in the thigh send to the brain.

"At first, I felt the sensation down the whole leg, like I still had it. It was just THERE," Eric says. "Now, it's like my foot is where my knee used to be."

In mid-July, Eric gets his permanent leg – all black plastic and metals polished to a high shine.

Three weeks later, he can stand and walk straight and true. After only a few days, he puts away the crutches.

"That first day, I saw myself in the mirror and I was up. It was great," he recalls. "It's been a long time, and I felt like I was back. I wanted this so badly."

He maneuvers up a small set of stairs at the center to a platform and walks – without holding on to the parallel bars. The smile doesn't leave his face. It means he no longer has to rely on his wheelchair to get around.

"I really don't like that thing," he says. People stare.

"It really pisses off Gabby, my sister," he says. "She'll ask them what they're staring at. People always want to help push. I don't let anyone push me."

Gabriela "Gabby" Villalobos, 18, is spending the summer with her brother in San Antonio before returning to Houston for her senior year at Spring Woods High School.

Gabby doesn't take her eyes off her brother as he walks slowly across the Brooke lunchroom.

"He just wants to get better. He wants to walk out of here," she says. "We're here to give him what he needs. And get him away from the hospital. He really gets bored."

That evening, Eric walks from the center toward the Soldier & Family Assistance Center, where the family has a room at the guesthouse. He's pushing Gabby, who sits in the wheelchair, grinning.

Trying to keep in touch

Eric has made some friends among the other soldiers and Marines at Brooke Army Medical Center. But these are not his Marines. And he's not in charge.

"I wish we could go through rehab together. I could lead by example," he says. "Here, I don't have anyone to be responsible for. That's what I've done for four years, and it's just hard, you know."

Parents ask him to talk to their kids, and he goes through the motions, "joking and smiling." But his heart's not in it.

"I can't go see my guys, make sure they're OK," he says. "It's just a matter of coming in every day, doing the same thing over and over. It bores you after a while."

He stays in touch with the other wounded members of his squad. And he frequently calls Ivonne Thompson, the wife of Navy Corpsman Anthony "Doc" Thompson, who suffered the most severe injury, major head trauma.

But he's worried about her.

"She's pregnant, and she has Doc to worry about," Eric says. "I just try to make her laugh a little."

It works, Ms. Thompson says.

She and Eric talk by phone once a week, from the Veterans Affairs Polytrauma Rehabilitation Center in Tampa, Fla., where her husband is being treated.

"We were friends with Eric before Iraq, but now, he's part of the family," she says.

Two weeks later, in early August, Eric is spending a few days at home near Houston before flying out to California for his company's homecoming.

This is the home he grew up in – a modest frame house in a quiet neighborhood in Spring Branch, not far from Interstate 10.

The home is a shrine to family. And his mother, Maria Espinoza, is the center of gravity. Photographs of Eric and Gabby, as well as Eric's two older sisters and older brothers, cover virtually every wall, dresser and table.

Small albums hold snapshots of family gatherings and photos Eric sent from Iraq.

The refrigerator is a collage of pictures that track Eric from serious-faced first-grader to smiling, chunky football player in middle school.

Cousins and friends drop by, and no one leaves the house hungry as Mrs. Espinoza piles plates with what appears to be bottomless supply of milanesa, rice, beans and tortillas.

Everyone eventually gathers in the kitchen to talk.

A different Eric

"Joining the Marines was Eric's idea, not mine," said Mrs. Espinoza, who retired from her job of 34 years so she could take care of Eric. "He was 'bout 8 or 9 years old, standing in this very kitchen, and told me, 'Mom, I'm going to be a Marine.'

"I don't know where that came from," she adds. "No one in our family has even been in the military. Eric's the first."

Eric's father left when he was 9 months old, and the two didn't reconnect until Eric contacted his dad during his first tour in Iraq and they became close again, his mother says. His father died in March, just a month before Eric was injured.

Eric brought up the Marines again in high school. Though she initially said no, she eventually gave in.

"It's something he really wanted to do," Mrs. Espinoza says. "When he went to Iraq, I prayed to God every day to bring my son home safe. Three times, he went. And I got him back. A lot of moms didn't."

But the Eric who came back this last time is not the same.

"He was always joking, always making me laugh. He loved to surprise us. Many times, he'd call me and ask what was for dinner – then walk into the house. He'd drive all that way from California on a weekend, just to be home," she says.

"Now, he's quiet; something is bothering him. He misses his friends. He takes pills to get to sleep. He wakes up startled," she says. "We used to talk. Now, he's more distant, like he's moving away from us."

He worries more, she says.

"He worries about whether girls will like him now, want to be with him," she says. "In high school, he was a playboy. He was bright and funny. All the girls knew Eric. People liked to be with him.

"Now, he says to me, 'Will girls like me like this? I don't think so.' It's not something a young man should worry about."

Even before the Marines, her son felt responsibility for other people, Mrs. Espinoza says. "He was so protective of Gabby and me. The Marines gave him more people to take care of."

'Welcome home, son'

It's Aug. 25 and Eric is giddy with excitement. He's trimmed his hair Marine-style in readiness for the reunion with Fox Company.

At Houston Intercontinental for an early morning flight, a malfunction in his prosthesis makes it painful to use.

So he zips down an incline in the hated wheelchair, his leg on his lap.

At Phoenix, Eric has to wheel out to a smaller plane, give up his chair to ground crew, put on his leg and climb painfully up a steep stairway.

A burly man asks Eric if he needs help.

No, sir, he says, and continues up the stairway. The flight's jammed.

At the burly man's insistence, flight attendants move Eric toward the front of the plane.

At Palm Springs, the main commercial airport serving the Marine Air-Ground Combat Center at Twentynine Palms, 60 miles away, the burly man walks up to Eric at the luggage carousel.

"Welcome home, son," he tells Eric as he stretches out his hand and introduces himself as Col. Wes Westin, acting deputy commander at Twentynine Palms.

He gives Eric his phone number and offers to clear any bumps in getting to the homecoming. Marines take care of their own.

On the hour's drive from Palm Springs to Twentynine Palms, Eric's cellphone rings constantly. A reggatone melody by Don Omar signals yet another text message from someone in Fox Company: They've landed at March Air Force Base. They're loading up on the bus. They're heading out to Twentynine Palms.

By 3 p.m., he's on base, wheeling across a ball field toward a crowd of hundreds of people waiting for the return of Fox Company. The sun beats down like a hammer, and volunteers dispense water and energy drinks as a Marine band practices.

Young men in civilian clothes – the few squad members who were with Eric on Bridge 286 who made it back for the homecoming – whoop in delight when they see him.

There's Lance Cpl. Steven May, wearing a neck-to-waist hard plastic brace; Lance Cpl. Brandon "Little" Mendez, with a Marine Globe and Eagle decal fixed to his prosthetic arm; Cpl. John "Big" Mendez, on crutches with his smashed shins.

Suddenly, a voice shouts over a loudspeaker: "Here they come!"

Surrounded by other wounded 3rd Platoon members, Eric has positioned himself near a chain-link fence.

"Morante!" a voice screams out from one of the buses. "Dude!"

Don Omar again rings feebly and Eric shouts into the phone: "I'm over here by the [expletive] fence."

Eric is on his feet, engulfed in a sea of desert tan. He's swallowed by bear hugs from Marines that threaten to knock him to the ground.

The air is filled with shouts and curses of such joyfully rich complexity; it is no longer offensive. It takes on the rhythms of poetry.

"Cox came over to see you before he saw his wife and mom," one Marine tells him. Eric's smile would shame the sun.

Later, over dinner, and later still, during a long night of drinks at a favorite hangout called Bomba's in Palm Springs, Eric reminisces with a steady stream of Marine buddies. The conversation alternates between giddy celebration and more somber reflections.

Many of his friends are opting out of the battalion, seeking different schools or assignments that will eliminate – or at least postpone – another quick turnaround to Iraq. Heads nod in agreement.

The cost for some has become too great.

Lance Cpl. Steven May calls it a friends and family war.

"If you do not have a family member or friend that has been put in harm's way or injured, then it doesn't affect people's lives the same way," he says later. "Most people go on without a second thought."

What's next?

Back at the Center for the Intrepid in San Antonio on Monday, Eric returns to the demanding routine of recovery.

These are not good days. His insomnia has worsened. He frequently sleeps through his physical therapy sessions and has to struggle to make up lost time.

"I'm used to getting up and going, find out what needs to get done and do it," he says. "Now ..." The words drift off into the air.

He's not sure what to do next.

It's early September and he's deep into his new normal.

The young Marine who worked out in the gym every day finds he can't easily lift weights with his maimed left arm. Synching the prosthetic leg with the rest of his body makes the simplest movements seem awkward and unnatural.

"You start thinking, 'Why should I do it at all?' " he says.

Iraq is never far away: the sharp, concussive blasts of IEDs, the grinding reality of patrols and house-to-house searches.

After his second tour, in Fallujah, Eric reconsidered his options. He wanted to stay in the Marines, but two trips to Iraq were plenty. He thought about seeking reassignment to another unit or additional training to help advancement.

In late fall, as the battalion prepared for a third trip to Anbar, he was reassigned to a new squad that needed some help.

"We all knew we'd be going to Iraq again, and those guys really needed to get their act together. We worked on it," he recalls. "I got my squad straight and got them ready to survive."

When the deployment order came down, he re-enlisted for another four years in order to go with the squad.

"I wanted to take care of my guys," he says. "I felt like I had to be there to watch over them."

Now, late at night in his room, one of the thoughts that keeps sleep at bay is the terrible geometry of his decision. It placed him in Iraq, atop Bridge 286 at the moment the suicide bomber set off a truckload of explosives.

"That really messes with my head," he says. "I keep thinking I could still be the same person I was before."

And there are the questions he can't answer: "Like what's going to happen to me after I get out here? How will I protect my home or defend my family when I'm like this?"

Army doctors had set up a group counseling session so Eric and other wounded warriors could talk – about the war, about their wounds and this new reality they find themselves in.

Eric found the experience of opening up to strangers too uncomfortable. He went once and never returned.

"I'm getting to know other wounded guys in the barracks, and we get together at night. We talk and we drink," he says. "Sometimes I drink enough to pass out, and then I can get some sleep."

He pauses. "I know it's not good," he says. "But sometimes, it's all you can do."

'Uncle Eric'

There is good news.

Ivonne Thompson gives birth to a 6-pound, 13-ounce son, named Anthony C. Thompson Jr. – A.J., for short. He is born Sept. 12 – four days after Eric's birthday. Eric keeps the photo on his cellphone, which he shows off like a proud uncle.

Later, when Ms. Thompson brings A.J. home to visit her parents in Conroe, Texas, Eric is there.

"Are you ready to see Uncle Eric?" Ms. Thompson says, then hands him the baby. "Holy crap," Eric says, patting the baby's back with a tentative hand.

Ms. Thompson fills Eric in on Doc's progress.

"When I lay A.J. next to him, he moves his head right to him," she says. "If A.J. cries, he makes a face. I know he's in there, and he knows what's going on."

In October, Eric opts to take a month of convalescent leave.

He has his permanent leg fitted with the final socket, which alleviates most of the pinching and rubbing. He's decorated the prosthesis with a huge scarlet-and-gold Marine insignia. He feels stronger and is walking better. He just needed a break, he says.

"I had to get away from BAMC for a while," he says. "I needed to be with friends and family and play with my dog."

His sister Gabby is a finalist for homecoming queen and wants him to escort her during a halftime ceremony. And she wants him in his Marine dress blues.

It's the first time he's worn the uniform since just before his last trip to Iraq, and he has to have it altered. He's put on a few pounds, he says, smiling.

The afternoon of the game, Eric gets ready with studied attention to detail.

He puts on the pants, the prosthesis sliding smoothly into the deep blue material. He then fits the silicon foot, carefully sculpted with toenails and veins, into a black sock, and then into an immaculately shined shoe.

Next, he carefully arranges the medals he'll wear on the breast of the jacket, especially the Purple Heart ribbon. He slips on the jacket, fastens the gold eagle, globe and anchor buttons and stands almost involuntarily at attention.

Surrounded by old sports trophies and the mounted head of his first deer hunt in his old bedroom, Eric again transforms into a Marine. Gabby fusses over his buttons and picks nonexistent lint from the blue jacket.

That evening, at Tully Stadium, the field is lighted like an outtake from Friday Night Lights. The Spring Woods High Tigers band plays energetically, stoking up the enthusiasm of several hundred fans wearing yellow and black.

Principal Wayne Schaper Jr. greets Gabby and Eric with a handshake. He tells them where they'll need to be just before halftime. In the stands, brother and sister are swarmed by well-wishers and friends. Eric's former football coach rushes over and gives him a bear hug.

At the appointed time, Eric and Gabby join the other hopefuls and their escorts on the opposite side of the field at the 50-yard line. As each name is called, they walk across to loud cheers. The volume rises when the PA system booms, "and senior Gabriela Villalobos, escorted by her brother ..."

Gabby takes Eric's arm and they walk, straight and true, across the field – the slight catch in the Marine's right leg is hardly noticeable.

A minute later, Gabby is crowned homecoming queen and pandemonium erupts in the stands.

Eric smiles, slips away, trades his uniform for civilian clothes and walks up into the stands to watch the rest of the game.

This is, after all, his sister's night.



December 21, 2007

11th MEU Marines, sailors train with Maldivian forces

LAAMU ATOLL, Maldives (Dec. 21, 2007) -- Marines and sailors with the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) concluded bi-lateral training with members of the Maldivian National Defense Force on the Laamu Atoll with a graduation ceremony here today.

http://www.usmc.mil/marinelink/mcn2000.nsf/main5/F1EB49AC20206D4E852573B800271E37?opendocument

Dec. 21, 2007; Submitted on: 12/21/2007 02:07:16 AM ; Story ID#: 200712212716
By Cpl. Scott M. Biscuiti, 11th MEU

Combat Logistics Battalion 11, 11th MEU, has setup is a non-commissioned officer leadership course and martial arts classes for the soldiers of the 20th Special Task Force, MNDF from Dec. 14-20.

“Currently, the MNDF does not have an NCO course available,” said 1st Sgt. Gamboa, the CLB-11 first sergeant. “We are laying the foundation for them to build a more permanent resident enlisted leadership course.”

The CLB-11 Marines along with Marines from Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 11th MEU, instruct the MNDF students on everything from customs and courtesies and drill to infantry and leadership skills.

While the NCO’s attend their leadership course, the junior enlisted soldiers receive martial arts training from Marine Corps Martial Arts Program instructors. The soldiers, attending the 20-week long special task force course are instructed in a condensed version of tan belt skills.

**For more information about the 11th MEU (SOC) visit their website at http://www.usmc.mil.

Leaders give Marines, sailors VIP birthday treatment

ABOARD USS TARAWA (Dec. 21, 2007) -- Some of the Marines and sailors seemed taken aback at first by the royal treatment the swarm of senior staff noncommissioned officers and officers were giving them during their special "December birthdays" meal. Most young Marines had never seen a sergeant major serving dinner with such zeal. Or heard a 1st sergeant ask, “Can I refill your glass with water? Or, how about some bread?”

http://www.marines.mil/marinelink/mcn2000.nsf/lookupstoryref/2007122143218

Dec. 21, 2007; Submitted on: 12/21/2007 04:32:18 AM ; Story ID#: 2007122143218
By Staff Sgt. Sergio Jimenez, 11th MEU

Half-way through the teriyaki steak however, most started to unwind. The sincerity of their leaders put them at ease and soon their timid thank you’s turned into “Yes, 1st sergeant, thank you, but I’ll have some tea instead.”

Fancy wine glasses were topped off swiftly and smiles and pleasantries exchanged. The lobster tails, crab legs were proclaimed delicious and the double baked potatoes with melted cheese was said to be divine. It caused a young hospital to corpsman remark, that even at his home, he’s never had it quite this fine. On most days grunts would say to him, “Hey Doc, treat this?” Tonight, he said one offered him cake and ice cream as a treat.

But since Marines never cut a cake without a ceremony, the MEU created one that was slightly different and shorter than the rest. There was no message from the commandant, no band, no long formations or locked-kneed Marines falling out. It was friendly and meant as fun.

With tongue-in-cheek, Lt. Col. Shawn W. McKee, read from astrology, and told everyone that those born in December are Sagittarians or Capricorns.

Capricorns make goals and work long and hard to reach them, and are self-disciplined and successful in what they do, he said.

Sagittarians love travel and adventure. They like to walk and at sports many excel, he said. Some look around to friends and gesture that the colonel’s descriptions fit them well.

As the meal winds down, it becomes plain to see, that Marines and sailors born in December are also smart. Many quickly realized they must enjoy the moment while it lasts, because they may never have a day like this again.

*For more information about the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit, please visit their website at http://www.usmc.mil/11thmeu.

Hooked up; 31st MEU receives Corps' new M777 Lightweight Howitzer

CAMP HANSEN, Okinawa (December 21, 2007) -- The 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit received its first M777 Lightweight Howitzers recently on Camp Hansen as part of a Marine Corps-wide artillery upgrade.

http://www.okinawa.usmc.mil/Public%20Affairs%20Info/Archive%20News%20Pages/2007/071221-howitzer.html

Lance Cpl. Richard Blumenstein

The new Howitzer, which is scheduled to replace the M-198 Howitzers Corps-wide by 2010, is about 5,000 pounds lighter than the M-198.

This difference in weight makes the new Howitzer a more mobile weapon system. Marines can transport it using an MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft. The older howitzer weighed too much for the aircraft to transport, according to Staff Sgt. J. D. Baters, the battery gunnery sergeant for L Battery, 3rd Battalion, 12th Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division.

Additionally, the M777 Lightweight Howitzer has the ability to fire more advanced artillery rounds. The M777 can fire an Excalibur precision-guided projectile that uses an onboard computer and global positioning system to help guide itself back onto predetermined targets if fired off course.

The M777 also boasts the same range firing capabilities as the M-198, a Digital Fire Control System and a built-in radio. The new DFCS gives Marine gunners the capability to receive coordinates directly from a fire direction center and uses a GPS to help zero in on targets, Baters said.

With the old system, Marines had to communicate with the fire direction center though radio and use iron sights to aim at targets. By cutting down on the time field artillery cannoneers spend receiving and inputting data, they can provide direct fire support more rapidly, Baters said. The M777 is also equipped with iron sights to serve as a backup in case the digital system fails.

The M777 also has a display that allows the fire direction center to send text messages to cannoneers riding in vehicles or manning Howitzers. The M777 also reduces the amount of time it takes for cannoneers to respond to indirect fire requests, Baters said.

"When somebody requests artillery support, every second counts," Baters said. "We can have this gun ready to fire in literally three to four minutes."

Because each M777 has the equipment to communicate with the fire direction center directly, the cannoneers can cover a larger area since they no longer need to be grouped together to receive coordinates, according to Sgt. Matthew L. Higgins, a field artillery cannoneer with L Battery.

"Instead of having all our guns in one spot, we can divide them up and cover a larger area," Higgins said.

Field artillery cannoneers with L Battery, arriving from Twentynine Palms, Calif., inspected the M777s before accepting the new guns from the Camp Pendleton, Calif.-based E Battery, 2nd Bn., 11th Marines, 1st MarDiv.

The 31st MEU's artillery batteries rotate about every six months to a year as part of the Unit Deployment Program on Okinawa.


December 20, 2007

Marines Toys for Tots Website now Features Free eCards that Contribute Cash

PORT CHESTER, N.Y., Dec 20, 2007 /PRNewswire via COMTEX/ -- With more than 1 million visitors expected at http://www.toysfortots.org/ this December, they will now see free Month2Month.com eCards as a major sponsor along side Best Buy, Coca Cola and Toys R' Us. When these eCards are sent and received, it triggers a cash contribution to Toys for Tots.

http://www.foxbusiness.com/markets/industries/retail/article/marines-toys-tots-website-features-free-ecards-contribute-cash_416470_7.html

Thursday, Dec. 20 2007
PR Newswire
Comtex

John Aslanian, CEO of Month2Month.com said: "We are expecting to have 1 million cards sent in the next few days that could result in a contribution of up to $50,000. We know that for some the economy might be putting a crimp in their generosity. But what this can do is to save them the cost of buying cards and the postage. We are asking everyone to send these cards, even if they already sent other cards, to help make this a merry Christmas and happy holiday for many more needy children."

Month2Month.com cards are all produced by top-notch artists working in a loft studio just outside of New York City. The cards show great care in design and detail and often take weeks or months to complete. They are all professionally animated often requiring hundreds of frames to get the motion to look smooth and flowing.

Aslanian added: "This cash contribution comes at a great time for Toys for Tots because they can purchase the right toys at deep discount prices at the last minute. It will help them close a gap in many areas of the country where the economy, toy recalls and deployments have made this a challenging year to serve the needs of as many children as they would like. We urge everyone to take advantage of this wonderful offer from our company."

This year marks the 60th anniversary for the Toys for Tots tradition of the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves. In 2006, Toys for Tots delivered more than 19.2 million toys to over 7.6 million children.

Month2Month.com is a privately held online greeting company founded in 2005. The site offers free high quality online greeting cards and can be found at http://www.month2month.com.

For more information, contact: Steven Marcus 914-933-2638

Marines help grant Christmas wishes

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Dec. 20, 2007) -- Five Marines from Combat Instructor Company gave up their weekend liberty Sunday to spread holiday cheer and show Marine Corps support to a special group of kids and their families at Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington, D.C.

http://www.usmc.mil/marinelink/mcn2000.nsf/main5/C87AA18FC2EFF56A852573B800126AD6?opendocument

Dec. 20, 2007; Submitted on: 12/20/2007 10:21:09 PM ; Story ID#: 2007122022219
By Lance Cpl. Andrew S. Keirn, MCB Quantico

In conjunction with Home of Miracles and Embraces Inc. and Dr. Charlotte Barbey-Morel, the hospital’s chief of pediatrics infectious diseases, the Marines of Combat Instructor Company helped put together a Christmas party for children infected with HIV⁄AIDS and other challenging illnesses.

‘‘HOME received a Christmas wish list from the kids that most of them could only dream of,” said Ozzy Ramos, director and founder of HOME. ‘‘Due to our diligent efforts in fund-raising and with the dollar for dollar match, challenge issued by Doris Buffet, a prominent Fredericksburg resident, our ‘Home for the Holidays’ fund-raising campaign was able to raise almost $23,000 in a little over three weeks. We were then able to purchase the bulk of the children’s wish list, if not the entire list.”

HOME’s goal is to provide direct support and assistance to disease-inflicted children and their families. They are dedicated to providing a safe-haven retreat, granting wishes, creating memorable experiences and providing financial assistance to deserving families.

Ozzy Ramos’s cousin is Sgt. Melvin Ramos of Combat Instructor Company. Through Sgt. Ramos’s espirit de corps, he has it taken upon himself to support HOME’s efforts by volunteering his free time at fundraisers and events. He has motivated fellow Marines of the Combat Instructor Company to follow in his tracks, including the company first sergeant, Victor Williams.

Williams was looking for programs the Combat Instructor Company could give back to within the surrounding community and then he ran into Ozzy Ramos during a reenlistment ceremony in November. The two of them had a very casual and enlightening conversation. After their meeting, Williams decided to offer to assist in any way he could.

‘‘Marines know what battle is all about and being successful at it,” Williams said. ‘‘One of the main ingredients to our success is the support we receive from family and friends and we believe these kids are in a battle too. Although it may be a different enemy, we want to be there to give them the support and encouragement they need to continue to push on in their battle.”

When Williams and his Marines entered the room where the Christmas party was held he heard a lady saying ‘‘Thank goodness, the Marines have landed.” He knew just from that statement their presence just being there made a difference.

‘‘Our presence at an event for these kids gives them and their parents a true look at how deep their support is. Anything we can do makes such a difference and we’re always happy to be there.”

It was evident that the kids were in awe of the Marines and their uniforms from the moment they stepped into the room.

One of the unfortunately infected children even asked Sgt. Taylor Jolly what he needed to do to become a Marine and what it was like to be a Marine.

Jolly talked to the boy for a long time about the training and dedication it takes to become a Marine. He told the boy that if he wanted to become one himself, he needed to stay away from drugs and smoking and work hard so he could grow up and fulfill his dream of becoming a Marine. Even though there may be no hope for the young boy becoming a Marine because of his illness, for that day his illness was put aside in his mind and dreams of a normal life were made possible.

‘‘If these patients can stick with their medications they could potentially lead normal lives into adulthood,” Barbey-Morel said, ‘‘but most have a difficult time following through with the meds. This was a day for these kids to forget about their conditions and just be happy for a change. We wanted to do something for them to show them that it’s not always just blood tests and number counts; it’s about caring and bringing some joy into their lives. For these kids it’s a really long haul and they need to know there is life for them beyond their illnesses.”

Barbey-Morel has taken upon herself the burden of directly supporting the annual Christmas party in the past. Ozzy Ramos and HOME recognized her dedication to the children and their families and felt the need to help her throw this year’s party to allow her to concentrate on being with her patients and giving them hope for a brighter, healthier future.

‘‘Events like these are very important,” Ozzy Ramos said. ‘‘There are times and circumstances where mental health can be just as important as medicine. Having an event, such as the Christmas party, lets the kids be kids and not patients for at least one day.”

Home has great plans for 2008. They plan on supporting events that include a concert that will bring well-known artists to the area, sponsoring kids to go to camp, better educational opportunities for the kids, and a black tie gala. Being a former chief warrant officer three in the Marine Corps himself, Ozzy Ramos, along with his cousin, Sgt. Ramos plan on including the Marines in as many of the upcoming events as possible.

‘‘Marines have always been in the forefront of all battles,” said Ozzy Ramos, ‘‘and this one is no different because this disease does not discriminate. I myself am retired from the Marine Corps and although I am now a civilian, my commitment to the Marine Corps, the public sector and the communities I live in remains the same.”

Individual actions key to MOUT success

MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. (Dec. 20, 2007) -- A Marine patrol moved cautiously down the street, eyes scanning, with their hands on their weapons, ready for anything. Their mission was to contact the local sheik and establish a friendly relationship. As they moved down the crowded street a silhouette appeared on a nearby rooftop. A primal scream rang out followed by the bang of a rocket-propelled grenade.

http://www.usmc.mil/marinelink/mcn2000.nsf/main5/7A860CB5D1E2AEC9852573B70053CCDC?opendocument

Dec. 20, 2007; Submitted on: 12/20/2007 10:15:19 AM ; Story ID#: 20071220101519
By Lance Cpl. Christopher Zahn, 2nd Marine Division

The scream alerted the Marines who reacted to the danger above them. They sought cover and began securing the nearby area. The squad moved as a whole, but it was the individual actions of the Marines from 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force, that determined the outcome of the day.

Marines from the “Destroyer” battalion conducted predeployment training at the Military Operations in Urban Terrain facility here Dec. 12. They left their LAV-25 light armored vehicles behind and patrolled on foot while they focused on individual actions and small unit leadership.

“Individual actions are a big thing - especially for the new guys that haven’t been in this environment yet,” said Lance Cpl. William H. Conn, an LAV crewman with Company A, 2nd LAR. “Here you have civilians you have to interact with and the rules of engagement come into play.”

To be successful in a MOUT environment, every Marine must think and pay attention to detail. Every stick, stone, wire or window must be inspected for danger continuously.

“Everybody’s a thinker,” Conn said. “I might not see something, but the Marine behind me could say, ‘Hey there’s an (improvised explosive device) there.’”

The dozens of Iraqi role players forced the Marines to pay attention to detail and made the training extremely realistic.

“(The training) is really good. It’s an eye opener,” said Pfc. Joseph M. Graziano, a crewman with Co. A. “I’ve never done anything like this before. It’s more realistic than any training we’ve ever done.”

The training served as a valuable tool for all the Marines whether they had deployed before or not.

“I learned a few things today and I’m sure everyone else did too,” said Conn. “If I go down, it could be a (private first class) picking up the team, and he’s got to be able to step up. The situation is always changing rapidly.”

The squad accomplished their mission by incorporating everything required of them. They contacted the sheik, who pointed out the location of the RPG gunner. The squad took advantage of the intelligence and assaulted the enemy position, resulting in a victory.

Maldivian Quick Reaction Force Commander Visits USS Cleveland

USS CLEVELAND, At Sea (NNS) -- Brig. Gen. Moosa Ali Jaleel, Maldives National Defense Force's (MNDF) Quick Reaction Force (QRF) commanding general, visited the amphibious transport dock USS Cleveland (LPD 7), Dec. 18 during a joint training exercise with the MDNF.

http://www.navy.mil/search/display.asp?story_id=34057

Story Number: NNS071220-24
Release Date: 12/20/2007 12:57:00 PM

By Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Grant P. Ammon, USS Cleveland Public Affairs

Jaleel, along with a warrant officer and three enlisted members of the MNDF arrived on Cleveland's flight deck aboard a CH-46 helicopter from Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron (HMM) 166 (reinforced), and toured the ship for nearly two hours. During the visit, Jaleel and his complement were treated to lunch, an introduction to life aboard, and an exchange of gifts with Cleveland's Commanding Officer, Capt. Billy Hart.

"It's a pleasure to host General Jaleel," said Hart. "Collectively, we're working to build interoperability and foster confidence between our two militaries. Good relations and familiarity between us will ultimately bolster global maritime security."

For the enlisted members of the delegation, the visit provided the opportunity to see a U.S. Navy ship for the first time.

"The Cleveland was the first ship these enlisted men have been on," said Command Master Chief (SW/SS) William Steele. "They were very impressed with the ship and its professional crew."

Marines from Combat Logistics Battalion 11 embarked aboard Cleveland and crew members are participating in Exercise Coconut Grove, which is designed to enhance capabilities and interoperability between U.S. forces and the MNDF. This bilateral training focuses on squad and platoon level tactics and strengthening military to military relationships.

Naval medical and dental professionals from Cleveland are also working side-by-side with Maldivian Health Care personnel to enhance and augment the Maldivian Public Health Care System. Projects provided near term dental and ophthalmology treatment to the Maldivian people while providing training to Maldivian doctors in moderately complex procedures for the long term.

Cleveland's participation in this exercise emphasizes the amphibious capability and interoperability between U.S. and MNDF forces.

Cleveland, the Navy's oldest operating amphibious ship, is currently assigned to the Tarawa Expeditionary Strike Group. Embarked with Marines from the 11th Combat Logistics Battalion, Cleveland is currently on a scheduled deployment to the 5th and 7th Fleet areas of responsibility.

For more news from USS Cleveland, visit www.navy.mil/local/lpd7/.

December 18, 2007

Marines, Sailors become ‘best friends’ with Singapore children

SINGAPORE (Dec. 18, 2007) -- All she had to do was smile and she had an instant best friend.

http://www.usmc.mil/marinelink/mcn2000.nsf/main5/0D6C772E4F0D9677852573B70010FCAC?opendocument

Dec. 18, 2007; Submitted on: 12/19/2007 10:05:32 PM ; Story ID#: 2007121922532
By Staff Sgt. Sergio Jimenez, 11th MEU

That is what Staff Sgt. Jamie Hammond discovered when she spent the day with Singaporean children from Sunbeam Center during a friendship-building community relations project at the Singapore Science Center and Water Park here.

Sunbeam is a residential home for socially disadvantaged youth that provides a place of safety for children, according to the center’s newsletter.

Hammond, who is the fiscal chief with the command element, 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) was one of 18 Marine and Navy volunteers from the 11th MEU (SOC) Tarawa Amphibious Ready Group who spent a day of fun and learning with more than 30 children and their chaperones.

The Marines and Sailors are embarked aboard USS Tarawa and are taking part in their first port visit since departing San Diego Nov. 4 and after conducting a humanitarian assistance operation in Bangladesh Dec. 4-6.

"No matter where we go in the world, we always try to do something like this," said Petty Officer 2nd Class Juan Bejarano, religious program specialist, command element, 11th MEU (SOC), from Camp Pendleton, Calif. "We want to show our appreciation to the people of Singapore." The trip to the science center was one of three community relations events the Marines and Sailors from the Tarawa took part in during their week-long visit.

The volunteers were matched with children between the ages of three to 15 by gender or based on the relationship that was developed on the short 20 minute bus ride to the science center. Most boys sought out males and girls naturally gravitated toward females, but that was not always the case. Female chaperones assisted male volunteers who had boys and girls in their group.

It was their day and it quickly became obvious that it was the kids who were running the show, said Petty Officer 2nd Class Glenn A. Bruno, aviation electronics technician, USS Tarawa. If they saw someone they liked, they took that person by the hand and pulled them in the direction of fun, he said. "They had an expression on their face that can only be described as complete happiness. Like nothing else matters but having fun."

Sgt. Brittney Carrington, administration clerk, command element, 11th MEU, was another volunteer who darted from one science exhibit to another and then out into the water park. Watching the children splashing and shouting with joy with people who just a couple of hours ago were strangers was one of her favorite parts of the trip, she said. "I was amazed at how quickly the kids became attached to us. It was very sweet and I had a great time."

"Who doesn't like having fun with kids, running around playing tag and getting spit on with water," said Navy Lt. Scott Ingram, chaplain, Commander Logistics Group, Western Pacific, based in Singapore.

Everyone benefited from this day of friendship and in different ways, said Ingram. The excursion allowed us to express our good-will for the people of Singapore and the volunteers felt good to make children happy.

Some saw their children, little brothers and sisters in the faces of others.

"One little girl in my group reminded me of my daughter Jada," said Bruno, who volunteered because he missed his 4-year-old daughter Jada and 9-year-old son Nyrel. She had a joy on her face that only kids have. It was Jada's joy. "She was just like her," he said smiling. "She was dragging me all around the center, telling me and everyone else what to do."

**For more information about the 11th MEU (SOC) visit their website at http://www.usmc.mil.

Weapons Company makes name in recently tamed East Ramadi

RAMADI, Iraq (Dec. 18, 2007) -- As the Anbar Province continues to make strides in the direction of progress, Marines from Weapons Company, 2nd Battalion 8th Marine Regiment, are doing their part in the final region of Anbar to join the Awakening.

http://www.usmc.mil/marinelink/mcn2000.nsf/main5/4E0196C1A390F1A3852573B5003E2AA5?opendocument

Dec. 18, 2007; Submitted on: 12/18/2007 06:19:01 AM ; Story ID#: 200712186191
By Lance Cpl. Charles E. McKelvey, II Marine Expeditionary Force (FWD)

East Ramadi, an area littered with palm trees, farm land and small towns, offers a different challenge for Weapons Company than its fellow companies in Ramadi.

“This area is much different than what the Marines in the city are dealing with,” said Capt. Matthew J. Martin, Weapons Company commander, 2nd Bn., 8th Marines. “There’s a lot more open space and instead of insurgents stashing weapons or setting up sniper positions inside a city building, they have vast fields where they can hide weapons or stage attacks on coalition forces.”

Weapons Company’s area of operation is home to more than 90,000 Iraqi citizens, close to the same amount of people each of the rifle companies in the city are responsible for. With a more spread out area to cover and the same amount of people, Weapons Company resorts to regular mounted and dismounted patrols, keeping a watchful eye on the population.

“This part of Ramadi was the last to stop fighting,” said Martin. “Regular security patrols conducted by Marines and Iraqi Police are critical in keeping peace in this area.”

Besides keeping peace in the region, the security patrols also have another benefit. They provide integration between Coalition and Iraqi Security Forces and provide invaluable on-the-job training.

“One of the things we are really pushing is having Marines work side by side with the Iraqi Police,” said Martin. “Every one of our positions, starting with the entry control point all the way up to our rooftop positions, that provide us with 360 degree security, and our (command operations center), all have IPs sitting right beside Marines. The intent of that is 24/7 on-the-job training.”

As the trend with the rest of Iraq, Weapons Company’s patrols are aimed at helping reconstruct the area while still providing security. While on patrol, the Marines of Weapons Company conduct censuses, interact with the civilians and provide any other special services the Marines can accomplish.

One of the special services the patrols provide is having a corpsman treat villagers for minor medical conditions.

“These people could go to the local hospital, but most of them either choose not to go or can’t afford to,” said Seaman Apprentice Brenden T. Colla, corpsman, Mobile Assault Platoon. “I see, on average, about three people each time we go on patrol,” said Colla who belongs to Weapons Company, 2nd Bn., 8th Marines

Colla, who treats most common injuries, colds and coughs, broken bones, burns and abrasions said the hardest part about providing the medical aid is dealing with the language barrier.

“When I have to get someone’s symptoms, the language barrier presents a real big problem. It’s difficult to get all the information I need and sometimes I have to guess using my experience what I think is wrong with the person,” said Colla.

On one particular trip, Colla treated a young girl who had a severe burn covering one third of her right arm. The girl, who lived in a village along Route Cyprus, was unable to receive medical attention prior to seeing the corpsman.

“In many situations like this one, there’s only so much I can do for them on the spot,” said Colla. “I use what I have, which most of the time is bandages and pain medicine.”

While medical attention is given, the rest of the Marines are busy with goals of their own, some finding out what can done to help the townspeople.

“When we stop we ask a lot of questions,” said Cpl. Andrew D Spicer, section leader, Mobile Assault Platoon. “We want to find out what the people need, and what can make their lives better.”

The answers are commonly the same, water and electricity.

“The people need these basic things,” said Spicer. “And we do what we can for them. By providing them with things such as water and electricity will, in the future, allow them to provide for themselves.”

Providing for themselves is the end goal of the mission. This starts with the IP policing their own and continues all the way down to new schools, roads and working utilities.

“Driving through the area, you can see there’s still a lot of work to be done,” said Spicer. “We have many projects going on throughout the area, reconstructing the area, and for that the locals are grateful.”

Red Cross to Deliver Holiday Cards to Wounded

This holiday season, the American Red Cross will make sure holiday greetings generically addressed to wounded servicemembers at military medical facilities around the country will find a home.

http://www.americasupportsyou.mil/americasupportsyou/Content.aspx?ID=44956067

By American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Dec. 18, 2007 -

With help from Pitney Bowes Government Solutions, and the support of the Defense Department and Walter Reed Army Medical Center here, the American Red Cross will collect, review and distribute holiday greeting cards to wounded military personnel.

“So many Americans want to show their support and gratitude by reaching out to wounded servicemembers at Walter Reed and other military medical centers during the holiday season,” said Neal Denton, American Red Cross Senior vice president for service to the armed forces. “With the support of the Department of Defense, Walter Reed leadership and Pitney Bowes, we can bring a little cheer to these brave men and women.”

For security reasons, the Red Cross will be able to accept only holiday cards – not packages. Senders also are reminded to refrain from using glitter or any other materials that would not be appropriate in a hospital environment.

Red Cross volunteers will receive and bundle the cards, which will be shipped by Pitney Bowes Government Solutions. Then, Red Cross volunteers at the medical facilities will distribute the cards throughout the holiday season.

“It is an honor to provide this small measure of comfort at holiday time to those who have sacrificed so much,” said Murray Martin, Pitney Bowes president and chief executive officer. “We want to make it as easy as possible for all Americans to show their appreciation to the men and women who serve this nation so proudly and selflessly.”

Holiday cards and letters should be addressed to:


We Support You During Your Recovery!

c/o American Red Cross

P.O. Box 419

Savage, MD 20763-0419


Be sure to affix adequate postage. Multiple cards without envelopes may be placed in one mailing envelope or a box that includes a return address. Cards must be received no later than Dec. 27. Cards received after this date will be returned to the sender. Again, senders are reminded that “care packages” are not part of the program –– send only cards and notes.

Because a Defense Department policy in effect since 2001 specifically forbids the delivery of generically addressed mail to servicemembers, cards sent directly to military medical facilities are returned or discarded unless they’re addressed to a specific servicemember by name.

To find out about more individuals, groups and organizations that are helping support the troops, visit www.AmericaSupportsYou.mil. America Supports You directly connects military members to the support of the America people and offers a tool to the general public in their quest to find meaningful ways to support the military community.


3rd LAR takes on two-front operation

COP TIMBERWOLF, Iraq - (Dec. 18, 2007) -- Pepperoni or sausage? Regular or super-sized? Six-inch or foot-long? These are just some of the “tough” decisions Marines at Al Asad face on a daily basis. Currently the largest U.S. military installation in Al Anbar Province, this former Iraqi airbase is anything but rustic.

http://www.marines.mil/marinelink/mcn2000.nsf/lookupstoryref/20071218103514

Dec. 18, 2007; Submitted on: 12/18/2007 10:35:14 AM ; Story ID#: 20071218103514
By Cpl. Adam Johnston, 2nd Marine Division

Al Asad boasts a variety of creature comforts, including: in-room cable TV and internet, multiple souvenir shops and an Olympic-sized indoor swimming pool. People don’t call it ‘Camp Cupcake’ for nothing.

For the Marines of Bravo Company, 3rd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, however, life is a little different. Contrary to popular belief, not all deployments are created equal.

Their home away from home is Command Outpost Timberwolf. Established a mere eight months ago, Timberwolf is nestled in a mountainous patch of terrain near the town of Baghdadi on the east side of the Euphrates River, opposite Al Asad.

“In the past, insurgents were using this high ground to launch indirect fire attacks on adjacent coalition bases,” said Capt. Max Stapp, the company commander for Bravo Company, 3rd LAR. “Our presence here has eliminated their ability to do so.”

At the same time, Timberwolf’s strategic location also brings with it a unique set of challenges. Though close in proximity, Al Asad might as well be clear ‘cross country.

“The nearby bridges aren’t sturdy enough to handle any military traffic,” Stapp said, “so all re-supply is done via helo.”

Laundry, mail, chow, spare LAV parts – you name it. And with birds coming in-and-out on a regular basis, the flightline can be “hectic as hell.”

“Unloading and distributing supplies from the flightline is a task in itself,” Stapp said. “I like to think of it as organized chaos; my guys know what they’re doing.”

Stapp is referring to the company’s Headquarters element. In addition to their normal duties, these Marines are responsible for the general upkeep of COP Timberwolf.

“Working parties are part of everyday life around here,” Stapp said. “For security reasons, continual improvement of the COP hasn’t stopped since we arrived. Laying new razor wire, upgrading overwatch positions, etc.”

They also handle the day-to-day stuff: collecting and consolidating trash in the burn pit, refueling the power generators, disposing of WAG bags (human waste) – things most people take for granted.

During combat operations, the job only gets harder.

“With so many Marines outside the wire, it only means that much more work for those who stay behind,” Stapp said. “We can’t just close up shop due to lack of personnel.”

Operation Rat Hunt, a 20-day evolution, was the most recent test of their collective resolve.

Approximately 181 Marines and sailors were part of the overall effort, including combat engineers and scout snipers from 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, military working dogs from Regimental Combat Team 2 and air support from 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing.

“We wanted to take advantage of our additional forces and use them to surge the [area of operation],” Stapp said. “Not only does it disrupt the enemy’s ability to operate, it shows the local populace our resolve to keep security, which is critical in the counterinsurgency effort.”

The operation was broken up into three phases: Phase One – Interdiction and census operations; Phase Two – Cache sweeps and reconnaissance; and Phase Three – Exploitation.

“Intel points to a number of [high-value individuals] who call this area home,” Stapp said. “They’re constantly on the move, using family connections to hide out and operate in the surrounding villages. Our AO is so large, it can be difficult to cover at times.”

At 565 sq. miles, Bravo Company’s battlespace is more than twice the size of Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif.

“We try to stay out there as long as humanly possible,” said Staff Sgt. Mark F. Erhardt, the platoon sergeant for 1st Platoon, Baker Company, 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment. “It’s all about keeping the enemy on their toes; making it harder for them to do business.”

An infantryman by trade, Erhardt’s second deployment to Iraq has proved considerably different than the first.

“This is the first time I’ve ever spent more than 24 hours outside the wire without returning to base,” Erhardt said. “Once we’re done for the day, we try and find an easily defendable spot to go firm for the night. It definitely adds a bit of realism to this deployment; there’s nowhere safe out there to lay our heads.”

As Bravo Company’s dismount element, Erhardt and his Marines have the best of both worlds.

“Working with the LAV’s has been nothing but positive,” Erhardt said. “As a mobile assault force, we can move two squads of Marines anywhere in our AO within a short amount of time.”

The biggest adjustment for Erhardt is dealing with the aptly-nicknamed “moon dust”, which surrounds the entire COP.

“At the end of the day, no matter what happens, weapons maintenance is a must,” Erhardt said.

This particular variety of Iraq’s finest seems to stick to anything and everything it touches.

“An instant sugar cookie,” Stapp said.

Unfortunately, Timberwolf’s shower system isn’t exactly state-of-the-art. Shielded from onlookers by the shell of an empty HESCO barrier, Marines hang up a bag of water and let gravity take care of the rest.

During the Summer months, it wouldn’t be all that bad. But with winter upon us and temperatures hovering around the freezing mark, Marines often go with plan B.

“Baby wipe showers it is,” Erhardt said. “I’d rather skip the whole pneumonia piece altogether.”

When all was said and done, Operation Rat Hunt yielded the detention of three individuals with direct ties to a HVI, multiple weapons cache finds and the discovery of three improvised explosive devices.

“The Marines out here are truly roughing it,” Stapp said. “[COP Timberwolf] is one of the last real ‘field’ environments left in this area. No offense to anyone at Al Asad, but when my Marines look back on this deployment, they’ll be glad they did."

Clearly, there’s more to life in Iraq than Pizza Hut, Burger King and Subway.

December 17, 2007

Marines, Sailors help clean Singapore beach

PULAU UBIN, Singapore(Dec. 17, 2007) -- Marines and Sailors volunteered several hours of their free time and several gallons of sweat to clean Pulau Ubin beach during a friendship-building project here.

http://www.marines.mil/marinelink/mcn2000.nsf/0/380881e7e853d3b7852573b5004fff59?OpenDocument

Submitted by: 11th MEU
Story by: Computed Name: Sgt. Bryson K. Jones
Story Identification #: 2007121893347

The beach clean-up is one of three community relations projects being conducted by Marines and Sailors from the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit Expeditionary Strike Group 3 during their port visit here this week. The 11th MEU and ESG-3 are embarked aboard USS Tarawa and are taking part in a scheduled six-month deployment through the Western Pacific Ocean and Arabian Gulf region.

The objective of the 10 Marines and 16 Sailors who volunteered was to make a tiny section of the beach look as beautiful as the rest of Singapore.

Pulau Ubin is located in the Johos Straits which separate Singapore and Malaysia. The beaches in the straits collect a large amount of rubbish from inhabitants and passing boats, said RPC Eugene Trinidad, religious program chief, Command Logistics Group, Western Pacific. Unfortunately, certain areas of the beach are sometimes neglected. That’s volunteer service members make such a big difference, he said.

Marines and Sailors worked side by side with members of Singapore’s National Environment Agency. They raked sand, picked up tires, metal, discarded ropes, sheets of plywood and even carried away a giant log.

“The neat thing about these opportunities is that it shows how much we are willing to help,” said RP2 Juan Bejarano, 11th MEU religious program specialist. It also helps foster friendship and camaraderie with the government and the local people. The next time a US vessel pulls into Singapore, they are more likely to treat U.S. service members as friends rather than strangers, he said.

After the clean-up, the Marines and Sailors relaxed in the shade and ate from their sack lunches. They looked across the sand to see the fruits of their labor. They saw locals walking along the beach. Some with their small children close at hand.

“It felt good doing this,” said Sgt. Marilyn Zeledon, data network specialist, communications section, command element, 11th MEU. Cleaning the beach was her way of giving back to the environment and a good way to thank the Singaporean people for their hospitality during their short visit, she said.

December 16, 2007

America Supports You: Volunteers Decorate Veterans’ Graves

ARLINGTON, Va., Dec. 16, 2007 – They came from around the country, some with tears in their eyes, putting holiday demands on hold to honor veterans most never knew.

http://www.defenselink.mil/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=48427

By Linda Hosek
American Forces Press Service

In a few hours in freezing temperatures, about 3,000 volunteers yesterday placed more than 10,000 balsam fir wreaths with blazing red bows on graves at Arlington National Cemetery here.

“I wish I could lay one on all of them,” said Charles Wright, a Vietnam War Marine veteran and commander of the Kansas City Composite Squadron, a civil air patrol unit. “This is a tribute I’ll remember forever.”

Morrill Worcester, owner of Worcester Wreath Company in Harrington, Maine, donated the wreaths “to remember the fallen, honor those who serve and teach our children the value of freedom,” he said.

“It touches so many people, it just continues to grow,” said Worcester, who launched the Arlington Wreath Project at the cemetery in 1992 with about 5,000 wreaths and 25 volunteers, mostly from the Maine State Society of Washington, D.C. This is the first year he doubled his donation.

“There are graves that have not seen anyone visiting to pay respects for years,” said Wayne Hanson, the wreath coordinator for the society, which continues to supply volunteers. “You’re paying tribute to those forgotten people.”

Cemetery Superintendent John C. Metzler Jr. designated section 33 as the area to decorate.

“I just feel very proud,” said Metzler, who has watched the project evolve since the beginning. “People are taking time out to decorate the graves and to do it right. And the kids are being taught that this is something good to do.”

One child placing wreaths was getting the message. “I’m learning that there are really nice people in the world because they donated like a million wreaths so the people in the graves could feel nice and warm up in heaven,” said 11-year-old Zachary Coyle, of Westminster, Md.

Worcester and his wife, Karen, traveled with two truckloads of wreaths and stopped along the way in part to talk to students at schools.

“I don’t think they realize that the ultimate sacrifice by these veterans happened for them,” he said, adding that more than 740,000 troops have been killed or listed as missing in action since World War I. “It’s a tremendous loss of life.”

Worcester also stopped at several towns for ceremonies during his 740-mile trip to transport the wreaths, all made in Maine. Two Maine companies donated trucks, which were escorted by Maine State Police troopers and members of the Patriot Guard Riders, a nationwide group of veteran bikers.

Other volunteers who handed out wreaths by the armfuls included members of the Maine Civil Air Patrol, local Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion posts, military units, congressional staffers, scout troops and school children.

Worcester got into the wreath business to earn money when he was a University of Maine student in animal science, but said he now serves as the sole supplier for L.L. Bean and operates the biggest mail-order wreath business in the country.

He also said he started the wreath project “by mistake,” explaining that he had extra wreaths in 1992 and decided to decorate graves at Arlington National Cemetery. He had visited the cemetery at 12 after winning a trip to the area for adding a certain number of customers to his newspaper route.

“I wasn’t all that patriotic at the time,” he said. “But I was impressed with the size of the cemetery, how well-kept it was and with the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.”

This year’s event included placing special wreaths at the Tomb of the Unknowns as well as the USS Battleship Maine Monument and the graves of President John F. Kennedy, Sen. Robert F. Kennedy and Edmund Muskie, former secretary of state and Maine senator.

“This comes at a time when we need a little shot of patriotism,” said Maine State Rep. Joseph L. Tibbetts, who also served with the 9th Infantry in Vietnam.

Tibbetts adjusted the wreath on Muskie’s grave and looked around the cemetery, uplifted by the flashes of red and green against the rows of white headstones.

“This is a beautiful place,” he said. “It doesn’t take much to turn beautiful into wonderful.”

Worcester has expanded the Arlington project to Wreaths Across America, a non-profit organization with the goal of placing wreaths on graves at more than 200 cemeteries and monuments nationwide. He estimated that, with contributions from the public, volunteers would decorate about 35,000 graves nationwide this season.

Cadets from the Civil Air Patrol’s Kansas City Composite Squadron alone raised $17,000 in wreath sponsorships for the national effort, said Cathy Metcalf, the squadron’s deputy commander.

“We felt it was an important event for our cadets to take on,” she added. “It’s because of the veterans that we’re here walking in a free country.”

Worcester had a personal mission during the event: to place a wreath on the grave of U.S. Navy Adm. William “Bull” Halsey for a friend who recently had a stroke and couldn’t make the trip. He found the grave and did what he tells others to do: to think about the veteran and the sacrifices he or she made.

“I’m not a veteran, but I’m behind what they’re doing,” he said, adding that the wreath project will continue “as long as there’s a Worcester.”

He also said he’d like to place a wreath on every veteran’s grave, but added, “That’s a tall order.”

But Worcester said he sees support growing and gratitude for what’s been done as volunteers tap him on the shoulder to shake his hand.

“God bless you,” said Kathy Pickett, of Sykesville, Md. “I just think this is amazing. You want everyone to have a wreath on their grave for what they’ve sacrificed.”


Marines, sailors use MEU 'muscle' for good cause in Singapore

SINGAPORE(Dec. 16, 2007) -- Marines and sailors from 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit and Tarawa Expeditionary Strike Group 3 are using their time off to take part in three friendship-building community relations projects during their port visit here.

http://www.usmc.mil/marinelink/mcn2000.nsf/0/A28347493AD54CAD852573B3003176E3?opendocument

Submitted by: 11th MEU
Story by: Computed Name: Staff Sgt. Sergio Jimenez
Story Identification #: 200712164016

The Marines and sailors, who are embarked on the USS Tarawa (LHA-1) are making their first port visit since leaving San Diego Nov 4. and since providing humanitarian assistance to the people of Bangladesh during Operation Sea Angel II Dec. 4-6.

More than 30 volunteers woke up early and spent their morning and early afternoon breaking some serious sweat by cleaning buildings and doing minor landscaping at the Archdiocesan Commission For The Pastoral Care Of Migrants & Itinerant People, ACMI.

The community center provides migrants and domestic workers with meals and a place to go for community fellowship and livelihood skills training, according to the center’s website.

Some of the Marines said they volunteered because they like helping people and because they wanted to do something other than shop and be tourists.

“We pulled two trees out of the ground, moved many large rocks that were in the way, mowed lawns, trimmed hedges and other area beautification projects,” said Sgt. Mario E. Perez, radio operator from Marine Air Control Group 38, Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 166 (Reinforced), 11th MEU (SOC).

Some of the work was tough but was well worth it, said Perez, who is from East Los Angeles, Calif. “The manager and the people there were really happy that we came out to provide our muscle for these projects,” he said.

According to Perez, the members of the community center were not the only ones to benefit from the hard work of the Marines and Sailors.

Sgt. Michael L. Wilkinson, air support net operator, MACG-38, said the project made him feel good to be doing something good for the local people and he believes the others felt the same way. On the job, Wilkinson helps the ground and aviation combat elements communicate with each other, but that day, he felt that he was helping build better relations between the American and Singaporean people, he said.

“We also got to see a different part of Singapore, away from the tourist areas, the shopping malls, and see how some people actually live,” said Perez. “That was pretty cool.”

Tomorrow, more than 30 volunteers will roll up their sleeves and spend the day cleaning sections of Pulau Ubin Beach in cooperation with the Singapore National Environmental Agency. On Tuesday, Dec. 18, more volunteers will spend the day playing with children at the Singapore Sunbeam Science Center.

The 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) is made up of its Ground Combat Element, Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment; Aviation Combat Element, Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 166 (Reinforced); Logistics Combat Element, Combat Logistics Battalion 11; and its Command Element. The 11th MEU (SOC) is currently on a scheduled deployment through the Western Pacific Ocean and Arabian Gulf region.

For more information about the 11th MEU (SOC) visit their website at http://www.usmc.mil/11thmeu.

For high resolution images for this and any 11th MEU (SOC) story contact Staff Sgt. Sergio Jimenez at jimenezs@11meu.usmc.mil.

December 15, 2007

2/24 takes on Mojave Viper DAC

The Marines and sailors of 2nd Battalion, 24th Marine Regiment, completed the Deliberate Assault Course at Combat Center Range 210 Dec. 5-7.

http://www.op29online.com/articles/2007/12/14/news/news04.txt

Saturday December 15, 2007
Lance Cpl. Nicholas M. Dunn
Combat Correspondent

The DAC brought 2/24 to their halfway point in the 30-day Mojave Viper training evolution.

Fox Company, 2/24, ran through the DAC Dec. 6. Echo Company had completed the course the day prior. Golf Company would go the following day.


The assault began at approximately 8:30 a.m. with a combined assault from aircraft, mortars and artillery. During the bombardment, Fox Company staged a safe distance away in seven-ton trucks and amphibious assault vehicles, and waited for the order to “enter the breach.”

Once the bombardment was complete, Fox Company moved into position to capture their objective. They dismounted their vehicles and immediately established a line of fire. The Marines and sailors moved by rifle squads, advancing on the bunkers they were assigned to destroy by the Tactical Training Exercise Control Group coyotes.

While capturing this objective, the coyotes picked out Marines to be mock casualties to add adversity to the simulation. Several Marines and sailors were diverted to the aid and litter team to treat the casualties and load them onto vehicles or further medical aid.

Once the first objective was taken, Fox Company loaded back onto their respective vehicles and moved to Range 210 to capture their final objective, a Military Operations on Urban Terrain town.

From the second Fox Company dismounted, they began sweeping through the MOUT town, clearing the first few buildings quickly and efficiently. Once they established a foothold, they began to move up through the rest of the town, supported by tanks and AAVs.

Several obstacles were put in place by the TTECG coyotes while Fox Company assaulted the town. Pop-up targets and select buildings housing enemy combatants added a sense of realism to what the Marines and sailors may encounter in combat. These obstacles slowed Fox Company down a little, but did not stop their advance through the town.

During the onslaught, more Marines were designated as casualties. As before, Fox Company had to divert assets to assist the casualties. AAVs were called up to the frontline to load the casualties and take them back safely to the rear of the town for treatment.

After a half-hour battle, Fox Company neutralized all threats and captured the MOUT town at Range 210. Capturing the town signified the end of the Deliberate Assault Course.

Overall, it seemed Fox Company came together well and was able to successfully complete this portion of their training.

“You guys did a good job today,” said Staff Sgt. Timothy P. Ledbetter, TTECG coyote. “The DAC is not designed to be run perfectly, but you guys will learn a lot more before Mojave Viper is over.”

Ledbetter was responsible for 2nd platoon’s debrief after Fox Company completed the DAC. He highlighted a few mistakes that were made, but still commended the platoon on a job well done. At the end of the brief, Ledbetter left 2nd platoon with some knowledge for the rest of Mojave Viper and their upcoming deployment.

“Remember to fire and maneuver,” he said. “Maneuver without fire is suicide. Fire without maneuver is a waste of rounds.”

The Marines and sailors of Fox Company seemed to feel like they learned a lot from their training and will continue to gain knowledge through the rest of Mojave Viper.

“It’s good training,” said Cpl. Jason Blevins, 1st squad leader, 2nd platoon, Fox Company, 2/24. “It enables young Marines to see an overall picture of what a battalion-size operation in combat looks like.”

Blevins said he’s seen a lot of this before. This being his third deployment, he feels the training will help him and his junior Marines accomplish their mission when they deploy to Iraq.

Blasted off an Iraqi bridge, Cpl. Eric Morante fights back; He won't rest until his Marines make it home

First in a two-part series
Part two may be found here:
http://www.marine-corps-news.com/2007/12/marine_cpl_eric_morante_fights.htm

It's sometime after noon on a Friday, the end of a four-day rotation on Bridge 286.

http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/news/texassouthwest/stories/121607dntexmorante.563b46.html
Please click on above link for photos and a video link.

11:40 PM CST on Saturday, December 15, 2007
By DAVID McLEMORE / The Dallas Morning News
dmclemore@dallasnews.com

Marine Cpl. Eric Morante can see heat waves rising from the six-lane highway below the overpass bridge his squad uses as an observation post near the town of Saqlawiya, Iraq. Thick lines of traffic, mostly trucks, travel the road that cuts from Baghdad through Anbar province to the Jordanian border.

Eric walks into the post nicknamed Club 286, a glorified shack fortified with sandbags and steel plating. The overheated air smells of dust, gun oil and men in close quarters.

Squad members cover the highway's western approach with M-240 machine guns. Others pick out MREs for lunch, and Eric prepares for a relief team set to arrive in minutes from their unit half a mile away at Forward Operating Base Riviera.

Suddenly, the floor pushes up violently under their feet.

Marines fly like children's toys 10 to 15 feet into the air, along with weapons, gear, sandbags and huge chunks of concrete. As quickly as they rise, they drop to the highway below, jagged masonry and rebar raining down on them. An oily column of smoke rises into the air.

Eric opens his eyes, breathing in concrete dust and smoke and spitting blood. He hears screaming. Then he realizes it's his people.

"I never heard the blast. ... Everything was dark. I heard some Marines crying," Eric recalls. "It was like a dream." .

The members of Fox Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines would later learn that an Iraqi suicide bomber had driven a dump truck just under the checkpoint and ignited 3,000 pounds of explosives with his cellphone.

On this day, April 20, 2007, Eric and his squad members entered life among the wounded and became a statistic in a war that has claimed 4,200 U.S. lives and resulted in more than 30,000 injured in nearly five years of combat.

On this day, Eric began his long journey toward recovery and a new life. A hero on the battlefield, he worked with quiet courage back home in Houston to re-establish his identity and sense of purpose, which until now had been inextricably linked to his status as a Marine.

Eric enlisted in the Marines straight out of high school and became consumed by the Corps, relishing its spirit of dedication and responsibility.

He tattoed three Chinese characters on the back of his right arm that spell out the Marines' core values: "Honor, courage, commitment."

This was all he'd ever wanted.

At 23, he looked like most any young man you'd see crossing the street or dancing at a club – short, muscular, with dark, close-cut hair and a quick, impish smile. A guy older women call "cute" and younger women give a second look.

This was his third deployment to Iraq.

'I felt calm'

Eric is on his back and pain is beginning to filter through his body as he mentally ticks off the things he needs to do.

Check on the wounded. Round up weapons for a defensive position and call in support.

But he can't move – his lower half is pinned by a large piece of shattered concrete.

"I looked up and saw the bridge was broken. It was just gone," he says. "My left wrist was twisted and bent in a weird way."

When he looks down at his legs, he sees the right one is shredded and bent into an unnatural L-shape.

"I felt calm. No panic," he recalls. "I held my left hand together and looked around. I told myself not to pass out, to stay alert and check on the squad."

Lance Cpl. Steven May is 45 feet away, face down on a pile of debris – a section of thick steel plate from the roof of the OP had fallen across his back, pinning him from the waist up. The rest of the men are scattered about the wreckage of the bridge, covered with dust and debris.

"I couldn't tell where everyone was, but I knew they were alive," Eric says.

Members of Fox Company scramble to the blast site, set up a security perimeter and begin evacuating the wounded. Maj. George Hasseltine, the company commander, is one of the first there.

"Morante was ... shell-shocked, but conscious ... trying to explain what had happened," he says.

As Eric looks up at the remains of the overpass, Marines in full battle gear scramble down the rubble pile and he suddenly feels "really at ease."

"Help was there," he recalls. "Now, I could black out."

He and the others are flown by helicopter to a combat hospital in Balad, Iraq, where surgeons remove Eric's right leg at the knee.

Eric wakes up in Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany a day later.

At the medical center, Eric can't get information on Cpl. May, who'd been manning one of the M-240s, or on Navy Corpsman Anthony "Doc" Thompson, who was lying on a bunk in the center of the operation post just before the explosion.

He pesters doctors and nurses for information, fearing his men are both dead.

"When I found out they were both at Landstuhl and that everyone was alive, I cried for 30 minutes," he says.

Doctors there put the jigsaw puzzle of his left hand and wrist together with 10 titanium pins. But he still has a crushed cheek and cracked front teeth.

Miraculously, all of his squad survives.

Two Marines who had been picking out MREs – Lance Cpl. Chad Perreault, 19, and Lance Cpl. Nehemias Merroquin, 27 – are uninjured and return to duty. Lance Cpl. David Volk, 20, is treated at military hospitals in-theater.

The rest go to Landstuhl.

Lance Cpl. Brandon "Little" Mendez, 20, who'd been looking out on the barricaded on-ramp to the bridge, has lost his left arm below the elbow.

Cpl. John "Big" Mendez, 23, has shattered shins.

Cpl. May, 21, has two fractured ribs, a torn shoulder and fragmented vertebrae in his lower spine.

Doc Thompson, 26, remains unconscious.

Violent as it was, the attack on Bridge 286 raises only a blip on the news wire. Reuters summarizes it in one paragraph:

SAQLAWIYA – One civilian was killed and eight U.S. troops wounded in a suicide attack on a U.S. checkpoint near Saqlawiya, near Falluja, 50 km (32 miles) west of Baghdad, the U.S. military said. A dump truck loaded with explosives detonated under a highway overpass, causing a large part to collapse.

'I'm all right, Mom'

Once in Germany, Eric calls home.

His mother, Maria Espinoza, 60, can tell you the precise moment when she heard her youngest son had been injured in Iraq.

It's April 25, after work.

She's gone to get her nails done at a neighborhood shop when another son, Arthur, calls, looking for her.

"His voice was funny, and he said he had to come over. When he walked into the shop, I knew from his face something had happened. All he could say was, 'Eric.' I asked him what about Eric and he started crying and couldn't talk. I was afraid he'd been killed. I went home and was like a crazy person."

When she gets home, her 17-year-old daughter, Gabriela "Gabby" Villalobos, is crying.

"She had taken the call from a nurse in Germany, who told her Eric had lost his leg. Just like that," Mrs. Espinoza says. "And she had to be the one to tell me. Eric's friends from school started coming to the house. All I could do was cry."

The phone rings about 8:30 that night, and Mrs. Espinoza takes the call.

It's Eric.

"I said, 'Mijo, what happened?' And he said, 'I'm all right, Mom. I'm all right.' I could tell by his voice he was tired and hurt, but it felt so good to just hear his voice," she says.

More than 6,000 miles away, Eric holds a phone to his ear, his face bruised, his teeth broken. He weeps as he speaks.

"Don't cry, Mom. I'm good," he says. "I'm perfect. I just feel happy to be alive."

As she listens to her son, Mrs. Espinoza feels a sudden sadness come over her.

"His life was changed," she says. "Just like that. Eric is always moving, always doing something. He can't be still, not even as a little boy.

"I didn't know what he'd do now. I knew I had to get to Germany."

By his seventh day at Landstuhl, though, Eric is sufficiently stabilized for a medevac flight to Bethesda National Naval Medical Center, the sprawling complex near Washington, D.C.

The two Mendezes, Cpl. May and Doc Thompson join him there. Doc is the most severely injured with brain trauma and what doctors fear is a severed spine.

But these are strangely good days for Eric. He's with his Marines. They can visit each other and make bad jokes about their wounds. He even arranges for a change in diet.

"For six weeks at Bethesda, I was on a baby-food diet. I couldn't tell the mashed potatoes from the meat," he says. "Finally, I had some pizza snuck in."

More important, the Marines of 3rd Squad can stay close to Doc.

In an emotional meeting with Doc's pregnant wife and parents, Eric describes in detail the moments of confusion and terror the Marines felt in the explosion.

"Doc was always doing more than he was supposed to," he says, wiping tears from his eyes. "He wanted to stay, and I decided which guys went out there. I blame myself for Doc. I feel responsible."

Always the leader

On May 1, Mrs. Espinoza finally gets to see her son.

"It was the first time I had seen him since he left for Iraq in January," she says. "He was so pale and thin."

Eric's right leg ends abruptly at the knee and is wrapped in an oversize bandage.

"His left arm was messed up and his teeth were broken," she says.

She has to put on a gown and gloves just to see him because "the doctors were worried about infection," Mrs. Espinoza says. "I hugged him and kissed him. I didn't want to stop."

Even in the hospital, Eric stays in squad leader mode.

He gets reports on the attack from phone calls and text messages from members of his squad still in Anbar. He asks whether they'd found weapons and gets reports on how others are doing.

"It was what I was trained to do – part of leadership is that you're responsible for people. You take care of them and the equipment," he says. "It's all a matter of accountability."

At Bethesda, Eric undergoes additional surgery to remove more damaged tissue from his amputated leg.

As soon as they can, Eric, Cpl. May and Little Mendez make their way to the ICU to visit Doc and his wife, Ivonne, who is pregnant with their first child.

Eric remembers Doc Thompson lying in the dim lights of the ICU, his head wrapped in white, with a bewildering array of wires and IV lines running out of his body to machines with blinking lights.

His eyes haven't opened and he hasn't spoken a word since the explosion.

Army doctors say Doc's brain banged around in his skull, bruising it in multiple points. Doctors initially fear that his lower spinal cord had been severed and he'd be paralyzed below the waist. However, specialists at Bethesda find the cord intact but pinched by a bone fragment from his fractured spine. They remove it.

"We'd talk to him all the time, but he'd never respond," Eric says.

He remembers bending down and whispering in Doc's ear: "Dude, you need to get your ass up out of bed. You're scaring everybody."

Having the Marines around is a great comfort, Ms. Thompson says.

"Here were these big, tough Marines, with their own wounds to worry about, and they're coming every day to see Anthony," she says. "Eric especially so. I think he loves Anthony more than himself. As far as we're concerned, he's family."

Ms. Thompson still relies on Eric when "things get the darkest."

"I call on Eric to knock some sense into me and remind me things will get better. He always does," she says.

Mrs. Espinoza, too, can see a change come over her son just being around his fellow Marines.

"They were good for each other," she says. "Sometimes, some of the Marines would call from Iraq. I think that helped them all."

Mrs. Espinoza had already met many of the Marines in her son's unit. Eric would occasionally drive the 1,500 miles from 29 Palms, Calif., to Houston with some buddies and surprise his mother.

"Eric feels bad about Anthony, particularly since [Anthony] was going to be a father," she says. "Anthony was very excited about the baby."

A favor from the president

On May 25, President Bush arrives at Bethesda to present the Purple Heart to a few of the wounded at the hospital.

Eric is among the recipients, and Mrs. Espinoza has a photo of the moment: Eric in shorts and a Marine T-shirt shaking hands with the president.

"They told him he could sit in his wheelchair, but Eric refused," she says.

Instead, he stands on one leg, at full attention, and salutes. It only takes a moment.

The president, they're told, is on a very tight schedule.

But Eric stops him, politely, and asks if the president can personally give Doc his medal in the ICU.

He does.

By late May, the wounded members of 3rd squad split up, going to separate medical facilities.

Doc Thompson stays in the ICU at Bethesda but is eventually transferred to a VA Polytrauma Rehabilitation Center in Tampa, Fla., in what doctors call a "low minimal conscious state."

After three surgeries – and with more pending – Cpl. May returns to the company at the Marine Air Combat Training Center at 29 Palms while waiting for a medical review board.

The full-body plastic brace he wore chest-to-hip for three months is gone. He still can't touch his knees when he bends at the waist. Sitting or standing in one place for any length of time is painful. Simple tasks, like putting on boots, are an ordeal, he says.

"I'm really feeling pretty useless right now."

He remembers when Eric came in as squad leader in October, shortly before the company went on pre-deployment training known as Mojave Viper.

"He was hard on us at first, but he was good to us," Cpl. May says. "You knew he was in it to keep us alive, not win medals."

The cost he and the squad bear for Bridge 286 is theirs alone, Cpl. May says.

"Being back home, it's clear that nobody really cares," he says. "Everyone's nice and all, but it's just not something that touches their lives. I'll never forget it."

On May 26, Eric, accompanied by his mom, flies to San Antonio aboard an Air Force C-130 equipped for medevac flight with a number of other wounded from Iraq.

They touch down that day at Kelly Field at Lackland Air Force Base and drive by ambulance across town to Brooke Army Medical Center.

"The whole trip, the sirens screamed and all the cars stopped," Eric says. "I cried all the way."

At Brooke Army, Eric goes into quarantine for medical evaluation for a few weeks, then is transferred to the Center for the Intrepid, a new rehabilitation and treatment center next door.

The hard stuff is just beginning.


American people help spruce up Marines’ Christmas

AL TAQADDUM, Iraq (Dec. 15, 2007) -- Instead of seeing the brightly colored decorations and twinkling lights found on America’s streets during the holiday season, troops often have to settle for a monochromatic view of the desert.

http://www.usmc.mil/marinelink/mcn2000.nsf/main5/718AFC5604DA2F8D852573B2002028D7?opendocument

Dec. 15, 2007; Submitted on: 12/15/2007 12:51:16 AM ; Story ID#: 2007121505116
By Cpl. Andrew Kalwitz, 2nd Marine Logistics Group

This year, however, troops have received a boost to their Christmas spirit thanks to Earl and Esther Worthington, as well as many other participants who donated live trees to service members around the world in the National Christmas Tree Association’s Trees for Troops program.

“We hope that some military personnel will, in receiving a tree, be able to experience the real meaning of Christmas,” Esther said.

The Worthingtons donate from their tree farm outside of Atlanta as part of a larger effort to provide Trees for Troops. Modeled after an Ohio organization’s program named Operation Evergreen, the National Christmas Tree Association’s program provides 17,000 trees to more than 38 military bases, stateside and overseas.

For a few years now, Esther and her husband, both retired, have tended to 12 acres of trees on their property just to give some away. However, after losing their 19-year-old grandson, Adrian, to a roadside blast in Iraq this past May, they said their efforts have a very special meaning this holiday season.

“This year, of course it has a real personal touch and we are even more sensitive to the sacrifices made by so many,” Esther said. “We will sense the loss intensely, but we are so thankful that we were all able to be together with Adrian last year at Christmas and we treasure that memory.”

Unfortunately, loss and separation are all too familiar to the Worthington’s as well as to service members stationed around the world. For Marines here with the 2nd Marine Logistics Group (Forward), which is nearing the 12-month mark of its current Iraq deployment, the upcoming season brings with it another holiday that will come and go without the company of loved ones. But instead of just recalling cherished memories, programs like the ones the Worthington’s support help troops create new ones.

Cpl. Jeremy D. Spencer, a chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear specialist with 2nd MLG (Fwd), has received one of the program’s trees for his work section.

He said the tree serves as a reminder that the holiday spirit is wherever anyone wants it to be. Whether it be his hometown of Fordland, Mo., or the sand-swept landscape of Al Anbar Province, Christmas is Christmas.

“If it wasn’t for people in the states, we would have nothing. The holiday season would just be spent like every other month out here,” said Spencer. “It really gives the troops a little taste of home for the holidays.”


December 14, 2007

LASTING PEACE? An Iraq Town Shrugs Off Terror

Severed heads dumped at the market, deadly road-side explosions. That used to be the depressing reality in the small town of Rawah in Iraq's Anbar Province. Now, though, peace may be at hand -- and the locals are cooperating with the US Marines.

http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/0,1518,523248,00.html

December 14, 2007
By Ulrike Putz in Rawah, Iraq

It is a pleasant evening for Police Chief Tarek Subhi Hussein in the small Iraqi town of Rawah. Dinner with the US Marine Corps officers stationed in his city, located in the Anbar Province, was a complete success. The chit-chat -- at a table heaped with chicken and kebab -- centered on the police chief's two wives, his children and his grandchildren. His plan of taking a third wife was met with a grin from the Americans.

After duly admiring the police chief's new sofa set, it's time for tea. And for some good news. A subordinate brings in a long list: Fully 79 young men from Rawah want to join the local police force. For Chief Subhi, the list provides yet more evidence that the worst may be over. "The men from Rawah want to take their lives into their own hands and protect their families," he says.

There isn't much to Rawah: a few thousand flat-roofed houses, a few vegetable gardens and dusty palm trees. A handful of junk-shops line the streets along with stands selling gasoline -- often not readily available in Iraq -- in plastic bottles. The sewer system is leaky and putrid effluent lies puddled in the street. Like most cities and towns in Anbar Province, Iraq's biggest, Rawah is located on the Euphrates River, which waltzes its way through the moonscape of the Iraqi desert. Some 25,000 people live in Rawah, many of them former soldiers.

Regional Center of the Insurgency

Before the war, Rawah was a haven for retired functionaries in Saddam Hussein's regime. Saddam's trade minister was likewise from Rawah; he made sure that his hometown was always well taken care of. The town's four police officers had it pretty easy. But then the war came, and after that, terrorism. Rawah became the regional center of the insurgency. The first targets attacked by al-Qaida of Mesopotamia -- the Iraqi offshoot of the terror organization -- were US troops stationed in Rawah: first Army units, then the Marines.

"In the first two weeks, after we Marines got to the region in July 2006, we lost seven men," says First Lieutenant James Brobyn, of the Apache Company of the 3rd Light-Armored Reconnaissance, based in Rawah. Four died when a suicide-bomber drove a car loaded with explosives into their combat outpost. Three more lost their lives when their vehicle drove over an IED. The insurgency here began in early 2005 and continued until the middle of this year. Nearly every day US Marines were attacked in and around Rawah, if not by suicide-bombers or explosives, then with rockets, grenades or rifle fire. The Marines have lost 20 men in Rawah alone.

At the beginning the population supported the fight "against the occupiers," says Chief of Police Subhi. But that changed when the citizens themselves became targets of the insurgents. "Terrorists wanted to make Rawah the center for al-Qaida and took their revenge for those who opposed it," Subhi says. More than 20 were unlucky enough to be killed in attacks on the Marines, but many others were slaughtered at night in their homes by Iraqis and foreigners belonging to al-Qaida of Mesopotamia. The 16 men who joined the police force shortly after the US invasion found themselves in an especially precarious position; five of them were murdered. One was beheaded, his head thrown into a banana crate in the market square. The father of one of the other officers was killed when his house was blown up. For fear of what else might befall their families, most of the other officers gave up, leaving only four to combat the overwhelming violence. "To be a police officer was a death sentence," Subhi says.

Just Talking

So what changed? Why, suddenly, do 79 men apply to join the police in a single day? Rawah has, relatively speaking, become a peaceful place once again. The last attack -- an insurgent threw a hand grenade over the wall of a barracks where some 60 Marines were stationed -- took place over a month ago. And life on the streets seems to be returning to normal. During the day there are boys running around on the streets; in the café of the little market hall, young men play pool. Mothers take their daughters shopping. Even at night there are people outside on the streets. One night recently, a group stood outside of a well-lit hair salon warming their hands over a little fire. And just talked.

"At some point, people simply had enough," Subhi says. The men in the town wanted a future for their families and decided the path to that future involved working with, rather than against, the Americans. Whereas before, people had been paralyzed with fear, they began informing US troops about insurgents' activities. Others would speak up if they saw suspicious-looking characters on the streets of Rawah.

The situation, Subhi is quick to point out, remains explosive, and he opens up a few photos on his laptop. They're images of weapons and troves of explosive material confiscated in the past few weeks -- enough material for a dozen car bombs and IEDs, enough assault rifles and ammunition for a long fight. Things are not as peaceful in Rawah as they look. The enemy is not gone, he's just out of sight for the moment. "Of course they're still out there," Subhi says.

The end of the reign of terror in Rawah was made possible by the so-called "Sunni awakening" in Anbar Province. Influential sheiks in the province decided to change their allegiances in the middle of the year, and Rawah followed suit. This situation, noticeably eased, enabled the Marines to change their tactics. Whereas before they could only drive around in armored vehicles, they could now patrol on foot.

'Making Ourselves Superfluous'

"To win hearts and minds," the slogan goes. And the people of Rawah seem to have developed a certain amount of trust in the heavily-armed, still-daunting US soldiers in their midst. The Americans, accordingly, have given the growing number of police more responsibilities: they are now accountable for the town's security -- for the security of their families -- themselves. The Marines came to Rawah to guarantee security and then hand over the job to the Iraqis, says First Lieutenant Brobyn. "We are here to make ourselves superfluous."

That this seems to be working became clear when Police Chief Subhi got an urgent message late one night. A police report came in that scouts had spotted a local al-Qaida heavyweight at a farm outside of town.

What happened next shows how responsibility is being transferred. At first, the Iraqis suggested that the Marines take the lead, going in first with their armored vehicles. But the US officers politely pointed out that such vehicles are extremely loud and might tip off their quarry. The police go back to the drawing board and, in the end, come up with a plan in which the Marines appear only in a supporting role. A few hours later, the plan is carried out and the suspect is nabbed. A big little victory is what the Marines call it.

There are now 345 Iraqi police and 100 Marines policing Rawah. For now, the town is peaceful, if only barely. There is still a long way to go to until peace is established in Anbar Province. Rawah, like many of the cities in the region, is still in the middle of a war, but perhaps the decisive phase has arrived.

In the coming months, many still-open questions will have to be answered. What will happen when the Marines leave? Is the local police force strong enough to keep the peace? What will happen when the money gets tight and hopeful police cadets find themselves on the streets again? Will these frustrated men use their new skills in the service of the insurgency? "I wish I had a crystal ball," says First Lieutenant Brobyn, whose Apache Company has been stationed here four times already, for six months each time. "I hope that the people of Rawah can succeed in making things go forward."

USS Tarawa visits Singapore

SINGAPORE - The San Diego-based amphibious assault ship USS Tarawa (LHA 1) arrived in Singapore for a scheduled port visit Dec. 12.

http://www.navycompass.com/news/newsview.asp?c=231778

Friday, December 14, 2007
By Lt. Stephanie Murdock Tarawa Expeditionary Strike Group Public Affairs Officer

During the port call, Tarawa's approximately 2,000 Sailors and Marines will have a chance to participate in friendship-building activities, experience local customs and traditions of the city as well as to enjoy a wide variety of recreational activities available in Singapore.

Tarawa recently completed the military support element of ongoing disaster relief operations in Bangladesh Dec. 7. The ship's Sailors and Marines delivered more than 49,000 pounds of supplies, including blankets, water purification tablets and food.

"The Sailors and Marines aboard Tarawa have been working extremely hard over the last month, especially with the humanitarian efforts in Bangladesh," said Capt. John Miley, Commander, Amphibious Squadron 1. "So everyone feels very fortunate to get some time to visit such a great city, especially so close to the holidays."

Tarawa is the flagship for Tarawa Expeditionary Strike Group, and is headed west to provide support for U.S. and coalition forces operating in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations (AOR). Led by Miley, Tarawa ESG is on a regularly scheduled deployment.

In the U.S. 5th Fleet AOR, Tarawa ESG will provide support to Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom, is prepared to take part in Horn of Africa operations, as well as conduct maritime security operations (MSO). Coalition forces conduct MSO under international maritime conventions to ensure security and safety in international waters so that all commercial shipping can operate freely while transiting the region.

Tarawa's presence in the Western Pacific demonstrates the U.S. commitment to fulfilling various treaty obligations and security arrangements in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of responsibility (AOR).

Operating in the Western Pacific and Indian Ocean, the U.S. 7th Fleet is the largest of the forward-deployed U.S. fleets, with approximately 50 ships, 120 aircraft and 20,000 Sailors and Marines assigned at any given time.

The U.S. 7th Fleet AOR includes more than 52 million square miles of the Pacific and Indian Oceans - stretching from the International Date Line to the east coast of Africa, and from the Kuril Islands in the north to the Antarctic in the south.

Aid mission over, Tarawa heads to 5th Fleet

By Gidget Fuentes - Staff writer
Posted : Friday Dec 14, 2007 6:04:05 EST

SAN DIEGO — Deployment from here typically means a few weeks’ trek across the big blue Pacific, perhaps with a few liberty stops at a port with warm, palm-lined beaches. That is, of course, unless a real-world mission calls.

To continue reading:

http://www.navytimes.com/news/2007/12/navy_tarawa_mission_071213w/

Female Marines pass wisdom to the future of Corps

MARINE CORPS AIR STATION MIRAMAR, Calif. (Dec. 14, 2007) -- Since Opha Mae Johnson first enlisted into the Marine Corps in 1918, many women have earned the title of U.S. Marines and bound themselves to the Corps’ traditions and history.

http://www.usmc.mil/marinelink/mcn2000.nsf/main5/0BA1A3A5BBD9FFE5852573B0007DA874?opendocument

Dec. 14, 2007; Submitted on: 12/13/2007 05:52:31 PM ; Story ID#: 20071213175231
By Lance Cpl. Christopher O' Quin, MCAS Miramar


Twelve female Marines from MCAS Miramar came together to share their stories and experiences with female delayed entry program members during a luncheon held at the Aircraft Rescue and Firefighting facility here Dec. 8.

“The attrition rate is higher among females, and what we wanted do was to give them a chance to see what life is like after boot camp and help them learn what to expect before they go to boot camp,” said Sgt. Maj. Dwayne W. Farr, the senior enlisted advisor for Recruiting Station San Diego.

Their day began with Gunnery Sgt. Susan R. Anderton, a military police officer and former drill instructor, giving them advice for boot camp.

“Anything to help them get ready,” said Anderton, who completed a successful drill instructor tour. “I wish those ladies luck and I want them to give it a shot.”

Following a motivation speech from Anderton, the station Marines shared stories of their Marine Corps career.

As the day ended, Anderton came back to speak to the enlistees, this time not like a drill instructor, but as a senior enlisted Marine.

“It was surprising to see a drill instructor here, said Nancy Scott, an enlistee who wishes to work in the aviation community. “It was also nice to get answers to all my questions about boot camp and get that confidence boost from these Marines who went through boot camp.”

These enlistees will ship to boot camp over the course of this fiscal year.

After earning the title, some of these future Marines may serve under the very Marines who shared their stories and some pizza with them.

December 13, 2007

Marines let dog go to slain handlers' family

SAVANNAH, Georgia (AP) -- Marine Cpl. Dustin Jerome Lee and his German shepherd, Lex, scoured Iraq for roadside bombs together, slept next to each other and even posed in Santa hats for a holiday photo.

http://www.cnn.com/2007/LIVING/12/13/slainmarine.sdog.ap/index.html

Thu December 13, 2007

When a mortar attack killed the 20-year-old Marine in Falluja a few months later, Lex, whimpering from his own injuries, had to be pulled away, Lee's father was told.

That strong bond compelled the slain Marine's family to adopt 8-year-old Lex even though the military said he still had two years of service.

The family lobbied the military for months, launched an Internet petition and enlisted the aid of a North Carolina congressman who took their case straight to the Marine Corps' top general.

On Wednesday, the Marine Corps finally announced Lex could go home to Lee's family. It is the first time the military has granted a dog early retirement to be adopted by someone other than a former handler.

"We knew that's what Dustin would have wanted out of this," said Jerome Lee, the slain Marine's father. "He knew that we would take care of Lex and love him, just like our own."

Lee's family from Quitman, Mississippi, is scheduled to pick up Lex from the Albany base December 21, exactly nine months after the fatal attack.

Though some shrapnel remains lodged in his back, Lex has otherwise recovered from his wounds and has been serving alongside military policemen at the Albany base since July.

"It is extraordinary," said Col. Christian Haliday, commander of the Marine Logistics Base in Albany, Georgia, where the dog is based. "As far as we know, it's the first time that a waiver of policy of this nature has been granted."

Officials at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, which trains dogs for all service branches, confirmed it is the first case of its kind.

Lee joined the Marines after graduating from high school in 2004. His father said his drive to become a dog handler came from Lee's mother, who worked with search-and-rescue dogs for their local emergency management agency when Lee was a boy.

After finishing his military police and dog handler training, the young Marine headed to Albany. Lee adopted his first canine partner, Doenja, from the military and sent him home to Mississippi last year when the 11-year-old dog began losing his sight and had to retire.

Lee formed an equally strong bond with his new partner, Lex.

The military has more than 1,700 dogs that work alongside American troops, including about 260 in the Marines. Their bomb-sniffing skills have been in high demand in Iraq and Afghanistan.

U.S. Rep. Walter Jones, R-North Carolina, said he discussed the Lees' case with Gen. James T. Conway, the Marine Corps commandant.

"The way I look at this, dogs are being trained every day to be a part of the armed forces," Jones said. "This family gave their son for their country. This is a small gift back to them."

December 12, 2007

2nd MLG Sailors spread Chirstmas cheer

MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. (Dec. 12, 2007) -- The holiday season is a time of giving for 2nd Medical Battalion, who kicked their season off spreading Christmas cheer.

http://www.usmc.mil/marinelink/mcn2000.nsf/main5/78A7E89638D9957E852573AF004D743A?opendocument

Dec. 12, 2007; Submitted on: 12/12/2007 09:06:00 AM ; Story ID#: 20071212960
By Pfc. B. A. Curtis, 2nd Marine Logistics Group

Sixty-five Sailors from Alpha and Bravo Company, 2nd Medical Battalion, 2nd Marine Logistics Group, volunteered Dec. 6-7 at Onslow County Christmas Cheer in Jacksonville, N.C.

The Sailors spent the days away from their regular duties, organizing and sorting donated toys and food items that are scheduled to be given out to Onslow County families Dec. 20-22.

According to Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Timothy Foote, a corpsman with Bravo Surgical Company, 2nd Medical Bn., 2nd MLG, the sailors came to help set up food boxes for families so they can have a better holiday season.

This is the second year in a row that 2nd Medical Bn. has helped Onslow County Christmas Cheer sort and prepare items for distribution to families of Onslow County

“This is the first year that Alpha and Bravo Company did this (together),” said Navy Lt. j. g. Sonny McGowan, commanding officer, Bravo Surgical Company, 2nd Medical Bn., 2nd MLG.

The Sailors’ morale seemed very high as they worked together to provide Onslow County families with assorted canned goods, nonperishable food items and toys.

“Everybody seems willing to help,” said Navy Seaman Bryan A. Rudy, a corpsman with Bravo Surgical Company, 2nd Medical Bn., 2nd MLG. “Everyone seems happy to be out here. It's good to help people that don’t have what we have.”

According to McGowan, the Sailors were more then glad to help the community that has supported them so much.

“It’s important for (Marines and Sailors) to support the community,” McGowan said. “While deployed with 2nd Medical Bn., we had all kinds of support and care packages come through. It’s good to come and give back to the community.”

The Sailors of 2nd Medical Bn. happily volunteered their time to Onslow County Christmas Cheer to help citizens of the Onslow County community in having a wonderful Christmas and holiday season.

According to Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Joel R. Bannister, a corpsman with 2nd Medical Bn., 2nd MLG, it gives the Sailors a good feeling to know that someone will have a good Christmas.

“I have always taken time while in the Navy to try to get out and help during this season and to make sure (families) can enjoy what my family and I enjoy,” McGowan concluded.

U.S. Naval Update Map: Dec. 12, 2007

The Naval Update Map shows an approximation of the current locations of U.S. Carrier Strike Groups (CSGs) and Expeditionary Strike Groups (ESGs), the keys to U.S. dominance of the world's oceans. A CSG is centered around an aircraft carrier, which projects U.S. naval and air power and supports a carrier air wing. An ESG is centered around a Marine Expeditionary Unit, a heavily reinforced and mobile battalion of Marines. Each is equipped with a significant offensive strike capability.

http://www.stratfor.com/products/premium/read_article.php?id=299914&selected=Analyses

December 12, 2007 21 14 GMT

The map is updated weekly, based on available open-source information.

Carrier Strike Groups

The USS Enterprise CSG transited the Strait of Gibraltar on or around Dec. 7 and moved into the Atlantic Ocean, beginning its return to Norfolk, Va. The Enterprise was relieved in the U.S. 5th Fleet Area of Responsibility by the USS Harry S. Truman CSG.

The USS Theodore Roosevelt returned to its home port at the Naval Station in Norfolk, Va., after completing sea trials in the West Atlantic on Dec. 10. The sea trials included tests and exercises needed following a nine-month planned incremental activity in Norfolk Naval Shipyard.

Expeditionary Strike Groups

The USS Tarawa ESG has completed its humanitarian relief mission off the coast of Bangladesh in the Bay of Bengal and was making a port call in Singapore as of Dec. 12.

1/1 Weapons Marines flip COIN on insurgents

HABBANIYAH, Iraq (Dec. 12, 2007) -- Sgt. John E. Mejia was walking between two mud and brick houses here when he explained the key to counterinsurgency operations in Iraq.

http://www.usmc.mil/marinelink/mcn2000.nsf/main5/662C963DDCEF9686852573AF00481C9F?opendocument

Dec. 12, 2007; Submitted on: 12/12/2007 08:07:39 AM ; Story ID#: 200712128739
By Cpl. Bryce Muhlenberg, Regimental Combat Team 6

“You’ve got to be face-to-face with these people to see if a difference has been made,” said the 37-year-old Monterey Park, Calif., native and section leader with Weapons Company, 1st Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 6.

The bulk of day-to-day work for the Marines of Weapons Company consists of counterinsurgency operations here. This includes operations that bring medical and educational assistance to the locals as well as presence patrols and plain old neighborly conversation.

“Today we are conducting COIN operations by way of presence patrols in the local area,” said Mejia. “We are going out and reassuring the people they can depend on the Iraqi Police now in the area and they can still depend on us.”

Mejia, and the other Marines of the platoon, made their way across an open dirt patch toward a dingy looking house right on the outskirts of a nearby neighborhood. Climbing up a small embankment and toward the front entrance of the house, Mejia explained that the Weapons Marines have recently moved out of Combat Outpost Red, approximately two weeks ago, due to the increasing reliability of the Iraqi Security Forces and the stability they have brought to the area. But, this move was only possible after the patrol bases in the area were built and the Marines had established their face-to-face relationship in the community.

As he explained this, the Marines were surrounded by small children and women. A Marine began speaking to the lead wife of the household, who was watching over the estate while her husband was out in the fields tending to the sheep. She held a small boy, no more than two years old, who she hummed to, trying to calm him.

“Is your child feeling well?” asked Petty Officer 3rd Class, Charles L. Scott, a Navy Corpsmen with Weapons Company, while an interpreter translated.

The women spoke to the interpreter, explaining that her child was teething and was in a great deal of pain. Scott produced a small bag of pain medicine, which he gave to the mother, along with verbal instruction.

This sight isn’t uncommon for the Marines, said Mejia.

“We spent a lot of time with our neighbors,” he said, talking about his time at “red” While there, the Marines lived and worked right next door to the people and in the community itself, similar to the way Iraqi Police do now.

“We ask them how they are doing with food, water and electricity,” said Mejia. “Do the kids go to school, does anybody need medical attention? Providing medical attention was big and our corpsman does a really good job of helping out. We obviously don’t have a drugstore, but ‘doc’ tries to provide relief. Stuff like this really displayed our concern for them. Now we encourage our Iraqi counterparts to do the same things.”

Scott, known as “doc” to his brothers-in-arms, said that this is an important step that has been taken by the Iraqi Security Forces in his area.

“The overall goal is to transition responsibility from coalition forces to the Iraqis, so they can handle their own problems,” said the 22-year-old. “By us performing the constant COIN operations here in this area, we have provided a steady platform for them. It’s important for these men to handle their own country.”

To the Salem, Ore., native and 2003 North Salem High School graduate, this process, although sometimes monotonous, he said, is going well and makes sense for the long term goal.

Scott is part of a team who has accomplished something greater than themselves, and as the battalion is soon approaching the later portion of their deployment, it is something they will remember, said Mejia.

“Of course we are excited to be heading home soon…this is my fourth time over here and away from home,” Mejia admitted. “To be honest, I’m also going to miss some of the Iraqi friends I’ve made out here with the locals and the Iraqi Police, but we are going to be able to go home on a positive note, with the Iraqis on their feet. We will know that we have done our part to significantly improve the lives of these people.”


December 11, 2007

Fear halts anonymous greeting cards for troops

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama (AP) -- Hundreds of thousands of holiday cards and letters thanking wounded American troops for their sacrifice and wishing them well never reach their destination. They are returned to sender or thrown away unopened.

http://www.cnn.com/2007/US/12/11/troops.mail.ban.ap/index.html

Tue December 11, 2007
The Associated Press

Since the September 11 attacks and the anthrax scare, the Pentagon and the Postal Service have refused to deliver mail addressed simply to "Any Wounded Soldier" for fear terrorists or opponents of the war might send toxic substances or demoralizing messages.

Mail must be addressed to a specific member of the armed forces -- a rule that pains some well-meaning Americans this Christmas season.

"Are we going to forget our soldiers because we are running in fear?" Fena D'Ottavio asked. The suburban Chicago woman was using her blog to encourage friends to send mail to unspecified soldiers until she learned of the ban, which she called a sad commentary on society.

Last season, despite the rule, officials say as many as 450,000 pieces of mail not addressed to anyone in particular managed to reach Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington. But they were returned or, if they had no return address, were thrown out altogether, because the hospital lacked the manpower to open and screen all the mail, spokesman Terry Goodman said.

"A lot of this is because of security concerns because it's unsolicited mail that someone is going to have to go through," Goodman said. "Also, being a democratic society, there could be inappropriate mail from someone who, say, doesn't support the war, and then you've got a wounded soldier getting it."

Lt. Col. Kevin Arata, a spokesman with the Army Human Resources Command, said no one tracks the amount of unnamed-soldier mail being returned, so it is impossible to judge the size of the problem.

The busiest part of the holiday season has yet to arrive, but officials said they are receiving far less mail this year addressed simply to "A Recovering American Soldier" or "Any Wounded Soldier."

Candy Roquemore of Austin, Texas, was also promoting the idea of sending cards to wounded soldiers until she found out about the rule. She suggested the ban is an overreaction.

"I think there are some wackos who might do something, so I can understand that. But I think with a Christmas postcard it would be pretty easy to see it doesn't have anthrax in it," Roquemore said.

She added: "I just wanted to say, 'Thank you, sorry you're hurt, and happy holidays.' "

USO spokesman John Hanson said that like the military, the nonprofit service organization does not deliver unopened mail to unspecified recipients. He said the USO worries about security as well as hateful messages from war critics.

"We just want to make sure it's not, 'Die, baby killer,' " he said. "There are people out there who act irrationally, and we don't want anyone to get a message that would be discouraging."

The USO is one of the organizations the military is encouraging people to support with donations as an alternative to sending cards to unspecified soldiers. The military is also referring people to the American Red Cross and a Defense Department Web site where supporters have posted thousands of messages to troops.

Some groups are offering to forward mail to the troops. Aides to Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Alabama, are offering to accept letters, screen them through the U.S. Capitol mail operation, and get them to members of the armed forces.

"We've had about a dozen complaints from constituents about returned mail that they sent to troops," said Steven Boyd, a Sessions spokesman.

December 10, 2007

24th MEU perfects amphibious operations during COMPTUEX

ABOARD USS NASSAU (Dec.10, 2007) -- As the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit’s pre-deployment training schedule approaches completion, the MEU’s air, sea, and ground components conducted their first collective ship-to-shore exercises during the 2-week Composite Unit Training Exercise beginning November 28.

http://www.iimefpublic.usmc.mil/Public/InfolineMarines.nsf/ArticlesListingReadCurrent/9C50318EF717E256852573B000483240

Cpl Alex C. Guerra

COMPTUEX tested the MEU and Nassau Expeditionary Strike Group’s ability to launch individual units inland as an interrelated team and allowed the 24th MEU a last chance to integrate its subordinate elements into a cohesive fighting force before the II Marine Expeditionary Force Special Operations Training Group officially evaluates the unit's deployment readiness in January.

“We (the MEU and the ESG) are the ultimate, bad Vegas marriage,” said Col. Peter Petronzio, commanding officer of the 24th MEU. “You take the MEU and the ESG, who don’t know each other and you slam them together, knowing full well going into it, you’re getting divorced in a year.”

“It’s a brand new blue and green team that comes together for 6 months and learns how to live with each other, how to work with each other and how to fight [alongside] with each other,” said Petronzio.

The focus has always been on building relationships between the elements, he added, and COMPTUEX helps build proficiency in shipboard operations, helps the MEU refine its ability to rapidly plan and execute missions, and allows us to continue building those ties with the other elements and their Navy counterparts. COMPTUEX stresses all the aspects of the MEU; the Command Element exercises its ability to command and control; logistics supports the MEU and performs their own missions such as humanitarian assistance; the Battalion Landing Team performs raid packages; and the Aviation Combat Element flies in support of almost all the missions.


More than 2,500 Marines and sailors from the Command Element, Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron-365 (Reinforced), and Combat Logistics Battalion-24 boarded USS Nassau, USS Nashville and USS Ashland with their equipment, prepared to set sail for the first time.

“The majority of the people on the MEU have never been on ship,” said Capt. Mark B. Windham, embarkation officer, 24th MEU. “This is the first time we actually loaded the [entire] MEU, and within in a compressed time frame, we have to train and going from ship to shore and conduct operations and get everything on the ship [for the upcoming deployment].”

The Marines and the Navy work hand-in-hand to accommodate the MEU’s and Navy’s personnel and equipment, which are essential to launching amphibious operations.

In order to get all the MEU’s assets on and off the ship while allowing them to work and do their individual missions and exercises with little friction as possible, the Navy and Marines must work as a team to provide the equipment and manpower for a successful embark, said Sgt. Daniel Callaway, embarkation non-commissioned officer, 24th MEU.

Several hours of work are involved to ensure all the forces and equipment are on the right landing craft, to the right beach, with right person, at the right time, said Windham.

“The function of the ship is designed to support the Marine Corps, to get them to the fight,” said Chief Petty Officer Rick A. Gordon, lead chief petty officer, hangar deck division, Nassau ESG. “From our side of the house we’re moving aircraft, and we have the guys in the well deck moving the Landing Craft, Utilities. That is what the ship is designed for, to take the Marine Corps to the fight and we do what we got to do to support them.”

December 9, 2007

SBISD graduates recovering from suicide truck bombing in Iraq

There’s happy and lucky to be alive, and then there’s the suicide bombing story that Marines Eric Morante and Steven May, both Spring Branch ISD graduates, will tell for years to come after serving in Iraq.

http://www.springbranchisd.com/news/051807may.htm

12/9/2007

Cpl. Eric Morante, 22, a 2003 graduate of Spring Woods High School, and Lance Cpl. Steven May, 20, a 2005 graduate of Memorial High School, were injured on April 20 when the highway overpass that eight members of their platoon were guarding became the target for an insurgent suicide attack.

A bomber steered a large truck toward the highway overpass and detonated an estimated 3,000 pounds of explosives almost directly under the outpost.

The deadly attack occurred just minutes after two chaplains had visited the members of the 2nd Battalion 7th Marines Fox Company 3rd Platoon. A Mass had just been said for several Marines who are Roman Catholic.

One moment, seven Marines and a Navy corpsman were at their post, protected by sandbags and huge metal plates and two heavy machine guns. In the next instant, the blast threw the soldiers skyward along with shrapnel, concrete, solid steel plates and other rubble. Before the dust settled, six of them lay wounded at the scene.

The young Marines’ duty, ironically, was to guard a six-lane superhighway like the Katy Freeway and prevent Iraqi insurgents from placing improvised roadside bombs, or IEDs, along the busy route.

The Iraqi resistance is widely viewed to be stronger in Anbar Province than in any other province in Iraq, and hostility toward coalition forces there has been fierce.

Since the April 20 bombing, Infantry Squad Leader Morante’s right leg has been amputated and he has undergone seven surgeries to repair a shattered wrist and forearm, as well as facial fractures.

His mother, Housman Elementary School head custodian Maria Espinoza, a 34-year SBISD employee, has remained with him at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. She will retire this month and stay with him during rehabilitation.

The Spring Woods High graduate also attended Spring Woods Middle and Woodview Elementary schools. His sister, Gabriela, a junior, attends Spring Woods High.

Eric enlisted in the Marines in July 2003 and had just begun his third deployment in Iraq when the bombing occurred. He blacked out after the initial blast, but forced himself to remain conscious despite massive bleeding until he knew that other members of the platoon’s company had arrived to help his injured men.

His face was shattered by a piece of the overpass, which landed on top of him.

“I’m still upset that we were hit, but I do believe that it is a miracle that we are all alive. That explosion should have killed us at the scene, and if I was given a choice to lose my right leg or die, I’d gladly lose my right leg,” he said in a telephone interview.

No stranger to combat, he has fought in Fallujah City, also in Anbar Province, and led patrols that resulted in the capture of several “high value targets,” or known Iraqi insurgents.

As platoon squad leader, his priority remains with the injured, especially Navy Corpsman Anthony Thompson of Humble, who suffered head injuries and remains in a medically induced coma.

The injured Marines were medevaced immediately to field hospitals near Baghdad, and then to military hospitals in Germany and the United States. The men are split today between treatment centers on the East and West coasts, but stay in touch through phone calls and email.

Cpl. Morante may be moved soon to Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio.

Lance Cpl. Steven May, who was closest to the explosion, suffered a compression fracture of the back. He was treated for two collapsed lungs, had surgery for a badly broken shoulder and is recovering still from several rib fractures.

A defensive goalkeeper on the Memorial High soccer team for four years, Steven enlisted in October 2005, several months after graduating. He was deployed to Iraq at the end of January and stationed in Anbar.

The lance corporal believes that his Kevlar body vest and large metal plates used to protect the military post from mortars may have helped save him in the blast, which threw him about 20 yards from his bridge posting. He was initially pinned under a metal plate.

“I landed face down on top of rebar and concrete, and started coughing up blood and dirt. I tried to keep calm,” he recalls. Steven did not lose consciousness until medical personnel finally sedated him. He woke up 36 hours later in a Baghdad-area military hospital.

“What happened to us could have happened to anyone. I’m happy that it happened to me and not one of my other buddies. I was blessed,” Steven said recently.

He doesn’t believe that his lack of more traumatic injuries means that he has been given a “second chance,” as it’s often said. “I didn’t screw up or do something wrong. It was not my time to go. This is telling me that I have more living to do,” he says.

Julia May, his mother, a choir teacher at Spring Oaks Middle School, acted like a Marine Mom when her teenage daughter, Sarah, also a Spring Br5anch student, reported urgently that a military officer had called their home and left his call back number. Julia assured her that Steven wasn’t dead: That information is shared person to person, not by telephone.

Julia and her husband soon learned that their oldest son had been injured in a suicide bombing, but little more. She later joined her son at Bethesda and then joined him to fly home on May 13.

Lance Cpl. May will be home 30 days and then will be re-evaluated. His full recovery and rehabilitation may take months. If not discharged for medical reasons, he may be redeployed, however. He plans to attend college after his Marine service obligation is fulfilled.

Spring Branch greeted the first Marine home like a true hero. “Our entire neighborhood was out. It was incredible,” Steven says, describing the scene in his family’s Spring Shadows neighborhood as he returned home on the evening of May 13.

“Steven came home to a subdivision lined with flags and neighbors – it was amazing,” Julia, his mother, says. “It meant so much to Steven and to us all. I also think it meant a lot to our friends and neighbors to show the support that we hear isn’t out there.

“It’s obvious to us now as a ‘military family’ that no matter what opinions are held about the wars in the Middle East, the support for our troops is strong. This message will be carried to all of Steven’s buddies still in the hospital and in Iraq, and that is the best kind of goodie we can send them,” Julia wrote in a recent email.

A benefit was held recently in Humble for Navy Corpsman Anthony “Doc” Thompson, who is still in an intensive care unit.

Cpl. Eric Morante, Lance Cpl. Steven May and the platoon’s other injured servicemen – Cpl. John Mendez, Lance Cpl. David Volk, and Lance Cpl. Brandon Mendez – may be supported with cards and letters or other services through the following site: www.operationpal.com.

A Marine's long road home; After an Iraq bomb left him in a coma with Traumatic Brain Injury, a Saginaw man struggles to be normal

BAY CITY -- A Purple Heart hangs on the wall over his pillow. Photos from Iraq are taped above the desk. A Marine Corps flag is pinned above the bed.

http://www.freep.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20071111/FEATURES01/711110538/1026&theme=BRAININJURY112007
Please click on above link for a video link.

November 11, 2007
BY JEFF SEIDEL
FREE PRESS STAFF WRITER

One year after surviving a roadside bomb in Iraq, inside a warm, comfortable, private group home that specializes in treating patients with brain injuries, Cpl. Andrew Love sits on his bed, trying to remember what happened.

Sometimes he's frustrated, but he can't remember why.

"I want to be normal like everybody else," Love says, speaking slowly because he has a hard time talking. "I want to be normal again."

Living life in slow motion, struggling to speak, struggling to remember, wanting to be whole again -- this is how soldiers end up after explosions in Iraq leave them with broken bodies and scrambled brains.

On this Veterans Day, there is a mounting problem facing men and women coming back from war. Thousands of troops have suffered Traumatic Brain Injury in Iraq and Afghanistan. Experts say that there are thousands more who have sustained TBI but don't know it. The injury is so prevalent that it is being called the signature wound of the war.

This is what it looks like, after a solider comes home.

13 months ago: An explosion in Iraq

Cpl. Love, 23, was still a combat virgin on Oct. 10, 2006. He had been in Iraq for just two weeks and four days. He sat in the right rear seat of an armored Humvee as it maneuvered through downtown Fallujah, one of the most dangerous areas at the time. The buildings were two and three stories tall -- similar to the old town area of Saginaw, where he was raised.

Love was in the fifth vehicle of a seven-vehicle convoy. He sat with a loaded M16 rifle wedged between his right leg and the door, as he had been trained. Love was an excellent shot and was invited to go to sniper school, but he declined. He didn't want to leave his friends from the 1st Battalion of the 24th Marine Regiment, the unit profiled by the Free Press as the Band of Brothers.

Love was always a team player. He had suffered three concussions playing football at Valley Lutheran High School. One time, he was taken from the field by ambulance. Typically, anyone who has suffered a concussion has a significantly higher chance of having another TBI.

A bomb exploded under the Humvee. Most of the damage was on the right rear side, exactly where Love was sitting. The right side of his body was crushed -- bones were broken, internal organs damaged. The bulletproof glass window blew off the door and slammed into the right side of his head, injuring the frontal lobe of his brain.

Blood came out his nose. Love's heart stopped beating and he wasn't breathing. A medic found him, still in the vehicle, and pounded on his chest, bringing him back to life.

Of the five soldiers in the vehicle, Love was the only one seriously injured.

Love was rushed to a surgical unit in Fallujah. He was losing blood and had a ruptured liver. Doctors removed his spleen and patched his liver. Within 24 hours of the explosion, he was transferred to a military hospital in Germany.

Back home, inside a remodeled farmhouse on the outskirts of Saginaw, the phone rang. Diane Love, Andrew's mother, looked at the caller ID. It was a government number and she assumed that another recruiter was after her other son, Jared, 20, a student at Ferris State University.

She answered the phone. Andrew was injured, she was told.

"Are we talking seriously?" she asked.

Yes.

She screamed and threw the phone. "It was a scream that sounded like I was being murdered," she said later.

12 1/2 months ago: Unresponsive

For three weeks, Love was in a coma at Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland.

Diane Love assumed that her son would recover and be the same old kid -- funny, happy and loud. "I was in a lot of denial," she said. "I didn't realize how his brain was so rattled."

Love was on a ventilator. "He had surgeries every other day," said Al Love, Andrew's father. "I'd say, close to 20." His body was swollen. When he went to Iraq, Love weighed 160 pounds. "I'll bet you he was 220 at one time in Bethesda, from swelling," his father said. "He was taut. His skin was so tight."

Love had multiple problems affecting several areas of his body, which is common among soldiers injured in Iraq. Love's pelvis was crushed and the large bone in his right leg was broken. "A nurse told us that if this would have happened three years ago, he probably would have lost his leg," Diane Love said.

In the hospital, Love got pneumonia. "All the damage to his right leg was sending blood clots up and they were getting attached to his lungs," said Al Love. Diane Love stood by helplessly as her son nearly died. "We almost lost him four or five times when he was in front of us," she said.

For three weeks, Love was unresponsive. His eyes were closed. Al Love was frustrated and pried open his eyes. "I was so impatient," he said. His son's eyes were glassy. "It was a dead stare."

Slowly, Love started to wake up.

"When he first opened his eyes, he couldn't talk because he had the respirator," Diane Love said. "I don't know if he could speak at that time."

They created a new way to communicate: blink once for yes, twice for no.

"Right away, we wanted to know if he knew who we were and he did," his mother said.

"He did the thumbs-up deal," Al Love said.

Doctors never offered a worst-case scenario. "I don't think we asked for it," Al Love said.

12 months ago: Shipped across country

On Nov. 16, 2006, Love was sent to the Minneapolis Polytrauma Rehabilitation Center, one of four facilities in the country designed to provide extensive care to veterans. The Iraq war is unique because soldiers come back with so many complicated injuries, affecting different organs. Polytrauma hospitals have been set up to handle everything from burns to amputations to brain injuries.

"He was like an infant all over again," Diane Love said. "He couldn't hold his head up."

Love couldn't eat because he couldn't swallow. He was fed through a tube in his nose. Eventually, that was removed and a tube was put directly into his stomach.

"When he got to Minneapolis, he weighed 124 pounds," Al Love said. "His jawline was caved in; you could see his ribs."

While his body started to heal, his memory remained a problem. "You could walk in the room and visit him for 2 minutes, and he wouldn't remember," Diane Love said. "It was very, very hard."

Love had to relearn how to eat and drink, starting with a sippy cup, just like a toddler. "He had to learn to swallow all over again," Diane Love said.

And he had to learn to speak again.

Love stayed in Minneapolis for seven months. "He had great caregivers, great physicians, great nurses, great therapists," Diane Love said.

"They wanted to be there," Al Love said.

One day, a therapist asked Love to connect dashes with a marker. Instead, he wrote: "I love my mom."

Diane Love stayed with her son, except for one quick trip back to Michigan for three days in December. Al Love had to stay in Saginaw to run his business, Consumers Auto Parts. But he made several visits.

The Veterans Airlift Command provided Al Love with free transportation to Minneapolis. The organization is a national network of volunteer aircraft owners and pilots. It started last year with nine pilots and has flown 150 missions. Now, more than 500 pilots have volunteered. "They must have taken Jared and I back and forth to Minneapolis six or eight times," Al Love said.

As the number of injured soldiers continues to increase, many organizations have begun to provide services and support to soldiers and their families.

Diane Love stayed at a Fisher House -- a donated home -- at Bethesda and in Minneapolis. There is at least one Fisher House at every major military medical center in the United States. Started in 1990, more than 10,000 families stay free every year. "If it wasn't for the Fisher Foundation, I would not have been able to stay with Andrew," Diane Love said. "We will be indebted to them for life."

To this day, they are amazed at the generosity of others.

The list of organizations that helped is long. Semper Fi Fund gives grants to families for travel, child care, lodging or problems resulting from lost wages. The fund gave the Loves money for expenses.

They were also helped by the Marine for Life program, which gave Love a computer and Palm Pilot.

The Love family belongs to Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Saginaw, a congregation that continues to pray for Love. "Andrew is fortunate because he has a birth family, a Marine family and a church family," Diane Love said. "Not many people have that many families."

"We are so thankful," Al Love said. "The doctors and nurses and therapists love their jobs. A lot of people cared and went the extra mile."

Love progressed to the point where doctors said it was time for him to leave the Minneapolis hospital and enter transitional living.

His mother worked for months trying to get him into a group home in Michigan.

"It wasn't easy," Al Love said. "It was Diane's determination to get this working, so he could come to a local place. They wanted us to go to Indianapolis. His insurance was giving us a hard time." She wrote letters to everyone from the Marines to Sen. Carl Levin. "With them all helping and working, we finally got them to say he doesn't need to be in a hospital anymore," Diane Love said.

On the day Love left Minnesota, another soldier from Michigan moved into his room.

5 months ago: Moving back home

Love returned to Michigan on June 5. He was met at the airport by the Marines from his unit, who had come back from Iraq a month earlier. The Patriot Guard Riders, a group of motorcycle volunteers, escorted him from the airport to a group home in Bay City as a show of honor and respect.

Soon, Love started working with Bryan Roberts, an occupational therapy assistant.

"He could barely lift anything more than a soda can," Roberts said.

Now, he can lift 30-pound dumbbells.

Love started walking with a four-prong walker but he was weak and had little balance. Still, he quickly progressed to a cane and then started walking with a thick belt around his waist, with somebody behind him holding it in case he fell.

"His will is amazing," Roberts said. "From Day One, since he got here, he knew it wasn't going to be easy. But he kept the positive attitude. It's always go, go, go. Push, push, push.

"I don't know if I've ever seen him rest for more than 5 minutes. He always wants to do something. He's always joking with people. He's great to work with. Some people have given up. This guy, we have to slow down some days."

1 month ago: Daily progress

The mini fridge is filled with Pepsi. Next to the desk, there are cases of microwave popcorn and Ramen noodles. The walls are covered with posters of cheerleaders and blondes in bikinis. A television, computer and stereo face the bed.

It looks like a college dorm room. Until you look closer.

On the wall, there is a handwritten set of rules titled: Andrew Love's Get Me Better List.

• No O'Doul's. No asking for beer, alcohol, etc.

• No whacking walker

• No swearing around therapists.

"If he has one beer, because of the injury, it would be like maybe six to us," Diane Love said.

Every day, Love goes through speech therapy, occupational therapy and physical therapy. He does exercises to improve his memory.

Love's brain injury was easy to diagnose. But Diane Love worries about other veterans, who may be injured but don't know it. "Everybody wants them home, but what are we gonna do with them?" she said. "There are some that come home and don't realize they have TBI."

3 weeks ago: Trying to remember

It is early afternoon, but Love is tired after several hours of lifting weights and trying to learn to speak again.

The alarm in his Palm Pilot goes off, reminding him to take his medications. Love has programmed his entire life -- every appointment, every meeting, every pill -- into his Palm because his short-term memory has become a long-term problem.

He struggles to speak. His voice sounds childlike, or like he just learned English, but he communicates through his facial expressions -- big, broad smiles that show off an amazing spirit, always upbeat, a fun guy to be around.

"My tongue is a muscle that was affected," Love said with difficulty. "My tongue is sore. My voice is normal, but my tongue is not."

No one knows, for certain how much he will recover. Every brain injury is different. If he has reached a plateau, if he doesn't improve, he has lost his military career. He has lost his parts of his memory. He has lost his independence for now.

Once an athlete, he walks with a stiff waddle. He struggles to move down stairs and can't run. Once he had dreams of being a police officer, but he doesn't even remember that aspiration anymore. Once he was a talker, funny and loud, always the center of attention, but now the words come out slowly and painfully, chopped up and simplified.

His therapists are thrilled with his progress in such a short time. They believe he will get better.

If he continues to improve, the next step will be assisted living. Then, maybe, one day, he will live on his own. "It's one step at a time," Diane Love said.

Love takes the war with him everywhere. His body is covered with scars that look like white snakes, stretching down his right leg, across his chest and over his right arm. There are scars on his stomach that look like puncture wounds, where the feeding tube once entered his body.

But he still has his sense of humor and a wonderful personality. "He's still a smartass," said his brother.

Asked if he remembers anything before the explosion, either from Iraq or from childhood, Love has to repeat his answer several times before he's understood. "Bits and pieces," he says. "Bits and pieces."

Diane Love believes this is a blessing. "He doesn't remember Iraq," she said. "I don't want him to remember."

Contact JEFF SEIDEL at 313-223-4558 or jseidel@freepress.com.

.

December 7, 2007

Bangladesh formally bids farewell to US military following cyclone relief efforts

DHAKA, Bangladesh: Bangladesh bid farewell to the U.S. military Friday after it wrapped up an aid mission to the cyclone-battered country.

http://www.iht.com/articles/ap/2007/12/07/news/Bangladesh-Cyclone.php

The Associated Press
Published: December 7, 2007

Officials announced the end of the military relief operation, dubbed Sea Angel II, on Thursday but said U.S. civilian agencies, including USAID, would continue relief efforts.

Helicopters from the USS Tarawa, which took over from the amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge on Monday, made final sorties Thursday, dropping food, water and medicine. The Tarawa planned to leave Bangladesh's waters in two to three days, officials said.

The officials said they hope cooperation between the two nations would increase.

"As a friend and as a partner" the existing relationship with Bangladesh will be stronger in the future, said Brig. Gen. Ronald L. Bailey, who coordinated the U.S. operations.

"Trauma changes you. It brings us together," Bailey told reporters at the farewell ceremony on the premises of the Armed Forces Division in the capital, Dhaka.

Tropical Cyclone Sidr slammed into Bangladesh's coastal areas on Nov. 15, leaving more than 3,200 people dead and millions homeless.

Bangladeshi Lt. Gen. Masud Uddin Chowdhury thanked the U.S. military for coming at a time when people needed them.

"Now with the operation Sea Angel II our relationship has further been cemented," Chowdhury said.

The USS Tarawa also participated in relief operations in 1991 — dubbed Sea Angel I — when a powerful cyclone killed about 140,000 people in Bangladesh.

U.S. military ends cyclone aid mission to Bangladesh

DHAKA (Reuters) - Bangladesh's armed forces bid farewell on Friday to U.S. Marines and sailors who had helped in a daunting emergency relief operation after a killer cyclone ravaged the low-lying country's coasts last month.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/12/07/AR2007120700460.html

By Masud Karim
Reuters
Friday, December 7, 2007; 5:05 AM

"We did something special. We saved lives," said Marine Brigadier General Ronald L. Bailey at the farewell ceremony at Dhaka army headquarters.

The U.S. military aid mission in Bangladesh started on November 23, a week after Cyclone Sidr struck the impoverished south Asian country, killing more than 3,200 and leaving millions homeless.

Bangladesh and U.S. officials said the U.S. soldiers would leave Bangladesh in two or three days after a final pack-up.

They arrived onboard two helicopter-carrying navy vessels, USS Kearsarge and USS Tarawa.

The marines flew food, water, medicine, clothes and blankets to remote areas battered by Sidr, the strongest cyclone since 1991 when a storm killed around 143,000 Bangladeshis.

Bangladesh army officials praised the U.S. military for their humanitarian effort.

"You shall be leaving Bangladesh, but marks of your presence will remain in the sands of our coast and of course in the depth of hearts of millions of suffering humanity," Lieutenant-General Masud Uddin Chowdhury told his U.S. counterparts on Friday.

Some analysts had said the U.S. mission could ruffle feathers in Muslim Bangladesh, where the U.S.-led war in Iraq has been unpopular, and in neighboring India, which has long been wary of a U.S. Navy presence in the Indian Ocean area.

"The visit of the U.S. navy did not provoke any sensitivity in the region as it was not a truly military operation," retired Bangladesh army major-general, Syed Mohammad Ibrahim, said on Friday.

"Only those who sniff out wrong in anything may have looked at this mission with suspicion. But on the ground it was a tremendous humanitarian effort and we are quite comfortable."

The departure of the U.S. marines and troops marks the end of the relief operations and the beginning of the rebuilding and rehabilitation effort.

The death toll from the storm stood at 3,295 as of Wednesday, with another 871 people missing and 52,810 injured, said the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. More than 8.7 million people were in need of some aid, the office said.

"Large numbers of affected populations continue to live in makeshift camps while they are making efforts to rebuild their lives," a statement from the U.N. Children's Fund said.

(Additional reporting by Ruma Paul; Writing by Anis Ahmed; Editing by Bill Tarrant)


Military Members Underway During the Holidays To Receive Free Phone Cards

The Navy Exchange Service Command (NEXCOM) and AT&T announced Dec. 4 that they have teamed up again to provide free phone calls to military members underway during the holiday season.

http://www.emilitary.org/article.php?aid=12975

Kristine M. Sturkie, Navy Exchange Service Command Public Affairs
2007-12-07

"Our military members sacrifice so much for our country, including being away from loved ones over the holidays," said Jennie Virden, NEXCOM personal telecommunication specialist. "These phone cards allow our military members the opportunity to call a loved one during the holidays. It is a way NEXCOM and AT&T can say thank you for all they do for us."

Each Sailor, Marine and Coast Guard member who will be underway aboard a U.S. Navy ship or Coast Guard vessel with AT&T Direct Ocean Service phones during the December holiday season will receive a $10 prepaid phone card. NEXCOM expects to distribute 25,000 free phone cards during the holidays.

NEXCOM and AT&T have been providing these free phones cards since 2001.

Ships receiving the free phone cards this year include: USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75), USS Carney (DDG 64), USS Cleveland (LDD 7), USS Fort McHenry (LSD 43), USS Germantown (LSD 42), USS Gunston Hall (LSD 44), USS Hopper (DDG 70), USS Hue City (CG 66), USS Ingraham (DDG 61), USS Kearsarge (LHD 3), USS Oscar Austin (DDG 79), USS Ponce (LPD 15), USS Porter (DDG 78), USS Port Royal (CG 73), USS San Jacinto (CG 56), USS Tarawa (LHA 1), USS Vicksburg (CG 69), USS Whidbey Island (LSD 41) and USS Winston S Churchill (DDG 81).

Free phone cards will also be provided to Navy submarines and U.S. Coast Guard cutters that will be deployed during the holidays.

Recon plays key role in humanitarian relief

BAY OF BENGAL, Bangladesh (Dec. 7, 2007) -- Reconnaissance Marines from the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) used their unique skills to help bring food, water and basic medical treatment to thousands of Bangladeshis during humanitarian assistance and relief efforts here this week.

http://www.usmc.mil/marinelink/mcn2000.nsf/main5/CC0DC7BCDAAD9FC0852573AB002AF35C?opendocument

Dec. 7, 2007; Submitted on: 12/08/2007 02:49:08 AM ; Story ID#: 20071282498
By Staff Sgt. Sergio Jimenez, 11th MEU

“This was a different type of mission but no less important,” said Staff Sgt. Lawrence T. O’Connor, team leader, 1st Platoon, Company A, 1st Reconnaissance Battalion, or “Alpha One” as it is known in the Recon community. Alpha One is part of the 1st Marine Division but is attached to the 11th MEU (SOC), Camp Pendleton, Calif., during their scheduled six month deployment through the Western Pacific Ocean and Arabian Gulf region.

O’Connor led one of two teams of Marines in conducting landing zone surveys that were needed to give pilots of CH46E Sea Knight and CH53E Super Stallion helicopters the “thumbs up” to land and drop off relief supplies to several villages and sites affected by Tropical Cyclone Sidr. The deadly cyclone struck Bangladesh’s southern coast Nov. 15 and killed more than 3,000 people and left several hundred thousand homeless. The Department of Defense effort is part of a larger United States response coordinated by the U.S. Department of State and U.S. Agency for International Development.

“We had to paint a visual picture with words and photos for higher headquarters and verify that the grid coordinates they had on the map matched those on the ground,” said O’Connor.

“The cyclone caused major flooding in the area,” said HM2 Eric J. Larson, a special amphibious reconnaissance corpsman. “We had to make sure the landing zones were not clogged with debris or any other obstructions.” As a SARC corpsman, Larson’s mission is different from hospital corpsman attached to regular infantry units. Grunts have corpsman whose primary mission in combat is to take care of Marines first, then transition as fighters. Larson’s is the opposite, he’s a shooter first and then a medic, said O’Connor.

“Most of us had never been involved in this type of mission before but they are very suited for the job,” said O’Connor, who is from Indianappolis, Ind. His team included, Cpls. Andrew Perryman, Marcus Heggen, both from Illinois and Larson, who is from Tieton, Wash.

According to O’Connor, most recon Marines, including member of his team are confident and aggressive and what he calls them “type A” personalities. They have keen eyesight and observation skills and an attention to detail most would call “anal retentive.” They are also expert marksmen and fierce fighters who can handle themselves in case things don’t go as planned.

Recon Marines and Sailors are also more used to hiding motionless in the sand or grassy fields, often for days, camouflaging their movements with the blowing wind and moving only in the shadows. These are skill sets, although suited for covert missions, “can be applied to any mission,” said O’Connor.

For this mission however, the recon team had to blend in not with the shrubbery, but with the population. So they traded in their utilities and high-speed combat gear and electronics for civilian attire, digital cameras, maps and light communications equipment. They replaced their fierce gaze with a smile and relaxed as best they could to blend in with the population.

In a hostile environment this would have been difficult, but not here, said O’Occonor.

“There was never a time when I felt we were in any danger,” he said. “The people were very happy to see them and very appreciative of the help we were providing and the village elders were very helpful and concerned with getting us everything we needed.”

“We still prepared for every contingency just in case,” added Larson.

The two teams were assisted by host nation drivers every step of the way. They helped guide the recon team across several rivers on pontoon boats, ferries and drove them through the small and congested city streets and village roads to the possible landing zones.

One of these sites was a large “cricket” field in a school yard. Others were on the bank of small fishing village, and field just outside of town, said Larson. At every site, they were mobbed by curious people and it was obvious that their missions would be neither typical nor covert. They wanted to see and touch the Americans who were providing aid, said O’Connor.

According to Larson, each mission was successful and they were able to clear Sea Knights and Super Stallion helicopters from Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 166 (Reinforced) to begin transporting medical teams and supplies from amphibious assault ship USS Tarawa (LHA 1).

After the mission, Larson and O’Connor said accomplishing their objective gave them a satisfaction different from the rest. Kind of like being on the side of the underdog and helping them win, he said.

O’Connor said he was struck by the strength and perseverance of the Bangladeshi people. They have been through and bounced back from so many natural disasters, and though “they have very little, they still smile and will give you the shirt off their back.”

“Whatever they have, they have built with their hands or grown in their fields,” he said.

O’Connor said he learned that the sea water that washed over their farm fields will ruin their crops for the next couple of seasons. “So farmers are trying to sell their crops as fast as they can to feed their families,” he said.

“It feels good to know,” said Larson, that in a small way, what they did on their mission, is helping some of those families survive.

Lieutenant carries on Lejeune legacy

MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJUENE, N.C. (Dec. 7, 2007) -- The legacy of Lt. Gen. John A. Lejeune, a man often referred to as the “Marine’s Marine” and “The greatest of all Leathernecks,” still continues more than 78 years after retiring from the Marine Corps.

http://www.usmc.mil/marinelink/mcn2000.nsf/main5/9826EFB21DEF97A8852573A80077DCA0?opendocument

Dec. 7, 2007; Submitted on: 12/05/2007 04:49:12 PM ; Story ID#: 2007125164912
By Pfc. Casey Jones, 2nd Marine Division

The Lejeune namesake continues in the Corps with several enlisted Marines and one officer.

Second Lt. Learlin Lejeune III, platoon commander with Weapons Platoon, Company B, 1st Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force, is the only officer in the Marine Corps with a direct relation to the 13th Commandant of the Marine Corps.

Learlin Lejeune, an Acadia Parish, Louisiana-native, is the great-great nephew of Lt. Gen. Lejeune, according to family genealogy records.

“Both he and I trace our ancestry back to Jean Baptiste Lejeune, who was one of the three Lejeune brothers that came from Nova Scotia, Canada,” Learlin Lejeune said. “Those three brothers moved out after the exile of the Acadians in Canada and moved to New Roads, Pointe Coupee Parish, Louisiana.”

Growing up, Learlin Lejeune didn’t learn about his highly-respected relative until his teenage years.

“I really didn’t know of him growing up as a young kid,” Learlin Lejeune said. “It wasn’t until about high school when I started considering the military as a career and later read his book ‘Reminiscence of a Marine’.”

According to Learlin Lejeune, Lt. Gen. Lejeune is the example of a stellar Marine and looks up to him as an example for his own career.

“When people see my nametapes, they ask me if I’m related to Lejeune,” Learlin Lejeune stated. “It makes me feel proud of the heritage that he established for our family. I can only hope I can live up to the namesake as well. That’s big shoes I have to fill. He was a phenomenal Marine and just a phenomenal man in general.”

Although Learlin Lejeune shares a revered last name in the Marine Corps, his nametapes did not give him any “wiggle room” at Officer Candidate School.

“When I was going through OCS they found out what my last name was, and of course, there was some extra ‘special treatment’,” Learlin Lejeune said jokingly. “During my class there was myself, another Marine whose last name was Marine and a Marine with the last name Sailors. So everyday after class we would get together and see who had the most interesting afternoon.”

Now, a platoon commander with the “Walking Dead”, Learlin Lejeune prepares to lead his Marines on an upcoming deployment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, like his great-great uncle did during the Spanish-American War as a lieutenant.

60th Toys for Tots campaign takes spin in Iwakuni

MARINE CORPS AIR STATION IWAKUNI, Japan (Dec. 7, 2007) -- The throaty rumble of more than 130 motorcycles paraded through the air station with toys fastened to their storage racks to be delivered at the 60th annual Toys for Tots campaign kickoff at the Hornet’s Nest here Sunday morning.

http://www.usmc.mil/marinelink/mcn2000.nsf/main5/7AA62DE328FD8826852573AA0016B527?opendocument

Dec. 7, 2007; Submitted on: 12/06/2007 11:08:01 PM ; Story ID#: 20071262381
By Lance Cpl. Kyle T. Ramirez, MCAS Iwakuni

The chorus of choppers sounded in lieu of Santa’s sleigh bells this Christmas season for needy children across the Pacific, to whom the gifts will be donated.

The worldwide event, conducted by Marines, collects and distributes donated toys in an effort to deliver a message of hope to needy children, according the Toys for Tots Web site. Sgt. Maj. Randolph L. Mitchell, station sergeant major, said that the Iwakuni community greatly benefits from the event in that friendships are created not only through the spirit of giving, but through the local bike-riding population.

“There is not a more fitting event for the American and Japanese biker communities to get together than to show their support for the needy children in the area,” said Mitchell, a Rochester, N.Y., native. “We have bikers that have traveled here from as far as Osaka just for this event. This year we’re fortunate enough to have a beautiful sunny day, so we’re seeing the largest turnout for this event in Iwakuni history.”

Sunday’s crowd ballooned to nearly 200 supporters, donating approximately 150 individual toys, both surpassing the charity drives in recent years. Mike K. Gingles, president of the Iwakuni Biker’s Club and native of Shreveport, La., said it took quite a bit of coordination to rally the large crew onto the air station, but the club’s efforts were for a worthy cause.

“Whatever we can do to bring Christmas to these children in need, we’re going to,” said Gingles. “The more bikers we can gather here, the more toys we’re going to obtain. This event not only shows the local community that we care about their children, it’s also become an annual opportunity for bikers to get together and do what all bikers love to do: ride.”

One participant, Clinton J. Hurda, Marine Corps Community Services outdoor recreation manager and native of Mineral Point, Wis., said he saw the parade of motorcycles ride by from inside his office window, grabbed his gift and gear, and joined in the procession.

“Every biker speaks ‘bike language,’ you could say,” said Hurda. “Whenever you see an opportunity to get together and share that passion for biking, you’re going to see a lot of us hop on for the ride.”

Participants have a passion for biking that has brought them back for the seventh year in the club’s history. By investing in a Christmas toy for a child, they’re also investing in their community, according to Hurda.

“This community obviously benefits from this event,” Hurda said. “There’s no doubt that I’m going to see all these faces, and probably more come next year.”

The gifts collected here will be donated to local orphanages in Iwakuni City and also orphanages in surrounding countries as far as Thailand and South Korea, a distribution opportunity exclusive to Iwakuni, according to Mitchell.

Campaign contributions are still highly encouraged. Families are invited to deliver their gifts to donation box locations including the first floor of Building One, Marine Wing Support Squadron 171 headquarters Building 128, Hornet’s Nest, Marine Lounge and the Marine Corps Exchange (MCX) entrance. Marines wearing the dress blue uniform will be greeting gift givers at the MCX entrance Friday through Sunday, this weekend and the next.

The gifts donated are scheduled to be wrapped by volunteers Dec. 13 and 14 at the Hornet’s Nest. On Dec. 15, a portion of the gifts are scheduled to be delivered to the Garden of Light Orphanage in Iwakuni City. For information on how to participate in the gift wrapping or delivery events, contact the Hornet’s Nest by calling 253-3585.

December 6, 2007

US Navy relief efforts in aftermath of Bangladesh cyclone end, but civilian aid goes on

ABOARD USS TARAWA, Bangladesh: U.S. military help in relief operations in cyclone-battered Bangladesh ended Thursday but civilian efforts will continue, officials from the two countries said.

http://www.iht.com/articles/ap/2007/12/06/asia/AS-GEN-Bangladesh-US-Relief.php

The Associated Press
Published: December 6, 2007

Bangladesh army chief Gen. Moeen U. Ahmed, on board the USS Tarawa, said the military relief operation, dubbed Sea Angel II, had come to an end and the ship would leave soon.

Geeta Pasi, charge d' affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Dhaka, said civilian aid agencies including USAID would continue relief efforts.

Tropical Cyclone Sidr slammed into Bangladesh's coastal areas on Nov. 15, leaving more than 3,200 people dead and millions homeless.

Helicopters from the USS Tarawa, which took over from the amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge on Monday, made final sorties Thursday, dropping food, water and medicine, said Capt. John Beal. The operation involved 20 helicopters.

Since Nov. 22, the U.S. military has delivered more than 113,000 kilograms (249,000 pounds) of food and medicine and 54,000 liters (14,000 U.S. gallons) of drinking water. The U.S. ships' medical teams also treated 2,355 people, the officials said.

The USS Tarawa also participated in relief operations in 1991 — dubbed Sea Angel I — when a powerful cyclone killed about 140,000 people in Bangladesh.

Liaison officers clear obstacles in Bangladesh disaster relief

KAALAPARA, Bangladesh(Dec. 6, 2007) -- By working together liaison officers from the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) Tarawa Expeditionary Strike Goup 3 and Bangladesh Army Medical Corps are making Operation Sea Angel II a success.

http://www.marines.mil/marinelink/mcn2000.nsf/0/91613213c5abb5db852573a90055bfc7?OpenDocument

Submitted by: 11th MEU
Story by: Computed Name: Staff Sgt. Sergio Jimenez
Story Identification #: 2007126103636

This is what Maj. Faisal, who goes by his rank and name, said as he and a medical team of Marines and Sailors prepared to board a helicopter to go ashore to conduct another humanitarian mission.

Liaison officers are representatives from the host and visiting nation who work together on issues like security, clearances, communications, logistics and medical issues, said Faisal.

Faisal and other liaison officer are assisting medical teams, logisticians, air crew and other personnel aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Tarawa (LHA 1) and other elements of the 11th MEU (SOC), who are conducting Humanitarian Assistance/Disaster Relief efforts in the area. The humanitarian assistance was requested by the Government of Bangladesh after Tropical Cyclone Sidr struck their southern coast Nov. 15. The storm killed more than 3,000 people and has left several hundred thousand homeless. The Department of Defense effort is part of a larger United States response coordinated by the U.S. Department of State and U.S. Agency for International Development.

Good communication, mutual respect and a sincere desire to make the lives of the people of Bangladesh better, were some of the reasons Faisal said his country’s liaison officer team has worked so well with its US counterpart.

The last time the U.S. and Bangladesh Army liaison officers worked together was after a 1991 cyclone killed thousands of people and caused mass devastation here, said Faisal. Both nations learned valuable lessons from that experience that are paying off today.

American technology, especially satellite weather reports have been very helpful in providing early warning of dangerous storms in the area. Good communication and the sharing of vital information like this between the liaison teams has increased the ability of both governments to react quickly to natural disasters, said Faisal.

Aboard the Tarawa, Maj. Rezwan, said each member of the liaison team has been working closely with his counterpart to make sure every element of this amphibious humanitarian mission goes smoothly. The liaison officers tell their counterparts what the needs are on the ground and then helps coordinate with local, regional and national governments agencies and nongovernmental organizations to get help there quickly, he said.

“Time saves lives,” said Faisal. When people are injured, sick or hungry, it’s the liaison’s job to make the calls, open doors and smooth the way to get help their fast, he said.

During a medical team visit to Kaalapara, a small fishing village, about an hour flight away from the Bay of Bengal, the Bangladeshi liaison team guided a CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter loaded with a medical team and medicine to the village. Once there, it was obvious the team had coordinated with the local government to make sure the people were informed of the humanitarian mission and kept at a safe distance from the landing zone. Local police provided security for the team and Bangladeshi Army personnel transported the team on small military vehicles through narrow and crowded streets and delivered them to the local medical facility. Once there, the medical liaison officer arranged for a wing of the facility to be used as a treatment area by the Navy medical team.

One of the best forms of support the liaison officers provided was as interpreters, said Navy LT. Jackie Jensen, a family physician from Fleet Surgical Team 3 temporarily attached to the Tarawa. Jensen learned from Maj. Rahman Moshiur, family physician, Bangladesh Army Medical Corps, that it is a requirement for all Bangladesh Army officers to know English and that most doctors can speak the language as well.

At Kaalapara, doctors and medical interns from the area and others flown in from other parts of Bangladesh, helped her team overcome the language barrier.

“Without the interpreters,” said Jensen. “It would have been impossible to communicate with our patients and provide them with good care.”

December 5, 2007

USS Tarawa and 11th MEU Provide Medical Aid to Bangladesh Residents

USS TARAWA, At Sea (NNS) -- Sailors and Marines assigned to the amphibious assault ship USS Tarawa (LHA 1) and the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) provided medical aid on Dec. 4 in Bangladesh for those affected by the recent cyclone.

http://www.navy.mil/search/display.asp?story_id=33705

Story Number: NNS071205-21
Release Date: 12/5/2007 6:08:00 PM
From USS Tarawa Public Affairs

The medical assistance was Tarawa's first opportunity to provide help to the Bangladeshi people since arriving to the area the previous day.

"We saw patients with a wide range of ailments," said Lt. Jackie Jensen, a family physician from Fleet Surgical Team 3, temporarily attached to the Tarawa. "Many adults complained about aches and pains, skin problems and bronchitis. In children, we saw a lot of upper respiratory infections, ear infections and diarrhea."

To help ease suffering, Navy corpsmen and doctors provided personalized care to individuals ailing from cuts and bruises to diarrhea and acute eye care.

"It's great that we were able to be out in the field helping these people," said Hospital Corpsman Danish Shariff, a corpsman assigned to the 11th MEU. "It's very exciting that we're able to help."

The U.S Navy and Marine Corps brings a unique ability to reach isolated villages by means of helicopter transport.

"These people are very hopeful and are happy to be able to see doctors here in this remote location," said Bangladeshi Army Major Lokman. "It is psychologically uplifting that they came all the way from the United States to help us."

Humanitarian assistance by U.S. military forces was requested by the Bangladeshi government and is part of on-going relief efforts currently underway after Tropical Cyclone Sidr struck the country's southern coast Nov. 15.

The cyclone killed more than 3,000 people and left several hundred thousand homeless. The Department of Defense effort is part of a larger United States response coordinated by the U.S. Department of State and U.S. Agency for International Development.

For more news from USS Kearsarge, visit www.navy.mil/local/lhd3/.

December 4, 2007

Tarawa Relieves Kearsarge in on-going HA/DR Efforts in Bangladesh

USS KEARSARGE, At Sea – The amphibious assault ship USS Tarawa (LHA 1) relieved USS Kearsarge (LHD 3) Dec. 3 in the Bay of Bengal to support on-going Humanitarian Assistance / Disaster Relief (HA/DR) efforts in Bangladesh.

http://www.usmc.mil/22ndmeu/HA_Ops/Releases_relief_ops.htm

Dec. 4, 2007
From USS Kearsarge and 22nd MEU (SOC) public affairs

Kearsarge, elements of Amphibious Squadron (PHIBRON) 8 and the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) Special Operations Capable (SOC) turned over their responsibility for further humanitarian relief efforts to Tarawa, PHIBRON 1 and the 11th MEU (SOC) completing their support of on-going HA/DR operations.

“I am extremely proud of the entire Navy-Marine Corps team onboard Kearsarge,” said Rear Adm. Carol Pottenger, Commander, Task Force (CTF) 76, during an all-hands call. “Through your teamwork and efforts, you undoubtedly saved countless lives and gave a face to the world’s generosity and compassion.”
At the request of the Government of Bangladesh, Kearsarge Sailors and Marines brought significant air, sea and medical capabilities to the region from Nov. 23 to Dec. 3, providing aid and comfort to the victims of Tropical Cyclone Sidr.

Kearsarge and the 22nd MEU delivered over 205,000 pounds of supplies, including food, blankets, water and purification tablets, as well as over 14,000 gallons of drinking water – a critical need identified in the initial days following the storm. The water was packaged by filling over 2,400 five-gallon bags, placing them in large boxes, and loading them on pallets for lift ashore via helicopter.

“As a team, we executed an effective, efficient and, perhaps most importantly, safe operation,” said Col. Doug Stilwell, Commander, 22nd MEU (SOC). “We demonstrated just how ideal a sea-based operation is for relief efforts – capable of delivering significant relief ashore while minimizing our footprint and thereby not placing unnecessary strain on the host nation.”

Heavy and medium-lift helicopters from Kearsarge flew more than 80 sorties and 331 hours in support of the relief operations. Two medical teams additionally provided care to nearly 1,600 patients and dispensed 2,000 prescriptions from a mobile pharmacy.

“We were pleased to provide any help we could,” said Cmdr. Dave Damstra, Officer-in-Charge, Fleet Surgical Team 4. “We saw many storm related injuries: cuts, bruises, broken bones; through cooperation with local Bangladeshi hospitals, we were able to maximize medical treatment.”

Kearsarge turned the operation over to the Sailors and Marines of Tarawa, who will continue on-going operations.

“I couldn’t be more pleased with the level of thought, care and detail that has gone into planning this operation by blue-green planners and their Bangladeshi counterparts,” said Capt. Frank Ponds, Commander, Kearsarge Strike Group. “I am confident that Tarawa, and her Sailors and Marines, will be able to seamlessly pick-up where we left off.”

Kearsarge arrived on-station Nov. 22 after steaming over 3,000 miles in less than six days off the coast of Somalia. They will continue on their scheduled deployment to perform maritime security operations or other missions as required. Tarawa will continue to perform on-going HA/DR operations in support of the Government of Bangladesh.

Tarawa, 11th MEU take over relief efforts

Staff report
Posted : Tuesday Dec 4, 2007 12:20:24 EST

The amphibious assault ship Tarawa, carrying Marines and sailors with the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit, relieved the amphibious assault ship Kearsarge on Monday to support ongoing humanitarian assistance and disaster relief in Bangladesh.

To continue reading:

http://www.navytimes.com/news/2007/12/navy_tarawa_cyclonerelief_071203w/

December 3, 2007

Marine Mom Goes To Parris Island

A Marine mom and NewsChannel5 employee attended boot camp to experience what her son went through and to find other local Marines from northeast Ohio. Follow her adventures here.

Dec. 3

Your child tells you they want to enlist in the Marine Corps. As a parent, you may feel helpless and clueless as they board the bus to head to Boot Camp.

http://www.newsnet5.com/station/14759635/detail.html

December, 2007
NewsChannel5
Cleveland · Akron
Sales Marketing manager and Marine mom Phyllis Sossi

My son went through Parris Island in 2004, and I remember being desperate for information -- what was he doing, how was he getting along, was he OK?

All week long, I will be posting updates from Parris Island as I look at Marine Corps Boot Camp through the eyes of a Marine Mom. In addition to information about the training, I will also post pictures of local recruits.

As parents, you don’t see your child for 12 weeks while they’re at Parris Island, on that road to becoming one of the few, the proud, a Marine. Here is your opportunity to get a glimpse into what they're experiencing.

Dec. 4

If you've been a Marine parent for any length of time (that is anything past Boot Camp) you're undoubtedly familiar with the motto: Hurry up and wait. That describes our experience today! We had a 3:45 a.m. wake-up call for a 7:15 a.m flight. Well, our plane had battery trouble and, to make a long story short, we finally took off around 1:00 p.m. Of course we also missed our connecting flight in Atlanta and had to literally run through the terminal to make a different flight for our final destination.

When we arrived in Savannah, there was a Marine DI (drill instructor) there to welcome us. We were ushered onto a bus and taken to Parris Island for dinner. There are about 80 people in our group; most of them are high school educators here to learn about what really goes on at Boot Camp so they can give informed guidance to students who are considering a career in the Marine Corps.

At dinner we were told that we have complete access to everything that goes on at Boot Camp...we will be witnessing everything from receiving (where recruits are "welcomed" into Boot Camp) to instruction on the M-16 rifle, to the MCMAP (Marine Corps Martial Arts Program), to actually trying the famed confidence course. We will be given access to recruits and DI's alike.

I was not happy when my son, Stephen, told me he wanted to enlist in the Marine Corps. I knew nothing about the Corps and couldn't understand why he wanted to leave college to do this. I tried to talk him out of it, but soon saw that this was a passion for him. I knew I had to get on board or be left behind. So, I became a Marine Mom in every sense of the word, and I am so proud of him for listening to that little voice inside that so many of us ignore.

As a Marine Mom, it's a little strange being back here after three years. It seems like only yesterday that I was here for Stephen's graduation and I had no idea what the coming years would bring. I was so anxious to see my son who I had sent to PI a few short months before and I was clueless about the Marine Corps way of life. It seems like a lifetime ago!

Having a son who has now done a tour in Iraq, I'm thankful for the intense training he received at Parris Island. Our sons and daughters receive the best training available and leave Parris Island prepared to deal with whatever comes their way anywhere in the world. I used to tell Stephen that if he could make it through Boot Camp, there wasn't anything in life he couldn't tackle.

We start tomorrow morning at 6:30 a.m.; from what I've been told, we're going to get the same treatment that new recruits get complete with a DI yelling at us to get off his bus and get on those yellow footprints.

Stay tuned...

Dec. 6

Today started bright and early. We arrived at Parris Island at 6:30am and were greeted by a Drill Instructor who ordered us off her bus and onto the yellow footprints. This is every recruit's first step at Parris Island, and the first step to becoming a Marine.

Usually our kids follow in our footsteps as they pass through life. Today I couldn't help but wonder if I was standing on the very footprints Stephen stood on three years ago. As I passed through the hatch (doors), I imagined Stephen taking those very same steps and I wondered what was going through his mind at the time.

I have to believe that every recruit wonders if they're doing the right thing as they start this journey. They arrive at Parris Island in the middle of the night and training starts as soon as the bus doors open. Within hours they have been stripped of all their belongings and issued everything they will need for the next 12 weeks.

They are permitted to make one phone call home and read from a script. The call is made at approximately 2am and the script goes something like this: "This is Recruit __________. I have arrived safely at Parris Island. Do not send any food. I will contact you in 7-10 days with my address. That is all. Goodbye for now." Parents are usually by shocked by this phone call and THEY wonder what their child has gotten themselves into. So it begins.

We next had a briefing by the commanding general at Parris Island, who shared all about the Marine Core Values of honor, courage and commitment. He also shared with us that the mission of Recruit training at Parris Island is transforming recruits mentally, physically and morally into US Marines. They take all three facets very seriously.

I had the honor of meeting two recruits from Lorain County this morning. Recruit Joe Liotta and Recruit Benjamin Jones. Joe is in his 10th week of Boot Camp and will be embarking on the Crucible next week. Benjamin is graduating this Friday. Both were enthusiastic about their experiences here at Parris Island. Benjamin said his drill instructors were incredible and he has thoroughly enjoyed his training. After meeting both of these recruits, I have no doubt that the future of the Marine Corps is in very good hands.

Lunch was in the form of a boxed lunch with recruits from Alpha company. These young men are in their 7th week of training and are scheduled to graduate January 18th. I met Recruit Jimmy Donnellan, who is also from the greater Cleveland area. He, too, said he was enjoying training and was glad that he had enlisted.

As a Marine Mom, you feel a kinship with every Marine you meet. Your son may be far away, yet just being around Marines makes you feel a little closer to him. It truly is one big family. Having lunch amid 70+ recruits was an awesome experience and I had to show some restraint and not give every one of them a Mom's hug.

This afternoon we were given the opportunity to fire an M-16 rifle...the very rifle that Marines are issued at Parris Island. Every Marine is a rifleman and they take great pride in their marksmanship. Again, the Marine Mom in me surfaced as I held the rifle and got the target in my sight. I imagined my son going through this very training, and rememberd the advice he had given me just last week about how to hold the rifle. Somehow I felt closer to Stephen as I fired off a few rounds...one of those shared mother/son experiences??

Tomorrow is another full day. I will have the opportunity to try the obstacle course and have a tour of a squad bay. We'll also see the Martial Arts training, the swimming pool and the Crucible. I have a feeling I'm going to leave here with an even higher level of respect for these young men and women.

Dec. 7

This morning I awoke extra early to go to the base for the Motovational (Moto) Run. This is my favorite part of the graduation events. The new Marines run around Parris Island, in formation to cadence, ringing bells all around the base. Parents and family members line the streets hoping for that first glance of their son/daughter. This is the first opportunity they've had to see them in 13 weeks.

I remember being here three years ago like it was yesterday. Stephen's platoon went running by and I felt like the worst mother in the world...I couldn't pick him out! Eighty men ran by, all in identical olive sweats, who had obviously been to the same barber shop. The next time they passed I saw him, right in the front row. The emotion was unlike anything I had ever felt before and the tears started.

The streets were lined with families who looked like they were there to cheer on a rock star or a pro athlete. They were holding signs and banners and wore shirts with their Marine's name on them. I didn't have a child in today's run, but I found myself choked up for these parents, knowing what they were about to experience.

I talked with parents who were so excited about finally seeing their child after such a long absence. I told them not to feel bad if they didn't recognize them...the change at Parris Island is awe-inspiring.

After the Motorun we went to tour a squadbay. The large room where the recruits live during their stay at Parris Island. They sleep in bunk beds or, as they call them, racks. The mothers would be amazed at how crisply made the racks were! It's amazing how the DIs are able to get our sons to make their beds!

Stephen shared with me that Marines don't actually sleep in their beds, they sleep on top of them. That way, they don't have to re-make them every morning. Those Marines are always thinking!

We next went to the indoor pool where recruits qualify in water survival. We had a demonstration of the instruction the recruits get, and what they must do in order to pass this part of recruit training. Many recruits come to Boot Camp unable to swim. In a very short amount of time, they must not only get comfortable in the water, they must be able to do swim the length of the pool fully clothed. According to the instructor, there were Marines who died in WWII not from combat injuries, but from drowning; that's why this was added to recruit training.

After the pool, we had time to tour the Parris Island Museum and the Post Exchange (PX). Every Marine Mom loves to go shopping where are all kinds of items with the Eagle, Globe and Anchor symbol! In the Museum gift shop, I met two former Marines from Cleveland! One of them is the DI that was on a famous recruiting poster from over 30 years ago (We Don't Promise you a Rose Garden.) It was a true honor to meet him, and I was humbled when he handed me a challenge coin to give to Stephen. (challenge coins are large coins that Marines collect to commemorate their experiences and affiliations.)

Our next stop was lunch with local recruits. The other Marine Mom on this trip, Gail, and I went around the chow hall talking to the recruits and asking for their mom's names and numbers. We also took pictures of them and told them we'd e-mail them to their families. When you're a Marine Mom, all Marines are like your sons, and I very happily gave a few encouraging hugs to remind them how proud their mothers are of them. I had the pleasure of meeting Recruit Lee Hamp of Stow, Recruit Jared Werner of Lorain County, Recruit Andrew Armstrong of Mansfield, Recruit Joshua Sanders of Chardon, Recruit Jason Schmitt of Avon Lake, and Recruit Adam Burgett of Lorain. What amazing young men! This evening I spent a couple of hours on the phone with mothers and brothers and sisters and girlfriends, assuring them that their recruits were doing well and send their love.

I was in their shoes three years ago. I know how they feel and how desperate you are to know how your child is doing. Marine Corps Boot Camp differs from that of the other services in that there is no communication except for hand-written letters...no phone calls, no e-mails. I felt like Santa...delivering a very special gift this holiday season.

After lunch we learned about the Crucible, and had the opportunity to experience some of the events the recruits go through. The Crucible is a 54-hour exercise that comes in the 11th week of Boot Camp; it's the culmination of everything they have learned up to this point. With very little sleep or food the recruits face a series of challenges and obstacles. Upon completing the Crucible, the recruits receive their Eagle, Globe and Anchor and go from being recruits to being Marines. It's a defining moment that every Marine remembers the rest of their life.

Our final stop for the day was a martial arts demonstation and the Confidence Course. The Confidence Course is like an obstacle course on steroids that every recruit must master before they can become a Marine. This is not the obstacle course on the playground or in your backyard...this is one that takes strength and courage and perseverance. It forces those with a fear of heights or a fear of failing to overcome them. The martial arts program teaches every Marine how to defend themselves using just their hands, or whatever they might have available. Every recruit must pass a minimum level of proficiency in order to become a Marine.

Wow! What a day! While going through the Crucible and the Confidence Course I was tempted to call Stephen and ask him how he did on this challenge or that one. I could picture him climbing up the cargo net or scaling the wall. I imagined his face covered with camouflage paint as he worked his way through the Crucible, tired and hungry; and how incredible he must have felt when it was over.

Tomorrow is graduation day; it's what families and the recruits have been waiting for. There will be lots of tears and laughter and I feel fortunate that I'll be able to share it with these families, who will now be my extended Marine family!

Dec. 8

Today was our last day here at Parris Island, but it was an incredible day. Today 575 Marines graduated Boot Camp and their 13-week journey was completed. Yet, this is really only the beginning. From here, following a 10-day leave at home, they go on to additional training and then to their PDS (permanent duty station.) The training varies depending on what their MOS (military occupational specialty) is. It can be from weeks to as long as 18 months.

Our day started with the raising of the colors. In civilian terms, that means the ceremony where the American flag is raised. On a military base, this is always a very special moment. At Parris Island, on graduation day, it is truly an event. The Parris Island band plays and the Commanding General makes remarks. The event concludes with the playing of the Marine Corps Hymn. Ever since Stephen graduated from Boot Camp, I feel myself stand a little taller when the Hymn is played.

From there we went to the Drill Instructor School. Located at Parris Island, this is where the DIs are trained. In reality, the DIs go through a school more intense than that which the recruits encounter...and they're usually 5-10 years older than the average recruit. Drill Instructor candidates volunteer for this duty. Knowing it will be physically and mentally challenging, and mean 100+ hour work weeks, there is no shortage of Marines who want this duty.

I have had the honor of knowing some former DIs, and without exception, every one of them says it was the most important duty they've had in the Corps. These DIs truly care about the recruits put in their care, and are proud of the Marines they help create.

From DI School, we finally headed over to the Parade Deck for graduation. The stands were filled with families, all waiting for that moment when their Marine will be dismissed and is free to leave Parris Island. Someone unaware of the occasion might have thought a rock star was about to make an appearance. It was a standing-room-only event, and signs and banners were abundant.

I can't begin to imagine the sense of accomplishment these Marines feel. I used to tell Stephen that Boot Camp would probably be the hardest thing he ever did in his life. If he made it through that, he could live the rest of his life knowing that he could do anything he put his mind to.

The graduation ceremony was executed with precision. As the platoons passed in review, they marched in perfect unison. Every movement was crisp and sharp. How far they'd come in 13 weeks!

Again, I did not have a child in the graduation, yet I felt a sense of pride as the DIs yelled their final "dismissed" and the Marines rushed to their mothers and fathers.

I remembered Stephen's graduation like it was yesterday. It's impossible to describe the feeling of watching your child emerge as a Marine; standing so straight and proud before you.

Many parents try to talk their children out of enlisting in the military. I tried everything I could to talk Stephen out of it. He was in college and there was no reason for him to enlist! No reason except this "calling" he had to serve his country. We are so fortunate that there are young men and women who have the strength to listen to that little voice inside them, and work tirelessly to defend our freedom.

Being a Marine Mom is not easy duty. Having a deployed child is a worry that cannot be described in words. They say your child enlists and you get drafted. That is so true because they do not take that journey alone. You are with them in spirit every step of the way. You know how it is when your teenager is out with friends at night and you can't quite go to sleep until you hear the car pull in the driveway? Well, multiply that by 1,000, and it's still not even close to what you feel having a child deployed in a war zone.

Being here at Parris Island this week has been an invaluable gift. In addition to the long days full of activity, Gail (the other Marine Mom) and I had an emotional journey...recalling our sons taking those same steps and going through the training we were now witnessing first-hand.

I am truly in awe for what Stephen accomplished. And although I didn't think it was possible, I am even more proud of him. He truly is my hero.

Cooperation helps pacify Hit

HIT, Iraq, Dec. 3 (UPI) -- Along the banks of the Euphrates River and just 30 miles from the Anbar provincial capital of Ramadi sits a success story in U.S. counterinsurgency efforts in Iraq.


http://www.upi.com/International_Security/Emerging_Threats/Analysis/2007/12/03/feature_cooperation_helps_pacify_hit/6413/


Published: Dec. 3, 2007 at 12:26 PM
By RICHARD TOMKINS

The place is named Hit, or Heet, depending on the chosen transliteration from Arabic to English. And it's a place where the sometimes controversial practice of cutting deals with tribal sheiks has paid measurable dividends, at least for now.

"The situation now, compared to last year, is night and day," said Lt. Col. J.J. Dill, commander of the 1st Battalion, 7th Marines, at Camp Hit. "There have been just two IED (improvised explosive device) explosions since August. Before then, at least one was found or went off every day along roads.

"The market is open, people are returning to their homes after running for safety, they're opening businesses, and children are playing on the streets.

"That's satisfying. It shows what we're doing is right," he said.

Dill said his sergeant major, George Young, has one key indicator of peace taking hold: piles of large stones.

"Rock piles are good," he said. "Rock piles mean people are building. People don't build homes if they don't feel safe."

Hit was an intermittent but intense shooting gallery following the downfall of Saddam Hussein in 2003. Al-Qaida terrorist and nationalist insurgent groups were entrenched in the city, enforcing their will on its residents and meting out their own brand of bloody, kangaroo justice when not fighting U.S. forces. Leaders of the area's powerful Albu Nibr tribe, which had chosen cooperation with U.S. forces early on in the war -- well before formation of the Anbar "Awakening Council" movement of Sunni Muslim tribes -- first fought al-Qaida-Iraq with a homegrown militia, but later had to turn to U.S. forces for help. That tentative alliance of necessity has grown into a longer-term, deeper one that has helped bring peace to the tribally mixed city of 60,000, which lies between Ramadi and Haditha.

"Two groups (tribes) in Anbar went to the coalition forces," Sheik Hatem Abdal Razzaq, the leader of Albu Nibr tribe, told a reporter. "One was in the west and one in the east of the province. Both were attacked by terrorists and insurgents for it.

"We lost people. We gave blood. But by working with the coalition forces we saw a future … and we agreed to get together, and we've cleaned up the bad areas like Hit.

"We get respect from the coalition forces and they trust us. We have security," he said through an interpreter while sipping tea in the large, tribal meeting house on his compound outside Hit, in Zuwayyah. "They help us to make Iraq better. They make many projects here, and projects mean jobs, many jobs."

Increased cooperation with U.S. forces didn't sit well with all initially.

"In 2005 all the Iraqi Police quit except for 170 of us, who stayed on the job for seven months without pay and continued to fight al-Qaida and the insurgents," said IP 1st Lt. Majid Aftin, a soldier during the Saddam regime and a member of the Albu Nibr tribe. But in 2006, with violence still swirling, hundreds of Albu Nibr volunteers stepped forward on just one day for the first 150 new police positions approved by the government.

Police in Hit, who have been trained in multinational facilities in Iraq and Jordan, now number well over 500 and are expected to bump 1,000 in coming months -- not only in the city itself but in Dill's area of operation, which is 4,000 square kilometers, most of it desert.

"My assessment is that AQI here is defeated," Dill said. "By that I mean it can't conduct major operations or interfere significantly with our operations or those of the IPs. This allows us to focus more on the governance and reconstruction track."

"Those we do see appear to be trying to re-establish cells."

Dill's units in Hit either share facilities with IPs or are located next them. They often conduct joint patrols, and they share intelligence.

The 1st Battalion's headquarters is located several miles outside of Hit, but several company-sized or smaller outposts are in the city itself. Each day Marines take to the streets by foot and vehicle, showing their presence and interacting with the people on a more personal level. Since September alone about 5,000 patrols have been mounted in the shopping areas, along main roads, in neighborhoods and along the palm groves hugging the river. Seventy percent of the "presence" operations have been on foot.

"Census" patrols are conducted at night. Marines go out with IPs and visit neighborhoods, taking data on residents, assessing their needs and living situations, helping when they can.

The relative peace in Hit, however, doesn't mean potential violence doesn't lurk. A presence patrol recently passed two men on a motorcycle. The men had stopped and pulled to the side of the road as the patrol passed, in keeping with procedures adopted in the city. They looked ordinary enough, acted ordinary enough and did nothing to arouse suspicion so they weren't interfered with. When the Marines turned the corner, they planted a small bomb.

Local residents tipped off the Iraqi Police, who called U.S. troops. The bomb was neutralized before anyone was hurt, and with local cooperation the suspects were found and detained.

Hit has seen the benefits of cooperation, with U.S. forces, with the Iraqi Police and with each other, despite tribal and clan differences. Will it strengthen and deepen still? Inshallah.

USS Tarawa to take over from Kearsarge

US contributes $5 mil to WFP fund

A second US amphibious naval ship 'Tarawa' will join the current cyclone relief operation soon, as American Marine Commander Brig Gen Ronald Bailey said usually it takes two weeks to meet the emergency relief needs, reported UNB.


http://www.thedailystar.net/story.php?nid=14077

Published On: 2007-12-03
Star Report

A French company, TOTAL, through its subsidiaries TOTAL E&P Bangladesh and TOTALGAS Bangladesh, yesterday announced a relief donation of US$100,000 to be distributed by Friendship, an NGO.

Bangladesh Medical Association of North America, an organisation of expatriate Bangladeshi physicians in the USA, donated $10,000 to the Chief Adviser's Relief and Welfare Fund, reported UNB.

The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) welcomed a US contribution of $5 million for an emergency operation designed to support 2.2 million people in nine districts whose lives and livelihoods had been devastated by cyclone Sidr.

At a press briefing in the American Club in the capital Brig Gen Ronald Bailey said they have yet to finalise the date for completing the emergency relief operation in the cyclone-battered coastal areas.

The US ship Kearsarge entered Bangladesh territorial waters on November 22 and had started full-scale 'Operation Sea Angel-11' a week before catering to the immediate need of pure water for the victims.

Since November 29, the Kearsarge delivered over 12,000 gallons of water by helicopters to different hard-to-reach localities along the coast.

In reply to a question, Brig Gen Bailey, Commander of the 3rd US Marine Expeditionary Battalion (MEB), said it will take 3 to 4 days from tomorrow for the Tarawa to take over the charge from the Kearsarge and carry forward the operation, UNB reported.

Having the same capability as the Kearsarge, the Tarawa already conducted 'Operation Sea Angel' in Chittagong after the devastating cyclone and tidal wave in 1991, which left 1.5 lakh people dead.

In reply to a question, Charge d'Affaires Geeta Pasi said as a friend and a long-term partner of Bangladesh, the United States is 'ready to do whatever is needed on short, medium and long-term basis'.

Pasi informed the media that the US so far provided $19.5 million in cash and kind, including $15 million in food aid, which she said is an important issue for the country.

The US envoy said they are waiting to receive full briefing from the chief adviser in a couple of days on what to do next in the cyclone-hit districts.

Geeta Pasi and Brigadier General Ronald L Bailey held meetings yesterday with Bangladesh Food and Disaster Management Adviser Tapan Chowdhury, and Army Chief of Staff General Moeen U Ahmed to discuss the progress of the ongoing relief operations and the plan for the coming days.

Managing Director of TOTAL E&P Bangladesh Olivier Wattez said his company's contribution will be mainly dedicated to water wells, pond cleaning, and house reconstruction.

Former president of Bangladesh Medical Association of North America Dr Ehsanur Rahman handed over a cheque of $10,000 to Finance Adviser Dr AB Mirza M Azizul Islam at his planning ministry office yesterday, UNB reported.

Expatriate physicians are expected to provide more assistance for the cyclone-victims, an official handout said.

WFP will utilise the US relief contribution to distribute around 5,500 metric tons of rice and 1,100 metric tons of edible oil among the poor people devastated by the cyclone.

WFP already delivered over 300 metric tons of biscuits and 750 metric tons of rice to more than 1.2 million people in the worst hit areas by land, air and boat. It also launched an emergency operation to give life saving food assistance to 2.2 million people, appealing for $51.7 million.

WFP representative in Bangladesh Douglas Broderick also handed over a cheque of Tk 3.56 lakh to Foreign Adviser Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury as personal donations from WFP staff in Bangladesh offices, for depositing in the chief adviser's relief fund.

Meanwhile, an American university yesterday declared December 3 to 9 a week of fundraising for the cyclone victims of Bangladesh, reported ENA from New York.

Donation boxes will be placed on every campus of the university and the total fund collected will be sent to Bangladesh for the Sidr survivors.



December 2, 2007

11th MEU sharpens leaders during corporals course

ABOARD USS TARAWA(Dec. 2, 2007) -- “The leadership decisions a corporal makes on the ground can make or break a mission.”

http://www.marines.mil/marinelink/mcn2000.nsf/0/d9fcfe2f6376c6cd852573a5003fa13f?OpenDocument

Submitted by: 11th MEU
Story by: Computed Name: Staff Sgt. Sergio Jimenez
Story Identification #: 20071226350

The wisdom in these words from Cpl. Joseph A. Vera, landing support specialist, from Carlsbad, N.M., was one of the reasons he was voted by his peers to be the recipient of the “Leadership Award” during a graduation ceremony for the 11th MEU’s Corporals Course Class 1-08 here today.

Vera, who is with Combat Logistics Battalion 11, 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit, Camp Pendleton, Calif., served as 1st Squad Leader during the class and was also named the 2nd Place Honor Graduate for earning over 95% in final examinations and scoring at least 285 out of 300 on his physical fitness test.

Cpl. Cristina Mont, CLB-11, was the corporals course Honor Graduate.

Participants of the class included Marines and Sailors from the MEU’s ground, logistics and aviation combat elements respectively. These are Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, and Combat Logistics Battalion 11, both from Camp Pendleton, Calif., and Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 166 (Reinforced), from Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, San Diego.

The two-week course took place during the MEU’s deployment through the Western Pacific Ocean and Arabian Gulf region.

The corporals and petty officers were given classroom lectures on traditional topics such as history and customs and courtesies in the ship’s library. They also spent many hours in the sweltering heat and humidity of the ship’s hangar bay and flight deck practicing basic drill movements and the proper use of their noncommissioned officer sword during formations and ceremonies.

“We used the same curriculum used at the Camp Pendleton Corporal’s Course with one exception, said 1stSgt. David A. Wilson, Weapons Company 1st Sergeant, BLT 1/5. “We added an optional “war-fighting block” that focused on urban battles, improvised explosive device training” and other modern-day tactics, techniques and procedures. “The urban warfare class focused specifically on the “Three-Block War” concept that stresses that in today’s close-quarters conflicts, a Marine must be prepared to shift between combat mode, establishing peace and security and a humanitarian assistance role, all within a small area and during the same operation.

“No other military branch or service in the world places the amount of responsibility we place on the shoulders of our corporals,” said Staff Sgt. Carlos A. Granados, corporals course instructor, Company C, BLT 1/5. “So we challenged their minds as much as possible.”
The curriculum included taking part in tactical decision games with no right or wrong answers and squad missions that encouraged maximum participation. “We expected the leaders to rise to the challenge and they did,” he said. But he also said he saw a few who didn’t necessarily come to the course of their own free display a “born-again motivation” that was infectious to the group.

Granados said he was also encouraged by the mentoring and “cross-pollination” that occurred. “Many corporal made contacts from different job fields they can call on in the future for support,” he said.

“We live in a challenging time,” said Granados. Today’s combat environment poses complex questions that are difficult to answer. To find those answers, instructors pointed the corporals to their past.

“History was a big part of our lesson plan,” said Granados. Learning about the heroic actions of Marines who came before them, connects them to their past and motivates them to do great things, he said. But it’s more than that said Granados, Marines were taught to mine the lessons of their past and apply them to the battles of today. Granados pointed to the similarities between the urban battles of Hue City during the Vietnam War in the 70s, and the fierce battles fought in Iraq and Afghanistan in the recent past.

However, the most learning occurred when the corporals were given an opportunity to share their experience with each other in interactive discussions, said Wilson. “This is one of the most experienced class I have seen. I would say that at least 60% of these Marines have seen combat,” said Wilson. “There are more than a few corporals here who were young veterans of the fierce battles that took place in Fallujah, Iraq in 2004 and other battles since then.” The aim of the instructors was to get these corporals to talk to each other and share some of the lessons they learned first hand, he said.

Vera, who has been a corporal for a little over a year said he had a few lessons-learned to share. He recalled during his last deployment in Iraq’s Anbar Province, when he and two junior Marines were ordered to join a convoy that was headed to an airfield in Ramadi many miles away. Although he had less than a month in Iraq and only two weeks as a corporal, he was the senior landing support person on this mission. Once at Ramadi, he was tasked with tracking cargo and personnel movements between airfields during several landing support missions.

Vera said he made a few mistakes, but the experience taught him a valuable lesson in leadership. “A corporal has to always adapt, take charge and not be afraid to make decisions or mistakes. He has to lead.”

For more information on the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit visit their website at http://www.usmc.mil/11thmeu.

December 1, 2007

'A promotion to remember' at sea

ABOARD USS TARAWA (Dec. 1, 2007) — Picking up the next rank is always a special occasion. Earning it while on a Marine Expeditionary Unit is even better. Being presented with a promotion warrant aboard an amphibious ship steaming across the ocean is a promotion to remember.

http://www.usmc.mil/11thmeu/Promotions-Story07.htm

Story by Staff Sgt. Sergio Jimenez

"It's a day I'll remember for the rest of my life," said Cpl. Donald L. Peltier, after Col. John W. Bullard, MEU commander, promoted him in the hangar bay of the Tarawa in front more than 100 command element Marines and several CH46E Sea Knight and CH53E Super Stallion helicopters and other aircraft.

For Peltier, a weather observer, command element, from Saugerties, N.Y., his promotion to corporal is a milestone that really means something to him. "As an NCO (noncommissioned officer), you have a stronger voice and can change things for the better," he said.

"This promotion was long in coming," said Bradley, after being promoted in a room several levels up and with a spectacular view of the Bay of Bengal. With his back to an endless sea, Bradley told a standing-room-only group of officers and staff noncommissioned officers in attendance he appreciated this promotion more than any other because of the hard work it took him to reach it. Bradley also pledged to uphold the standards of his new rank and to strive to be a positive role model to all junior Marines.

In similar ceremonies throughout the ship, Marines and Sailors were promoted with similar backdrops. Commanders from the MEU's Aviation Combat Element and Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, the MEU's Ground Combat Element, promoted their Marines and Sailors on the flight deck, where AV-8B- Harrier II aircraft and AH-1W Super Cobra attack helicopters provided a unique backdrop. As company adjutants read the promotion warrant, Marines stood at attention and maintained their balance as winds batted against them and as the ship rolled from side to side.

"Being 1500 miles away from home is kind of crazy and cool," said Lance Cpl. Brian M. Zdychnec, intelligence section, command element, from Maple Grove, Minn. Col. John W. Bullard, commanding officer, 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit, Camp Pendleton, Calif.

Zdychnec, who was also promoted by Bullard, said being deployed with the 11th MEU is a one-of-a-kind experience that has taught him a lot. "I've also made a lot of new friends and have seen things most will never get to see." he said. "My friends and I used to read about the stuff I'm doing and the places where I'm going in history books," said Zdychnec. "And now, I'm actually here."