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January 31, 2009

Marines build new outposts in Afghanistan

Staff report
Posted : Saturday Jan 31, 2009 9:50:39 EST

Marines in Afghanistan’s Farah province have built three new combat outposts along a 27-mile stretch of Route 515, according to a Marine news release.

To continue reading:

http://marinecorpstimes.com/news/2009/01/marine_afghan_outposts_013109w/

January 30, 2009

Iraq veteran Joshua Hoffman ready for move to home built by volunteers aided by Homes For Our Troops

MIDDLEVILLE -- Heather Lovell suspected it all along, but now she is certain: People do care.

http://www.mlive.com/news/grand-rapids/index.ssf/2009/01/wounded_iraq_veteran_joshua_ho.html

by Ted Roelofs | The Grand Rapids Press
Friday January 30, 2009, 5:45 AM

"It's unbelievable. There's no way to express it in words," said Lovell, 22.

She and her fiance, former Marine Cpl. Joshua Hoffman, will move Saturday into a donated house near Middleville, built with the labor and love of hundreds of West Michigan volunteers.

Given his sacrifice, they figure it is the least they can do.

"I don't think we could ever do enough for Josh," said Caledonia resident Bill White, 62, at the house Wednesday to put finishing touches on the project.

"His sacrifice will never end."

Hoffman, 26, was paralyzed from the chest down when he was hit by a sniper's bullet in Iraq in January 2007. A bullet pierced his neck and exited his shoulder blade, shattering his upper spine as it went through. He spent more than a year in a Virginia Veterans Administration hospital before coming home in March 2008.

The one-story house includes everything from an elevator to a wheelchair-accessible shower, all to accommodate Hoffman's extensive medical needs.

It has polished wood floors to ease wheelchair movement and lights that turn on and off automatically when he enters or leaves a room. A motorized ceiling track lift system will aid him getting in and out of bed and into the shower.

An oxygen distribution system in the basement can pipe oxygen into several rooms, vital for treating his frequent lung infections. A backup generator assures the home will have electricity, even if the power grid fails.

'Modern-day heroes'

The house was built with primary financial help from Homes For Our Troops, a Massachusetts-based nonprofit organization dedicated to building houses for wounded and disabled veterans. It has built more than three dozen homes around the country.

"Men and women like Josh are modern-day heroes," said Brian Reed, project manager of Homes for Our Troops.

"Josh is definitely one of the most severe we have had to deal with. But he is a great kid. He has a great disposition. In my heart, I have a lot of hope for Josh and his fiancee."

Caledonia building contractor Bill Bravata, 56, acted as general contractor for the 2,200-square-foot house. And like everyone involved, he donated his time.

He lost track of how many hours.

"It's just a labor of love and respect and giving back," Bravata said.

"When God, the spirit, the power of the universe wants something, it's going to get done if you just don't get in the way. There has just been a tremendous outpouring of support."

Caledonia resident Chet Teater, a 62-year-old Vietnam War veteran, estimated more than 700 people pitched in one way or another.

He is proud to be one.

"Josh has paid a heavy price to serve our country. He has an attitude, a zest for life that is hard to match, given his condition."

Teater and others helped raise $80,000 for the project, with money coming from individuals, several area schools and $20,000 from the Marshall Community Foundation. The suburban Detroit family of Sgt. Peter Neesley, who died in Iraq in 2007, donated $626, the total of their son's last tax return.

The funds are to pay for finishing the basement and the cost of the oxygen distribution system, with a portion reserved for paying utilities and insurance on the home.

Lovell estimated Hoffman has been hospitalized 10 times since he came home to West Michigan, most often because of infection related to his paralysis. It is the No. 1 cause of death for patients paralyzed from the waist down.

But Hoffman has managed to avoid the hospital for several months and Lovell is optimistic he will thrive in their new home.

Compared to their Kentwood apartment, it is a dream.

"Josh, he is ecstatic. It's going to be such a relief to get out of our apartment with room to breathe, so he can feel more independent," Lovell said.

"That's very important to him."

3/7 Marine receives Bronze Star, moves on to future

Sgt. Wayne Dekorte, a platoon sergeant with Headquarters and Service Company, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, recently left the Marine Corps after his enlistment came to an end. Part of his enlistment was receiving a Bronze Star medal for his accomplishments overseas.

http://hidesertstar.com/articles/2009/01/31/observation_post/news/news04.txt
Please click on above link for photo.

Published: Friday, January 30, 2009
Lance Cpl. M. C. Nerl
Combat Correspondent

Dekorte received the award during a ceremony Jan. 23 at the Combat Center’s Lance Cpl. Torrey L. Gray Field.

Col. Randall P. Newman, the commanding officer of 7th Marine Regiment, presented Dekorte with the award for his leadership of a Police Transition Team while deployed to Iraq.

Dekorte, who comes from Redmond, Ore., gave his thanks for his achievements not to his own actions, but to God and his fellow Marines.

“I want to thank Jesus Christ for keeping us alive while we were over there,” said Dekorte. “He protected us the entire time we were overseas. It’s a great thing for anybody to go on a deployment and not lose a single Marine the entire time.

“As for what I did, I was just doing my job the best way I knew how to. I did hold the billet normally reserved for a lieutenant, but my command gave me the job, feeling I was qualified. I, thanks to all the Marines and the corpsman I worked with, was able to accomplish the mission.

“All that I did was what I think my battalion commander would have done in my situation,” he said. “My Marines are the ones who did all the hard work, and I owe this to them.

The regimental commanding officer praised Dekorte for his efforts and accomplishments.

“Sgt. Dekorte is what success is,” said Newman, a Economy, Ind., native. “He is what it is like to see NCOs [non-commissioned officers] acting above and beyond their call of duty.”

Newman elaborated on how Dekorte’s success working with Iraqi police contributed to giving the Marine Corps its professional image.

“Marines like Sgt. Dekorte will help us win anywhere,” he said. “He recognized what needed to be done and he did it. He made the country of Iraq a better place after he left by the work he had done. Also, it is a privilege for all of us to serve beside Marines like him and we should all exemplify your service. He goes to show why every day is an opportunity for us to make the best of.

“There is no greater respect I would have for someone in this spot than for Sgt. Dekorte,” he said. “He may be getting out and going down a different road, but he has done a great job as a war fighter in our Corps.”

Cpl. David Alm, a rifleman with H&S Co., 3/7, said he knows Dekorte well, and spoke highly of his friend and fellow Marine.

“He’s a very religious guy. He cares tremendously for everyone he works with and for,” said the Chicago native, who served with Dekorte in Iraq. “Being the senior Marine in charge of a Ramadi police station, he really was able to improve the Iraqi people’s security by training their police along with helping to improve their standard of living. I know he put forth his best efforts at all times and really did care about everyone around him.”

Dekorte has decided to leave the Marine Corps and will return to Oregon to continue his education at Central Oregon Community College.

His fellow Marines and sailors in 3/7 are currently deployed to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

January 29, 2009

31st MEU Kicks-Off Spring Patrol

USS ESSEX, At sea (January 29, 2009)--The 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit commenced their annual Spring Patrol of the Asia Pacific region Jan. 28.

http://www.marines.mil/units/marforpac/iiimef/31stmeu/Pages/31stMEUKicks-OffSpringPatrol.aspx

1/29/2009
31st MEU Captain Jorge Escatell
31st Marine Expeditionary Unit Public Affairs Office
UNIT 35621
FPO AP 96606-5621
808-653-5854 ext 7048

The MEU embark team successfully planned and coordinated the loading of more than 2,000 personnel, 500 pieces of cargo, 200 military vehicles and aircraft onboard all three ships of the Essex Amphibious Ready Group.

The arduous embarkation process required more than 490 man-hours to complete and resulted in the safe on load of all of the Marine Air Ground Task Force’s (MAGTF) members and equipment.

Next, the MEU will conduct integration training at sea in preparation for Cobra Gold in Thailand, their first major exercise of the Spring Patrol. The MEU will have an opportunity to train in a series of bilateral events with the Royal Thailand Armed Forces that will enhance the military capabilities for both countries and strengthen their relationship.

Media interested in covering or receiving information on the 31st MEU may contact Captain Jorge Escatell.

Stimulus offers tax credit for hiring vets

By Rick Maze - Staff writer
Posted : Thursday Jan 29, 2009 11:31:12 EST

Economic recovery legislation passed by Congress is likely to include a tax incentive for employers to hire newly discharged service members who are having problems finding work.

To continue reading:

http://www.marinecorpstimes.com/news/2009/01/military_hireveteran_taxcredit_012809w/

A horse, a hearse and a sense of duty

Lorraine Melgosa of Manzanola, Colo., volunteers her 19th century horse-drawn carriage for funerals of troops killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. She says it's the least she can do.

Reporting from Scottsbluff, Neb. -- Lorraine Melgosa hasn't developed the thick skin of someone who works with the bereaved. She almost always cries at funerals.

http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-na-funeral-carriage29-2009jan29,0,7630991.story?page=1
Please click above link for photo.

By Nicholas Riccardi
January 29, 2009

On a crisp morning in this northwestern Nebraska town, her tears began when pallbearers slid the flag-draped coffin of Marine Cpl. Adrian Robles into Melgosa's 19th century horse-drawn hearse.

She helped Robles' parents into the seat at the front of the carriage and stepped to the head of the mare harnessed to it. Taking the horse's reins, Melgosa urged her forward and into the graveyard. Mourners walked slowly behind in a parade of black, lending a timeless dignity to an already solemn affair, the funeral procession of a 21-year-old Marine.

Melgosa has brought that quality to at least 20 military funerals across three states. Her black wooden horse-drawn carriage, with glass siding to display the coffin, offers a fitting tribute to fallen troops, said one officer who has worked with Melgosa.

"Presidents who have passed away have been taken to cemeteries in horse-drawn carriages," said Navy Chief Petty Officer Kip Poggemeyer. "It's the way all military funerals should be. If I were ever to be killed in combat, that's what I'd want."


Melgosa sees it as her duty to honor those who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"Whatever gift you can give to these soldiers and their families, you should give," Melgosa said. "It's the least you can do to try to honor them."

Solemn and subdued at burials, Melgosa, 44, is otherwise chatty and exuberant, with short dark hair and piercing blue eyes.

Born in Denver, she moved with her family to the hamlet of Manzanola, Colo., when she was a child. She still lives in the town (population 525), and is an outspoken advocate of the benefits of rural life.

"I'm never bored; there's plenty of excitement in my life," she said in a strong, booming voice. "A cow gets out or a hog and I chase them."

Melgosa inadvertently entered the funeral business in 1991, when her father died two months after being diagnosed with cancer. She and her siblings wanted to celebrate his life with something special and hit upon the idea of using a horse-drawn hearse to carry his body to the cemetery. But they couldn't find one.

After her father's funeral, Melgosa and one of her brothers tracked down an $8,400 wooden funeral coach, made in 1867, at an antiques auction in Pennsylvania. They bought a draft horse and a trailer to haul the horse and carriage and decided to go into business.

But there was scant interest, and Melgosa's brother quickly gave up. Melgosa kept going.

She's never made a profit. Though she has participated in more than 600 funerals and can charge $600 for a funeral in a location as far away as Denver, Melgosa often donates her services. She offers free funerals for children and law enforcement officers, as well as for members of the military. She pays her bills by running a local Verizon shop and selling antiques online.

She dabbled in weddings, but after battling "bridezillas," she is a funeral-only operation. "Weddings are too depressing," said Melgosa, whose marriage ended in divorce more than a decade ago.

Her first funeral for a soldier who died in Iraq or Afghanistan was in 2005. Army Staff Sgt. Justin Vasquez of Manzanola was killed by a roadside bomb in Baghdad, and Melgosa, who had watched Vasquez grow up, offered her services. More than 1,000 people -- twice the town's population -- turned out for the funeral.

Two weeks later, a Denver funeral home called and asked if Melgosa would transport the body of a Marine killed in Iraq. She agreed. After the burial, as she drove her hefty trailer out of the cemetery gate onto a traffic-choked street, drivers honked and cursed.

Melgosa was shaken. "I thought, 'This stranger died for me,' " she said. "I cried all the way home. I thought of all those people honking. After that, you have to do it."

She started scouring newspapers for reports of slain troops. Using contacts in the funeral industry and military, she tracked down their families and offered her services.

"When people die, you say [to their families], 'If I can do anything, just let me know,' " she said. "In general you can't do anything. But I can help."

Melgosa is a supporter of the Iraq war but mostly shies away from politics. "I'm a hick from Manzanola, and there are people in higher places that know better than me," she said. "If they say we have to go to war, we have to go to war."

Melgosa tries to keep her burials to locations within 350 miles of home. "I wish I could do them all, but I'm not independently wealthy," she said.

Sometimes she breaks her rule.

She trekked 450 miles to Roswell, N.M., for an Army sergeant who died pulling troops from burning Humvees in Iraq. She drove 380 miles to Bayard, Neb., to help bury Army Capt. Scott Shimp, 28, who died in a helicopter crash in Alabama shortly after returning from Iraq.

In October, Robles' death brought Melgosa back to the wind-swept farming towns of northwestern Nebraska. He was killed when his Humvee struck a roadside bomb in Afghanistan.


Robles, family members said, was a boisterous but methodical young man determined to join the military after listening to his grandfather's stories of fighting in World War II. On his 18th birthday, he came home from high school and announced he was enlisting. He reveled in helping others and had the words "Your Freedom, My Life, Without Complaint" tattooed on his left arm.

Melgosa knew none of this -- all she had was a name and hometown from the sketchy Marine Corps public announcement. She made contact with the corporal's casualty officer and offered her services.

On Halloween, she coaxed her horse, Lady, into the 15,000-pound trailer her son built to carry the animal and funeral rig; popped a Peter, Paul and Mary cassette into her tape deck; and drove north.

When Melgosa arrived in Bayard, the tiny Nebraska town where she would spend the night, she had plenty of people to visit. She is that sort of person. She dropped Lady off at a farm whose owner she knew, stopped in to see distant relatives and went to have hamburgers at the Shimp house, a rare opportunity to visit the family whose son she had helped bury.

The next morning, Melgosa rose before dawn to scrub Lady. It was just above freezing, but the weather could have been worse. In the past, Melgosa has had to don several layers of long underwear to get her through some winter burials.

The day warmed up by the time Melgosa met the funeral procession in Scottsbluff five hours later. She didn't hear the service, held at a church several miles away. Nor did she see the town's main street lined with about 1,000 people holding American flags distributed by the City Council. She waited at a parking lot about a quarter of a mile fromthe cemetery. She would take over the casket there.

The sun seeped through the high clouds as Melgosa tearfully helped Robles' parents onto the carriage. As she led the crowd into the graveyard, people quietly sang "God Bless America."

Once a casket is removed from her coach, Melgosa tries to stay out of the way -- her motto is "blend in, and don't be a nuisance." On this day, she stood far back from the burial site, holding Lady's reins tightly when the Marine honor guard fired a 21-gun salute. A bugler played taps.

As the crowd began to disperse, the Robleses stayed under the burial tent receiving well-wishers. They asked Melgosa to come over. Sobbing, Cesar and Yolanda Robles shook her hands and kept repeating the words "thank you."

Melgosa returned to Lady and stood silently. A couple of children shyly approached the horse.

"Go ahead," Melgosa told them. "You can touch her."

Soon a gathering had formed around the horse. Young parents held up their babies, who stared at Lady with awe. Melgosa lifted toddlers to stroke her neck. Children posed for photos as the sun burned through the clouds.

Melgosa took in the scene at the grave site, volunteers encircling the cemetery with American flags and excited children gathered around her horse.

"I'll remember this day for a long time," she said.

"How," she asked, "could you not do this?"

nicholas.riccardi@latimes.com

2 Lejeune NCOs killed in Afghanistan

Staff report
Posted : Thursday Jan 29, 2009 11:14:21 EST

Two North Carolina-based noncommissioned officers were killed Tuesday while supporting combat operations in Afghanistan, the Defense Department reported Wednesday.

To continue reading about Fallen Heroes, Sgt. Trevor J. Johnson and David W. Wallace III,, of the 2nd CEB:

http://marinecorpstimes.com/news/2009/01/marine_afghan_casualties_012809w/

Boy’s wrapped b-day present is dad back from Iraq

Gabriel Hurles' sixth birthday party wasn't a surprise but his present sure was.

http://www.lasvegassun.com/news/2009/jan/29/boys-wrapped-b-day-present-is-dad-back-from-iraq/

The Associated Press
Thu, Jan 29, 2009 (2:39 p.m.)

The kindergartner was so engrossed in the cupcakes his mother brought to his class on Wednesday that he didn't notice the enormous wrapped box off to the side.

"That's one big giant present," a 6-year-old classmate told him. "See what you got, Gabriel."

Gabriel peeled back the wrapping paper to find the surprise of his young life _ his father, an Army mechanic back in Nevada on leave from his second tour in Iraq.

"It's my dad!" he told his classmates at Sutro Elementary School in Dayton a few miles northeast of Carson City. "Hi daddy."

Army Spc. Casey Hurles, 23, hadn’t seen his son since he left in June. When he learned his leave would coincide with his son's birthday, he hatched the plan to hide out in the 4-foot tall box.

"It was such a rush of emotion," said Hurles, who said he got butterflies in his stomach while waiting in the box.

After Hurles sat down and ate a cupcake with the birthday boy, teacher Dawn VanSickle presented him with a banner from the class that read, "Welcome Home. Thank you for your service."

VanSickle said she was happy to arrange the reunion in her classroom.

"One of the first things (Gabriel) shared about himself was that his dad was in Iraq and that he was waiting for his dad to come home," she said. "He talks about his dad all the time."

Hurles, who joined the Army four years ago, is a mechanic in the 1st Cavalry Division stationed in Fort Hood, Texas. He completed one tour in Iraq and is seven months into his second tour. He expects to finish sometime between June and September.

Gabriel said he looks forward to playing with his dad over the next two weeks but understands why he has to leave again.

"He has to work," Gabriel said. "He works in the war."

Face of Defense: Country Music Star Earned Stripes in Iraq, Afghanistan

WASHINGTON, Jan. 29, 2009 – Stephen Cochran was a normal 19-year-old with a dream of making music his life when the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks led him down an unplanned path to the Marine Corps.

http://www.defenselink.mil/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=52861
Please click on above link for photo.

By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service

"I dropped out of college. I walked away from a record deal,” he said. “I was engaged.”
He didn’t discuss his decision with his parents, or even his then-fiancée, who broke the engagement when he announced he’d enlisted. “It was really the first grown-up decision I’d ever made,” Cochran said.

The musician, born in Pikeville, Ky., grew up in Nashville’s songwriting and recording community. There, he learned the art of songwriting from his father. He made his musical debut on the radio at age 3 and had his first band by 15.

At 17, he was offered a record deal, but he and his parents agreed that he needed to go to college first. If this offer had been made now, they reasoned, there would be others after college.

While at Western Kentucky University, Cochran played lacrosse and continued to write songs and play music. True to his parents’ prediction, he was offered another record deal. But he wanted to finish school.

The company offered a promissory note, but then Sept. 11 happened.

“It was just so horrific,” he said. “It’s like I’d been called. I’d never been pulled so hard to do something.”

It may have been the audacity of the attacks, but more likely it was his family’s long history of military service that drew him to enlist, he said. Both grandfathers served, as did an uncle and several other relatives.

“I’ve always been raised very, very patriotic. It’s just what I had to do,” Cochran said of his decision to join the Marines.

It wasn’t long before he found himself in Kuwait with the 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, part of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, waiting to cross into Iraq. He was 20.

Once the unit crossed the Kuwait-Iraq border, contact with the enemy was a daily ocurrence, Cochran said. When the unit’s tour was finished, the Marines had fought their way to Tikrit and back.

“We brought every man home with us,” he said. “They said we did 111 missions. That was more missions than any other unit had done since Vietnam.”

But daily battle takes its toll. Cochran said he thinks every Marine in his section showed signs of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Four months later, however, the entire battalion volunteered to go to Afghanistan with the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit. They figured nothing could be worse than Iraq.

They were wrong.

“In Afghanistan, everything was just dead. There was no foliage. The people wouldn’t look you in the eye,” he said, adding that he and his buddies had learned that usually meant they had something to hide.

In fact, after several months of daily fighting in Afghanistan, the Marines began to wonder just how wrong they’d been about nothing being worse than the fighting in Iraq.

“Some of us came up with a theory that maybe we had been killed in Iraq and now we were in hell,” Cochran said with a chuckle that belied the seriousness of the thought.

That theory may have been conceived during a mission where the Marines were outnumbered more than 2 to 1 and he lost one of his best friends.

“It was a suicide mission,” Cochran said. “We 100 percent knew there was going to be a casualty on this mission. We knew it.”

The mission initially sent a five-man team into what Cochran described as very hostile territory. When 26 insurgents ambushed the team, another seven-man team responded. Despite killing 14 insurgents before the fight was over, they’d lost one Marine.

“If you wanted to pick one man to represent the entire military, it was him,” he said about the Marine. “We were all trying to figure out different ports we could get drunk in. He was trying to get us into Bible study.”

About a month later, on July 14, 2004, Cochran was on his last mission, working security for convoys carrying equipment back to Kandahar, when he was injured.

Just 20 yards inside Kandahar, the vehicle he was riding in hit an anti-tank mine. He was thrown from the vehicle and broke the five vertebrae in his lower back.

When he woke in the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., a month later, he discovered he was paralyzed from the waist down and most likely never would walk again.

To add insult to injury, the record company that had offered Cochran the deal dropped him, saying they couldn’t put $1 million dollars into a paraplegic.

“I understand. It’s a business,” he said. “[But] I never believed I was never going to walk again.”

The doctors at Bethesda weren’t so hopeful. Despite the fact that Cochran’s spinal cord was intact, the bone and cartilage were severely damaged and were pulling on his spinal cord. The doctors’ best suggestion was to fuse the bone together to alleviate the pain.

Another option surfaced, however. Though his doctors in Bethesda, who were just beginning to see the types of injuries that became typical with servicemembers fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, were vehemently against the idea, his mother -- and first sergeant -- pushed for the procedure. They finally won.

Kyphoplasty, a procedure used to restore fractured vertebra, usually is reserved for older patients suffering from degeneration of the vertebrae and cartilage. However, six months after an orthopedic surgeon at Vanderbilt Medical Center used essentially 4 pounds of cement to fix the crushed vertebrae in Cochran’s back, he was up and walking with the help of a walker.

Today, he’s back on the country music scene and has a deal with Aria Records. His debut album, “Friday Night Fireside,” has received more than favorable reviews.

While music is his passion, Cochran said, he found room for a second passion after his recovery: working to make sure wounded veterans have what they need to recover and live the fullest life possible.

He does this is by working with the Independence Fund, a nonprofit organization that, among other things, provides robotic wheelchairs to veterans confined to wheelchairs. The high-tech chairs can walk stairs and give the veterans their height back, Cochran said.

“They can look everybody in the eye,” Cochran said. “That’s the biggest thing. When I was in a wheelchair … I had to look up at everybody. It was a big shock to your confidence. This raises them up to where they can have a conversation and look you in the eye.”

It has the same technology as the Segway personal transporter, so it won’t fall over, he added.

As amazing as that piece of technology is, Cochran said, bigger things are on the horizon and he’ll do everything he can to make sure veterans have access to them.

“My goal is that the bigger I get in music, the bigger my pulpit can get to preach on my soapbox … and really get more people involved,” he said. “There’s a lot of people in the music business who talk a lot. We just need them to get their checkbooks out now.”

What Cochran said he would really like, however, is for veterans to never have to worry about what comes next.

“I want to have a foundation that covers you from the time you enlist or from the time you’re commissioned until we put you in the ground,” he said. “There is no reason a man shooting a basketball should have to not worry about anything in life, and a man that is ready to take a bullet should.”


January 28, 2009

Author, columnist and Marine James Brady dies

By Polly Anderson - The Associated Press
Posted : Wednesday Jan 28, 2009 18:21:46 EST

NEW YORK — James Brady, a decorated Marine officer who went on to become an author and Parade magazine’s celebrity columnist, has died at 80.

To continue reading:

http://marinecorpstimes.com/news/2009/01/marine_brady_obit_012809w/

Twin brothers meet by chance in Iraqi desert

What are the odds?

http://sundaygazettemail.com/News/200901270580

January 28, 2009
By Rick Steelhammer
Staff writer

With 140,000 U.S. troops spread over the 170,000 square miles of Iraq, what were the chances that twin brothers Mason and Stefen Bowen of Sissonville would run into each other?

Mason, a machine-gunner with the 1st Battalion of the 2nd Marine Division, and Stefen, a scout with the Army's 1st Cavalry Division, both in their second tours of duty in Iraq, hadn't seen each other for more than a year.


Gallery [+] Enlarge
Courtesy photo Twin brothers Stefen (left) and Mason Bowen of Sissonville met up Friday in a chance encounter in the Iraqi desert. Stefen is a scout in the Army’s 1st Cavalry Division and Mason is a machine-gunner in the 1st Battalion of the 2nd Marine Division.
But on Friday, in a stretch of desert in Diyala Province north of Baghdad, two motorized patrols spotted each other in the distance, and made radio contact.

"Both units were moving in the desert, and one unit radioed the other to give its position for safety reasons, so the good guys could know where the other good guys were operating," said Toby Painter, the twins' stepfather. While the radio operators traded information, "the boys recognized each other's unit, and asked their unit leaders if they could stop and see each other," Painter said.

The Marine and Army patrols linked up, and the 21-year-old fraternal twins got to spend about an hour together.

"They were thrilled to meet up," said Painter, who received a text message about the meeting from one of the boys, and was later e-mailed photos of the rendezvous. "But they said it wasn't really enough time to catch up on everything."

Mason and Stefen Bowen grew up in Cross Lanes and Sissonville and graduated from Sissonville High School, where they and their other siblings participated in the ROTC program.

What are the odds?

With 140,000 U.S. troops spread over the 170,000 square miles of Iraq, what were the chances that twin brothers Mason and Stefen Bowen of Sissonville would run into each other?

Mason, a machine-gunner with the 1st Battalion of the 2nd Marine Division, and Stefen, a scout with the Army's 1st Cavalry Division, both in their second tours of duty in Iraq, hadn't seen each other for more than a year.

But on Friday, in a stretch of desert in Diyala Province north of Baghdad, two motorized patrols spotted each other in the distance, and made radio contact.

"Both units were moving in the desert, and one unit radioed the other to give its position for safety reasons, so the good guys could know where the other good guys were operating," said Toby Painter, the twins' stepfather. While the radio operators traded information, "the boys recognized each other's unit, and asked their unit leaders if they could stop and see each other," Painter said.

The Marine and Army patrols linked up, and the 21-year-old fraternal twins got to spend about an hour together.

"They were thrilled to meet up," said Painter, who received a text message about the meeting from one of the boys, and was later e-mailed photos of the rendezvous. "But they said it wasn't really enough time to catch up on everything."

Mason and Stefen Bowen grew up in Cross Lanes and Sissonville and graduated from Sissonville High School, where they and their other siblings participated in the ROTC program.

When Toby and Tammy Jo Painter married in 1993, they each had three children from previous marriages, and later had a seventh child of their own. Five of the seven children are in the military. The two who are not, Michael, 17, and Jaren, 14, have said they, too, plan to enlist when they are old enough.

Mason, a corporal in the Marines, is married and due to rotate home next month. Stefen, a specialist in the Army, the equivalent rank to his brother, began his second tour late last year, and isn't due to return home until November. He, too, is married and he and his wife are expecting a child in July.

Their older brother, Charlie Painter, was deployed twice to Iraq during his tour with the Marines, which ended about six months ago. He is now in the West Virginia Army National Guard.

Their sister Jordan Bowen, 22, served in the Army Reserves as a medical technician in Germany and Hawaii, and is now in the West Virginia Army National Guard, attending Marshall University. "She'll be a second lieutenant when she graduates," said Painter.

Bills would let more troops get mail for free

By Rick Maze - Staff writer
Posted : Wednesday Jan 28, 2009 12:34:25 EST

Just as talk gets serious about cutting U.S. troop levels in Iraq, Congress also appears to be getting serious about providing limited free mailing privileges so that letters and small packages can be sent by friends and family to deployed service members.

To continue reading:

http://www.marinecorpstimes.com/news/2009/01/military_freemail_bill_012809w/

Navy Honors Civilian Journalist for Saving Marine’s Life

WASHINGTON, Jan. 28, 2009 – A civilian journalist received a top Navy honor in Iraq on Jan. 24 for his heroism in saving a Marine’s life while in Afghanistan.

http://www.defenselink.mil/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=52848

By Army Staff Sgt. Joy Pariante
Special to American Forces Press Service

Then-Fox News cameraman Chris Jackson, embedded with a Marine Corps platoon, was traveling by Humvee down a dangerous road in Afghanistan on Aug. 3 when it hit 50 pounds of homemade explosives. All of the vehicle’s passengers escaped the flaming vehicle, with the exception of vehicle commander Marine Corps Sgt. Courtney Rauch.

The blast severely injured Rauch and knocked him unconscious. Jackson, despite having received shrapnel wounds himself, rushed back to the vehicle, pulled Rauch out and carried him to safety.

"Without Chris' quick thinking and heroic act, I would have lost my life that day," Rauch said. "Chris forgot about being a reporter that day and became one of our brothers and acted as one of us. Chris went above and beyond his duty."

Jackson, who now works for CNN/Turner Broadcasting, was presented with the Department of the Navy Distinguished Public Service Award, the second-highest award given to civilians by the Navy, for his actions. Jackson received the award at Al Faw Palace at Camp Victory, outside of Baghdad, during a stop in Iraq en route to India. An audience of appreciative Marines was on hand during the ceremony.

Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Paul Lefebvre, deputy commanding general for Multinational Corps Iraq, has a son in the same company with which Jackson was traveling. Lefebvre, who presented the award on behalf of the Navy, asked his son if all the wonderful things being said about Jackson were true.

"I asked him, 'Is this the real thing?' and he said, 'Yeah Dad, this guy's a hero,'" Lefebvre said. "This was not an everyday action. It came from somewhere deep inside and shows such a level of courage and commitment.”

When told in front of the crowd why he was invited to Al Faw Palace, Jackson blushed. "It goes to show that Marines have a good sense of humor," he said. "I was told I was coming here for a briefing."

Jackson said he didn't think twice about risking his own life to save someone else's.

"I wasn't thinking. I saw there was trouble, and I didn't even think about grabbing a camera and filming it," Jackson said. "I just did what anyone else would do if someone was in trouble."

(Army Staff Sgt. Joy Pariante serves in the 13th Public Affairs Detachment.)

January 27, 2009

Embedded with the Marines in Afghanistan

The crumbling wall of the parapet on the northwestern corner on the ancient caravanserai was built up with sandbags and topped with concertina wire. The long barrel of a .50 caliber machine gun (M2, or Ma Deuce as she is affectionately called) points north across the desert toward a very small mud-walled village 1000 yards out and a few smaller walled compounds more or less the same distance out. Sharply rising Afghan mountains here in Farah Province are about four miles beyond the village. This southern province touches Iran to the west and a corner of Helmand Province to the southeast, where abundant poppy farming produces 60 percent to 90 percent of the world’s heroin and where the Taliban flourish for an obvious reason, drug money.

http://charlestonmercury.com/articles/2009/01/27/news/doc497f5ea37c529092740249.txt

By James Rembert
Chief Military Affairs Correspondent
Published:
Tuesday, January 27, 2009 4:38 PM EST

I talked with India Company first sergeant awhile, then climbed a short, sharply inclined narrow dirt trail to the outer wall’s NW parapet. Lance Corporal Rodriguez, what is your first name? Frank, sir. Where are you from? Brooklyn, sir. May I look at your range card? Here you are, sir. His .50 cal. MG has an effective range of 2000 meters, about a mile and a quarter.

Lance Cpl. Rodriguez, why did you join the Marine Corps? You know, sir, just out of high school, bored, wanted adventure. What did your family say? Ma said, Son, don’t join the Marines, that’s dangerous. Ma, Brooklyn is dangerous. I went to Parris Island, and after seven months I came home and said, Ma, they’re sending me to Afghanistan. She said, Son, don’t go to Afghanistan; you might get shot. Ma, I been shot. Whoa, hold it there. Let me get my notepad. Now start from the beginning. The storywas so simple and clear I didn’t jot a note but carried it in memory for two weeks.

On to Helmand Province

After too long a stay in Kabul to the north I finally linked up with the U.S. Marines at Kandahar Air Field (KAF). The C-30 flight west to Helmand Province from Kandahar was a snap, and Camp Bastion was orderly if arid, smack in the middle of the desert with some small mountains on the horizon toward the north. A communiqué put out recently by the American Embassy in Copenhagen, Denmark, noted that of the 5,000 troops at Bastion, including British, Danish and Estonian soldiers, just over a thousand are U.S. Marines and a smaller number are U.S. Special Forces. “You can recognize the latter by their Afghan-looking beards and very serious countenance.” The Marines, said the communiqué, “head out daily to engage the local population and confront the enemy.”

At Camp Bastion Master Sgt. Chuck Albrecht, USMC, a deer hunter from northern Michigan, took charge of me, introduced me to the men of India Company, 3rd Battalion, 8th Marines, especially to Gunnery Sgt. Mills, MRAP driver Lance Cpl. Eldridge, 1st Lt. Bailey, company executive officer, and Company Intelligence Sgt. Nicholas Bender in the top turret with the M240 machine gun. 1st Lt. Bailey was riding shotgun and Gunnery Sgt. Mills was half way astern, back to the outside wall, with a bank of radios. They had assigned me the rearmost seat, safest from an IED explosion, across from Gunnery Sgt. Mills, back to the wall.

For maybe two hours I watched Marines like ants going in, around and over the 19 vehicles of the convoy readying them to leave later in the afternoon, 13 heavily armored Humvees which they call gun trucks, two seven-ton military trucks and four MRAPs, Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles, the four-wheeled kind weighing 36,000 pounds, six-wheeled 42,000 pounds. A Toyota Camry weighs 3,300 pounds. The convoy vehicles all had swivel turrets with mounted weapons like the 7.62mm M240 machine gun, the 40mm Mark 19 automatic grenade launcher, and the .50 cal. machine gun. Infantry troops especially like the latter two, which can reach far out to keep in touch with the enemy.

Arrival at FOB Bakwa

The convoy of 19 armed vehicles pulled up, some of their noses to the wall of a still largely intact caravanserai (“caravan house”) that the company commander, Captain Mike Hoffman, estimated to be as old as the 13th century. Apparently he had done some research on the home for 45 days of India Company, 3/8. In ancient days caravans from southern Iran came up through Afghanistan heading north, some going to the northern Silk Road. Camels needed fodder, drivers food; both needed water, shelter and nightly protection from bandits, hence the walled exteriors.

Young Marines began unloading the vehicles, rucksacks up the glacis, passed up to mates astraddle a low point in the high wall, passed down into the enclosure, others taking six-foot steel stakes for securing concertina wire and making a wide, short ladder connecting top of glacis to low point in wall, others filling sandbags with shovels, still others stretching out and securing concertina wire beyond the wall to enclose the newly-arrived vehicles. Soon a gunnery sergeant called for drivers and began loud instructions, back up and turn vehicles around facing out to the desert, all turret weapons accessible. Much whining of diesels and grinding of gears.

The company command element traveling with the 1st Platoon set up a camouflaged tent affair between the exterior and interior walls, and I put down my rucksack beside their nearby sleeping bags. Those were the Marines I’d gotten to know best. Soon with long cables they had two or three computers hooked up to batteries in Humvees (gun trucks) just over the wall, and radios set up, a camp table or two, folding stools, map boards upright, ready to command and administer defense, feeding, logistics and general welfare of us all. A masterpiece of organization and energy.

Ma Deuce on the Parapet: A Charleston Gunner, and a Lance Corporal’s Story

The next morning I climbed up to the NW parapet, now reinforced with sandbags topped with concertina wire. I wanted a view of the desert and mountains to the north and to talk with the morning crew, a most pleasant .50 cal. machine gunner. Lance Cpl. Joshua DeForest, North Charleston born and bred, went to North Charleston High School and has been in the Marine Corps a year and a half into his four-year enlistment. His assistant gunner is from Mississippi, brought there from Korea as a baby, speaks with a good Southern accent.

That afternoon I talked with the afternoon gunner, Lance Cpl. Rodriguez, and looked at his range card. The rest of the story: When he was 15, Frank Rodriguez told me, he came out of a Brooklyn grocery shop down the street from his home, heard gunshots as a car sped off, dropped the eggs and milk and ran back to the store. The owner dropped the metal barrier in front of Frank’s face, and when he turned around a bullet hit him in the chest and knocked him down, missing his heart by half an inch the doctors told him.

He got up, ran home “bleeding all over the place,” rang the doorbell, his mother said “What’s all this ringing . . . Oh my Lord!” He passed out, woke in the hospital, stitches out in a week, no internal hurting after a month.

A year later his brother was playing basketball near home, two “bad guys” rifled through his jacket, he tried to stop them, knifed in right lung, in back, in right shoulder. Survived. “Ma, Brooklyn is dangerous.”

“They Better Bring 250 Body Bags”

Sitting on the low place in the north wall I was writing up a conversation when Captain Hoffman and 1st Sgt. Andrew Marshall climbed up the dirt bank to this part of the wall and stood beside me, ignoring me as I wrote and as they looked out over the desert toward the mountains. They talked about the enemy breaching this wall while the 2nd Platoon had not yet arrived and part of the 1st was off on an IED-hunting mission. The company commander said, I can’t imagine they’d come with a couple of hundred men across that open space even if they could muster them.

The first sergeant chuckled, glanced at the captain and at me and with his compelling Tommy Lee Jones accent said, “If they come with 250 men, they better bring 250 body bags.” I pointed to the parapet above my right shoulder and said, I guess this .50 could take care of them all. Yep, they nodded. I said, They’d have to be crazy to come across there, but at times they are kinda crazy. They agreed, with an acceptance of the irrational.

Advice from a Hospital Corpsman

A week earlier during a three-day stay at Camp Eggers in Kabul I talked with many contractors at chow. A Navy Hospital Corpsman sat down opposite, and I asked where he was from. Beaufort, SC, and in Afghanistan to teach medical treatment to the national army. He asked and I told him of my soon joining the U.S. Marines in Helmand and Farah Provinces. He said although Hospital Corpsmen enjoy a good reputation among Marines, each one has to gain acceptance when he joins a unit. How, I asked. By doing the tough training with them sometimes, by being unselfish and by showing professional medical competence. You’ve got to earn acceptance, he said. They won’t give it.

After Captain Hoffman and 1st Sgt. Marshall left me to continue writing I looked up after awhile and saw the captain just below the wall sitting on a silent gas-operated generator in front of the net-camouflaged combat operations center, COC, which in my day we called the command post (CP). Three standing Marine NCOs and seven others squatting or sitting formed a semicircle before him. My note reads, He’s talking quietly and seriously, sometimes pointing out east with hand or forefinger as the ten listen, focused, respectful, serious. I cannot hear his words, only a rising tone sometimes. They all know I am nearby up here writing. They can see me but they don’t look. They have accepted me.

A few minutes later with the conference below concluded I descended to get some water, and Captain Hoffman said, You’re already writing up some stuff. Yes, I said. Would you like to hear what? (Many military units are suspicious of journalists, because they can write and publish impressions sometimes starkly different from the troops’ take on what they themselves are doing. Then a sense of betrayal pervades when troops read the account or see the footage after the journalist has returned home.) Sure, he said. Quietly I read aloud to him the preceding paragraph. At the last words he looked at me with a barely distinguishable expression I cannot describe and will not forget. “Yep,” he said. “We have.” I was wrong thinking I was too old and jaded to be moved.

Back at KAF I told Colonel Duffy White that Captain Hoffman is a good infantry company commander, better than I was in the 1960s, I’d say.

Unwelcome Departure

One night Captain Hoffman put down the phone in the COC, turned to me and said, “Bad news, sir. They’re sending a helicop-ter for you at 0905 hours tomorrow.” I shook my head and tightened my mouth. The chopper was coming a day earlier than expected. It was large a CH-53 Marine helicopter, one of two ordered up the night before to bring parts to a device for exploding IEDs that had been damaged a few kilometers away in the desert. After the drop the chopper would pick me up.

The next morning reluctantly I was packed and ready before 0900, standing out beyond the concertina wire with 1st Sgt. Marshall 40 yards from the LZ made of a 50-foot square tarp secured to the desert floor. Two big dogs fresh from a nearby burn pit were lounging on the tarp. Here came not one but two huge choppers roaring, flaring and easing in towards the tarp. The dogs tried to look cool, but at the last moment to the delight of Marines on the wall behind us, they skedaddled.

Dust cloud. Ramp lowered, mail bags and MRE boxes unloaded, crew chief motioning me aboard, sitting amidships, only passenger in the large cargo bay, buckled in, back end of chopper stayed wide open, NCO moved his stool to center of open space, affixed his .50 cal. machine gun pointing out back, two side-window .50 cal. gunners stood to their weapons, pitch pulled, we rose with the other CH-53 following. The flight at 1000 feet back to Camp Bastion was captivating, isolated sharp mountains, then mountain clusters, always desert, some ancient mud houses, bleak and beautiful sight for miles, roar of engine, constant rush of air, so loud no one had spoken to me nor I to anyone, descent, overnight at Bastion, C-130 to KAF.

Unwelcome News

That last evening at KAF, packed up and sitting outside the terminal building beside the flight line, I asked a tall contractor what company he worked for. He said one that ships MRAPs here from the U.S. on huge Russian Antonov An-124s because the USAF does not have enough C-5s and C-17s to do the job rapidly enough. He asked and I replied I had been with the MAGTF and was now headed for Charleston. He walked over and shook my hand. He’s from North Charleston. He said yesterday he saw a formal ceremony of Marines easing a flag-draped coffin onto a C-17 for the flight back to the states. He heard it was a Marine from the MAGTF, killed it turns out the evening of the day I left Bakwa. I asked which unit. He didn’t know, only that he was 21. I went inside the terminal, no Marines but many British soldiers, USAF troops, Canadian Army and others. A clerk said she heard he had a Latino name. An Air Force captain said he’d heard he was from the Bronx, or Brooklyn.

That NW parapet with its .50 cal. at Bakwa was southern Afghanistan’s far western edge of exposure in the war against the Taliban as far as I knew. I flew to Kabul that night, did not sleep well, asked my German lieutenant colonel friend the next morning what he knew, he got out a folder, said he could not mention a name, but the Marine was not in India Company; he was in Lima, a sister company in the battalion. I was prepared for a stunned conclusion to this story. The conclusion is still bad, someone’s son, maybe someone’s brother, husband or boyfriend, certainly a friend, killed by an IED set by practically motiveless criminals who will not come out and fight because we are at this time too strong and getting stronger.

And so it goes. Vonnegut in Slaughterhouse-Five used those words each of the many times he mentioned or described someone’s or something’s death in that anti-war novel. In the context of Middle East wars the words seem to suggest interminability.

Getting to the War

I would have reached Kandahar in the south from Kabul earlier, but a USAF C-17 transport slid off a runway at Kandahar Air Field (KAF), and two of my flights and many others were canceled for two and a half days. At length I flew down in a German Luftwaffe C-160, built by a French and German consortium, which looks to me remarkably like a larger version of the older USAF C-123. As a group of German and Canadian soldiers and I walked out on the tarmac in Kabul to board the transport, I saw the plane and said to the Canadian lieutenant colonel next to me, a lawyer training the Afghan National Army in military law, “Goodness, that’s a C-123, first plane I ever jumped from, in 1964.” The Canadian chuckled and replied, “Let’s hope this one is not that old.”

At ISAF HQ in Kabul I’d remarked, I’ll bet that errant C-17 is from Charleston. Ironic if so. When we landed at KAF my host, 1st Lt. Stewart Coles, USMC, met me on the flight line. My wife wanted to hug him for weeks because of his professional and gentlemanly e-mails securing the embed with his Marines. Is that lone C-17 the one that slid off the runway earlier this week? Yes, sir, the very one. I looked at the vertical stabilizer, and across the tail printed boldly in black on a black-bordered yellow strip was “CHARLESTON” and next to it the familiar dark blue and white flag with crescent moon and palmetto tree.

First Lieutenant Coles gave me the professional briefing about the unit I would join the next day, the Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force Afghanistan, SPMAGTF-A. He went over mission, organization, current operations and ground rules reminder. The MAGTF under the command of Colonel Duffy White, USMC, 3rd Marines, i.e. 3rd Marine Regiment, consists of first a Ground Combat Element, the 3rd Bn, 8th Marines, commanded by Lt. Col. Dave Odom, Citadel Class of 1991, a former English major and friend of my friend Myron Harrington from Charleston, Colonel, USMC (Ret.). I was to be embedded with this element, specifically with India Company’s first platoon. The MAGTF also had an aviation combat unit and a logistics combat unit to support the ground combat battalion. Part of the mission capabilities of this MAGTF is what the military calls nowadays “Kinetic Operations,” or ground combat, meeting the enemy. An update in December said the MAGTF had three wounded and none killed since beginning operations in Helmand and Farah in late November 2008. The day I left Helmand Province at the end of December a young Marine in the MAGTF was killed.

Convoy to Farah Province

The first leg of the convoy was from Bastion to FOB Delaram in Farah Province to the west, where we arrived at night, ate MREs sitting next to our vehicles and slept there on the cold ground in sleeping bags

The convoy to Delaram was largely on a good road cleared of IEDs by the Marines. Early the next morning we moved cross-country west to Bakwa. Riding in the rear seat of that MRAP, made by Force Protection in nearby Ladson, SC (remember the local curse of the Charleston C-17), stimulated me to find a way to explain the feel of the trip across miles of open, unimproved desert covered with ditches, gullies, ruts, dry creek beds, hummocks and furrows. Ever ridden on Thunder Mountain at Disney World? Does that last six minutes? Seven? You know how you’re tossed and slammed, big fun. Try doing that but twice as violently for five blinkin’ hours unrelenting across a desert except for two 10-minute breaks while all pile out and look for buried or hidden IEDs because the lead gun truck saw something suspicious.

Projected Taliban Attack and a Mortar

The second day at FOB Bakwa the COC received a message from Battalion HQ at Camp Bastion that evidence shows an attack might occur tonight at Bakwa. I watched the activity of young Marines hauling more crates of 81mm and 120mm mortar rounds and more belts of machine gun ammunition up the ladder, over the wall and down into the caravanserai. The attack never came. The commander told me the young Marines had wanted a fight.

Next day I waited for the mortar crew to register the 120mm mortar, which is really an artillery piece, some say, because it is so large. This is the only 120 in the only battalion in the Marine Corps to have a 120, I was told. Across the base of the tube are the words “U.S. Army.” Usually it takes three rounds to walk strikes into the registration point. I wanted to experience the muzzle blast from a suitable distance. Finally the sergeant in charge said they were trying to save rounds, and the 81s were already registered, so they’d wait. Alas.

Marine Corps Museum Attracts Half-million Visitors in 2008

TRIANGLE, Va., Jan. 27, 2009 – The National Museum of the Marine Corps here has maintained its position as a top Virginia attraction, with more than 500,000 visitors recorded in 2008, museum officials said.

http://www.defenselink.mil/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=52826

American Forces Press Service

In its second full year open to the public, the museum’s attendance was bolstered by attracting Marines and families not only from the region but also from across the nation. Since it opened to the public in November 2006, more than 1.2 million visitors have visited the museum.

“We are extremely pleased, though not surprised, by the number of visitors we received in 2008,” Lin Ezell, the museum’s director, said. “Today people are looking for economical ways to spend time with their families, and as a free, cutting-edge and educational attraction located off I-95, we provide a great and convenient destination for them.”

The museum soon will expand to include three additional galleries with exhibits interpreting the periods from 1775 through World War I, each featuring new, state-of-the-art, visitor-immersive experiences. Construction on the new galleries, which are expected to open in spring 2010, already has begun. In the meantime, the museum remains open, with several exhibits moving temporarily within the building and remaining on public display, including combat photographs of the global war on terrorism and a Pioneer unmanned aerial vehicle.

New exhibits and artifacts will be coming soon to the museum, including the Marine Corps flag that survived the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack on the Pentagon, and the traveling exhibit “Memories of World War II,” which includes photographs from the Associated Press archives. The black-and-white photography exhibit will be on display at the museum from Jan. 30 to March 29.

With funding provided by the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation and its donors, the adjacent Semper Fidelis Memorial Park also will expand in 2009, with the addition of a new chapel slated to open in September. The $5 million nondenominational chapel is made possible by a gift from the Timothy Day Foundation of Phoenix, Ariz., and will be a quiet and contemplative space where visitors can honor the sacrifices of those who serve and have served the nation. The structure will evoke images and memories of the improvised field chapels familiar to all servicemembers.

For more information on the museum, go to www.usmcmuseum.org or call 1-877-635-1775.



Lejeune Marine dies in Afghanistan

Staff report
Posted : Tuesday Jan 27, 2009 17:53:12 EST

A North Carolina-based Marine died Saturday after a roadside bomb blast in Afghanistan’s Farah province, according to reports.

To continue reading:

http://marinecorpstimes.com/news/2009/01/marine_afghan_fatal_012709w/

January 26, 2009

How to help when smoking, alcohol complicate PTSD

Reaching for a cigarette to cope with a flashback is all too common among sufferers of post-traumatic stress disorder. The nicotine hit may feel good but scientists say its brain action probably makes their PTSD worse in the long run.

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20090126/ap_on_he_me/med_healthbeat_post_traumatic_stress

By LAURAN NEERGAARD, AP Medical Writer Lauran Neergaard, Ap Medical Writer
Mon Jan 26, 1:42 pm ETWASHINGTON

Here's the rub: At least half of PTSD sufferers smoke, and others wind up dependent on alcohol, anti-anxiety pills, sometimes even illegal drugs. Yet too few clinics treat both PTSD and addictions at the same time, despite evidence they should.

Now studies are recruiting PTSD patients — from New England drug-treatment centers to veterans clinics in North Carolina and Washington — to determine what combination care works.

"It's kind of a clinical myth that you can only do one at a time or should only do one at a time," says Duke University PTSD specialist Dr. Jean Beckham, a psychologist at the Durham, N.C., Veterans Affairs Medical Center. "Everybody's afraid to have their patients quit smoking because they're afraid they're going to get worse. There's not a lot of empirical data about that."

And her research on how to break the nicotine-and-PTSD cycle raises a provocative question for a tobacco-prone military: Are people at higher risk of developing PTSD if they smoke before they experience the violent event or episode?

Post-traumatic stress disorder — which can include flashbacks, debilitating anxiety, irritability and insomnia — is thought to affect nearly 8 million Americans at any given time. Anyone can develop it after a terrifying experience, from a mugging to a hurricane, a car crash to child abuse. But PTSD is getting renewed attention because so many veterans returning from combat in Iraq and Afghanistan seem vulnerable. A study last year by the RAND Corp. research organization estimated nearly 20 percent of them, or 300,000 people, have symptoms of PTSD or major depression.

What's less discussed is that patients often don't realize they might have PTSD and try to relieve symptoms by self-medicating with alcohol, tobacco and other substance use — worsening habits that existed before the trauma or starting anew.

Addiction itself is a mental health disorder that causes changes in some of the same brain areas disrupted by mood and anxiety disorders like PTSD, says a new report on the co-illnesses from the National Institute on Drug Abuse. That argues for simultaneous treatment. Indeed, up to 60 percent of people in addiction treatment are estimated to have PTSD — although they seldom acknowledge symptoms — and they're three times more likely than other patients to drop out.

A handful of studies suggest combo care helps. One example: VA researchers in Connecticut gave the alcoholism drugs naltrexone and disulfiram to PTSD patients, and watched not only their drinking ease but their PTSD symptoms improve, too.

Then there's nicotine. It temporarily enhances attention when it hits the brain — one reason that members of military tell the VA's Beckham they smoke. Although PTSD patients say a cigarette helps their mood when they're having symptoms, the extra attention may be reinforcing bad memories.

"If you think about your traumatic event and you smoke your cigarette, you can think about it even better," explains the VA's Beckham.

Yet the NIDA report found combination care rare, partly because of our specialty-driven health system.

Another big reason: "The majority of people with PTSD don't seek treatment," Dr. Mark McGovern of Dartmouth Medical School told a NIDA meeting this month that brought together military and civilian experts to jump-start research.

"People try to swallow it or take care of it on their own and it just kind of gets out of control," agrees Bryan Adams, 24, who is working with the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America to raise PTSD awareness.

Adams, now a business major at Rutgers University, was awarded a Purple Heart after being shot when his Army patrol was ambushed in Iraq in 2004. Back home he handled restlessness and irritability with increasing alcohol use. Only when he got into college did a checkup lead to a PTSD diagnosis and therapy. He quit excessive drinking as the PTSD improved, despite no formal alcohol treatment.

The new studies may prompt more merging of care:

_In Durham, Beckham is giving PTSD-suffering smokers either a nicotine patch or a dummy patch to wear for three weeks before they quit smoking. The theory: Steady nicotine release will blunt a cigarette's usually reinforcing hit to the brain, possibly helping both withdrawal symptoms and the intensity of PTSD symptoms.

_In some New Hampshire and Vermont substance-abuse clinics, McGovern is randomly assigning patients to standard addiction-only care or cognitive behavioral therapy traditionally used for PTSD. A pilot study found the cognitive behavioral therapy improved both PTSD symptoms and substance use.

_In Seattle, researchers at the VA Puget Sound Health Care System have PTSD therapists conducting smoking cessation therapy in the same visit. In a pilot study, those patients were five times more likely to quit cigarettes than PTSD patients sent to separate smoking programs.

How to help when smoking, alcohol complicate PTSD

Reaching for a cigarette to cope with a flashback is all too common among sufferers of post-traumatic stress disorder. The nicotine hit may feel good but scientists say its brain action probably makes their PTSD worse in the long run.

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20090126/ap_on_he_me/med_healthbeat_post_traumatic_stress

By LAURAN NEERGAARD, AP Medical Writer Lauran Neergaard, Ap Medical Writer
Mon Jan 26, 1:42 pm ETWASHINGTON

Here's the rub: At least half of PTSD sufferers smoke, and others wind up dependent on alcohol, anti-anxiety pills, sometimes even illegal drugs. Yet too few clinics treat both PTSD and addictions at the same time, despite evidence they should.

Now studies are recruiting PTSD patients — from New England drug-treatment centers to veterans clinics in North Carolina and Washington — to determine what combination care works.

"It's kind of a clinical myth that you can only do one at a time or should only do one at a time," says Duke University PTSD specialist Dr. Jean Beckham, a psychologist at the Durham, N.C., Veterans Affairs Medical Center. "Everybody's afraid to have their patients quit smoking because they're afraid they're going to get worse. There's not a lot of empirical data about that."

And her research on how to break the nicotine-and-PTSD cycle raises a provocative question for a tobacco-prone military: Are people at higher risk of developing PTSD if they smoke before they experience the violent event or episode?

Post-traumatic stress disorder — which can include flashbacks, debilitating anxiety, irritability and insomnia — is thought to affect nearly 8 million Americans at any given time. Anyone can develop it after a terrifying experience, from a mugging to a hurricane, a car crash to child abuse. But PTSD is getting renewed attention because so many veterans returning from combat in Iraq and Afghanistan seem vulnerable. A study last year by the RAND Corp. research organization estimated nearly 20 percent of them, or 300,000 people, have symptoms of PTSD or major depression.

What's less discussed is that patients often don't realize they might have PTSD and try to relieve symptoms by self-medicating with alcohol, tobacco and other substance use — worsening habits that existed before the trauma or starting anew.

Addiction itself is a mental health disorder that causes changes in some of the same brain areas disrupted by mood and anxiety disorders like PTSD, says a new report on the co-illnesses from the National Institute on Drug Abuse. That argues for simultaneous treatment. Indeed, up to 60 percent of people in addiction treatment are estimated to have PTSD — although they seldom acknowledge symptoms — and they're three times more likely than other patients to drop out.

A handful of studies suggest combo care helps. One example: VA researchers in Connecticut gave the alcoholism drugs naltrexone and disulfiram to PTSD patients, and watched not only their drinking ease but their PTSD symptoms improve, too.

Then there's nicotine. It temporarily enhances attention when it hits the brain — one reason that members of military tell the VA's Beckham they smoke. Although PTSD patients say a cigarette helps their mood when they're having symptoms, the extra attention may be reinforcing bad memories.

"If you think about your traumatic event and you smoke your cigarette, you can think about it even better," explains the VA's Beckham.

Yet the NIDA report found combination care rare, partly because of our specialty-driven health system.

Another big reason: "The majority of people with PTSD don't seek treatment," Dr. Mark McGovern of Dartmouth Medical School told a NIDA meeting this month that brought together military and civilian experts to jump-start research.

"People try to swallow it or take care of it on their own and it just kind of gets out of control," agrees Bryan Adams, 24, who is working with the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America to raise PTSD awareness.

Adams, now a business major at Rutgers University, was awarded a Purple Heart after being shot when his Army patrol was ambushed in Iraq in 2004. Back home he handled restlessness and irritability with increasing alcohol use. Only when he got into college did a checkup lead to a PTSD diagnosis and therapy. He quit excessive drinking as the PTSD improved, despite no formal alcohol treatment.

The new studies may prompt more merging of care:

_In Durham, Beckham is giving PTSD-suffering smokers either a nicotine patch or a dummy patch to wear for three weeks before they quit smoking. The theory: Steady nicotine release will blunt a cigarette's usually reinforcing hit to the brain, possibly helping both withdrawal symptoms and the intensity of PTSD symptoms.

_In some New Hampshire and Vermont substance-abuse clinics, McGovern is randomly assigning patients to standard addiction-only care or cognitive behavioral therapy traditionally used for PTSD. A pilot study found the cognitive behavioral therapy improved both PTSD symptoms and substance use.

_In Seattle, researchers at the VA Puget Sound Health Care System have PTSD therapists conducting smoking cessation therapy in the same visit. In a pilot study, those patients were five times more likely to quit cigarettes than PTSD patients sent to separate smoking programs.

Local group carves honors for wounded vets

It took an explosion on the streets of Iraq to put in a kink in Sergeant Andrew Simmons stride back in 2006 as he made his way home to East Tennessee.

http://www.wbir.com/news/local/story.aspx?storyid=75958&catid=2

Anthony Welsch
Posted: 1/26/2009

"I was just walking on the street on foot patrol, headed back to the base, and I just happened to come across an IED [improvised explosive device]. I didn't even know it was there until it exploded. It went off about eight feet behind me. Put a little piece of shrapnel in my leg," Simmons said.

After some physical therpay, the purple heart recipient now walks without complaints, but still worries occasionally what the wound will mean later in life.

"Who is to say in the future I won't have a hard time walking?" the Marine asked.

But one group of East Tennesseans are giving soldiers and Marines like Simmons reason for a little bounce in their step.

"They're doing a bang-up job, and you've got to give them credit," Fred Binning, a member of the Smoky Mountain Wood Carvers said.

Along with similar groups all around the country, the Smoky Mountain Wood Carvers whittle away at tokens of recognition for wounded East Tennessee veterans.

"There are 57 of them who have been wounded, and our hope is to make canes for almost all of the 57," Binning said.

Nationally, hundreds of soldiers have been honored with the canes. It all started when a group in Oklahoma started the tradition in 2004, and it's spread to carving groups around the country.

During a presentation in Knoxville, Simmons became one of the honored. A carved cane, complete with an Eagle bust, became his.

"We think it shows there are people interested in their plight and also interested in helping them get back to what could be as normal a life as they could have," Binning said.

While the cane will only fly on display at Simmons' home for now, the sergeant says it's good to know, at least one group of men are thinking about his sacrifice and future.

"It's nice, it's a wonderful gesture," Simmons said. "You can tell it took a long time to make."

ROK Commandant, III MEF CG Visit 3/5

OKINAWA, Japan (Jan. 26, 2009) -- — The commandant of the Republic of Korea’s Marine Corps, Lt. Gen. Lee Hong-Hee visited the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit at Camp Hansen Jan. 23.

http://www.usmc.mil/units/marforpac/iiimef/31stmeu/Pages/ROKCommandant,IIIMEFCGVisit35.aspx

1/26/2009 By Lance Cpl. Michael Bianco, 31st MEU

During his visit, Hong-Hee, escorted by Lt. Gen. Richard C. Zilmer, the commanding general of III Marine Expeditionary Force, and commander of Marine Corps Bases Japan met with Marines and sailors from the MEU’s ground combat element, Battalion Landing Team, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines as they participated in a two-day water survival course. The visit also gave Zilmer the opportunity to welcome the new BLT to Okinawa.

Zilmer said this was Hong-Hee’s first visit as commandant, which presented a great opportunity to showcase the Marine Corps’ capabilities first hand while maintaining positive relations and goodwill between nations.

“We have an extraordinary relationship with the ROK Marine Corps,” he said. “It allows U.S. Marines and service members from different nations to see and experience each other’s unique cultures.

During a water survival training demonstration, Hong-Hee was introduced to Lance Cpl. Denny Song, an infantry assaultman with BLT 3/5 and a U.S. Marine of South Korean descent, who acted as the main demonstrator for the event.

Hong-Hee observed as Marines learned how to exit an aircraft which has crashed into a body of water.

Once the IPHABD demonstration was complete, Zilmer and Hong-Hee visited additional members of BLT 3/5 at the House of Pain gymnasium.

Zilmer addressed the Marines and sailors regarding their upcoming deployment including the importance of the humanitarian missions they will be conducting and the differences of being in the Asia Pacific theater as opposed to the Middle East.

“The Marine Corps is lean, mean and ready to fight,” Zilmer said to the eager crowd.

For some of the Marines from BLT 3/5, this is a good opportunity for them to see a different part of the Marine Corps; not just what is going on in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“This is a chance for the Marines to better prepare themselves,” said Staff Sgt. Fredy Herrera, a platoon sergeant with the BLT. “There is more going on in the world than just the Middle East and we need to be ready for it all.”

The commanding officer for BLT 3/5, Lt. Col. Christopher S. Dowling, shares Herrera’s feelings and said the Marines are excited about the transition from the sand to the jungle.

“Last year we were in Iraq. This is an opportunity for us to get back to our grass roots,” Dowling said. “We have vastly different missions in the Pacific than in the Middle East.”

The Marines of BLT 3/5 and the 31st MEU depart for their spring deployment throughout the Asia Pacific Region this week, beginning with their participation in exercise Cobra Gold.

Marines, sailors return from Iraq to Pendleton

CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. (AP) -- Their homecoming was delayed for four hours by fog, but some 300 Marines and sailors returned from Iraq to Camp Pendleton after a deployment of more than a year.

http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/C/CA_SAN_DIEGO_TROOP_RETURN_CAOL-?SITE=CAANR&SECTION=HOME&TEMPLATE=DEFAULT

Jan. 26, 2009

Family and friends stood holding signs as the plane carrying Regimental Combat Team 5 arrived Sunday. One bore a marriage proposal. Another read: "Welcome home from Iraq, half of my heart has returned."

The regiment's commander Col. Patrick Malay says two members were killed during the deployment in the Anbar province.

Malay called their loss "a terrible tragedy," but added "we whacked our fair share of knuckleheads."

Fifty-nine-year-old Ronna Ketterling of San Clemente says the night her 25-year-old son Cpl. Robert Schur II left for Iraq was the worst night of her life. But she says "this is the best: My baby is coming home."

January 25, 2009

Marines of 3/8 Clear Southern Afghanistan’s Deadly Route 515

Marines and Sailors of 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment (Reinforced) and Combat Logistics Battalion 3 successfully completed Operation Gateway III, Dec. 28, 2008, through Jan. 25, in Farah province, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.

FARAH PROVINCE, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan – Marines and Sailors of 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment (Reinforced) and Combat Logistics Battalion 3 successfully completed Operation Gateway III, Dec. 28, 2008, through Jan. 25, in Farah province, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.

http://www.dvidshub.net/?script=news/news_show.php&id=29228

Photos:
http://www.dvidshub.net/?script=images/images_gallery.php&action=viewimage&fid=146888

Story by Lance Cpl. Monty Burton
Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force – Afghanistan
Date: 01.25.2009

As the ground combat element of Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force – Afghanistan, 3/8 dispatched Weapons Company’s “Team Smasher,” a task-organized element comprised of a Route Clearance Platoon with heavy weapons elements, to clear southern Afghanistan’s Route 515, the Marines of CLB-3, SPMAGTF-A’s logistics combat element, followed in trace, constructing three combat outposts along the important east-west route. Marines of 3/8’s Co. I provided security for Team Smasher and CLB-3’s combat logisticians by conducting joint patrols with Afghan national army soldiers and then manned the outposts once they were constructed.

Route 515, which is notorious for improvised explosive devices laid by insurgents, has been a road few have dared to travel; but it is an important roadway that provides a direct route between the districts of Delaram and Bakwa in the east of Farah province.

“By opening Route 515, we will decrease travel time for alliance forces, as well as enable civilian goods, that are vital to the community, to pass through the area with less resistance,” said Lt. Col. David L. Odom, 3/8’s commanding officer. “The clearing of the route will also open the lines of communication between the two major district centers.”

The construction of the COPs provides an alliance presence in a volatile area, which in turn provides a safer environment for local villagers by eliminating many of the imminent dangers that locals and Marines faced while traveling through the region.

“There is more danger during the commute to work than there is actually at work; so it will be in everybody’s best interest to have a Marine presence in the area,” said Capt. Mike Hoffman, Co. I. commanding officer.

Odom said the COPs are designed to deny the insurgents the ability to disrupt the security that’s now established on Route 515.

While at the COPs, Marines conducted both mounted and dismounted security patrols and provided a quick reaction force, designed to respond at short notice to any contingencies that arose during the operation. When the Marines were not on patrol or on standby with the QRF, they were constantly fortifying their position, which included filling thousands of dirt-filled protective barriers and laying hundreds of coils of concertina wire.

The COPs were reinforced with machine guns and 120 mm mortar systems provided by 3/8’s Weapons Co., 81 mm mortar platoon. The Marines were also supported from the sky with close-in fire support provided by several AH-1W Super Cobra attack helicopters of Marine Light/Attack Helicopter Squadron 269, a component of the SPMAGTF-A’s air combat element, and Scan Eagle unmanned aerial vehicles to keep an eye on insurgent activity.

The Marines conducted several face-to-face engagements with local villagers to ensure they knew the Marines were there to provide a safer environment for them. During one meeting, a local villager said he enjoyed the Marine presence in the area and thinks the clearing and plans to pave the route in the future could definitely bring more commerce to the Afghan villages.

Throughout the operation, the Marines at the COPs remained vigilant and ready for enemy resistance. During an indirect fire attack during which COP Barrow was targeted by numerous enemy mortar rounds, the Marines returned fire with 120 mm mortar systems and dispatched a QRF in a matter of minutes.

“We always have to be ready,” said Lance Cpl. Anthony Lostal, a mortarman with 3/8’s Weapons Co., and one of the mortarmen who quickly responded to the IDF attack. “One second too late, and that could cost a Marine his life,” he said.

During the course of the operation, the Marines located and defeated dozens of IEDs, apprehended and tactically questioned several persons of interest and eliminated several insurgents.

The three COPs along Route 515 will eventually transition from just a U.S. Marine presence into a combined presence of Afghan national police and U.S. Marines to ensure the safety of local villagers and alliance forces, Odom explained.

More restrictions placed on travel to Mexico

By Gidget Fuentes - Staff writer
Posted : Sunday Jan 25, 2009 11:48:08 EST

CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. — The top commander here has ordered that all Marines, including officers and senior enlisted Marines, must have their unit’s permission before traveling to Mexico.

To continue reading:

http://marinecorpstimes.com/news/2009/01/marine_newmexicorules_012509w/

A Marine pilot's long journey home

For over 60 years, they knew only that he was lost in battle. Then a Globe account reunited a family with its hero.

CHARLESTON, S.C. - The rain fell steadily from an opaque sky, but the Marines stood ramrod straight, eyes fixed ahead. In the historic graveyard, the Rev. Peter Lanzillotta gazed down at the urn. "You served your country with a full measure of your devotion. We shall salute you and say hail and farewell, good and noble Marine."

http://www.boston.com/news/local/massachusetts/articles/2009/01/25/a_marine_pilots_long_journey_home/
Please click on the above link for a video.

By Bella English
Globe Staff / January 25, 2009

A military honor guard gave a crackling three-volley salute. A bugler played "Taps." As loved ones dabbed their tears, fighter jets performed a flyover at the Unitarian Church of Charleston's cemetery.

The dead Marine, buried with full military honors, wasn't a veteran from Iraq or Afghanistan. Sixty-five years after his single-seat F-4U Corsair was shot down by the Japanese on Jan. 20, 1944, Major Marion Ryan McCown Jr. came home to rest. Twenty-five years old when he went to war, and 27 when he died, he would have turned 92 this month.

A true son of Charleston, he had strawberry blond hair with a stubborn cowlick on the right side, a degree from Georgia Tech, and a fondness for Laurel and Hardy.

Before he left for the war, he had asked his gal to marry him. Instead she went to his funeral, and heard him eulogized by a sister who was 3 months old when he died and a nephew who hadn't been born. The extended family, some 30 members, descended upon Charleston from various parts of the country to mourn a man they knew only through fading letters and family lore.

McCown's surprise homecoming began last year, when a military team assigned to recover the remains of World War II MIAs located the cockpit of his plane along with bone fragments near Rabaul in Papua New Guinea. Military personnel told reporters from the Globe, who had accompanied the team, that McCown had no known descendants. He would probably be buried in a military cemetery. And that was the end of the story.

Almost.

The Globe report on the Pentagon's push to recover soldiers still missing from World War II was published in May. In September, Blair McKinney happened to mention to a friend that she was heading to a family party in Tryon, N.C. Somehow her Uncle Ryan's name came up. It was odd, since no one much talked about him anymore. "He was an enigma," said McKinney, 41. "He disappeared off the face of the earth. We all just assumed he was in the ocean."

On the phone with her friend, McKinney could hear his fingers clacking over computer keys. They hung up. A short while later, he called her back. "I think they found your uncle," he said, citing the Globe article, which he found online.

The news spread through the family. "Everyone was just freaking out," said McKinney, who lives in Raleigh.

In Jacksonville, N.C., John Almeida, a retired infantry officer who served in Vietnam, got the news. Now a pathologist in private practice, Almeida grew up hearing about his uncle's patriotism and decided to join the Marines, too. His mother, Claudia, was Ryan's youngest sister, and when she died in 1993 some of his things - his dress uniform, letters, and a journal - were passed on to Almeida.

Through reading his uncle's diary, Almeida, born a year after the plane went down, formed a sketchy image of the man. "I knew that as a boy he fought Golden Gloves," said Almeida, 63. "I knew he was a Boy Scout. I knew he had a sailboat named after his mother, the Lady Grace. I knew he had a pilot's license, and that he was a co-op student at Georgia Tech. I knew he saw 'Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs' several times."

Almeida also knew that every time the phone rang after Ryan went missing, his grandmother thought - hoped - it was her boy coming home. But she died, along with Ryan's father and two sisters, without knowing exactly what happened to the oldest child, the only son.

A month before Ryan died, his mother got a long letter from him, written on onion skin paper. "Dear Ma," he wrote. "I got the identification bracelet. I'm glad you sent it. I needed some sort of a good luck charm with me. . . . I'm afraid there won't be much 'peace on earth' and 'good will toward men' but I'm dreaming of a white Christmas."

And just before he left for active duty, he'd given his girlfriend a little set of Marine Corps wings, which she wore on her suits.

In Summerville, S.C., Helen Schiller, 87, read the report about the recovery of Ryan McCown's remains. In her teens she had fallen for him. "He was what you would call a Southern gentleman," Schiller said. "He'd come over in his dress whites and, oh my gosh, he looked so darn good."

Before he left, he'd said: "We ought to think about getting married." Helen told him they would talk about it when he returned. "But deep down, we knew most of them weren't coming home," she said. "These were flights going over to Japan and they were very dangerous."

A week before he disappeared, McCown had made a crash landing at sea after his Corsair developed engine trouble. He was picked up by a PT boat 47 miles out from his Solomon Islands base.

At the funeral, people spoke of his courage in going right back into the air. "He could have taken time off to recuperate, but that wasn't his style," said Rear Admiral Lee Fisher. That January day, his squadron ran into dozens of enemy fighters; McCown's plane was last seen with a Japanese Zero on its tail. After he died, he was awarded the Purple Heart and Air Medal and promoted from captain to major.

For decades McCown remained a spectral figure to his descendants, unknown in life, mysterious in death. To them, he remained forever 27 years old. At the funeral reunion, both families - his father divorced his mother, remarried in the 1930s, and had two more children - met for the first time in years. Three generations pored over McCown's diary, admired his spiffy military uniform, and shared stories. They rented a bus and drove by some of the old family homes.

The two closest kinfolk were Almeida, born a year after his uncle disappeared, and Jane McCown McKinney, the half-sister who was an infant when he died.

But Helen Schiller was the only one at the funeral who actually remembered McCown. Dressed in a black suit, her hair neatly coiffed, she sat with the family and reminisced about her lost love. "He was not only a great officer, but he was a Charlestonian," she said. To be called a Charlestonian, she explained, was the highest of compliments. Bloodlines in this antebellum city can be as important as they are to European royalty.

She was Helen Miller then, a 19-year-old girl dazzled by all the military men who swarmed Charleston during the war years. She strolled arm-in-arm on the waterfront with McCown, so proud of how he "filled out his uniform." They went to parties at the Hotel Sumter and saw "Gone With the Wind." After McCown left, she married another pilot and moved to Texas.

Schiller giggled as Blair McKinney read portions of McCown's battered black diary aloud. May 30, 1942: "I got set for my date - dress whites, gardenia corsage with a red rose to let her know I remembered," he wrote. "We walked out on the balcony, the moon hung low in the east, turning an obscuring haze red."

Another time, they sat on Helen's porch listening to the radio, "not forgetting to unscrew the bulb," he wrote, the darkness better for romance. "Danced awhile and etc. Migawd, and she even wore gardenias."

To McKinney, the burial was bittersweet. It was comforting to know that he didn't go to a watery grave, buried instead in his beloved hometown. But she wished his loved ones were around to witness his return.

"As we grew older, we observed the grief of those who had known Ryan," she said in her eulogy. "We stand here for those family members who did not live long enough to be here today. Welcome home, Ryan, and thank you."

For Almeida, a proud military man who idolized his absent uncle, it was a relief to read the crash report and learn that "he was seen doing his duty, chasing a Japanese fighter." In his eulogy, Almeida said he has learned "that my uncle is much more than my imagination and much greater than my fantasies."

There was one last mission Major McCown managed to accomplish, a parting gift from the grave. "He is the bond in the family," said Almeida, "that brought us all together."

Bella English can be reached at english@globe.com.

Correction: Because of an editing error, Sunday's Page One story on the burial of Major Marion Ryan McCown Jr. 65 years after he was shot down in World War II mischaracterized the relationship of the eulogist to Major McCown. Blair McKinney was the niece of Major McCown.


Brothers meet up during deployment to Iraq

CAMP RIPPER, Iraq —
While deployed, Marines often depend on phone calls and e-mails to keep in contact with their families. Some Marines however, can find themselves separated from a loved one by just a few miles.

http://www.usmc.mil/units/marforcom/iimef/2ndmardiv/Pages/BrothersmeetupduringdeploymenttoIraq.aspx

1/25/2009 By Lance Cpl. Alan Addison, Regimental Combat Team 8

“I didn’t know exactly where we were going, but I knew my brother was going to al Asad, then I found out we were going to al Asad; I was pretty thrilled. I mean; when do you get to deploy and see your brother?” said Cpl Mark Thiry, a vehicle commander with Regimental Combat Team 8’s Personal Security Detail.

The Chattanooga native’s brother, Sgt. Jeremiah “Jeremy” Thiry, is an air frame mechanic with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 122. “I’m glad he’s here,” said Jeremy. “It’s like having a little bit of home here with me.”

Although Mark is stationed near his brother, it took a little work for him to finally find him. “When I first got here, I didn’t know where he was. I told my buddies I was going to find my brother, I asked around and finally found him sleeping in his room,” said Mark.

In most instances the younger brother follows the path of the older brother but these two were a little different. Mark went off to recruit training in April 2004 in pursuit of becoming a Marine, and in September, Jeremy, who is three years older than his brother, also answered the call to serve his country.

“When I graduated it was kind of a shock. I lost about 70 pounds and I wasn’t lazy anymore. I like to think I inspired him,” said Mark.

Jeremy said that seeing his brother graduate from recruit training made him realize that joining the Marine Corps would give him the challenge he wanted.

The Marine Corps offered a little more to these brothers than just a challenge, it gave them the chance to develop their personal relationship. “I was in good with my oldest brother, but Jeremy and I were pretty much at each other’s throat when we were younger, but the Marine Corps has definitely brought us closer,” said Mark.

“It gives us something to relate over, both of us can understand the things we go through within the Marine Corps,” said Jeremy. “Friendship is saying ‘me too,’ and we definitely say that more now.”

Trina Thiry, Mark and Jeremy’s mother, said, “The Marine Corps has given them that sort of common ground; like going through boot camp, you know there’s nothing like that.”

While the two brothers have grown closer as a result of their Marine Corps careers, their sibling rivalry has not faded away. “There’s always going to be that brotherly competition,” said Jeremy.

“Growing up we had the little-brother big-brother fights so I would say that we definitely try to outdo each other,” said Mark. Their mother described them as always wanting to show each other who was better.

Outside of their ongoing sibling rivalry, Mark and Jeremy hold a great deal of respect and admiration for each other.

“He really cares about people and their well being, and he’s not self-consumed. He’s a genuinely compassionate person,” said Jeremy without hesitation.

“He’s driven in what he does; he’s had a lot of life experiences so he’s really able to help people fix their problems. Maybe it’s just me but I think he can fix anything,” said Mark.

For some servicemembers their computer screens and phone receivers are as close as they’ll ever get to their loved ones while deployed. The Thiry brothers on the other hand, have been able to enjoy each other’s company while deployed, as well as strengthen their relationship through their experiences in the Marine Corps.

For more information on the ongoing mission in Iraq’s Al-Anbar province, visit http://www.mnf-west.usmc.mil.

January 24, 2009

Reserve motor transportation Marines keep the mission rolling

CAMP KOREAN VILLAGE, Iraq —
When the Marines of 2nd Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 8 arrived at al Asad Air Base in western Iraq in early September, they were faced with an immediate challenge: transportation.

http://www.usmc.mil/units/marforcom/iimef/2ndmardiv/Pages/ReserveMotorTransportMarinesKeeptheMissionRolling.aspx

1/24/2009 By Capt. Paul L. Greenberg, Regimental Combat Team 8

THe battalion required a fleet of vehicles to take them to their area of operations to conduct security and stability missions further west on the fringes of Al Anbar province near the Syrian and Jordanian borders.

In the past, battalions arriving in Iraq would normally take over vehicles from another unit which is leaving and conduct a relief in place. According to Capt. Ryan O’Connor, the battalion’s logistics officer, the reserve battalion was conducting a new mission in on the ar-Rutbah district and the Reserve Marines of 2/25 were not replacing a specific unit so there was no fleet of vehicles to fall in on,

“We had to acquire vehicles from other units, mostly ones that needed a lot of work,” said O’Connor, a Charlestown, Mass. native. “When we started out, about 90 percent of them were dead-lined [non-operational]. It was a huge effort to get them up and running.”

One Marine who has taken the lead on ensuring the operational readiness of the battalion’s vehicles over the past four months is Sgt. Isidro Navarro, 25, an active reservist from Huntington Station, N.Y. who is currently serving as the battalion’s maintenance chief.

“Setting up the maintenance shop here from scratch and managing to fix an average of 35 vehicles per month is our greatest accomplishment here,” said Navarro.

Navarro explained that not only do his mechanics fix vehicles throughout the battalion’s area of operations, but they also serve as drivers on convoys.

“I could not have done this if it wasn’t for my Marines,” added Navarro.

With only four school-trained Marine mechanics and dozens of vehicles to take care of, the Reserve Marines of 2/25 were forced to rely on their civilian skills and expertise.

Staff Sgt. William Wentworth, a 36-year-old maintenance chief for Company E, 2/25, has been working on cars and trucks since he was 15 years old.

After finishing a four-year active duty tour in the Marine Corps as a combat engineer, Wentworth started a trucking business in his hometown of Garland, Maine, and performed automobile maintenance on the side. He has simultaneously served as a reserve Marine infantryman with Company A, 1st Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment since May 2008.

“I try to get all the Marines out here in the motor pool,” said Wentworth. “It’s important that they know how to work on these vehicles in case one goes down on a mounted patrol out in the desert. It’s just like their weapons; you take care of them, and they’ll take care of you.”

“What I love about mechanics is being able to figure things out, kind of like doctor; only without the doctor’s salary,” said Wentworth, whose operational experience includes a 2005 deployment to Afghanistan. “Mechanics is like solving a mystery. And when you take a vehicle that was dead, and you can make it run, that’s a great feeling.”

Wentworth, like many other infantrymen in the battalion, worked day and night at the motor pool at Al Asad throughout the months of September and October to increase the readiness rate of their vehicles from 10 percent to 90 percent.

Lance Cpl. Nicholas Menzen, 23, a Company E assaultman, was one of those Marines who used his civilian skills to help Wentworth prepare the battalion’s fleet for their trek to the western region of Iraq. Menzen’s family owns an auto body shop in his home town of Ottsville, Pa.

“The mechanics gave us pointers when we needed them, but I knew most of it from working with my dad back at home,” said Menzen.

Lance Cpl. Jordan Carl, 21, of Hegins, Pa. is a team leader with Company E. Carl’s father owns an automotive service business and he has worked on vehicles “for as long as I can remember,” said Carl.

In addition to helping out back at al Asad, Carl and his team spent the entire day Jan. 20 preparing their humvee for an upcoming mission in support of the Iraqi national elections at the end of the month.

“I’m pretty much teaching everyone on my team how to do basic first echelon maintenance, such as servicing transmissions, changing fluids, filters and tires,” said Carl. “It really helps to pass the time here.”

In addition to hundreds of simple repairs and more than a thousand hours of basic maintenance performed by the infantrymen, the battalion’s four mechanics have fixed more than 140 “dead-lined” vehicles requiring major overhauls such as fixing axles and suspensions and replacing fuel injectors, said 2nd Lt. Max Wright, the battalion motor transportation officer who has supervised the battalion’s maintenance efforts over the past four months.

“What would usually be a simple repair becomes difficult with the MRAP [Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected vehicle],” said Wright. “It takes a crane or forklift to remove the armor if you want to replace a starter. It adds a lot of time to simple jobs, which makes for longer work hours.”

Wright lauded the efforts of his Marines, who have labored from early morning until late in the evening, working sometimes by flashlight to keep the vehicles up and running.

“Considering the equipment we started with and the number of the Marines I have, their accomplishments are unbelievable,” added Wright, a 26-year-old native of Texarkana, Texas.

As the Marines of 2/25 finish out the last few months of their tour, the mechanics, both the military-trained and those who learned from friends, fathers and technical schools back home, continue to work tirelessly to take care of their vehicles so that their vehicles can enable them to accomplish their infantry mission here in Al Anbar province.

For more information on the ongoing mission in Iraq’s Al Anbar province, visit http://www.mnf-west.usmc.mil.

January 23, 2009

Devil dog providing the Corps with some new threads

MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. — When Russ Meade was honorably discharged from the Marine Corps in 1994, the former infantryman thought his separation would be only temporary. After obtaining his college degree, he planned on returning to the Marine Corps as an officer and making it a career.

http://www.usmc.mil/units/mciwest/29palms/Pages/DevildogprovidingtheCorpswithsomenewthreads.aspx

1/23/2009 By Lance Cpl. Zachary J. Nola, Marine Air Ground Task Force Training Command 29 Palms

However, while in college Meade and his wife started a family, so the former war fighter, refusing to trek his family from one base to another, put his goal of seeking a commission aside and entered the civilian workforce.

Although the former devil dog is still serving his beloved Corps, he is not doing it with a rifle in hand. Instead, he is doing his duty with socks.

Meade, now the chief military advisor for and co-creator of the business Covert Threads, has accepted the mission of producing, for Marines, a military sock for every clime and place.

“Socks are what we do best, and that’s our mission,” said Meade, a native of Hickory, N.C. “I still feel like I’m serving.”

Meade’s endeavor into the sock business began after the events of Sept. 11, 2001. He was determined to serve his country once again and therefore reenlisted in the Marine Corps, this time working in public affairs.

Before deploying with II Marine Expeditionary Force in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Meade was given eight pairs of socks from his good friend Peter Menzies, who was already in the sock business.

Meade said although the socks felt great, the extreme heat and other elements resulted in foot problems such as blisters and hot spots. In response, Meade e-mailed Menzies, informing him about the problems, and asked if it was possible for Menzies to develop a better sock for a specific climate. Within a month, Menzies had shipped his friend a new sock called the "Sand" boot sock.

The sock was such a success that Meade asked Menzies to send more of them so he could hand them out to other Marines. The result was Marines ordered more of the socks, directly from Menzies, and upon returning from Iraq, Menzies and Meade created the company Covert Threads.

The Sand Military Boot Sock is a sock specifically created for hot to moderate climates, incorporating an acrylic and wool blend that wicks moisture away, keeping feet dry and cool, said Menzies. A silver lining also helps battle bacteria, while eliminating foot odor, and aiding in the prevention of blisters.

The company has since grown to produce socks specifically meant for physical training, dress, rugged terrain, arctic terrain, and fire protection.

The company has also expanded its consumer base to include Marine Corps exchanges, some Naval and Air Force exchanges, and the civilian hunting industry.

James Nelson, the warehouse manager for West Coast Tactical Gear Distributors, the distributor for the Combat Center’s Marine Corps Exchange, who was working a tent sale at the exchange at the Combat Center’s Camp Wilson Jan. 15, said the distributing company was happy to sell the socks Covert Threads had to offer.

“We were just really impressed with their quality and durability. They’re one of our top selling items,” said Nelson, a former Marine engineer who said he knows first hand just how important a reliable pair of socks is.

While Meade and Menzies admit, like any other business, the goal of Covert Threads is to make a profit in order to support a living, the two men also have a strong and unwavering passion for helping Marines.

“The good thing about it is we’re taking care of Marines,” said Meade, who has provided his product to reconnaissance and infantry Marines, as well as members of Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command. “It’s almost better than getting a paycheck.”

The first time the two saw their product being offered in an exchange they were pleased to see that their business was going to be financially successful, but they were also humbled knowing Marines had access to good gear said Menzies.

“We’re not just making money,” said Meade. “We’re making a difference.”

Testimonials on the company’s Web site from Marines, mothers of Marines, and outdoorsmen, show Covert Threads is making quite an impact on the lives of service members and civilians alike - something Meade and Menzies feel privileged to be part of.

“We’re just blessed,” Meade said.

Blessed with his family and blessed to be able to continue serving his country by providing his brothers and sisters in arms with something as simple as a pair of comfortable socks.

Regimental Combat Team 5 turns over with Regimental Combat Team 8

AL ASAD AIR BASE, Iraq – Regimental Combat Team 8 relieved Regimental Combat Team 5 at a ceremony here today.

http://www.mnfwest.usmc.mil/public/InfolineMarines.nsf/(ArticlesRead)/D03BCA88624BD64685257546005A2E3B

MNF-West Press Release
Multi National Force – West PAO
January 23, 2009

“The only thing that changes today are the names and faces; the mutual respect will still be here; the dedication to accomplish the mission will still be here; the pride and the skill of a great regiment will still be here,” said Maj. Gen. Richard P. Mills, the ground combat element commander for I Marine Expeditionary Force Forward.

Regimental Combat Team 5, which hails from Camp Pendleton, Calif., oversaw the pacification of western al-Anbar province during its yearlong tour.

“The most rewarding part of our deployment had been working hand and hand with our Iraqi brethren, as they take their country to the greatly deserved position as a prominent nation on the world’s stage,” said Col. Patrick J. Malay, the commanding officer of RCT-5.

When RCT-5 arrived in January of 2008, attacks hovered around 16 per week and Marine battle positions through the area of operation numbered in the fifties. Attacks are now below two per week and the battle positions, as part of a campaign to reduce the Coalition force footprint, have shrunk to approximately 10.

Regimental Combat Team 8, based out of Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, will replace RCT-5 and continue the successes of its predecessors in western al-Anbar province.

“We will continue to empower the people and leadership of western al-Anbar, to develop and sustain the transparent, economic, governance, legal, and society capability and capacity in order to defeat the insurgency and facilitate long-term regional stability and development,” said Col. John K. Love, the commanding officer of RCT-8.

RCT-8 will work in partnership with the embedded Provisional Reconstruction Team, providing support to the region’s Iraqi Security Forces and the local government in order to create a stable, peaceful and prosperous Iraq. Additionally, RCT-8 will provide security overwatch for the Iraqi Security Forces.

“RCT-8 returns to find Iraq a much more secure place than it was when the regiment left in 2006, but there is still work to be done. Together in partnership with the Iraq Security Forces, we will relentlessly pursue the remaining elements of insurgents and terrorists, so that the citizens of western al-Anbar can return to a normal life, and so that further economic development will be possible,” said Love.

RCT-8 last deployed to Iraq in 2005.

Military Bans Marines From Visiting Tijuana

An official has barred Marines from visiting Tijuana as the California border town's drug violence soars.

Lt. Gen. Samuel Helland of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force at Camp Pendleton has restricted travel to Mexico for the unit's 44,000 members, USA Today reports.

http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,481925,00.html

Friday, January 23, 2009
FOX News

"The situation in Mexico is now more dangerous than usual," Mike Alvarez, the unit's civilian public information officer, told the paper. "The intent is just to look out for the Marines' safety and well-being."

Last year, 843 people were killed in Tijuana, up dramatically from its 2007 death toll of 337. Many of the murders were execution-style and the bodies were found decapitated, the paper said.

The Marines said the order was first put in place for the Christmas holidays. USA Today said the order was extended indefinitely last week.

Warpigs of 1st LAR hand off smuggling search in northern Iraq

SAHL SINJAR, Iraq – For the past75 days, the Marines and sailors of Company C, 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion have been living and operating in the open areas near the Sinjar Mountains of northern Iraq to interdict smuggling on the Iraqi-Syrian border. After this extended period, the “Warpigs” recently turned over responsibility of the region to the 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division so that they may return to Sinjar Airfield for further missions.

http://www.mnfwest.usmc.mil/MNF/mnfw_IM.nsf/ArticlesListingReadCurrent/CF3F8520055D23D44325754D004F9521

Cpl. Dean Davis

“Initially we didn’t see much smuggling until we came north of the Sinjar Mountains and in the past month we have seen it every day,” said Capt. Matthew Miller, commanding officer of Charlie Company, 1st LAR Bn. “We have worked continually to search every vehicle and person coming over and leaving to ensure nothing illegal is going across.”

Taking a chance at smuggling on the border can be a tempting opportunity to turn a profit, but it will be met with consequence, explained Miller.

“Smuggling has been happening for a long time here,” said Miller, 35, from Detroit, Mich. “We have become such a presence here that the people know what we are watching and they will come and tell us if something is going across, because they know that if they don’t, we will find it and then we will shut down [all movement].”

That relationship isn’t going to change because a new unit is here either, explained Capt. Robert M. Barnhart Jr., commanding officer of Mobile Assault Company, 1st Battalion, 2nd Marines.

“We will meet every situation with the sturdy professionalism that is a United States Marine. We will also conduct engagements with the Iraqi Security Forces as well as some of the local government leaders in order to gain more information on this area,” said Barnhart, 31, a native of Agat, Guam. “We can’t be everywhere and the border is porous so we have to be creative in how we spread our forces across the battle space. Working with the Warpigs has been great. We were able to gain some rapport with local leaders and learn some of their procedures that have worked well for them.”

Company C can now take some time to refocus their effort toward other security operations, knowing that their area is well manned, explained Miller.

“This has been one of the most enjoyable missions I have been able to lead. The Marines have done a fantastic job over the last 75 days and have continued to maintain their discipline in the snow, rain and sub-freezing temperatures and keep doing what they do, and that’s getting the mission done.”

January 22, 2009

Marines join counter-piracy mission

By Trista Talton - Staff writer
Posted : Thursday Jan 22, 2009 17:10:09 EST

Members of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit are participating in counter-piracy operations off the coast of Somalia, a spokesman for Marine Corps headquarters said Thursday.

To continue reading:

http://marinecorpstimes.com/news/2009/01/marine_pirate_mission_012209w/

Yankees begin first operational journey

USS BOXER, At Sea — The 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit continues to lead the way for the Marine Corps. It was the first MEU to deploy with the Landing Craft Air Cushion vehicle, the first to deploy with a Marine Special Operations Command Company and now, this year, the first to deploy with the UH-1Y Huey helicopter, a revamped version of the Vietnam-era war machine, the UH-1N.

http://scoutnewspaper.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=707&Itemid=285

Written by SGT. WAYNEEDMISTON 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit
Thursday, 22 January 2009

The new Huey is fully modernized with new parts, avionics and a four-blade rotor, making it a faster, more powerful and better asset on the battlefield.

“The Yankee brings back the Huey we had back in Vietnam. It can load fuel, troops, ammo and carry them to the zone while remaining on station,” said Capt. Jamie M. Glines, UH-1Y pilot, Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 163 (Reinforced), known as the “Evil Eyes.”

Prior to the addition of the Yankee, its predecessor, the UH-1N, was hindered in its ability to perform in combat.

“The November was underpowered and a lot of times we had to sacrifice fuel, troops or ammo in order to complete the mission,” Glines explained.

From a mechanical standpoint, the new helicopter’s parts are state-of-the-art and make it easier to conduct maintenance and keep the “Yankees” flying.

Staff Sgt. Zachary R. Marks, a UH-1Y mechanic with HMM-163 (Rein.), said the new helicopter’s improved technology increases the durability and overall life of the aircraft.
Another improvement is the sharing of common parts with other attack helicopters. With the upcoming testing and release of the new AH-1Z Cobra attack helicopter, which is designed to use some of the same parts as the Yankee, maintenance will be easier, both logistically and mechanically, for future air-combat Marines. The underlying question, however, is how it will benefit the operational forces.

“This aircraft is providing more time on station, provides more capabilities to the Marines on the ground. The parts commonality between this aircraft and the up-and-coming AH-1Z will improve the up-status of aircraft, which means there are more assets,” Marks explained. “It’s hands down more power and more fight to bring into battle.”

“We can go in and do a (casualty evacuation) if we need to and not have to worry about power anymore. We can get in and get out quick to recover a small team such as a (reconnaissance) team,” said Sgt. Vincent P. Clarkston, a crew chief on the UH-1Y.

Overall, many of the Marines with HMM-163 (Rein.) are anxious to bring the utility helicopter into real-world operations.

CDC warns military about peanut butter recall

By Karen Jowers - Staff writer
Posted : Thursday Jan 22, 2009 10:33:09 EST

Be careful eating those peanut butter crackers, cookies and candies — including those that you might receive in care packages sent by families, friends and well-meaning community organizations.

To continue reading:

http://marinecorpstimes.com/news/2009/01/military_peanutbutter_salmonella_012209w/

January 21, 2009

Lejeune Marines die in auto wreck

Staff report
Posted : Wednesday Jan 21, 2009 19:02:08 EST

JACKSONVILLE, N.C. — Two North Carolina-based Marines are dead and another is in a Pennsylvania hospital after early morning vehicle accident Tuesday.

To continue reading:

http://www.marinecorpstimes.com/news/2009/01/marine_traffic_fatals_012109w/

Medal of Honor recipient James Swett of Redding dies at 88

James Elms Swett of Redding once said that notoriety can at times be a “damn nuisance.”

http://www.redding.com/news/2009/jan/21/medal-honor-recipient-james-swett-redding-dies-88/

Related Video: James Swett - Wildcat Ace:
http://www.redding.com/james-swett-wildcat-ace/

By Jim Schultz
January 21, 2009

He got pulled over more times than he could remember by inquisitive California Highway Patrol officers due to the distinctive license plate on his car.

But it had its perks, too.

He rarely got a traffic ticket, and had a lot of autographed photographs from a number of U.S. presidents.

Swett, who was awarded the Medal of Honor in World War II for shooting down seven Japanese bombers within 15 minutes, died Sunday at Mercy Medical Center in Redding after a long illness. He was 88.

Swett, who was awarded the Medal of Honor for valor due to his courageous actions during World War II, never thought of himself as a hero.

But a lot of people certainly did.

Randy Clement, a Vietnam War veteran and past commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post No. 7705 in Weaverville, said Swett was a hero in every sense of the word.

Clement said that Swett, whom he described as a humble man who radiated a “quiet heroism,” volunteered countless hours to the community and was often a guest at that community’s annual Little Baseball opening day ceremonies.

“There was not a year I can remember that he missed,” he said. “His death is a true loss.”

Swett, who was one of two Medal of Honor recipients in the north state, was a Seattle native who grew up in the San Mateo region.

He moved to Redding in 2007 after living more than 20 years in tiny Trinity Center.

A former U.S. Marine Corps pilot, Swett, who also was awarded two Purple Hearts, six Distinguished Flying Cross medals and 21 Air Medals, has said that 30 minutes of combat over the Florida group of the Solomon Islands during World War II forever changed his life.

It was on April 7, 1943, when the 22-year-old 1st lieutenant led his first combat mission.

It was that mission that resulted in him being awarded the Medal of Honor.

According to the official citation that accompanies the Medal of Honor he earned that day, Swett was quickly caught up in an air-to-air fight with a wave of 150 Japanese planes.

“1st Lt. Swett unhesitatingly hurled his four-plane division into action against a formation of 15 enemy bombers and personally exploded three hostile planes in midair with accurate and deadly fire during his dive,” the citation reads. “Although separated from his division while clearing the heavy concentration of antiaircraft fire, he boldly attacked six enemy bombers, engaged the first four in turn and, unaided, shot down all in flames.”

With a hole in one of his wings and his ammunition nearly exhausted, Swett pursued a fifth bomber. The rear gunner fired, shattering Swett’s windshield. Swett shot and killed him with his remaining ammunition, setting the bomber on fire.

The engine to his F-4F Wildcat gave out, and he crash-landed in Tulagi Harbor. With a nose broken on impact, he climbed out of the sinking cockpit, floated to the surface and was rescued by a Coast Guard picket boat.

“God was with me in that cockpit,” Swett said in a 1996 Record Searchlight interview.

Over the course of his World War II service, Swett was credited with more than 15 downed enemy planes and earned eight Distinguished Flying Crosses, two Purple Hearts and a score of Air Medals.

Swett, who also saw action at Iwo Jima and Okinawa, was again shot down in July 1943 near New Guinea and was forced to spend four days in a rubber raft, living on chocolate bars and coconuts, until he was finally rescued by natives.

After leaving active duty in the Marines in 1950, he joined the reserves, where he became a colonel before retiring in 1970.

He also worked in his father’s company in San Francisco, making marine pumps and turbines. In 1960, after his father’s death, Swett took over the company and ran it for 23 years.

He moved to Trinity County with his wife, Loie, in 1983 from Los Altos. She died in 1999 at the age of 75, and Swett remarried in 2007.

In 1999, Swett was one of then 98 Medal of Honor recipients on hand for the dedication of a $2.5 million memorial in Indianapolis honoring America’s greatest war heroes.

His name, etched in one of 27 huge glass walls, joined those of such well-known Medal of Honor recipients as Audie Murphy, Alvin York and Eddie Rickenbacker.

In 2006, Swett’s Medal of Honor heroics were recreated using computer graphics for The History Channel series, “Dogfights.” Swett himself provided commentary.

He is survived by his wife, Verna, of Redding; two sons, James Jr. of the Seattle area and John of Redwood City, three grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

A funeral service is set for 11 a.m. Friday at McDonald’s Redding Chapel followed by a 12:45 p.m. burial with full military honors at the Northern California Veterans Cemetery in Igo.

A visitation is from 4 to 7 p.m. Thursday at McDonald’s Chapel in Redding.

Jim Schultz can be reached at 225-8223 or at jschultz@redding.com.


January 18, 2009

‘Semper Fit’ more than motto to RCT-8 Marines

CAMP RIPPER, Iraq —
Keeping in peak physical condition isn’t an exception but more like a rule for Marines and this mindset doesn’t change during deployment.

http://www.usmc.mil/units/marforcom/iimef/2ndmardiv/Pages/%E2%80%98SemperFit%E2%80%99morethanmottotoRCT-8Marines.aspx

1/18/2009 By Cpl. Eric C. Schwartz, 2nd Marine Division

Marines with Regimental Combat Team 8 are well aware they are in a combat environment but also understand they need to stay physically fit in any clime or place.

“It’s going to be a long deployment,” said Chief Warrant Officer 2 James Wright, the RCT-8 Personnel Officer. “Regardless of where we currently are or expected to be, we must maintain our physical standards.”

The Marines deployed to Camp Ripper have many amenities similar to home but these luxuries are a double-edged sword. Keeping a healthy balance between a dining facility offering healthy salads and grilled chicken, as well as personal pizzas and ice cream can make a Marine fit or fat.

“You can take advantage of the fast-food restaurants on main side or you can eat a healthy meal at the chow hall,” Wright said.

Three square meals a day is important to staying physically fit but Marines need to burn those calories by lifting weights at the gym or running on a regular basis.

Weight-lifting is a popular exercise for many Marines here, who either have a goal of bulking up to lift heavier weights or toning their muscles to have a beach-body physique by lifting smaller weights with more repetitions.

“I’ve been lifting weights since 2007,” said Cpl. David Olivier, a maintenance management specialist with Headquarters Company, RCT-8. “But now it’s all about toning muscles for me.”

Olivier has reduced his barbell curls down to 45 pounds so he can increase his repetitions. Already a large man at 220 pounds, he has a goal of being down to 190 pounds by the end of the deployment by healthy eating, daily cardiovascular exercise and light weight-lifting.

During a deployment, Marines have added stresses that can demoralize them eventually affecting their quality of work and attitude. Exercise and proper dieting helps keep stress down while keeping the Marines energized.

“Working out keeps me sharp and decompressed,” Wright said.

Not only does exercise and a healthy diet help handle stress better, it gives Marines goals to improve themselves, thus making them try harder.

“I’m here to improve my physical fitness test,” said Cpl. Matthew Fedrick, a motor transportation operator with RCT-8.

Fedrick wants to improve his fitness test for further advancement in the Marine Corps but he also has a personal goal.

“I want to go home and look good for my girl,” Fedrick added.

Small fitness goals are healthy ways for Marines to improve their overall lifestyle of maintaining their Corps’ standard and keeping lean, mean and green (well, tan for now).

RCT-8 Communication Marines: keeping it connected during the fight

CAMP RIPPER, Iraq -- Constant communication between leaders at all levels is important whether they are deep in the sands of Iraq, the mountainous regions of Afghanistan or the confines of Camp Lejeune, N.C.

http://www.usmc.mil/units/marforcom/iimef/2ndmardiv/Pages/RCT-8CommunicationMarines.aspx

1/18/2009 By Lance Cpl. Alan Addison, 2nd Marine Division

Marines of Regimental Combat Team 8 Communications section work hard to ensure that Marines have the ability to communicate with one another whether they are on base or out on patrol.

“We know that without proper communication Marines won’t be able to complete assigned missions, so we do everything we can to make sure their equipment is up and running and ensure they have access to networks needed in order to complete the mission,” said 2nd Lieutenant Andrew Walker, operations officer for RCT-8 communications section.

The communications section consist of independent parts that all work together in order to keep the regiment’s communication intact. Marines in the radio section support the regiment with single channel radio communication as well as satellite communication, while Marines from the data section ensure that computers and their networks are up and running properly. Those working in the wire section deal with the telephone connections on base and in the field, and the communication maintenance section works to replace broken equipment.

“We work a lot with computers,” said Lance Cpl. Christopher Jourden, a maintenance technician with the communications section. “Since communication greatly depends on computers, we have to work hard to make sure we get them repaired quickly so individuals can properly use them,” said Jourden, a Sparta, Mich. native.

“We also do a lot of repair work on communication systems in humvees. If it’s broken we’ll do what we can to fix it, replace it or update it,” said Jourden.

Although there are many working components to the communications section, each of them is equally important. “It’s a conglomeration of everybody; all the shops are working hard to become familiar with the infrastructure here in order to be successful. It’s been a mass effort and it will continue to be that way,” said Walker.

While the main goal of communication is to keep the regiment working together in order to stay combat effective, there are also other advantages of having good avenues of communication. When Marines are deployed they don’t enjoy the luxury of seeing their families, so communication via telephone and e-mail becomes their primary way to stay connected to family and friends.

“E-mails home and phone calls home are important to Marines and without us staying on top of our job Marines won’t have as many opportunities to keep in contact with their families,” said Walker.

Marines working in communications have an incredible task of making sure everyone has access to send and receive information in order to complete their tasks. With this constant flow of information, leaders can get updates faster and deliver the information to their Marines.

January 17, 2009

IP, Marineshelp change perceptions in rural al-Anbar province

COMBAT OUTPOST AKASHAT, Iraq —
Local Iraqi Police teamed up with Marines and sailors from Company G, 2nd Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 8, Jan. 14 to give students something to look forward to after finishing their annual standardized tests at Akashat Primary School.

http://www.usmc.mil/units/marforcom/iimef/2ndmardiv/Pages/IP,Marineshelpchangeperceptionsinruralal-Anbarprovince.aspx

1/17/2009 By Capt. Paul L. Greenberg, 2nd Marine Regiment

About 20 boxes of children’s winter clothing, stuffed animals, soccer balls, candy and other snacks were sent to the Marines of 2/25 by family, friends and patriotic organizations back home in the States.

Sgt. Joseph Zuza, the operations chief for Company G’s police transition team, has been working almost daily with the officers from the Akashat Police Station to help them become a more professional security force that is also an integral part of the local community.

To this end, Zuza, a 23-year-old Marine from Manville, N.J., and his team went to the school with the Iraqi police officers to give the police the opportunity to distribute the supplies to the students.

“This was great,” said Zuza. “I think it gave them a new face in the community. In many parts of rural Iraq, all the people know of police authority is the brutality they saw under the Saddam Hussein regime. These guys are fresh and have a progressive attitude. This gave them a chance to show their human side and let the people know that they’re here to help; not to be an oppressive authority figure.”

Zuza described the dramatic changes he’s seen in the past four months here, explaining how the local citizens’ perception of the police has gone from fear or indifference to warmth and hospitality. Working with U.S. government-contracted international police advisors here, the Marines also urged the police to venture into other nearby towns and desert settlements to meet the citizens and let them know that the new mission of the Iraqi police is to protect and serve.

“We focused them on community policing, getting to know the people on the streets to see if they have problems,” said Zuza. “They have now developed a rapport…. Overall, it’s been a great success. The IPs (Iraqi Police) have a long road ahead, but they’ve made leaps and bounds in their ability to do their job well. Hopefully after we leave, they will continue on that track.”

1st Lt. Khamis Jamal Hamid, 31, the Akashat deputy police chief, coordinated with the school principal to visit the local primary school.

“There is great value to what we did on this operation today,” said Hamid through interpretation. “It was a community melt. Before, the kids would think, ‘Yeah, there goes the IPs.’ Now, we have a developed a more positive relationship.”

Hamid explained that although he and his officers handed out most of the items to the students, the children realized that Coalition Forces brought these presents to help alleviate the suffering in this impoverished region.

The relationship that exists between Coalition Forces, the Iraqi Police here, and the people of Akashat has been nurtured by the Marines and sailors of 2/25, as well as the previous Coalition units which have served in this town of about 1,500 citizens over the past several years, according to Hamid.

Abdul Fatah Saoud Matar, the school principal, expressed his deep thanks to the people in America who donated and sent the gifts to Iraq.

More than 200 stuffed animals which the Marines distributed Jan. 14 were sent to Iraq by private citizens from all over America who made their donations through Beanies for Baghdad, a non-profit group under the umbrella of America Supports You, a Department of Defense organization.

Jade and Joslin Logan, twin 16-year-old sisters from Chattanooga, Tenn., collected the mittens, hats, scarves and other winter clothing from students at schools throughout their city and surrounding area during a drive they held in November to help the children of Iraq. The clothing was then mailed to the Marines of 2/25 by Kellie Smith, 33, from Chattanooga, who has a friend currently serving with the battalion.

“My friends and I spent many hours working on this important cause. We truly enjoyed the time we shared and worked together knowing we were helping the children of Iraq,” said Smith. “For a month, we made signs and donation boxes, collected donations, folded clothes and packed boxes, and we shipped them all with added love for children…. I am very thankful for the Marines of 2/25 and the care they show to these children in taking the time and energy to help them. Our troops in Iraq touch so many lives, not only for freedom, but even more importantly for humanity.”

The event was also a morale boost for the Marines and sailors who accompanied the police to the school, according to Petty Officer 2nd Class Jonathan Hancock, 27, a U.S. Navy Reservist from Piscataway, N.J. who is on his first tour with the Marines in Iraq. In his civilian career, Hancock is an intensive care unit nurse at a hospital in Plainfield, N.J.

“Years down the road, when these guys look back on their time in Iraq, this is the kind of thing they’ll remember, and think, ‘I really did something positive there,’” said Hancock, indicating the Marines handing out comfort items and interacting with the children in the school courtyard.

The reservists of Company G are scheduled to redeploy back to their home training center in Dover, N.J. in the spring. They will go through a short de-mobilization period, and then return to their civilian lives and careers. But they will take with them the knowledge that they played an integral role in the transition of Iraq to a free democracy, where the people they met and worked with will have the opportunity to choose their own future.


January 16, 2009

Replacement Marine unit to go right into ship-based training

By Cindy Fisher, Stars and Stripes
Pacific edition, Friday, January 16, 2009

KADENA AIR BASE, Okinawa — The 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit welcomed more than 600 Marines of the Camp Pendleton, Calif.-based 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, to Okinawa on Wednesday evening.

To continue reading:

http://www.stripes.com/article.asp?section=104&article=60029

CMC: More dwell time between Afghan tours

By Philip Ewing - Staff writer
Posted : Friday Jan 16, 2009 15:52:35 EST

Marines shipping out to Afghanistan this year eventually will spend twice as much time at home as deployed, Commandant Gen. James Conway said Thursday.

To continue reading:

http://www.marinecorpstimes.com/news/2009/01/marine_afghan_dwelltime_011509w/

1st LAR Bn. secures remote northern Iraq, impeding insurgents

SAHL SINJAR, Iraq – If they have fought in ‘every clime and place’ as the Marines’ Hymn recounts, maybe a verse should be added for clarity. What would it say? Perhaps something about ‘for however long it takes with minimal supplies…’

http://www.mnfwest.usmc.mil/MNF/mnfw_IM.nsf/ArticlesListingReadCurrent/44E109FF2D30FDDE43257540003BFA36

January 16, 2009

It isn’t very musical, but that’s the verse Marines of 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion have been writing for more than 70 days and counting.

Operating in Iraq’s north-western tip to interdict smuggling operations and bring security to the country’s up-coming elections, the Highlanders are prepared to stay outside the wire for months to come, explained Capt. Dominique Neal, commanding officer of Company B, 1st LAR Bn.

“This is what light armored reconnaissance companies are designed for,” said Neal. “We are the forward eyes of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force. With the firepower and mobility that we have we can stay out for long periods of time and the Marines all know that. This is what they signed up for and they’re happiest when they’re out operating.”

About once a month, Marines return to Sinjar Airfield for reset training, a three-day peiod to rest, shower, check email and have a meal prepared by other Marines. But it doesn’t last long, explained Cpl. Cameron L. Miles, a light armored vehicle crewman with Company D, 1st LAR Bn.

“We are out operating anywhere from two weeks to more than 40 days,” said Miles. “My favorite thing about coming back to Sinjar Airfield is definitely the showers.”

At the end of the reset time, Marines remediate on personal weapons, pack and repair the vehicles, then roll out for another month-long travel through roughly 16,000 square miles of terrain.

“Everyday we are moving and setting up shop again to communicate with the platoons,” said Miles. “Everything just takes a little bit more effort, but we need to be ready.”

When the ability to shoot, move, communicate and possess finesse in all things expeditionary is the mission, a better force in readiness is hard to find, explained Neal.

“In the light armored reconnaissance community it’s very common for just a company to support a regiment, or in our case, having one battalion for the (I MEF),” said Neal. “This requires a great deal of maturity and trust for us to go out for a month and operate. This is a very small community, and we take a lot of pride in what we do.”

Logistics leathernecks train to evacuate U.S. citizens

FORT PICKETT, Va. — In 1990, the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit conducted a Non-combatant Evacuation Operation to rescue U.S. citizens and other third-country nationals from war-torn Liberia. The MEU operated in the West African nation for several weeks, evacuating more than 1,600 civilians in the longest-running NEO in history.

http://www.usmc.mil/units/marforcom/iimef/22ndmeu/Pages/LogisticsleatherneckstraintoevacuateUScitizens.aspx

1/16/2009 By Cpl. Alicia R. Giron, 22nd MEU

With the help of professional civilian role-players, Marines with Combat Logistics Battalion 22, 22nd MEU, caught a glimpse of reality during a NEO training exercise Jan. 16, 2009, aboard Fort Pickett, Va., a Virginia Army National Guard Maneuver Training Center.

A NEO involves the safe evacuation of American civilians, embassy officials and authorized citizens of other countries in the event an emergency arises in a foreign country.

"They're frightened because they're in a hostile environment and want to get some place safe," said Chief Warrant Officer Dawn Conklin, the maintenance officer for CLB-22 and the officer-in-charge for the NEO.

CLB-22 conducted the exercise to train personnel for their upcoming deployment.

"If there's something hostile going on in a country, we might have American citizens who are attached to local nationals," said Sgt. Scott D. Faulkner, a combat engineer with CLB-22, explaining why sometimes citizens of other countries are evacuated by the Marines. "It affords them the opportunity to get out of the country via the MEU."

During the training, Marines established designated stations to support an orderly evacuation process. One of the biggest challenges to that order is the sheer number of people involved.

In a NEO, the MEU's Forward Command Element will plan and coordinate with the embassy staff to determine how many people the CLB should plan to process.

However, the fact that Americans living in a foreign country are not required to stay in touch with the embassy can throw the count off.

The 24th MEU learned this lesson first-hand when they assisted in the evacuation of Americans and third-country nationals from Beirut in 2006. The number of personnel they evacuated was three times larger than estimate they were given.

But, MEU's have learned to train for that eventuality.

"They'll give you one figure and you always plan for three times that amount," said Conklin, a native of Missoula, Mont.

The CLB's goal is to become proficient enough to process up to 100 people an hour after initial setup during an actual NEO.

"Once we got to the site and we walked through, we were able to set up and start processing within 30 minutes," she said.

According to Conklin, they got 53 role-players processed in an hour for this exercise.

Marines searched evacuees for metal, weapons and Improvised Explosive Devices as they came through the simulated NEO camp prior to evacuation.

Once the evacuees completed the check-in process and security screening, Marines loaded the role players into tactical vehicles, taking them to their final destination - a safe-haven in a real-world scenario.

"We go through these exercises so we can be as solid as possible if we have to do it for real," added Faulkner.

The 22nd MEU is a scalable, multipurpose force of more than 2,200 Marines and sailors. Commanded by Col. Gareth F. Brandl, it consists of its Ground Combat Element, Battalion Landing Team, 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment; Aviation Combat Element, Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 263 (Reinforced); Logistics Combat Element, CLB-22; and its Command Element.

The 22nd MEU is currently conducting pre-deployment training and is scheduled to deploy this spring. For more information about the 22nd MEU, visit the unit's website at www.22meu.usmc.mil.
-30-

January 15, 2009

New DoD center offers help for PTSD

By Kelly Kennedy - Staff writer
Posted : Thursday Jan 15, 2009 12:11:52 EST

The Defense Department has created a new outreach center for troops and family members who need help understanding post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries, as well as to help them get the resources they need.

To continue reading:

http://www.marinecorpstimes.com/news/2009/01/military_ptsdoutreach_011509w/

Black Sheep, Widows deploy with 13th MEU

More than 100 Yuma Marines and six AV-8B Harriers left for San Diego Jan. 7-8 to join the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit aboard the USS Boxer for the next six to eight months.

http://www.yuma.usmc.mil/?PgId=desertwarrior,2009,01,15,feature1

Story by Cpl. M. Daniel Sanchez
1/15/09

The Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 13 and Marine Attack Squadron 214 Marines will work alongside Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 163 in supporting the 1st Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment.

Specifically, the squadron will provide close-air support for the battalion, as well as aid in humanitarian and training missions, said Lt. Col. Eric Schaeffer, VMA-214 commanding officer.

Hours before the busses arrived to take the Marines to California, co-workers, friends and family said their farewells to their Marines.

One mother in particular was saying goodbye to her third child to deploy in the past three months.

Lori Young is the mother of Cpl. David Young, a VMA-214 ordnance technician, a daughter who deployed in November and a son-in-law working as a contractor in Iraq.

"This has been a hard year," she said.

Deployments don't really get easier to deal with, however, the support from the Marine Corps has been great, said Lori.

"Phone calls help," she added.

The day wasn't all teary farewells, as some Marines were excited to see the world and ready to do what they have been trained for.

"The best part of (being on a MEU) is experiencing the cultures of other countries," said Staff Sgt. Virgil Wyaco, MALS-13 detachment chief.

When else can Marines travel to several countries in only six months, said Wyaco.

Being on a MEU also provides the Marines with opportunities to work on different types and models of aircraft and gain new certifications, said Gunnery Sgt. James Grace, VMA-214 detachment chief.

Although VMA-214 has its fair share of deployment experience, most recently leaving with the 31st MEU in 2007, Schaeffer knows it takes more than just experience to accomplish the mission.

"The most critical element of success is the role of the individual Marine," said Schaffer.

"Everything revolves around flexibility and good planning," added Sgt. Maj. Derek Fry, VMA-214 senior enlisted advisor. "Motivation will help the deployment go faster and keep each other going."

VMA-214 is best known as the Black Sheep of World War II and also for former commanding officer Col. Gregory "Pappy" Boyington's actions during that time. The squadron was commissioned July 1, 1942, at Marine Corps Air Station Ewa in Oahu, Hawaii, and has participated in every major military campaign since then.

The 13th MEU is scheduled to sail throughout the West Pacific and make stops in Hawaii, Guam and Thailand.

January 13, 2009

13th MEU departs San Diego for deployment

By Gidget Fuentes - Staff writer
Posted : Tuesday Jan 13, 2009 10:53:29 EST

SAN DIEGO — As sailors and Marines clung tightly to their loved ones in the Friday morning chill, in the final moments before boarding their ship, Army veteran Robert Ponce Sr. struggled to hold back the tears.

To continue reading:

http://www.marinecorpstimes.com/news/2009/01/marine_esg_depart_010909mar/

January 12, 2009

Marines continue drawing down in al Anbar

FALLUJAH, Iraq – Marines with 1st Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 1, handed over control of several forward operating bases and combat outposts in the city of Fallujah, Iraq, to Iraqi Security Forces Jan. 1.

http://www.mnfwest.usmc.mil/MNF/mnfw_IM.nsf/ArticlesListingReadCurrent/D0B73173095BA14E43257538004EC685

Story and photos by Cpl. Chris T. Mann

The turnover is concurrent with U.S. plans to begin drawing down forces in Iraq throughout the next three years.

During a media round table at the Pentagon Briefing Room in Arlington, Va., December 2, 2008, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said service members should be out of populated areas in the country by the end of June 2009.

“We will confront or have a different kind of situation, in Iraq, at the end of June 2009 than we would have thought perhaps in June of 2008,” he said at the meeting. “And I think that the commanders are already looking at what the implications of that are, in terms of the potential for accelerating the drawdown and in terms of how we meet our obligations to the Iraqis.”

1st Battalion, 4th Marines, is among several battalions in al Anbar leading the way to tear down, demilitarize or turn over bases and outposts to Iraqi Security Forces.

The battalion has consolidated its forces into centralized locations and is currently only keeping a small number of its forces in the city.

Lt. Col. Chris Hastings, the battalion’s commanding officer, said his Marines will continue to maintain a presence in their area of operations, but they are minimizing their movements through the cities.

Marines conducting security patrols in Fallujah have already started minimizing their presence, and new considerations have been put in place for travel and daily routines in other cities, Hastings said.

Iraqi Security Forces has the lead on security and protecting the citizens living in Fallujah, and they conduct their own security operations without the aid of Coalition forces, he said.

“This is just one more step that we have taken towards seeing a sovereign, democratic and free Iraq,” said Hastings. “I have seen what the ISF are capable of doing, and I know that they will continue to do great things as they conduct their own operations, search for weapons caches and continue following the rule of law.”

Hastings said his Marines are continuing readiness training and remain on the alert in the event that their help is requested by ISF.

“We will be ready to respond to incidents should they occur and also when we are requested for support,” said Hastings.

January 11, 2009

Troops in Iraq allowed beer for Super Bowl

The Associated Press
Posted : Sunday Jan 11, 2009 10:08:43 EST

BAGHDAD — American troops in Iraq will be allowed to drink beer without fear of court-martial for this year’s Super Bowl — an exception to a strict military ban on drinking alcohol in combat zones.

To continue reading:

http://www.marinecorpstimes.com/news/2009/01/ap_superbowl_troopsdrink_010909/

Calif. eyeing military IDs for alcohol use

SACRAMENTO, Jan. 11 (UPI) -- A California assemblyman says military identification should be accepted as official proof that an armed forces member is old enough for alcohol.

http://www.upi.com/Top_News/2009/01/11/Calif_eyeing_military_IDs_for_alcohol_use/UPI-19141231694119/

Published: Jan. 11, 2009 at 12:15 PM

State Assemblyman Kevin Jeffries has proposed legislation in California to have military identification be an accepted form of proving one is above the state's legal drinking age of 21, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported Saturday.

The proposal from the Republican lawmaker follows an incident in Temecula in which several U.S. Marines were not allowed to obtain alcohol at a Marine ball by showing their military identification.

Jeffries said the establishment throwing the dance event last fall was only following state law, which does not accept the military cards as legal proof of age when it comes to alcohol use.

"I am sure the establishment wished to serve them, but they were following the letter of the law," the Lake Elsinore official said.

The Union-Tribune said Jeffries' measure, which asks that the military cards be accepted in alcohol transactions, will be discussed by the Assembly next month at the earliest.

January 10, 2009

Marines drop in on Fort Pickett out of the blue

FORT PICKETT, Va. — Marines from Battalion Landing Team, 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit, participated in a parachute drop Jan. 10, 2009, at Blackstone Army Airfield aboard Fort Pickett, Va., a Virginia Army National Guard Maneuver Training Center.

http://www.usmc.mil/units/marforcom/iimef/22ndmeu/Pages/MarinesdropinonFortPickettoutoftheblue.aspx

1/10/2009 By Staff Sgt. Matt Epright, 22nd MEU

The drop was executed in addition to the 22nd MEU's Realistic Urban Training, which it is conducting aboard Fort Pickett and in surrounding communities.

The purpose of RUT is to enhance the 22nd MEU's capability to conduct operations in a realistic urban environment prior to an overseas deployment.

The Marines are taking advantage of many diverse training venues available aboard Fort Pickett to include live-fire convoy courses, urban villages, tank ranges, artillery firing positions and several small-arms ranges.

Marines from the Camp Lejeune-based MEU began arriving at Fort Pickett Jan. 4, and will be training aboard the base until Jan. 24.

The 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit is a scalable, multipurpose force of more than 2,200 Marines and sailors. Commanded by Col. Gareth F. Brandl, it consists of its Ground Combat Element, BLT 3/2; Aviation Combat Element, Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 263 (Reinforced); Logistics Combat Element, Combat Logistics Battalion 22; and its Command Element.

The 22nd MEU is currently conducting pre-deployment training and is scheduled to deploy this spring. For more information about the 22nd MEU, visit the unit's website at www.22meu.usmc.mil.

Marines conduct flight operations in urban Virginia

FORT PICKETT, Va. — MV-22B Osprey aircraft from Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 263 (Reinforced), 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit, stopped traffic and turned heads as they landed in several areas in and around Richmond, Va., Jan. 10, 2009.

http://www.usmc.mil/units/marforcom/iimef/22ndmeu/Pages/MarinesconductflightoperationsinurbanVirginia.aspx

1/10/2009 By Cpl. Justin M. Martinez, 22nd MEU

Residents from Richmond took an interest with the Osprey's landings as they gathered, waved and took pictures of the aircraft.

"It's refreshing to see that people want to come out and see the plane. It's new and interesting," said Cpl. John A. Ward, an Osprey crew chief.

The flights gave pilots the opportunity to become familiarized with landing zones and to practice landing the aircraft in urban environments they might use during the 22nd MEU's Realistic Urban Training.

The 22nd MEU is currently conducting their Realistic Urban Training in and around Fort Pickett, Va., a Virginia Army National Guard Maneuver Training Center.

The purpose of RUT is to give Marines of the 22nd MEU an opportunity to operate in unfamiliar urban environments.

"I think the Marine Corps plays a crucial role being able to fight in an urban environment, and that means the squadron needs to be able to land and insert Marines in this environment," said Capt. Newel R. Bartlett, the Osprey tactics officer for the squadron, and native of Thousand Oaks, Calif.

Before the Ospreys took flight, teams visited each of the sites to ensure they would serve as safe landing zones for the aircraft.

"Our safety department and our operations department went out and talked to people that lived in the area," said Bartlett. "They qualified the zones by ensuring that there weren't any obstacles that could damage the aircraft or anything around that we might damage due to our down wash."

Marine crew chiefs in the aircraft watch outside of the aircraft, to ensure they don't damage anything when they are landing, said Ward.

"As a pilot you can only see the first half of where the aircraft is," said Bartlett. "I have a good 80 feet of aircraft behind me with two huge wings sticking out on the edges, so I am completely dependent on my crew."

Ward said this training was good because they get the chance to land in different places besides the same open field landing zones back at the MEU's home base of Camp Lejeune, N.C.

"Each zone had its own obstacles. Some had tall light poles, power-lines, and trees that you had to maneuver around," said Bartlett. "It was good to train in all the different types of exposures in the urban terrain."

The 22nd MEU will be the first such unit to deploy with the MV-22B Osprey. The unit is scheduled to deploy this spring. For more information, visit the unit's website at www.22meu.usmc.mil.

January 9, 2009

Chaplain's 'guardian' remains ready to fight

MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. (Jan. 9, 2009) — If you search across the landscape of any battlefield where Marines fight, you’re bound to find a Navy chaplain nearby.

http://www.usmc.mil/units/marforcom/iimef/2ndmlg/Pages/Chaplainsguardianremainsreadytofight.aspx

1/9/2009 By Cpl. Aaron Rooks, 2nd Marine Logistics Group

If you search a little closer, you will notice an armed enlisted sailor standing close to him, always keeping a watchful eye and standing ready to defend the chaplain’s life at all costs.

“It’s my job to ensure the chaplain’s always safe,” said Seaman Apprentice Maxwell Antonucci, the religious program specialist for the chaplain of 2nd Maintenance Battalion, Combat Logistics Regiment 25, 2nd Marine Logistics Group. “The chaplain’s a noncombatant. There’s a lot of responsibility involved because he places his life in my hands.”

Navy chaplains play a vital role in the Marine Corps’ ability to accomplish its mission abroad. They go wherever the Marines go, serving as not only a religious leader, but also as a life coach.

Navy Lt. Calvin B. Gardner, Sr., the 2nd Maintenance Battalion chaplain, uses the phrase ministry of presence to define the effect chaplains have on Marine operating forces.

The Detroit native can always be found where the Marines are. He stated that he always rides in the back of 7-tons with Marines and participates in the convoy briefs before they go out to conduct a mission, just to name a few ways. Because of this approach, Gardner is always available when a Marine needs help.

“If life issues are not dealt with properly, you will have a less effective Marine,” he said. “Regardless of rank or age, they are in a game called life. If you don’t know how to deal with it, it will cause problems.”

But without his RP, Gardner would be ineffective. Known as a Religious Ministry Team, Antonucci and Gardner work together to accommodate the religious practices of Marines and facilitate free exercise of their religions. They also serve non-religious needs of Marines and sailors, dealing with relationships, ethical problems and the overall totality of Marines.

Antonucci, who was actively involved with the 1st United Methodist Church in Bentleyville, Pa. his entire life, is scheduled to deploy to either Iraq or Afghanistan later this year. His job as an RP in a deployed combat environment will center around protecting the chaplain so that the chaplain can positively affect the Marines.

Gardner said many of Antonucci’s current jobs, like organizing religious events, bible studies, pre-marital classes, and drafting and filing correspondence, will all stay the same when he deploys. The major difference in his job will come in the form of maturity. He said Antonucci will be responsible for another person’s life at all times, so he has to maintain a responsible and mature attitude at all times.

Antonucci says he’s ready and waiting. The idea of watching over a chaplain who’s in harms way brings him a personal satisfaction that he feels cant be found in many occupations.

“A chaplain has a big impact on morale,” Antonucci explained. “If something happened to him, it would devastate the unit. It’s more important for chaplains to take care of people than to worry about the fight itself. I’m going to do my job so that he can do his.”

The 2007 graduate of Pittsburgh’s Charleroi Area High School didn’t foresee himself being in his current position more than a year ago. At the time, he was working part time in construction and teaching Sunday school regularly at his church for teenagers under the age of 18.

Antonucci knew he wanted to get out of Pittsburgh and do something with his life. He later decided that the military, the U.S. Navy in particular, was the best option. He said he was hooked once he found out there was a job in the Navy to support and protect religious leaders. He later attended Navy boot camp at Recruit Training Command Great Lakes, Ill. from January to March 2008, followed by RP “A” School at Naval Air Station Meridian, Miss. from March to April 2008.

He arrived at 2nd Maintenance Battalion in August 2008. Since then he has constantly applied his knowledge and skills as an RP, learning many new things along the way. He believes that after having this time to learn his job in a calmer environment, he will have an easier time doing so in a combat zone.

“I’ve enjoyed being able to see the positive effect a chaplain can have on individuals,” he said. “Marines will even come to me for help at times, and even though I can’t give them counsel, it feels good knowing they’re comfortable asking me for help. That’s just one of the reasons why I love my job.”

Antonucci has developed a desire to become a Navy chaplain himself one day from his experiences in the Fleet Marine Force thus far. He yearns for the ability to one day affect the lives of others in the way he's seen Gardner do. But until that day comes, Gardner and any other chaplain who's teamed up with Antonucci can rest assured that their guardian angel will be watching over them.

Recruits learn to duck, weave

MARINE CORPS RECRUIT DEPOT PARRIS ISLAND, S.C. — During Event 2 of the Crucible, inside the arena dubbed “The Octagon” by drill instructors, recruits get one final chance to prove their mettle in hand-to- hand combat.

http://www.usmc.mil/units/hqmc/tecom/mcrdparrisisland/Pages/Recruitslearntoduckandweave.aspx

1/9/2009 By Lance Cpl. Ed Galo, Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island

Inside the giant wooden frame, reminiscent of gladiator pits of ancient Rome, future Marines square off against each other with simulated rifle bayonets in preparation for the toughest of battle scenarios.

An extremely stressful environment, rigorous physical training and, of course, the Crucible are just a few examples of the many challenges a Marine recruit faces.

The Crucible is a 54-hour-long culminating event in which recruits complete about 36 different stations and hike almost 50 miles with their weapons and loaded packs. One of the events many drill instructors and recruits look forward to is Event 2, where recruits practice body sparring and pugil sticks inside the wooden octagon ring and then move on to a series of obstacles.

“I thought the event was very fun,” said former Rct. Aaron Byard of Akron, Ohio, with Platoon 3114, Mike Company, 3rd Recruit Training Battalion. “I think all physical things like this are fun. Most of the recruits got real nervous, but I tried to keep calm. I knew my mission – to get the guy with the red helmet.”

Even rain couldn’t stop the training. The recruits still carried on with the pugil sticks portion of the event and then moved on to the Leadership Reaction Course.

“When this event runs correctly, it’s awesome,” said Cpl. Dustin Lang, of Granger, Ind., a Page Field instructor with Weapons and Field Training Battalion’s Field Training Platoon. “It teaches them how to react in a fight. If they win, it boosts their morale. I think this is probably the most fun event for the recruits. It’s also one of my favorites.”

There are many different reasons why the event is important for future Marines. They learn how to control aggression, react in a fight and experience working through the element of surprise, just to name a few.

“I think the event is great,” said 1st Lt. Dan Brendel, of Granite Bay, Calif. Brendel will be the next series commander for Mike Co.’s lead series. “It helps make them more aggressive. Aggressiveness can sometimes be key in the Marine Corps.”

Staff Sgt. Terrion West, a drill instructor with Platoon 3114, said he believes the recruits like it because they get to show off a little.

“I like this event, too,” said West, from Ruston, La. “You get to see them get some. This event puts some fight in them. I think it’s important to the Crucible because the Crucible defines them. It’s the point that shows that they are ready to become Marines.”

RCT-8 moves forward to Al Asad, Iraq

MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. — Marines and sailors of Regimental Combat Team 8 said goodbye to their loved ones here Jan. 6 as they departed for a scheduled one-year deployment to al Asad, Iraq.

http://www.usmc.mil/units/marforcom/iimef/2ndmardiv/Pages/RCT-8movesforwardtoAlAsad,Iraq.aspx

1/9/2009 By Cpl. Joshua J. Murray, 2nd Marine Division

RCT-8 reformed under the command of II Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward) for their second deployment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

“The Marines have very high morale,” said Col. John Love, the RCT-8 regimental commander. “Regimental Combat Team Eight has not deployed in four years.”

Their last deployment took place from 2005 until 2006 in Baghdad, Iraq. During this deployment, one of the combat team’s accomplishments was securing the city of Fallujah in preparation for the 2005 national elections.

Recognizing the improvements and changes the country has undergone, Love says his Marines have prepared accordingly for their next missions.

“We have been training on our core mission’s essential tasks in the infantry training and readiness manual to carry out our mission in any clime and place— and particularly Iraq,” Love said. “Iraq is just about standing on its own across the board, but we will continue to assist the Iraqi government and security forces.”

Many training exercises took place to make the Marines confident in themselves and in one another.

“We are very prepared to do this,” said Lance Cpl. Robert Turner, an administration clerk with the combat team. “I know that if anything does go wrong it will not have been my training that let me down.”

Marines made last minute adjustments to their gear while spending time with their loved ones. Throughout the crowd, families and friends gave words of encouragement and advice.

“I’m so proud of him,” said Alberta Nichols, the wife of Sgt. Trent Nichols, the head of the Personnel Security Detachment. “He is very dedicated to the Marine Corps and I will support him no matter what happens.”

RCT-8 loaded the buses and set out to continue the mission in Iraq and do whatever is needed to get the job done.

“Another wave of patriots and selfless individuals are going forth— making this sacrifice to serve their nation,” Love said.

New Orleans embarks on maiden deployment

By Gidget Fuentes - Staff writer
Posted : Friday Jan 9, 2009 18:08:56 EST

SAN DIEGO — As sailors and Marines clung tightly to their loved ones in the Friday morning chill, in the final moments before boarding their ship, Army veteran Robert Ponce Sr. struggled to hold back the tears.

To continue reading:

http://www.marinecorpstimes.com/news/2009/01/marine_esgdepart010909/

Recruits learn to duck, weave

MARINE CORPS RECRUIT DEPOT PARRIS ISLAND, S.C. — During Event 2 of the Crucible, inside the arena dubbed “The Octagon” by drill instructors, recruits get one final chance to prove their mettle in hand-to- hand combat.

http://www.marines.mil/units/hqmc/tecom/mcrdparrisisland/Pages/Recruitslearntoduckandweave.aspx

1/9/2009 By Lance Cpl. Ed Galo, Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island

Inside the giant wooden frame, reminiscent of gladiator pits of ancient Rome, future Marines square off against each other with simulated rifle bayonets in preparation for the toughest of battle scenarios.

An extremely stressful environment, rigorous physical training and, of course, the Crucible are just a few examples of the many challenges a Marine recruit faces.

The Crucible is a 54-hour-long culminating event in which recruits complete about 36 different stations and hike almost 50 miles with their weapons and loaded packs. One of the events many drill instructors and recruits look forward to is Event 2, where recruits practice body sparring and pugil sticks inside the wooden octagon ring and then move on to a series of obstacles.

“I thought the event was very fun,” said former Rct. Aaron Byard of Akron, Ohio, with Platoon 3114, Mike Company, 3rd Recruit Training Battalion. “I think all physical things like this are fun. Most of the recruits got real nervous, but I tried to keep calm. I knew my mission – to get the guy with the red helmet.”

Even rain couldn’t stop the training. The recruits still carried on with the pugil sticks portion of the event and then moved on to the Leadership Reaction Course.

“When this event runs correctly, it’s awesome,” said Cpl. Dustin Lang, of Granger, Ind., a Page Field instructor with Weapons and Field Training Battalion’s Field Training Platoon. “It teaches them how to react in a fight. If they win, it boosts their morale. I think this is probably the most fun event for the recruits. It’s also one of my favorites.”

There are many different reasons why the event is important for future Marines. They learn how to control aggression, react in a fight and experience working through the element of surprise, just to name a few.

“I think the event is great,” said 1st Lt. Dan Brendel, of Granite Bay, Calif. Brendel will be the next series commander for Mike Co.’s lead series. “It helps make them more aggressive. Aggressiveness can sometimes be key in the Marine Corps.”

Staff Sgt. Terrion West, a drill instructor with Platoon 3114, said he believes the recruits like it because they get to show off a little.

“I like this event, too,” said West, from Ruston, La. “You get to see them get some. This event puts some fight in them. I think it’s important to the Crucible because the Crucible defines them. It’s the point that shows that they are ready to become Marines.”

Marine mom turns ankle cast into Corps tribute

By Andrew deGrandpré - adegrandpre@militarytimes.com
Posted : Friday Jan 9, 2009 14:35:57 EST

Anita Nieves Brinkman was emerging from a hot soak in her backyard whirlpool last September when she slipped and broke an ankle, a bout of bum luck the 44-year-old Marine mom eventually exploited to advertise her adoration for the Corps.

To continue reading:

http://www.marinecorpstimes.com/news/2009/01/marine_corpscast_011009w/

January 8, 2009

Okinawa-based gunny receives Silver Star

By Dan Lamothe - Staff writer
Posted : Thursday Jan 8, 2009 19:44:20 EST

A gunnery sergeant was awarded the Silver Star on Thursday, four months after he helped fight off insurgents in Iraq by calling for his vehicle to be rammed into a building, then leading the recovery of a wounded Marine inside.

To continue reading:

http://www.marinecorpstimes.com/news/2009/01/marine_silverstar_010809w/

Jones Renews Effort To Rename Dept. of Navy

What's in a name? In Washington, almost everything.

http://voices.washingtonpost.com/federal-eye/2009/01/bill_would_rename_dept_of_navy.html?hpid=topnews

by Ed O'Keefe
January 8, 2009

This town is obsessed with names, ranks, titles, organizational flow charts and preserving one's turf. And now there's a renewed effort by Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.) to rename the Department of the Navy to the Department of the Navy and Marine Corps.

It may seem like a small technical detail, but Jones said it would help establish the Marine Corps' equal standing with the Army, Air Force and Navy and extend a simple courtesy to the families of Marines killed in action.

“There isn’t a subordinate relationship between the Chief of Naval Operations and the Commandant of the Marines Corps,” Jones said in a statement. “They are equivalent parts of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and it is time to recognize their equal status.”

Currently the Department of Defense includes a Department of the Army, Department of the Air Force and Department of the Navy, which consists of the Navy and Marine Corps.

"The Navy and Marine Corps always sell themselves before Congress as 'one fighting team,'" Jones said. “If you're one team, then why isn’t the teams name Navy and Marine Corps?”

Jones, whose district includes the Camp Lejeune Marine Corps base, said a name change would also extend a courtesy to the families of Marines killed in action who currently receive condolence letters printed on Department of the Navy letterhead and begin with the sentence, "On behalf of the Department of the Navy..." with no explicit mention of the Marine Corps anywhere in the letter.

“If that letter of condolences doesn’t tell the story, I don’t know what does," Jones said in an interview.

A Navy spokesman declined to comment on the letters and the pending legislation.

Jones has proposed the name change every year for the past eight years. It has the support of his fellow members on the House Armed Services Committee and several military associations, but the bill has failed every year to clear conference committee negotiations with the Senate.

“I think this will be a new push," Jones said of his latest bill, H.R. 24. "We’ve got a new president. This is the right thing to say to the Marine Corps: you are an equal fighting partner.”

January 7, 2009

Boxer strike group, 13th MEU to deploy Friday

Staff report
Posted : Wednesday Jan 7, 2009 20:55:58 EST

SAN DIEGO — More than 4,000 Marines and sailors with the Boxer Expeditionary Strike Group will leave from the naval base here Friday for a scheduled seven-month deployment to the Western Pacific and Persian Gulf regions.

To continue reading:

http://www.marinecorpstimes.com/news/2009/01/marine_esg_meu_deployment_010709/

University of Michigan Depression Center receives Welcome Back Veterans award for returning veterans and families

ANN ARBOR, Mich – The McCormick Foundation in Chicago has awarded $350,000 to the University of Michigan Depression Center and Department of Psychiatry to help address the “invisible brain injuries” among returning Iraqi and Afghanistan veterans and their families. These include sleep, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression and associated problems. The gift is part of a larger fundraising initiative called Welcome Back Veterans created by New York Mets Chairman and CEO Fred Wilpon to provide returning veterans the quality evaluations, treatment, support systems, and long-term employment assistance they deserve to restart their lives and care for their families.

http://www.depressioncenter.org/news/090107-WelcomeBackVeteransAward.asp

January 07, 2009

Latest statistics indicate that more than 300,000 veterans who have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan are currently suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or major depression (Rand Corporation, 2008). A significant percentage of these veterans do not get help for various reasons including access issues and stigma attached to seeking care. The University of Michigan Depression Center project will focus on developing a “Veteran-to-Veteran” program (to be called Buddy-to-Buddy) that trains veterans to serve as peer support for other veterans. “Another veteran who has ‘been there’ can be more effective than anyone else as a credible source to ‘normalize’ the situation, provide support and resources, and urge treatment when appropriate,” says John F. Greden, M.D., Executive Director of the University of Michigan Depression Center. “We think that this approach will go a long way toward overcoming the stigma that has long been associated with depression, PTSD, and the other associated problems.”

The Depression Center Welcome Back Veterans project also includes services to at-risk spouses, children and parents of veterans—groups that might not have coverage for the care they need. The University of Michigan, Weill Cornell Medical College and Stanford University have been designated “Core Centers” by the Welcome Back Veterans project to work on developing best practices that can then be replicated nationally by others with the intent to provide access to care for all returning veterans. Working together, Welcome Back Veteran Core Centers, the Veterans Administration Health System, the Department of Defense, and Veterans Services Organizations can create programs like Buddy-to-Buddy and can assist thousands of veterans in restarting their lives.

For more information on the Welcome Back Veterans initiative, please visit www.welcomebackveterans.org and www.McCormickFoundation.org, or contact Jane Spinner at the U-M Depression Center at jspinner@umich.edu.

Study: States’ overseas voting systems are flawed

By Leo Shane III, Stars and Stripes
European edition, Wednesday, January 7, 2009

WASHINGTON — Overseas military voters from 16 states and the District of Columbia had little chance of successfully voting in the presidential election this year, according to a new study released Tuesday.

To continue reading:

http://www.stripes.com/article.asp?section=104&article=59834

Marines of 1st LAR Bn. plant a seed for local economy

SAHL SINJAR, Iraq – Drop a stone into a pond. Its ripples reach far from where it entered. Marines of 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion tested this philosophy here with an agriculture project, trading stones for barley seed and their pond for local villages of Northern Iraq.

http://www.mnfwest.usmc.mil/MNF/mnfw_IM.nsf/ArticlesRead/B2C03E3F291D9750432575370034480B

By Cpl. Dean Davis

“The people here are approaching the end of the planting season and with a drought over the last few years we needed to work quickly,” said Capt. Dominique F. Fattore, fires officer for 1st LAR Bn. “We felt that by providing seed for about 300 of the local farmers who needed it most, we could affect the largest circle of people, which will be at least few thousand.”

Because the Marines bought the seed from local contractors, the money from both the initial purchase and what farmers can earn after harvest will stay in the area, explained Fattore., 26, from Pittsburgh.

The Marines coordinated with Ali Sheru Kahlaf, a local Yezidi leader, to have a central location for farmers to receive the seed for their crops.

“It isn’t common for us to receive such a generous gesture of support from anyone. This will help improve this area’s economy and its peoples’ quality of life,” said Kahlaf.

The project was initially designed to benefit the poorest 120 farmers, but it stretched to nearly double that amount after all the seed was distributed, explained Cpl. Rudy A. Cruz, a disbursing agent with 1st LAR Bn.

“It’s difficult to say just how far this project will reach,” said Cruz, 22, from Houston, Tx. “We invested more than $38,000, which will return a lot more to the people of this area, helping their families and local government for years to come.”

Both Coalition Forces and the Iraqi people hope to reap the benefits of their partnership, helping Iraq to prosper, said Cruz.

“I’m used to making condolence payments for combat damages. So being part of this type of mission shows what has happened here over the last few years,” said Cruz. “It’s rewarding to know you were part of a group that gave so much to people who have so little. It’s one of those experiences you never forget.”

Iraq battle yields Navy Cross, 4 Silver Stars

By Gidget Fuentes - gfuentes@militarytimes.com
Posted : Wednesday Jan 7, 2009 10:38:31 EST

OCEANSIDE, Calif. — The Marine Corps will present the Navy Cross on Thursday to a junior grenadier credited with saving the lives of 10 fellow infantrymen and decimating a force of insurgents during a deadly 2005 firefight inside an Iraqi home.

To continue reading:

http://www.marinecorpstimes.com/news/2009/01/marine_medals_010709w/

Purple Heart Is Ruled Out for Traumatic Stress

The Pentagon has decided that it will not award the Purple Heart, the hallowed medal given to those wounded or killed by enemy action, to war veterans who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder because it is not a physical wound.

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/08/us/08purple.html?_r=2&ref=todayspaper

By LIZETTE ALVAREZ and ERIK ECKHOLM
Published: January 7, 2009

The decision, made public on Tuesday, for now ends the hope of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who have the condition and believed that the Purple Hearts could honor their sacrifice and help remove some of the stigma associated with the condition.

The disorder, which may go unrecognized for months or years, can include recurring nightmares, uncontrolled rage and, sometimes, severe depression and suicide. Soldiers grappling with PTSD are often unable to hold down jobs.

In May, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said awarding Purple Hearts to such service members was “clearly something that needs to be looked at,” after he toured a mental health center at Fort Bliss, Tex.

But a Pentagon advisory group decided against the award because, it said, the condition had not been intentionally caused by enemy action, like a bomb or bullet, and because it remained difficult to diagnose and quantify.

“Historically, the Purple Heart has never been awarded for mental disorders or psychological conditions resulting from witnessing or experiencing traumatic combat events,” said Eileen Lainez, a Pentagon spokeswoman. “Current medical knowledge and technologies do not establish PTSD as objectively and routinely as would be required for this award at this time.”

One in five service members, or at least 300,000, suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder or major depression, according to a Rand Corporation study in 2008.

For some soldiers suffering from the disorder, the historical distinction between blood and no blood in an injury fails to recognize the depths of their mental scars. A modern war — one fought without safe havens and with the benefit of improved armor — calls for a new definition of injuries, some veterans say.

Kevin Owsley, 47, who served in the Ohio National Guard in 2004 as a gunner on a Humvee and who is being treated for PTSD and traumatic brain injury, said he disagreed with the Pentagon’s ruling.

Unable to hold a job, Mr. Owsley supports his family on disability payments. This week he told his Veterans Affairs doctor he was fighting back suicidal impulses, something he has struggled with since his return. “You relive it every night and every day,” he said. “You dream about it. You can see it, taste it, see people getting killed constantly over and over.”

“It is a soldier’s injury,” he said, angrily, in a telephone interview on Wednesday.

But many soldiers do not feel that way. In online debates and interviews they expressed concern that the Purple Heart would be awarded to soldiers who faked symptoms to avoid combat or receive a higher disability rating from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

“I’m glad they finally got something right,” said Jeremy Rausch, an Army staff sergeant who saw some of the Iraq War’s fiercest fighting in Adhamiya in 2006 and 2007. “PTSD can be serious, but there is absolutely no way to prove that someone truly is suffering from it or faking it.”

The Purple Heart in its modern form was established by Gen. Douglas MacArthur in 1932. Some 1.7 million service members have received the medal, and, as of last August, 2,743 service members who served in Afghanistan and 33,923 who fought in Iraq had received the award.

The medal entitles veterans to enhanced benefits, including exemptions from co-payments for veterans hospital and outpatient care and gives them higher priority in scheduling appointments.

The Pentagon left open the possibility that it could revisit the issue.

But a Pentagon-supported service group, the Military Order of the Purple Heart, has strongly opposed expanding the definition to include psychological symptoms, saying it would “debase” the honor.

“Would you award it to anyone who suffered the effects of chemicals or for other diseases and illnesses?” John E. Bircher III, director of public relations for the group, said Wednesday. “How far do you want to take it?”

Post-traumatic stress disorder was first identified during the Vietnam War and has gradually been accepted as a serious psychological problem for some who experience violence and fear.

Dr. Barbara V. Romberg, a psychologist in Bethesda, Md., and founder of Give an Hour, which offers mental health services to troops and their families, said that she and many other psychologists believed the discussion of Purple Hearts had brought more attention to post-traumatic stress disorder and the seriousness of psychological wounds suffered on the battlefield.

“We’re working to normalize post-traumatic stress as an understandable human consequence of war that can result in very serious damage to some people’s lives, and they deserve honoring for that,” she said.

“But I don’t want to be so quick to condemn the decision,” she added.

Many have post-traumatic stress, but only some develop a serious lasting disorder; in both cases, she said, “people deserve to be honored in some way for the injury they received in combat.”

After years of criticism for ignoring the problem, the Defense Department and the Veterans Administration have bolstered their capacity to diagnose and treat PTSD, and those with serious cases may receive substantial disability benefits. Some of those suffering from severe traumatic brain injuries qualify for a Purple Heart because they required medical treatment.

But in its decision not to extend Purple Hearts to PTSD sufferers, first reported Tuesday by Stars and Stripes, the Pentagon said part of the problem stemmed from the difficulty in objectively diagnosing the disorder.

That decision was made in November. It was not clear why the Pentagon did not announce the decision then.

There have been recent changes in awarding Purple Hearts. The criteria was expanded in 2008 to include all prisoners of war who died in captivity, including those who were tortured. “There were wounds there,” Mr. Bircher said.

“You have to had shed blood by an instrument of war at the hands of the enemy of the United States,” he said. “Shedding blood is the objective.”

DOD expands medal eligibility

By Jeff Schogol and John Vandiver, Stars and Stripes
European edition, Wednesday, January 7, 2009

ARLINGTON, Va. — U.S. troops serving in Morocco and Burkina Faso or who are helping share intelligence with Turkey are eligible for the Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal.

To continue reading:

http://www.stripes.com/article.asp?section=104&article=59835

Shades of Green, Disney partner to make vacations affordable for military

WASHINGTON —
Shades of Green is a resort hotel, located on Walt Disney World Resort, exclusive to service members, retirees, Department of Defense civilians, and their family members. It is a safe haven for military families, whether they’re reintegrating after an overseas deployment, having one last “Family fling” before mom or dad deploys, or simply getting away for a weekend.

http://www.usmc.mil/units/hqmc/Pages/ShadesofGreen,Disneypartnertomakevacationsaffordableformilitary.aspx

1/7/2009
Headquarters Marine Corps William Bradner
Family and MWR Command
(703) 681-1548

“If I suddenly break down and cry in a Holiday Inn, everyone’s going to be looking at me funny,” one guest recently explained. “Here, if it suddenly dawns me he’s leaving in a week and I start to cry, I’ve got ten people asking how they can help and offering support.”

The resort manager, Brian Japak, is a retired soldier, and his son has already survived two attacks involving improvised explosive devices while serving in Iraq.

“I have great empathy for the families that we serve here,” he said.

According to Japak, every effort is made to ensure the guests are pampered—well—Disney style, with just a touch of “home,” like the tax-free AAFES shoppette and the Mickey Mouse statue all decked out in red, white and blue. Security at the hotel complies with standard base force protection regulations, ensuring the soldiers and families can sleep soundly and not worry about their personal safety.

Shades of Green is and Armed Forces Recreation Center, run by the Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation Command based in Alexandria, Va. FMWRC’s mission is to provide soldiers and their families with the same quality of life they are sworn to protect. Rates are set on a sliding scale, based on rank, and with no shareholders to answer to or profits to be made, the rates are kept remarkably low.

Beginning this month, Disney is chipping in to make vacations for service members and their families even more affordable.

With the “Disney’s Armed Forces Salute” offer, active and retired U.S. military personnel, including active members of the United States Coast Guard and activated members of the National Guard or reservists, can enjoy complimentary, multi-day admission into Disney’s U.S. theme parks, and additional special ticket offers for family members and friends.

“For so many of the men and women who serve in our U.S. military, time together with their families is cause enough for celebration,” said Jay Rasulo, Chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts. “We are grateful for their service and hope ‘Disney’s Armed Forces Salute’ will allow our troops to create wonderful, magical memories with their family and friends.”

At the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida, From Jan. 4 to Dec. 23, 2009, each active or retired member of the U.S. military may obtain one complimentary five-day "Disney's Armed Forces Salute" ticket with Park Hopper and Water Park Fun & More options. This ticket is valid for five days of admission into the four Walt Disney World theme parks, plus a total of five visits to a choice of a Disney water park, DisneyQuest Indoor Interactive Theme Park or certain other attractions. During this offer period, active or retired U.S. military personnel may also make a one-time purchase (up to a maximum of five) of five-Day "Disney's Armed Forces Salute Companion" tickets for 99 dollars per ticket, plus tax, for family members or friends. Although this ticket for family members and friends does not include either the Park Hopper or Water Park Fun & More options, this ticket can be upgraded to add either such option, or both, for an additional 25 dollars, plus tax, per option. All tickets and options are non-transferable and must be used by Dec. 23, 2009.

A similar offer is in place at Walt Disney Land, in California, as well. For more information on the “Disney Armed Forces Salute,” active and retired military can contact the ITT/ITR office on their local installation, or visit www.disneyworld.com/military.

AFRCs offer four other world-class destinations for families, including Edelweiss Lodge and Resort in Garmisch, Germany; Dragon Hill Lodge in Seoul, Korea; the Hale Koa Hotel in Honolulu, Hawaii and the Cape Henry Inn and Beach Club at Fort Storey, Virginia.

AFRCs set the standard for military travelers with resort hotel accommodations, restaurants and entertaining attractions – all designed to create world-class vacation opportunities in unique resort locations for service members and their Families.

For more information, visit www.armymwr.com.

January 6, 2009

Iraqi police respond to Fallujah attack

FALLUJAH, Iraq – Iraqi Police in Karmah demonstrated their ability to take charge of a crime scene after a suicide bomber attacked citizens and policemen on a local highway in Fallujah, Iraq, Dec. 28.

http://www.mnfwest.usmc.mil/MNF/mnfw_IM.nsf/ArticlesListingReadCurrent/4A9BDBDCC259D703432575360062A879

Story and photos by Cpl. Chris T. Mann
January 6, 2009


Maj. Yessien, assistant police commander for the Karmah police station, said policemen were quick to provide casualty evacuation and security at the scene. The policemen stopped all traffic on the highway and set up a cordon while they searched the area for additional suspects and explosive devices.

The attacker was driving a compact car with an unknown amount of explosives inside the vehicle and detonated the bomb beside police vehicles located near an entry control point.

“We have determined that the vehicle being driven was reported stolen, and we are investigating what happened here,” said Yessien. “We have also determined that the attacker was a known terrorist. If there are others behind these attacks, we will catch them.”

Marines with Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 1, arrived to provide assistance after police had initially cleared the scene.

“Overall, the Iraqi police were able to evacuate and secure the scene, and bring in the necessary equipment to clean up the road within an hour,” said 1st Lt. William R. VanCise, the platoon commander for Scout Sniper Platoon, Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 4th Marines, RCT-1. “For the most part they had the scene under control, cleaned up, and were ready to move on by the time we arrived.”

Yessien said the attacker was possibly targeting a police patrol when he steered his vehicle in their general direction.

Officials have not yet determined a motive behind the attack and are calling it an isolated incident. Iraqi Security Forces are continuing the investigation.

“I think the overall gist is that the Iraqis are capable of conducting their own (operations), and from here on out we’re in the supporting role and will be utilized when they call for us or if the situation seems overwhelming,” said VanCise

Study: Many in U.S. military don't get time to vote

WASHINGTON — (Reuters) - Many U.S. troops serving overseas are effectively excluded from voting because they are not given enough time to cast absentee ballots, according to a report released Tuesday.

http://www3.signonsandiego.com/stories/2009/jan/06/57317102336-no-time-to-vote/?zIndex=32682

By Andy Sullivan
10:23 a.m. January 6, 2009

Sixteen U.S. states and the District of Columbia do not send out their absentee ballots early enough to allow those serving in conflicts like Iraq and Afghanistan to fill them out and return them before their voting deadline, the Pew Center on the States found.

Another six states force soldiers, sailors and marines to return their ballots by fax or e-mail to meet the deadline, risking the privacy and security of their vote.

And another three states only give service members five days to fill out their ballots, the study found.

Overall, 25 states - including large states like New York, California and Texas - make it difficult or impossible for those risking their lives for democracy to participate in it, the study found.

“Right now while these soldiers are serving America, America's voting system is not serving them,” said Pew's David Becker in a conference call.

Many states don't take into account the slow pace of overseas mail and impose onerous burdens for those casting ballots. The entire process can take 88 days for an Alabama servicemember stationed in Afghanistan, but he is only given 65 days to get it done, Pew researcher Kil Huh said.

The Election Assistance Commission found that just one-third of the 1 million ballots distributed in the 2006 election to those serving overseas were cast or counted. Figures from the 2008 election are not available yet.

The nonprofit group said states should send out their blank ballots sooner, perhaps by e-mail, fax or other means that take less time than overseas mail, and allow them to be returned later.

States should also drop requirements that servicemembers get their ballots notarized, Pew said.

The states along with the District of Columbia that Pew said did not provide enough time to cast ballots are: Alabama, Arkansas, Connecticut, Georgia, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Hampshire, New York, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and Wyoming.

Residents of Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii and Rhode Island must return their ballots by fax or e-mail to meet voting deadlines, the study found.

Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Vermont only give overseas servicemembers five days to fill out their ballots, the study found.

(Editing by David Wiessler) REUTERS Reut13:01 01-06-09

Marines Raise Flag on New U.S. Embassy in Baghdad

WASHINGTON, Jan. 6, 2009 – U.S. Marines raised the American flag yesterday during the dedication ceremony for the new U.S. Embassy in Baghdad as Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker declared “a new era” for Iraq and the Iraqi-U.S. relationship.

http://www.defenselink.mil/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=52553

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John D. Negroponte and almost 1,000 invited guests looked on as the embassy’s Marine security detachment raised the red, white and blue over the largest U.S. Embassy in the world, with the Army’s 4th Infantry Division Band playing the U.S. national anthem.

The compound, set on 104 acres along the banks of the Tigris River in central Baghdad, includes 27 modern office, housing and support buildings in tones that blend with the desert landscape. Officials said the scale of the new complex reflects the importance of the U.S.-Iraqi bilateral relationship.

More than 1,200 U.S. diplomats, servicemembers and government officials and staff from 14 federal agencies will work and live on the compound, embassy officials said. Their tasks and missions run the gamut: supporting local elections, helping to fight corruption, helping develop Iraq’s energy and transportation sectors, strengthening the rule of law, providing security training and promoting educational and cultural exchange. In addition, 240 servicemembers assigned to Multinational Force Iraq are based at the embassy.

Construction of the compound began in 2005 and was completed in 2008 at a cost of $592 million, officials said.

Talabani called the new building a sign of how far the U.S.-Iraqi relationship has come.

“This building is not only a compound for the embassy, but a symbol of the deep friendship between the two peoples of Iraq and America,” he said.

Lejeune Marine dies in Afghanistan

Staff report
Posted : Tuesday Jan 6, 2009 20:25:39 EST

A North Carolina-based Marine was killed late last week after triggering a land mine in Afghanistan, his family said.

To continue reading:

http://www.marinecorpstimes.com/news/2009/01/marine_afghan_casualty_010509w/

Guam, focus of new U.S. strategy, faces hurdles

By Eric Talmadge - The Associated Press
Posted : Tuesday Jan 6, 2009 12:58:48 EST

ANDERSEN AIR FORCE BASE, Guam — Sprawling toward the horizon in every direction, Andersen Air Force Base is surprisingly quiet, leaving the impression of a big, empty parking lot.

To continue reading:

http://www.marinecorpstimes.com/news/2009/01/ap_guam_strategy_010409/

January 5, 2009

War Vets With Headaches Could Have Brain Problems

Reduced sense of smell might also signal need for testing, expert says

MONDAY, Jan. 5 (HealthDay News) -- Headache frequency and severity caused by traumatic brain injury might signal cognitive deficits, suggests a new study of Iraq war veterans.

http://health.usnews.com/articles/health/healthday/2009/01/05/war-vets-with-headaches-could-have-brain-problems.html

Posted January 5, 2009
By Tate Gunnerson
HealthDay Reporter

Traumatic brain injuries, also called concussions, are common among veterans who served in Iraq. And as deployment times have become longer, military personnel have more chances to be exposed to explosions that can cause injury.

"The most important finding was that the soldiers who continued to have problems with headaches and PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder] were much more likely to have signs of residual cognition impairment or abnormalities," said study author Dr. Robert L. Ruff, professor of neurology at Case Western Reserve University and neurology service chief at the Louis Stokes Cleveland Veterans Affairs Medical Center. "By themselves, the deficits were not severe, but they compromised the veterans' ability to return to where they were."

The researchers studied 126 veterans who had lost consciousness from blasts and explosions an average of three times while in Iraq, none for more than 30 minutes. Neurological and neuropsychological testing revealed impairments in 80 of the veterans that the researchers attributed to concussions. Those veterans had been exposed to more explosions than the others, the study found.

Among veterans who had brain impairments, 93 percent reported having headaches, compared with 13 percent of those who showed no dysfunction on the neurological tests.

Their headaches also were more severe and persistent. Veterans with no brain impairments all described having tension-like headaches about four times a month, whereas 60 percent of those with brain impairments resulting from their concussions described migraine-like headaches that occurred an average of 12 times a month.

In addition to more frequent and severe headaches, many of the veterans also experienced other PTSD symptoms, including sleep disorders and problems with their sense of smell, the study found.

"The olfactory nerves are very small, so when there's movement, they get sheared off," said Keith Young, associate professor and vice chairman for research at Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine in College Station, Texas, who also works with the VA Center of Excellence for Research on Returning War Veterans.

"People who have multiple exposures to blasts that cause loss of consciousness need to be carefully monitored for potential problems in the future," Young said.

And he believes the study, published in the latest issue of the Journal of Rehabilitation Research & Development, could lead to better methods to identify veterans who need more intensive treatment.

"The study points to the possibility of using olfactory testing to look for people who might benefit from additional medical testing," Young said. "The good news about these olfactory tests is that they don't require computers, so in a field hospital, you could use scratch and sniff tests to identify people who need additional testing."

The findings may lead not only to new diagnostic techniques but to different approaches for treating people with concussions, Ruff said.

"It suggests that the treatment for these people needs to be integrated," he said. "We need to treat not just head trauma or the PTSD but to treat them together."

New U.S. embassy inaugurated in Baghdad

By Chelsea J. Carter - The Associated Press
Posted : Monday Jan 5, 2009 16:24:12 EST

BAGHDAD — The United States opened its new embassy in Iraq under tight security Monday, the most visible sign of what U.S. officials call a new chapter in relations between America and a more sovereign Iraq.

To continue reading:

http://www.marinecorpstimes.com/news/2009/01/ap_iraq_embassy_010508/

January 3, 2009

Marines in the movies

The Corps will be featured in several Hollywood projects

Staff writer - Staff writer
Posted : Saturday Jan 3, 2009 8:03:35 EST

More than four years ago, then-Lt. Col. Mike Strobl shared his experience escorting a fallen Marine back to their mutual hometown, weaving a narrative rich with detail and emotion.

To continue reading:

http://www.marinecorpstimes.com/news/2009/01/marine_movie_010309w/

January 2, 2009

U.S. readying Afghan surge against Taliban

By Jason Straziuso and Rahim Faiez - The Associated Press
Posted : Friday Jan 2, 2009 6:57:44 EST

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — The U.S. is preparing to pour at least 20,000 extra troops into southern Afghanistan to cope with a Taliban insurgency that is fiercer than NATO leaders expected.

To continue reading:

http://www.marinecorpstimes.com/news/2009/01/ap_afghan_surge_010209/

S. Fla. Marine Killed In Jet Crash

Former Hialeah Resident Dies In North Carolina

HIALEAH, Fla. -- A South Florida Marine pilot died Monday when the harrier jet he was flying crashed in North Carolina.


http://www.justnews.com/news/18399673/detail.html?rss=mia&psp=news

POSTED: Friday, January 2, 2009
UPDATED: 12:52 pm EST January 2, 2009

Capt. Alberto Noel Bencosme, 28, who was a native of the Dominican Republic, was the only person aboard the plane when it crashed near Cherry Point, N.C. Witnesses said the plane was on fire, leaving little chance to rescue Bencosme.

"We were just coming around to let the dogs out to go hunting again and we heard some weird noises. The next thing we saw was big old smoke up in the air," said witness Mark Seiler. "One guy said a plane had crashed, and I called 911 and came out to the gate to direct the crews."

The plane crashed about a mile from the Marine air station where Bencosme was based.

By all accounts, Bencosme was a dedicated member of the U.S. Marine Corps. He graduated from the aviation program at Miami-Dade Community College, where he received a scholarship. Before that, Bencosme was known as a hard-working student at American Senior High School in Hialeah, where he loved to run and train.

Just one month before the pilot was killed, he was promoted to the rank of captain.

Bencosme's family in Hialeah is making preparations for funeral services next week. He leaves behind a mother, a sister and two brothers.

The investigation into what caused the plane crash is ongoing.

January 1, 2009

26th MEU rings in New Year in Kuwait

CAMP BEUHRING, Kuwait — The 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit arrived in Kuwait today for it scheduled sustainment training at Camp Beuhring, Kuwait, and its surrounding ranges

http://www.marines.mil/units/marforcom/iimef/26thmeu/Pages/26thMEUringsinNewYearinKuwait.aspx

1/1/2009 By Cpl. Aaron J. Rock, 26th MEU

The Marines and sailors debarked from the ships of the Iwo Jima Strike group aboard Landing Crafts, Air Cushioned during the past four days, bringing nearly all MEU Marines and equipment with them. Previous deployed exercises featured various parts of the nearly 2,300 Marine-strong unit.

The troops will take advantage of the extensive ranges available near Beuhring to conduct exercises impossible aboard naval vessels, such as mortar and artillery fires, Military Operations in Urban Terrain, and vehicle and tank live-fires.

The MEU’s aircraft will refine and practice attack and support roles at the ranges and airfields through live fire and other exercises such as external lift-carrying, carried out in conjunction with the logistics and infantry Marines.

During the training the MEU will continue to maintain the high state of readiness it carries as the rapid reaction force for the Middle East.

The 26th MEU deployed in late August, 2008, aboard the ships of the Iwo Jima Strike Group in support of the Global War on Terror.