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June 30, 2008

Bush signs Iraq and Afghanistan war-funding by Olivier Knox

WASHINGTON (AFP) - US President George W. Bush on Monday signed into law a 162-billion-dollar spending bill funding the Afghanistan and Iraq wars well into 2009 -- roughly six months into his successor's term.

http://news.yahoo.com/s/afp/20080630/pl_afp/usiraqafghanistan_080630152552

by Olivier Knox
Mon Jun 30, 11:25 AM ET

"With this legislation, we send a clear message to all that are serving on the front line that our nation continues to support them," he said after signing the bitterly debated legislation at the White House.

Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain -- Bush's chosen heir -- have feuded sharply over Iraq as they battle over who will win the November election and the keys to the White House in January 2009.

The war remains vastly unpopular, and part of the reason that Bush's job approval sits at record lows, with roughly two out of three Americans in recent opinion polls saying the March 2003 US-led invasion was a bad idea.

And the surveys suggest that most Americans are more concerned with the faltering economy than with Iraq as they reel from an epidemic of home foreclosures, job losses and skyrocketing gasoline prices.

Bush has taken pains to underline security gains in Iraq resulting from his decision to "surge" roughly 30,000 more soldiers there in January 2007, and stressed that the troops are coming home as a result.

Critics have countered that political progress remains elusive and that the "surge" failed to achieve its goal of handing security for the whole country to Iraqi forces by November 2007.

But while Democrats won the US Congress in November 2006 partly on pledges to end the war, they have failed to set a timetable for bringing home the roughly 150,000 US troops in Iraq.

"I appreciate that Republicans and Democrats in Congress agreed to provide these vital funds without tying the hands of our commanders and without an artificial timetable of withdrawal from Iraq," Bush said.

"Our troops have driven the terrorists and extremists from many strongholds in Iraq. Today, violence is at the lowest level since March of 2004. As a result of this progress, some of our troops are coming home, as a result of our policy called 'return on success.' We welcome them home," said Bush.

Democrats took comfort from having inserted into the legislation a modern version of the post-World War II GI Bill to expand education benefits to veterans, a plan that Senate Republicans and the White House had opposed.

The veterans' benefits part of the legislation also included a 13-week extension of unemployment benefits and aid for Midwest flood victims.

"I'm pleased that the bill I sign today includes an expansion of the GI Bill. This legislation will make it easier for our troops to transfer unused education benefits to their spouses and children," said Bush.

The legislation calls on the Iraqi government to spend as much money as US taxpayers for reconstruction, and bars the Bush administration from using the funding to establish permanent bases in Iraq.

The White House contends that no overseas base can be called "permanent" because host governments are always free to order US forces out.

Last week, the US president and his Iraqi counterpart, Jalal Talabani, met at the White House and discussed efforts to seal a planned long-term US-Iraq security deal that would set the rules for the US military presence in Iraq after their UN mandate expires late this year.

US and Iraqi officials with knowledge of the closed-door negotiations said they hope to forge the controversial deal by late July, though the talks have only edged forward over the past several weeks with some compromises.

Key areas of dispute have included the question of US troops' standing under Iraqi law, and whether they could be brought before Iraqi courts, as well as plans for long-term US military bases, freedom to conduct operations, and to arrest and detain Iraqis.


Your new GI Bill An average of $80,000 for college — and it’s transferable to your spouse or kids

By Rick Maze - rmaze@militarytimes.com
Posted : June 30, 2008


Lawmakers have approved some of the most significant improvements to the GI Bill since its inception during World War II, an expansion of benefits that will enable new generations of veterans — and for the first time, family members — to fully cover the costs of obtaining a college degree.

To continue reading:

http://www.marinecorpstimes.com/issues/stories/0-MARINEPAPER-3591445.php

June 29, 2008

Fallen Marine Laid To Rest

Family, Friends Remember Sgt. Matthew Mendoza

SAN ANTONIO -- A San Antonio Marine was laid to rest Saturday, a little more than a week after he died on patrol in Afghanistan.

http://www.ksat.com/news/16740485/detail.html
Please click on above link for video link.

June 29, 2008

From the service at Our Lady of Perpetual Hope to the graveside ceremony at San Jose Cemetery, the flag he fought and died for was everywhere.

"Matthew was a good kid. It was something he wanted to do, being in the Marines, and he excelled," friend Chris Richmond said. "He excelled at everything he did."

Mendoza was killed June 19 by an explosive while on patrol with his unit in Afghanistan.

"It's a tough time -- a tough time for everybody," Richmond said. "It really hit home today."

Friends and family remembered Mendoza for his devotion to his country and his passion for football.

In 2004, KSAT-TV spoke with Mendoza at a high school football game, just before he left for Iraq.

"It's good to do things you used to do (like) watch the ballgame on Friday nights. This is a big stress reliever -- coming out here and hearing the bands (and) watching the kids cheer," Mendoza said.

Friends of the family said this was Mendoza's third tour of duty. They said he didn't have to go back overseas but chose to serve his country one more time.

"He didn't have to go back, but he wanted to go back with his guys. That's the kind of guy he was," Richmond said.

"He was a good Marine. He did what the country wanted him to do. He'll never be forgotten. He'll always be in our hearts -- always," Mendoza's cousin, Austin Duerr, said.

Mendoza was a third-generation military man.

He followed in the footsteps of his grandfather and great-grandfather.

Mendoza leaves behind a wife and a 6-year-old son.

June 28, 2008

Honoring Marine as he wished

Before Marine Sgt. Matthew Mendoza left for each of his three deployments to the war zone, he told his father what he wanted done if he came back in a casket.

http://www.mysanantonio.com/news/military/stories/MYSA062908.1B.Mendoza.EN.3fedae7.html
Please click on the above link for photos.

Web Posted: 06/28/2008 11:59 PM CDT
By Nancy Martinez

On Saturday, Mendoza's wishes were faithfully carried out: a traditional service conducted by his fellow Marine “brothers”; a Catholic Mass at his church; burial at San Jose Burial Park next to his grandfather.

Mendoza, the father of a 6-year-old son, was killed June 20 in Afghanistan. His dedication and pride were evident to all who knew him. A few years ago, he returned to his alma mater, Highlands High School, with a Marine recruiter to talk of his love for the job.“He had a wonderful 24 years of life here that was cut short way too early,” said his father, Raul Mendoza. “As a sergeant his goal was to get all the men from his platoon back home. That was his No. 1 goal; he was going to do everything it took to make sure that happened. It took everything he had.”

The word “hero” was on the lips of many who honored Mendoza, but it wasn't what he considered himself.

“I'm not calling myself a hero but I'm in a platoon full of them,” he wrote on his MySpace page.

Father Daniel Cisneros, pastor of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Church on the East Side, said he believed Mendoza was looking down from heaven, “overjoyed” with the turnout. About 600 people — young and old, friends, relatives and even strangers — gathered to pay their respects in the crowded church and at the cemetery in near 100-degree heat.

Rosie Esquivel, 73, stood at the back of the church, managing only a view of the backs of people's heads. She stood there, hands folded, praying. “It's very sad,” she said just after the Mass. “For a young man to give his life this way. He's a brave hero. ... There are no words.”

Cisneros punctuated the Mass with anti-war messages, saying, “If we loved one another, we would have no more pain, no more sorrows. Who pays for the war? Our young generation, our youth, they're the ones that go to war and give up their lives. War brings nothing but sadness.”

Relatives said that when people insulted President Bush, Mendoza would reply that he respected his “commander in chief.” And they said that after his first deployment to Iraq, Mendoza had a medical condition that could have kept him from deploying again, but he fought it because he wanted to return, serving two more tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.

On his MySpace Web page, Mendoza wrote about his love for his wife, his son, family and friends. He said his wife and his parents were his heroes, and that his little boy was becoming more and more like him. He also wrote about his loyalty to the Marine Corps.

“I'm going to re-up and try to get stationed in Texas. We will see how that goes,” he wrote. “Pretty much I'm not the same kid I was 4 years ago. Life has a way of throwing things at you. You got to take (them) all on and never back down because the day you do they win.”

Not only did Mendoza help his family plan his funeral, he seemed to predict it on his MySpace page: “My wife gives me a face every time I say it but it true, I refuse to die in a bed. 'Nough said there.”

At the end of the Mass, Cisneros blessed the casket, then did something that surprised and pleased the mourners.

“From one Marine to another, I salute you,” the priest said, saluting.


Suicide bomber kills 3 Hawaii Marines

Battalion commander among suicide bomber's victims

The commanding officer of a Hawai'i-based battalion of more than 1,000 Marines and sailors died Thursday in Iraq in an attack that also killed two other Kane'ohe Marines, the military said yesterday.

http://www.honoluluadvertiser.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20080628/NEWS08/806280336

Saturday, June 28, 2008

By Mary Vorsino
Advertiser Staff Writer

Lt. Col. Max A. Galeai, 42, commander of the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marines at Kane'ohe's Marine Corps Base Hawai'i, is believed to have been killed in the town of Karmah in Anbar province, about 30 miles west of Baghdad, in a suicide bomb attack.

Also killed in the attack were Capt. Phil Dykeman, 38, of New York, the leader of the battalion's Fox Company, and 23-year-old Cpl. Marcus W. Preudhomme, of North Miami Beach, Fla.

A member of an extremist cell believed to be behind the suicide attack has been arrested, the U.S. military said yesterday. U.S. spokesmen said it was unclear if the suspect, who was not identified, was directly involved in planning Thursday's attack, according to a report by The Associated Press.

A suicide bomber reportedly dressed in a police uniform detonated an explosive belt during a meeting of tribal sheiks opposed to al-Qaida in Iraq. In addition to the three Marines, two Iraqi interpreters, the local mayor and several key tribal figures were killed.

Kane'ohe Marine Corps Base officials would only confirm that the three were killed in Anbar.

The bombing occurred just two days before U.S. officials planned to formally hand over security responsibility for Anbar to the Iraqis, marking a major milestone in the transformation of a province that had been the most violent in Iraq.

The handover was postponed yesterday — but due to weather, not the attack, officials said. Weather forecasts called for high winds and sandstorms, which would ground aircraft and make it impossible for dignitaries to attend, officials said.

Anbar, which extends from the western outskirts of Baghdad to the borders of Jordan, Syria and Saudi Arabia, will be the 10th of Iraq's 18 provinces to return to Iraqi security control. The other nine provinces are dominated by Shiites or Kurds.

Galeai and the other two Marines are the first fatalities of the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marines in this deployment, which started in February. The battalion is set to return in August.

Since the war started, 84 Hawai'i-based Marines and sailors have died in Iraq.

A Leader, caring buddy

Friends yesterday remembered Galeai, of Pago Pago, American Samoa, as a dedicated family man, a natural leader and a caring buddy who would never burden others with his problems. Just last week, in the midst of his deployment in Iraq, he sent e-mails to friends with jokes about the hot weather and friendly queries about how they were doing.

"I'm trying to cope with the fact that he's no longer with us," said Marine Master Gunnery Sgt. Taumaoe Gaoteote, of California, a longtime friend.

"I didn't know how to react when I heard. I never thought it would actually happen to him."

In a newsletter for families of Kane'ohe-based Marines, Galeai wrote in February that during the deployment, battalion members would be "working with Iraqi police, Iraqi army and other(s) ... as we help the Iraqi people establish the conditions necessary for them to assume responsibility for their own security and local governance."

One of Galeai's friends, Marine Master Gunnery Sgt. Paul Moniz, of New York, said he heard from Galeai about a week ago in an e-mail. Galeai didn't talk much about what he was doing in Iraq, but made sure to ask Moniz about how he was holding up.

"He was a friend, mentor, bigger than life, extremely bright, just one of those guys," Moniz said.

Moniz, who used to work under Galeai, said the officer always "sunk his teeth into his work" and expected a lot from people, but also praised them when they delivered. "He was definitely an inspirational guy. He was caring, compassionate."

Master Sgt. Brett W. Beard, of California, also used to work under Galeai and quickly befriended him.

"He just made it super easy to go out there to work day after day," Galeai said. "His first love was always leading Marines."

Purple heart recipients

This was Galeai's second deployment to Iraq.

Galeai graduated from Oregon State University in 1988, and joined the Marines out of college.

Before coming to the Islands in 2007, he served in Virginia, California, Okinawa and elsewhere. His service awards include two Bronze Stars, the Purple Heart and five Meritorious Service Medals.

Gaoteote said Galeai is survived by his wife, Evelyn, and four children.

Dykeman, the leader of Fox Company, joined the Marines in June 1991 and came to Hawai'i in May 2007. He has been awarded a host of medals, including the Purple Heart.

Preudhomme joined the Marines in 2005, and was sent to Hawai'i the same year.

His awards include the Purple Heart and the Combat Action Ribbon, the Marines said.

Suspect held in deadly Iraq bombing

Victims of attack targeting anti-al-Qaida tribal sheiks included 3 Marines

BAGHDAD - A member of an extremist cell believed to be behind a suicide attack that killed more than 20 people including three U.S. Marines has been arrested, the U.S. military said Friday.

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/25423445/

AP
Sat., June. 28, 2008

U.S. spokesmen said it was unclear if the suspect, who was not identified, was directly involved in planning the attack that happened Thursday in the town of Karmah in Anbar province about 30 miles west of Baghdad.

A suicide bomber reportedly dressed in a police uniform detonated an explosive belt during a meeting of tribal sheiks opposed to al-Qaida in Iraq. In addition to the Marines, two Iraqi interpreters, the local mayor and several key tribal figures were killed.

One of the Americans killed was Lt. Col. Max A. Galeai of Pago Pago, American Samoa, the commander of Marines in the Karmah area.

The attack occurred two days before U.S. officials planned to formally hand over security responsibility for Anbar to the Iraqis, marking a major milestone in the transformation of a province that had been the most violent in Iraq.

U.S. authorities announced Friday they were postponing the handover ceremony because of weather forecasts calling for high winds and sandstorms, which would ground aircraft and make it impossible for dignitaries to attend.

Lt. Col. Chris Hughes, spokesman for U.S. forces in Anbar, said the U.S. had been planning to delay the ceremony based on weather forecasts before Thursday's attack.

Anbar, which extends from the western outskirts of Baghdad to the borders of Jordan, Syria and Saudi Arabia, will be the 10th of Iraq's 18 provinces to return to Iraqi security control. The other nine provinces are dominated by Shiites or Kurds.

Although Anbar is far quieter than in previous years, the Karmah attack shows that extremists, including al-Qaida in Iraq, remain a threat, albeit at a diminished level.

Also Friday, Iraq's Higher Judicial Council announced that a senior judge was assassinated by drive-by shooters while traveling in eastern Baghdad.

Judge Kamil al-Showaili was driving home Thursday when the attack occurred, the council said. He was the head of one of Baghdad's two appeals courts.

To the south, Iraqi security forces said they arrested two municipal officials in Maysan province for allegedly "violating the law."

Iraqi forces have launched a crackdown in the province and its capital city of Amarah to rid the area of Shiite militias. Followers of anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr claim the operation is aimed at weakening their movement before provincial elections expected this fall.

Damaged monument restored
In Baghdad, Iraqi authorities also announced they have restored the bust of Abu Jaafar Al-Mansour, the 8th-century founder of city. Saddam Hussein had often compared himself to al-Mansour.

A blast damaged the monument in Baghdad's Mansour district in October 2005, a day before Saddam went on trial for killing Shiite Muslims in Dujail — a charge for which he was later hanged.

Many Sunnis believed Shiite extremists were responsible for damaging the monument.

June 27, 2008

31st Marine Expeditionary Unit's History

CAMP HANSEN, Okinawa — The 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit was activated March 1, 1967, as Special Landing Force Alpha, for operations in Vietnam. It made the first of many amphibious deployments from Okinawa to the coast of Vietnam April 10, 1967. Ten days later, it was committed to Operation Beaver Cafe/Union #1. From May to September, Special Landing Force Alpha was entrusted to ground operations 22 days out of each month. It was during this period of intense combat that Special Landing Force Alpha earned the Presidential Unit Citation. The unit participated in supporting operations ashore during the following three years, returning to Okinawa periodically for re-outfitting and the rotation of forces.

http://www.marines.mil/units/marforpac/iiimef/31stmeu/Pages/31stMarineExpeditionaryUnit'sHistory.aspx

6/27/2008 By 31stMEU History Division, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit

Special Landing Force Alpha was officially designated the 31st Marine Amphibious Unit Nov. 24, 1970. Once more, the unit returned to the Gulf of Tonkin. This time, however, the 31st MAU would not be committed to overt land operations, as the Vietnam War was winding down. The 31st MAU performed presence missions and conducted a series of special operations through May 1971. From June 1971 until April 1975, the 31st MAU conducted numerous deployments to the waters off Vietnam. Its last mission there was conducted during Operation Frequent Wind on April 29. This operation was the final evacuation of Saigon as North Vietnamese forces entered the city.

The 31st MAU remained the forward-deployed U.S. presence in the Western Pacific and Southeast Asia. Combat operations were replaced by regional exercises, which allowed training opportunities in a variety of countries. In 1983, the 31st MAU was recalled from a combined exercise with local forces in Kenya, and positioned in the Mediterranean. Its mission from September to October 1983 was to support U.S. Peacekeeping Forces in Beirut during an intense period of complex political and life-threatening conditions in Lebanon. It was the 31st MAU's last combat operation and the unit was deactivated in May 1985.

The unit was reactivated as the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) Sept. 9, 1992.

From 1992 - 1998 the 31st MEU served as a force-in-readiness in the Western Pacific, participating in various joint and combined military exercises as well as successfully completing numerous special operations certifications with Amphibious Squadron 11. In May of 1998 while in transit to Thailand for Exercise Cobra Gold the 31st MEU and Amphibious Squadron 11 were redirected toward Indonesia to prepare for a possible non-combatant evacuation operation of American Citizens from the riot-torn country. After making initial preparations for the operation, tensions eased in the region and the 31st MEU went to Thailand to complete Exercise Cobra Gold.

In November of 1998 The Secretary of Defense ordered the 31st MEU to the Gulf aboard the ships of the Belleau Wood Amphibious Ready Group, in response to Iraq's refusal to cooperate with U.N.-sanctioned weapons inspections. While in the Middle East, the 31st MEU operated in support of U.S. and British air strikes against Iraq during Operation Desert Fox. Additionally, the Marines assisted in the evacuation of 88 Department of State diplomats and family members from the U.S. Embassy, Kuwait, and took up defensive positions near Kuwait in preparation for possible Iraqi retaliation.

The MEU/ARG team also supported Operation Southern Watch, the patrolling of the southern Iraqi no-fly zone, and performed numerous searches of civilian cargo ships outbound from Iraq in support of the U.N.-sanctioned trade embargo established following the Gulf War. The MEU returned from the Gulf in March of 1999.

In October 1999 the MEU once again proved it's expeditionary capabilities by responding to orders to support the Australian-led International Forces in East Timor. The MEU was ready to deploy within 72 hours of receiving the order to head to the Timor Sea. There, while the nation was in mayhem due to East Timor's new independence from Indonesian rule, the MEU supported INTERFET by providing heavy helicopter lift support to INTERFET forces.

The 31st MEU (SOC) continues to participate in deployments with Amphibious Squadron 11 throughout the Western Pacific.

Unit Decorations Include:
Presidential Unit Citation: Vietnam 1967
Navy Unit Commendation: Vietnam 1968
Meritorious Unit Citation: Vietnam 1975; Lebanon 1983, 1998-2000
Marine Corps Expeditionary Streamer
National Defense Streamer: 1965-1975; 1992-1996
Vietnam Service Streamer - 2 Silver Stars, 4 Bronze Stars: 1967-1972
Vietnam Cross of Gallantry with Palm Streamer

31st Marine Expeditionary Unit's History

CAMP HANSEN, Okinawa — The 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit was activated March 1, 1967, as Special Landing Force Alpha, for operations in Vietnam. It made the first of many amphibious deployments from Okinawa to the coast of Vietnam April 10, 1967. Ten days later, it was committed to Operation Beaver Cafe/Union #1. From May to September, Special Landing Force Alpha was entrusted to ground operations 22 days out of each month. It was during this period of intense combat that Special Landing Force Alpha earned the Presidential Unit Citation. The unit participated in supporting operations ashore during the following three years, returning to Okinawa periodically for re-outfitting and the rotation of forces.

http://www.marines.mil/units/marforpac/iiimef/31stmeu/Pages/31stMarineExpeditionaryUnit'sHistory.aspx

6/27/2008 By 31stMEU History Division, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit

Special Landing Force Alpha was officially designated the 31st Marine Amphibious Unit Nov. 24, 1970. Once more, the unit returned to the Gulf of Tonkin. This time, however, the 31st MAU would not be committed to overt land operations, as the Vietnam War was winding down. The 31st MAU performed presence missions and conducted a series of special operations through May 1971. From June 1971 until April 1975, the 31st MAU conducted numerous deployments to the waters off Vietnam. Its last mission there was conducted during Operation Frequent Wind on April 29. This operation was the final evacuation of Saigon as North Vietnamese forces entered the city.

The 31st MAU remained the forward-deployed U.S. presence in the Western Pacific and Southeast Asia. Combat operations were replaced by regional exercises, which allowed training opportunities in a variety of countries. In 1983, the 31st MAU was recalled from a combined exercise with local forces in Kenya, and positioned in the Mediterranean. Its mission from September to October 1983 was to support U.S. Peacekeeping Forces in Beirut during an intense period of complex political and life-threatening conditions in Lebanon. It was the 31st MAU's last combat operation and the unit was deactivated in May 1985.

The unit was reactivated as the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) Sept. 9, 1992.

From 1992 - 1998 the 31st MEU served as a force-in-readiness in the Western Pacific, participating in various joint and combined military exercises as well as successfully completing numerous special operations certifications with Amphibious Squadron 11. In May of 1998 while in transit to Thailand for Exercise Cobra Gold the 31st MEU and Amphibious Squadron 11 were redirected toward Indonesia to prepare for a possible non-combatant evacuation operation of American Citizens from the riot-torn country. After making initial preparations for the operation, tensions eased in the region and the 31st MEU went to Thailand to complete Exercise Cobra Gold.

In November of 1998 The Secretary of Defense ordered the 31st MEU to the Gulf aboard the ships of the Belleau Wood Amphibious Ready Group, in response to Iraq's refusal to cooperate with U.N.-sanctioned weapons inspections. While in the Middle East, the 31st MEU operated in support of U.S. and British air strikes against Iraq during Operation Desert Fox. Additionally, the Marines assisted in the evacuation of 88 Department of State diplomats and family members from the U.S. Embassy, Kuwait, and took up defensive positions near Kuwait in preparation for possible Iraqi retaliation.

The MEU/ARG team also supported Operation Southern Watch, the patrolling of the southern Iraqi no-fly zone, and performed numerous searches of civilian cargo ships outbound from Iraq in support of the U.N.-sanctioned trade embargo established following the Gulf War. The MEU returned from the Gulf in March of 1999.

In October 1999 the MEU once again proved it's expeditionary capabilities by responding to orders to support the Australian-led International Forces in East Timor. The MEU was ready to deploy within 72 hours of receiving the order to head to the Timor Sea. There, while the nation was in mayhem due to East Timor's new independence from Indonesian rule, the MEU supported INTERFET by providing heavy helicopter lift support to INTERFET forces.

The 31st MEU (SOC) continues to participate in deployments with Amphibious Squadron 11 throughout the Western Pacific.

Unit Decorations Include:
Presidential Unit Citation: Vietnam 1967
Navy Unit Commendation: Vietnam 1968
Meritorious Unit Citation: Vietnam 1975; Lebanon 1983, 1998-2000
Marine Corps Expeditionary Streamer
National Defense Streamer: 1965-1975; 1992-1996
Vietnam Service Streamer - 2 Silver Stars, 4 Bronze Stars: 1967-1972
Vietnam Cross of Gallantry with Palm Streamer

31st Marine Expeditionary Unit's History

CAMP HANSEN, Okinawa — The 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit was activated March 1, 1967, as Special Landing Force Alpha, for operations in Vietnam. It made the first of many amphibious deployments from Okinawa to the coast of Vietnam April 10, 1967. Ten days later, it was committed to Operation Beaver Cafe/Union #1. From May to September, Special Landing Force Alpha was entrusted to ground operations 22 days out of each month. It was during this period of intense combat that Special Landing Force Alpha earned the Presidential Unit Citation. The unit participated in supporting operations ashore during the following three years, returning to Okinawa periodically for re-outfitting and the rotation of forces.

http://www.marines.mil/units/marforpac/iiimef/31stmeu/Pages/31stMarineExpeditionaryUnit'sHistory.aspx

6/27/2008 By 31stMEU History Division, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit

Special Landing Force Alpha was officially designated the 31st Marine Amphibious Unit Nov. 24, 1970. Once more, the unit returned to the Gulf of Tonkin. This time, however, the 31st MAU would not be committed to overt land operations, as the Vietnam War was winding down. The 31st MAU performed presence missions and conducted a series of special operations through May 1971. From June 1971 until April 1975, the 31st MAU conducted numerous deployments to the waters off Vietnam. Its last mission there was conducted during Operation Frequent Wind on April 29. This operation was the final evacuation of Saigon as North Vietnamese forces entered the city.

The 31st MAU remained the forward-deployed U.S. presence in the Western Pacific and Southeast Asia. Combat operations were replaced by regional exercises, which allowed training opportunities in a variety of countries. In 1983, the 31st MAU was recalled from a combined exercise with local forces in Kenya, and positioned in the Mediterranean. Its mission from September to October 1983 was to support U.S. Peacekeeping Forces in Beirut during an intense period of complex political and life-threatening conditions in Lebanon. It was the 31st MAU's last combat operation and the unit was deactivated in May 1985.

The unit was reactivated as the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) Sept. 9, 1992.

From 1992 - 1998 the 31st MEU served as a force-in-readiness in the Western Pacific, participating in various joint and combined military exercises as well as successfully completing numerous special operations certifications with Amphibious Squadron 11. In May of 1998 while in transit to Thailand for Exercise Cobra Gold the 31st MEU and Amphibious Squadron 11 were redirected toward Indonesia to prepare for a possible non-combatant evacuation operation of American Citizens from the riot-torn country. After making initial preparations for the operation, tensions eased in the region and the 31st MEU went to Thailand to complete Exercise Cobra Gold.

In November of 1998 The Secretary of Defense ordered the 31st MEU to the Gulf aboard the ships of the Belleau Wood Amphibious Ready Group, in response to Iraq's refusal to cooperate with U.N.-sanctioned weapons inspections. While in the Middle East, the 31st MEU operated in support of U.S. and British air strikes against Iraq during Operation Desert Fox. Additionally, the Marines assisted in the evacuation of 88 Department of State diplomats and family members from the U.S. Embassy, Kuwait, and took up defensive positions near Kuwait in preparation for possible Iraqi retaliation.

The MEU/ARG team also supported Operation Southern Watch, the patrolling of the southern Iraqi no-fly zone, and performed numerous searches of civilian cargo ships outbound from Iraq in support of the U.N.-sanctioned trade embargo established following the Gulf War. The MEU returned from the Gulf in March of 1999.

In October 1999 the MEU once again proved it's expeditionary capabilities by responding to orders to support the Australian-led International Forces in East Timor. The MEU was ready to deploy within 72 hours of receiving the order to head to the Timor Sea. There, while the nation was in mayhem due to East Timor's new independence from Indonesian rule, the MEU supported INTERFET by providing heavy helicopter lift support to INTERFET forces.

The 31st MEU (SOC) continues to participate in deployments with Amphibious Squadron 11 throughout the Western Pacific.

Unit Decorations Include:
Presidential Unit Citation: Vietnam 1967
Navy Unit Commendation: Vietnam 1968
Meritorious Unit Citation: Vietnam 1975; Lebanon 1983, 1998-2000
Marine Corps Expeditionary Streamer
National Defense Streamer: 1965-1975; 1992-1996
Vietnam Service Streamer - 2 Silver Stars, 4 Bronze Stars: 1967-1972
Vietnam Cross of Gallantry with Palm Streamer

June 26, 2008

Fallen DuPage Marine to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery

U.S. Marine Dawid Pietrek, who gave his life for a country that was not yet his own, will be buried with military honors alongside other American heroes.

http://www.dailyherald.com/story/?id=212530&src=2
Please click on the above link for "More Coverage"

By Christy Gutowski | Daily Herald StaffContact writer
Published: 6/26/2008

The Polish immigrant with DuPage County ties will be laid to rest July 1 in Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. Instead of bringing his remains home to Poland, his mother chose to have her only son buried in the country for which he died.

"I thank you all for thinking of him," Dorota Pietrek wrote in Polish in a recent e-mail to family and friends, in which she included the Daily Herald. "This was Dawid's choice."

Her 24-year-old son was killed June 14 with three other Marines when their Humvee was blown up by a roadside bomb in the worst single attack this year on U.S. or coalition forces in Afghanistan. A fifth Marine was seriously wounded.

Dawid Pietrek came to the United States when he was about 21 on a green card with dreams of going to college and becoming a police officer. A trained medical caregiver, he lived at different times with two Elmhurst families while helping with their elderly family members.

He enlisted on June 4, 2007, with the hope of expediting his citizenship.

After his death, Marines stationed at the U.S. Embassy in Warsaw, Poland, notified his family. Eight members, including his mother and younger sister, who live in Police, Poland, are due to arrive Monday in the U.S. for the services.

Marine Sgt. Dmitry Novak said officials provided passports, visas, hotel, transportation and other needs to assist the family. He also reached out to various groups requesting presence of the Polish community at the funeral.

"It would mean more to the family than can ever be expressed in words," he said.

Early Tuesday, after a traditional Catholic funeral chapel service, six fellow Marines will carry Dawid Pietrek's flag-draped casket to his final resting place in the cemetery. The service will include a three-volley rifle salute. A bugler will play taps. Afterward, the Marines will fold the U.S. flag and present it to his mother and offer these words:

"On behalf of the president of the United States and a grateful nation, please accept this flag as a token of the honorable and faithful service of your loved one."

The 8:30 a.m. funeral is open to the public. Anyone interested in attending should e-mail Novak at dmitry.novak@usmc.mil to ensure entry through the front gates of the cemetery.

After Long Exile, Afghan Returns to Aid U.S. Marines

June 26, 2008 · At 53, Abdul Torabi is a soft-spoken man with gray hair, a short gray beard and a quiet chuckle. He was born in Afghanistan, but has lived most of his life in exile in America.

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=91801000

by Ivan Watson

He is now in Afghanistan again, working as a Marine interpreter, or "terp."

"My regular job is truck driver. And right now I'm a terp for ... American soldiers. I'm here to help them," Torabi says. "That's my job right now."

This is his first time back to his home country since 1979, when he fled the Soviet invasion. He was forced to flee Afghanistan to protect himself and his family, after he participated in student protests against the Soviet occupation of his country.

"I'm happy because I know I can make [a difference]," he says. "I can be help for two country I love: America and Afghanistan."

A Critical Player

In both Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. military relies on thousands of interpreters. They play a vital role, helping U.S. troops communicate with local communities.

Last month, Torabi accompanied the Marines when they invaded the Taliban stronghold of Garmsir, a district in Helmand Province.

He is by far the oldest of a handful of Afghan interpreters in Garmsir now who live, eat and work alongside the Marines in primitive and often dangerous conditions.

Lt. Micah Steinpfad relies on Torabi to translate during a meeting with the police chief of Garmsir.

"Have you heard anything about the Taliban in our area specifically?" Steinpfad asks the police chief, through Torabi.

After a brief exchange in Pashto, Torabi informs Steinpfad that the officer has heard about Taliban activity in several nearby villages.

More than Translation

Interpreters like Torabi provide much more than linguistic services.

"The Marines don't understand the culture, Afghan people, like we do," Torabi says. Marines always ask " 'What should we do?' or how to talk with people," Torabi says. "That's what we do: advise them about the culture, what to do, what not to do, what these people get offended by."

Torabi was on hand to help when jumpy Marines mistakenly fired a bullet at the car of an off-duty Afghan policeman who was trying to deliver a generator to their camp.

"He said, 'I'll do anything I can for you guys, anything you need. I'm here for you guys,' " Torabi translates, as the frightened policeman, named Mohammed Daoud, hands bags of bread and vegetables to the Marines.

"We appreciate it," says First Lt. Steve Bechtel. "We're going to help you out and try to get this windshield replaced for you."

A Personal Mission

For Torabi, this mission is also an intense personal experience. This is his first time back to Afghanistan in almost 30 years.

"I'm surprised what I'm seeing. And this is sad, too," Torabi says, because of all the problems facing Afghans, and "the way the country been destroyed" by wars.

It was the presence of another foreign force that compelled Torabi to leave in 1979. But he says the American soldiers are much different from the Soviet soldiers he fled.

When the Russians came, he says, they didn't care if Afghans were happy or unhappy. "They do what they wanna do," Torabi says. But the Americans, he says, "want to help people."

Torabi was a young man when he fled Afghanistan. He never got to see his mother again. She died in Kabul while he was in exile. When this assignment in Garmsir is over, he hopes to reunite with his brother and sister in Kabul. And one day he wants to bring his American family to visit the land of his birth.

He wants his children to see Afghanistan, he says, "so they understand better the life and appreciate what they have back home."

But first, Torabi is looking forward to returning to the U.S. He is eager for the day when he can barbeque with his family and enjoy the San Francisco weather.

"I like to barbeque some good steak, and my wife's making very good burritos. I miss those burritos," Torabi says, adding, "Of course without cold beer, nothing tastes good."

In the Province of Poppies and R.P.G.s

(6/26/2008) Every marine prepares for battle in his own way. These were the Marines of Alpha Company, Third Platoon, First Battalion of the Sixth Marines. They were preparing for a fight.

http://www.easthamptonstar.com/dnn/Home/News/Afghanistan/tabid/5901/Default.aspx

Eric Rousell of Montauk, deployed with the Sixth Marines in Afghanistan
Words and Photographs by Ralph Dayton

The Third Platoon is part of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, a 2,400-person-strong force sent to Afghanistan earlier this year to neutralize the Taliban’s influence in Helmand Province, where more opium poppies are grown than anyplace else in the world.

Word had just reached the platoon that United States reconnaissance aircraft had been observing Taliban militants bringing weapons into the local bazaar all day long. It was suspected that the weapons were coming from Pakistan, to the South. Tonight Alpha Company’s mission was to cross a critical irrigation canal that had thus far served as the frontline in an ongoing engagement between them and the Taliban. The marines would cross the canal and penetrate deep into enemy territory. Everyone realized this could get ugly.

On this evening the lieutenant and sergeants had little time to contemplate. Together they planned the assault and reviewed maps of the surrounding area. Some sat and stared into space, thinking about what the night would bring. Some tried to relax, passing around the only two magazines anyone brought: Maxim and Men’s Fitness.

Eric Rousell of Montauk sat and silently read a passage from a pocket Bible the company chaplain had given him.

Like most East Hampton locals, Eric Rousell was born at Southampton Hospital. He grew up in Montauk and went to East Hampton High School, graduating in 2005. Grandfathers on both sides of his family served with the Navy. One grandfather, Kenneth Rousell, served in the British Royal Navy, starting out as a gunner’s mate and ultimately working his way up to gun captain. Hospital Corpsman Third Class Eric Rousell followed in his grandfathers’ footsteps, joining the U.S. Navy in May of 2006. He chose to become an “HM3,” a corpsman, an enlisted battlefield medical specialist trained by the Navy and attached to a unit of Marines (the Marine Corps being part of the Department of Navy). Most marines refer to any corpsman as “Doc.” Accordingly, Hospital Corpsman Third Class Rousell is known as Doc Rousell.

Although Navy corpsmen wear a Marine Corps uniform in the field, they have the choice of wearing either a Navy or a Marine uniform in the rear or on dress occasions. Doc Rousell chooses to wear a Marine Corps uniform at all times. He has requested that if he is killed in action he be buried in a Marine Corps uniform and be given a Marine funeral.

As devoted to the Marines as he is, Doc Rousell intends to leave the service upon completion of his current Navy contract. He will return to Montauk to work with his parents, Ken and Linda, in the family excavation business. He says he’d like to serve as an emergency medical technician in the Montauk Fire Department.

On this day the platoon was holed up in a farmhouse compound in the center of the Garmser district of Helmand. Like virtually every Afghan farmhouse, it was surrounded on all sides by defensive walls, a tradition borne of centuries of warfare. The landscape could have been mistaken for the ends of the earth: barren desert.

The main source of sustenance in the region is the Helmand River, which originates in the Hindu Kush mountains of Afghanistan and flows all the way to Iran. And — in this part of the world — where there is water, there are poppies, and there is life. The harvest each year from the fields of Helmand finances the Taliban’s fight.

Earlier in the week about 400 marines had been helicoptered into the area to secure routes to an abandoned U.S. forward operating base. The first day of that effort the marines advised local farmers that anyone not associated with the Taliban should leave the area. The next day Taliban fighters attacked the marines in full force, with small arms and rocket-propelled gren?ades (R.P.G.s). The marines responded in kind — and also called in mortars, artillery, Cobra helicopters with Hellfire missiles, and Harrier jets with 500 and 1,000-pound bombs.

Despite the marines’ overwhelming firepower the Taliban continues to fight tenaciously.

Several marines repeated some version of the following: “The Taliban are amazing. As hard as we hit them, they just keep coming out of the woodwork. You have to respect them; they stand and fight.”

Eric Rousell’s company, Alpha Company, was chosen to be the tip of the spear in the latest operation, penetrating first and farthest into the Taliban stronghold. The ultimate objective for the night was to secure a new compound about a kilometer from the one presently occupied. The goal was to secure the new compound well before dawn; large numbers of marines moving in daylight would, obviously, draw attention in a neighborhood like this.

The marines moved out in single file under cover of darkness, wearing night-vision goggles; they walked with a gap between each man, to minimize casualties should they take fire or someone step on a land mine. Each carried an automatic rifle and wore body armor with magazines of ammunition strapped on, a Kevlar helmet, and a rucksack weighing at least 100 pounds. All buildings or compounds they came upon along the route were “cleared” — meaning, searched for occupants or weapons (which, at this stage of the operation, were detonated or destroyed). Anyone encountered was shot on sight.

The Sun Also Rises

On the morning of May 14 — after a similar night, a similar mission — the marines had just reached the last compound to be cleared as the sun started to rise. Roosters began to crow.

Like clockwork the Taliban militants opened fire on Alpha Company, bullets peppering the walls and zipping by their heads. Realizing they still needed to cross a poppy field about 50 meters wide, the squad leaders yelled, “Push, marines! Push to the objective!” Under heavy enemy fire, the marines did as they were ordered, one by one leaving the cover of the wall they had hunkered behind.

Single file they hustled across the field, through the poppies, as a few opened up with automatic rifles to suppress the opposing fire. The first few marines to reach the compound wall scaled it and helped the others lift their rucksacks up and over. That was when the Taliban fighters launched a full assault with R.P.G.s. The marines responded with 203 grenades. (One or two marines in each squad carries a 203-grenade launcher mounted to his M4 automatic rifle.)

Cpl. Andrew Rouser of Knoxville, Tenn., quickly determining one source of R.P.G. fire, launched a grenade from a distance of about 50 meters directly into the window from which the Taliban were firing. There was a deafening “Boom!” and an explosion of smoke, dust, and debris. Problem solved, as the marines might say.

Cpl. Noah Smiley of Archer, Fla., the platoon’s forward observer, was on the radio that morning, transmitting coordinates of the Taliban’s position to the mortar company located about a mile away. The mortar company went by the call sign “Apache Rain.” It rained down mortars on the Taliban position. With the compound secured, the two demolitions experts in the platoon, Staff Sgt. James Rytych of Kansas and Cpl. Ryan Rhyme Time Reimert of Kutztown, Pa., proceeded to blast gun ports in the walls with C-4 explosive. The marines then occupied the gun ports, securing the perimeter of the compound.

Thus began a typical day of this operation . . . all before 7 a.m.

Perchance to Dream

As of mid-May, these marines hadn’t bathed in about a month. Their body odor was so strong the flies sought them out and harassed them continually. Midday temperatures in Helmand reach about 110 degrees this time of year.

Most days, those not on guard duty look for a shady spot to try to catch some sleep. They also routinely sleep on the bare ground — which means, generally, on rocks, sand, or concrete. Often the only shade to be found is in an animal stall; they are too exhausted to care about the dried animal droppings all around them. When they do sleep, they wake up bitten by fleas, ants, and mosquitoes. Antimalaria pills are standard issue.

The platoon sends out a squad every night to rendezvous with the resupply convoy that delivers M.R.E.s (meals ready to eat) and eight liters of water for each marine. The M.R.E. has been researched and developed by the United States government to provide all the necessary protein and calories for a soldier to fight. It comes tightly packaged in a beige plastic bag. Inside are a number of other plastic-wrapped items: an entree, side dish, cracker or bread, peanut butter, jelly, or cheese spread, dessert, candy, beverage powder, hot sauce or seasoning, spoon, matches, creamer, sugar, salt, chewing gum, toilet paper, and a “flameless ration heater” that heats the entree when water is added. M.R.E.s are not too bad, the marines say, but after a week or two in the field it becomes a bit of a chore to force them down. The marines make a sport of trading items — penne pasta for a beef patty, cocoa powder for iced-tea mix. Cheese spread and Skittles are worth their weight in gold; a pack of Skittles can even be traded for a few cigarettes. Cigarettes are no longer included in M.R.E.s, as they were in decades past. Still, tobacco is what many of the guys crave most: chewing tobacco and cigarettes.

This particular operation was only supposed to last one week. At the end of the first week word came down the chain of command that the Taliban resistance was so substantial that the operation would be extended another 30 days. The marines were almost all out of tobacco. One joked, “Tell the folks at home that if morale is low, it’s because we’ve run out of chew and smokes!”

Doc Rousell’s daily routine is busy and exhausting. There is one other corpsman in the platoon, and they take turns going out on patrol with a squad and manning the radio for the platoon leader. Doc Rousell seldom gets to sleep more than an hour or two at a time. Even when not on patrol he’s on pins and needles worrying about the welfare of his marines.

One morning last month, the platoon left the compound at 4 a.m. to set an ambush for the Taliban fighters who generally only move and attack during daylight. All was quiet until daybreak when a maelstrom of gunfire erupted. Within minutes Doc Rousell yelled, “One of our marines just got shot!” He’d heard it over the radio. “I don’t know who it is yet.”

Obviously this was not good news. For the marines who remained in the compound on security, the gravity of the situation sank in as the gunfire down the street raged on. Doc Rousell jumped to his feet and ran to the compound entrance, anxiously awaiting any additional word or sign. Word quickly came back that it was Sgt. Jeffery Schuh of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., who had been shot. Within minutes the marines broke contact with the enemy and came sprinting back to the compound. Doc Rousell met each one as they ran through entrance, slapping them on the back and asking, “You okay? You okay?” And then there came Sergeant Schuh, sprinting through the doorway with a huge grin on his face. He’d taken a bullet in the side plate of his flak jacket. Other than a massive bruise to his ribs and a completely shredded side plate, he was fine. Ironically, it was Sergeant Schuh’s birthday.

Happy birthday, Sergeant Schuh, they all said. Just another day in Afghanistan.


At least 7 deaths in one week for battalion

Staff and wire reports
Posted : Thursday Jun 26, 2008 8:06:15 EDT

A sergeant was killed in Afghanistan on Friday, bringing the number of confirmed casualties in 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines, to at least seven in less than one week.

To continue reading about Fallen Hero, Sgt. Matthew E. Mendoza of the 2/7:

http://www.marinecorpstimes.com/news/2008/06/marine_deaths_062308w/

June 25, 2008

Marines in Afghanistan Weigh In on a Life at War

All Things Considered, June 25, 2008 · When compared to Iraq, the conflict in Afghanistan is often described as the forgotten war.

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=91881419

by Ivan Watson

The U.S. military has 33,000 troops deployed in Afghanistan, and has lost 448 service members there since the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001.

Last month, 1,500 Marines were sent to attack a Taliban stronghold in Afghanistan's southern Garmsir district. The 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit captured Garmsir from the Taliban after 30 days of constant fighting.

Now, their mission is to stabilize the region. Meanwhile, they're dealing with strenuous living conditions and wondering what's happening back home.

Fighting the Heat and Dirt

In the Dari language, Garmsir means hot weather.

The Marines in Garmsir spend a lot of time talking about the heat. A thermometer flat-lined one particular day, when temperatures reached 135 degrees Fahrenheit in the sun.

"It's even too hot at night for the mosquitoes," says one Marine.

They live in crude mud-wall compounds. There are no sewage system, no telephones, no electricity — these young men have been sleeping in the dirt for weeks.

But the Marines have come up with a trick to beat the Afghan heat.

Lance Cpl. Brian Archer sticks water bottles in a wet cotton sock.

"Piece of cloth, wrap up a hot drink in it, well water over it, let the wind hit it. Be like an hour or two. And it feels like you just pulled it out of the fridge. It's great," he explains.

Changing the Meaning of Politics

In this hostile environment, Archer says he feels worlds away from the debates over Iraq and Afghanistan in the U.S. presidential campaign.

"It really is almost irrelevant, too," he says. "When we get here, you know, you know that war, all it is is old men talking and young men dying. That's all we see. So, it calms down politics a lot of when you're out here."

Like many of the Marines in Garmsir, Cpl. Cody Bazanech was in eighth grade when the Sept. 11 terror attacks took place.

Six years later, Bazanech is patrolling on foot through fields of waist-high, opium poppies.

"I do what I have to do," he says. "Signed the contract. … I'm fighting for these people's rights. And I can do that because these people deserve the same rights that we have in our country."

But many of the Marines worry that Americans back home don't know what they're doing in Afghanistan.

"People should know kinda what we're doing over here probably a little more than they are," says Mason Bennet, a Navy medic. "It seems like they're focusing a lot more on Iraq right now than they are on Afghanistan. People call this the forgotten war. They need to know what's going on here, I guess."

Afghanistan and Iraq

About a third of the Marines in this company have done previous tours of duty in Iraq.

Cpl. Dennis James says the living conditions there are more comfortable, but the enemy in Iraq is more dangerous.

"The people in Iraq are sneaky," he says. "They hide amongst the crowd. These guys, you know who's gonna shoot at you, you know who's not. But in Iraq you're right there, next thing you're getting shot. Anything can happen in Iraq."

Lance Cpl. Michael Ertle, from Fleet, Ohio, has been to Iraq, too.

"Having been both places, I don't want this place to become another Iraq," he says. "I don't want us to become an occupational force. And we're leaning toward that big time in Iraq."

Sgt. Christopher Nipper says he expects to be sent to Iraq next year, after he finishes up this tour in Afghanistan.

"I'd like to see more action from the politicians versus talking," he says, "because they've been talking now for seven to eight years with very little resolve. The conflict in Iraq's been going on for five years now; the Afghanistan thing's been going on with the U.S. and other countries now since 2001."

But for now, the Marines have come up with a temporary solution to the homesickness and boredom in Garmsir.

On one particular day, the group bought several sheep from a passing Afghan shepherd and cobbled together a barbecue. They took a 50-gallon drum, cut it in half and made a grill.

The Marines ate lamb chops and — for a few hours — forgot about the heat.

Marines bridge the gap

New River sandbars offer good raft training

There's more than one way to cross a river.

http://www.jdnews.com/news/across_57741___article.html/bridge_river.html

June 25, 2008 - 9:08AM
JENNIFER HLAD
THE DAILY NEWS

The Marines of 6th Engineer Support Battalion transported about 15 military vehicles across the New River on Tuesday, using a piece of equipment that can be put together like Legos to form a bridge or tugged across a body of water like a raft.

The reservists used the raft option for Tuesday's exercise because the crossing was too large for them to build a bridge across.

"Most water features don't comply with Marine Corps orders," joked Maj. Sean Riddell, executive officer of 6th Engineer Support Battalion.

The river crossing was a small part of a larger exercise called Olympic Thrust. More than 1,200 reserve Marines and sailors are participating in the operation along the East Coast - the first time the 4th Marine Logistics Group has conducted such large-scale training for at least six years, Riddell said.

The reserve Marines train in their own states across the country, but training in unfamiliar territory as a large unit allows them to identify weaknesses and practice coordination and planning, Riddell said.

He compared it to infantry Marines who train in different locations and on different terrain: "They can't practice charging the same hill every week," he said.

Cpl. Ramy Abdelmassih, a member of Bridge Company B, based in Folsom, Pa., said the New River is very different than the Delaware River, where the unit normally trains.

The Delaware has a strong current, he said, whereas the New River does not have much of one but does have a lot of sandbars.

"It's good training for the raft commander," Abdelmassih said.

And working with other units prepares them for what they may face on deployment, Riddell said.

"The 6th Engineer Support Battalion is never going to go to battle on their own," he said.

The Marines have been living in a camp at Camp Lejeune, communicating with a command center set up in Atlanta.

The commander gives the Marines real-world situations to react to, Riddell said.

Tuesday, one focus was moving the vehicles across the river, as though they were moving a combat logistics regiment out of Iraq.

The difficult part is not the rafting itself, Riddell said, but rather controlling traffic so the rafts and vehicles don't get into a traffic jam - which could be a large target in a combat environment.

Staff Sgt. Jason Gross, near shore staging officer for the battalion, was helping make sure everything was moving as it should.

"It's a lot of moving pieces," he said, but everything was moving smoothly.

Capt. Jerry Kleber, commanding officer of the battalion's Bridge Company, said the main challenges for the Marines on the boats and rafts are identifying sandbars, doing reconnaissance of the area and making sure no boats got stuck.

"One of the key things is safety," he said. "It's like watching paint dry, but it's dangerous paint."


Machine gunner lands new job

RAWAH, Iraq —
Marines, or “Warlords” as they are nicknamed, with Task Force 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 5 have recently been conducting proficiency-firing ranges at forward operating bases all over western al-Anbar province, Iraq. The cracks of rifles, the thumps of mortars and the clatter of machine-gun fire echoes through the camps some days.

http://www.marines.mil/units/marforpac/imef/1stmardiv/5thregiment/rct5/Pages/Machinegunnerlandsnewjob.aspx

6/25/2008 By Lance Cpl. Joshua Murray, Regimental Combat Team 5

For one machine gunner, it’s not the machine gun he hears daily, but the whirr of helicopter blades cutting the air.

Lance Cpl. Will Cumming, 20, a machine gunner with Headquarters and Service Company, 2nd Bn., 2nd Marines, arrived here to find himself tasked with an unusual mission for a machine gunner. He took the responsibility of tracking anything and anyone traveling through Rawah by helicopter.

“Cumming gets personnel, equipment and supplies that enter COP Rawah logged in and taken to where they need to go on base,” said Capt. Travis Unser, 31, a forward air controller with the Warlords and Cumming’s supervisor on the flight line. “He also makes sure everything and everyone get out of here on time.”

Cumming directs forklift drivers as they load cargo on and off of aircraft while also ensuring individuals make their scheduled flights. Although Cumming treats both incoming and outgoing flights with the same sense of thoroughness, outbound flights present more room for errors.

“If someone is supposed to come to Rawah and they haven’t checked in with me, it will eventually sort itself out because they have to check in for billeting,” said Cumming, who is from Lexington, Va. “My main concern, though, is outbound traffic because once someone leaves here, they’re out of my hands.”

One of the commonalities of inbound and outbound flights that Cumming always takes into consideration resulted from a past experience that could have ended tragically.

“I try to get the birds off the deck as quickly as possible, because we received indirect rocket fire when we first got here,” Cumming said. “It hasn’t happened since, but I try to always keep in mind that it still could.”

Some days are slow for Cumming because of delayed flights or no flights at all, but every so often he runs the flight line for more than a day straight.

Cumming, although having no prior training, has made an impact on those with whom he works. Unser, as well as pilots that make frequent rounds through the area, have noticed his knack for the job.

“He’s been doing very well, and he’s a very smart Marine,” said Unser, who is from Tulsa, Okla. “We have received compliments from pilots on how smooth things run here. We’ve gotten pretty proficient at what we do, but eventually the Marine Air Wing will send personnel to take over our jobs.”

When an air wing Marine comes to replace him, Cumming hopes to go back to what he considers his true calling as a Marine.

“It’s been a valuable learning experience for me, but it’s not something I want to pursue,” Cumming said. “I would like to eventually get back to being a grunt and my original (Military Occupational Specialty), a machine gunner.”

Chicago-style Pizzas Heading to Iraq

ELK GROVE VILLAGE, Ill. - Retired Air Force Sgt. Mark Evans wanted to send a taste of Chicago to troops in Afghanistan and Iraq.

http://www.military.com/news/article/chicagostyle-pizzas-heading-to-iraq.html?wh=news

June 25, 2008
Associated Press

So he's doing it deep-dish pizza-style.

The Elk Grove Village man has arranged for thousands of pizzas to be frozen, packed in dry ice and shipped to the Middle East in time for the Fourth of July. His 16-year-old son, Kent, came up with the idea.

"I think it's good for them. They're in too good of shape," he joked.

Evans said DHL Global has volunteered to ship the pizzas that Lou Malnati's Pizzeria offered at a special rate. He hopes to get as many as 3,000 pizzas to the troops with the "Pizzas 4 Patriots" program.

"It's saying 'here's a taste of home,'" Lou Malnati's spokeswoman Mindy Kaplan said.

But Kaplan suspects there might be some soldiers who won't feel that way.

"Maybe New Yorkers won't like it so much," Kaplan said.

Marines Try to Improve Image in Taliban Stronghold

It has been a month and a half since a force of some 1,500 U.S. Marines attacked the Taliban stronghold of Garmsir district in the Helmand province of southern Afghanistan.

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=91857136

by Ivan Watson
June 25, 2008

After 30 days of nonstop fighting, the Marines succeeded in capturing the area, which also happens to be one of the biggest opium-producing regions in the country.

Now these American troops are trying to win the confidence of the locals, while also being on the lookout for suicide bombers and deadly roadside bombs.

Living Among Insurgents

On one late afternoon, a shot rings out from one of the guard posts protecting the Alpha Company's mud-walled compound in Garmsir. It is a warning shot fired by the guard on duty, Lance Cpl. Clayton Blunt, aimed in the direction of an Afghan man on a passing motorcycle.

The Afghan man gets off his motorbike, hands in the air. A sergeant tells Blunt that the man needs to ride farther from the building when coming by on his bike.

The Marines are on alert after receiving reports that two suicide bombers on motorbikes have crossed the nearby border with Pakistan and are now looking for targets.

The incident ends without bloodshed, but Marines like Cpl. Eric Garris are still tense.

"We've gone two weeks now without hearing any gunshots," he says. "And that's scarier than hearing gunshots every day, because now that just means they're hiding better or they're gone. You never know."

Garris' commander, Capt. Sean Dynan, notes that the Taliban virtually ruled Garmsir district for the past two years.

"This region is near the Pakistani border. It's in the breadbasket of Afghanistan, the Helmand province, right along the Helmand River. So they use this area to cultivate their poppy in order to provide funds off the drug trade," Dynan says. "They also use this area to flow in forces up to the northern part of Afghanistan."

With the intense fighting over, Dynan's company of Marines is now scattered across the district. They are occupying crude mud-brick farmhouses, living side by side with Afghan villagers and, they believe, with enemy insurgents.

Asked if he thinks the Taliban are watching his men, Dynan points across the barbed wire that separates his camp from a nearby bazaar.

"I think there's some in the area," he says. "I think there's some actually in that cafe right over there watching us."

Damage Control

Despite the constant threat of attack, the Marines are trying to win the hearts and minds of the civilian population in Garmsir.

Until recently, Sgt. James Blake was part of a mortar team, lobbing shells at Taliban targets. Now, he is part of a team that is trying to compensate hundreds of residents whose homes were destroyed or damaged in the fighting.

"It says here that basically your whole building was destroyed by a 2,000-pound bomb," Blake says to a resident. "Sir, for all the damage we cost to your home, in order to help you rebuild and get your trees and everything back, what we can offer in repayment is 243,000 Afghani [around $4,800]."

Blake instructs the Afghan man to return for his payment on July 1. So far, the Marines have pledged to pay close to $150,000 to help 80 Afghan families rebuild their homes.

Asked if he is confident that the money will come through by July 1, Blake says, "I really hope so … I think if it doesn't come, there might be a riot."

Despite the outreach on the part of the Marines, the locals have not exactly embraced their new American neighbors.

A group of Afghan men sits in the shade and watches as several Marines struggle to pull a Humvee out of a patch of deep sand.

"They should leave this village," says Abdul Samad, a gray-bearded farmer. "We can't even walk out of our houses any more. If we step out the door," he adds, "they shoot at us."

The Poppy Factor

Part of the discord between Marines and locals is that almost everybody in Garmsir relies on the illegal opium industry to make a living.

Many Afghan farmers here worry the Marines will bring an end to their cash crop.

"Dealing with the poppy isn't really our job," says Lt. Jack Trepto. "We don't mess with them."

Every day, Trepto leads patrols through what he describes as "the opium capital of the world." Marines on foot patrol pass through fields of waist-high poppy plants and skirt fields of cannabis.

"A lot of the people in this area, they have nothing or next to nothing," Trepto says. "For some of them, their entire livelihood is based off of the poppy crop any given year."

To avoid alienating the locals, the Marines have been forced to make some difficult concessions.

One day, the Afghan landlord who is renting his house to Dynan's company showed up and spent half an hour digging up three trunks that were buried under a wood pile. The trunks contained soccer ball-sized chunks of opium and processed heroin, a year's worth of work, which the landlord was permitted to take away.

The Marines say the Afghan government is responsible for enforcing the ban on growing poppy, but in the weeks since the fighting stopped here, neither the government nor Afghan security forces have established a presence in Garmsir.

In the span of a week, Garmsir's police chief, Gule Khan, showed up just once for a brief meeting with 1st Lt. Micah Steinpfad.

"Our intel tells us that there are still a number of Taliban in the area," Steinpfad says to Khan. "And we're very excited to get you guys down here to start getting those guys out."

Through a translator, Khan tells Steinpfad that he will not be able to assist the troops.

"For right now, I'm very busy," he says. "I don't have that much soldiers and stuff."

For the moment, at least, the Marines appear to be on their own in Garmsir.

Tough Love

On foot patrol, Trepto's platoon kicks open doors and searches empty houses. The Marines also stop and search the passengers of passing vehicles. Meanwhile, Trepto tries to make friends with the locals.

Capt. Dynan, the commander of Alpha Company, says this is an essential element to a successful counterinsurgency campaign.

"We knew ahead of time that we would have to focus on the locals," Dynan says. "We're only as good as our interaction with the local populace."

Dynan says the local reaction over the next few weeks in Garmsir will be critical to the counterinsurgency campaign.

June 24, 2008

Marines to assist town of Nukhayb

NUKHAYB — Marines with Alpha Company, 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, Regimental Combat Team 5 visited the town here June 24 after assuming operations from Team Mustang, 2nd LAR.

http://www.marines.mil/units/marforpac/imef/1stmardiv/5thregiment/rct5/Pages/MarinestoassisttownofNukhayb.aspx

6/24/2008 By Cpl. Ryan Tomlinson, Regimental Combat Team 5

“It’s been awhile since Coalition forces have been in that area,” said Capt. Steven M. Sutey, commanding officer of Alpha Company. “We’re there to integrate security in the town with Coalition and Iraqi forces.”

During the mission, Sutey, 31, from Pittsburgh, and members of SEAL Team 3, visited the mayor of the town, Sheik Lawrence Mutib Hazan, and discussed ways to better the town and living conditions of the people.

The service members patrolled the town visiting the school, Iraqi police station and the food distribution center while conversing with the leaders and workers on what they could do to improve the security of the town and the lifestyle of residents. During the tour, the Marines also filled the town’s water tank and donated soccer balls to the school.

“I really appreciate the assistance the Coalition forces are providing the town,” said Hazan, 55, during the meeting. “They’re welcome here anytime.”

While on patrol, the Marines and sailors inspected the town for a planned project to repair the well that supplies the town with water and the generators that supply the town with power. Seabees with Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 17 will assist with the operation to repair the town’s most valuable resources. According to the Marines, the operation will make an impact on the town.

“Supplying water (and power) and building upon the security being carried out will really help these people as they rebuild their country,” said Sgt. Evan D. Smith, a scout team leader with Alpha Co.

The company plans to assist the Iraqi Police, fund the school and create a partnership with the town as the road towards transition of authority to Iraqis draws near.

“I look forward to seeing the progress made. It will make me proud that I was part of something good,” said Smith, 21, from Monticello, Ind. “It’s excellent to see a difference being made.”

Marines to assist town of Nukhayb

NUKHAYB — Marines with Alpha Company, 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, Regimental Combat Team 5 visited the town here June 24 after assuming operations from Team Mustang, 2nd LAR.

http://www.marines.mil/units/marforpac/imef/1stmardiv/5thregiment/rct5/Pages/MarinestoassisttownofNukhayb.aspx

6/24/2008 By Cpl. Ryan Tomlinson, Regimental Combat Team 5

“It’s been awhile since Coalition forces have been in that area,” said Capt. Steven M. Sutey, commanding officer of Alpha Company. “We’re there to integrate security in the town with Coalition and Iraqi forces.”

During the mission, Sutey, 31, from Pittsburgh, and members of SEAL Team 3, visited the mayor of the town, Sheik Lawrence Mutib Hazan, and discussed ways to better the town and living conditions of the people.

The service members patrolled the town visiting the school, Iraqi police station and the food distribution center while conversing with the leaders and workers on what they could do to improve the security of the town and the lifestyle of residents. During the tour, the Marines also filled the town’s water tank and donated soccer balls to the school.

“I really appreciate the assistance the Coalition forces are providing the town,” said Hazan, 55, during the meeting. “They’re welcome here anytime.”

While on patrol, the Marines and sailors inspected the town for a planned project to repair the well that supplies the town with water and the generators that supply the town with power. Seabees with Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 17 will assist with the operation to repair the town’s most valuable resources. According to the Marines, the operation will make an impact on the town.

“Supplying water (and power) and building upon the security being carried out will really help these people as they rebuild their country,” said Sgt. Evan D. Smith, a scout team leader with Alpha Co.

The company plans to assist the Iraqi Police, fund the school and create a partnership with the town as the road towards transition of authority to Iraqis draws near.

“I look forward to seeing the progress made. It will make me proud that I was part of something good,” said Smith, 21, from Monticello, Ind. “It’s excellent to see a difference being made.”

Marines make headway in southern Afghan town

By Jason Straziuso - The Associated Press
Posted : Tuesday Jun 24, 2008 8:46:23 EDT

GARMSER, Afghanistan — Marines are trading gunfire and artillery shells with Taliban militants in the volatile southern province of Helmand, the world’s largest poppy growing region.

To continue reading:

http://www.marinecorpstimes.com/news/2008/06/ap_marines_afghanistan_062208/

June 22, 2008

Military orders trump new airline baggage fees

By Jennifer H. Svan, Stars and Stripes
Pacific edition, Sunday, June 22, 2008

U.S. military personnel and Defense Department employees won’t have to pay new fees for checked baggage as long as they’re traveling on official government orders in most instances, according to military officials.

To continue reading:

http://www.stripes.com/news/military-orders-trump-new-airline-baggage-fees-1.80217

June 21, 2008

Freedom Run Honors Soldiers of Mid-East Conflicts

MARSEILLES, Ill. (CBS) ― Hundreds of motorcyclists hit the highway for the annual "Illinois Freedom Run." The 65-mile trek is a small way for the cyclists to honor U.S. soldiers who have died in the Mid-East conflicts. CBS 2's Mike Puccinelli reports.

http://cbs2chicago.com/local/illinois.freedom.run.2.753914.html
Please click on the above link to find the video that is associated with the story.

Jun 21, 2008
Reporting
Mike Puccinelli

Marseilles, Ill. looked more like Sturgis, S.D. Saturday as the tiny town was overrun by motorcycles.

They came from Virginia, Iowa, and seemingly everywhere in between. Army Maj. General William Kirkland leaves for Afghanistan Sunday, but says the memory of all the rumbling motors will still be ringing in his ears.

"To hear 40,000 or 30,000 bikes in favor of the soldiers, sailors, airmen and the Marines, and Coast Guard, it's just an awesome feeling," Kirkland said.

And the tens of thousands in Marseilles Saturday were there to pay tribute to those who paid the ultimate price -- the thousands of men and women whose names are etched on the Middle East Conflicts Wall Memorial. The wall was erected four years ago by Illinois motorcyclists who wanted to honor all of those killed in Middle East conflicts since 1980.

"This is the first time in the history of the United States that a memorial has been erected and unveiled while names are still being added while the war was ongoing – it never happened in this country before," said Tom Yarber of the "Illinois Freedom Run."

One of those in attendance today was Staff Sgt. Kevin Baker of the U.S. Marine Corp. He lost use of his legs to a roadside bomb in Fallujah.

"It's nice to see his name on the wall and not have to wait 20 or 30 years," Baker said.

Baker is talking about Neil C. Roberts -- the medic who came to his aid on that fateful day in 2006.

"He was patching up the wounds that I had and protecting me at the same time and he got shot. The last thing he said to me was 'don't move, I'm going to lay on top of you,' and to come out here and see his name on the wall..." Baker said.

It's stories of sacrifice like that that Illinois Freedom Run organizers say will keep bringing them to the Marseilles riverfront where the wall stands as a silent reminder that freedom isn't free.

Injured soldier: I need you to be strong

Family members of a 21-year-old U.S. Marine critically injured in Afghanistan late Thursday have talked with him as he awaits transfer to a hospital in Germany.

http://www.caller.com/news/2008/jun/21/injured-soldier-i-need-you-be-strong/

By Mike Baird (Contact)
Saturday, June 21, 2008

Lance Cpl. Justin Rokohl told his mother Saturday that he needed her to be strong, according to an e-mail from David Cole, the family’s spokesperson and pastor.

“We need you to be strong,” she told her son, according to the e-mail.

A roadside bomb explosion fractured bones in both of Rokohl’s upper and lower legs, ankles and feet. During his last call about 4 p.m. Saturday, he was very alert and positive, Cole said.

Marines remain vigilant in Hit

HIT, Iraq — Marines here played the role of policemen by following one lead to another to bring down criminals and make the area safer for everyone.

http://www.marines.mil/units/marforpac/imef/1stmardiv/5thregiment/rct5/Pages/MarinesremainvigilantinHit.aspx

6/21/2008 By Cpl. Erik Villagran, Regimental Combat Team 5

Marines with Company I, 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 5 apprehended four known insurgents during an operation here June 21.

“We were doing an intelligence-driven raid,” said Sgt. Rick D. Burke, 22, a squad leader with Company I from Vancouver, Wash. “We have a target list we’re going after. All the individuals we’re looking for are known insurgents, so we’re trying to round them up one at a time.”

Marines began the day in search of one of the individuals on their list. With the help of intelligence, they were able to identify the area where they could find their target.

As Marines made their way through the roads in Iraq, they encountered a disabled vehicle. They identified the driver as one of the men on their list.

“We did a snap (vehicle checkpoint),” Burke said. “Once we confirmed he was our man, we detained him.”

The luck Marines had on finding their first target foreshadowed the day the Marines were going to have.

Once they had him detained, Marines called the Iraqi Police for assistance in interviewing the detainee. The police obliged and arrived shortly after.

“They were very helpful because they know the area better and crowd control is easier if we have (Iraqi policemen) out there,” Burke said. “With there help, we were able to pull more information from the detainee which led us to more guys.”

Marines raced to another location after the detainee gave them information about the whereabouts of other insurgents. Although Marines found nothing at the first home, they were not dissuaded. They again received information from the detainee about another home and they were off to the races again.

At the second home, their quick reaction was rewarded. Marines carefully searched each room for weapons, ammunition, improvised explosive device-making materials and other contraband.

“We found an AK-47, a bunch of loaded magazines, a shotgun and loose rounds for other weapons,” said Lance Cpl. Sean W. Ward, 23, a team leader with Company I from Hoffman Estates, Ill.

The Marines documented everything they found in the home and snapped photos of all the evidence they found. The procedures Marines followed will be pivotal when the detainees are taken to court.

While Marines in the home collected evidence, other Marines identified three more known insurgents who were taken out of the home. They too were detained on a day that began with one target and ended with a total of four insurgents detained.

“I was surprised with the turnaround time,” Burke said. “Usually we go out and grab one guy. This time we got four.”

Marines were happy with how well things turned out. They accomplished their mission quickly and proficiently and helped make Iraq safer.

“The squad feels good because we have a defined mission and were going out, executing and getting positive results,” said Burke.

June 19, 2008

Task Force 2⁄7 dedicates camp after MoH recipient

CAMP BARBER, Afghanistan — The Marines now have a place to call their own.

http://www.dcmilitary.com/stories/061908/quanticosentry_28214.shtml

Thursday, June 19, 2008
By Cpl. Ray Lewis
2nd Battalion (2⁄7)

On May 11, Task Force 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division dedicated its camp here as Camp Barber in honor of Col. William E. Barber, a Medal of Honor recipient who served with 2⁄7 during the Korean War.

Task Force Commander Lt. Col. Richard Hall and Sgt. Maj. Matthew B. Brookshire presided over the dedication ceremony, which reflected the pride and ownership Marines are traditionally proud of displaying.

‘‘We’re proud of our heritage; we’re proud of being Marines,” said Brookshire, adding the camp was named after an outstanding and well-deserving Marine from the battalion’s heritage.

Col. Barber was a captain when he earned the Congressional Medal of Honor – the nation’s highest military award for combat heroism. He led his company in a desperate five-day defense of a frozen mountain pass vital to the 1st Marine Division’s breakout to the sea, according to his award citation.

He was wounded while fighting sub-zero temperatures against overwhelming odds. Yet, he reportedly refused evacuation and remained in command of his company.

His actions merited the Medal of Honor presented to him by President Harry S. Truman during a ceremony held at the White House on August 20, 1952. He passed away April 19, 2002.

In his honor, the Marines unveiled a marquee that dons the camp’s heroic name. It rests at the camp’s front entrance, which also features an American flag and a Marine Corps flag that are raised each morning at dawn and lowered at dusk.

‘‘It’s one of those motivating things,” Brookshire said. ‘‘It adds the Marine flavor to the overall camp itself ... we fly our flags high here as you can see.”

Lt. Gen. Samuel T. Helland, commander of Marine Corps Forces Central Command and the commanding general of I Marine Expeditionary Force, were ceremonial guest speakers. Also in attendance were Maj. Gen. Thomas D. Waldhauser, commanding general, 1st MarDiv, and Sgts. Maj. Dennis W. Reed, MARCENT⁄I MEF, and Randall Carter, 1st MarDiv, who traveled to Afghanistan with the MARCENT commander.

The MARCENT commander highlighted the ceremony when he combat meritoriously promoted Cpl. Peter R. Villanueva of Weapons Company, and Lance Cpls. Jason L. Claunch and James D. Doherty, both of Company F, to their current ranks.

‘‘I felt honored because here’s a general taking his time to promote a lance corporal,” said Lance Cpl. James D. Doherty of Company F, who was also pinned by the general. ‘‘I was kind of nervous because it’s a three-star general. I didn’t want to trip over my feet or anything. It’d be embarrassing. I just wanted to be my best.”

Doherty said he was motivated by the promotion, and plans to pick up his next rank much faster.

‘‘I wasn’t supposed to pick up lance corporal until August, so this gives me a lot more motivation to pick up corporal meritoriously,” he said. ‘‘To get promoted here shows we’re making footsteps. The dedication means the Marine Corps is breaking new ground all over the world.”

Another Marine was completely surprised to hear that he would be getting promoted by the general as well.

‘‘It was pretty outrageous. I found out maybe two hours before formation,’” said Lance Cpl. Jason L. Claunch of Company F.

Claunch said he now has a new found confidence and also the drive to pick up corporal by January.

‘‘You can say that it motivated me. It kind of brought out the sense of pride that comes with being a Marine,” Claunch said.

The final Marine to be promoted on this momentous occasion was Cpl. Peter R. Villanueva of Weapons Company. As he and the other two Marines stood proudly in front of Lt. Gen. Helland, it was evident that their promotions played a significant role in the dedication ceremony itself.

‘‘It’s something big for a Marine to be promoted on a camp just prior to its dedication ceremony,” said Headquarters and Service Company 1st Sgt. James A. Colon, who acknowledged other Marines promoted here on May 1 before the camp’s official dedication.

‘‘I want it to be known that they, too, are a part of the Marine Corps’ history,” Colon said. ‘‘How often can you say that you were one of the first Marines promoted at Camp Barber?”

The first Marines to be promoted to their current ranks here were Lance Cpls. German A. Hoyos and Mark W. Richardson, Cpl. Brandon W. Dion, and Sgts. Victor M. Perez, Donald O. Critchlow and Mackenzie P. Thompson.

Master Gunnery Sgt. John D. Sterling, TF 2⁄7’s operations chief said seeing the dedication and promotions brought his 27-year Marine Corps career full circle.

‘‘It feels like the last part of a long ‘Ooh-rah’ for me,” Sterling said. ‘‘To be here for this dedication and then be there to see these Marines get promoted... it felt pretty good actually.”

Sterling said he also approached Hoyos immediately after the promotion to see how the newly-promoted lance corporal felt about being the ‘‘first” Marine promoted here.

‘‘I said, ‘Do you know that you’re the first person promoted on Camp Barber?’” Sterling asked the Marine.‘‘... he just gave me that good old Marine Corps smile.”

Task Force 2⁄7 is the Marine Corps’ first battalion-sized unit to be assigned the mission of training, mentoring and advising the Afghanistan National Police in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.


Airport Volunteers Welcome Troops Back Stateside

Volunteers At Dallas, Atlanta Airports Greet Troops Returning From Overseas For R&R

(AP) A few times each month, Karen Marks stands among the volunteers greeting the troops who land daily at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, all on two weeks' leave from Iraq or Afghanistan.

http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2008/06/19/ap/national/main4193681.shtml?source=search_story

GRAPEVINE, Texas, Jun. 19, 2008

One recent day was different for her. Somewhere among the few hundred troops was Marks' son, a 20-year-old Marine lance corporal named Michael.

"You're over here worrying about the unknown ... (and) when you finally get to see them again, all the love from when you gave birth just comes right back into your heart," Marks said between sobs of joy.

Even after their own family's reunion, Marks and husband David remained at their post inside the airport's Terminal D until the very last service member had walked through the sliding glass doors, hugging and shouting greetings to the troops.

"I've seen kids ask for their autographs because these are their heroes," Marks said. "I know they're tired and they're overwhelmed, but it's just so good for them to know that we care and we love them. For my own son, my heart was going to explode."

Every day at DFW and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, troops land on their way home for leave from overseas deployments, and every day they're greeted by flag-waving, appreciation-shouting crowds of volunteers from a program called "Welcome Home a Hero."

A similar group, the Maine Troop Greeters, has met more than 500,000 service members since 2003 as they passed through Bangor International Airport, where planes carrying troops often stop to clear customs, refuel and change crews for continuing flights.

At the Atlanta airport, USO volunteers man a welcome booth most days and lead the applause for arriving troops. They gather troops who are ready to check in for departing flights overseas and march them through the airport's main atrium before cheering crowds.

Heading the line of cheerleaders in Dallas is Donna Cranston, 50, of Coppell, the volunteer coordinator. She missed the program's first day in June 2004, but she's been at the airport most days since.

"What I think I learned early on is it doesn't matter how routine it is for us. For these guys, it's their first day back on American soil in months, and they need to know they're supported and they're loved and appreciated," Cranston said. "And it's one of those things that you never grow tired of."

Every day, the military calls Cranston with the troops' arrival times, the same information they post on a hot line for the public. She arrives with small, stapled pieces of paper listing the next flight times, airlines and terminals for major cities.

"What terminal do you need, soldier?" she said recently as the troops dashed by her.

"First bus on the left," she directed another.

"International or domestic call?" Cranston asked a third serviceman, tossing her cell phone to him.

One of the program's goals "is to allow people to show their support," Cranston said. "But our main goal is to get the troops through the line and get them to their flights so they can get home to their loved ones."

Inside Terminal D, the arriving troops walk through a glass-enclosed catwalk, visible to waiting passengers, before going through customs and picking up their luggage. Every day, there are a few greeters on the floor below the catwalk, cheering and screaming for the troops, who often smile, wave and take photos of their supporters.

Other passengers often applaud, too, standing up as they realize what's happening around them.

Since the R&R program began, about 224,000 troops have arrived at the airport from duty overseas, while another 217,000 have departed on their way back to the Middle East.

"It opens up a whole new perspective of life, being over there and having everything taken away from you, coming back, seeing loved ones," said Michael Marks. "It's a really great moment for me."


June 17, 2008

Marine dies in Afghanistan

'Outgoing,' 'brave' RHS grad among 4 killed by roadside bomb

A 22-year-old Richmond Marine described by friends as "outgoing" and "brave" was killed over the weekend while serving in Afghanistan.

http://www.pal-item.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20080617/NEWS01/806170304/1008

BY MICHELLE MANCHIR • STAFF WRITER • June 17, 2008

Lance Cpl. Layton Bradly Crass, a 2005 Richmond High School graduate, was one of four Marines from a unit based at Twentynine Palms, Calif., who died Saturday in a roadside bomb attack in Afghanistan.

Brad Covert, family readiness officer for the 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, confirmed Crass' death Monday.

The attack in Helmand Province in southwest Afghanistan was the worst single attack on U.S. or coalition forces in Afghanistan this year, The Associated Press reported.

Crass and the other Marines arrived in Afghan-istan in April to help train and mentor struggling Afghan national police units in Farah and Helmand provinces.

The U.S. Department of Defense did not release further details about the incident Monday.

Crass' friends and acquaintances remember him fondly.

Dustin Gibbs, a former classmate and close friend of the soldier, said Monday in an e-mail message that Crass was "a brother to me."

"I joined the Marine Corps partially because of him," Gibbs said in the message. " ... He was a true friend and an extremely brave man. He had a huge heart and made quite an impact on my life and my future to come."

Both men appear in a photo in the Richmond High yearbook as members of the school Computer Club.

Rusty Hensley, career education director at Richmond High School, said Monday he remembers Crass attending machine tool technology classes at RHS in 2004.

"He was hardworking for us in that program," Hensley said, also describing the graduate as "outgoing."

Hensley said he spoke with Crass once since his graduation.

"He was very proud and he loved what he was doing (for the military," Hensley said, adding: "I'm proud of the fact that he was heading into the military for his career."

Crass' family did not respond Monday to requests for comment. His funeral services are pending at Doan & Mills Funeral Home in Richmond.

Details of the service were unavailable Monday.

Funeral home Director Gil Alford said the Patriot Guard, a group composed primarily of veterans who attend the funerals of U.S. Armed Forces members, would escort Crass' body into Richmond once it arrives in Dayton, Ohio.

Jim Disney, Wayne County veterans affairs officer, said a local honor guard will be available for the family if it wants ceremonial military rites at Crass' memorial service.

He also offered a message to the Crass family: "My condolences on their loss at the very least."

Gibbs said in an e-mail: "I encourage everyone to please come pay their respects for Layton. He died for our country, for us all and he deserves the best whole-hearted respect that we could possibly give him."

Roadside bomb claimed Marine from Bensenville

Dawid Pietrek was a Polish immigrant who went to war for the U.S. to help fulfill his dream of becoming a citizen and police officer.

http://www.dailyherald.com/story/?id=208850

By Christy Gutowski | Daily Herald Staff
6/17/2008

He died for a country that was not his own but, according to those who knew him, did so with pride and honor.

The 24-year-old Bensenville man was killed Saturday along with three fellow Marines in a roadside bomb attack in southwestern Afghanistan in Farah Province. The rifleman went overseas only months earlier after entering the service in June 2007 and completing basic training.

Pietrek and four other Marines were returning to their base after escorting a group of engineers to another location when their armored Humvee was struck by a roadside bomb.

Four of the Marines were killed, including Pietrek; the fifth Marine was critically injured, said Marine Sgt. Marlon Martin.

The Marines were on a routine mission supporting combat operations in western Afghanistan. Pietrek's battalion of roughly 1,200 Marines and Navy sailors were deployed to the area in early April.

Martin said the battalion's mission was to provide security and training for the Afghan National Police in an effort to extend the influence and authority of the national government to the area.

"The only other thing I will add is that we are truly saddened by this tragic event and we share this loss with the families and friends of our beloved brothers," Martin wrote from Afghanistan. "The ultimate sacrifice they have paid serves as a constant reminder of the dangers that lie ahead as we strive to bring peace and prosperity to the Afghan people."

Pietrek is survived by his parents and a young sister, who live in his hometown of Police, Poland.

"I loved him so much. He was like my son," said Janina Filleborn, who hired Pietrek about four years ago when he came to the U.S. to work as a caregiver for the homebound elderly.

"This is a terrible shock for me. Dawid was the best. He was smart and kind and worked so hard."

She said Pietrek came to the United States on a green card when he was about 21. In July 2005, he moved in with Bill and Joanne Rohn and their three children in Elmhurst. The young man took care of Joanne's elderly father until he died in February 2006 at 88. Pietrek's uncle also stayed with the couple a short time while the young man returned for two months in late 2005 to Poland to finish a medical class. The relative e-mailed the Rohns Sunday with the tragic news.

"He was always so respectful," Joanne Rohn said. "He always called us Mr. and Mrs. It took months for me to get him to call us by our first names."

Added Bill Rohn: "He was kind of shy at first when he got here and then he opened up and became part of our family."

The couple said Pietrek dreamed of a military career, a college education and becoming a police officer. He also wanted to become a citizen, which they said likely spurred his decision to enlist.

Many immigrants join the military as a way to speed up naturalization. More than 35,000 resident alien servicemen and women have been naturalized since Sept. 11, 2001, according to the federal government's citizenship Web site.

Joanne Rohn said she was putting together mementos of Pietrek's time with their family to send to his mother, "to give her some sense that it was worth something."

Pietrek worked for another family afterward, also in Elmhurst, and eventually rented an apartment with his uncle for a short time in Bensenville.

Killed along with Pietrek were Sgt. Michael Toussaint-Hyle Washington, 20, of Tacoma, Wash.; Lance Cpl. Layton Bradly Crass, 22, of Richmond, Ind.; and Pfc. Michael Robert Patton, 19, of Fenton, Mo.

• Staff writer Jake Griffin contributed to this story.

Taliban Prepare for Battle Outside Kandahar as Thousands Flee Area

ARGHANDAB, Afghanistan — Taliban militants destroyed bridges and planted mines in several villages they control outside southern Afghanistan's largest city in apparent preparation for battle, residents and officials said Tuesday.

http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,367804,00.html

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

More than 700 families — meaning perhaps 4,000 people or more — had fled the Arghandab district 10 miles northwest of Kandahar city, said Sardar Mohammad, a police officer manning a checkpoint on the east side of the Arghandab River. Police on Tuesday stopped and searched every person passing on the road.

On the west side of the river, hundreds of Taliban controlled around nine or 10 villages, Mohammad said.

"Last night the people were afraid, and families on tractors, trucks and taxis fled the area," said Mohammad. "Small bridges inside the villages have been destroyed."

The Taliban have long sought to control Arghandab and the good fighting positions its pomegranate and grape groves offer. From there, militants can cross the countryside's flat plains on decent roads for probing attacks into Kandahar itself, in possible preparation for an assault on their former spiritual home.

The Afghan army, which flew four planeloads of soldiers to Kandahar Tuesday from the capital, Kabul, said 300 to 400 militants had gathered in Arghandab, many of them foreign fighters. The U.S.-led coalition, however, said it conducted a patrol through the region "and found no evidence that militants control the area."

RelatedStories
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Violence in Afghanistan "Recent reports of militant control in the area appear to be unfounded," the coalition said in a statement.

Nevertheless, NATO aircraft dropped leaflets in Arghandab telling residents to stay indoors, NATO spokesman Mark Laity said.

"Keep your families safe. When there is fighting near your home, stay inside while ANSF (Afghan security forces) defeat the enemies of Afghanistan," Laity quoted the leaflet as saying.

Laity said 700 Afghan army troops have moved from Kabul to Kandahar to deal with the Arghandab threat.

The Taliban assault Monday on the outskirts of Kandahar was the latest display of strength by the militants despite a record number of U.S. and NATO troops in the country.

The push into Arghandab district — a lush region filled with grape and pomegranate groves that the Soviet army could never conquer — came three days after a coordinated Taliban attack on Kandahar's prison that freed 400 insurgent fighters.

Police and army soldiers increased security throughout Kandahar and enforced a 10 p.m. curfew.

A Taliban commander named Mullah Ahmedullah called an Associated Press reporter on Tuesday and said that around 400 Taliban moved into Arghandab from Khakrez, one district to the north. He said some of the militants released in Friday's prison break had joined the assault.

"They told us, 'We want to fight until the death,'" Ahmedullah said. "We've occupied most of the area and it's a good place for fighting. Now we are waiting for the NATO and Afghan forces."

The hardline Taliban regime ousted from power in a 2001 U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan regarded Kandahar as its main stronghold, and its insurgent supporters are most active in the volatile south of the country.

The U.S. and NATO have pleaded for additional troops over the last year and now have some 65,000 in the country. But the militants are still finding successes that the international alliance can't counter.

Arghandab lies just northwest of Kandahar city, and a tribal leader from the region warned that the militants could use the cover from Arghandab's orchards to mount an attack on Kandahar itself. NATO officials dismiss the idea that the Taliban can mount an attack on Kandahar.

One of the thousands of Afghans fleeing Arghandab said Tuesday that families were being forced out just as grape groves needed harvesting, meaning financial ruin for thousands. Haji Ibrahim Khan said Taliban fighters were moving through several Arghandab villages with weapons on their shoulders, planting mines and destroying small bridges.

"They told us to leave the area within 24 hours because they want to fight foreign and Afghan troops," Khan said. "But within a week we should be harvesting, and we were expecting a good one. Now with this fighting we are deeply worried — the grapes are the only source of income we have."

Two powerful anti-Taliban leaders from Arghandab have died in the last year, weakening the region's defenses. Mullah Naqib, the district's former leader, died of a heart attack in October. Taliban fighters moved into Arghandab en masse two weeks after his death but left within days after soldiers moved in.

A second leader, police commander Abdul Hakim Jan, died in a massive suicide bombing in Kandahar in February.

The assault Monday came one day after President Hamid Karzai angrily told a news conference that he would send Afghan troops into Pakistan to hunt down Taliban leaders in response to the militants that cross over into Afghanistan from Pakistan.

Afghanistan Readies for Battle?

Afghan Army on High Alert After Increased Activity by Taliban Militants

Afghanistan's army chief, Gen. Bismillah Khan, is in Kandahar preparing his men for a potentially major battle with the Taliban.

http://abcnews.go.com/International/story?id=5185572&page=1

By ZOE MAGEE and ALEEM AGHA
LONDON, June 17, 2008

A Ministry of Defense spokesman told ABC News that extra troops sent to the city this morning are standing by on high alert and that they were called in response to increased activity by Islamic militants in the region.

Eyewitnesses and locals report that the Taliban have destroyed bridges and planted mines in several villages in the Arghandab area, about six miles north of Kandahar.

Gen. Zahir Azimi stressed the severity of the situation and added that "foreign fighters are among the 300 to 400 Taliban" gathered in Arghandab.

Civilians in the area have started to flee, fearing they may be caught in the crossfire.

Saeed Shah, a resident of the Arghandab region, told ABC News that the Taliban had visited his house overnight and demanded food. He described groups of Taliban going from house to house searching for supplies.

Shah and many of his neighbors, unable to provide the Taliban with food, left their homes today. He said they were afraid as much of retribution from hungry Taliban fighters as they were of the brewing battle.

The hundreds who have fled their homes and fields have done so at a particulalry crucial time — harvest. The Arghandab region is famous in Afghanistan for its grape and pomegranate groves and locals have been forced to abandon a major source of income.

"This is another great problem we are facing," Shah said.

He is now in a suburb of Kandahar, living in what he described as "very bad conditions without food and water."

Kandahar is the Taliban's spiritual home and some fear they could be planning a major push on Afghanistan's second city. The BBC reported that a self-described Taliban commander, Mullah Daoud, said, "We have gathered in Arghandab because we want to capture an important city like Kandahar."

Another Taliban commander named Mullah Ahmedullah called an Associated Press reporter today and said that around 400 Taliban had moved into Arghandab from Khakrez, one district to the north.

"We've occupied most of the area and it's a good place for fighting," Ahmedullah said. "Now we are waiting for the NATO and Afghan forces."

However, a press release issued by the Afghan National Police denied this claim.

"Afghan National Police and Coalition forces completed a patrol in the Arghandab District of Kandahar province today and found no evidence that militants control the area," the release said. "While in the area, Coalition forces moved freely and met with no resistance."

NATO spokesman Mark Laity confirmed to ABC News that 700 Afghan soldiers had been sent to Kandahar from Kabul and that 200 ISAF soldiers had been repositioned there due to the escalating situation.

Laity added that leaflets were being dropped in the region warning residents to stay indoors.

"Keep your families safe. When there is fighting near your home, stay inside while ANSF [Afghan security forces] defeat the enemies of Afghanistan," Laity quoted the leaflet as saying.

This surge in militant activity comes just days after an audacious jailbreak Friday in Kandahar in which the Taliban freed more than 900 prisoners. Local officials said they believe there were as many as 400 Taliban among the escapees.

A Taliban spokesman told the Associated Press that several of these escapees have joined the Arghandab assault and are prepared to fight to the death.

News of the Kandahar jailbreak so enraged Afghan President Hamid Karzai that he threatened to pursue the Taliban across the Pakistani border.

"We will complete the journey and we will get them and we will defeat them. We will avenge all that they have done to Afghanistan for the past so many years." Karzai told reporters Sunday.

Pakistani Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani retorted that Pakistan would not tolerate such cross-border raids.

"We want a stable Afghanistan. It is in our interest," he told the AP. How can we go to destabilize our brotherly country? Such kind of statements will not be taken well by the people of both countries."

While tensions mount in and around Kandahar, Humayun Hamidzada, Karzai's spokesman tried to calm the political situation with Pakistan, telling reporters that Karzai does not intend to send troops into Pakistan and was only making "a strong point" that Pakistan needs to crack down on militant safe havens.

Marine from Bensenville killed in Afghanistan, Defense Department says

Corps was big dream for Polish immigrant

Dawid Pietrek was a Polish immigrant who had always wanted to join the Marines.

http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/chi-soldier-killed_both_18jun18,0,6480408.story

By Russell Working | Tribune reporter
11:12 PM CDT, June 17, 2008

Even as he earned his living as a caregiver for the homebound elderly, the 24-year-old Bensenville resident would run with a full backpack to prepare for the rigors of boot camp.

Pietrek, a private first class, was killed Saturday along with three fellow Marines while supporting combat operations in Farah Province, Afghanistan, the Defense Department said Tuesday. The Associated Press reported the four were killed in a roadside bombing.

"He was doing what he wanted to do," said Bill Rohn of Elmhurst, whose family Pietrek lived with while caring for Rohn's father-in-law. "He wanted to be a Marine."

Pietrek, a rifleman, had just finished his first year in the corps. He entered the service in June 2007 and was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines, 1st Marine Division, I Marine Expeditionary Force, along with the other three soldiers who were killed, the Marines reported. Pietrek's friends said he was deployed to Afghanistan in April.

He was 21 or 22 when he came to the United States, and the Rohn family hired him in 2005 through a service that provides caregivers.

"He did a great job for us," Rohn said.

At one point, Pietrek returned to Poland for two months, but a relative came to work in his place, Rohn said. That relative e-mailed Rohn to tell him about Pietrek's death.

Pietrek later worked for Gene Ratay, 80, another Elmhurst resident. The young man said the military would help pay for a college education, but Ratay tried to dissuade him from joining.

"I told him not to get involved because of this war that's going on in Iraq," said Ratay, a veteran.

Ratay is the son of Polish immigrants. His house, which had a Polish flag and a plate decorated with the face of John Paul II, provided reminders of the homeland for Pietrek.

One day last year, Pietrek dropped by with a friend and gave his former employer a bumper sticker with the Marine Corps emblem. "They were just going to tell me that he joined the Marines," Ratay said.

Troubled by Pietrek's decision, Ratay didn't put the sticker on his car.

Pietrek's fellow soldiers who died were: Sgt. Michael Toussiant-Hyle Washington, 20, of Tacoma, Wash.; Lance Cpl. Layton Bradly Crass, 22, of Richmond, Ind.; and Pfc. Michael Robert Patton, 19, of Fenton, Mo.

rworking@tribune


June 16, 2008

Tacoma Marine killed in Afghanistan

TACOMA -- Family says one of the four Marines killed by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan was from Tacoma.

http://www.komonews.com/news/local/19979679.html

Video link:
http://www.komonews.com/news/local/19979679.html?video=YHI&t=a

Story Published: Jun 16, 2008 at 11:54 AM PDT
Story Updated: Jun 16, 2008 at 8:13 PM PDT
By KOMO Staff & News Services

The father of Sgt. Michael T. Washington says his son was returning from a mission when an improvised explosive device exploded near their Humvee on Saturday.

The Department of Defense has not yet released any information on Washington's death.

Washington was based at Twentynine Palms, Calif. He joined the Marines shortly after graduating from high school in 2005. The 20-year-old was a third-generation member of his family to join the Marines.

"When he was little, gosh about 7, one of our friends asked him 'do you want to be a Marine like your dad or a firefighter like your dad, or an artist like your mom?' And he was like 'um, well I don't want to be shot at, I'm not going in a burning building and artists don't make money. So I'm going to be a salesman,'" said the soldier's mother, Grace Washington.

But it was in the soldier's blood to be a Marine. "Little Michael," as the family called him, knew it was his best shot to help people.

"He said 'dad, I just believe that there are people out there who need to be defended, they can't defend themselves; there are people who need help and I want to help them,'" said his father, Michael Washington.

The killed soldier was awarded a commendation during his tour of duty in Iraq. Wanting to do more, the soldier volunteered for a second tour, this time in Afghanistan.

"I was very, very proud of him, and not just because he was my son, but he was a good person. He really was," said Grace amid tears.

"Certainly I can think of a lot of other things I'd rather him have done, but I'm just so proud of his service and the man that he is, the man that he was. And I just miss my son," said his father.

Marine from Fenton area is killed in Afghanistan

FENTON — Michael Patton, 19, who grew up in the Fenton area and graduated from Fox High School in Arnold in 2007, was among four Marines killed by a roadside bomb on Saturday in Afghanistan, his sister said Sunday.

http://www.stltoday.com/stltoday/news/stories.nsf/jeffersoncounty/story/FF6999D3BC105D588625746A001018EB?OpenDocument

By Robert Kelly
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
06/16/2008

Patton joined the Marines shortly after graduating from high school and had been stationed at Twentynine Palms Marine Base in California before being sent to Afghanistan in April, according to his sister, Rebecca Patton of Fenton.

She said her family was informed of his death on Saturday. She was unsure when his body would be returned home for burial.

Rebecca Patton said her brother was in a convoy when his vehicle struck the explosive device. None of the other victims was from the St. Louis area. Further details were unavailable.

Michael Patton was married about a year ago. His wife, Amy, had been his girlfriend in high school, Rebecca Patton said.

"He had talked about joining the military since he was about 5 years old," Rebecca Patton said. "He was willing to follow his dream, even though it cost him his life."

She said he had played on the varsity soccer team at Fox High and was popular among his classmates.

He also was known for his infectious smile, she said. "He had two huge dimples on the side of his face that came out when he smiled," she said.

In addition to his wife and sister Rebecca, survivors include his parents, James and Teresa Patton of Fenton, and another sister, Margaret.

Marine from Tacoma killed in Afghanistan

TACOMA, Wash. - A Tacoma family mourns a marine who was killed in Afghanistan.

http://www.king5.com/localnews/stories/NW_061608WAB_tacoma_marine_killed_SW.bbe6320.html

04:30 PM PDT on Monday, June 16, 2008
By DEBORAH FELDMAN / KING 5 News

Twenty-year-old Sgt. Michael Washington died over the weekend.

"He had the world at his feet. I mean, he could have done anything, any direction that he wanted to go," said his dad, aslo Michael Washington.

Even as a young boy, Sgt. Michael T. Washington had an infectious smile and an ingrained sense of responsibility.

"We wanted to raise good citizens. We wanted to raise people that anybody would want to have as a neighbor or a friend. You know, that's one of the guiding principles and he certainly was that," said Washington.

"Little Michael," as he was known, grew up enjoying soccer. His father, "Big Michael," describes his son as compassionate and easygoing.

Michael attended Tacoma schools from kindergarten on up, and graduated from Stadium High School in 2005. Even though he was just 17 years old at the time, he had already decided he wanted to join the Marines and he received his parents' blessings.

"You know he said Dad, you know, I just want to help people who can't help themselves. You know, there's people that need to be protected and being in the infantry, I'll be there," said Washington Sr.

Michael had some big footsteps to follow. His father fought in desert storm as a marine, his grandfather was a marine in the Korean War.

He'd already served one tour in Iraq, earning this commendation, and was returning from a mission in Afganistan when a roadside bomb hit his Humvee, killing four of the marines inside.

His father is acutely aware that nothing will bring back his only son, but he says there's something you can do to help ease the pain, the next time Memorial Day comes around.

"Everybody who's seeing this message right now, if you didn't have anybody that you can think about for a minute, now you do. Sgt. Michael T. Washington, Second Battalion 7th Marine Regiment, United States Marine Corps. And just take a minute and say thanks for what you did," he said.


From nothing to success

CAMP KOREAN VILLAGE, Iraq — “I started from nothing to making something of my life,” said Cpl. Andrew E. Nelson, a personnel clerk with 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, Regimental Combat Team 5. “I was broke then, and now I have goals, my credit cards are paid and I can go to school again.”

http://www.marines.mil/units/marforpac/imef/1stmardiv/5thregiment/Pages/Fromnothingtosuccess.aspx

6/16/2008 By Cpl. Ryan Tomlinson, Regimental Combat Team 5

Those were the words of Nelson, 21, as he reflected on his hard, but influential past. Born in Philadelphia, Nelson overcame the odds and struggling times to turn his life around.

“I didn’t want to fall into that dead-end crowd a lot of the people I grew up with fell into,” said Nelson. “Friends I went to high school with are either locked up or dead, and I didn’t want to end up like that.”

Nelson and his younger sister were mentored by their mother to stay out of trouble and remain in school. The maturing young man faced many temptations of bad influence.

“I grew up in what many people would call a bad neighborhood,” he said. “I woke up everyday to find myself living on streets ridden with crime and abandoned buildings.”

Instead of falling in with a bad crowd, Nelson decided to make his mother and himself proud. He stayed in school, graduated and then attended college at DeVry University in Fort Washington, Pa.

“My mom was real hard on me. When I grew up, she turned into a mentor and a friend – I tell her everything,” he said. “I try to be her strength, instead of her weakness.”

Nelson was attending college while working a full-time job for a shipping company to make ends meet, supporting himself and his mother, who cares for his sister and niece. After intense stress, he decided to drop-out of school. He went broke, constantly overdrawing his banking accounts and maxing out his credit cards.

“So many nights, I would see me mother crying looking to God for guidance,” said Nelson.

According to Nelson, he started to pray and became more involved in his faith. He received an answer – to join the service he dreamed of joining since he was a child.

Nelson enlisted in the Marine Corps in May 2006 to pursue his dream and to serve his country.

“Joining the Marines Corps had always been at the back of my mind since I could remember,” said Nelson. “I had to get out of the glut I grew up in and do something in my life that had purpose.”

Nelson is now deployed to Iraq for his first tour after his promotion to corporal in less than 18 months of service. He changed his life and he said ever since the first day he earned the title Marine, he has had more pride in himself and his family than ever before.

“The Marine Corps has given me a lot of ambitions and pride,” he said. “I want to be a drill instructor, to take a young man and change his life like my drill instructors did for me.”

He added that having the ability to do that would bestow the same feeling he got when graduating boot camp: the greatest satisfaction.

“Nelson took it upon himself to train every Marine in our section,” said Cpl. Mehmet S. Bayar, 22, a company clerk with Headquarters and Service Company, 2nd LAR. “He even took me in to help me out with everything. I thank him everyday for helping me become the Marine I am today.”

Nelson, who wouldn’t back down from hard times, plans to reenlist in the Marine Corps and marry his long-time girlfriend. He remains close with his mother and is there to support her at any given time.

“I wouldn’t change anything from my past – even after the struggles,” said Nelson. “I have no doubt in my mind that if I hadn’t gone through the hard times and struggles, I wouldn’t appreciate everything in life as much.”

June 15, 2008

Tacoma Marine among four killed in Afghan blast

A Tacoma Marine was among four Americans killed Saturday in a roadside bombing in Afghanistan, his family said Sunday. Sgt. Michael T. Washington, 20, was returning from a mission when an IED exploded near their Humvee, said his father, who is also named Michael. The Department of Defense had not yet issued a news statement about the incident.

http://www.thenewstribune.com/news/breaking/story/390013.html

Iam Demsky; ian.demsky@thenewstribune.com
Published: June 15th, 2008 08:31 PM

“He was a good man, a fine Marine and the best son,” Michael Washington said. “I think we just lost a real fine young man – not just my family, but as a country.”

The younger Washington was originally from Southern California, but moved to Tacoma at a young age. He graduated from Stadium High School in 2005 and went into the Marines that fall.

Michael T. Washington was a third-generation Marine, following in his father’s and his grandfather’s footsteps. His sister, Aja Collins, was in the Army. She lives in Korea with her active-duty husband.

“It runs through our family,” the elder Michael Washington said. “It’s what we do.”

Washington was a member G Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, based at Twentynine Palms, Calif. He deployed to Afghanistan in April, his father said. Last year he also served in Iraq, where he was awarded a medal for his bravery during an ambush.

“I want people to know he joined the Marines, in his words, ‘To help people who cannot help themselves,’ ” he said. “To help defend people who are defenseless.”

“He figured that being at the pointed end of the spear is where you can effect the most change.”

Washington grew up playing soccer in for several Tacoma clubs. He was in ROTC at Stadium and was interested in history and political science.

Funeral arrangements have not been completed, his father said.

“He just believed in trying his best to do the right thing,” Michael Washington said of his son. ”He had the will to work hard and put himself out there for other people.

“He believed in standing up for his country, more to the point for his Marines. He’d do anything for the Marines that he served with.”

Marines leave their box, get into their ‘lanes’

MUSCATATUCK URBAN TRAINING CENTER, Butlerville, Ind. — Stalingrad, Berlin, Hue City, Baghdad, Fallujah. To most people, these are just places on a map, some of them nice places to vacation. But for students of history and war, these places evoke a far different meaning.
These cities played host to some of the fiercest fighting ever seen in battle. With the birth of large cities came also a new form of combat: urban warfare.

http://www.marines.mil/units/marforcom/iimef/26thmeu/Pages/Marinesleavetheirbox,getintotheir%E2%80%98lanes%E2%80%99.aspx

6/15/2008 By Cpl. Aaron J. Rock, 26th MEU

The lessons learned in those conflicts are as valid today as the days they were learned, and for the Marines and sailors of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, training for urban warfare is only a step away from reality.

The 26th MEU is in Indiana for its Realistic Urban Training exercise (RUT). Early in June, almost the entire MEU deployed from its base at Camp Lejeune, N.C., to locations around Indiana for urban operations training.

Much of the 26th MEU’s Ground Combat Element, Battalion Landing Team 2/6, went to the Muscatatuck Urban Training Center, an Indiana National Guard training facility, while other elements went to Camp Atterbury, a Guard outpost south of Indianapolis.

Upon their arrival, the troops began intensive training that covered almost every aspect of warfare in an urban environment, from full-on combat inside large structures to scenarios which forced snap decisions on whether to render assistance to injured locals.

A Hollywood special-effects company made the training as real as possible for a training environment. Special-effects experts and actors combined to take Marines and sailors out of Midwestern America and into villages and cities in Afghanistan and Iraq.

“We need to be able to operate in an urban environment. All the tactics, techniques and procedures we do can be replicated here,” said Colonel Mark J. Desens, commanding officer of the 26th MEU. “The setup here allows us to get all the battalion’s training done, as well as the other elements, so it will be prepared to go to (Operation Iraqi Freedom or Operation Enduring Freedom), or quite frankly, anywhere in the world.”

Desens said the staff at the training center have been extremely accommodating to the needs of the unit. When bad weather and flooding forced some of the Major Subordinate Elements from their Forward Operating Bases, many Marines needed drier places to bed down. The solution was to send them from Camp Atterbury to Muscatatuck.

“The National Guard has been terrific to us,” said Desens. “When we got flooded out of our FOB, we came to the folks at Muscatatuck and said, ‘We need to move 800 more Marines in here,’ and they didn’t bat an eye.”

Despite the weather, training never stopped at MUTC.

Captain Shawn A. Rickrode, anti-terrorism and force protection officer for the 26th MEU, said the training was set up in five different areas, or “lanes”, that each dealt with specific areas of training.

Included were areas set up to train Marines in entry control points, vehicle checkpoints, escalation of force, counterinsurgency operations, urban assault and forward operating base defensive operations.

While each lane had different scenarios, actors and special effects, all of them were based on squad-level movements and units.

Rickrode said all the lanes presented very challenging situations to the units that exceed what could be done in the facilities aboard their base at Camp Lejeune, N. C.

“It recreates the urban environment, there is a variety of different types of buildings here,” he said, explaining how Muscatatuck's ideal campus and settings allowed the Marines to run a wide spectrum of different training situations.

This variety allowed the 26th MEU to focus on the training instead of how it was going to get the Marines from place to place to do the training.

While the squads of Marines ran through the scenarios, officers and staff-

noncommissioned officers oversaw and then critiqued the groups’ performances in debriefs.

The significance of the training wasn’t lost on the young Marines executing it. Private First Class Ryan P. Williams, a rifleman with Weapons Co., BLT 2/6, said he was impressed by the training.

“It was really good training, probably the best training I’ve had; very realistic,” he said.

Williams said it was good for everyone to get away from the 26th MEU’s base at Camp Lejeune, N.C., to do the training.

“I think anytime you’re aboard Lejeune you’re in your comfort zone, it’s good to get away from that,” he said.

The 26th MEU is nearing the end of its predeployment training period. Following the conclusion of RUT, only one more exercise stands between the MEU and its scheduled deployment in late August, 2008.

The 26th MEU is scheduled to deploy aboard the ships of the Iwo Jima Expeditionary Strike Group in support of the Global War on Terror.

For more information, photos and video on the 26th MEU, visit www.26meu.usmc.mil.

June 14, 2008

Bomb Kills 4 US Troops in Afghanistan

Roadside bomb kills 4 US troops training police in Afghanistan

A roadside bomb exploded near a U.S. military vehicle on Saturday, killing four Marines in western Afghanistan in the deadliest attack against U.S. troops in the country this year, officials said.

http://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory?id=5106357

By JASON STRAZIUSO Associated Press Writer
KABUL, Afghanistan June 14, 2008 (AP)

The bomb in the western province of Farah targeted Marines helping to train Afghanistan's fledgling police force, said U.S. spokesman Lt. Col. David Johnson. One other Marine was wounded in the attack.

Marines from the 2nd Battalion, 7th Regiment based in Twentynine Palms, California, arrived in Afghanistan earlier this year and were sent to southern and western Afghanistan to train police.

"The mission of the 2-7 Marines was to train and advise and mentor the Afghan National Police as part of the overall police reform strategy being employed here," said Johnson. "They're down there dedicating themselves to help create an institution that serves and protects the people of that region."

The bombing comes one day after U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates told his counterparts in Europe that for the first time, the monthly total of American and allied combat deaths in Afghanistan exceeded the toll in Iraq during May.

The four deaths bring to at least 44 the number of U.S. troops killed in Afghanistan this year, according to an Associated Press count. No more than two U.S. personnel had been killed in any one attack in Afghanistan this year, according to the AP tally.

Mission: Connecting Marines with families

CAMP KOREAN VILLAGE, Iraq — A shorter wait for phones and internet is at hand for service members and civilian contractors here.

http://www.marines.mil/units/marforpac/imef/1stmardiv/5thregiment/rct5/Pages/MissionConnectingMarineswithfamilies.aspx

6/14/2008 By Cpl. Ryan Tomlinson, Regimental Combat Team 5

Marines with Headquarters and Service Company, 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, Regimental Combat Team 5, are constructing a new internet and phone center aboard the camp to make this possible.

“We wanted to build another phone center to reduce the strain on the original,” said Capt. Juan C. Rodriguez, company commander, H&S Co. “It will bring a bigger morale boost for the Marines and soldiers of this camp.”

The leaders of the battalion decided to construct the new internet and phone project at the beginning of June. As soon as the call was made, the Marines with Camp Commandant Platoon, H&S Co., began building to make the idea a reality.

“The idea was something that I wanted to follow through on,” said Rodriguez, 41, from Sea Fort, N.Y. “The project will also open up room for the post exchange to expand and make a larger recreation room for the service members.”

The new center will be located in a large trailer with more than 16 computers and 10 phones to serve the residents on the base. Once the framing and interior is finished within the trailer, the Marines will put the 2nd LAR letters into the floor to establish their mark in the construction.

“The best part of this job is to know I did something in Iraq that makes a difference for the Marines,” said Cpl. Jasques P. Duplantis, a company clerk with H&S Co.

The project is part of a series of operations to increase the morale and recreation of the base. So far, the Marines and other tenants have planned to build a new gymnasium, expand the PX for more items and provide a larger recreation room.

The new center is scheduled to open at the end of June.

“We’re here to do something good for the camp,” said Duplantis, 24, from Houma, La. “We will continue to better the lifestyle out here for these Marines.”

June 13, 2008

Flag Day: Four Personal Perspectives

WASHINGTON, June 13, 2008 – Tomorrow the United States observes National Flag Day, an annual tribute to the American flag, the ideals it stands for and the sacrifices made to preserve them.

http://www.defenselink.mil/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=50189

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

President Woodrow Wilson recognized during his first Flag Day address in 1915 that the freedoms the U.S. flag stands for weren’t and never would be free.

“The lines of red are lines of blood, nobly and unselfishly shed by men who loved the liberty of their fellowship more than they loved their own lives and fortunes,” he said. “God forbid that we should have to use the blood of America to freshen the color of the flag.”

But American blood has spilled time and time again to preserve American liberties, most recently in the war against violent extremism. In this year’s Flag Day Proclamation, President Bush calls on the nation to remember the troops who carry Old Glory before them “as they defend the liberties for which it stands.”

“On Flag Day and during National Flag Week, we remember those in uniform whose courage and sacrifice inspire us here at home,” Bush said. “We also remember the rich history of one of our oldest national symbols and reflect on our duty to carry our heritage of freedom into the future.”

Four current or retired servicemembers recently shared their personal perspectives about how the flag has inspired them through their proudest as well as darkest days as a symbol of patriotism, strength and resilience.

Army Capt. Joe Minning - 9/11 Terror Attacks

Few Americans will forget the image of three firefighters raising an American flag over the World Trade Center ruins in New York just hours after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

But for Army Capt. Joe Minning and his fellow New York National Guard soldiers, many of them New York City firemen and police officers, the Ground Zero flag took on a very personal significance as they desperately sifted through the rubble looking for survivors.

“Seeing the flag raised above all of the rubble and ruins of the World Trade Center instilled a new sense of pride in me for our country,” he said. “No matter what happens to the United States -- on foreign ground, on U.S. soil -- we, the American people, will always continue to move forward, rebuild and face any challenges that lie ahead”

Three years later, Minning and the “Fighting 69th” Brigade Combat Team would take that inspiration with them to Iraq, where they lost 19 soldiers securing Route Irish and its surrounding Baghdad neighborhoods during their year-long deployment.

Among those killed was Army Staff Sgt. Christian Engledrum, a New York firefighter who, like Minning, worked amid the dust and smoke immediately following the World Trade Center attack. Engledrum, the first New York City employee to die serving in Iraq, became a symbol of the unit that went from Ground Zero to Iraq's Sunni Triangle, and after his death, to the mountains of Afghanistan.

The flag and what it represents continue to motivate unit members during their current deployment to Afghanistan as embedded trainers for the Afghan National Army, he said.

Minning said he recognizes when he sees Old Glory flying at his tiny forward operating base there that he and his fellow soldiers are following in the footsteps of the earliest U.S. patriots and defending the same values they fought for.

“The flag is a symbol of everything the United States stands for -- from our founding fathers up until now, all that we have accomplished, and the hurtles our country has overcome,” he said.

As a soldier, Minning said, he and his fellow soldiers recognize that it’s up to them to continue carrying the torch forward.

“It is the American soldier who keeps the country moving forward and will never let it be taken down by any adversity. It is what we fight for and, if we fall in battle, what our coffins are draped with,” he said. “And it’s what we are committed to protecting and defending, no matter what the price.”

Army Command Sgt. Maj. Leon Caffie - The Iraq War

When thousands of people gathered in late April at the Cincinnati Red’s Great American Ballpark, all eyes were on a platform at the pitchers’ mound covered by the flag-draped casket of Army Sgt. Matt Maupin.

The mourners gathered to remember the 20-year-old Army reservist who went missing more than four years earlier when his convoy came under attack in April 2004. Insurgents released a videotape shortly after the incident showing him in captivity, and his whereabouts remained unknown until the Army found and positively identified his remains in March.

Command Sgt. Maj. Leon Caffie, the top enlisted Army Reserve soldier, was among countless people who had hoped and prayed for Maupin’s safe return. As he joined the crowd in Ohio to honor and bid farewell to Maupin, Caffie looked out at thousands of hand-held flags waving in the stands, all surrounding Maupin’s casket.

“It underscores the meaning and symbolism of the flag when you see it draped over the coffin of this young man who had the world going for him,” Caffey said.

Maupin is among thousands of U.S. troops whose lives have been cut short at the hands of terrorists. Back in October 1983, 241 Marines were killed when a terrorist truck bomb struck their barracks in Beirut. In June 1996, 13 airmen died during the terror attack on Khobar Towers in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. In October 2000, 17 crewmembers from USS Cole were killed when a terrorist bomb ripped through their ship at Aden, Yemen.

Then came the September 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States and the war on terror they ushered in.

Through it all, the flag has served as an unwavering source of inspiration that’s unified America, Caffie said.

“It has endured a lot -- being dragged through streets and burned and disrespected and spit on and stepped on,” he said.

“And yet it has survived and served as a nucleus that brings this country together across gender, ethnic and religious backgrounds,” he said. “It is the American flag that has united us and will continue to inspire patriotism in this country.”

Marine CWO Charles W. Henderson - Beirut Embassy Bombing

Back in April 1983, rescue workers picking through the rubble of what had been the U.S. Embassy in Beirut following a terrorist attack uncovered the body of 21-year-old Marine Cpl. Robert V. McMaugh. Beside his body lay the tattered remains of the U.S. flag that had once stood proudly beside his guard post in the embassy’s main lobby.

McMaugh’s fellow Marine security guards draped their fallen comrade in a fresh American flag and carried him away on a stretcher. A squad of Marines snapped to attention and saluted.

“It was a poignant moment,” recalled retired Chief Warrant Officer Charles W. “Bill” Henderson, a spokesman attached to 22nd Marine Amphibious Unit in Lebanon at the time of the bombing. “Everyone had been digging and digging, then suddenly, everything stopped. Not a word was said. Seeing the body of a fellow Marine covered with the American flag, … it was an electrifying moment.”

While stationed in Beirut, Henderson said, he came to appreciate the flag, not just as a piece of material, but as a symbol of courage. “Each Marine (in Lebanon) wore an American flag on his shirt,” he said. “It did more than show that we were Americans. It showed that we were representing this country and what it stands for: freedom for all people.”

Twenty-five years later, Henderson said terrorist attacks that followed that initial salvo and the thousands of Americans who have died as a result have only deepened the flag’s symbolism.

“What’s behind it are the blood and tears of hundreds of thousands of soldiers who have sacrificed. The symbolism behind the flag is this long tradition of sacrifice to preserve liberty,” he said.

“Yes, it is just a piece of cloth,” he said. “But what it represents are the lives of thousands of Americans who have given everything for this nation -- who ask nothing in return but felt an obligation of duty to their country.”

Henderson said he doesn’t take disrespect for the flag lightly. “When you insult our flag, you insult the lives and the sacrifices of all the men and women who have served this country,” he said.

On the other hand, honoring the flag is showing respect and appreciation for all they have done. “You are honoring everything that we, as a nation, have accomplished, what America has done, and what America represents to the world,” he said.

Air Force Col. David M. Roeder - Iranian Hostage Crisis

Now-retired Col. David M. Roeder remembers living without the freedoms he had worked to protect when he and more than 50 other Americans were taken hostage for 444 days in Iran in November 1979.

Roeder, assistant Air Force attache to the U.S. Embassy in Tehran at the time, watched helplessly as U.S. flag burnings became almost daily media events. His captors taunted the hostages by carrying garbage from one area of the embassy compound to another, wrapped in the American flag.

Through it all, Roeder said, he never lost faith in his country or the flag that symbolizes its ideals. “When you talk about a flag, whether it’s standing in a place of honor at a ceremony or draped over a casket or waving from someone’s house, you’re talking about a symbol,” he said.

“But the importance of that symbolism is monumental. It represents what we are, wherever we are in the world,” he said.

“And no matter what anyone else says about it or does to it, the flag never loses dignity. It only gains dignity, because when someone attacks the American flag, it’s because they recognize all that it represents and the greatness of this country.”

Twenty-seven years after his release, Roeder, now 68, holds on to that symbolism with fervor. He flies a flag at his home in Pinehurst, N.C., and a summer home in Wisconsin every day. His pickup truck has not one, but several, flag stickers on it.

Like many Americans, he was moved by the show of Old Glory nationwide in the aftermath of the 9-11 attacks, and said he wishes it had never ended. “Wouldn’t it be great if you could keep that going?” he said. “It tells everyone who sees it who we are and what we stand for,” he said.





Corpsmen and surgeons lend a healing hand

NATHARA, Iraq (June 13, 2008) -- A good deed was provided to residents of a small village outside of Rutbah, Iraq, June 12.

http://www.mnfwest.usmc.mil/MNF/mnfw_IM.nsf/(ArticlesRead)/01B06F380EA69D164325746A003D4C70

by Cpl. Ryan Tomlinson

Navy corpsmen and surgeons from different units assigned to Multi-National Forces – West, Iraq, teamed up to offer the people here medical services.

“We are here to provide them with medical care that they aren’t able to get normally,” said Navy Lt. Michael W. Pruitt, 32, a surgeon with 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, Regimental Combat Team 5, who is from Jacksonville, N.C. “It’s good to be able to let the people know that we are here to help.”

The operation was planned to repay the friendship the small village has offered to 2nd LAR since their arrival in theater.

Setting up a large tent in the middle of the village, the service members provided the Iraqi men and women of all ages with water, medical diagnosis and medicine. The residents were greeted just as if it were a doctor’s office in the United States, except without the building.

“It’s a chance to give back to the people. They don’t have a chance to go to a regular hospital like we do in the Marine Corps,” said Seaman Christopher A. Brewer, 23, a line corpsman with Charlie Company, 2nd LAR. “As corpsmen, we are medically specialized to treat their illnesses before they get any worse.”

The corpsmen provided medical care all day with sicknesses ranging from high blood pressure to tonsillitis until each resident was seen by a certified surgeon and cared for. Because of the hard work the sailors put forth in the operation, it left a good impression on the residents themselves.

“I’m glad the Coalition forces came out here to care for us,” said Razzi Abbu Ali, 35, a resident of Nathara. “We were able to get medicine we needed for a long time.”

In addition to being able to help citizens of Iraq, it left the sailors feeling heavily honored to participate in such an operation.

“It provides us with time to really get to know the people for who they are and what their needs are,” said Brewer, who is from Jacksonville, Fla. “This is a rewarding time to be able to see these people today.”

3rd Marine Expeditionary Brigade showcases helicopter relief capabilities

U-TAPAO ROYAL THAI AIRFIELD, Thailand — — Using C-130 aircrafts, the U.S. Marine Corps has continued to send relief supplies to Burma in the wake of Cyclone Nargis, a storm that ravaged the country May 3 killing thousands and destroying crops and infrastructure.
However, many of the supplies can not make it to areas severely affected due to impassable roadways.

http://www.marines.mil/units/mciwest/mcbjapan/mcbbutler/Pages/FlexingtheMarineCorpsMuscles.aspx

6/13/2008 By Lance Cpl. Aaron D. Hostutler, III MEF

Recent CNN reports cite 130,000 people either dead or missing as a result of the cyclone. The United Nations Children’s Fund has estimates that only 50 percent of the affected areas have received help.

U.S. officials have tried for weeks to convince the military leaders of Burma to allow helicopters to deliver supplies, but the isolationist regime has refused any such offer.

To increase pressure on Burmese officials to allow more U.S. aide, the Marine Corps put on an air show of sorts at U-Tapao Royal Thai Airfield May 31 to demonstrate to various international news agencies the capabilities of the U.S. helicopters, attached to the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit.

The event included a refueling display and a CH-46 supply movement demonstration. The Marines also gave rides to members of the media to allow them to document first hand the versatility of the helicopters.

“These helicopters have a grand capability,” said Brig. Gen. Ronald Bailey, commanding general of the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Brigade. “They can be used in several ways.”

Helicopters deliver supplies more efficiently to remote areas than a C-130, especially when there is a small landing zone is available, Bailey said. But even if the helicopter can not land, it can still hover and drop the supplies to the people. The helicopters can also make multiple deliveries in one trip to an area.

“We originally came to Thailand for Cobra Gold, an exercise that helps build relations and interoperability between nations for cases just like this,” Bailey said. “Now we have a chance to put that training to use. We just want to gain the opportunity to provide further assistance.”

Custom chopper is mobile memorial for veterans

MARINE CORPS RECRUIT DEPOT SAN DIEGO — A former depot Marine has found a new way to honor his brothers in arms instead of only extending his thanks or by buying them drinks.

http://www.marines.mil/units/hqmc/tecom/mcrdsandiego/Pages/Customchopperismobilememorialforveterans.aspx

6/13/2008 By Cpl. Robert Beaver, Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego

Retired Staff Sgt. Jerry Royal, from Myrtle Beach, S.C., has built a custom chopper in dedication of Marines who served in support of Operations Iraqi Freedom.

“I wanted to make this bike in honor of Marines, especially the ones in Iraq,” said Royal. “They have fought and died for us and some have come back wounded. I think we should honor them.”

The finished chopper was put on public display for the first time at James L. Day Hall here during the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon nearly two weeks ago. The display also features facts and photos about the tactical use of motorcycles throughout Marine Corps history.

“The visitors for the marathon loved the bike,” said Barbara McCurtis, director of the Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego Museum and Historical Society. “It’s a really good thing for Royal to do. People always talk about how to honor the vets when Royal used his own time and money to give back to the Marines.”

Royal started the project nearly two years before he retired from the Marine Corps as the substance abuse specialist for Headquarters and Service Battalion.

With nearly $14,000 of his own money and with the support from 19 sponsors, Royal was able to complete the chopper, his fourth custom-built bike, after three years.

Capable of reaching speeds above 60 miles per hour, the chopper is equipped with several features that give it a unique look.

Royal shortened a Marine noncommissioned officer’s sword and used it as the chopper’s shifter. He also welded two .50 caliber machine gun barrels together to create the handle bars.

The side mirror is fixed to two anti aircraft gun sights and the seat is fitted with a desert camouflage pattern with an Operation Iraqi Freedom patch.

A string of gutted 7.62 mm bullets wrap around the fender and the bike rests on an M16A2 service rifle barrel made into the kickstand. The engine’s belt reads Royal Choppers and the cherry apple colored paint job gives the chopper a bright glow.

“It was the first thing that caught my eye when I walked into the room,” said former Marine Tim Votaw, who served with 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment in Vietnam and member of the Leatherneck Motorcycle Club. “The features are (good) and it has a good theme. Being a tribute bike, it means a lot to most of us who served.”

The memorial bike will remain in the museum until August. From there, Royal plans to take the bike on a road tour to other Marine Corps installations to create awareness for OIF veterans.

June 12, 2008

Trip Illuminates Life on Bases Across Afghan Desert

In Afghanistan, tens of thousands of NATO-led U.S. and foreign troops are battling a Taliban insurgency across eastern and southern Afghanistan. NPR's Ivan Watson and David Gilkey spent the past four days traveling across the network of NATO bases in southern Afghanistan and sent this postcard about the journey.

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=91405022

by Ivan Watson
All Things Considered, June 12, 2008

It took four days to travel from the Afghan capital of Kabul to a Marine outpost in the southern part of the country.

One of the first stops on the journey was the sprawling air base outside the city of Kandahar.

On Sunday night, thousands of soldiers stood on the tarmac here, to bid farewell to a Canadian soldier who died in the line of duty.

Capt. Jonathan Snyder died while on night patrol, when he accidentally fell into a 60-foot-deep well. Canada has lost 85 soldiers and one diplomat in Afghanistan, the highest wartime death toll for the Canadians since the Korean conflict nearly 55 years ago.

Some 2,500 Canadian soldiers are based outside Kandahar. They are part of a kaleidoscope of different military units deployed across southern Afghanistan.

Kandahar is the main transport and logistics hub for this turbulent region.

It takes less than an hour to fly aboard a C-130 cargo plane from Kandahar to the main British military base in Helmand province.

The British force of some 7,500 soldiers in Helmand suffered fresh casualties Sunday, when a suicide bomber attacked a foot patrol and killed three soldiers.

Lt. Col. Robin Matthews, spokesman for the British force, said one of those casualties represented the 100th death of British soldiers engaged in operations in Afghanistan.

"We're now dealing with a counterinsurgency campaign. … I think everybody now acknowledges the scale of the problem," Matthews said.

From the British base, a twin-rotor helicopter ferries U.S. Marines and equipment to Camp Dwyer, another British base that now is also home to the U.S. Marines 24th Expeditionary Unit.

The camp is a spartan place: no showers and little electricity. Marines swelter in the desert heat in tents with dirt floors infested by camel spiders the size of a hand.

On Wednesday, Staff Sgt. Dale Cortman prepared to lead a large supply convoy across Garmsir District, which had long been a lawless region near the border with Pakistan.

The Marines captured much of this district from the Taliban after weeks of fighting in May.

One of the Marines on board the supply convoy was 19-year-old Doug Hicks from Florida. His job was to guard three detainees in an armored truck.

The prisoners wore plastic flex-cuffs and blindfolds. Hicks barely interacted with them except to hand them bottles of water and occasionally order them, in Pashto, to shut up when they whispered to each other.

The convoy rolled down dirt roads, past endless fields of opium poppies and mud-brick farmhouses, some of which had been damaged during last month's fighting.

Hicks was not impressed.

"This place, I say it's pretty much hell. It's hot, dusty, doesn't rain. Everything's tan," he said.

The convoy finally arrived at the improvised headquarters of this company of Marines.

The young Marines stationed here made a long human chain and spent more than an hour in 120-degree heat offloading bottles of water from the trucks.

"If mail's on the truck, it's the highlight of the day," one Marine said, as he tossed water bottles under the hot sun. "If there ain't no mail, you just get pissed off!" his neighbor answered.

When they finished the chore, a few lucky Marines learned that they had, in fact, received some mail. They sat in the dirt of their mud-brick compound and read letters out loud to each other under a setting sun.

June 11, 2008

Guardian Angels: Security Platoon protects rebuilding of Rutbah

RUTBAH, Iraq — Over the course of two years, the city of Rutbah has encountered change towards its people and government. With Coalition forces support, the town has been able to rebuild its structure and remain safe from insurgency.

http://www.marines.mil/units/marforpac/imef/1stmardiv/5thregiment/rct5/Pages/GuardianAngelsSecurityPlatoonprotectsrebuildingofRutbah.aspx

6/11/2008 By Cpl. Ryan Tomlinson, Regimental Combat Team 5

Marines with Security Platoon, Headquarters and Service Company, 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, Regimental Combat Team 5, have helped make the changes possible for the western Al Anbar province city.

“Our mission is to provide security for Coaliton forces leaders while interacting with Iraqi leaders of Rutbah,” said Cpl. Daniel M. Smith, a scout squad leader with Security Platoon. “We’re here to help build a better infrastructure in Iraq.”

The platoon visits the city weekly to converse with the people and to escort key personnel to carry out requests for materials such as medicine, food and water.

“Being around the people makes me feel like I’m really doing my job as an infantryman,” said Lance Cpl. Sergio A. Flores-Reyes, 20, a scout with Security Platoon from San Juan, Texas. “I like what we’re doing for these people. I came here to do something great and to actually accomplish it feels special.”

The Marines with Security Platoon are ready to conduct operations at a moments notice to escort 2nd LAR elements and other units aiding the government and people of Rutbah.

“It’s really cool to actually be involved with the planning of the government in Rutbah,” said Pfc. Ian R. McIntosh, a gunner with Security Platoon. “It makes me feel that I’m making a difference by re-building the town that’s (one of) the gateways of shipping in Iraq.”

The Marines will continue their efforts of supporting the re-building of the city that was at once a war-zone and is now a peaceful area.

“The city went from us against them to us working with them,” said Smith, 21, from Sacramento, Calif. “It not only shows progress, but it also demonstrates that were winning the war. For those who came before us, their sacrifices were worth it.”

Marines Find, Destroy Enemy Weapons

HABBANIYAH — Marines of 2nd Battalion, 24th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 1, and Company B, 4th Combat Engineer Battalion, have worked together day in and day out, searching for weapon caches and disabling the enemy’s number one threat; improvised explosive devices.

http://www.mnf-iraq.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=20288&Itemid=1

Wednesday, 11 June 2008
By Pfc. Jerry Murphy
Regimental Combat Team 1

The two reserve units, 2nd Bn., 24th Marines from Chicago, and Bravo Company, 4th CEB from Roanoke, Va., have together uncovered thousands of pounds of explosive ordinance, ammunition and explosives throughout the first four months of their seven month deployment in the Anbar province here.

“We’re out there every day digging up areas where we have intelligence about a cache,” said Lance Cpl. Michael W. Lund, a combat engineer with 4th CEB. “Since we’ve been here, we’ve [together with 2/24] found thousands of pounds of ordinance and it’s important because it takes away weapons that could have been used against Marines.”

On an intelligence driven mission May 30, a section of Marines from 4th CEB and Company E, 2nd Bn., 24th Marines, swept an area said to have a bunker of explosives located inside of it. Although the bunker of weapons was not located, they were able to locate and destroy a smaller bunker, which could have been used for the future storing of ammunitions, weapons and explosives.

“It wasn’t the bunker we were looking for, but it could have eventually been used against us,” said Lance Cpl. Brad N. Harvey, a combat engineer from Roanoke, Va. “So we used a little C-4 (explosive) and destroyed it.”

Although the Marines go out on several missions per week, trying to locate weapons, they sometimes do come up empty handed.

“We go out a lot, but we don’t always find either what we came out here for, or find anything at all,” said Lund, 20, from Goldvein, Va. “But regardless, we have to be ready to go out at anytime. Sometimes they’ll call at midnight and we’ll need to be ready to go by [3:00 a.m.].”

Taking any type of weapons system away from the enemy is an essential part of winning the global war on terrorism. Marines aboard Camp Habbaniyah know this and are determined to do their part until their time to leave Iraq and return home.

“We don’t want any more Marines to get hurt or killed. No one does,” said Cpl. Isaac H. Flint, a team leader with 4th CEB, from Natural Bridge, Va. “So we’re gong to do everything we can to prevent the enemy from having that opportunity until we leave.”

Marines, Ind. Nat'l Guard fight back storm waters, help save local town

ELNORA, Ind. — Approximately 140 Marines and sailors from the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit were called into action here after state and local agencies requested their assistance to fortify a levee in imminent danger of being overrun by the floodwaters which have devastated the area.

http://www.marines.mil/units/marforcom/iimef/26thmeu/Pages/Marines,IndNat'lGuardfightbackstormwaters,helpsavelocaltown.aspx

6/11/2008 By Cpl. Jason D. Mills, 26th MEU

The Marines, who were later joined by soldiers from the Indiana National Guard, prisoners incarcerated at the Wabash Valley Correctional Facility in Carlisle Ind., townspeople, Mennonites, Amish farmers and local volunteers reinforced nearly a mile of levee in Elnora, Ind.

After receiving the word to mobilize, the Marines rushed out to Elnora via CH-53E Super Stallion and CH-46E Sea Knight helicopters and began filling sandbags and building and reinforcing levees shortly after arriving at 3 a.m. and continued their efforts until 5 p.m. when they were called off due to more thunderstorms in the area.

The Marines worked with a feverish determination throughout the night and into the morning, most of the time with smiles on their faces, because they had the knowledge they were doing something of real good for those they are sworn to serve.

“It’s good to know that we can go out there and help these people, and I think it’s going to be a real rewarding experience, just being able to help and know that we’re doing something good for this town,” said Lance Cpl. Alex Nelson, Evansville, Ind., native and Marine with the 26th MEU.

Receiving word of the incident

After receiving the word to move the original 88, most not knowing what they were headed into, Leathernecks grabbed what gear they could and headed out to an even more uncertain community.

Before the moon had a chance to disappear under the tree line, the Marines were in the air, off to what was sure to be a long and difficult task.

Upon landing at a local fire department near Elnora, the Marines headed off to Bedford, Ind., where they made their base of operations. There they decided to split up into two teams, one would go to the Town Hall to fill sandbags and the other headed to Elnora to being reinforcing the levees.


Taking action

After nearly two hours of hard work, word passed to consolidate the two groups, so all of the Marines could fight off the fast-approaching flood waters at the levees. And upon arriving at the scene, it was apparent why.

The rising waters had already crested in several areas and were threatening to crest in many more. Immediately the arriving Marines began assisting their fellow Marines, National Guard and locals already fighting back the torrent of flood water.

After hours of struggling against Mother Nature, the Marines were finally able to take their first real break since late the night before, when almost 200 additional National Guard solders arrived around noon.

Wrapping up

Seeing the Marines, solders and locals were without fresh food and lacking water some of the locals brought out fried chicken and green beans for lunch.

“I think is the best chow we’ve had since we’ve been out here,” commented one of the Marines.

Even though the flood waters eventually reached 29.9 feet - the highest that part of Indiana had seen since 1913 - the levees held, protecting the homes of the 736 residents of Elnora.

“Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief are among the primary mission capabilities of the 26th MEU,” said commanding officer Col. Mark J. Desens. “Though it’s not what we came here to do, we are ready to help those affected by this crisis.”

June 9, 2008

Columbia organization MarineParents.com keeps growing and making a difference

COLUMBIA — When Tracy Della Vecchia’s son, Derrick Jensen, joined the U.S. Marine Corps in 2001, she wanted to learn as much as she could about the Marines and what to expect as the parent of one. Unsure of where to turn, she searched the Internet for help and support.

http://www.columbiamissourian.com/stories/2008/06/09/columbia-organization-marineparentscom-inc-keeps-g/

By NOELLE DALY

June 9, 2008 | 6:28 p.m. CST

Unfortunately, the Internet didn’t have much to offer. Della Vecchia reasoned she couldn’t be the only parent wondering how to deal with a child’s decision to enlist, so she took matters into her own hands.

In 2003, she createdMarineParents.com, which has become one of the most comprehensive and popular online resources for family and friends of Marines. The site features message boards, chat rooms and military legal advice as well as information on getting through boot camp, dealing with deployment and coping with post-traumatic stress disorder.

The site has become so well known that even Marines’ drill instructors have gotten involved. One part of the site is dedicated to answering questions for parents of new recruits. At times, “drill instructors and senior drill instructors go onto those Web sites and post information for those families,” Della Vecchia said. “Sometimes they even answer specific questions.”

She also said that although the drill instructors are not allowed to endorse MarineParents.com, they do mention it to the parents of new recruits as a potential resource for information and support.

Over 180,000 people visit the site each week, and the site’s message boards have over 75,000 registered members, Della Vecchia said. The site’s staff has expanded to include four full-time and two part-time employees, as well as more than 60 active volunteers who monitor message boards, research information and help coordinate projects.

There are a host of support communities, ranging from those that are unit-specific to those for Gold Star families — those who have had a Marine killed in action. The site also coordinates numerous service projects.

The largest of these is The Care Package Project, which started in 2003. MarineParents.com receives donated items like toothbrushes, dried fruit, socks, books, beef jerky and gum from around the country at its shipping center in Columbia at 2810 Lemone Industrial Blvd. About five or six times a year, volunteers pack the items into care packages which are sent to Marines around the world. The project has grown astronomically since it started. Although the Columbia shipping center is now in a spacious warehouse, things were a bit different in the early days.

“We’ve gone from 100 care packages to an average of 1,100,” Della Vecchia said. “When we started, we thought we were really cooking. But then the next one was 160. And then it was 300. We leveled out for a while when we hit 500 to 600, but now we’ve been doing the thousands.”

Joe and Joni Dafflitto have been MarineParents.com volunteers for almost three years. Now Joni is a message board moderator on the Web site, but the couple started out by helping with The Care Package Project.

“When we started, we were in Tracy’s barn. We did 500 to 600 packages, and it took us two days,” Joe Dafflitto said. “When my son, Anthony, joined the Marines, we were looking for something to answer a few questions. There’s no other support group like this.”

As of June 7, The Care Package Project has sent out about 15,000 care packages total since it began, which has cost around $130,000 in postage and shipping fees. Most of the items and money for postage comes from donations, drives and volunteer fundraisers around the country.

Della Vecchia said that about 2,000 people collect items for the project. “We have a group in New York state that’s collecting hand-held games for troops. We just did a fundraiser in Georgia that was a poker run. And there’s a woman in Oregon who has gotten all of her local TV stations and Wal-Marts to do a care package drive,” she said.

“This is the best project on the planet,” said Monica May, the project’s manager. She calls herself The Care Package Project’s biggest fan. “My son signed up as a Marine a little over a year ago. It was a surprise; I was not a happy camper. (The Web site) helped me get through boot camp with him. I found the care package section and decided to check it out,” she said.

“The people here are wonderful, and what we’re doing is such a cool thing,” she said. “I have Marines who send me thank you cards.”

The most recent packing day was June 7. Seventy volunteers from Columbia, St. Louis, and the surrounding area showed up to pack and ship about 800 packages. Because government policy now requires packages and mail for service members to have a specific name and address, MarineParents.com can only send packages to Marines whose families have provided that information. Della Vecchia said that currently, military rotation is in full swing, so the number of care packages shipped was down a bit because some Marines have not yet sent in their updated addresses.

Several Columbia churches, including Campus Lutheran and Columbia United Church of Christ, had members come volunteer for the first time.

Rose Ward from Campus Lutheran was one of the first-time volunteers.

“I know several Marines; my daughter-in-law’s brother was a Marine stationed in Iraq,” Ward said. “Whatever we as civilians can do to help the troops is great.”

Joe Dafflitto agreed. “We’re doing nothing compared to the guys and gals over there,” he said.

The next packing day is Aug. 23. For more information on The Care Package Project, visitthecarepackageproject.com or call the MarineParents.com office at 449-2003.


June 6, 2008

Generals Visit Marines in Afghanistan

CAMP BARBER, Afghanistan - The Marine Corps' top commanders recently visited with Marines and Sailors of Task Force 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, serving here in support of Operation Enduring Freedom

http://www.military.com/news/article/marine-corps-news/generals-visit-marines-in-afghanistan.html

June 06, 2008
Marine Corps News|by Cpl. Ray Lewis

The "star-studded" week, which featured visits by three Marine Corps generals and one U.S. Army general, was highlighted by a town hall meeting hosted at the flagpole by Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. Robert Magnus.

While expressing his admiration and informing the troops of ongoing projects to improve their overall quality of life, the ACMC told the Marines they were executing a very important mission and that the Afghan people are very happy about them deploying here to help.

"You make the Taliban afraid," Gen. Magnus said. "These insurgents will be beaten by their own people in the end. In the meantime, we just need fine American boys like you to help them get over the hump."

The week started with a visit from Lt. Gen. Samuel T. Helland, the commander of U.S. Marine Corps Forces Central Command.

Lt. Gen. Helland, who is also the commanding general of I Marine Expeditionary Force, initially met and ate lunch with those Marines still operating around the Kandahar Airfield. The next day, he traveled here on a two-day trip to oversee military operations conducted by Task Force 2/7 and the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit.

While Task Force 2/7 and the 24th MEU have Marines operating in the KAF area, both units are also simultaneously carrying out operations here in the Helmand Province. Task Force 2/7 is tasked with the mission of training, mentoring and advising the Afghanistan National Police. The MEU; however, will conduct combat operations aimed at counter insurgency.

During the visit, the MARCENT commander was accompanied by Maj. Gen. Thomas D. Waldhauser, the 1st MarDiv commanding general. Among his entourage were also Sgts. Maj. Dennis W. Reed, MARCENT/I MEF, and Randall Carter, 1st MarDiv, other staff members, and news reporters from the Associated Press and San Diego's North County Times.

After being briefed on both the Marines' operations, the three-star general toured the camp here. He commended 2/7 on its efforts to bring peace and prosperity to the war-torn region.

The setting was quite similar when the ACMC arrived May 14. He, too, surveyed the area and ate "chow" with the Marines. The highlight of his visit was hosting a town hall meeting in front of the flagpole where the troops sat and listened to the four-star general share the story of Cpl. Jason L. Dunham, who was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his valor during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

After telling of Dunham's heroics, the ACMC delivered a message from the corporal's mother.

Gen. Magnus said Debra Dunham told him to tell the story of her son and pass on the message of how proud she was of what the Marines are doing for their country.

"Deb said three things: 'Thank you, keep doing what you're doing, and take care of each other,'" said Gen. Magnus on behalf of the "Gold-Star Mom."

A "Gold-Star Mom" is the mother of a service member who served during war and became a "fallen angel," the ACMC explained.

"When a 'Gold-Star Mom' says, 'Thank you,' and Deb in particular, she means thank you for raising your right hand and volunteering to serve your country in a time of war; thank you for leaving your hometown or city; thank you for leaving your family; thank you for going someplace that's too damn hot, too damn cold for work, and too damn dirty, too damn hard against people that are trying to kill you," the ACMC said.

The ACMC said he and Debra know the Marines' continuous efforts contribute greatly in keeping insurgents out of America.

"We don't like our brothers and sisters, your moms and dads, your wives to be afraid as they were on 9/12. We want to turn the clock back so that they... feel secure at home," Gen. Magnus said.

Gen. Magnus said the only way to accomplish homeland security is to "go in the vipers' nest and kill the vipers." He said it takes selflessness, and Cpl. Dunham embodied that trait.

"He did what he had to do to protect his fellow Marines," Gen. Magnus said of the corporal who absorbed a grenade blast with his body to save his troops. "That's what makes you the finest combat team the world has ever seen."

Before departing the area, the ACMC combat meritoriously promoted two Marines to the noncommissioned officer rank of corporal.

Newly-promoted Cpl. Noah J. Sullivan of Company F said he was honored to be pinned on by a four-star general.

"That feels unreal almost. I know it's a rare thing so it was a pretty big honor for that to happen," explained Sullivan, who said he had been chasing his current rank for awhile.

"I mean people take you seriously if you've done a deployment and have been in for awhile, but people take you more seriously when you pick up NCO so I was ready for that," he said.

In addition to his promotion, Sullivan said he thought the general's words meant a lot to the Marines who are operating in one of Afghanistan's most austere and remote regions.

"By the general coming out here, it lets us know that we're not forgotten. It's a morale booster," Sullivan said. "The fact that he would come to Afghanistan is cool. Right now, we're in the middle of the desert waiting until it's our time to do what we're needed to do, and all these generals coming out helps us see the importance of our mission."

The other Marine combat meritoriously promoted was Cpl. Anthony G. Mihalo, who left with Company E to begin operations just hours after his promotion.

As the Marines cheered during the ACMC's visit, it was clear that they were moved by his words. For many of the "hard chargers," this was their first time getting the opportunity to see a general officer up close and personal, let alone four of them.

"The Marines of 2/7 begin to realize the importance of their mission to 'provide security, train, and mentor the ANP' when several Marine generals come to visit them," said Maj. Lee Helton, executive officer, TF 2/7. "It is apparent that the Marine Corps' leadership is observing the performance of Marines on the ground, in order to plan for future OEF Afghanistan deployments."

Army Maj. Gen. Robert W. Cone, commanding general of Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan, culminated the week of VIP guests May 17 when he met with Battalion Commander Lt. Col. Richard Hall, TF 2/7, to be briefed on the battalion's operations.

4th CEB continues search for weapons caches

HABBANIYAH, Iraq — Marines of 2nd Battalion, 24th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 1 and Company B, 4th Combat Engineer Battalion, have worked together day in and day out, searching for weapons caches and disabling the enemies number one threat; improvised explosive devices.

http://www.marines.mil/units/marforpac/imef/1stmardiv/1stregiment/rct1/Pages/%E2%80%9CMayhem%E2%80%9DBn,4thCEBcontinuesearchforweaponscaches.aspx

6/6/2008 By Pfc. Jerry Murphy, Regimental Combat Team 1

The two reserve units, 2nd Bn., 24th Marines from Chicago, and Bravo Co., 4th CEB from Roanoke, Va., have together uncovered thousands of pounds of explosive ordinance, ammunition and explosives throughout the first four months of their seven-month deployment in the Anbar Province of Iraq.

“We’re out there every day digging up areas where we have intelligence about a cache,” said Lance Cpl. Michael W. Lund, a combat engineer with 4th CEB. “Since we’ve been here, we’ve (together with 2/24) found thousands of pounds of ordinance and it’s important because it takes away weapons that could have been used against Marines.”

On an intelligence driven mission May 30, a section of Marines from 4th CEB and Company E, 2nd Bn., 24th Marines swept an area said to have a bunker of explosives located inside of it. Although the bunker of weapons was not located, they were able to locate and destroy a smaller bunker, which could have been used for the future storing of ammunitions, weapons and explosives.

“It wasn’t the bunker we were looking for, but it could have eventually been used against us,” said Lance Cpl. Brad N. Harvey, a combat engineer from Roanoke, Va. “So we used a little C-4 (explosive) and destroyed it.”

Although the Marines go out on several missions per week, trying to locate weapons caches, they sometimes do come up empty handed.

“We go out a lot, but we don’t always find either what we came out here for, or find anything at all,” said Lund, 20, from Goldvein, Va. “But regardless, we have to be ready to go out at anytime. Sometimes they’ll call at midnight and we’ll need to be ready to go by (3:00 a.m.).”

Marines aboard Camp Habbaniyah know taking any type of weapons system away from the enemy is an essential part of winning the Global War on Terrorism and are determined to do their part until their time to leave Iraq and return home.

“We don’t want any more Marines to get hurt or killed. No one does,” said Cpl. Isaac H. Flint, a team leader with 4th CEB, from Natural Bridge, Va. “So we’re gong to do everything we can to prevent the enemy from having that opportunity until we leave.”

15TH MEU Summer Slam 2008: 'A success' in Singapore

U.S. NAVAL CONTRACTING CENTER, Singapore — Summer Slam 2008, a sports tournament held by the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit at the Sembawang area of Singapore, took place June 4-5 with participants from the 15th MEU, PHIBRON 3 and crew of USS Peleliu (LHA 5).

http://www.marines.mil/units/marforpac/imef/15thmeu/Pages/15THMEUSUMMERSLAM2008%E2%80%9CASUCCESS%E2%80%9DINSINGAPORE.aspx

6/6/2008 By Lance Cpl. Timmy Parish, 15th MEU

The teams of Marines and sailors of all ranks took part in single elimination games of basketball, softball and soccer. The reward, aside from bragging rights in the weeks and months ahead, was the spirit of gamesmanship fostered through athletic competition at the games, according to Sgt. Shamus M. Flynn, wrecker operator chief, maintenance detachment, Combat Logistics Battalion 15, 15th MEU.

“(Summer Slam 2008) was a good time. It gave the participants an alternative to spending money out in town,” said Flynn. “We got to meet people from other units in the MEU.”

Singapore, with its varied cultures and historic past, is a tourists’ delight. And though the sportsmen certainly got to see the sights, they still saw the value of giving up a portion of their liberty to make Summer Slam 2008 a reality, according to Flynn, a native of Granby, Conn.

“Even though some of the teams were thrown together with little time to practice, everyone wanted to play and everyone had some skill,” said Flynn. “It also gave us a chance to (exercise) outside the gym on ship or running on the flight deck.”

Summer Slam 2008, organized and run by 15th MEU Marines, took shape in the weeks spent at sea between Hawaii and Singapore. The arrangements for the event involved a great deal of coordination which made Summer Slam 2008 run smoothly, according to Gunnery Sgt. Michael L. Cerda, Chemical, Biological, Nuclear Defense Chief, 15th MEU.

“The entire event was command driven, with some help from my fellow Marines on board (USS) Peleliu and some quick expediting ashore,” said Cerda, a native of Las Vegas. “While ashore with the advance party, I was able to arrange for T-shirts to be made for the participants as well as trophies, drinks and snacks. Down the line this paid huge dividends.”

Despite the relatively short amount of time to lay the groundwork for the event, Summer Slam 2008 proved a highlight of visiting Singapore among its participants, according to Cerda. This came as no surprise to the Marines who organized Summer Slam 2008.

“Participation was descent when you factor in (Singapore) being a liberty port, but more important were the Marines and sailors reactions to how much fun they had running around playing soccer, hitting the ball, or sinking a 3-pointer,” Cerda said “I had numerous Marines tell me ‘I had more fun at Summer Slam than I did the whole liberty trip’ (and) that meant a lot to me.”

Aside from the trophies and accolades of those who participated, the event gave participants a chance to meet people they might not have otherwise met and work with them toward a common objective. The goal of Summer Slam 2008, according to Cpl. Mauricio Loucel, a motor transportation Marine with the Unit Movement Control Center of CLB-15, is to raise the level of athletic achievement aboard USS Peleliu.

“Being a Marine, you’re always competitive and you pride yourself at being the best. So you always want to set that bar. Winning the soccer tournament proves that we’re the best soccer team (aboard USS Peleliu),” said Loucel, who is on his second deployment with the 15th MEU.

The tournament also gave the participants a taste of home, even on the opposite side of the world from the United States, according to Loucel, a native of Riverside, Calif.

“I grew up playing soccer my whole life. My dad trained me since I was a little kid, and my whole life that’s what fascinated me,” Loucel said. “(Sports) keep you in shape and keep your mind off being away from home.”

The Camp Pendleton, Calif.- based 15th MEU is comprised of approximately 2,200 Marines and sailors and is a forward deployed force of readiness capable of conducting numerous operations, such as Non-Combatant Evacuation Operations, Humanitarian Assistance Operations and a wide range of amphibious missions. The 15th MEU is currently deployed aboard USS Peleliu (LHA 5), USS Dubuque (LPD 8) and USS Pearl Harbor (LSD 52).

2/7 Marines Battalion Commander Participates in VSO

Police Trainers Focus on Afghan People, Not Taliban, Official Says

WASHINGTON, June 6, 2008 - The Marine battalion tasked with training Afghan police members focuses more on helping Afghan people prosper than on defeating the Taliban, a military official involved in the training effort said today.

http://arsicsouth7.wordpress.com/2008/06/07/27-marines-battalion-commander-participates-in-vso/

By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service

The mission of the 1st Marine Division’s 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, is to train and mentor the Afghan National Police, which they consider “the center of gravity,” Marine Corps Lt. Col. Richard D. Hall, the battalion’s commander, said in a conference call with veterans service organization representatives.

“[The police trainers] are not so much just wanting to go out there and get rid of Taliban, but they want to improve the people’s lives, just like anyone would their own communities,” Hall said. “That’s the way the Marines are looking at it: ‘How can I make their lives better?’”

The battalion is stretched across some 250 miles of Afghan turf and currently is focused on bolstering eight districts, Hall said. He added that new recruits in these areas are quick to learn lessons bestowed by their trainers. In addition to the Marines, personnel from DynCorp International, a private U.S. military contractor, are providing the training.

The National Guard also contributes police trainers. Many Guardsmen serve in civilian life as members of law enforcement, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, or the Drug Enforcement Agency.

The colonel said the national police represent Afghanistan’s national government, extended to the local and district levels. This force often is local citizens’ “first taste of government,” he said.

The goal of these trainers, Hall said, is to convert four-man fire teams tasked with maintaining rule of law into 40-man constituencies, with the local populace playing a major role in the effort.

“Our aim is to teach them how to do things on their own,” Hall said. “So by doing our best to turn over everything to them and teach them how to do things on their own, [we] try to set the conditions where they don’t even want us here any more.”

Hall said much of the training is focused on making the force more credible and more respected by local Afghans. The ultimate mission is to establish security, which often engenders prosperity. Likewise, prosperity can help solidify security gains, he added.

In addition to building security in the area, the battalion works alongside civil affairs personnel who are helping establish infrastructure.

“[Civil affairs teams] focus primarily on working with provincial and district leaders to plan and execute and put forth the projects that the people need,” he said. “That may include wells, building schools, training doctors, and those types of things.”

Hall said Afghan National Police members have been surprisingly cooperative in working alongside U.S. Marines. He attributes this close camaraderie to a common bond: They are both pragmatic, warrior-like cultures. “I think they’ve already got this natural affinity towards our personalities,” Hall said of the Afghan trainees.

“We’re really motivated about our mission over there,” he continued. “I think that we’re not only well-trained to do this mission, but even for the opening few weeks that we’ve been executing our mission, we’ve already achieved successes that went a little bit beyond our expectation.”

Hall said the early and clear success of Afghan forces is encouraging for the Marine trainers.

“When you can see the results appear right before your very eyes in a very short period of time, you get that tangible result from your action and the immediate impact where you can visibly, physically see lives improve right before you,” he said. “And that is really motivating.”

Cheerleaders give LAR a glimpse of home

CAMP KOREAN VILLAGE, Iraq — Unexpected visitors greeted an infantry battalion of Marines, sailors and other residents here June 6.

http://www.marines.mil/units/marforpac/imef/1stmardiv/5thregiment/rct5/Pages/LARexperiencetasteofhome.aspx

6/6/2008 By Cpl. Ryan Tomlinson, Regimental Combat Team 5

The service members gathered around the Morale Welfare and Recreation Center aboard Camp Korean Village, Iraq, to see what the fuss was about. Little did they know that five Philadelphia Eagles cheerleaders had just come to visit them.

“We came out here to say thank you for all the amazing things you have done out here,” said Laura Jenkins, a cheerleader with the Philadelphia Eagles cheerleading squad to the crowd of service members. “It was mentioned that there was going to be a tour, and they chose the five of us because we really wanted to be here and meet you guys.”

The visit was part of a tour around Iraq for the ladies to meet and greet service members fighting in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. During the event, the cheerleaders took pictures with Marines and sailors, signed autographs and thanking the service members for their service to the nation.

“It was great motivation that they came out here to see us,” said Lance Cpl. Will B. Lowe, a journal clerk with 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, Regimental Combat Team 5. “They really have great hearts to come see us. It says a lot about their character.”

While the visitors were greeting service members, the Marines with 2nd LAR showed them the light-armored vehicle, their means of transportations for the past three months. The cheerleaders sat in the driver’s seat and the turret to experience the LAV’s environment.

“The best part was meeting everyone and hearing about their lives out here and back home,” said Jenkins, 23. “Moving so far away from their families and doing what you they do is very admirable.”

The women visited the service members here for only a short time, but left the service members with their morale and spirits lifted.

“It’s really cool to know how much we’re cared about,” said Lowe, 20, from Cleveland. “For somebody like them to actually take the time out and travel so far away from home to visit us means a lot. I really enjoyed them being here.”

“It significantly boosted morale,” said Master Sgt. James B. Cuneo, 38, operations chief, 2nd LAR, from Florahome, Fla. “They were very kind and thankful for our services.”

The service members here will continue their efforts engaging in operations in support of OIF. The cheerleaders have walked away from this with a new spin on life.

“I really appreciate everything they do,” said Jenkins. “I’ve never appreciated it as much until I came here to visit the service members.”

June 5, 2008

Task Force 2/7 dedicates camp after MoH recipient

CAMP BARBER, Afghanistan — The Marines now have a place to call their own.

http://www.marines.mil/units/marforpac/imef/1stmardiv/7thregiment/Pages/TaskForce27dedicatescampafterMoHrecipient.aspx

6/5/2008 By Cpl. Ray Lewis, 2nd Battalion (2/7)

On May 11, Task Force 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division dedicated its camp here as Camp Barber in honor of Col. William E. Barber, a Medal of Honor recipient who served with 2/7 during the Korean War.

Task Force Commander Lt. Col. Richard Hall and Sgt. Maj. Matthew B. Brookshire presided over the dedication ceremony, which reflected the pride and ownership Marines are traditionally proud of displaying.

“We’re proud of our heritage; we’re proud of being Marines,” said Brookshire, adding the camp was named after an outstanding and well-deserving Marine from the battalion’s heritage.

Col. Barber was a captain when he earned the Congressional Medal of Honor -- the nation’s highest military award for combat heroism. He led his company in a desperate five-day defense of a frozen mountain pass vital to the 1st Marine Division's breakout to the sea, according to his award citation.

He was wounded while fighting sub-zero temperatures against overwhelming odds. Yet, he reportedly refused evacuation and remained in command of his company.

His actions merited the Medal of Honor presented to him by President Harry S. Truman during a ceremony held at the White House on August 20, 1952. He passed away April 19, 2002.

In his honor, the Marines unveiled a marquee that dons the camp’s heroic name. It rests at the camp’s front entrance, which also features an American flag and a Marine Corps flag that are raised each morning at dawn and lowered at dusk.

“It’s one of those motivating things,” Brookshire said. “It adds the Marine flavor to the overall camp itself… we fly our flags high here as you can see.”

Lt. Gen. Samuel T. Helland, commander of Marine Corps Forces Central Command and commanding general of I Marine Expeditionary Force, was the ceremony’s guest speaker. Also in attendance were Maj. Gen. Thomas D. Waldhauser, commanding general, 1st MarDiv, and Sgts. Maj. Dennis W. Reed, MARCENT/I MEF, and Randall Carter, 1st MarDiv, who traveled to Afghanistan with the MARCENT commander.

The MARCENT commander highlighted the ceremony when he combat meritoriously promoted Cpl. Peter R. Villanueva of Weapons Company, and Lance Cpls. Jason L. Claunch and James D. Doherty, both of Company F, to their current ranks.

“I felt honored because here’s a general taking his time to promote a lance corporal,” said Lance Cpl. James D. Doherty of Company F, who was also pinned by the general. “I was kind of nervous because it’s a three-star general. I didn’t want to trip over my feet or anything. It’d be embarrassing. I just wanted to be my best.”

Doherty said he was motivated by the promotion, and plans to pick up his next rank much faster.

“I wasn’t supposed to pick up lance corporal until August, so this gives me a lot more motivation to pick up corporal meritoriously,” he said. “To get promoted here shows we’re making footsteps. The dedication means the Marine Corps is breaking new ground all over the world.”

Another Marine was completely surprised to hear that he would be getting promoted by the general as well.

“It was pretty outrageous. I found out maybe two hours before formation,’” said Lance Cpl. Jason L. Claunch of Company F.

Claunch said he now has a new found confidence and also the drive to pick up corporal by January.

“You can say that it motivated me. It kind of brought out the sense of pride that comes with being a Marine,” Claunch said.

The final Marine to be promoted on this momentous occasion was Cpl. Peter R. Villanueva of Weapons Company. As he and the other two Marines stood proudly in front of Lt. Gen. Helland, it was evident that their promotions played a significant role in the dedication ceremony itself.

“It’s something big for a Marine to be promoted on a camp just prior to its dedication ceremony,” said Headquarters and Service Company 1st Sgt. James A. Colon, who acknowledged other Marines promoted here on May 1 before the camp’s official dedication.

“I want it to be known that they, too, are a part of the Marine Corps’ history,” Colon said. “How often can you say that you were one of the first Marines promoted at Camp Barber?”

The first Marines to be promoted to their current ranks here were Lance Cpls. German A. Hoyos and Mark W. Richardson, Cpl. Brandon W. Dion, and Sgts. Victor M. Perez, Donald O. Critchlow and Mackenzie P. Thompson.

Master Gunnery Sgt. John D. Sterling, TF 2/7’s operations chief said seeing the dedication and promotions brought his 27-year Marine Corps career full circle.

“It feels like the last part of a long ‘Ooh-rah’ for me,” Sterling said. “To be here for this dedication and then be there to see these Marines get promoted… it felt pretty good actually.”

Sterling said he also approached Hoyos immediately after the promotion to see how the newly-promoted lance corporal felt about being the “first” Marine promoted here.

“I said, ‘Do you know that you’re the first person promoted on Camp Barber?’” Sterling asked the Marine. “… he just gave me that good old Marine Corps smile.”

Task Force 2/7 is the Marine Corps’ first battalion-sized unit to be assigned the mission of training, mentoring and advising the Afghanistan National Police in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

June 4, 2008

USS Essex Group/ 31st MEU Returning to Previously Scheduled Operations

CAMP H.M. SMITH, Hawaii (NNS) -- The USS Essex group has been positioned off the coast
of Burma since May 13, ready and able to deliver urgently needed humanitarian assistance to the victims of Cyclone Nargis, but Burma's ruling military junta has repeatedly rebuffed our offers to help.

http://www.news.navy.mil/search/display.asp?story_id=37619

Story Number: NNS080604-06
Release Date: 6/4/2008 12:16:00 PM
From Commander, U.S. Pacific Command Public Affairs

Therefore, the commander of U.S. Pacific Command, Adm. Timothy J. Keating, recommended to the U.S. Secretary of Defense that the USS Essex group and U.S. Marine Corps 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) should continue with their previously scheduled operational commitments June 5. The Secretary of Defense approved this recommendation.

"Over the past three weeks we have made at least 15 attempts to convince the Burmese government to allow our ships, helicopters, and landing craft to provide additional disaster relief for the people of Burma, but they have refused us each and every time. It is time for the USS Essex group to move on to its next mission. However, we will leave several heavy lift aircraft in place in Thailand so as to continue to support international community efforts to deliver aid," Keating said.

The Essex ships will now head to the coast of Thailand to backload their remaining helicopters and personnel on June 11.

"However", said Keating, "should the Burmese rulers have a change of heart and request our full assistance for their suffering people we are prepared to help."

The United States government quickly responded after Nargis hit Burma on May 2. Since then, USAID and the Department of Defense, working closely with ASEAN, the United Nations and other non-governmental organizations, have completed a total of 106 airlifts carrying more than 2 million pounds of emergency relief supplies, benefiting at least 417,000 people.

Admiral Keating flew to Rangoon, Burma, on the first U.S. military relief flight May 12, along with Director of U.S. Foreign Assistance and USAID Administrator Henrietta Fore. While there, Keating hand-delivered a letter to Burma's leaders offering additional humanitarian assistance with heavy lift helicopters and landing craft capable of reaching areas inaccessible by road, as well as water-making and purification capability and medical assistance.

He also extended an offer to the military junta to visit U.S. ships in international waters and to fly on U.S. military relief flights in an effort to help ease any concerns they might have regarding U.S. humanitarian assistance and intentions.

But to date, the forces and assets of Joint Task Force Caring Response, including the four-ship Essex Group, 22 medium and heavy lift helicopters, four landing craft and more than 5,000 U.S. military personnel remain idle as the military junta in Burma ignores diplomatic offers of expanded humanitarian assistance to its people.

"I am both saddened and frustrated to know that we have been in a position to help ease the suffering of hundreds of thousands of people and help mitigate further loss of life, but have been unable to do so because of the unrelenting position of the Burma military junta," Keating said.

Admiral: U.S. ships off cyclone-stricken Myanmar will leave the area

HONOLULU — The top U.S. military commander in the Pacific said Tuesday that Navy ships off cyclone-stricken Myanmar will soon leave the area.

http://canadianpress.google.com/article/ALeqM5gDmB7etJpOS2XjvkNqogo0GU71sQ

5 days ago

The USS Essex and accompanying ships will leave Thursday, local time, for the coast of Thailand to load helicopters and personnel next week, Adm. Timothy Keating said in a news release.

He said the vessels would return if Myanmar's leaders change their minds and request "our full assistance."

Keating made the ships, which were in the region for international exercises, available to help with relief efforts for last month's cyclone. But Myanmar refused to allow more than limited U.S. military aid flights in the country.

Keating says the U.S. made at least 15 attempts to convince Myanmar's leaders to allow ships, helicopters and landing craft to provide additional disaster relief.

"I am both saddened and frustrated to know that we have been in a position to help ease the suffering of hundreds of thousands of people and help mitigate further loss of life, but have been unable to do so because of the unrelenting position of the Burma military junta," Keating said. Myanmar is also known as Burma.

Several aircraft will remain in Thailand to support aid efforts, the admiral said.

The Essex expeditionary strike group includes four ships, 22 medium and heavy lift helicopters, four landing craft, and more than 5,000 U.S. military personnel.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Saturday that Myanmar's obstruction of international efforts to help cyclone victims cost "tens of thousands of lives."

He said Myanmar's rulers "have kept their hands in their pockets" while other countries sought to help cyclone victims.

June 3, 2008

Deployed Marine holds onto ‘Big League’ dream

AT-TAQADDUM, Iraq — Chasing a lifelong dream for a career in professional baseball … It’s a story as distinctly American as apple pie.

http://www.marines.mil/units/marforpac/imef/1stmlg/Pages/DeployedMarineholdsonto%E2%80%98BigLeague%E2%80%99dream.aspx

6/3/2008 By Cpl. Ben Eberle, 1st Marine Logistics Group

Now add a dramatic twist: the pitching prospect is a U.S. Marine deployed to Iraq. He has his ball, glove and an intense desire to overcome a past elbow injury. Peers are cheering him on, pushing him to new levels in the gym and putting themselves on the receiving end of increasingly faster pitches.

The desert has become his sandlot.

"In a lot of ways, I’ve always rooted for the underdog,” said Lance Cpl. Scott “Ski” Halisky, a 30-year-old from Clearwater, Fla. The 6-foot-3-inch, 235-pound Marine started to smile. “Given my age and former injury, I would think I’m an underdog.”

Halisky is a mortuary affairs specialist with Personnel Retrieval and Processing Detachment, Headquarters and Service Company, 1st Marine Logistics Group. His unit returns American, Iraqi and Coalition personnel killed in action to their families, sometimes entering the kill zone to provide the “angels” a dignified transfer home.

Fortunately, they’re not as busy as past deployments. Iraq is more stable than it’s been since the start of the war, with May 2008 seeing fewer fatalities than any month since February 2004, according to an Associated Press count based on military figures.

Halisky said the mission will always come first at the PRP Detachment, but fewer casualties means more spare time, and he’s able to spend a substantial amount of it throwing pitches, hitting the gym and running sprints. He also takes time to think about his future.

“It’s easy to take things for granted back in the states … Being out here I get a lot of quiet time to myself, do a lot of thinking, and (I ask myself) what do I really want to do?

“Every spring comes around with different memories of playing ball, and me not being able to get those memories out of my mind … It recently started hitting me that (pursuing this career) is where I need to be,” said Halisky. “I just enjoy being out there (on the field). There’s something about running around on the green grass.”

He caught a glimpse of the green grass and a professional baseball career a little more than eight years ago. He was pitching for the Front Royal Cardinals, a collegiate-level team in Virginia, when a scout watched him strikeout six batters in two innings of play. He signed with the Baltimore Orioles’ rookie team four days later.

Halisky was consistently throwing 92 mph, with his fastball topping out at 96, but “twinges of pain” in his right elbow were becoming noticeable. The coach watched the radar gun drop to 86 mph and asked what was wrong. Halisky started physical rehabilitation immediately and attempted to return to the bullpen two weeks later, but the injury persisted.

He pitched a total of three games with the Gulf Coast Orioles before submitting to the injury and leaving the team to finish his senior year of college.

“Yeah, I was bitter about it, I thought long and hard about it, and I made the decision to move on … It wasn’t a good time to pursue baseball,” Halisky said. “I had to get on with my life, get a job, start paying school loans.”

He entered the work force, taking jobs in insurance sales and eventually becoming a carpenter. He took the position of dorm supervisor at Randolph-Macon Academy, a military school in Front Royal, Va., before enlisting in the Marine Corps Reserve but was never able to shake the dream to play baseball.

When Halisky deployed to Iraq in January he was thousands of miles from a professional ballpark, but that did nothing to ease his “spring fever.” He decided to do something about it. One of his fellow Marines decided to help.

“I am his catching partner and aspiring agent, so anybody who wants to make an offer has to go through me,” said Cpl. Robert Rens, also a mortuary affairs Marine with PRP Detachment. He’s just one of the Marines in PRP Detachment who are supporting Ski’s efforts, but he’s the only one brave enough to catch for him.

Halisky was always known for his fastball, but lately he’s been concentrating on off-speed pitches. Rens played baseball competitively in high school, and said he’s surprised by the repertoire of pitches rolling off Ski’s fingers.

“Watching the balls he can throw is amazing,” Rens said. “Watching the tails and the breaks and the spin, from a technical standpoint he’s just a phenomenal baseball player.”

Rens has been earning the position of “aspiring agent” the hard way, selflessly stopping Ski’s increasingly faster pitches with the only other glove the detachment has.

“It’s actually a first baseman’s mitt,” said Halisky, starting to laugh, “for softball.”

“There’s really nothing to stop the sting from all his pitches,” said Rens, 23, from Kennesaw, Ga. “We need to get something else out here if we want to stay competitive with the field and not break my hand in the process.”

Halisky said new equipment is on its way, but he appears to enjoy the temporary loss of feeling in his catching partner’s hand, at least a little. “He’s a tough kid, he can handle it.”

Toughness is also something Halisky looks for when picking his heroes. Nolan Ryan, arguably one of baseball’s most resilient figures, pitched until he was 46.

“He was my idol growing up,” Halisky said. “I read all his books, tailored my work ethic off of his, everything he did I tried to emulate.”

At 30 years old, Ryan still had 16 years and a few thousand strikeouts left in his right arm.

“I’ve been away from the sport for so long, and some might say that hinders me in the long run, but I don’t see it that way. That’s eight years I haven’t been throwing and abusing my arm,” Halisky said.

“Being out here allows me to gradually get back into it … and I know exactly what it takes to get back to that top-notch level.”

U.S. Reports Gains Against Taliban Fighters

KABUL, Afghanistan — Taliban forces in southern Afghanistan are fleeing to the Pakistani border after being routed in recent operations by the United States Marines, the American commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan said on Monday.

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/03/world/asia/03afghan.html?_r=2&ref=asia&oref=slogin&oref=slogin

By CARLOTTA GALL
Published: June 3, 2008

Routing the Taliban Marines of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit have been clearing Taliban and foreign fighters from the district of Garmser, in southern Helmand Province, an important infiltration and drug trafficking route used by the Taliban to supply insurgents farther north.

“The insurgents, after experiencing these several weeks of pressure below Garmser, are trying to flee to the south, perhaps to go back to the sanctuaries in another country,” said the NATO commander, Gen. Dan K. McNeill.

He did not name Pakistan, but Helmand Province shares a border with Pakistan, and the Taliban and drug traffickers have long used refugee camps across the border as a sanctuary from American firepower.

The governor of the province, Muhammad Gulab Mangal, also spoke of the rout of the Taliban.

“For the last two days we have information that Taliban are escaping to the border areas,” he said.

The insurgents, including numbers of foreign fighters, were said to be fleeing to Girdi Jungle, an Afghan refugee camp in Pakistan, and the border town of Baramcha, as well as the southernmost towns of Dishu and Khaneshin, which sit on the edge of the desert and offer quick access to the border.

Governor Mangal said hundreds of foreign fighters had joined the Taliban in their fight against marines in Garmser in recent weeks.

But he said they had suffered heavy losses.

Nineteen bodies of foreign fighters were found in one location, he said.

General McNeill, who hands over command of NATO forces in Afghanistan this week after 16 months in the post, said that if the Taliban and foreign insurgents continued to enjoy free sanctuary outside Afghanistan, their numbers would continue to grow.

He also seemed to warn Pakistan to contain the threat emanating from its land.

“If there are insurgencies in places that are not in Afghanistan, but very close by, and security forces are not taking them on, I don’t think that bodes well for the whole region,” General McNeill said.

Despite the rout of Taliban forces, the general warned that they were not the only problem in Helmand Province and that the enormous opium crop and the powerful drug business posed a comparable threat to Afghanistan’s stability.

June 1, 2008

U.S. offensive in Helmand taking pressure off the Canadians in Kandahar

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - U.S. marines clawed their way south along the Helmand River valley over the weekend in an ongoing push that the commander of the battle-hardened assault force hopes is easing the pressure on the Canadians in neighbouring Kandahar.

http://ca.news.yahoo.com/s/capress/080601/world/afghan_cda_marines_2

Sun Jun 1, 12:26 PM
By Murray Brewster, The Canadian Press

The level of fighting "has stayed fairly consistent" since they began arriving in southern Afghanistan earlier this spring, but "the last three days have probably been the most intense as we move further south," said Col. Pete Petronzio, who leads the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit.

"My marines are doing a great job."

The buoyant tone is also reflected in British ranks where a senior commander declared Sunday that the Taliban were on the run and "licking their wounds" in Helmand province, long a cauldron of militant activity.

Brig.-Gen. Gordon Messenger told the British media that insurgents had been tactically routed and intelligence estimates suggested they were now retrenching in Farah province, on the northwest border of Helmand.

Canadian commanders were also cautiously optimistic with a report Saturday of the death of a mid-level Taliban group commander - Mullah Tohr Agha - in a combined Canadian-Afghan operation in the troublesome Zhari district last week.

Petronzio also cautioned that his 2,200 troops were still very much in the thick of the fight and the area around Gamsir, where marines have been operating, was still being "cleared" of militants, who have engaged U.S. troops in a series of vicious firefights and laced the area with booby traps and roadside bombs.

He dismissed reports from aid agencies that claimed thousands of people had been displaced by the fighting, saying the marines had noticed some families fleeing north after being driven from their homes by insurgents.

The concentration of force in the winding river valley - a major supply and infiltration route from Pakistan - has given the Canadians the freedom to focus on the most volatile Taliban hotbeds in Kandahar, namely the Zhari and Panjwaii districts west of the provincial capital.

It has also eased pressure on the British further up river, where almost 8,000 troops have fought repeated bloody campaigns over two summers to stamp out militants, particularly around the strategically important Kajaki dam, a semi-active hydro-electric facility.

Petronzio described the marine action as "attempting to put a stopper in the bottle as far south as we can."

It is a messy, dangerous job because Garmsir, where the British were under almost constant fire before the marines arrived, is "an incredibly tough place to be."

Although fighting season is still young, the violence in Kandahar province has appeared lighter than previous years.

"I hope that is a direct positive effect" of the marine presence, Petronzio added. "And I hope with time we will see more direct, larger regional effect than just localized ones in Garmsir."

The 47-year-old marine colonel, who served in Iraq and Kosovo, was effusive in his praise for Canadian troops and was eager to dispel the notion that his unit was there to save to the day for NATO.

"I really strongly believe that we didn't come to anyone's rescue," he told Canadian reporters in a wide-ranging and candid interview.

"We're a bunch of guys that came here to do a job. And as professionals in the profession of arms we are no different than the Canadians, than the Brits, than the Dutch. We just came to help."

The Canadians, he said, were the ones doing the rescuing early in April when a marine convoy struck a huge roadside bomb near Forward Operating Base Wilson in the Zhari district.

Two marines 1st Sgt. Luke Mercardante, 35, and Cpl. Kyle Wilks, 24, were killed and two seriously wounded in the April 15 incident, where Canadian troops rushed to provide assistance and care for the casualties - something Canadian commanders have never discussed.

The marine deployment is scheduled to last seven months in total and Petronzio wouldn't speculate on whether it would be extended.

He said their mission is classic counter-insurgency, which he described as clear, hold and build.

But Petronzio conceded the marines are best suited for the two phases.

"We may not be uniquely suited to the build," he said.

"So there will probably have to be someone who does that for a living, you know, to kind'a come in behind us."

Fighting the 'forgotten war'

KANDAHAR, AFGHANISTAN — The highest-ranking U.S. Marine in Afghanistan is worried he's losing the battle when it comes to getting Americans interested in the war.

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20080601.wafghan0501/BNStory/Afghanistan/?page=rss&id=RTGAM.20080601.wafghan0501

KATHERINE O'NEILL
From Monday's Globe and Mail

June 1, 2008 at 7:53 PM EDT

“I get concerned some days that, as Americans, we are a military at war, not a nation at war,” Colonel Pete Petronzio told Canadian reporters Sunday during a frank and wide-ranging interview at Kandahar Air Field.

“Afghanistan is not a story that's being told as much as it should be,” added the 47-year-old marine colonel, who leads the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit. Already dubbed the “forgotten war” by many Americans, the conflict has long been overshadowed by the U.S. military's on-going and much bloodier battle in Iraq.

The commanding officer said that it doesn't help that U.S. residents are currently more captivated by stories about the presidential campaign and rising gas prices.

Col. Petronzio said that over the weekend, marines were engaged in the heaviest fighting since they arrived in Afghanistan in March. About 2,400 troops are currently in Afghanistan, with the majority stationed in Helmand province, an area along the Pakistani border that remains held by Taliban militants. The province, located in southern Afghanistan, neighbours Kandahar province, where Canadian soldiers are deployed.

Col. Petronzio hopes the marines' efforts have reduced insurgent activity in Kandahar this spring.

“A bunch of Taliban guys used to live where we are right now and they don't live there any more. And as far as we are concerned, they aren't coming back. It's a small gain, but it's a gain,” said the colonel, who sports a trademark marine crew cut. The British military is also stationed in Helmand.

Earlier this year, Canada, which has roughly 2,500 troops in Afghanistan, asked countries belonging to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which oversees the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, to add more troops as a condition to extending its own mission to 2011.

Col. Petronzio rebuffed a reporter's suggestion that the marines had entered Afghanistan to rescue Canada and other NATO nations' efforts in the war-ravaged Muslim nation.

“Absolutely not, have we come to somebody's rescue,” he said. “We're a bunch of guys that came here to do a job. And as professionals in the profession of arms we are no different than the Canadians, than the Brits, than the Dutch.”

He said that during the Marines first main outing earlier this spring, the Canadians actually came to their rescue by providing assistance after a large convoy hit an improvised explosive device near a Canadian forward operating base in the turbulent Zhari district. Two marines died and two others were seriously wounded in the April 15 attack.

Col. Petronzio said that when it comes to the counterinsurgency, the marines face the same challenges, such as improvised explosive devices and suicide bombers, as Canadians and other NATO countries. He said storied military unit is “attempting to put a stopper in the bottle as far south as we can.”

He said the overarching strategy is to “clear, hold and build” the area where the marines are deployed, but added his soldiers “may not be uniquely suited to the final “build” phase.

“So there will probably have to be someone who does that for a living, you know, to kind of come in behind us,” he explained.

The marines' tour is scheduled for seven months.

Col. Petronzio wouldn't speculate on whether it would be extended, although he added much more work still needs to be done in the province.

Peleliu Expeditionary Strike Group Rescues Six Mariners from Sinking Vessel

STRAIT OF BALABAC, Philippines (NNS) -- Six local mariners from the Philippines were rescued from a sinking vessel May 30 by U.S. Navy personnel as ships from the Peleliu Expeditionary Strike Group (PELESG) transited the Strait of Balabac.

http://www.navy.mil/search/display.asp?story_id=37542

Story Number: NNS080601-01
Release Date: 6/1/2008 7:14:00 AM

By Chief Mass Communication Specialist (SW/AW) Donnie W. Ryan, Peleliu Expeditionary Strike Group Public Affairs

During the transit, Seaman Jonathan D. Dirst, a lookout on board USS Pearl Harbor (LSD 52), reported a small semi-submerged vessel off the starboard beam. Pearl Harbor then notified other ships in the Peleliu Expeditionary Strike Group. Initial reports indicated one person in the boat waving clothing with several additional people in the water surrounding the vessel.

The nearby USS Dubuque (LPD 8) launched a rigid hull inflatable boat (RHIB) under the direction of Ensign Thomas Knapp and Boatswain's Mate 3rd Class Chad Nevis, with a search and rescue swimmer and a local dialect translator on board. Five people were recovered immediately, followed by a sixth individual who was located in the water a short time later.

All six individuals were taken aboard Dubuque following the rescue and were given water, food and a change of clothing. The mariners were in good condition with no reported injuries and were later transported to Balabac Island.

It's believed the vessel originated from Lumbucan Island and was enroute to nearby Balabac Island before it began taking on water and capsized.

Lt. j.g. David Rubin was the battle watch captain in Peleliu's Joint Operations Center during the rescue.

"It was exciting to apply our training to a real world scenario. The collaboration that took place was excellent," Rubin said. "I think we all take pride in knowing that we assisted those in need and left a good name for the U. S. Navy."

"Today's event demonstrates that the Peleliu Strike Group has the flexibility under the U.S. Maritime Strategy to respond to whatever need or emergency arises," said Capt. Jon Padfield, Commander, Amphibious Squadron (COMPHIBRON) 3. "It also shows the commitment that our Sailors and Marines have for being compassionate world neighbors."

The PELESG is led by COMPHIBRON 3 and includes the flag ship, USS Peleliu (LHA 5), amphibious ships Dubuque and Pearl Harbor, the guided-missile cruiser USS Cape St. George (CG 71) and the guided-missile destroyers USS Halsey (DDG 97) and USS Benfold (DDG 65).


US aid ships could soon leave Myanmar coast

SINGAPORE Defense Secretary Robert Gates says he'll decide within "a matter of days" to withdraw U.S. Navy ships from the coast of Myanmar, because "it's becoming pretty clear the regime is not going to let us help."

http://www.tri-cityherald.com/1182/story/199690.html

Sunday, Jun. 01, 2008
The Associated Press

As a result, he said many more storm victims will die, particularly those in areas that can only be reached by helicopters, such as those sitting idle on the U.S. ships.

Asked if the military junta there is guilty of genocide, Gates said, "I tend to see genocide more as a purposeful elimination of people, this is more akin, in my view, to criminal neglect."

Speaking to reporters at the close of an international security conference in Singapore, Gates said the Myanmar representative at the forum did not seem interested in speaking with him.

Supply runs the show

RAMADI, Iraq (1 June 2008) - Warehouse clerks with Headquarters and Service Company, 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, Regimental Combat Team 5, support the scouts and crewman of the battalion with the supplies and equipment they need to stay in the fight.
“Without supply, there wouldn’t be any operations,” said Lance Cpl. Joseph M. McDonough, a warehouse clerk with H&S Company. “We are the logistic backbone of every company in the battalion.”

http://www.mnfwest.usmc.mil/MNF/mnfw_IM.nsf/(ArticlesRead)/10C09966BD84A8824325745D00433558

by Cpl. Ryan Tomlinson

RAMADI, Iraq (1 June 2008) - Warehouse clerks with Headquarters and Service Company, 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, Regimental Combat Team 5, support the scouts and crewman of the battalion with the supplies and equipment they need to stay in the fight.
“Without supply, there wouldn’t be any operations,” said Lance Cpl. Joseph M. McDonough, a warehouse clerk with H&S Company. “We are the logistic backbone of every company in the battalion.”

Working out in a large yard here they call the “warehouse,” the two supply Marines receive orders in and out every day from Marines and other residents aboard the base. They also receive new shipments to be unloaded, sorted and distributed to every requesting unit.
“The job is very strenuous because every day I have to fit a large workload in to accomplish the mission,” said McDonough, 25, from Staten Island, N.Y. “I have to stay at the top of my game because there is only (me and two other Marines) working this warehouse.”

McDonough and Lance Cpl. Eric M. Gilbert are lead by Staff Sgt. Michael L. Hastings, supply warehouse chief of 2nd LAR. Each day is full of hard work and deliveries for these Marines, but they depend upon each other for support.

“I’m very proud of my boys for the work they are doing to supply the battalion,” said Hastings, 31, from Fort City, Ark. “I know that I could always depend on them to get the job done.”
“I enjoy the people I work with because we all have different personalities,” said Gilbert, 21, from Lebanon, Ohio. “We work together as a team and it’s a great feeling when everything is done.”
The long days with continuous responsibilities are worth it for these Marine as they know they are giving Marines everything they need to accomplish the mission.

“Knowing that I could make the biggest impact, that everything I do is vital is the best part about my job,” said McDonough. “The littlest thing could make the largest impact.”