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August 31, 2008

Ongoing Operation in Afghan Province Kills 220 Enemy Fighters

WASHINGTON, Aug. 31, 2008 – Afghan and coalition forces have killed more than 220 militants during operations in Afghanistan’s Helmand province since Aug. 25, military officials reported.


American Forces Press Service

Attacked repeatedly by militants with small-arms and heavy-weapons fire during multiple engagements, the Afghan and coalition soldiers have responded with small-arms fire, heavy weapons and close-air support, eliminating the militant threats, officials said.

Operations in the area have led to the discovery and destruction of multiple weapons caches containing ammonium nitrate, 107 mm rockets, motorcycles, 60 mm mortar rounds, pipe bombs, machine guns, rifles and small-arms ammunition. Several fortified fighting positions also have been destroyed.

No Afghan or coalition forces servicemembers have been killed during the operations, officials said.

In other news from Afghanistan, coalition forces killed several militants Aug. 29 during an operation to disrupt militant activities in Kapisa province, officials said.

The force attempted to search a compound in Nijrab district, targeting a Taliban commander believed to be involved with smuggling weapons into Afghanistan and conducting roadside-bomb attacks against coalition and NATO forces.

After receiving heavy AK-47 and rocket-propelled grenade fire, coalition forces instructed the militants to come out peacefully in an attempt to de-escalate the situation, officials said. Several women and children left the compound and were moved to a safe area, and the militants in the compound resumed their AK-47 and RPG fire. Coalition force called precision air strikes, killing the militants.

August 29, 2008

Welcome to the jungle: BLT 3/1 adapts to the Asia-Pacific region

OKINAWA, Japan — Amidst the hot and damp jungles of Okinawa, a platoon of Marines must decide whether to hold their position or patrol through thick vegetation and unbeaten paths to find the enemy.


8/29/2008 By Lance Cpl. Jason Spinella, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit

Over 100 Marines and sailors from Company L, Battalion Landing Team 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, conducted patrol-base operations, Aug. 12-14, at Central Training Area Three on Camp Hansen.

This training gave the Marines and sailors an opportunity to adapt and acclimatize to an arduous jungle environment most commonly found in the Asia-Pacific region, according to Gunnery Sgt. Matthew Sanders, 2nd Platoon Sergeant.

“You’ve got to get accustomed to this humidity and heat because it is far different from the desert and mountain conditions we are used to operating in,” said Sanders, a Reidsville, Ga., native.

During the training, three of the company’s platoons established separate concealed patrol bases. From these positions, each platoon conducted day and night patrols and re-supply missions.

Meanwhile, Co. L established a Combat Operations Center (COC) to support the training with additional communications and logistics. The COC was located atop a hill in an open area known by all three platoons. Members of the COC used humvees to drop off supplies at a common location. This allowed the platoons to conduct their re-supply missions throughout the three days.

During the first day and evening patrols, several squads interdicted the movement of other platoons. This type of ambush patrol training was one of the main goals for the company.

“The operation was force on force training, where the three platoons in the company worked separately to disrupt one another’s patrols and discover their enemies’ locations,” said 2nd Lt. Jeremy Adams, an artillery forward observer with BLT 3/1. “The training also allowed the Marines to learn how to sustain themselves in the jungle while overcoming the mobility issues they would encounter.”

The Marine Corps’ participation in Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom has placed much emphasis on desert operations. According to “The Long War; Send in the Marines,” a book published in January 2008 as an operational employment concept to meet an uncertain security environment, “the Marine Corps of today reflects lessons learned in ongoing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

The 31st MEU and its role in the Asia-Pacific region provides a different type of operating environment due to its sub-tropical climate and support for Marine Forces Pacific’s theater security cooperation objectives. With Okinawa’s thick vegetation and unbeaten paths, the Marines and sailors from Co. L adjusted their desert patrolling techniques to this new environment. While challenging, the Marines felt enthused about the new surroundings.

“It’s great to just get out there and do something most Marines don’t get a chance to do,” said Lance Cpl. Cameron Von-Letkemann, a squad automatic weapon gunner with 3rd Platoon. “The hardest part of the training was to learn to watch your steps, to stay quiet and cope with the extreme darkness of the jungle. At night it’s so dark you can’t even see your buddy next to you.”

While the training gave the Marines and sailors of BLT 3/1 an opportunity to adapt and acclimatize in their new environment, it also helped prepare them for future contingencies while deployed with the 31st MEU.

Corpsman saves lives on the way home

Marines and corpsman have fought battles, trained, played and saved lives together since the establishment of the Navy Hospital Corps in 1898. This rapport was proven yet again on the morning of July 15.


8/29/2008 By Cpl. Nicole A. LaVine, Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms

As Seaman Apprentice Brian T. Earle sat half-asleep in the passenger’s side of a car traveling down a Southern California interstate, the last thing on his mind was the possibility of needing to apply training to save the lives of a few strangers.

But when Earle opened his eyes, he witnessed a vehicle rollover that may have tested the courage of any other driver on the road that day.

Earle, who was then a corpsman with 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, was traveling back here from San Diego with Lance Cpl. Alexander Huff, a scout sniper he recently deployed to Iraq with.

Earle said he and Huff witnessed a pick up truck with a trailer over correct a maneuver, sending the truck full-speed through a guard rail.

“The trailer and truck kind of jack-knifed,” explained Earle, a Houston native. “Then as the truck went through the guard rail, the trailer broke off and the truck went flipping down the hill.”

Recognizing the severity of the accident, Earle instructed Huff to pull to the side of the road. Both men ran from their vehicle and were the first on the scene.

There were three passengers; two women and one man. The man, who was sitting in the front passenger’s seat, was unconscious along with the driver. The woman in the back seat was conscious and asking for help.

“It’s weird how when you are trained, you’re told to make an assessment of the situation as it happens,” said Earle. “I found myself doing that as I ran over there.”

When Earle and Huff reached the truck laying on its right side, they found gasoline spilled on the ground and smoke emitting from the undercarriage of the truck. Earle’s first thought was to turn off the vehicle since he knew some newer model vehicles use a cyclic air conditioner that sparks when it starts, he said.

“With all that gasoline around, all it would have taken was a spark and you could’ve had a fire,” he said. “That would’ve made it a lot harder for me to get the people out.”

Earle kicked in the back window to help the woman in the backseat out.

He recalled there were many possessions in the compartment which made it impossible for him to reach the front of the truck from the back seat and assist the other passengers.

As he helped her out of her seat belt, Earle said he kept the woman calm by talking to her and asking questions about possible medical conditions of the fellow passengers.

He then instructed a nearby civilian to talk to her and keep her awake in case she had suffered a concussion. Earle approached the front of the truck and discovered the driver was still unconscious and had lost one of her arms.

“The man was surprisingly calm,” said Earle. “He was covered in blood, but most of it was from his wife.”

Another man arrived and used a knife to chip and pry the shatter-proof windshield from the car.

“I got pretty cut up on my hands because we were just grabbing glass and nothing else,” said Earle. “But getting those people out of the car took precedence over everything since it was smoking.”

After removing the windshield, Earle used a belt to slow the now conscious woman’s bleeding. Huff, Earle and the unidentified Samaritan helped the man slide out of the truck. They then climbed into the truck and supported the woman as Earle cut away her jammed seatbelt.

Once out of the truck, Earle used a splint of wood from the guard rail and some long underwear to make a tourniquet on the woman’s missing arm.

Fire trucks soon arrived to find the two men covered in blood and gasoline standing with the accident victims.

“The CHP [California Highway Patrol] told me I was an idiot,” said Earle. “But I think after I told them I was in the military, they kind of got it.”

Earle added the police wanted Earle and Huff to remain at the scene and talk to the fire department, but Earle insisted on returning to base since he was late for duty.

“He absolutely deserves special recognition for his actions,” said 1st Lt. Benjamin A. Cunningham, Headquarters and Support Company commander, about Earle.

Chief Petty Officer Dexter V. Parrish, 1/7 senior medical department representative, agreed.

“It’s not an easy thing to go into harm’s way to help someone,” said Parrish, a Nashville, Tenn., native. “The pressure was high, and a lot of other people would have buckled under that pressure. He’s a very unassuming kind of guy, and those are the kind of people you expect great things from and get the greatest results from.”

Since Huff is recently at the Marine Corps Basic Scout Sniper School at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif., Staff Sgt. Jeremiah Dohl, Huff’s scout sniper platoon sergeant for 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, spoke on his behalf.

“Lance Cpl. Huff is a very reliable Marine, and it shows in his actions,” said Dohl, a Wellington, Nev., native. “He showed that camaraderie that exists between a Marine and a corpsman. A corpsman told him to do something, he listened and they worked as a team.”

Earle agreed, saying he believed it was the very nature of the corpsman-Marine relationship that helped saved the lives of three strangers.

“I felt I had an obligation to help because of my medical training,” said Earle. “Huff took me seriously, and I felt he had complete confidence in knowing that I could do my job. He didn’t ask any questions.”

Earle, who left active duty service in July, has been submitted to receive the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal, said Cunningham.

August 28, 2008

Beyond the Call of Duty

How One Team Roping Marine Made A Difference

Cody Hill was like most late-teen roping bums you know. Coming off a 300-mother cow operation in Ada, Okla., he gravitated toward the arena and was a natural.


Story by Bob Welch

He won his first team roping at the age of 12 with Jody Newberry of Professional Bull Rider fame. Hill high school rodeoed and, upon graduation, went to Eastern Oklahoma State College in Wilburton to team rope. He even spent a summer in Arizona to rope and work for ropers Mark and Sid Cooley.

He had no overarching career goals, he was in the prime of his life, roping and having fun. But something was brewing inside of him.

In Ada, Okla., the values of living right and living free, in the words of Merle Haggard, are still strong. Even upon experiencing the personal freedom of college life, the sense that serving a higher purpose was an honorable calling tugged at his conscience.

Out of the blue, one of Cody’s good friends, Mark Elkins, joined the Marines. Later, another close friend, Colton Wallace, joined the Army after one of Wallace’s friends was killed in Iraq. It hit Hill hard. How could these guys be doing something so noble? What am I doing with my life?

"When Mark was about to go to Iraq, I started feeling guilty," Hill said. "I knew I was as tough as him. I thought I could do it and do a good job. I felt guilty that if he could go, why shouldn’t I? Why does he have to do that while I just sit here? I was going to college, but still not doing a whole lot. Just being a roping bum. I saw him about to leave for Iraq and it hit home and I knew it was my time to step up."

Meanwhile, Wallace joined the Army and is currently in Afghanistan.

"Me, Mark and Colton were all best friends in high school," Hill said. "If you would have told us then that all three of us would end up in the military, I would have bet the ranch against it. Recruiters would come to our high school and we would walk by and act like we were interested and get a free pen, but that was it. None of us had any ambition to join, we were going to go to junior college, then OSU and just rope."

But all that changed in March of 2004 when Hill became one of the few, one of the proud: A Marine.

After boot camp and school of infantry, he became a reservist. Despite their trepidations, his parents, Carlyle and Linda, were proud.

For a year, Hill went to school, worked on the ranch and roped. Then, in January of 2006 he was called to active duty as a Lance Corporal in the 1st Battalion, 25th Marines, 1st Marine Expeditionary Force. His fireteam consisted of Cpl. Jared Shoemaker, Lance Cpl. Eric Valdepenas and Navy medic Chris Walsh.

They were stationed at Camp Baharia in the Anbar Province of Iraq. The city under their control was the deadliest in the country: Fallujah.

As Marines, Hill and his friends were on the front line. In harm’s way every time they left the base, they faced improvised explosive devices, snipers and car bombs. Their job was to rid the city of the men who were terrorizing U.S. forces.

"Some days were hot and boring. Some days were the most scary days of your life," he said. "I went the first two months without firing a round and then all of the sudden it went to some pretty heavy gunfights. We were a weapons company. We were all in Humvees patrolling the city. We would try to keep order in the city. We had intel on high priority guys and we would try to figure out where they were. We would find weapon caches, lots of bomb-making stuff. One time we found a buried bunker that had over 3,000 AK47s. Basically combat patrol."

Cody’s best release from the overwhelming duties of a Marine Corpsman in Fallujah, Iraq, was to rope. He and two other Marines from Oklahoma, Jeremy McConnell and Joe Lumpkins, broke down a roping dummy and between them got it to Iraq. Cody’s dad, Carlyle, sent over some play ropes and copies of Spin To Win Rodeo and Hill helped the two with their roping. He could teach them something new, McConnell and Lumpkins could learn, and they could all forget about the looming danger beyond the walls. For a few hours a day, they were roping bums.

"I had a little roping dummy that I took with me," Cody said. "My dad sent us some play ropes and we roped the roping dummy on our days off. I taught those guys to rope and they got pretty good. It would take your mind off the other stuff. If we had a bad day or got into some serious stuff, roping would just let me think about home and about what I had to go back to at home."

On June 14th, Flag Day, Hill’s fireteam was attacked by a remote controlled explosive. It disabled their Humvee, but no one was hurt. Immediately, he and his comrades jumped out to pursue the triggerman. In an urban warfare setting, this kind of pursuit meant breaking down doors, clearing houses and running through twisting and turning alleyways.

As they burst into one house, Chris "Doc" Walsh was startled to find a baby—a very sick baby. It looked as though it’s core had been turned inside out and in fact many of her internal organs were developing on the outside of her body. Immediately the triggerman was no longer a source of concern. Walsh began doing his best to care for the baby. He knew he was in way over his head, so he took pictures and notes and promised to be back.

Walsh was inspired to help the baby, Mariam, however he could and it became his own personal, covert mission to do so. Instantly, his brothers in arms, including Hill, joined him as his brothers in mercy. Unbeknownst to their commanders they would slip out under the cover of darkness each week to help Mariam. To minimize the risk to the family, they would park a mile away from the house and each time they visited, take a different route.

While Walsh, Shoemaker, platoon leader Staff Sergeant Edward Ewing and other various medical experts went in the house to work on Mariam, Valdepenas and Hill—and sometimes others—would stand guard.

In the meantime, it became Doc Walsh’s passion to get Baby Mariam out of Iraq. Her condition was diagnosed as bladder exstrophy and Walsh learned from a fellow Marine who had a nephew with the condition that the foremost expert in repairing the damage was a doctor in Boston. The next step was to get Mariam to Boston. Their battalion was scheduled to leave in October, it was September and Walsh, Hill and his comrades all felt like they were running out of time to help Mariam.

"It turned into our mission," Hill said. "We would go on our normal patrols, and then when we could we would go in there late at night and sneak our battalion surgeon in there to do as much as he could for her. We wanted to help her as much as we could. We were still trying to catch the guys that were planting IEDs and the snipers, because in Fallujah there were plenty of them. We would at least visit her house three times a week. The end result was us trying to get her to Boston. We were getting close to leaving and nothing was coming of it."

About four months passed as Walsh fought through his own country’s red tape as hard as he did against the insurgents in Iraq.

On September 4, Labor Day, Hill, Walsh, Valdepenas and Shoemaker were on a routine patrol when an improvised explosive device ripped through their Humvee. Shouts went out across radios, fire, smoke and shrapnel spewed from the vehicle and Marines rushed to the downed vehicle.

"I don’t remember it, but my friends said we were driving about 30 or 40 miles an hour and I got blown out and hit the wall and took off running. I was on fire. A guy named Doc Cinelli tackled me with a fire blanket. They couldn’t find the other guys, they were killed instantly. I don’t know how I lived."

Eric "Val" Valdepenas, 21, was the youngest of eight children and attending the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. Jared Shoemaker, 29, was a married Tulsa police officer. Chris "Doc" Walsh was a 30-year-old EMT from St. Louis who all the platoon members called "Grumpus."

"He always made sure everybody was taking care of themselves," Hill said. "He did his job well. Jared Shoemaker was our vehicle commander. Everybody in our company liked him. He was a stand-up guy. They were all three great guys."

In an instant Hill lost three brothers and baby Mariam lost her best chance to live. Fellow Marines ran to Hill’s side and rushed him to the hospital. For Mariam, they decided the best way to honor the memory of the Marines who went beyond the call of duty was to complete the mission they began.

Miraculously, they did. After e-mails circulated detailing Doc Walsh’s compassion for and his comrades’ dedication to Mariam, the red tape loosened and by the end of October Mariam was in Boston. The surgery was successful and now the little girl is back in Iraq. Her story became national news, the Boston Globe, Reader’s Digest and some of the network morning shows picked up the story.

For Hill, however, the recovery—both physical and emotional—continues.

"It’s hard," he said. "I don’t go a day without thinking about those three guys."

He was burned over 56 percent of his body. He lost his left ear. He lost vision in his right eye and had to undergo a cornea transplant. His right arm was broken.

Once stabilized in Iraq, Hill was sent to Germany then Walter Reed medical center in Washington D.C. Finally he wound up in Brooks Army Medical Center at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas. In sum, there were 14 surgeries strung out over eight months. He was in intensive care for 24 days and in the hospital for another three months and then became an outpatient.

"I don’t have any pain and that’s what matters," he said.

Throughout his recovery, roping was Cody’s light at the end of the tunnel. As the only survivor in a horrific attack, the emotions are complicated and surprising. But through it all, with roping as the goal, he has somehow been able to deal with the guilt, sorrow, pain and fear. But he couldn’t have even started the process without help.

The first help came from his family. As soon as Cody was stabilized at Fort Sam Houston, Carlyle loaded his horses in Ada and drove them down. As fate would have it, there were stables right across the street from the hospital. On the sly, Carlyle would sneak Cody over to look at the horses. Just seeing them, knowing that soon he could ride them, was the best therapy he had.

"I would drive him over there and let him look at them," Carlyle said. "I kept telling him, ‘When you get out you can start riding and when you feel better you can start roping.’"

In the meantime, they brought their four-wheeler down from Ada and bought a Heel-O-Matic to practice on—which Cody does nearly every night.

With the annual San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo forthcoming, Carlyle thought it would be good for everyone to go.

"We asked for some rodeo tickets," Carlyle said.

"A woman who is very dedicated to helping wounded soldiers started trying to get us some."

While shopping at Circuit City, the Hills ran into PRCA bareback rider Chris Harris. Carlyle shared Cody’s story with him and asked if he had any tickets to spare. Two hours later, the Hills had tickets.

"He had us the best seats in the house those first three nights," Carlyle said. "He took us back to the contestant hospitality room and we got to meet a lot of people and it snowballed from there."

To call it a snowball effect is an understatement. Harris and the Hills became close and he even stayed at the Hills’ apartment during the rodeo. Cody was able to see Blaine Linaweaver, who he roped with in Arizona, and reconnect with him. A San Antonio businessman named Phil Bakke got wind of Cody’s story and shared his box seats. Then he got in touch with other friends of his who also had rodeo tickets and within a day or two the Hills had tickets to every night of the rodeo. Randy Corley, the announcer, would find the Hills prior to every performance and sit and visit. Then Speed Williams caught wind of Cody’s story and when he won the rodeo, he gave him his buckle.

With that one act of kindness, Hill turned a corner in his recovery. Plus, Hadley Barrett announced what Williams did, and several people in the crowd wanted to help, too.

Don Jones, who is partners with George Strait on the San Antonio Rose Palace, where the George Strait Team Roping Classic is held, heard what Williams had done and looked the Hills up to offer tickets to the GSTRC. Being nuts about roping, the duo accepted. He sat in the box with Cactus Ropes’ Mike Piland and former Dallas Cowboys Walt Garrison and LeRoy Jordan. From there, they met local Boerne team ropers who have let them rope at their arenas.

Suddenly, Cody was receiving the kind of compassion he and his comrades had shown for Mariam. People he didn’t even know saw a need for help and were going out of their way to improve his situation.

"Some of the best people I’ve ever known are rodeo people," Cody said. "They’re just good people."

All the while, Cody was roping. First, while his right arm was pinned straight—meaning he couldn’t bend his elbow—he would rope the dummy. Despite having burns on his face, he would leave his apartment to rope. Even without vision in his right eye, he would get horseback and run steers.

At press time, Cody was already getting back in the midst of the sport and people he loves. He entered a Team Ropers Association event in Boerne and finished second in his classification. He applied with the USTRC to have his number lowered due to his injuries.

"Things are coming along pretty good. I should have won first and second, but heeling after all these surgeries I’ve been having trouble with my dallies," he said. "It’s been a long process. To be back roping and be back on a horse is a big, big stride."

Soon, his old roping buddy Colton Wallace will be back from Afghanistan and you can bet they’ll be roping. He’s going to build a house back in Ada and hit the amateur ropings and maybe work his way up through the ranks.

But whatever he does, or wherever he goes, he’ll carry the memory of three men and one little girl with him. He’s had bracelets made with the names of Cpl. Jared Shoemaker, Lance Cpl. Eric Valdepenas and Navy medic Chris Walsh inscribed on them.

The one with Shoemaker’s name came early.

"I’ve been to two ropings and I’ve won at two ropings and I had that bracelet on both times," he said. "I don’t think I’ll be going to a roping without that bracelet on ever. I feel like my confidence in my roping is at an all-time high. You rope a lot better when you appreciate being out there. Most ropers take it for granted that you get to do it everyday."

Ropers—and for that matter Americans—everywhere owe a debt of gratitude to Hill and his comrades. Not only does his story put the sport in perspective, politics aside, his efforts and the efforts of men like him make it possible for us to do the things we enjoy, such as rope. Hopefully, at some level, it inspires us all to go beyond the call of duty in our own lives for people who need our help. Or at the very least, not take our freedoms for granted.

Just watch out for him at the U.S. ropings. Chances are his number won’t be low for long.

August 27, 2008

Top U.S. Marine sees shift from Iraq to Afghanistan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The top U.S. Marine officer said on Wednesday he could reduce his 25,000-strong force in the former al Qaeda stronghold of Iraq's Anbar province to reinforce military operations against a growing Taliban threat in Afghanistan.


Top U.S. Marine sees shift from Iraq to Afghanistan
Wed 27 Aug 2008, 20:40 GMT
By David Morgan

Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Conway told reporters the once-restive province west of Baghdad could be turned over to Iraqi security control within days, thanks to the sharp decline in violence that occurred when Sunni tribal leaders switched allegiance from al Qaeda to the U.S. military.

The Marine Corps Times said on its Web site that Anbar security would revert to Iraq next week. Marine officials declined to confirm a specific date due to security concerns.

"The requirement right now in Iraq is much more about nation-building than it is fighting," Conway said at a Pentagon briefing.

"It's our view that if there's a stiffer fight going on someplace else ... then that's where we need to be."

U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan face an intensifying insurgency marked by escalating attacks and military casualty rates that have helped make Afghanistan a deadlier place than Iraq for U.S. troops in recent months.

Conway said air power would continue to play a primary role despite the risk of civilian casualties that have angered Afghans and made U.S. and NATO forces more unpopular.

He said it was unclear how many civilians died in an August 21 air strike in western Afghanistan, despite a U.N. finding of evidence that about 90 were killed, most of them children. But the general accused the Taliban of operating among civilians to reap a propaganda advantage from military attacks.

"This is a dirty game being played," Conway said.

"Air power is the premier asymmetric advantage that we hold over ... the Taliban. They have no like capability," he said. "We'll continue to drop bombs. We will also continue at every effort to preserve civilian lives who unfortunately are a part of the battlefield."

A U.S. military official declined to say which branch of the U.S. armed forces carried out the August 21 attack.

The United States has 33,000 troops in Afghanistan, including 3,400 Marines who are due to leave the country by the end of November.

Two Marine regimental combat teams deployed in Iraq are part of a U.S. force of about 146,000 and were sent to Anbar at the height of a Sunni insurgency centred in the province.


Conway said the size of any Marine deployment to Afghanistan would be smaller than the one now on duty in Iraq.

He declined to recommend a specific troop number but said the corps ultimately would like to have 15,000 troops deployed worldwide. There are currently 34,000 Marines on worldwide deployment, only 5,600 of whom are deployed neither to Iraq nor Afghanistan.

U.S. defence officials have long recognized the need to redeploy troops from Iraq to Afghanistan but no final decision has been made.

defence Secretary Robert Gates and other top Pentagon officials are considering ways to increase the number of U.S. combat brigades in Afghanistan to confront the Taliban.

So far, the Pentagon has taken only small steps by ordering one-month tour extensions for Marines and deploying less than 200 additional support troops.

Conway suggested a drawdown of Marines in Iraq could allow for the replacement of about 1,200 troops from the 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment that are in the country until November 30 to train Afghan security forces.

But he said it was unlikely that fresh Marine forces would be deployed to replace the 2,200 Marines fighting Taliban insurgents in southern Afghanistan.

Fewer Marines needed in Iraq's western province

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. Marine commandant said Wednesday that his forces in Iraq's once-volatile western Anbar province can be reduced, as the military moves to hand over control of the region to the Iraqis next week.


Fewer Marines needed in Iraq's western province
By ROBERT BURNS – Aug 27, 2008

Gen. James Conway, who visited Iraq this summer, told a Pentagon news conference that the two main ground combat units in Anbar, known as Marine regimental combat teams, represent more than enough force to maintain security once the Iraqis take over because violence has continued to drop.

Any decision to reduce Marine forces in Iraq rests initially with Gen. David Petraeus, who commands all U.S. forces in Iraq and who is due to present troop-level recommendations to the Pentagon shortly. Also weighing in on this will be Defense Secretary Robert Gates as well as Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, with the final decision to be made by President Bush.

Conway said Marines serving in Anbar told him, "There aren't a whole heck of a lot of bad guys there left to fight." Driving through the once-dangerous cities of Fallujah and Ramadi, he said, "Our vehicles seemed to go largely unnoticed as there was much construction and rebuilding taking place."

Conway said a ceremony marking a handover of security control in Anbar to the Iraqis could happen in the next few days; other officials said it is expected on Monday, but the Iraqi government has made no announcement.

As recently as 2006, Anbar was the deadliest province in Iraq for American troops. Toward the end of that year, however, the Sunni Arabs who were leading the insurgency in Anbar decided to join hands with U.S. forces to jointly fight the extremist al-Qaida group, and violence levels plunged.

Now Anbar is one of the quietest parts of the country, with Iraqi security forces in the lead.

The transfer to Iraqi provincial control of Anbar has been delayed since late June. Initially the delay in holding the handover ceremony was attributed by U.S. officials to a sandstorm, but it became clear that is also was due to worries that the shift could set off unrest due to competing Sunni camps in Anbar.

Reducing forces in Iraq, Conway said, is necessary in order to move any additional Marines into Afghanistan, where violence is on the rise.

"Quite frankly, young Marines join our Corps to go fight for their country," Conway said. "They are doing a very good job of this nation-building business (in Iraq). But it's our view that if there is a stiffer fight going some place else ... then that's where we need to be." He clearly was alluding to Afghanistan.

Conway, who has repeatedly pressed for more Marine involvement in the Afghanistan fight, said commanders say they need as many as 10,000 additional combat forces there to quell the insurgents.

Gates earlier this year dispatched more than 3,400 Marines to Afghanistan, including roughly 1,200 to serve as trainers for the Afghan forces.

The trainers are from the 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment. The other unit there is the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, which is fighting in the south. They already had their seven-month tours extended by about a month — until the end of November. Conway said that he would not rule out another short extension for a "small segment" of the Marines.

Corps to hand over control of Anbar

By Bryan Mitchell - Staff writer
Posted : Wednesday Aug 27, 2008 15:52:57 EDT

After a summer of delays, the highly touted handover of security in the once-volatile Anbar province of Iraq is scheduled for next week, the top Marine in Iraq said Tuesday.

To continue reading:


3/7 departs for Iraq

MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. — Marines and sailors from 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, departed the Combat Center Aug. 26 and 27 on a seven-month deployment to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.


8/27/2008 By Lance Cpl. Zachary J. Nola, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines

More than 1,000 Marines and sailors left the Unit Marshalling Area in the early and mid-morning hours of both days to the waves and tears of their families and loved ones.

1st Lt. Evan Bradley, executive officer of Weapons Company, said the battalion has the initial mission of helping with security and training local police forces.

“We’re trying to transition to operational over watch,” explained Bradley, a native of Blue Island, Ill. Bradley added that the long-term goal of the deployment is to slowly turn more control over to the local government and civilian population.

“Basically we’re going to let the [Iraqi security forces] take control,” said Bradley. “We’re going to stick by their side, but we want the Iraqi face to be on everything happening.”

Bradley said he was confident his Marines and sailors were ready to meet the mission head on after a successful Mojave Viper.

Bradley also said even though the pre-deployment training went well for 3/7, the battalion would continue to receive training on counter-insurgency, local customs and languages while on their way to Iraq.

“We’re going to continue educating them as we go over,” said Bradley. “We’ll teach them all the things that will combine to make us win.”

While families also expressed their belief that 3/7 was well-trained and ready to bring the fight to the enemy, many admitted it was hard to see their Marines and sailors go.

Amanda Bennett, wife of Staff Sgt. Verice Bennett, platoon sergeant, India Company, said she dealt with her husband’s previous deployments, which included participation in Operation Anaconda in Afghanistan and Operation Iraqi Freedom, by concentrating on work and obtaining her bachelor’s degree. However, Bennett a native of Seattle, confessed this deployment was a little harder due to the presence of their son, Sekye.

“It doesn’t get any easier, and kids make it sadder,” said Bennett, who is due to give birth to the couple’s second child in January, two months before 3/7 is scheduled to return home.

The family of Lance Cpl. Joseph Michael Peregrina, a rifleman with Kilo Company, were also saddened by the departure of their loved one, but said they were proud of Peregrina and happy to see him fulfilling a lifetime goal.

“He always had the passion to become a Marine,” said Jonette Tusques, a family friend who helped raise Peregrina. “Every conversation had Marines in it.”

Lori Rogors, 3/7’s family readiness officer, said the families will continue to receive news and updates about their Marines and sailors through the battalion’s newsletter.

Rogers, a native of Victoria, Texas, said families and not just spouses will continue to receive the knowledge and resources needed to guide them through the deployment until the Marines and sailors of 3/7 arrive home in early Spring.

3/7 departs for Iraq

MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. — Marines and sailors from 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, departed the Combat Center Aug. 26 and 27 on a seven-month deployment to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.


8/27/2008 By Lance Cpl. Zachary J. Nola, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines

More than 1,000 Marines and sailors left the Unit Marshalling Area in the early and mid-morning hours of both days to the waves and tears of their families and loved ones.

1st Lt. Evan Bradley, executive officer of Weapons Company, said the battalion has the initial mission of helping with security and training local police forces.

“We’re trying to transition to operational over watch,” explained Bradley, a native of Blue Island, Ill. Bradley added that the long-term goal of the deployment is to slowly turn more control over to the local government and civilian population.

“Basically we’re going to let the [Iraqi security forces] take control,” said Bradley. “We’re going to stick by their side, but we want the Iraqi face to be on everything happening.”

Bradley said he was confident his Marines and sailors were ready to meet the mission head on after a successful Mojave Viper.

Bradley also said even though the pre-deployment training went well for 3/7, the battalion would continue to receive training on counter-insurgency, local customs and languages while on their way to Iraq.

“We’re going to continue educating them as we go over,” said Bradley. “We’ll teach them all the things that will combine to make us win.”

While families also expressed their belief that 3/7 was well-trained and ready to bring the fight to the enemy, many admitted it was hard to see their Marines and sailors go.

Amanda Bennett, wife of Staff Sgt. Verice Bennett, platoon sergeant, India Company, said she dealt with her husband’s previous deployments, which included participation in Operation Anaconda in Afghanistan and Operation Iraqi Freedom, by concentrating on work and obtaining her bachelor’s degree. However, Bennett a native of Seattle, confessed this deployment was a little harder due to the presence of their son, Sekye.

“It doesn’t get any easier, and kids make it sadder,” said Bennett, who is due to give birth to the couple’s second child in January, two months before 3/7 is scheduled to return home.

The family of Lance Cpl. Joseph Michael Peregrina, a rifleman with Kilo Company, were also saddened by the departure of their loved one, but said they were proud of Peregrina and happy to see him fulfilling a lifetime goal.

“He always had the passion to become a Marine,” said Jonette Tusques, a family friend who helped raise Peregrina. “Every conversation had Marines in it.”

Lori Rogors, 3/7’s family readiness officer, said the families will continue to receive news and updates about their Marines and sailors through the battalion’s newsletter.

Rogers, a native of Victoria, Texas, said families and not just spouses will continue to receive the knowledge and resources needed to guide them through the deployment until the Marines and sailors of 3/7 arrive home in early Spring.

August 23, 2008

A Hairy Fight

As the military considers an Afghanistan 'surge', the head of the U.S. Marines pays a visit, and finds that far more troops are needed on the ground.

When Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Conway visited the dusty hinterlands of southern Afghanistan last week, probably the last thing he expected to find was U.S. Marines with full, bushy beards. But there they were, members of the Marines' Special Operations Command unit, known as MarSOC.


By Kimberly Johnson | Newsweek Web Exclusive
Aug 23, 2008 | Updated: 11:02 a.m. ET Aug 23, 2008

While a complete departure from the Corps' fastidious clean-shaven image, the beards have been adopted by small, largely independent teams training Afghan forces and conducting high-level missions in remote areas. Commanders say the facial hair is a signal to the Muslim population that the Americans respect their customs.

But beyond the uncustomary grooming procedures, the Marine Corps' top commander didn't seem surprised by much during his trip into Afghanistan, a country where a resurgent Taliban has been wreaking havoc and insurgent groups have been bleeding over the porous borders with Pakistan. There are currently about 3,400 Marines deployed in Afghanistan, and Conway said far more are needed to do the job.

But the Marines' hands are tied in sending more troops unless there is a reduction of the 24,000 Marines currently deployed in Iraq. The service is not big enough to handle a protracted war on two fronts, Conway has said. The time is ripe for a drawdown in Iraq's Al Anbar Province, he has long argued, pointing to security improvements logged with each passing week. For the better part of the past year, Conway has attempted to sway Pentagon war planners to shift the focus for Marines from Iraq to the mountains of Afghanistan, where they are better suited to fight as an expeditionary force.

"There's not much enemy left in Iraq but there's plenty of enemy here to be dealt with," Conway told more than 100 Marines deployed at Afghanistan's Bagram Air Base during his recent visit. The trip is one of several the plain-spoken commander takes every year in order to brief Marines down to the lowest enlisted ranks on the service's big-picture issues.

Conditions are undeniably better in Iraq each week, the general told a NEWSWEEK reporter traveling with him. "On average, you've got three attacks a day in Anbar Province. It used to be several hundred a day."

This past spring, Marines were given a toehold into the resurging Afghan fight when an infantry battalion and a Marine Expeditionary Unit were sent as part of a one-time surge into southern Afghanistan. The Marines were assigned territory that had previously undergone only intermittent patrols, Conway said. As a result, casualty numbers in Afghanistan are now surpassing those in Iraq. There were 65 U.S. military deaths in Afghanistan in May, June and July--the highest three-month tally since the war began in 2001, according to the Associated Press. And the military death toll in July eclipsed that of Iraq for the first time since that war began in 2003, the AP reported.

"We are undermanned in order to be able to do all we need to do in the south [of Afghanistan]," Conway said. The 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines, for example, is currently covering 16,000 square miles. "That's a huge area of responsibility. We can't nearly be every place we need to be in sufficient strength to manage that."

In recent weeks, both of those Marine units have had their deployments extended, and there's no clear indication who will take on their ground once they go home as scheduled by November. The Corps, already stretched thin by its Iraq commitments, would be hamstrung to send any more troops into Afghanistan as replacements, Conway said.

Conway's trip to Afghanistan comes as the Pentagon looks to step-up the fight against Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters with a troop surge that could include Marines. Their role in the strategy, however, likely won't be cemented until after Multi-National Force-Iraq commander Gen. David Petraeus returns to the United States next month to brief President Bush and other military leaders. After leaving Iraq, Petraeus is set to take over the U.S. military’s Central Command, which includes Iraq and Afghanistan.

Should Marines be ordered in for an extended role in Afghanistan, they would need to go in as a Marine Air Ground Task Force, Conway said. By design, a self-sustaining MAGTF unit is in charge of its own artillery, air and logistics, and could swell to as many as 40,000 Marines, depending upon its combat mission. "If we're ordered there, we aught to be ordered there in large numbers if we're going to be expected to operate in a country that is that large with what is now a fairly significant enemy presence," Conway said. "We don't want another force in there that isn't fully adaptive for what we think we're going to face."

Pulling out the small number of Marines currently in southern Afghanistan without a plan to replace them, could undo security gains, Conway cautioned, citing lessons learned in Iraq. "If you leave those people [locals who have cooperated with security forces], the method of the Taliban or of Al Qaeda is to come in and exact a punishment."

The potential security gap after Marines go home is a serious worry, despite the fact that winter months are typically considered a more inactive fighting season in Afghanistan, said Michael O'Hanlon, a defense analyst at the Washington, D.C.-based Brookings Institution. Even if current Marine force levels were doubled, force numbers wouldn't be anything close to those in Iraq, he said.

In Afghanistan, which has an area about the size of Texas, there are currently about 70,000 international troops coupled with about 65,000 Afghan security forces the Pentagon wants to see doubled in the next five years. In Iraq, a much smaller country by almost 100,000 square miles, there are about 700,000 security forces between Iraqi and international troops. "The broader issue is whether or not the mission is working even with the Marines there," O'Hanlon said.

"We are undermanned in order to be able to do all we need to do in the south [of Afghanistan]," Conway said. The 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines, for example, is currently covering 16,000 square miles. "That's a huge area of responsibility. We can't nearly be every place we need to be in sufficient strength to manage that."

In recent weeks, both of those Marine units have had their deployments extended, and there's no clear indication who will take on their ground once they go home as scheduled by November. The Corps, already stretched thin by its Iraq commitments, would be hamstrung to send any more troops into Afghanistan as replacements, Conway said.

Conway's trip to Afghanistan comes as the Pentagon looks to step-up the fight against Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters with a troop surge that could include Marines. Their role in the strategy, however, likely won't be cemented until after Multi-National Force-Iraq commander Gen. David Petraeus returns to the United States next month to brief President Bush and other military leaders. After leaving Iraq, Petraeus is set to take over the U.S. military’s Central Command, which includes Iraq and Afghanistan.

Should Marines be ordered in for an extended role in Afghanistan, they would need to go in as a Marine Air Ground Task Force, Conway said. By design, a self-sustaining MAGTF unit is in charge of its own artillery, air and logistics, and could swell to as many as 40,000 Marines, depending upon its combat mission. "If we're ordered there, we aught to be ordered there in large numbers if we're going to be expected to operate in a country that is that large with what is now a fairly significant enemy presence," Conway said. "We don't want another force in there that isn't fully adaptive for what we think we're going to face."

Pulling out the small number of Marines currently in southern Afghanistan without a plan to replace them, could undo security gains, Conway cautioned, citing lessons learned in Iraq. "If you leave those people [locals who have cooperated with security forces], the method of the Taliban or of Al Qaeda is to come in and exact a punishment."

The potential security gap after Marines go home is a serious worry, despite the fact that winter months are typically considered a more inactive fighting season in Afghanistan, said Michael O'Hanlon, a defense analyst at the Washington, D.C.-based Brookings Institution. Even if current Marine force levels were doubled, force numbers wouldn't be anything close to those in Iraq, he said.

In Afghanistan, which has an area about the size of Texas, there are currently about 70,000 international troops coupled with about 65,000 Afghan security forces the Pentagon wants to see doubled in the next five years. In Iraq, a much smaller country by almost 100,000 square miles, there are about 700,000 security forces between Iraqi and international troops. "The broader issue is whether or not the mission is working even with the Marines there," O'Hanlon said.

"We are undermanned in order to be able to do all we need to do in the south [of Afghanistan]," Conway said. The 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines, for example, is currently covering 16,000 square miles. "That's a huge area of responsibility. We can't nearly be every place we need to be in sufficient strength to manage that."

In recent weeks, both of those Marine units have had their deployments extended, and there's no clear indication who will take on their ground once they go home as scheduled by November. The Corps, already stretched thin by its Iraq commitments, would be hamstrung to send any more troops into Afghanistan as replacements, Conway said.

Conway's trip to Afghanistan comes as the Pentagon looks to step-up the fight against Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters with a troop surge that could include Marines. Their role in the strategy, however, likely won't be cemented until after Multi-National Force-Iraq commander Gen. David Petraeus returns to the United States next month to brief President Bush and other military leaders. After leaving Iraq, Petraeus is set to take over the U.S. military’s Central Command, which includes Iraq and Afghanistan.

Should Marines be ordered in for an extended role in Afghanistan, they would need to go in as a Marine Air Ground Task Force, Conway said. By design, a self-sustaining MAGTF unit is in charge of its own artillery, air and logistics, and could swell to as many as 40,000 Marines, depending upon its combat mission. "If we're ordered there, we aught to be ordered there in large numbers if we're going to be expected to operate in a country that is that large with what is now a fairly significant enemy presence," Conway said. "We don't want another force in there that isn't fully adaptive for what we think we're going to face."

Pulling out the small number of Marines currently in southern Afghanistan without a plan to replace them, could undo security gains, Conway cautioned, citing lessons learned in Iraq. "If you leave those people [locals who have cooperated with security forces], the method of the Taliban or of Al Qaeda is to come in and exact a punishment."

The potential security gap after Marines go home is a serious worry, despite the fact that winter months are typically considered a more inactive fighting season in Afghanistan, said Michael O'Hanlon, a defense analyst at the Washington, D.C.-based Brookings Institution. Even if current Marine force levels were doubled, force numbers wouldn't be anything close to those in Iraq, he said.

In Afghanistan, which has an area about the size of Texas, there are currently about 70,000 international troops coupled with about 65,000 Afghan security forces the Pentagon wants to see doubled in the next five years. In Iraq, a much smaller country by almost 100,000 square miles, there are about 700,000 security forces between Iraqi and international troops. "The broader issue is whether or not the mission is working even with the Marines there," O'Hanlon said.

In the meantime, the modest numbers of Marines in southern Afghanistan mean some units are operating on their own, further out from larger bases. One Marine platoon, for example, is based near the village of Gulestan, in the Farah province that borders Iran. The austere camp of tents and camouflage netting, outlined in rings of dirt-filled barriers meant to absorb blasts and bullets, is many miles from the nearest Marine base.

Last week, the mountain valley was dry and dusty. But spring brings fertile fields of opium and marijuana crops, said the platoon's leader, Lt. Benjamin Brewster. Their presence has had significant impact in improving security for the locals, Brewster said. "When we leave, they will either go back to being farmers, or will be killed," he said.

MarSOC Marines also break up into small teams but don't own battle space, something Conway said keeps them flexible in tackling targets that might not need the support of a conventional unit. That flexibility is readily identifiable by the decision of some to grow beards in an attempt to have status among local Afghan men. "In some cultures, it should be allowed," a senior member of MarSOC's Charlie Company, told NEWSWEEK during a visit to their secluded camp last week.

The special operations Marines have been based in a small remote outpost near the city of Delaram since late June. They wear the same brown digitized uniform as conventional Marine units, carry many of the same weapons and drive in the same Humvees. The nature of their mission has them out among locals more than other units, often great distances from a support base, explained the senior Marine, who asked not to be identified due to the sensitivity of his position.

At times, they may be forced to depend on those local villages for food and, under extreme circumstances, a brief sanctuary to render medical aid to an injured Marine, he said. "With this in mind situations can turn bad very quickly, so if it means buying a few seconds of life as opposed to death by showing them without words that you know about their customs and culture and respect, then it is definitely worth the effort," he said.

But Gen. Conway may not be totally convinced about the beards. "I have authorized relaxed grooming standards previously as a commander where I thought it made sense," Conway said, explaining he previously approved a mission that required Marines to grow long hair and beards, and dress like Iraqis. "I would do anything if I thought it would enhance the mission or save lives. I'm not sure, as I understand all of the elements of [the south Afghanistan operations] at this point, that [growing a beard] does either."

The issue, however, was momentarily shelved as Conway sat in the blazing mid-day sun in the dusty Delaram camp, perched upon a picnic table talking with the Marines for well over an hour as they ate lunch out of MRE packets. "I was impressed. I'm always impressed with the spirit of our Marines in remote places," Conway later said while en route back to Washington. "There's no loss or lack of enthusiasm for the mission, and that's important because I think we're going to be at it a while."

He’s Chased Al Qaeda From Baghdad. Next: Kandahar.

Gen. David Petraeus has no intention of doing a victory lap on his way out of Iraq. As he heads off next month to take over the U.S. military's Central Command, in charge of Afghanistan as well as Iraq, he leaves a country on the rebound. People in Baghdad feel so safe they are out on the streets at midnight. The scourge of Al Qaeda in Iraq is a spent force. They've lost Anbar province and Baghdad, where at best they can mount a couple of mostly insignificant attacks a day. They've vacated the Sunni Triangle. Virtually the entire Sunni Arab population has turned against them, and nowadays not a single Sunni imam, politician or tribal leader of note inside the country supports them. So why then don't we just say it: Al Qaeda in Iraq has been defeated.


By Rod Nordland | NEWSWEEK
Published Aug 23, 2008
From the magazine issue dated Sep 1, 2008

"You won't find a single military leader in this theater who will say that," says Petraeus, whose counterinsurgency guidance to his troops warns against "premature declarations of success." Petraeus is far too politic to refer to his commander in chief's May 1, 2003, "mission accomplished" declaration, but he's clearly not making that mistake.

Other players are quick to rush in where Petraeus declines to tread. "Al Qaeda is definitely defeated, tactically," says Iraq's national-security adviser, Mowaffaq al-Rubaie, citing intercepted communications in which Al Qaeda in Iraq asked senior Qaeda officials in Pakistan "not to send any more foreign mujahedin," only suicide wannabes. "This is very significant—it means they no longer have any territory to defend." Petraeus says U.S. intelligence confirms the basic point: two months ago, the jihadi influx stopped completely. "They just said, 'Stop bringing in anybody.' Some of that traffic has resumed, but only a trickle," he says.

Doesn't this suggest Al Qaeda is at a tipping point, too weak to disrupt Iraqi lives, much less spark a renewal of sectarian warfare? "Yes, Al Qaeda in Iraq has been significantly diminished, its capability substantially degraded," says Petraeus, "but we assess they remain lethal—what we call the wolf closest to the sled." And, he adds, "every time you start to feel really good, there will be some kind of incident."

Will he take along the lessons learned in Iraq, and perhaps its surge strategy to Afghanistan next? "It's premature to say." On many days now, the violence there is actually higher than in Iraq; something urgently needs to change. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates says he's waiting for Petraeus's assessment before deciding what to do there, but the general is already busily managing expectations. Afghanistan, he says, "will be the longest campaign" in this long war.

August 22, 2008

Report From a Forgotten War: Third in a Series

Herat Province, Afghanistan — Our FOX News “War Stories” team has moved to a former Soviet military base in western Afghanistan, about 50 miles from the Iranian border. We’re now with the 207th Afghan Commando Battalion and their U.S. Special Operations Command, Army and Marine counterparts. This remarkable unit celebrated Afghanistan’s 89th Independence Day this week with a capture-kill mission on a Taliban stronghold.

In Khost, 400 miles east of here, near the border with Pakistan, Taliban terrorists observed the anniversary by killing 11 of their countrymen in a suicide car bomb attack against a U.S. base and followed up with a human wave of suicide bombers unsuccessfully storming Camp Salerno.


Friday, August 22, 2008
By Col. Oliver North
FOX News

Here in the “Forgotten War,” Islamic radicals –- the Taliban and Al Qaeda –- are making a major push to destabilize the Karzai government. According to Afghan officials, foreign fighters are flowing across the porous border with Pakistan and enemy attacks are up more than 50 percent from a year ago. Yesterday, ten French soldiers were killed in a Taliban attack outside the capital. As usual, few in the so-called mainstream media bothered to note any of this.

Though American and coalition casualties have been nearly seven times higher in Afghanistan than in Iraq over the past four months, the campaign against a resurgent Taliban remains widely under-reported in the U.S. press. That’s why so many of our countrymen are unaware of the courage, commitment and sacrifice demonstrated by the 32,000 U.S. soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines serving and fighting in the shadows of the Hindu Kush. Their stories are profoundly stirring. Herewith, a few recent examples:

On July 23, 2007, Lance Corporal Garrett Jones (LCpl) was a “grunt” Fire Team Leader on patrol in Fallujah, Iraq, with 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines (2/7) when an improvised explosive device (IED) detonated practically beneath him, shredding his left leg. At the hospital, surgeons amputated the shattered limb above the knee to save his life.

Today, Garrett Jones is a Corporal (Cpl) – still with 2/7 – and serving here in Afghanistan. In less than a year, he has suffered life-threatening wounds, recuperated from surgery, endured rehabilitation, been fitted with a prosthetic leg, proved that he can perform in combat – and returned to duty. An avid “snow-boarder,” he plans to compete in the 2010 Paralympics in Vancouver, Canada.

Cpl. Jones could have taken a disability discharge and a pension for his wounds. Instead, he fought to stay on active duty and return to a war zone with those he calls his “battle buddies.” When I asked him why, he replied, “These are my brothers. I want to be where they are and continue to make a difference.” He is.

While we were embedded with 2/7, the battalion suffered a dozen serious casualties. Three Marines, Pfc Juan Lopez-Castaneda, LCpl Jacob Toves and Cpl Anthony Mihalo were killed in action (KIA) by improvised explosive devices. One of the wounded, LCpl Bryan Fisher, was flown to the British shock-trauma hospital at Camp Bastion. An excerpt from a message sent to me by the battalion chaplain, Lieutenant Russ Hale, CHC, USN:

“I went to the hospital to see LCpl Fisher, the ‘E’ Co. Marine who was wounded in the IED attack and had the unenviable task of sharing with him the names of the KIA from his platoon that were med-evaced after him. Like any human, he broke down and began to weep at the loss of his friends and brothers-in-arms. We spoke for a bit about loss and grief and how these kinds of events are not something a person ‘gets over,’ rather, we ‘get through’ and with God’s grace, we learn to cope in a healthy manner. As our conversation turned towards ways to honor the loss of his friends and his own future, LCpl Fisher floored me with his plans: ‘I'm glad I'll be here at ‘Bastion’ for awhile before I go back to the field. This will give me time to process my re-enlistment paperwork to stay in 2/7 and then I can return to my guys.’

“Here is a Marine who just lost three of his friends, could easily have been #4 of the KIA's, and his way of honoring his friends is to re-enlist to stay in the same battalion in order to return to the same place his friends were killed so that he can continue to carry the fight to the enemy. And what’s most important is that his actions are not an act of vengeance but an act of love; a way to honor his comrades. He inspires me.”

Stories like these should inspire you as well. Too bad the potentates of the press so rarely bother to cover them.

Underway: 26th MEU deploys

CAMP LEJUENE, N.C. — After an arduous six-month training cycle, the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit boards the ships of the Iwo Jima Expeditionary Strike Group the last week of August for their scheduled deployment.


8/22/2008 By Gunnery Sgt. Bryce Piper, 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit

The 2,200-strong Marine Air-Ground Task Force gets under way to cross the Atlantic to conduct a traditional MEU deployment in support of the Global War on Terror. The Marines will board three ships of the Iwo Jima ESG, the USS Iwo Jima, the USS Carter Hall and one of the Navy's newest ships, the USS San Antonio.

New Ship

Marines from the 26th MEU supported a successful operational evaluation of the San Antonio in March during which they conducted helicopter and amphibious operations and stressed the ship's operational and sustainment abilities to support embarked Marines. MEU leaders said they were impressed with San Antonio's capabilities.

"This is a new phase in the Navy/Marine Corps relationship, particularly with the amphibious Navy," said Lt. Col. John R. Giltz, commander of the 26th MEU's Logistics Combat Element, CLB-26. San Antonio's flight deck, well deck, stowage, passageways and berthing were designed to make the embarked 26th MEU a more versatile, swift and efficient expeditionary force for projecting American political will on foreign shores.

"It was designed from the keel up for Marines," Giltz said. "It was well thought out operationally and in its ability to transport Marines to places where we're going to find ourselves doing missions ... I think you'll find it can do a lot more even than they realize right now."

"This ship will enable a MEU to perform faster and with greater precision," said 26th MEU Executive Officer Lt. Col. John W. Capdepon. “It will give the MEU commander even more speed and flexibility to meet his objectives.”

A Long, Hard Road

During their six-month training cycle, Marines from the 26th MEU conducted more real-world operations than some MEUs face during their whole deployment, all while meeting training requirements under a compressed training schedule.

Training began shortly after the MEU formed Feb. 15. when 26th MEU Marines and infantrymen from 3rd Battalion, 8th Marines, boarded the San Antonio to support its OpEval.

The first major unit exercise took place at Ft. Pickett, Va., in March and April, during which the Marines completed individual and small-unit training such as firing individual and crew-served weapons. They also conducted a community relations project in nearby Blackstone, Va., making improvements to a pistol range used by local law enforcement.

May saw the Marines aboard the ships of the Iwo Jima ESG for an integration exercise, essential to establish the relationships and build teamwork with their Navy counterparts. It was the first taste of ship life for many young Marines, and the exercise provided an important frame of reference for their upcoming deployment.

At Muscatatuck Urban Training Center and Camp Atterbury near Indianapolis, Ind., the Marines rose to an unexpected challenge in June. Tornadoes, severe thunderstorms and heavy rain first tested the Marines and their plans to conduct realistic urban training. Undaunted, the Marines continued training but soon received calls for help from nearby civilian communities.

In all the 26th MEU received and supported three calls for assistance. Marine combat photographers provided aerial video and still images to local, state and federal authorities to document the rising natural disaster. Marines dispatched via CH-53E Super Stallion helicopters to help local authorities evacuate Columbus Regional Hospital when flooding threatened the facility. Later, nearly 140 Marines took a 2 a.m. flight via CH-46E Sea Knight helicopters to Elnora, Ind., in a race to shore up nearly a mile of levee before the White River crested at 9 a.m. In cooperation with Indiana National Guard, local townspeople, Amish and Mennonite farmers and even a contingent of prisoners from a nearby jail, the Marines succeeded in keeping the water at bay, saving the town.

With little rest, the Marines again boarded the ships of the Iwo Jima ESG in July to conduct a Composite Unit Training exercise, ready to test any of their potential missions. During the exercise, they conducted multiple amphibious and helicopter-borne raids, a simulated embassy reinforcement and Noncombatant Evacuation Operation, a Humanitarian Assistance Operation, several Mass Casualty scenarios, and a host of other skills unique to a MEU.

COMPTUEX also served as their evaluation exercise, allowing the Marines to compress their training schedule and meet their scheduled deployment time.

"Our approach to the certification piece of COMPTUEX was simple," said Commanding Officer Col. Mark J. Desens. "Our primary focus is on improving ourselves at every opportunity. If you do that right, an evaluation takes care of itself. We continuously seek opportunities to train aggressively, with leaders controlling the pace and complexity of how we train so that we don't get people hurt or equipment needlessly damaged along the way," Desens said.


Now, after a brief but much-deserved block leave period to spend time with friends and family, the Marines and Sailors of the 26th MEU and Iwo Jima ESG cross the Atlantic Ocean to support America's global interests.

"We're now 'workups-complete,'" Desens said. "The MEU is ready to go."

A record turnout

SUBYHAT, Iraq – Marines and Sailors with Task Force 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 1, conducted a cooperative medical engagement in the Karma and Subyhat areas to assist the local population in receiving medical care August 11th and 12th.


Story by Cpl. Chadwick deBree

Approximately 1,000 Iraqi men, women and children were evaluated and treated throughout the CME by Navy medical personnel and Iraqi doctors. If needed, the sailors also provided them with medicine.

“This has been a record number of people that (have shown up to a CME we’ve conducted),” said Petty Officer 3rd Class Michael A. S. Cannova, hospital corpsman, 2nd Bn., 3rd Marines. “This really shows the progress in this area. People trust us, and they come to us so we can help them with their needs.”

Medical staff at the CME treated Iraqi citizens for illnesses ranging from cold and flu symptoms to more severe cases such as melanoma, diabetes and cancer.

Marines and sailors also handed out shoes and toys to Iraqi children and they gave food bags and water the adults.

“This is a great thing that the Coalition forces are doing,” said Mahmed Khalf, a citizen of Subyhat. “I am grateful that they took their time to come here and help the people in this area.”

During their six-month deployment the battalion has conducted about three CME’s a month. It’s hard work the service members say, but the experience is well worth it.

“After a CME, I feel tired but satisfied that I can help less fortunate people,” Cannova said. “It’s obviously worth doing because that’s our job, to help the unfortunate. I’ve noticed that each time we do a CME, the Iraqi people appreciate it more and more.”

Water flows again in Lahib

LAHIB, Iraq – The desert environment can be harsh on crops and livestock without the steady flow of fresh water, and in a place like Iraq, a fresh flow of water is hard to come by.


Story by Cpl. Chadwick deBree

With this in mind, Marines of Task Force 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 1, along with the local officials of the Lahib area repaired a water purification pump and adjacent road here July 31.

Over the last few years, the water pump had been damaged by insurgents and the road leading to the pump was closed because of its strategic positioning for insurgents, said 1st Lt. Brendan Mahoney, platoon commander, 3rd Platoon, Company G, Task Force 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment.

“The insurgents stole everything out of the pump house a couple of years ago,” said Mahoney. “They stripped it of all its wires and working parts and used them to make (improvised explosive devices) to use against us. Once the area’s security improved, we requested through our higher headquarters approval to fix it for the local people.”

The road was filled with impact craters from bombs, said Mahoney. Units had found approximately 30 IEDs along the road and were forced to travel around it using a make-shift road on the other side of a nearby canal where farmers raised crops.

“(The main road) was the last stand for the insurgency in the area,” said Mahoney. “The local population and Marines would bypass the road completely and drive through the fields, but now the road is a safe place.”

“We appreciate the efforts of the Marines and the Iraqi Police,” said Sheik Suyhal, a local sheik. “These farm areas, no one could use them because there was no water and people would drive through the fields, but the Marines now gave life to these farms and this area.”

Marines had to build a bridge over the water pump’s pipes to protect them against passing traffic, said Achmed Sulayah, the lead contractor working with the Marines. Thanks in part to local citizens, the entire project took only two weeks to finish. The hiring of locals benefitted the area’s economy as well.

“I hired only people from (Lahib) and no workers from outside the area,” said Sulayah. “I hired them and taught them how to work construction, that way they have another job skill. They worked really hard to get this project done.”

The project is an example of what can be done when Marines, Iraqi Security Forces and local Iraqi leaders work together, said Capt. Mohammed Farhan, an Iraqi Policeman.

“The irrigation system has been broken since the beginning of the war,” Farhan said. “Now that it is getting safer and safer here, we can start piecing back together the area.”

The opening of the water pump and road are one of many projects the Marines of Task Force 2/3 have completed to help with the reconstruction of Iraq.

“These projects are just a taste of what we are able to do to help the Iraqi people,” said Capt. William Matory, commanding officer, Company G, 2nd Bn., 3rd Marines. “The partnership between the Coalition Forces and the Iraqis is at a level that when we work together, we can accomplish anything.”

August 21, 2008

Marine receives Silver Star

By Colby Sledge - The Nashville Tennessean
Posted : Thursday Aug 21, 2008 17:09:10 EDT

When Lance Cpl. William “Billy” D. Spencer saw his squad leader wounded in an Iraq shootout, he did the only thing he could do: He tried to save his commanding officer.

To continue reading:


Shape Up: Corps tightens weight, appearance standards

YUMA, Ariz. — — In the final stage of the Corps' physical fitness makeover, the commandant signed a new order Aug. 8 defining tougher body fat and appearance standards for Marines.


Shape Up: Corps tightens weight, appearance standards
8/21/2008 By Gunnery Sgt. Bill Lisbon & Lance Cpl. Gregory Aalto , Marine Corps Air Station Yuma

The one change likely affecting a broad number of Marines is no longer allowing a higher body fat percentage for those with high scores on their semiannual physical fitness tests.

In fact, the order "severs the link" between PFT scores and personal appearance, said Gen. James T. Conway, Marine Corps commandant, in a message to all Marines Aug. 11. Now physical fitness and appearance regulations are defined in two separate Marine Corps orders, MCO 6110.3 titled "Marine Corps Body Composition and Military Appearance Program" and MCO 6100.13 titled "Marine Corps Physical Fitness Program."

During Headquarters Marine Corps inspections of previous body composition programs, Marines were found to be out of weight standards but not assigned to a corrective program, said Conway.

"This impacts combat efficiency and effectiveness and, unfortunately, is a clear indicator of some commanders' failure to enforce standards," said Conway.

Yet, the order empowers commanding officers by giving them authority to decide whether a Marine who doesn't meet height and weight standards but still has a sharp military appearance should be granted a waiver.

On the flipside, the commander can also assign Marines to the Military Appearance Program if they fall within height and weight limits, but "still fail to present a suitable military appearance," according to the order.

To maintain fairness and impartiality, Marines assigned to the program have the right to appeal to the next higher officer in their chain of command.

"Tendencies toward increased weight have become a dangerous trend over the last decade in out American society," said Conway. "But Marines are different."

In the order, Conway warned that failure to meet and enforce standards could not only jeopardize operational readiness, but "erode American confidence" in the Corps.

"Selective compliance with the Marine Corps orders on weight control is over," the commandant said.

Previous standards defining maximum and minimum weight based on a Marine's height still apply. However, those who fall outside those standards must not exceed a certain percentage of body fat.

Men between 17-26 years old are allowed a maximum 18 percent body fat. Men 27-39 years old are allowed 19 percent. Men 40-45 years old are allowed 20 percent and those 46 years and older are allowed 21 percent.

Females 17-26 years old are allowed 26 percent body fat. Women 27-39 years old are allowed 27 percent. Women 40-45 years old are allowed 28 percent and those 46 years old and up are allowed 29 percent body fat.

Previously, Marines with a first-class PFT score could have an additional 4 percent of body fat.

Previously, Marines who failed to meet body composition standards where placed on a corrective program for at least six months. With the new order, the Corps will allow a grace period of up to 120 days after weighing in before formal action is taken.

The first 60 days are known as the notification period. During this time, the unit's senior enlisted advisor for enlisted personnel or executive officer for officers will issue an informal letter of concern and a 60-day action plan. The actions during this stage are determined by the individual unit.

If a Marine does not meet standards after the notification period, the 60-day cautionary period begins immediately. The unit will again be in charge of setting up a plan to assist the Marine in getting to regulation. A letter of caution will inform the unsatisfactory Marine that if they do not comply with set standards they will be placed on a formal program following the 60-day cautionary period.

After 120 days, Marines who still do not meet the height/weight or body fat standards will immediately be assigned to the formal Body Composition Program by the unit's commanding officer.

"Admittedly, decisions to assign Marines to the body composition and military appearance programs are difficult, and sometimes involve Marines who are otherwise solid performers," said Conway. "It is, however, the right thing to do for the individual and the institution."

Assignment to the program restricts promotion, prevents re-enlistment, results in adverse fitness reports and lower conduct marks, and could force the Marine to leave the Corps.

Marines plant mock IEDs for training

AL-ASAD, Iraq — AL-ASAD, Iraq – One of the best ways for Marines in al-Anbar Province to battle improvised explosive devices is to go out and plant mock IEDs of their own.


8/21/2008 By Cpl. G.P. Ingersoll, 1st Marine Logistics Group

Nineteen Marines from all over the area of operations recently attended the Counter IED Train-the-Trainer’s course here from Aug. 19 – 21. Representatives from infantry and logistics battalions attended the course, which was designed by the CIED Training Team from Task Force Troy, Multi National Corps – Iraq.

“Having them place ‘IEDs’ gets them to think like an insurgent, so they know indicators they can look for when they’re out on patrols,” said Capt. Christian R. Johnson, officer in charge of the course.

The course consisted of classroom instruction and field instruction. Classroom time covered enemy tactics, techniques and procedures based on the region. Marines then spent time in the field planting mock-IEDs along a specified route that other Marines would try to find prior to making contact with them.

“It’s important to provide (service members) in the area with the most up-to-date CIED info they can have,” said Johnson, 24, Rockford, Ill. He said the course provides IED information from across the whole AO. Graduates from the course can then teach an area specific class, with their information varying depending on their current location.

“They can pull TTPs for that area, and if there’s a new type of IED that they don’t see out there, we can expose them to it,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Lejay R. Colborn, 37, Gulf Breeze, Fla., explosive ordnance disposal technician, CIED. Colborn and Johnson explained that CIED constantly updates enemy TTPs.

This information provides Marines on the ground with a distinct edge over the insurgency who is finding new ways to build explosive devices all the time.

“There’re some (insurgent) specialists out there,” said Sgt. Wesley A. Laney, squad leader, 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 1, 1st Marine Division.

“If you’re only out there looking for 155 mm rounds, you’re going to miss the crazy stuff,” said Laney, 25, Charleston, S.C. “The crazy stuff is what they’re using to target Coalition Forces.” Laney talked about insurgents once using a syringe to trigger an IED.

Instructors explained to the students that insurgents will place “hoax” IEDs, which oftentimes look run-of-the-mill, in order to distract the eye from something newer and nastier. With CIED’s cutting edge information system, the new, crazy stuff becomes old news fast, and more often Marines aren’t patrolling streets blind.

“(Without this class) we would become a softer target, the casualty rate would go up, and insurgents would become emboldened and push the envelope,” said Colborn.

Combat Logistics Battalion 6, 1st Marine Logistics Group, introduced the incoming Marines of CLB-2 to the course and its benefits. In seven months, CLB-6 had only one vehicle take a direct hit by an IED. There were no casualties.

It looks like Marines here have become hard targets, thanks to a little help from CIED.

Admin to Grunt: Battalion Commander’s eyes and ears

CAMP KOREAN VILLAGE, Iraq – A Marine underwent an immense transition from monitoring pay to becoming the eyes and ears of the battalion commander.


Cpl. Ryan Tomlinson

Cpl. Galen J. Staats, a scout with Jump Platoon, 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, Regimental Combat Team 5, is an administrative clerk-turned rifleman who became the personal scribe for the battalion commander, Lt. Col. Russell E. Smith, 44.

“Getting to work with the infantrymen and the CO and to experience what they do everyday is very rewarding to me,” said Staats, 21, from Norfolk, Va. “It’s something I found that I’m good at. I can’t just be good at a job behind a desk.”

Staats joined the Marine Corps after struggling through high school and enduring an expulsion. He wanted to change his life and pursue something different.

“I knew that I didn’t want to go to college and that I wanted to do something that not many people do, and that’s join the Marine Corps,” he said. “A lot of Marines say they wanted to do something different, but I was one of those guys who really stands by those words.”

After joining the Marines, Staats served one deployment as an admin clerk and returned home safely to his family. He was training up for his second deployment when things changed drastically.

“I remember it all started at the combined-arms exercise when sergeant major was yelling through the fence, asking if any of the admin clerks can write for the CO,” he said. “I of course raised my hand, and I guess he liked the job I did, so that is when I was attached to the jump.”

Now on his second deployment, Staats has been by the commanding officer’s side for everything, and attends to guests who visit the CO, engaged in operations, provided protection for the CO and memorized all information during Smith’s encounters.

“Staats is a vital asset of the battalion’s mission to re-build western Iraq and assist its citizens by acting as the scribe,” said Sgt. Maj. David W. West, 45, sergeant major of 2nd LAR. “We greatly appreciate all of his efforts and enjoy his enthusiasm and passion in his assignment.”

West, from Terre Haute, Ind., added that Staats is a great Marine and believes he will continue to be a quality member of the Marine Corps.

“He’s combat administration at its finest. He gets to do a lot of awesome stuff that normal admin clerks aren’t able to do,” said Cpl. M. Eric Humphries, 21, an administrative clerk from Woodlands, Texas, with Headquarters and Service Company, 2nd LAR. “He’s proving that every Marine is a rifleman.”

Staats can now be found either reading or talking with his three brothers, one of whom serves in the Army and another in the Air Force. According to him, he’s very proud of his brothers and his own service in the military.

“My twin brother in the Army is being commissioned pretty soon and I’m going to present him his first salute,” said Staats. “The only mission now is getting my younger brother to join the Navy, that way we will fill all of the main military services.”

Since arriving in the platoon, Staats, nicknamed by the jump platoon ‘Groceries,’ for his love of eating, has earned the respect and friendship of his fellow Marines. He will continue to assist the jump platoon and the commanding officer to the best of his abilities.

“It’s a blessing to be part of something I’m extremely proud to do when I’m with the jump (plt.),” said Staats. “I’ve been able to experience the real Marine Corps, and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.”

Staats plans to return to his hometown of Norfolk, Va., and work as a clerk with Fleet Marine Force, Atlantic, Marine Corps Forces Command.

US general warns of security gap when Marines leave Afghanistan

WASHINGTON (AFP) - Security gains made in southern Afghanistan could suffer if US Marines are pulled out later this year without replacements, the head of the Marine Corps has warned.


August 21, 2008, 1:26 pm

General James Conway, the Marine Corps commandant, said the US Marines will be unable to provide more forces until there is a significant draw down of their numbers in Iraq .

No firm plan has been made regarding who will replace the 2,200 Marines in the southern Afghanistan when their tours end in November, Conway told AFP.

Conway made the remarks last week in an interview with a reporter who traveled with him on a visit to Afghanistan , where 3,500 Marines have been deployed, and to Iraq , where 24,000 Marines are stationed.

"Our experience has been -- and it's drawn principally from Iraq -- (that) when you are in an area for a while, people will eventually come to trust you, they rely on your security, they will give you intelligence and expect you to continue to provide that security," said Conway on a stop at the Marine base outside the Iraqi city of Fallujah .

"If you leave those people, the method of the Taliban or of the Al-Qaeda is to come in and exact a punishment," he said.

His warning comes amid rising violence in eastern Afghanistan and around Kabul . The Marines have been credited with helping keep the Taliban forces at bay in southern and western Afghanistan since arriving in March.

Conway cautioned that pulling out without a replacement would make it more difficult for Marines -- or any military force -- when they returned.

"What happens when you come back is that there's not a level of trustworthiness that you've had there among the people because you did this once before," he said.

Marine Lieutenant Benjamin Brewster knows how difficult it is to gain the confidence of Afghan locals.

Brewster leads some 70 Marines based at a small camp outside the village of Gulestan, in Afghanistan 's volatile southwestern Farah province. The province borders Iran .

Opium and marijuana crops are king in the region, said Brewster, interviewed at the Gulestan camp. The dusty military outpost of tents and camouflage netting is ringed by dirt-filled barriers and is located some 97 kilometers (60 miles) from the nearest Marine base.

"When we leave, they will either go back to being farmers, or will be killed," said Brewster, whose Marines patrol an area some 15 square kilometers (six square miles) large.

Other forces with the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) could provide security in the region that had intermittent patrols before Marines arrived, Conway said.

"As long as someone is there -- someone who represents the government or represents security to the people -- I think we'll be OK. The question is who and to what degree," he said.

If the Marines return to Afghanistan after this deployment they will need to come back in much larger numbers, Conway said.

"We are undermanned in order to be able to do all we need to do in the south," he said.

Conway noted that the Marine battalion based in Farah province is responsible for 6,178 square kilometers (16,000 square miles) of territory.

"That's a huge area of responsibility. We can't nearly be every place we need to be in sufficient strength to manage that," he said.

August 20, 2008

Slain Marine just wanted to stay alive

By Jim Walsh - The Arizona Republic
Posted : Wednesday Aug 20, 2008 16:29:27 EDT

A 19-year-old Mesa Marine had a simple but essential goal for this year: to stay alive.

To continue reading about Fallen Hero, Lance Cpl. Juan Lopez-Castaneda, of the 2/7:


Afflicted Soldier Exemplifies ‘America’s Heroes at Work’

WASHINGTON, Aug. 20, 2008 – After being medically retired from the Army last year as a result of mental wounds he suffered in Iraq, Michael Bradley faced a daunting challenge that would later prove pivotal in his recovery: holding down a job in the civilian world.


By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service

But a new education campaign, America’s Heroes at Work, aims to make employment a less intimidating transition by teaching bosses and managers how to accommodate workers like Bradley -- a pool of productive, capable employees who are afflicted with post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injury.

Bradley, who today joined officials from the departments of Labor and Defense and industry representatives at a news conference to kick off the new program, shared his story with American Forces Press Service.

With six years under his belt as an active-duty medic, Bradley’s move back to civilian life was precipitated by a roadside bomb in Baqouba, Iraq, that detonated under his vehicle.

“I was driving a high-profile individual,” recalled Bradley, a former staff sergeant with the Army’s 4th Infantry Division. “All I remember is that I saw the flash, and I pulled him to get him out of the way of the blast. That’s all I remember.”

Moments later, a 155 mm mortar struck the driver’s seat. “A piece of shrapnel had taken out my seat where I was sitting; it probably would have killed me,” he said. But the preceding blast that knocked him unconscious had caused him to slump over and out of the way.

Though he escaped the horrific scene without serious physical wounds, the scar tissue on the former staff sergeant’s mind is still fresh. His memories are so raw that the sound of a slammed door makes him edgy and on guard.

“I went to Disneyland, and the cannons starting firing off the ship,” Bradley recalled. “And here I am low-crawling across the ground, knowing full well that I’m in Disneyland, but my body’s reacting.

“My mind is saying, ‘Get up you fool.’ But my body’s saying, ‘No. I’m not going to do it,’” he said.

Intense physiological responses to harmless stimuli often are a hallmark of post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury -- known as PTSD and TBI -- afflictions that affect Bradley and an estimated 20 percent of U.S. veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to a report by the Rand Corporation.

But Bradley, who was hired as an analyst with Halfacre & Associates in February, has found that, in addition to dispelling his fears that the skills he learned in the Army wouldn’t translate into a civilian job, his employment also has helped on the road to recovery.

“To get back into the work force and be able to see that I can succeed [and that] what I wrote down on my resume is true, and that I can do it, and I have a lot to offer … has really decreased stress,” he said. “To overcome those obstacles, and being able to be out in the work force, has really helped emphasize that I can do it and I can succeed.”

Bradley, 27, credits his patient boss for exercising understanding when Bradley takes occasional brief breaks from work to mitigate problems stemming from his ailments. Common symptoms can include dizziness, headaches and anxiety, according to the Department of Labor.

But in most cases, employers need only make modest and inexpensive changes -- most totaling under $500 -- to adapt a workplace to fit the needs of an employee with similar mental afflictions, said Neil Romano, assistant secretary of labor for disability employment policy.

The mitigation of minor symptoms, which in some instances can take the form of basic accommodations like providing better-lit office space or a quieter work area, can pay huge dividends, Romano said. Eighty percent of the time, he added, effects of mild TBI cases disappear in about a year.

“We can’t lose their productivity; we can’t lose their skills; we can’t lose their value to society,” Romano said last week. “These are human beings that deserve the opportunity to continue doing what it is they want to do, which is to continue to be productive in society.”

Romano noted that while the America’s Heroes at Work initiative applies to a wide range of Americans suffering from PTSD and TBI, the nation has a special obligation to its returning veterans.

“An initiative like this is terribly important, because if you’re going to have one in five veterans coming home with this, they’re just not people we can afford to forget or lose,” he said. “They didn’t forget us, they did their job. And we can’t [forget them].”

The Labor Department spent almost a half-million dollars developing the program’s Web site, americasheroesatwork.gov, Romano said, adding that additional contributions have come from interagency and business partners.

David S. C. Chu, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, said the Labor Department-led effort is to create the kind of environment that “promotes resiliency.”

“What Labor is trying is to do, in my judgment, is help employers understand [that] if you support [the employee], he’ll perk back up again,” Chu said. “It’s a bit like being on team with a good coach. You’ve got a good coach, that performer somehow finds an extra amount of energy, an extra effort.

“What we’re hoping to do is to give each one of these veterans a little bit of extra coaching, a little bit of extra help that will get them to the finish line,” he said.

Changing of the guard; BLT 1/6 trains their replacements for success

As one of the countless patrols passes through the Garmsir city district, three children stare. They have spotted something unfamiliar in the passersby. Among the Marines are men in different uniforms, different and yet not foreign.


8/20/2008 By Cpl. Randall A. Clinton, 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit

One of the darker skinned, bearded men wearing a different uniform has caught their eye. They stand before him looking confused, intrigued, excited and finally settle on a blank stare.

This is the next step of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit’s mission in southern Helmand Province: introducing Afghan forces to the region, the same forces that will be responsible for its protection when the Marines leave.

Shortly after the fighting ended, Marines invited Afghanistan National Border Police and other Afghan security forces to train and patrol with them.

“We link up with them and do joint patrols and give them some instruction, get them used to working with locals and get people used to seeing them down here,” said 1st Lt. Micah Steinpfad, executive officer, Alpha Company, Battalion Landing Team, 1st Battalion 6th Marine Regiment, 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, ISAF.

The importance of having the ANBP seen providing security by locals is a point Steinpfad emphatically makes.

“The biggest thing here is getting out with the ANBP, letting the people see them, get them trusting and working with the ANBP. If we are guests in the area and they only see us, it doesn’t quite seem like we are guests. If we are accompanied by (ANBP) we are perceived more as guests, and partnering with them helps establish the government out here.”

So Steinpfad’s Marines, who have gone from rushing off helicopters, to fighting the insurgents, to holding the first meeting of elders in the area in three years, to welcoming locals back and assessing damage claims for civil military operations, now shift focus to the ANBP.

In addition to patrolling villages together, Marines spend copious amounts of time training the ANBP forces, ensuring they’ll be a capable replacement when the time comes.

“I’m tasked with supervising the training of the ANBP, and what I’ve done is come up with a campaign plan on what I want them to learn and on what I want the Marines to focus on until we are out of here,” said Steinpfad.

That plan is carried out by Staff Sgt. Stephen Vallejo Jr., platoon sergeant, Fires Platoon, Alpha Co., BLT 1/6, 24th MEU, ISAF.

“They are all willing to work. I’ve built a special relationship with the platoon sergeant for this group of guys, his name is Nassar Ahmad, and his guys want to work. They are real proud of what they do,” he said.

Ahmad, a 24 year old police officer, and his men have been coming to the Alpha Company outpost during their off-hours to maximize training opportunities.

“I hope to learn everything from the Marines,” he said. “Especially, patrols while driving and while hiking. We learned we need to train more because the Marines have techniques for patrols we hope to learn. We like it.”

“I enjoy being able to work with the Marines, it’s a good chance to work together and bring peace and security to Afghanistan and its people. They (the insurgents) are a big problem for us, the border patrol and Marines,” he explained.

In working with the ANBP two complications become clear. First and foremost are logistical issues.

“The first day we started the job we had problems, like we needed weapons, supplies, clothes, boots and these things. The Marines and coalition forces help us, they give us what they can,” said Ahmad.

The second challenge for the Marines working with the ANBP is the language barrier. In talking to Ahmad, a linguist attempts to translate between English and Pashtu. At some points the linguist and Ahmad talk for up to 20 seconds between responses as they try to clarify words, phrases and concepts that don’t have direct translation to their native language.

“Every time they come out they improve, so the only challenge I have is me not being able to tell that platoon sergeant of that police officer what I want done. I have to do it through a linguist,” Vallejo said.

To avoid confusion during patrols, he makes a point to be meticulous in training the ANBP; not letting even the smallest mistake slide, so as to have a clear understanding of what needs to be done while on patrol before they get into a situation where there isn’t time for translation, just action.

Vallejo’s efforts seem to be paying off.

“On yesterday’s patrol I was watching some of the police officers take their own initiative to stop vehicles and turn them around like we briefed before we stepped off. The things we are briefing are sticking, and they are learning. That is one of my goals that I wanted to hit,” he said, noticeably proud of the progress.

Vallejo’s teaching goes beyond simple patrolling techniques, his training is intended to make them just as diverse in skill sets as their Marine counterparts.

“We are trying to get them into intelligence gathering from the local people and information operations, sending messages out because they don’t get a lot of news from the rest of the country. So, we are trying to get them to pass out news. We also want them more involved with civil military operations like handing out chow, clothing for children and school supplies,” said Vallejo, an eight-year veteran.

The ability of how Ahmad’s ANBP platoon now operates seems almost unthinkable when compared to the first impression the Marines had of the ANBP that came to their outpost almost a month ago.

“Who are these people,” were the first words to come to Vallejo’s mind at the time. “We were kind of overwhelmed by how much they didn’t know, then we got another group and these guys have been nothing but good things for us.”

Both Vallejo and Ahmad see signs the joint patrols are working.

“From what I’ve seen and from what I’ve heard the locals are happy. The trust hasn’t always been there with the ANBP, and we are building it slowly. The locals are happy to see these guys; it puts an Afghanistan face to what is being accomplished down here,” said Vallejo.

As the locals begin trusting both in their own security forces and the security they are provided, they relinquish more information.

“People are coming up to talk to us, telling us there is enemy activity in the area. Before, they were afraid to tell us for fear of the insurgents coming in at night, the night letters. They are telling us these things because they know we’re out there and that the Marines and ANBP care enough to provide security for them,” he said.

The night letters Vallejo speaks of are a hold-over from the area’s ancient past. In insurgent controlled areas, if people are suspected of helping coalition forces the insurgents will come into the town at night and post a letter stamped with the insurgent’s mark on the mosque promising cruel and violent acts against the residents. Most of the Marines here can recount second hand accounts of insurgent reprisals on the villagers in the early weeks of the fighting, such as killing a man and leaving his remains in the town market as a warning to others brave enough to help the Americans.

As for Ahmad, who joined the police six years ago, “to serve my people and to protect my land and my people,” he hears firsthand how much the people appreciate seeing Afghans and Marines working side by side.

“People are happy when they see us together and they know that it’s a sign of Afghanistan, that we have the coalition forces like the Marines to keep the area safe. They like the idea of us working together,” said Ahmad.

The Marines have experience in working with local government forces. In Ramadi, Iraq during their previous deployment the battalion spent time working with the Iraqi Police. It’s this experience that Steinpfad draws from when working with the ANBP.

“They are very similar in that they want their country to be safe. They want to control the area, they want to work down here and they are very excited to be able to come down and patrol with us. I think having those guys, just like in Iraq, was essential to controlling the area. As long as we get those guys working with us and the more of them we get, the quicker we can work ourselves out of a job,” he said.

“They speak the same language, and once we leave the area they will be the ones controlling it. So the more we can get those guys out with us, the more influence they will have, the more trust is built, and the more the government is established down here,” he added.

Vallejo said the best thing they can provide is a solid foundation of tactics and a good example.

“We won’t always be in this country, eventually we will be leaving. The Afghanistan National Police and ANBP will be here. All we want to do is leave that lasting impression. They can refer back to it and say this is how the Marines did it and it worked, maybe we can do the same thing. They have a lot of pride; let’s see what they do from here.”

August 19, 2008

Supporters break ground on home for West Michigan Marine

MIDDLEVILLE, Mich. (WZZM) - Supporters of a local Marine paralyzed by a sniper's bullet in Iraq broke ground today on a new home for him in Middleville.


Posted By: Matt Campbell

CPL Joshua Hoffman and his fiancee Heather Lovell were on hand for the ceremony, organized by a group called Homes for Our Troops. It builds homes for injured veterans. "It's still hard for me to believe, but we're really grateful," says Lovell.

The home will be 1,800 square feet and "barrier free". A larger, accessible home was needed for Josh. His spine was severed when he was shot by a sniper in Iraq. The injury left him a quadriplegic and unable to talk.

"Every day there's a lot of pain in his therapies that he has to endure," Lovell says. "He sticks through it though. He's definitely strong."

When the non-profit group Homes for Our Troops heard about Josh, they wanted to help. The group was started by a builder in 2004. "He founded the organization because he thought we, as Americans have a responsibility to give back to the men and women who went and fought for us. In Josh's case, he got severely injured. We have that obligations, we have to do it," says Tom Benoit, Vice President and Chief Financial Officer for "Homes for Our Troops."

The home will be built on a piece of land near Middleville. Right now, it's just an empty lot, but for Heather, it's a gift she says they never expected. She's thankful for the home and much more. "I don't know what I'd do without him. I'm forever grateful that he's here. I think he would say the same."

The non-profit group is looking for several volunteers to assist in the construction of the home. If you are interested in helping out or making a donation, click on the links at the right side of the page.

Super Bowl QB McMahon announces local benefit for wounded vets, others

Former Chicago Bears Super Bowl-winning quarterback Jim McMahon will host a star-studded, two-day celebrity extravaganza before the game at Lakewood Ranch Golf and Country Club. It begins Jan. 29 with an evening under the stars at The Lake Club clubhouse, followed Jan. 30 by a 36-team celebrity golf tournament.


Super Bowl QB McMahon announces local benefit for wounded vets, others
By MIKE HENRY - [email protected]

McMahon made the announcement during a Monday morning press conference at the country club. The event will benefit the Wounded Warrior Battalion, the Lynda McMahon Ferguson Memorial Foundation for Literacy and the Lakewood Ranch Community Fund.

McMahon, a 6-handicap golfer who participates in about 200 charity events a year, plans to draw on his widespread connections to bring some of the top names in sports to the Lakewood Ranch event.

"I am thrilled to host such an exciting event," McMahon said. "I want to thank the awesome people at Lakewood Ranch Golf and Country Club, its owners, staff and the residents of this amazing community.

"The list of celebrities who have already indicated their acceptance for the event is phenomenal and getting stronger."

Although organizers are withholding an official list until commitments are confirmed, McMahon hopes to attract Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, Brett Favre (if the Jets aren't playing in the Super Bowl), Marcus Allen, Lynn Swann, Ottis Anderson, Gale Sayers, Mike Ditka, Seth Joyner, former major league pitcher Shane Rawley and Olympic gold medal-winning swimmer Ed Moses, who attended the press gathering.

Each celebrity will be paired with a foursome on either Lakewood Ranch's Cypress Links or King's Dunes courses. The cost is $10,000 for a foursome and $2,750 for an individual.

Schroeder-Manatee Ranch president and CEO Rex Jensen expects the event to turn the area into a secondary destination for Super Bowl visitors. "We are always seeking a challenge," Jensen said. "This is the kind of event that, if we get behind it, will help uplift the community.

"The causes are darned good ones, and we can use the tournament to showcase our community and mobilize people in support of the charities it benefits."

U.S. Marine Corps and Army veteran Ed Salau represented the Wounded Warrior Battalion at the press conference. Located in Camp Lejeune, N.C., it is an active duty Marine Corps battalion where wounded, sick and recovering service personnel can go to rehabilitate and recover while undertaking a new mission to transition back to combat or civilian life.

Salau, 37, is the charities liaison for the group. He had his left leg amputated above the knee after being wounded by a rocket-propelled grenade in Iraq in November 2004.

"Every day at Camp Lejeune, I get to see how charities benefit recovering Marines," Salau said. "It's going to be an honor to be involved with this tournament and see the donors working every step of the way to make it happen."

McMahon visited Iraq two years ago with the group Stars for Stripes, which arranges celebrity tours that visit U.S. troops in combat.

"I have asked my friends from the Wounded Warrior Battalion to be an active part and they will be here," McMahon said. "Meeting them and hearing their stories is inspirational. In my mind, these men and women are the real heroes and celebrities of the event."

The Lynda McMahon Ferguson Memorial Foundation for Literacy honors the memory of McMahon's late sister, who died on Mother's Day after a lifelong battle with severe asthma. She was 44.

"She was a mother and a grandmother, and we wanted to do something for her," McMahon said. "Literacy is always important. If you can't read, you can't function in this world."

Taliban Escalate Fighting With Assault on U.S. Base

BAMIYAN, Afghanistan — Taliban insurgents mounted their most serious attacks in six years of fighting in Afghanistan over the last two days, including a coordinated assault by at least 10 suicide bombers against one of the largest American military bases in the country, and another by about 100 insurgents who killed 10 elite French paratroopers.


Rafiq Maqbool/Associated Press
Published: August 19, 2008

The attack on the French, in a district near Kabul, added to the sense of siege around the capital and was the deadliest single loss for foreign troops in a ground battle since the United States-led invasion chased the Taliban from power in 2001.

Taken together, the attacks were part of a sharp escalation in fighting as insurgents have seized a window of opportunity to press their campaign this summer — taking advantage of a wavering NATO commitment, an outgoing American administration, a flailing Afghan government and a Pakistani government in deep disarray that has given the militants freer rein across the border.

As a result, this year is on pace to be the deadliest in the Afghan war so far, as the insurgent attacks show rising zeal and sophistication. The insurgents are employing not only a growing number of suicide and roadside bombs, but are also waging increasingly well-organized and complex operations using multiple attackers with different types of weapons, NATO officials say.

NATO and American military officials place blame for much of the increased insurgent activity on the greater freedom of movement the militants have in Pakistan’s tribal areas on the Afghan border. The turmoil in the Pakistani government, with the resignation of President Pervez Musharraf on Monday, has added to the sense of a vacuum of authority there.

But at least as important, the officials say, is the fact that Pakistan’s military has agreed to a series of peace deals with the militants under which it stopped large-scale operations in the tribal areas in February, allowing the insurgents greater freedom to train, recruit and carry out attacks into Afghanistan.

More foreign fighters are entering Afghanistan this summer than in previous years, NATO officials say, an indication that Al Qaeda and allied groups have been able to gather more foreigners in their tribal redoubts.

The push by the insurgents has taken a rising toll. Before the attack on Monday, 173 foreign soldiers had been killed in Afghanistan this year, including 99 Americans. In all of 2007, 232 foreign troops were killed, the highest number since the war began in 2001.

The attack with multiple suicide bombers, which struck Camp Salerno in the eastern province of Khost, wounded three American soldiers and six members of the Afghan Special Forces, Afghan officials said. It was one of the most complex attacks yet in Afghanistan, and included a backup fighting force that tried to breach defenses to the airport at the base.

The assault followed a suicide car bombing at the outer entrance to the same base on Monday morning, which killed 12 Afghan workers lining up to enter the base, and another attempted bombing that was thwarted later.

A Taliban spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahed, reached by telephone at an unknown location, said the attack was carried out by 15 suicide bombers, each equipped with machine guns and explosives vests, and backed by 30 more militants.

He also claimed that some of the bombers had breached the walls of the base and had killed a number of American soldiers and destroyed equipment and helicopters. This last claim was denied by Gen. Zaher Azimi of the Afghan military.

The insurgents began attacking with rockets and mortars at 11 p.m. Monday, and a group of militants began to move toward the airport side of the base, the Afghan military said. An Afghan commando unit encircled them, killing 13 militants, including 10 who were wearing suicide vests, General Azimi said.

A fierce battle raged through much of the night, until 7 a.m. Tuesday, said Arsala Jamal, the governor of Khost. American helicopter strikes against the militants, who were moving through a cornfield around the base, also struck a house in a village, killing two children and wounding two women and two men, the provincial police chief, Abdul Qayum Baqizoy, said.

The attack on the French also began late Monday and continued into Tuesday, after they were ambushed by an unusually large insurgent force while on a joint reconnaissance mission with the Afghan Army in the district of Sarobi, 30 miles east of Kabul, according to a NATO statement.

The French soldiers, part of an elite paratrooper unit, had only recently taken over from American forces in the area as part of the expanded French deployment in Afghanistan under President Nicolas Sarkozy.

In addition to the 10 French soldiers killed, 21 were wounded, the NATO statement said. It was the deadliest attack on French troops since a 1983 assault in Beirut killed 58 French paratroopers serving in a United Nations force.

The latest casualties bring to 24 the number of French troops killed in Afghanistan since they were first sent there in 2002.

The Taliban have seemingly made it part of their strategy to attack newly arriving forces, as well as those of NATO countries whose commitment to the war has appeared to waver, in an effort to influence public opinion in Europe. NATO countries have been under increasing pressure from the United States to increase their troop commitments to Afghanistan, which many have been hesitant to do.

The Taliban’s surge in attacks also comes at a delicate moment in American political life, as the departing Bush administration will have to hand over control of the war to a new president, whose administration will need time to get up to speed.

“In its struggle against terrorism, France has just been hard hit,” Mr. Sarkozy said in a statement. He arrived in Kabul on Wednesday, according to Reuters, a trip he made to reassure French troops that “France is at their side.”

But Mr. Sarkozy said France would not be deterred from its Afghan mission, where 3,000 troops are serving in a NATO force of more than 40,000 soldiers from nearly 40 nations.

“My determination is intact,” he said. “France is committed to pursuing the struggle against terrorism, for democracy and for freedom. This is a just cause; it is an honor for France and for its army to defend it.”

The Sarobi District has been the scene of a growing number of insurgent attacks in recent months, most thought to be instigated by fighters loyal to the renegade mujahedeen leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who is allied with the Taliban but not formally part of the movement.

Mr. Hekmatyar, who NATO officials say is based in Pakistan, has increased his militant activity in northeast Afghanistan and around Kabul, while the Taliban, foreign fighters and Al Qaeda have accelerated their attacks in the east, southeast and south.

The increase in insurgent activity northeast of Kabul is part of an attempt by the insurgents to encircle the capital and put pressure on the Afghan government and the foreign forces, some NATO and Afghan officials say.

Insurgent activity has also increased sharply in recent months in Logar and Wardak Provinces, south of the capital, sometimes making the main roads impassable.

The deployment of elite French troops to the area was intended to reinforce the Afghan Army and help keep the insurgent threat to the capital at bay. General Azimi, the Afghan military spokesman, said two companies of Afghan Army soldiers were sent in at dawn to assist the French.

In all, about 27 Taliban were believed to have been killed in the clash in the Sarobi District, around Uzbin, he said. Thirteen insurgents were later found dead on the battlefield, including a Pakistani fighter, he said.

Pentagon Plans to Send More Than 12,000 Additional Troops to Afghanistan

The U.S. commander there, in an exclusive interview, calls for a further buildup to counter the Taliban

The Pentagon will be sending 12,000 to 15,000 additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan, possibly as soon as the end of this year, with planning underway for a further force buildup in 2009.


By Anna Mulrine
Posted August 19, 2008

A request by Gen. David McKiernan, the commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, for three U.S. brigades with support staff has been approved. "Now that means we just need to figure out a way to get them there," adds a senior defense official.

The troops are slated to arrive earlier than has been previously discussed, on the heels of the deadliest months for American forces in Afghanistan since the war began.

The first wave of soldiers will be a U.S. Army brigade from the 10th Mountain Division, according to a senior military official. This brigade is scheduled to ship out between November and January, while two other brigades are likely to arrive "sometime in the spring or summer of next year," the official adds.

And there may be even more to come. "I've also asked for some additional forces on top of that for the current fight," says McKiernan, who wants to bolster the 101st Airborne Division in Regional Command East, which has been rocked by recent insurgent attacks. In July, nine U.S. troops were killed by insurgents who overran a combat outpost on the Kunar border of eastern Afghanistan. This week, militants tried but failed to overrun a base in Khost, just a few miles from the border, launching waves of attacks just before midnight on Monday.

Finding those particular troops to supplement the 101st, however, depends on conditions and troop levels in Iraq, adds McKiernan, who took over the NATO command in June. "That's really a zero-sum decision."

He disputes the notion that the three brigades on the way represent a troop "surge" for Afghanistan, predicting the need for an extended involvement of a larger force. "I've certainly said that we need more security capabilities," he says. "But I would not use the term 'surge,' because I think we need a sustained presence."

Both major U.S. presidential candidates have called for putting a greater military emphasis on Afghanistan, and it now appears that whoever wins the election will inherit a growing war already underway.

In March, 3,500 troops from the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit arrived to bolster NATO forces. Originally slated to return to the U.S. in October, they have seen their tour extended by one month.

The three additional brigades would considerably increase the U.S. force presence in Afghanistan, which currently stands at 34,000. Of these, 15,000 U.S. troops are under NATO command, while an additional 19,000 operate independently, primarily in the volatile eastern border region.

There has been growing concern that there are too few NATO troops to take on an emboldened Taliban. In some cases, the warlords directing attacks on American forces are the same ones the CIA backed in the 1980s when they fought Soviet troops occupying Afghanistan.

Some U.S. military officials express skepticism, however, about the impact more U.S. troops can make seven years into the war, in a large country that has grown increasingly violent—with citizens, they add, who are increasingly disillusioned. "I don't know if it's too late," says a senior military official. "But it's going to be much, much harder to turn things around at this point."

U.S. military officials are particularly concerned about the sharp spike in roadside bombs, up "30 to 40 percent" over last year, says McKiernan. "It's the largest casualty-producing event in Afghanistan."

Causing that spike is what McKiernan describes as the "deteriorating condition" of the ungoverned tribal areas of Pakistan, with a porous border that facilitates the planting of such bombs.

Clearing up ungoverned lands rife with insurgents in Pakistan, McKiernan says, is pivotal to improving security in Afghanistan. "We have a cross-border firing incident out of Pakistan almost daily, and unfortunately those aren't diminishing," he adds. "There are militant sanctuaries in Pakistan, and they operate at will."

August 18, 2008

Combat artists paint Reserve battalion’s portrait

TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. — There are hundreds of thousands of Marines spread across hundreds of occupational specialties, yet only two of them are combat artists, and they are both Reserve Marines


8/18/2008 By Capt. Paul L. Greenberg,

Chief Warrant Officer 2 Michael Fay and Sgt. Kristopher Battles travel around the world photographing, sketching and painting Marines and Sailors in action.

They both traveled here Aug. 3, from their home base at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., to historically document in sketches and watercolor paintings the first two weeks of “Mojave Viper,” a requisite pre-deployment training evolution for 2nd Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment.

“We want to capture, in art, the unique experience of fellow Reserve Marines training at Mojave Viper,” said Fay. “Through our eyes, we want to get as close as possible to the realness of what is happening - the sweat, suffering, boredom and adrenaline. In an era of digital imagery, our art is slowed vision. There is depth to it. The viewer can see that the artist was there and get an idea of how the subjects were feeling.”

Fay’s Marine Corps career has spanned 33 years, during which time he has worked as a mortarman, bookkeeper, a CH-46 avionics technician, crew chief, and as a recruiter. Though he had been sketching and studying art most of his life, he didn’t become a combat artist until January 2000.

“It was the fall of ’97, and I’d been out (of the Marine Corps) a few years,” Fay said. “I was walking by an art gallery in Fredericksburg, Va., and I recognized the paintings in the window as the original work of Lt. Col. Donna Neary, a Reserve Marine and combat artist for more than 20 years. I went in, met her, and discussed Marine Corps combat art. She asked to see some of my work, so I walked three blocks back to my apartment to get my sketchbook, which included pieces I’d done during [Operation] Desert Shield in Oman and in Mogadishu, Somalia. She asked me if I would be interested in coming back in as a combat artist. It sounded like a good idea.”

At the age of 47, Fay re-entered the Corps on a two-year contract as a mobilized Individual Ready Reservist and has been drawing and painting non-stop ever since.

The Reserve Marines of 2/25 received Fay with a sense of both awe and fascination as he and Battles sat in the 110-degree heat sketching the troops during their training.

“With a reserve unit like this, the level of knowledge about art and the questions I received tells me that they fully appreciate what we’re trying to do,” explained Fay.

The artists rotated through the companies and followed the Marines in the brutal combined arms assault courses located in a remote region of the Mojave Desert.

They slept in the field, ate Meals-Ready-to-Eat, and worked feverishly in the Quonset Huts back at Camp Wilson, creating watercolors in the stifling mid-day heat and spraying them with fixative to keep out the dirt and grit.

They returned to the National Museum of the Marine Corps Aug. 18 to register these new pieces in the artwork collection there and for future use at exhibitions in museums throughout America.

“It was totally unexpected. I just saw a guy writing in a notebook, and then he tapped me on my shoulder and showed me the sketch. I thought he did a good job,” said Lance Cpl. Nicholas A. Gleason of Marathon, N.Y., a Fox Company Marine who is a life-long sketch artist himself.

In addition to documenting the troops in action, Fay also taught a tactical sketching class for the Scout-Sniper platoon of 2/25 Aug. 11.

Cpl. Tim Barber, who has been with the platoon since May 2007, is a graphic designer from Montclair, N.J., in his civilian career. Barber said that the class was definitely beneficial for him professionally, both as a Marine sniper and an artist.

“It helped me hone my skills,” said Barber. “I didn’t expect to get to do anything like this. As far as application, a picture is worth a thousand words. When you can accurately depict a battle space in combat and relay that information back to higher [headquarters], that is where you really make your money.”

The snipers have cameras and powerful lenses to take photos during scouting and reconnaissance operations, but Barber explained that sketching is a vital tool which all snipers should have.

“It really brings things back to fundamentals,” added Barber. “If you don’t have that foundation of observing and recording information, you can’t fully utilize the new technology.”

As the battalion is nearly three months into their pre-deployment training program here, the series of grueling live-fire ranges in the oppressive summer heat has left many of the battalion’s Marines exhausted, both physically and mentally.

“I think the sketching breaks the routine of training for the Marines, especially when they’re out here going non-stop from range to range,” said Fay. “Sgt. Battles and I are blessed that we can do something like this full-time. Not many artists get paid for their work. We do. We are able to go out every day and do something we have a passion for.”

One day in the future, the Marines of 2/25 may able to take their children and grandchildren to the National Museum of the Marine Corps to see images of them in the Mojave Desert in 2008, training for deployment in support of the Global War on Terror.

“What we are creating here with our sketches and paintings is not just art,” emphasized Fay. “It is artifacts.”

Iraqi sheikh prepares Lejeune Marines for upcoming deployment

In the years since the fall of Saddam Hussein’s Baathist regime, ordinary Iraqi citizens have stepped forward and taken an active role in charting their country’s future.


8/18/2008 By Master Sgt. Keith A. Milks, II Marine Expeditionary Forces Forward

Key among those citizens were the hundreds of Iraqi sheikhs, or elders and persons of financial or political prominence, whose voices and actions have put Iraq down a path toward peace and democracy. Among these men, prominent businessman Sheikh Tarik K. Al-Alabdullah from the Al Anbar province has emerged as a vocal advocate for Iraqi progression and a strong supporter of the Marine Corps’ mission in western Iraq.

Within hours of his arrival in North Carolina on a recent, self-funded goodwill visit to the United States, Sheikh Tarik met with officers from the II Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward) and briefed them on his insights to the current situation in the Al Anbar province. II MEF (Fwd) is scheduled to spearhead the Marine mission to Iraq in early 2009, having just returned from the region earlier this year.

“We are at the very early stages of building our command element,” said Maj. Gen. Richard K. Tryon, Commanding General of II MEF (Fwd). “As we come together, the opportunity to share your perspective will be very useful.”

“You can help us do what both our governments want us to do,” continued Tryon, “and build a democratic, sovereign Iraq.”

For more than two hours, Sheikh Tarik briefed Tryon, the II MEF (Fwd) Deputy Commanding General, Brig. Gen. John E. Wissler, and their principal operational staff officers on the current tribal, political and economic situation affecting the people of the Al Anbar province.

“I have the honor to be here with you and look forward to more cooperation as we work toward freedom and democracy in Iraq,” Sheikh Tarik told the assembled officers. “The main purpose of this trip was to say thank you for everything the Marines have done in Al Anbar.”

The next day, following a MV-22 Osprey over flight of Camp Lejeune and a “windshield” tour of the base, Sheikh Tarik met with the commanders of the units that will maintain the security situation on the ground throughout Al Anbar province. While the previous day’s brief was strategic in nature, the second brief was grittier and dealt more with day-to-day, tactical issues.

“Sheikh Tarik’s visit provided a unique opportunity for unit leaders to receive information and thoughts from a prominent Iraqi leader,” said Capt. Paul C. Teachey, the assistant operations officer for the 8th Marine Regiment. “It also served as a venue for unit leaders to ask specific questions regarding the security situation with the (Iraqi Security Forces) as well as the continued progress in economic development and governance.”

As focus in Iraq shifts away from full-scale combat operations and toward Iraqi unification and self-reliance, a central theme in each day’s briefings was how the Marines could best support the rebuilding of Iraq’s infrastructure and economic stability.

According to Teachey, Sheikh Tarik elaborated on what Al Anbar specifically needs for continued growth and development, and how improvements to the province’s agricultural and transportation infrastructure will benefit the average Iraqi citizen.

“All of these priorities have a direct impact on the small unit at the tactical level,” Teachey said. “I consider myself extremely lucky to be given the opportunity to hear Sheikh Tarik comment on the present security situation in Iraq … the experience was invaluable.”

Joining Teachey for the brief were other officers from the 8th Marines, as well as representatives from the 6th Marine Regiment and the 2nd Bn., 10th Marines (Civil Affairs).

“I look forward to more cooperation as we work toward freedom and democracy in Iraq,” Sheikh Tarik told the assembled officers.

In looking to the future, Sheikh Tarik spoke of the Marine Corps’ past successes in Al Anbar, which was once the most dangerous province in Iraq, but whose security situation has drastically improved in recent months.

“No one can ignore what (the Marines) have done,” Sheikh Tarik said. “Without your efforts, we’d still have Al Qaeda killing our people.”

“The Marines have created a trust between the Marines, the provincial people and the sheikhs. Without your support, we could not have reached this stage of unification in Iraq.”

For more information on II MEF (Fwd), visit the unit’s web site at www.iimefpublic.usmc.mil/iimeffwd, and to learn about the ongoing mission in Iraq, go to www.mnfwest.usmc.mil.

II MEF likely to get better Anbar welcome

By Bryan Mitchell - [email protected]
Posted : August 18, 2008

For the third time in six years, II Marine Expeditionary Force will deploy to Iraq sometime in early 2009, but it will be a much different tour than the unit’s 2007 mission.

To continue reading:


August 17, 2008

Local marine receives hero's welcome home

A local marine who was severely injured in Afghanistan is back home tonight with his family. But not after an amazing show of generosity from strangers and friends alike.


News video:

Aug 17, 2008
By Bernadette Flores

Sgt. Justin Clenard lost both of his legs seven weeks when he stepped on a landmine while on duty in Afghanistan. Almost immediately the Bear Valley Buckaroos club decided to give all of the money from their annual golf tournament to the Clenard family. And Sunday they presented him with a check, a small token of the community's gratitude they said.

Clenard has only been walking on prosthetics for the last two weeks. He's still getting used to them but decided to walk in instead of being driven. "It's amazing, I cant believe how much support I get from this community and everybody, its amazing," said Clenard.

The Bear Valley Buckaroos is a club dedicated to country western activities. They say they all consider Justin a friend since he practically grew up around the equestrian center. His father Chris used to be a manager at the center. Today though the club was presenting Justin a check for almost 9-thousand dollars. Some funds to help his family's medical costs. But also a chance to tell Justin why he's a hero.

Not because he joined the marines, or even because he was hurt. They say Clenard is a hero because of his positive attitude. An attitude he shared with us when talking about his injuries.

Justin was awarded a purple heart and says his plans now are to reconnect with friends and family...before working on being a drill instructor for the marines.

Garmsir's resurrection; with the district center secure, focus shifts to improving infrastructure

With Garmsir’s streets clear of insurgents the next steps in the counterinsurgency campaign, reconstruction and renovation, can begin with the district governor’s priorities including repairs to the irrigation system, and refurbishment of the hospital and schools.


8/17/2008 By 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit Public Affairs, 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit

After years of damages caused by strife and neglect, a canal system built by USAID in the 1950’s is in desperate need of repair. USAID engineers, finally able to evaluate the irrigation system, identified 11 problem areas, including damage from ongoing conflicts and overgrowth of vegetation.

Garmsir is a rich, agricultural area with farming as the basis of the local economy. Shortly after securing the area, the citizens and District Governor Abdullah Jan came to the Marines and asked for help in getting the canals repaired.

“In places, bombing had damaged sluice gates and in others the system was simply in disrepair because the government had not been able to do projects there,” said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Rene Cote, civil affairs officer, 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, NATO-ISAF. “So we worked with USAID and sought their help in funding and providing technical assistance to repair the system. We believe that the improved security and repaired canal and irrigation system will set the conditions for alternative crop programs to be introduced by the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.”

A district hospital is now providing some basic health care for the local population from unrefurbished premises. One doctor sees 80 to 100 patients daily and British forces plan to revamp the structure and décor.

“This should enable the hospital to attract more staff and to provide a more comprehensive service. People are delighted to have any healthcare in the district,”
said Louise Perrotta, stabilization advisor, Task Force Helmand, ISAF.

With an eye on the future, residents have expressed repeatedly the need for a school; the one in the city district was severely damaged by insurgent fighting.

The Amir Agha School is one of nine quick impact projects planned for the region. The school will receive new windows, doors, a new well, furniture, paint and undergo a thorough cleaning.

Additional impact projects include building three irrigation wells, eight replacement wells in Jugroom Fort area villages, repairing the Amir Agha Mosque and shrine, replacing another mosque’s speaker system, and clearing overgrowth from the canal system.

These projects are designed to provide immediate benefits, such as the wells and canal cleanup, as well as to demonstrate the Marines’ respect for the populace’s religious beliefs by providing funds for their cultural institutions.

In all these projects the Marines have worked with local elders to identify needs and then provide funding. The work is performed by local Afghan contractors and workers.

“We sought to provide assistance based on local community needs. In some villages there was an urgent need to provide drinking water and irrigation so we quickly responded by getting funding and contractors to start on those. We’ve also funded repairs to a couple of village cultural buildings. These efforts will be completed before we leave,” said Cote.

In total, $20,000 will be spent improving and renovating needed facilities in the region. Ultimately this investment is intended to help the people of Garmsir help themselves.

Garmsir has a self-reliant and resilient population who regularly reply to “what do you need?” with “just security, we can do the rest,” according to Perrota.

The local Afghan governance is conducting meetings, coordinating projects, hearing local grievances, and organizing economic and social events in Garmsir, said Cote.

“I consider this significant because it re-emphasizes that they are capable of self-sufficient management and action to conduct reconstruction and development within their means,” said Lieutenant Col. Anthony Henderson, battalion commander, Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, ISAF.

August 16, 2008

Marines inch closer to a formal transfer of security control to Iraqis in Anbar

RAMADI, IRAQ -- As Iraqi officials and the U.S. military haggle over when to let Anbar province take control of its own security, a row of broken-down Ford pickups in a Ramadi schoolyard offers a sobering picture of the readiness of the region's security forces.

Click on the above link for a news video.

By Doug Smith and Saif Rasheed, Los Angeles Times Staff Writers
10:15 AM PDT, August 16, 2008

The U.S. military gave the vehicles to the police officers stationed in a former school here, but the Iraqi government hasn't provided parts or a maintenance system to keep them running. The officers work on their own vehicles, picking parts from the junkers.

A shaky connection with the Shiite-led government in Baghdad is just one of the problems confronting American efforts to disengage from the predominantly Sunni Arab province more than a year after the U.S. military joined with local security forces, former insurgents and tribal warriors to take on Al Qaeda in Iraq here.

A formal transfer from U.S. to Iraqi control over security in Anbar had been scheduled for early July, then put on indefinite hold after a suicide bomber targeted a town council meeting in the town of Karmah, killing three Marines and at least 22 Iraqis. The U.S. military initially blamed poor weather for the postponement, but several local leaders said the bombing showed that Iraqi security forces were still not prepared.

The transfer will be a milestone in the war in Iraq, as a declaration of victory in the birthplace of the insurgency and a province that only two years ago was considered lost to Al Qaeda in Iraq. The delay has put a damper on hopes for a triumphant U.S. withdrawal soon.

Yet even as the ceremony hangs in limbo, Marines and Iraqi police officers in Ramadi are transferring the reins of security, little by little.

On a recent day, Capt. Jonathan Hamilton, commander of the weapons company of the 1st Battalion, 9th Marines, dropped by the Forsan station, with its impromptu salvage yard.

For more than a year since the Forsan police station was established as an outpost in the abandoned school, a detachment of Marines has lived and worked there alongside the Iraqi police.

Hamilton said it was time for the station to stand on its own. The young police force had proved its capability to maintain the rule of law in this provincial capital of 400,000.

Gradually, the Marines are trying to demilitarize the city, Hamilton said. One by one, they're pulling out the units that billeted in 11 police stations, rolling up their razor wire and withdrawing to bases outside the city.

"We're not leaving, for sure," Hamilton said. "We're just reducing our footprint."

But during his visit to Forsan, the generator conked out. Hamilton had his meeting with police Col. Hassan Nayif Abd, the south precinct commander, in the dark.

"Col. Hassan," as the U.S. commanders call him, was comfortable with the Marine detachment leaving his station, but he certainly didn't want to go cold turkey. Could Hamilton send one of his engineers by to fix the generator, he wanted to know.

Power failures are not the only challenges facing Ramadi's new police force as it lurches toward self-sufficiency. During four days spent with Hamilton's weapons company, The Times observed numerous issues with the management of police stations, including inefficient procurement systems and meddling by tribal sheiks.

At the same time, both U.S. military and Iraqi police commanders are confident that the training and professionalism of the line policemen has progressed so far that there is no immediate concern about a possible resurgence of Al Qaeda in Iraq.

"The security situation is good and it is progressing every day," said Lt. Col. Dhahir Mahmoud Allawni, who runs the Warrar police station, where insurgent suspects are detained. "The people will not accept that Al Qaeda returns."

Almost unanimously, local Iraqi police commanders said that they were ready to assume full responsibility, but that it would be better to delay the transfer until after provincial elections, which had been scheduled for October but are delayed indefinitely amid political wrangling.

What concerns them is not Al Qaeda in Iraq, they say, but the complex claims to power that have yet to be resolved since the expulsion of the extremists.

"We have some political conflict," Allawni said. "We have some greedy politicians. They put their self-interest in front of the people's interest. We have a big number of political parties delineated according to their tribes. The terrorists might exploit the conflicts."

The political ferment in Ramadi arose from the nearly complete collapse of legitimate local institutions while Al Qaeda in Iraq controlled the city and during the subsequent fighting.

Not only did the police force disintegrate, but government ministries vanished and elected leaders abandoned the province, at times holding meetings in Baghdad.

In their absence, the sheiks and other leaders created an ad hoc representative government with a citywide council and sub-councils meeting at the neighborhood level.

Although these groups have no basis in Iraq's constitution, they continue to exert influence, partly with the support of the Marines, who see them as useful instruments of governance at a chaotic time and as channels for vital information about potential Al Qaeda in Iraq holdouts. The Marines still staff their meetings.

"I'm proud that the neighborhood councils we are working with are still working," Capt. Hamilton said.

In the meantime, even as the official transfer of authority hangs in limbo, U.S. military and Iraqi police commanders continue taking concrete steps to transfer operational control.

Putting it bluntly, Hamilton said, the Marines are weaning the Iraqi police off U.S. assistance.

"When we live in an IP [Iraqi police] station, we put a generator in there," Hamilton said. "The station gets power off that generator. Now that we're not in the police station, they've got to ask themselves how to get that generator."

It is a mission requiring subtle cultural understanding as much as military knowledge, and line officers such as Hamilton seek a balance between the U.S. military model and ancient traditions of tribal influence and social standing.

The routines of Forsan station bear little resemblance to the tight order of an American police station. Its halls are busy with dozens of policemen who mill about with no apparent duties. It's not uncommon for men to lay their prayer rugs in the hall.

Hamilton and other U.S. military advisors said the Iraqi recruits have progressed rapidly through the basics of police work, conducting checkpoints, searching people, handling detainees and field communications.

They aren't nearly as advanced in essential systems such as procurement, accounting, maintenance and weapons management, which require well-defined procedures and efficient relations with the Interior Ministry in Baghdad, both still prone to breakdowns.

The depth of the problem is evident in Forsan's pickup salvage yard.

In addition to procuring parts, getting fuel to run the vehicles is also a constant headache. Because arrival of supplies from Baghdad is irregular, one commander said, he has taxed his own men to buy fuel in town. Some businessmen in Ramadi have complained that police officers simply commandeer fuel.

"I think the bottom is actually more successful than the top," said Marine Lt. Chris Yoder, a platoon commander. "They're doing what they can to support themselves."

Supplies come from the Interior Ministry through an arcane bureaucratic procurement process that has no standard forms and no comprehensive budgeting.

By contrast, American procurement is almost invisible, Yoder said.

"If my Marines don't have enough ammo to go on a mission, all I have to do is ask and ammo magically appears," he said.

Gradually, the procurement issues are being worked out, station commanders said.

Looking ahead, Hamilton sees his greatest challenge as keeping the police free of tribal and political influence.

An incident a few weeks ago, in which a police officer killed a civilian at a checkpoint, illustrated the potential for discipline to unravel.

Finding the shooting unjustified, Forsan station commander Col. Mohammed Ali Abdnadi did what he was supposed to do, Hamilton said. He arrested the officer and began an investigation. But members of the victim's tribe, the Alwani, tried to impose a tribal solution. A gang of Alwani police officers from the north precinct stormed the south precinct headquarters, weapons blazing, to try to snatch the man.

The shooting continued until the Marines got involved, Hamilton said.

The Alwani sheiks then tried to pressure Abdnadi to surrender the man. The Marines intervened.

"We made a statement, 'No, this isn't going to happen,' " Hamilton said.

The episode blew over. But could it happen again now that the Marines are leaving Forsan?

Hamilton said he expects his units to be out by the end of his deployment in the fall. But he pointed out they'll still be nearby, in forts outside the city.

"If something happens," he said, "we're in a good position to react."

[email protected]

Clearlake Marine laid to rest

Six Marines in full dress uniform, one struggling mightily against tears, were the last to say good-bye to Clearlake's Ivan Wilson on Saturday.



Published: Saturday, August 16

Heads bowed, they stood abreast of the casket that held their fallen comrade, with whom they had served in Iraq.

He died July 21 in Afghanistan, the victim of a roadside bomb explosion on his second overseas tour with the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force stationed in Twentynine Palms.

As they strode away, Wilson's mother, Denise, watched from her car on a dirt and gravel drive a short distance up the wooded hillside. She waited out the hundreds of graveside mourners -- family, friends, veterans and supporters -- a private moment in her otherwise public grief.

Wilson, 22, a former Lower Lake High School student and 2004 graduate of Clearlake Community School, was the 13th North Coast service member to die in Iraq or Afghanistan since 2002, and the first from Lake County.

Hundreds had turned out to pay their respects as his body was escorted from Sacramento to Lake County on Thursday. As many as 400 others attended his funeral and burial service Saturday.

Denise Wilson told those who jammed into Clearlake's Queen of the Peace Catholic Church for the funeral, while a hundred or more people outside stood by, that she believed her son was now surrounded by soldiers who'd died for their country ahead of him.

She recalled his frequent sign off in letters - "Mom: Be happy (LOL)" - and told the crowd she was proud he'd chosen a path in military service.

Father Ron Serban, who officiated during the funeral, read from Wilson's last letter home, written in late May and received just two days ago.

It was upbeat, complete with doodled happy face, and briefly described the mountains and treeline around his base in a desert region of Afghanistan, the busy effort to get set up and make it secure, the notable absence of electricity or running water, and the fact he was so busy it took two days to jot a letter home.

He asked for a headlamp to read by at night, as well as a battery charger, and passed on greetings from some his friends. He was, he said, in a "nice place."

"I guess you might say we've reached our final destination," Serban read toward the beginning of the letter.

And then toward the end, noting he'd changed one word from the original, "I hope you are in good spirits and don't let the stuff in life bog you down."

Mashpee Marine killed in Iraq

MASHPEE — A prayer book lies open on the McGuires' coffee table. The oversized American flag outside the Katian Way house is at half-staff.


By Stephanie Vosk
August 16, 2008

Pfc. Daniel McGuire, a 2007 Mashpee High School graduate, was killed Thursday in Fallujah, Iraq, when his post was attacked by enemy forces. He was 19.

McGuire began his military training two months after finishing high school. He was deployed for the first time in April.

"His desire to be a Marine went beyond blowing things up and being a warrior," Mark McGuire said of his son yesterday. "He loves this country and everything that it stands for."

His family is still making funeral arrangements.

From a young age, McGuire showed a flair for the creative, acting out his own version of tales like Robin Hood with his three younger brothers, his mother, Karen, said.

He honed his acting skills while on a mission trip to Maine with Christ Chapel in Centerville, where he performed in skits for Vacation Bible School children.

"Dan was always eager to be a part of the skits and to get the kids laughing," the church's youth pastor, Peter Axelson said.

Church was an important part of his life — he even tried to share the Gospel with fellow soldiers, said Thomas Crumb, associate pastor at Christ Chapel.

"Dan had very strong beliefs and he believed in the cause for which he was fighting," Crumb said. "He died doing something he believed he was called by God to do."

His nine years as a Boy Scout prepared him well for the trials of the military, his parents said.

For a Boy Scout project, he once built boxes for retired American flags, carving a different image in each and strategically placing them around town, Mashpee school Supt. Ann Bradshaw said.

The more than 6-foot-tall McGuire, who also excelled academically, continued acting through high school, where he was active in the Blue Falcon Theater Company, taking on the starring roll in "Harvey" and playing a flying monkey in "The Wizard of Oz."

He also served as a mentor to younger Scouts, Bradshaw said — a testament to a love of children that his parents described. If he didn't become a career Marine, he wanted to be a kindergarten teacher, they said.

The flag at Mashpee High School yesterday also flew at half-staff, and the school plans to offer grief counseling to any current or former student who desires it, Bradshaw said.

"Our collective hearts are broken," she said of the Mashpee school community. "He was a very personable, warm, and handsome young man. He was highly respected by adults and his peers."

Friends have created a group on the social networking site Facebook, posting messages, pictures and even videos in McGuire's memory.

Describing himself as "very conservative," on his Facebook profile, McGuire wrote about his time overseas. His days, he wrote, were filled with sleeping, standing post and working out. In a note posted July 27, McGuire wrote, "People who get the most out of life are the ones who take the time to stop and look around them and experience, not just the moment, but the things in the moment."

This ideal is something the young McGuire had come to appreciate shortly before beginning his military career, his parents said.

Though he went through a period of "teenage rebellion" that was tough on the family, his parents said, their oldest son "returned to them" shortly before he was deployed.

They last spoke with him early Sunday morning, when he called to tell them he was being moved to another post, and that he loved them.

"He grew up a lot in the last year or so," said his father, who wore a T-shirt with the slogan "My son — one of the few, one of the proud, a Marine."

"That's his legacy to this family," he said. "The young man he became."

HMM-365 (REIN) aces Afghanistan test

KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan — A CH-53E Sea Stallion flies low over the vastness that is Afghanistan’s red desert. The tail-gunner squats over a machine gun, scanning the horizon as the helicopter pitches and sways. Below, trails of varying size appear with no discernible origin and a lone camel casts a shadow on a sand dune.


HMM-365 (REIN) aces Afghanistan test
8/16/2008 By Maj. Kelly Frushour, 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit

Abruptly red becomes green as the aircraft approaches vegetation surrounding the Helmand River. Square mud and straw compounds with high walls pepper the ground below and just as suddenly as it becomes green the landscape melts back into rolling red sand. The trip from Kandahar Airfield to Forward Operating Base Dwyer is almost over. The small fort sits in the desert like a lonely tile overlooking the “green zone” a few kilometers away.

For more than 100 days the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit’s Aviation Combat Element has supported Marines on the ground conducting operations across Afghanistan – their focal point being the Garmsir District of Helmand Province.

At more than 3,000 combat sorties and counting, Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 365 (Reinforced) Marines have filled their days and nights flying, fueling, fixing aircraft and firing munitions.

“If you look at a typical MEU ACE and what a typical MEU ACE supports, we’re not asked to do anything unreasonable out here,” said Capt. Brandon L. Whitfield, officer in charge, Tactics and Plans, HMM-365 (REIN), 24th MEU, ISAF. “It’s the same missions as always but a typical MEU ACE supports a company …max, at a time, for two weeks to a month. Where here, we support a battalion and sometimes a combat logistics battalion and we’re doing it for eight months. It’s a huge difference.”

Comprised of AV-8B Harriers, KC-130J Hercules, CH-46E Sea Knights, CH-53E Sea Stallions, AH-1W Super Cobras and UH-1N Hueys; ACE Marines perform a multitude of tasks to include battlefield illumination, re-supply, insertion, extraction, casualty evacuation, close air support; and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance.

Gearing Up for the First Op – triple-fronting the ACE

With combat operations launching more than 100 miles from Kandahar Airfield, the squadron staged its assets across two provinces. Support and attack helicopters are set to launch from Forward Operation Base Bastion, located north of the operating area. More support and attack helicopters are joined by controllers, rearming and refueling Marines just west of the operating area at FOB Dwyer while the squadron headquarters, with support and attack aircraft, operates from Kandahar.

In total, preparations for the operation included 498 hours of training and reconnaissance flights; 198 hours of assault support; 279 hours of escort and Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR); and the transportation of 1.4 million pounds of cargo and 2,152 personnel.

Traversing the Desert

All this planning and training was first tested the night of April 15. An indirect fire attack on Kandahar Airfield interrupted the final confirmation brief for the first ground convoy departing Kandahar for FOB Bastion. It hit nothing, but foreshadowed an attack later in the evening that was not as harmless.

This first convoy was comprised mostly of Combat Logistics Battalion 24 Marines who had to spread their resources across the two provinces as well, but theirs had to be moved by ground since most of their assets were trucks and other vehicles which were to be used as part of the logistics train.

For this initial convoy the ACE provided air support in the form of fixed and rotary wing aircraft as the convoy began its journey just after 10:00 pm.

The ground movers made steady progress navigating chosen routes and called in as they passed established checkpoints. Sixteen minutes after they passed one such check point, a Cobra pilot escorting the convoy radioed that a vehicle in the convoy had struck an Improvised Explosive Device.

“We saw it, felt it, and smelled it,” said Lieutenant Col. Duane Opperman, the squadron’s executive officer and a UH-1N Huey pilot flying escort for the convoy. “We came around to look for small arms fire because usually an IED goes off and then there is somebody shooting.”

The pilots determined it was a Marine vehicle after the escorting harrier pilots could analyze data and say that it did look like ‘one of ours’ said Opperman.

“It was hard to tell because we were low. I couldn’t tell it was a HMMWV, I thought it was a roadside car, a VBIED (vehicle-borne IED),” he said.

The pilots started counting vehicles and it started to feel like it wasn’t a VBIED said the Huey pilot. “There was one vehicle that wasn’t checking in,” he added.

The pilots were still counting when the medical evacuation was requested and at this point Opperman was running out of fuel. “I did not want to land down there because the zone was not secure. I was still looking for an ambush on the first responders,” Opperman said.

It was also known that there were two wounded Marines, Opperman landed.

“We had nothing, just an open space on the cabin floor,” he said. “The ground guys had the wounded on their stretchers and they laid them in the bird.”

Crewmembers Staff Sgt. Addison Hall and Sgt. George Joyer started bandaging and stabilizing the two wounded Marines from the convoy. Both completed the combat lifesavers course and were prepared to provide aide, aide that preserved the lives of the two evacuated Marines said Navy LT Wayne Smith, MEU Surgeon, 24th MEU, ISAF.

“They ran out of the bird, past the tail rotor, went back there and grabbed stretchers. I looked back there at one point and there were medical bags ripped open, they were doing all kinds of stuff on those guys,” said Opperman.

Operations Begin

Two weeks later Operation AZADA WOSA commenced with HMM-365 (REIN) conducting a battalion minus insert during low light level conditions into Garmsir District. This was the first night insert of this magnitude by the Marine Corps since Vietnam.

Waves of Marines required insertion into predetermined landing zones by support helicopters. C-130’s provided aerial refueling and battlefield illumination for the Marines on the ground while AV-8B Harriers and attack helicopters provided close air support. At one point during the night at least one of every type of airframe in the squadron would fly in support of the battalion insertion.

That evening, helicopters lined the runway at FOB Bastion as infantry Marines loaded the aircraft under a moonless sky.

“We watched the clock and waited for the time to lift,” said Capt. Clay Dye, CH-53E pilot, HMM-365 (REIN), 24th MEU, ISAF, who flew the lead aircraft in the second wave and totaled four trips to the insert area throughout the night. “We staggered it by time so the first element took off and then about five minutes later I took off.”

The helicopters, loaded with combat ready Marines, departed and crossed over the Helmand River to the east following it south.

“We were high altitude on our route down which made it difficult with no illumination, no horizon with all four aircraft - trying to keep them together,” Dye said.

The trip was silent, except for the hum of the rotors, until the first element passed their last checkpoint before the insert – then the radios came alive.

“We could hear the escorts in the objective area talking. We had the benefit of hearing how the insert went with the first element,” said Dye.

“As we got closer to the objective area, our route actually turned back to the north almost making a ‘J’ so we could look over to the right and see the other aircraft at that point,” he said. “We were probably only about 7-8 kilometers away as they made their turn back to the north which was reassuring, watching that happen and knowing where they were,” he added.

The second wave timed their final approach into the landing zone as the first element was leaving the zone, a difficult proposition.

“We didn’t allow enough time in between waves for the dust to clear so when we came in it was very difficult to pick out the zone,” Dye said. “We were able to pick it out at the last minute. Fortunately it was clear.”

As the night wore on – the dust hid more than just the landing zones.

“We really hadn’t watched where they were going so our landing points in that area were now filled with Marines setting up and moving into their positions,” said Dye. “Coming through that dust cloud, thinking we had a safe place to land, and there’s a squad of Marines on the ground. It made it difficult.”

Irrigation ditches also made things challenging with the dust hiding their locations until it was almost too late to alter course.

“Looking for a smooth level place to land, you can’t see the ground until the last second, and then there’s a ditch there,” Dye said. “It was a lot of work for the crew chiefs in the back because they weren’t able to pick up the ground until the last 10 feet and it was barely enough time for them to see something, to tell us and then for us to make a correction – particularly with the weight we were carrying. Certainly we are used to the luxury of excess power, but there and at that point, we were coming down whether we liked it or not.”

Supporting the Allies:

As if supporting the two battalions wasn’t enough – the MEU’s ACE also supports other American and International Security Assistance Force units.

“Flying is flying, we’re more concerned with who we are supporting,” said Capt James Tanis, pilot, AV-8B Harrier detachment, HMM-365 (REIN), 24th MEU, ISAF. On May 2, days after Operation Azada Wosa launched, Marine harriers flying over Garmsir were tasked to support British forces who were receiving rocket-propelled grenade and heavy machine gun fire in the Kajaki Dam region.

“We were in the middle of supporting the MEU when we were called away,” said Tanis. “Within 15 minutes of being re-tasked, we were flying overhead the Brits. Then we returned to Garmsir. That was interesting, flying another mission in the middle of the mission.”

According to Tanis, the most intense day was June 15, when they supported five sets of Troops in Contact.

“For one of them, not only could we hear the machine guns at the Forward Air Controller’s position returning fire; we could hear them taking fire, I heard the rounds impacting near the FAC as he talked us in,” Tanis said.

“We hear some interesting accents on the ground when we fly in support of ISAF,” said Tanis who also added that they could tell the more experienced ones.

All forces in Afghanistan use some version of a nine-line, a standardized way of requesting support. Even during the most intense fighting on the ground, pilots in support are required to read back certain vital pieces of information such as the location of the target and the distance from the target to friendly forces.

“Sometimes we get the information we need and we get great feedback on our effects like ‘Bloody hell mate; Direct hit!’ Sometimes, with less experienced ones, we support them as quickly as possible while trying to calm them down and draw the information we need from them,” Tanis said.

“Working with our own guys is nice because we know them, they know us and our procedures.” said Tanis. “When you’re working with, for example, a Dutch joint tactical air controller or a Brit, some of them are extremely professional, they will talk you in like they should, big to small, to confirm what target they need you to hit. Others, you just need to take that extra minute or two to confirm how close friendly forces are and where they are in relation to the fire they are taking.”

The FAC will say what they need and based on what the supporting aircraft has, the pilot can make recommendations as far as what effects the troops on the ground want on the target.

“That is the most rewarding thing, knowing that you are going to support guys who are taking fire and you are hopefully going to take out the enemy,” said Tanis. “Mostly the requests we get is an over-watch scenario. The troops on the ground are moving from A to B or they are doing a patrol. We will look for suspicious activity, IEDs, etc.”

For the last five weeks the harriers have flown in support of ISAF every morning while being on alert to support the MEU.

Tanis sums up the ISAF experience by saying, “It’s pretty wild that you can talk to a Dutch, an Italian, an Army guy, a Brit - all these guys in one flight. And then we have Australians controlling us as we return to the airfield.”

The Harriers are not the only MEU airframe supporting the allies. In late May a section of skids – an AH-1W cobra and a UH-1N Huey – were escorting a Charlie Company convoy in Garmsir.

“We were doing route clearance for them and then we hear something over the radio which just sounds like garbled static in the background and I can’t hear it,” said Maj. Samuel L. Meyer, cobra pilot, HMM – 365 (REIN), 24th MEU, ISAF. “But the XO hears it is coming out of FOB Delhi and they are in trouble.”

Opperman said the voice on the radio was asking for any FAC. “I thought he wanted a radio check so we didn’t answer him but about the third time it sounded like he was running and he was out of breath. He was Scottish so he was hard to understand. I came over the radio and identified that I was a Huey and that the FAC was otherwise engaged at the moment.”

The Scot said he was taking fire and that they were in a troops-in-contact situation. Since Opperman had the better communication with the soldier he took the lead toward the man’s position. The pilots saw two vehicles and one of them looked about ready to go up in flames, gas was burning in front of the vehicle. The soldiers on the ground were in a trench line and were running away from the fire.

“He was just saying, ‘We’re taking fire! We’re taking fire!’” said Opperman.

We asked him from which direction he was taking fire, said Opperman. “Whatever direction he was saying …I couldn’t understand what he was saying. So I said, ‘I can see the direction you are travelling, are you taking fire from your left side or from your right side?’ He kept coming back with something … I couldn’t understand him.”

"He was definitely Scottish,” said Meyer. “It sounded like he was saying he was taking fire from the east, or from the west.”

At this point Meyer was low on fuel and Capt. Dan Gomes, cobra pilot, HMM – 365 (REIN), 24th MEU, ISAF, was prepared to come out. Meyer returned to FOB Dwyer and Gomes’ cobra joined the scene.

“The guy was still running and we couldn’t quite figure out what he was talking about, southeast or southwest, he had a thick Scottish brogue. There was a lot of ‘If I put you here will it make you happy?’ So we would say, ‘Yes, we’re very happy,’” said Opperman.

Then Gomes saw where the enemy was firing from. “Thank God because I was looking in the entirely wrong direction,” said Opperman. “I was looking southwest and the bad guy house was southeast.”

Gomes fired a Hellfire missile into the building. Meanwhile, Meyer checked back on station from refueling and the Scot came back up on the radio and marked his position. Their conversation went as follows:

“Do you have my position?”

“Contact your pos.”

“I am popping red smoke. Do you see the smoke? The color is red.”

“Roger, tally smoke.”

“Everything south of the smoke is bad. Everything’s bad!”

Then the Scot said, “Cleared hot.”

“That was the only time we (the skids) were challenged for language,” said Opperman. “We flew in support of the battalion. It was only because that guy came up over the radio, was under contact, was in duress and was asking for help from anybody … we just happened to be there.”

Despite language barriers, environmental challenges and non-stop required maintenance the ACE keeps flying, always ready for the next squawk of the radio.

August 15, 2008

Friends pulling together to help injured Marine

Word was received this evening that a fund raiser for a Central Nebraska Marine will be held Saturday, August 16 at the Adams County Fairgrounds in Hastings. Friends and family of PFC. Paden Daly of Thedford, NE, will be holding a horse show and will have donation buckets at the food stands. The event will be held from 9:00 a.m. to Noon.


Marine Parent Jill Weiser
August 15, 2008

According to Mary Beth Daly, Paden's mother who lives in Thedford, NE, her son graduated from the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego, CA on May 23, 2008. He was attending School of Infantry Training (SOI) at Camp Pendleton, CA when he and three other Marines were returning to base on July 6 from their holiday weekend when they collided with another vehicle on an off ramp.

Paden was hospitalized for three weeks in California for spinal injuries, and recently returned to Nebraska. He is currently at Madonna Rehabilitation Center in Lincoln undergoing treatment and therapy for his injuries.

Paden's friends in the Hastings area are now putting on a benefit to help."it would just be really great if everyone came out and supported him and his family it's going to be a tough haul for a little while," said friend Sarah Schnase, who is helping to organize the event. Those who may not be able to attend, but would still like to donate you can call Sarah at 402-469-4541. Cards or letters of encouragement may be sent to: PFC Paden Daly, PO Box 11, Thedford, NE 69166. According to Mary Beth Daly, a fund has also been established for Paden at the Security First Bank of Thedford, PO Box 288, Thedford, NE 69166.

Reserve Marines go on the assault

TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. — Reserve Marines from Company F, 2nd Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment, braved the heat of the Mojave Desert while conducting the Deliberate Assault Course (DAC) Aug. 13-14, in a remote section of the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center here.
Each of the battalion’s companies went through the DAC as an integral element of Mojave Viper, an intensive 30-day comprehensive assessment of combat readiness prior to overseas deployment.


8/15/2008 By Capt Paul L. Greenberg,

The notional enemy had taken control of the region surrounding “Ridwaniyah” a model Iraqi village at Range 210 here. Co. F’s mission was to clear the anti-coalition insurgent forces in the region in order to restore order and transition authority to the local Iraqi leadership.

Speaking of both the training exercise and the unit’s potential future mission, Maj. Thomas Armas, the Co. F commander, instructed his leaders during an Aug. 13 mission order, “In the town of Ridwaniyah, there are a lot of booby traps and dangerous people ... Gents, we have the ability to kill all the enemy on each objective, but in this kind of war, we have to break the criminal network. To do that, we need to disrupt the insurgency by capturing the fighters and collecting information. That way, we can paint a better picture for our battalion in our [area of operations. That’s the only way we’re going to win.”

To support the company in the three-dimensional battlefield, the company’s fire support team (FIST) coordinated an intricate network of supporting fire with artillery, mortars, armor and aviation assets for a full complement of Marine Corps combined arms.

“Our FIST battle drills went off smoothly,” said Maj. Geoffrey Brooks, the Co. F executive officer who assisted in directing the assault from his vantage point overlooking the battlefield. “Our forward observers called fire effectively and were on target. Everyone’s situational awareness was at a peak, which allowed us to remain flexible when the Coyotes [range controllers] informed us of changes in the enemy situation. All in all, I think we did a really good job.”

The battalion will enter the military operations in urban terrain portion of Mojave Viper next and is scheduled to complete all pre-deployment requirements by the end of August.

August 14, 2008

Jump Platoon explores roads less traveled

CAMP AL QA’IM, Iraq – The Warlords of Jump Platoon have the responsibility of escorting the battalion commander anywhere he needs to go around the Task Force 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 5 area of operations.


Lance Cpl. Joshua Murray
August 14, 2008

The Jump Marines spend the majority of their time providing this service, but on days when they’re not required to provide those escorts, the platoon drives down seldom-traveled roads and patrols unfamiliar places.

“We do a lot of route reconnaissance, like patrolling routes that no one really uses to travel,” said Lance Cpl. Joseph Carpenter, 22, a rifleman with the Jump Plt. “We’ve gone to abandoned buildings and factories to search for contraband.”

Although the route reconnaissance patrols are designed to expand their knowledge of the terrain and routes of Al Qa’im, occasionally the Marines stop to visit locals and give them any aid within their means.

“We came into a village where Coalition forces hadn’t been in a long time,” said Carpenter, a native of Marietta, Ohio. “We gave them toys, candy and water, and if someone was hurt, our (corpsmen) bandaged him up.”

Corpsmen with the platoon have provided medical aid to Iraqis several times so far, and one corpsman says he treats “mainly minor injuries and infections.”

“I’ve given out eye drops, looked at someone’s messed up knee, wrapped it and explained to some Iraqis how to deal with sprains and swelling,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class Richard Harper, a corpsman with the Jump Plt. from Charleston, W.V. “One guy that I checked out said he has a hard time finding a doctor, so I help with all the acute problems that I am equipped to deal with.”

These multitasking Marines help the battalion accomplish its mission, raise support from local citizens and increase Coalition forces’ knowledge of Al Qa’im and its people. They will continue patrolling, searching for what’s left of the enemy and lend their support to Iraq’s people any way they can.

Procession honors fallen Marine

A hearse carrying the flag-draped casket of Marine Lance Cpl. Ivan Wilson slowed Thursday afternoon along Lakeshore Boulevard, where clusters of somber onlookers gathered in front of the apartment complex where Wilson grew up.


Thursday, August 14, 2008

People waved flags and hugged as the sad procession made its way to a nearby Lower Lake funeral home.

Thursday was a belated homecoming for Wilson, a strapping 22-year-old Marine who was killed July 21 in Afghanistan when a roadside bomb blew up. He died aboard a helicopter as it rushed him to a military hospital.

“He’s home now,” said his father, Chris Wilson.

At 10 a.m. Saturday, a funeral Mass for Wilson will be celebrated at Queen of Peace Church in Clearlake. Following the Roman Catholic rite, Wilson will be laid to rest at Lower Lake Cemetery.

The public will be allowed to view the fallen Marine’s closed casket from 8:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday at Jones & Lewis Funeral Home on Main Street in Lower Lake.

Thursday’s procession began at Sacramento International Airport, where more than 100 motorcyclists belonging to the Patriot Guard Riders and other veterans organizations gathered to escort Wilson home.

From the airport, the hearse bearing Wilson’s body was led by a California Highway Patrol unit on a two-hour trek to the shores of Clear Lake.

For the Marine’s mother, Denise Wilson, Thursday was one more in a series of painful days since she learned of her son’s death three weeks ago.

“It was a very emotional ride,” said Denise Wilson.

A six-member Marine Corps honor guard gently lifted Wilson’s mahogany casket from the hearse and carried it into the chapel inside the mortuary.

Big white double doors were quickly closed, so family members and a few close friends could mourn Wilson’s return in private.

Earlier, a contingent of Patriot Guard Riders patiently waited outside under a blazing-hot sun for the motorcade to arrive.

Santa Rosa’s Gary Fontaine, a former Navy SEAL, said soldiers and Marines like Wilson die to preserve freedoms Americans enjoy.

John Henderson of Clearlake, a “road captain” for the Christian Motorcycle Association, stood post at the mortuary.

“We do this because soldiers like Wilson deserve to be honored,” Henderson said.

For Wilson, a former Lower Lake High School football player and wrestler, there’s been a steady stream of tributes, in letters to local newspapers and individual postings on Web sites.

Some recall that Wilson was no stranger to trouble. He’d been described as rebellious before joining the Marines, and got in trouble for some drinking bouts, including one on a flight home earlier this year while on leave.

But largely, Wilson was well-liked by classmates, friends and his fellow Marines.

Squad leader A.W. Tombleson called Wilson an “excellent Marine and excellent person,” and told his mother in a personal note how her son had saved his life in a firefight on the roof of a building a few weeks before his death.

Susan Chisam, Wilson’s eighth-grade science teacher, in a Web posting fondly recalled the young Marine as a respectful student who always asked good questions.

“I am humbled that such a young man would give his life trying to help others in a foreign land have a better life,” said Chisam.

Witnessing the making of Marines

They scramble off the buses wearing typical teenager haircuts, Nike T-shirts and looks of bewilderment, trepidation and uncertainty. Driven by sharp commands from a cadre of men in crisp uniforms and impatient countenances, they attempt to comply with orders to both “Hurry up!” and “Stop running!” and form up on precisely aligned yellow footprints stenciled on the sidewalk.


Rick Lemyre
Published 08/14/2008

That’s because these young men are arriving at Marine Corps Recruit Depot (MCRD) San Diego, and over the next 12 weeks they will be stripped of their hair, their civilian clothing and their uncertainty as they are transformed from what they were when they arrived into United States Marines.

Jerry Black, an administrator with the Liberty Union High School District, and David Koch, a teacher at Antioch High School, were among 72 educators– and one journalist – from the San Francisco Bay Area, San Diego and Las Vegas recently given the opportunity to observe that transformation process up close during a weeklong Educators Workshop hosted by the Corps. The workshop was held at MCRD, the Corps’ Air Station Miramar and Camp Pendleton in Southern California.

The purpose of the workshop, said Brig. Gen. Angela Salinas, commander of MCRD San Diego and the Corps’ Western Recruiting Region, was to “show community leaders our commitment to excellence” and to give them firsthand knowledge and experience they could bring back to their students.

More than 22,000 recruits began the process last year and 93 percent of them completed it. The success rate is due to numerous pre-screenings that ensure only the best would-be Marines ever get a chance to stand in the yellow footprints. The days are long gone when the Marines accepted recruits who only wanted to escape problems.

“If you have problem kids, don’t send them to me, because I don’t want them,” Salinas said she tells parents. “I’m not going to change a thief in 12 weeks when they couldn’t do it in 18 years.”

Nevertheless, the transformation the Corps achieves is dramatic and thorough. It begins on the yellow footprints and moves quickly to the “contraband room,” where recruits’ pockets are emptied and, as one drill instructor told the educators, “I take away everything I told them not to bring in the first place.”

Gum, airline tickets, notebooks and myriad other items are flung to the floor to be disposed of. Also soon to hit the floor is the recruits’ hair: one barber boasted that he was the base record-holder, having shorn a recruit in six seconds.

Workshop participants, too, got a taste of the first few moments of boot camp –short of the haircut. They were taught by drill instructors how to stand at attention, and told the proper way to march was with 40 inches between their chest and the back of the person in front of them.

It turns out that, among the educators, the term “40 inches” was open to wide interpretation, a fact that the drill instructors occasionally gently pointed out. Real recruits would not be so fortunate.

The myth of the wild-eyed, nearly apoplectic drill instructor, apparently ready to burst out of his skin with rage at the smallest infraction, is, in fact, understated. They freely admit that much of it is an act, because it doesn’t matter. When recruits are confronted with a torrent of volcanic fury erupting inches from their face and delivered by the supreme master of their immediate future, they don’t give much thought to whether the tirade is genuine. They learn to do exactly what they’re told without hesitation, and acquire the rigid discipline that is the backbone of the Marines’ effectiveness.

The recruits’ transformation is not just achieved through bombast, however. Indeed, the vitriol quickly does its job, and tapers off as training progresses. Should the experience become too much for some recruits, the chief drill instructor steps in, taking the role of a father figure, helping them get over the hurdles that must be cleared before becoming a Marine.

And the hurdles are high. There’s relentless physical conditioning, instruction in field maneuvers and marksmanship, and training in the Marines’ own brand of martial arts (“This is not sport,” said the instructor. “The prize for winning is that you get to stay alive.”) Practical problem solving and unit interdependence are instilled through endless repetition using tried and true methods honed over the course of the Corps’ 232-year history. Educators who were veterans of the other branches of service said they never had to endure what they saw the Marine recruits going through.

While making recruits into warriors is paramount (every Marine, male or female, receives exactly the same basic training, although females are trained only at Parris Island, S.C.), the Corps also places a high value on education. Ninety-five percent of all recruits already have a high school diploma, and the rest must have a GED from an accredited school. Once enlisted, tuition assistance of $750 per term is available to offset college costs, and many Marines have earned degrees online while stationed overseas.

More than one told the group that they had chosen to enter the service rather than attend college, only to find that constant encouragement to get an education – and the chance to advance in rank by doing so – had changed their minds about school. Also, changes to the GI Bill coming in 2009 will provide $80,000 in post-service educational benefits that will be assignable to a spouse or child.

“We don’t expect them to be with us for 20 years,” Salinas said of the education and ethics training provided. “We want them to return to civilian life and be good citizens.”

The educators marched through the week as best they could (said one, mimicking the tone of his drill instructor, “Forward, mosey!”), taking in combat aircraft, amphibious assault craft and rifle ranges. They were given a chance to fire M-16 rifles and 9mm pistols on a computerized shooting range, and to gear up and run the grueling bayonet assault course.

Divided into squads, they attempted to solve field problems such as ammo supply and wounded evacuation missions, learning through it all that what is seen in movies and news video is far more difficult than it appears. They visited the barracks, learned about the famed Marine Bands, and twice ate lunch with recruits at various stages of the transformation.

For many, the highlights were the same as for the recruits: a pair of ceremonies that marked significant milestones. One involved the pageantry of boot camp graduation, but the other, even more moving, came earlier, when the recruits received the eagle, globe and anchor emblem for their uniform.

That ceremony came at the end of the intense exercise known as “the crucible,” a 54-hour marathon of fully equipped hikes totaling 60 miles, weapon firing, maneuvering and problem-solving, all accomplished on four hours of sleep and three 2,500-calorie meals. The recruits, now in their 11th week, marched directly from the field to the ceremony, and, exhausted, filthy and famished, they received the congratulations of their drill instructors and were addressed for the first time as “Marines.”

To a person, the educators came away highly impressed at what they’d seen.

“I have a much stronger feelings of respect for what the military does for us,” said Black. “I’m impressed by the dedication and the true passion they showed about what they do here.”

As for the recruits, they were proud of what they were doing.

“I’ve done things I never thought I’d do, like climb 60-foot towers,” said 19-year-old Andrew Meyers, who passed up a soccer scholarship to Washington State University to enlist. He said he joined not despite the probability that he will soon face combat, but partly because of it. “I want to make a difference, and the Marines give you a real sense of pride that you are. This was definitely the right thing to do.”

American Airlines waives fee on 3rd bag

By Karen Jowers - Staff writer
Posted : Thursday Aug 14, 2008 10:30:08 EDT

American Airlines has agreed to waive its fees for a third checked bag for service members — whether they are on official travel or off duty.

To continue reading:


Report From a Forgotten War: Second in a Series

Camp Bastion, Helmand Province, Afghanistan — This British-built fortress, perched on a plateau in southwestern Afghanistan, is well named. Surrounded by miles of open desert, the citadel has its own concrete runway, water supply, sewage, electricity, Level 3 Trauma Hospital, even fire mains — all constructed in the last 30 months.


Thursday, August 14, 2008
By Col. Oliver North

The heavily-armed camp is home to British, Danish, Estonian and Czech troops of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). It's also home to Task Force 2/7 (T/F 2/7), built around the legendary 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment out of Marine Corps Base 29 Palms, California — a good place to prepare for this austere terrain and oppressive heat. Camp Bastion is an outpost of sanity in an otherwise insane part of the world.

Helmand Province is the heartland of the Taliban — the Islamic radicals who won a bloody civil war to rule Afghanistan in 1996. Once in power, the Taliban imposed strict Sharia law and brutalized the largely impoverished Afghan population. Taliban leaders also provided a haven for Usama bin Laden's Al Qaeda to launch the 9/11 attack. In November 2001, when they were deposed by the U.S.-backed Northern Alliance, many of the Taliban fled south to Pakistan and east into Iran. This spring, they came back, intent on overthrowing the democratically elected government of President Hamid Karzi. That's when the Marines of TF 2/7 arrived "in country" to train and mentor Afghan Army and police forces.

It's been a challenging assignment for the 1300 Marines, sailors, soldiers and airmen of TF 2/7. The unit's Area of Operations (A/O) is more than 28,000 square kilometers — roughly the size of Vermont. There is only one paved highway. Overland transport to some of the fifteen forward bases and combat outposts where TF 2/7 operates often takes more than 24 hours of continuous day and night movement. Until this week — when four CH-53 transport helos and four Cobra gunships arrived, the task force had to rely on NATO aircraft for close air support, aerial re-supply and casualty evacuation. Parachute-drops of food, water and ammunition are a regular event.

Before they could train their first Afghan soldier or National Policeman, the Marines had to fight their way into the districts where they were to do the mentoring. Since then they have had to battle the Taliban to keep their overland supply lines open. Lieutenant Colonel Richard Hall, the TF commander, describes the near non-stop gunfights, indirect fire and improvised explosive device (IED) attacks as "a very dynamic, complex and often hostile environment." That's putting it mildly.

Because there were no police stations or Afghan Army units in most of the remote districts where TF 2/7 is operating, the Marines had to construct their own security outposts — a Herculean effort given the lack of paved roads and primitive infrastructure. As Lt. Col. Hall puts it, "We have had to simultaneously fight the Taliban, build more than a dozen defensive strong-points, train new Afghan National Police and conduct civic-action programs to win over the local population — and we're doing it. Our motto, 'Ready for all, yielding to none,' says it all."

He's right. Though his Marines and Navy Medical Corpsmen have suffered more than 100 casualties from enemy action since they arrived, they have confronted the Taliban, unrelenting heat, innumerable exhausting patrols wearing 40 pounds of armor and persevered in the roughest living conditions I have experienced since Vietnam. More than half the Task Force has served previously in Iraq or Afghanistan — some in both. Yet, the unit's re-enlistment rate is 118 percent — among the highest in the U.S. armed forces.

To link up with Company "F" 2/7 at Forward Operating Base Now Zad we flew from Bastion aboard a British CH-47 Chinook helicopter with a sling-load of ammunition. As they have since arriving at Now Zad, the Marines and their British counterparts patrol day and night to keep the enemy off balance in this Taliban stronghold. Capt. Ross Schellhaas, the "Fox Company" Commander — and the son of a Naval Academy shipmate — says that "nothing in the field manuals could fully prepare us for this – but we adapt and overcome." And they have.

Because enemy contact has been so intense and casualty evacuation so tenuous, "F" Company has its own Shock Trauma Platoon — headed by Commander James Hancock, a U.S. Navy surgeon. To ensure that the wounded receive immediate lifesaving treatment, he and his Corpsmen mounted a steel container on the back of a flatbed truck and outfitted it as a mobile operating room. The "Doc-in-a-Box" has already saved more than a half dozen lives. When I asked Doctor Hancock if his battlefield innovations are being adopted as "doctrine" he replied, "Not yet, but I'm working on it."

That pretty much sums up how these young Americans have responded to this difficult mission in Afghanistan: with tenacity, selfless bravery and resourcefulness. And that's why Sergeant Major Matthew Brookshire, the senior non-commissioned officer in Task Force 2/7, calls his Marines, "the quiet professionals."

August 13, 2008

Sailors and Marines Enjoy Swim Call

USS PELELIU, At Sea - Sailors and Marines aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Peleliu (LHA 5) enjoyed a well-deserved leisure time during a swim call and steel beach picnic Aug. 11 in the Red Sea.


August 13, 2008
Navy News|by Mass Comm. Spc. 3rd Class (SW) Sarah Bitter and Mass Comm. Spc. SN Shannon Cassidy

Peleliu crew members, embarked staff and the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) departed San Diego May 4 on a regularly scheduled deployment to the U.S. 7th and 5th Fleet areas of operation.

Those wanting to take part in the swim call had to take a 30-foot plunge from Peleliu's port aircraft elevator into the Red Sea. Jumping first into the water was Capt. Marcus A. Hitchcock, Peleliu's commanding officer.

"It was awesome," said Hitchcock. "I'm so glad we could take the time to do this in the Red Sea. We're lucky. I see a lot of happy faces, and it looks like everyone is having a great time."

The hundreds of Sailors and Marines who took part in swim call said it was the opportunity of a lifetime.

"This is an experience I had to have," said Aviation Boatswain's Mate (Handling) Airman Adam Elswick. "Who else gets to do this?"

Aviation Boatswain's Mate (Handling) 2nd Class (AW) Andre Hardin from Peleliu's Air Department was excited for the opportunity.

"This is my sixth or seventh WestPac (Western Pacific deployment), and this is the first time I've ever been able to do this," said Hardin. "It was absolutely exhilarating."

Following swim call, the Sailors and Marines aboard Peleliu lined up for hamburgers, hot dogs, ribs and all the traditional foods of a steel beach picnic.

"This is a lot of fun boosting the morale of the crew," said Culinary Specialist 1st Class (SW/AW) Martin Malana, who helped serve up the food during the picnic. "It's just another day supporting the command, but it's nice to be out here in the middle of nowhere and being able to put something together like this to remind us all of home."

"This is a lot of fun," said Personnel Specialist 1st Class (SW) Michael Grimes, a chief petty officer selectee who also helped cook the food for the event. "I like doing this! This is my first week on board and it's exciting to have the chance to meet new people. I really enjoy being able to uplift the crew's morale."

Peleliu is the flag ship of the Peleliu Expeditionary Strike Group and the 15th MEU which is currently deployed to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations to conduct maritime security operations (MSO).

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

Task Force 2/7 hosts MEDCAP to aid local Afghans

FARAH PROVINCE, Delaram, Afghanistan (Aug. 8, 2008) – U.S. service members recently administered much-needed medical aid to local residents here during a Medical Capabilities (MEDCAP) event.


Article by Cpl. Ray Lewis
Task Force 2d Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, Combined Joint Task Force Phoenix

Until now, residents went without medical care because they couldn’t afford it and it is not available to them.

Marines assigned to Task Force 2d Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, Combined Joint Task Force Phoenix, operate at forward operating bases throughout the Farah and Helmand provinces. They conduct civil affairs projects such as MEDCAPs to build trust with local residents within their areas of operation and to improve their mission effectiveness.

Task force personnel supporting the MEDCAP included Marines of the 3rd Civil Affairs Group and Navy corpsmen from the Battalion Aid Station. They administered aid to more than 100 Afghan patients, providing lotions and medicine for the young, and vitamins for the elderly. They also handed out bottled drinking water, candy and beanbag animals for the children.

“The people were very excited and happy we were there, especially the kids,” said Cpl. Ericka L. Garcia, a Santa Ana, Calif., native assigned to 3rd CAG. “Our goal was to keep going until we ran out of patients or medicine.”

The MEDCAP was considered a success and well-received by the residents who sought care. From the beginning, it was uncertain how many would show up.

Initially, many Afghans were hesitant to accept the Marines’ help because they had been threatened by the Taliban for associating with coalition forces. After being assured the Marines would provide security, many families came forward to accept the medical assistance offered them.

Gunnery Sgt. Omar Palaciosreal, the CAG team leader, said the MEDCAP’s success was due in part to enhanced force protection. In addition to using CAG Marines to help provide security, Palaciosreal said the area was jointly patrolled by the Afghan National Police, Marines assigned to Company G and Combined Anti-Armor Team 2 of Weapons Company.

“They definitely contributed a lot. If people think that they will be secure, they will come. People were intimidated by the suicide bomber threat, so the fact that they showed up was great,” said Palaciosreal, a Moreno Valley, Calif., native.

Once the people were inside the cordoned area, they were searched again, swept with a metal detector wand, and escorted inside the treatment facility where they were cared for by the Navy corpsmen.

“You could see the happiness on the kids’ faces. You could give them the smallest thing like Tylenol for their pain, and they would smile,” said Navy Hospitalman Albert C. Beedie, Jr., a corpsman who hails from Lewiston, Maine.

Palaciosreal said the treatment teams paid careful attention to cultural sensitivities and used caution to avoid appearing disrespectful. Because he knew the Afghan men would not approve of male Marines searching female patients, Garcia performed this task as part of the check-in process. She removed her Kevlar helmet so that the Afghan men could see that she was a woman. Upon doing so, she was permitted to continue checking in the female patients so medical aid could be rendered to them.

“I was nervous because they were yelling. I had to take off my Kevlar, and show them I’m a female. After that, I put my Kevlar back on and wore a pink scarf around my neck so they would know I’m a female,” Garcia said.

“They would say ‘thank you for being here,’ and ‘we want you to come back.’ One lady said, ‘you’re like an angel,’” Garcia explained. “Since the women wore so many layers, they would make a pouch for all the supplies and load up their dresses with stuff.”

When the women returned home with their dresses filled with goods, they would recruit others to come to the MEDCAP site to receive medical attention. Some needed help more than others.

“One woman would have children and then four to five months later, they would die. She said, ‘please give me something to make my baby stronger.’ The baby was four months old, and she was just waiting to see if the baby would make it to the sixth or seventh month,” Garcia said. “It’s heartbreaking to think of it. It makes me think about my little nephews and nieces.”

Garcia added that such situations motivate her to help as many people as possible. She and other service members were even willing to share food from their Meals Ready to Eat.
“The kids loved the MREs… so they would take those,” Garcia said. “I thought it was funny how the kids would stare at us. They were intimidated by us at first. I remember we went up to one little boy, and he ran behind his dad. His dad said something to him like ‘don’t be scared,’ and then he came out.”

Palaciosreal said his most memorable experience was when a little boy, about nine years old, came in with a broken arm.

“He came from Herat, which is at least 300 kilometers from here,” Palaciosreal said. “His family heard about the MEDCAP through word of mouth, which is faster than the internet around here. The fact that they would drive from Herat to Delaram just to get medical attention is amazing.”

The CAG team leader also recalled a 12-year-old boy who had been drinking only a liter of water every two days.

“He was severely dehydrated, so the corpsman had to inject intravenous fluids into him. He walked away with a ‘Kool-Aid’ smile and a six-pack of water bottles,” Palaciosreal said.
Assessing the MEDCAP’s overall impact, Palaciosreal said he saw areas where his team performed excellently as well as areas for improvement. He said he knows the team made a difference with the Afghan people.

“If they see that we put ourselves in harm’s way to provide medical attention, I think it will also show them we’re here to help,”’ Palaciosreal said.

Troops pay baggage fees on way to war zones

(CNN) -- Some airlines are charging U.S. soldiers extra baggage fees to take their military kits with them as they set off for war.


Accompanying news video:

From Deborah Feyerick
August 13, 2008

Military personnel carry large, heavy kit bags containing boots, clothing and gear. In the past few months, airlines have instituted fees for all travelers ranging from $15 for one bag to $250 for a third bag.

"What we want to do is nip this in the bud by exempting the military personnel who are traveling under orders from having to pay a fee on their third bag," said Veterans of Foreign Wars spokesman Joe Davis.

The VFW sent a letter to the Air Transport Association of America, the aviation industry's umbrella group, asking that U.S. troops be exempt from any extra baggage fees. Watch how troops are getting hit with fees »

"If you have a family at home and you stand at that airline counter and you have three bags in your hand, and they say you can't get on board unless you pay $100 up front right now, what are you going to do?" Davis said.

American Airlines, and others reached by CNN, say troops are allowed heavier and bigger bags and can check two for free, unlike commercial travelers.

Troops are allowed 190 pounds each free of charge, American Airlines spokesman Tim Wagner said, adding: "If they pay, they get reimbursed, so at the end, they don't pay a dime."

That's not a good answer, the VFW's Davis said.

"These young troops are going to war," he said. "There's a lot more on their mind than to have to worry or try to remember to get a hundred dollars reimbursed to them when they get into a war zone."

The military usually issues vouchers authorizing extra baggage before a flight, but troops must pay up front if they don't have one.

And though reimbursement is likely, pending approval, as with any business expense, it is not guaranteed.

The Air Transport Association says it supports the troops, but baggage policies are "made independently by the individual airlines."

The association says it has no plans to ask for an across-the-board waiver for U.S. service members.

Marine from Gig Harbor promoted in Afghanistan

Mom uses Web site to help ease worries of her son’s safety

Trish Doherty of Gig Harbor is a proud but worried mother of a U.S. Marine who is serving at the newly established Camp Barber in Afghanistan.


Published: 03:49PM August 13th, 2008

Her son, James Doherty, was meritoriously promoted to the rank of Lance Corporal, along with fellow Lance Cpl. Jason Claunch and Cpl. Peter Villanueva. The trio were the first Marines promoted at the new base, which officially was dedicated May 11.

Camp Barber was named in honor of Congressional Medal of Honor recipient Cpl. William E. Barber, who served with the 2nd Battalion 7th Marine Regiment during the Korean War. Barber was honored for leading his company in a desperate five-day defense of a frozen mountain pass that was vital to the Marine 1st Division’s breakout to the sea, according to his citation.

It’s that hero spirt that drew Doherty and three of his Gig Harbor friends to enlist in the Marine Corps last year.

Doherty started boot camp at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego last August and graduated as his platoon’s honor man on Nov. 7.

Trish Doherty was able to attend her son’s graduation in San Diego.

“I cried the whole time,” she said. “It was the proudest day of my life. Seeing all of those kids was awesome. They came in at 18, and then they were transformed.”

After completing his advanced training at the School of Infantry at Camp Pendleton, Calif., James Doherty was assigned to his first duty station in February at the Marine Corps Air to Ground Combat Center at 29 Palms, Calif.

In March, he and his fellow Marines were sent to Afghanistan.

Doherty was to be promoted to Lance Corporal this month, but he had proven to his ranking commanders that he was performing beyond expectations.

Although Trish Doherty is proud of her son, she still worries about whether he will return home safely.

“I go on marineparents.com, and that helps me get through,” she said.

Doherty added that her son has seen some of the awful aspects of being in a combat zone, but he has served honorably.

“He’s my boy wonder,” she said.

US Marines turn to social, detective work after assault

Garmsir, Afghanistan - "We are going to get bombarded when we reach that compound," a US Marine sergeant warns the patrol. Seeing the puzzled look on a reporter's face - the fighting is supposed to have finished - another explains: "Not by the Taliban, by compensation claimants."We don't even reach the compound before they start to appear, emerging from the cornfields with claim papers in hand, speeding towards the patrol from all sides like hungry velociraptors closing in on Sam Neill's group of explorers in Jurassic Park.


Wed, 13 Aug 2008 17:16:33 GMT

Many of these people are entitled to sizeable payment for damage caused to their mud-built homes, fields and orchards in fighting that raged here a few weeks before. All they need is final verification of their claims by patrols before they get the cash, so the locals swarm upon the troops whenever they appear.

It's more than three months since the United States 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) deployed in the Garmsir district in southern Helmand, a Taliban redoubt that the force went through and cleared like a dose of salts in just over a month.

Crushing fortified insurgent positions with infantry, attack helicopters and jet fighters, and killing an estimated 400 enemy forces, the 2,400-strong MEU effectively liberated an area that had been terrorised by the insurgents for several years.

According to Marine officials, there were some injuries among civilians during the offensive, but not one non-combatant died, largely due to the fact that the Taliban had driven many people out during their occupation. They will pull out in the coming weeks, leaving the British to consolidate the gains.

With compensation payments running from 20 to in excess of 10,000 US dollars for wholesale destruction to a home, fields and crops, they now have to work out whose compensation claim is valid and who is on the make.

"We want to help these people but some of the stuff that comes up is like from 10 years ago," says Master Gunnery Sergeant John Garth, a reservist artilleryman with three combat tours under his belt who helps run the reparations programme.

"About 60 per cent of claimants get something, while 40 per cent show up because they think we are giving money away or they are trying to bullshit us," says Garth, who in civilian life works for a mobile phone provider.

The procedure is basic but effective. Claimants approach a checkpoint and describe damage to an interpreter who writes down the alleged losses and location. A Marine will undersign the paper which must then be presented to a passing patrol for verification.

Once confirmed, the claim must be taken to the Marines' reparations centre located in a British military base in Garmsir district centre. And if it is presented with genuine ID, payment of compensation is made on the spot.

On this day, a young man with heavily bloodshot eyes - marijuana grows plentifully around here and the patrol finds whole rooms full of the crop - leads the troops into a compound to demand money for a collapsed wall.

The house does bear bullet and shrapnel marks but this could be Taliban damage too - the area has seen plenty of fighting in recent years and the Marines refuse the foot the bill for everything that got broken.

Garth looks at the wall and with some fancy deduction worthy of TV detective Lieutenant Colombo, he points out that the edge of the mud bricks have clearly been worn away by a season of rain, which dates the damage back many months - long before the Marine came.

The claim is dismissed, the man shrugs and wanders off.

Three days later, the US reception centre on the British base is busy with claimants producing now verified papers to receive their money.

In many cases it's now a formality and funds are dispensed. But there is also a steady and even increasing flow of fraudulent claims and appearance of fake ID papers. The quality is good but the six-man team of Marines running the operation has become increasingly adept at spotting forgeries with slipped photos, suspect printing, and stupid slip-ups by the fraudsters.

In just one day, six apparently valid claim forms are successively accompanied by fake ID papers. Everything checks out and sizeable sums might have been released, only the would-be criminal mastermind carelessly added the same serial number and holder's signature to four of them.

This is still a time of war, and other than showing exposed conmen the door, there's little the Marines can do. Nor do they let it worry them too much that some will have successfully managed to trick them.

"A few hundred dollars here or there isn't a big deal, the big deal is that we got people to move back into their homes," says Chief Warrant Officer Rene Cote, coordinator of the MEU's civil affairs programme.

Towards the wind-down of the compensation drive in August, the force had shelled out almost 700,000 dollars, which after all is probably just the cost of a quick air strike and is pretty negligible to such a super-powered war machine.

While some of the troops wished for more action during their deployment, others among the group of artillerymen assigned to the compensation programme seem to thrive on the peaceful task.

"Being an artilleryman and having caused a lot of the damage down here it's just rewarding for us to help them rebuild their homes and lives and help them get back on track," said Corporal Greg Allen from Wyoming.

Meanwhile, Afghans who are denied payments complain while those who receive money are overjoyed.

Mohammed, owner of a heavily damaged house, emerges from the centre with the balance on a 250,000-Afghani payment in his pocket and wearing a smile so broad it threatens to force his remaining teeth from their sockets. "I hoped I'd get help and I did in the end, I'm so happy."

But despite the relative calm around Garmsir these days, the process is fraught. Claimants leave as fast and discretely as they can to avoid being tagged by Taliban informants for retribution. Suicide bombing threats are rife.

Despite their hard-as-nails reputation, the Marines visibly soften before some of the cases they see.

On a recent day, a landowner is dissatisfied at the sum he received. The Marines are adamant that they have been more than generous, but he still grumbles as he makes for the door that "Some people get undeserved payments while genuine cases don't get what they should."

But before he exits the man pauses and turns to the soldiers and says: "We know you left your families to come here and help us, and for this we thank you."

August 12, 2008

Official Travelers Can Claim Reimbursement for Excess Baggage Fees

WASHINGTON, Aug. 12, 2008 – Servicemembers traveling for official business, including deployments, will continue to receive full reimbursement for reasonable, authorized excess baggage fees, defense officials said.


By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

A recently updated fact sheet from the Department of Defense Per Diem, Travel and Transportation Committee explains department policy regarding excess baggage in light of new charges many airlines have imposed for checked baggage.

As airlines struggle to offset increased fuel and operating costs, many have started charging additional fees for services such as baggage shipment, the fact sheet explains. Commercial airline practices vary widely regarding fees for shipped baggage. Some charge for each bag, others for a second or third bag, and others for any bag over a specified weight limit.

Many airlines waive some or all excessive baggage fees for military members traveling on official orders, said Dave Castelveter, vice president of communications for the Air Transport Association.

But for those who don’t, the fees are reimbursable if authorized on the travel order, according to the DoD fact sheet.

Servicemembers’ commands will reimburse any fees charged for the first checked bag. However, the command may opt to limit how much it will pay for additional luggage in light of the length of the travel and mission requirements, the fact sheet explains.

To claim reimbursement, the traveler must submit the receipt and claim the charge on a travel voucher.

The excess baggage fee issue gained widespread attention after news reports that a commercial airline had charged a soldier deploying to Iraq $100 to cover the cost of a third piece of luggage. The incident prompted Veterans of Foreign Wars National Commander George J. Lisicki to fire off a letter to the Air Transport Association asking for a break. Lisicki asked the ATA to negotiate an agreement with its member airlines to exempt servicemembers traveling on official orders from paying fees on a third piece of luggage.

“I completely understand the financial constraints the airline industry is in, but I also know the military traveler is an extremely small fraction of the total passengers carried,” he wrote. “Those who wear the uniform today are a special class of citizen who enables everyone else to enjoy every liberty our great country holds dear. They deserve special treatment because they have earned it.”

Lisicki emphasized that he wasn’t asking the airlines to give military travelers first-class lounge privileges or other executive perks. “What I am requesting is for your member airlines to begin allowing all military personnel traveling on orders to check a third bag without being charged,” he said. “This should not be a difficult decision to reach, but it is one that needs to be made.”

James C. May, Air Transport Association president and chief executive officer, explained in his response to Lisicki that military members on official duty travel at rates negotiated between General Services Administration and individual airlines. May said he expects those contractual arrangements -- reached before spiraling fuel prices forced the airlines to begin charging fees for excess baggage and other services -- to be renegotiated in the future.

Until then, many individual airlines have established policies creating special exceptions from certain baggage limitations for Defense Department travelers on official orders, he told Lisicki.

May said he would forward Lisicki’s letter to ATA’s member airlines, which by law must make all fare-setting and service-policy determinations independently. These policies include excess-baggage fees. Meanwhile, May emphasized the commercial airline industry’s “long and proud history of supporting our nation’s military men and women.”

“They routinely offer special fares for military personnel and families, attempt when possible to accommodate unplanned schedule changes and generally seek to do what they can to show their appreciation,” he wrote.

May said the airlines also support the Fisher House Foundation and various other programs that support the military.

New Jersey Marines train in the high desert

TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. -- Marine Reserve Staff Sgt. John Tacopino invaded Iraq in a Humvee with no doors.


by Wayne Woolley/The Star-Ledger Tuesday August 12, 2008, 12:05 AM

Now, five years later, the Freehold Township police officer and more than 200 of his fellow members of Golf Company, 2nd Battalion 25th Infantry, are preparing to return to the war zone.

And this time, things will be different.

Members of the Picatinny Arsenal-based unit will be taking along such high-tech gear as a 40-pound robot that can help identify roadside bombs. They will be patrolling Anbar province in armored Humvees and new bomb-resistant trucks known as MRAPs.

And they'll have the latest body armor -- which, for Tacopino, will be a departure from his first Iraq trip, when he was issued one armor plate for a flak jacket that should have had two.

"They told me to just put the plate in the front," Tacopino, 29, said recently. "They told me that if I got shot in the back, that would mean we were losing. .¤.¤. We've come a long way since 2003."

The high-tech gear is just one of the ways the Marine Corps is trying to better prepare the forces it sends to Iraq. Since 2005, the corps has also required every infantry unit it sends to Iraq or Afghanistan to take part in Mojave Viper, an intensive three-month training exercise at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center at Twentynine Palms.

The base is two hours east of Los Angeles in the high Mojave Desert, a desolate stretch of sun-beaten sand and rocks. Anyone expecting palm trees will be disappointed. The New Jersey reservists and the rest of the 1,100-member battalion, which also drills from Garden City and Albany, N.Y., and Harrisburg, Pa., arrived here in early June.

"No distractions here," said Cpl. Carlos Gonzalez, a member of Golf Company who is a Perth Amboy firefighter in civilian life. "It's 'Groundhog Day' every day: All you do is train. I guess the plan is to get you so sick of this place that you actually look forward to going to Iraq."

That day is fast approaching.

The Marines are scheduled to ship out in early September. They know they will be stationed somewhere in Anbar, the large province west of Baghdad. But their exact mission remains uncertain.

"We'd love to know, but it hasn't been worked out yet," said Maj. John Fitzsimmons, the Golf Company commander. "We've got to be ready for anything. And we are."

Fitzsimmons, an executive with a real estate management firm in Manhattan, said the most likely assignment his Marines could draw would be either guarding an American base or having total responsibility for a portion of the battlefield.

In any event, many of the Marines will be no stranger to Iraq. About one-third have been there at least once -- and many of the senior leaders are making third and even fourth returns to the combat zone.

Many of the Marines say they've come to grips with the fact they spend nearly as much time at war as they do at home.

Two previous Iraq deployments and smaller operations have taken Gunnery Sgt. Jay Hunter away from his job as a Clinton police officer for large blocks of time.

"Since Sept. 11, I'll have been on active duty more than I've been at the police department," he said. "My chief has been good about it, but he always tells me he wants that time back before I retire."

It will be 1st Sgt. Clark Rhiel's third Iraq deployment. But the 42-year-old Secaucus police officer said deployment will be harder on his wife and two children than anything he faces.

"We're Marines and we train for this," he said. "Our families, there's no way they can train for this."


Despite the repeated deployments and having to spend the summer in a place with three varieties of poisonous snakes, two kinds of poisonous spiders and daytime highs that approach 110 degrees, the Marines say morale is high.

Their chaplain, Navy Lt. Cmdr. Kobena Arthur, might be part of the answer. He's an ordained Methodist minister and a psychology professor at Essex County College in Newark. He lives in South Orange. And when he talks to the Marines, it often sounds less like a sermon than like a Knute Rockne halftime pep talk. That's if the legendary football coach had a Ghanaian accent.

On a recent day, Arthur stood beneath a swath of camouflage netting, streaked in sweat and urging the Marines to give it their best on an upcoming live-fire training exercise.

As the Marines began their grueling day on the assault course, Arthur gave a little talk.

"When you're hot, think cool. When you're weak, think pumped up," he told them. "You don't quit. You keep on keeping on. You're Marines."

The Marines of Golf Company are an eclectic group to be sure. In addition to large numbers of law enforcement officers, there are a handful of lawyers, a political consultant and a financial executive with a math degree from Harvard.

The financial executive would be Lance Cpl. Moses Bloom, 30, of Summit. He graduated from Harvard in 2000 and enlisted five years later. He said his decision was a mix of "patriotism and curiosity."

Although Bloom holds one of the lowest enlisted ranks, he has emerged as one of the best intelligence analysts in Golf Company.

"Having a lance corporal with a Harvard degree ... that's among the reasons we're not exactly an average Marine unit," said Fitzsimmons, the company commander.

The Marines say they're also counting on their abundance of experience in the combat zone.

Gunnery Sgt. Keith Hanna, 47, a platoon commander in Golf Company, will be making his fourth trip to Iraq. In civilian life, he's a corrections officer in New York state. He's also a grandfather. And he's got a specific wish for this deployment -- his last, he's promised his family.

"A nice quiet tour, that's all I want," Hanna said.

PBS Documentary “Medal Of Honor” Examines Extraordinary Acts of Courage, Sacrifice and Heroism

Featuring the Recipients of America’s Highest Military Honor

August 12, 2008 (Washington, D.C.) - In MEDAL OF HONOR, a new documentary that PBS announced today will air nationwide on November 5 at 9 p.m., powerful stories of those who have received our nation's highest military honor beg fundamental questions about the nature of the human spirit and what it means to have the courage of a hero. What makes a person face almost certain death in order to save the lives of others? What gives a person the strength to endure unspeakable acts of torture under the hands of an enemy without losing the will to carry on? And is every person, if put into the same situation, capable of such virtues? Can we all be heroes?


For Immediate Release: August 12, 2008
MEDAL OF HONOR, Produced and Directed by Roger Sherman, to Air Nationwide on PBS on November 5, 2008

Produced and directed by Roger Sherman, the 90-minute film traces the history of the Medal of Honor from a profile of Sgt. Paul Smith, the first soldier to receive a Medal of Honor in the Iraq war, back to its creation during the Civil War. Among those profiled in the film are a Holocaust survivor who single-handedly defended a hill from an advancing enemy force in the Korean War; an injured Navy SEAL who saved the lives of two comrades by swimming for two hours to bring them to safety; and a Marine at Iwo Jima who alone silenced seven Japanese bunkers with a flamethrower to clear a path for his demoralized company.

MEDAL OF HONOR explores these extraordinary, almost inconceivable acts of heroism for which the medal has been awarded through intimate accounts of fear and the realities of surviving war, movingly told by the living recipients themselves.

"The Medal of Honor has fascinated me for a long time," said Roger Sherman, the producer and director. "I've always been aware of it as a profound, solemn symbol of military heroism, but like most people, I've never fully understood its history, how it's bestowed, or even why certain people receive it and others don't. I wanted to dig into that history, and in the process pay tribute to the valor the medal represents and explore the questions that awarding such a medal raises. On the one hand, the medal seeks to define heroism, but how does one do that? And while most of us would certainly agree that anyone wearing a Medal of Honor is a hero, every recipient I've met would categorically deny their heroism."

Vietnam veteran and Medal of Honor recipient Drew Dix explains in the film, "When we wear the Medal of Honor, we wear it for all those who fought. There were just witnesses who saw what we did." Mary Foerster, vice president of Communications of Boeing Integrated Defense Systems, noted why The Boeing Company was proud to provide funding for the film: "Boeing has a long history of supporting our military men and women with the best products, systems and technologies to carry out their missions. We are now honored that we can help tell the story of the unselfish courage and sacrifices they made to keep us all free."

MEDAL OF HONOR reveals the story of how the medal was introduced during the Civil War to boost morale and to attract soldiers to re-enlist and not desert. It was frequently awarded to flag bearers. These unarmed soldiers "led the charge," historian Allen Mikaelian explains in the film. The flag indicated to officers where their troops were. In 1863, a soldier named William Harvey Carney dropped his rifle and picked up the stars and stripes when the flag bearer in his company was shot. He was wounded in the battle but never dropped the flag. For his valor, Carney became the first African American to receive the Medal of Honor.

Only one Medal of Honor has ever been awarded to a woman: Mary Edwards Walker, a Civil War doctor captured and imprisoned as a spy by the Confederates. Her medal was revoked post war, when the medal criteria were tightened: it could only be awarded to active duty soldiers in battle. Walker, however, refused to give it back.

To date, only 3,473 Medals of Honor have been awarded. Has it become a medal one has to die to receive? Since Vietnam, just seven have been awarded, all posthumously - two for service in Somalia, one for service in Afghanistan and four for service in Iraq. Three of those were for falling on a hand grenade. Indeed, the classic reason cited for receiving a Medal of Honor is falling on a grenade to save the life of fellow soldiers.

In addition to Walker and Carney, other Medal of Honor recipients profiled in the film include Sgt. Alvin York (portrayed by Gary Cooper in the 1941 film Sergeant York), who was conflicted between his religious beliefs against killing and his duty to serve his country in war, and Smedley D. Butler, one of only 17 people to receive the Medal of Honor twice, for his service in Vera Cruz, Mexico, and for leading an attack on Haiti. Gen. Butler served in every conflict from 1898 through World War I but eventually became one of the most outspoken critics of the U.S. military's interventionist policies. He attempted to return his medal awarded for his service in Vera Cruz, but superiors ordered him to keep it.

No Medals of Honor were awarded to African Americans or Asian Americans who served in the two world wars. In the 1990s, however, the military, after being pressured by Congress, began reviewing its records and eventually awarded Medals of Honor to eight African Americans and 22 Asian Americans. In 2001, it began reviewing battle records of Jewish veterans.

Among them was Tibor "Ted" Rubin, who is interviewed in the film about his combat experience in the Korean War. Rubin was a Hungarian immigrant who had been liberated from the Mauthausen concentration camp by U.S. forces as a boy. He immigrated to the United States and joined the Army as a way of paying back the country that had saved him. He served in the Korean War, where his anti-Semitic sergeant "volunteered" him to defend a hill against the North Koreans all by himself. Stashing hand grenades and rifles in fox holes, he jumped from one to another to create the illusion that he was a whole company. Alone, Rubin held the hill for 24-hours, slowing the North Korean advance. Later, he was captured and held as a POW. In prison, he saved the lives of more than 40 fellow soldiers, using survival skills he had learned at the Mauthausen concentration camp.

Another immigrant to receive the Medal of Honor and who is profiled in the film is Alfred Rascon, whose family snuck across the border from Mexico when he was an infant. Rascon is one of only 75 medical personnel to receive the medal. He explains in the film that a medic in combat is faced with godlike decisions: "You can't take care of five or six people at the same time. At that time you have to make a decision that literally is going to come back and bear on your life for a very long time." He was awarded the Medal of Honor for one of the many firefights his squad was in. He pulled men off the battle field, threw himself over a soldier to protect him from hand grenades, got hit by the shrapnel himself, and was shot. The paperwork recommending him for a medal went missing for 34 years. He finally received his Medal of Honor in February 2000.

While all the Medal of Honor recipients interviewed in MEDAL OF HONOR respect the sacrifice and dedication to duty the Medal of Honor represents, not all of them respect the wars in which they were earned. Charles Liteky is one of only five Army chaplains to receive a Medal of Honor, which he did for risking his life to save others in a horrific battle in Vietnam. He is also the only person to return the medal. After years of anguish about his involvement in Vietnam, in 1986 he left his medal at the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C., as a protest against U.S. military action against impoverished nations, especially in Latin America. He explains in the film, "I'm not a pacifist. People have a right to defend themselves, nations have a right to defend themselves, but the means which we use is another question."

Other Medal of Honor recipients interviewed in the film include John W. Finn (World War II), Walter D. Ehlers (World War II), Hershel "Woody" W. Williams (World War II), Hiroshi H. Miyamura (Korea), Ronald E. Rosser (Korea), George "Bud" Day (Vietnam), Bob Kerrey (Vietnam) and Mike E. Thornton (Vietnam). The film also profiles Sgt. Paul Smith, who received the medal posthumously for an action in Iraq. Smith's story is told by three soldiers who fought with him that day: Sgt. Michael C. Seaman, who fed ammunition to Smith until he was killed, and Sgt. Daniel Medrano and Sgt. Harry Delauter, who also fought in that action.

MEDAL OF HONOR will have its national premiere screening on September 18 at the Paramount Theater in Denver, in conjunction with the Medal of Honor Conference 2008, an annual meeting of recipients of the Medal of Honor and their families. There are currently 103 living Medal of Honor recipients. Fifty-five are scheduled to attend.

MEDAL OF HONOR is a co-production of Florentine Films/Sherman Pictures, WETA Washington, D.C., and The Washington Post Company; Producer, Director, Cinematographer: Roger Sherman; Narrator: Alfre Woodard; Associate Producers: Nathan Sterner and Gwyn Welles; Editor: Juliet Weber; Original Music: Teese Gohl; Executive Producer: Ken Burns; Executive Producers for WETA: Dalton Delan and David S. Thompson. Funding for MEDAL OF HONOR has been provided by The Boeing Company. Sherman co-founded Florentine Films in 1976 with Ken Burns and Buddy Squires, each of whom continues to produce films independently under the Florentine banner.

August 11, 2008

Engineers, LAR’s plans may put H2O back in Rio Lobo

COMBAT OUTPOST RIO LOBO, Iraq – The most important natural resource for Coalition Forces in Iraq is water.


By Cpl. GP Ingersoll
August 11, 2008

Combat engineers with Engineer Company, Combat Logistics Battalion 6, 1st Marine Logistics Group, recently teamed up with the leaders of Regimental Combat Team 5’s 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion and Iraq’s Ministry of Water to facilitate the building of a new combat outpost here, Aug. 10.

“Building this COP outside Rio Lobo frees up the structures for the Ministry of Water, facilitating the reopening of the water plant,” said 2nd Lt. James R. Armstrong, platoon commander, Company A, 2nd LAR, RCT-5, 1st Marine Division. When the Marines occupy the new outpost, Iraqi government workers will move in and begin operating the water pumps.

The plant supplied much of the surrounding area between Camp Korean Village and al-Asad with water, but had been closed for the past five years. A lack of water has driven many locals to relocate, and the land once used for farming has become desolate.

“Once the pump station opens, Iraqis can run it unaided, and we’re giving them space to do that,” said 1st Lt. Samuel D. Joiner, executive officer, Company A.

Joiner, 24, from Knoxville, Tenn., and Armstrong, 24, from Johnson City, Tenn., agreed that pumping water back into the surrounding area, into irrigation canals and homes alike, should result in a return of population and agricultural stability to the area.

“It’s the ideal partnership; we’ll have the civic side and the peacekeeping side all together,” Armstrong said.

The engineers are happy both to provide Marines with a new living space and to have a hand in the reopening of the water plant that once brought Earth’s most precious resource to many of Iraq’s more rural citizens.

“I think water could convey that message of peace and prosperity,” said Sgt. Steven J. Geiger, 25, Matamoras, Pa., squad leader, Engineer Company.

Geiger said that engineers take each job seriously, and their approach is all business. But, he said, it’s nice to know that their work is not only improving conditions for Marines spending seven months at a COP, but also for Iraqis spending their entire lives in the desert.

“Water is essential, it is the building block of life,” Geiger said.

The potential for the project was not immediately known by the company, until they conducted their site survey. The project, which is slated to begin sometime in the next month, can help Iraqis repopulate the area and turn brown desert into green farms.

“I think it’s exciting,” said Capt. Lauren S. Edwards, 32, from Smiths Grove, Ken., company commander, Engineer Company. “Whether (we’re helping) Marines or the Iraqi people, there’s a hope and promise, and a lot of forward moving instead of just treading water.”

Treading water would be nice, but first Marines plan to make sure the locals in Western Iraq have enough to drink.

Jerabek Memorial Challenge Continues to Grow

News Video link:
Please click on above link to view the video interview.

Monday, 11 Aug 2008

HOBART -- Four years ago, Pfc. Ryan Jerabek was killed while fighting in Iraq. Saturday, his memory was honored at the third annual Jerabek Memorial Challenge in Hobart. Troops and their families from around the world participated in the event meant to thank and honor all those who have served our country. FOX 11's Cara Artman was in Hobart with more.

Easton Marine recovering from Afghanistan attack

A 21-year-old Marine from Easton is recovering at a veterans hospital in Virginia after being seriously injured last month in an attack while serving in Afghanistan.


By Vicki-Ann Downing
Mon Aug 11, 2008

Lance Corp. Ryan Walsh, a 2005 graduate of Oliver Ames High School, suffered two broken legs and lost a finger on his left hand as a result of the attack, said his father, James Walsh.

One week ago, with his parents looking on, Walsh was awarded the Purple Heart at Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland, where he arrived for surgery and treatment on July 15.

He was later transferred to the Hunter Holmes McGuire Veterans Administration Medical Center in Richmond, Va., where he was to undergo four to six weeks of rehabilitation, his father said.
Walsh was injured while serving with the 1st Marine Division, 2nd Battalion, 7th Regiment near Helmand Province in Afghanistan. He was the point man on a foot patrol on July 8 when his squadron came under small arms fire, his father said.

Shrapnel from a grenade broke both Walsh’s legs. Other shots struck Walsh’s hand and some fragments struck his shoulder.

James Walsh said it was fortunate that the Marines had ordered all soldiers to wear heavy-duty flak jackets despite the 100- to 130-degree heat.

Ryan Walsh arrived in Afghanistan in April for what was expected to be a security detail, but he and his fellow Marines have come under fire several times, his father said.

James Walsh and his wife, Cathleen, learned their son had been injured five hours after the attack when Ryan called them from Bastion, a British air base in Helmand Province, to say he was about to undergo surgery.

“He said, ‘I’m OK, I did get injured,’” his father recalled. “He was talking slowly and very dry. He hadn’t taken anything in his mouth since he got hurt and he was going into surgery.”

After three days, Walsh was taken to Bagram Air Base, 60 miles north of Kabul, then flown to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany.
He spent four days there before being flown to Bethesda, where his parents were able to join him for a two-week visit.

James Walsh said Ryan, the youngest of his six children, enlisted in the Marines out of high school.

“His five siblings went to college and he could have done so as well, but this is what he wanted,” James Walsh said. “It wasn’t Mom and Dad’s favorite, but we have no regrets. It’s been good for him.”
On July 14, just six days after Ryan was attacked, James Walsh, who just retired from his work as a pipefitter, was injured when his car was rear-ended on Depot Street near Shaw’s supermarket.

He damaged four discs in his back and spent two nights at a hospital in Boston, but was able to postpone surgery.

He wanted to be able to walk his daughter Shannon down the aisle at her July 19 wedding at Holy Cross Church in Easton, and to visit Ryan in Bethesda for two weeks beginning July 21.

Those wishing to send cards to Ryan Walsh can mail them to: Marine Lance Corporal Ryan Walsh, c/o McGuire VA Medical Center, 1201 Broad Rock Road, Richmond, VA, 23249.
Vicki-Ann Downing can be reached at [email protected]

Rockin’ at Korean Village

CAMP KOREAN VILLAGE, Iraq — A quiet base in the western Al Anbar province was filled with sounds of electric guitars and the crash of cymbals July 10.


Rockin’ at Korean Village
8/11/2008 By Cpl. Ryan Tomlinson, Regimental Combat Team 5

Marines from all over the base gathered together to hear the live music of alternative band CatchPenny during a concert aboard Camp Korean Village.

The concert was part of a grand tour around Iraq to thank the troops for their sacrifices with live music. CatchPenny is a rising alternative music group from Minneapolis who are popular for their record-setting attendance at Hard Rock Café performances around the nation.

“We wanted to do something, to give back to the troops because they sacrifice so much for our country,” said Eric E. Raum, 24, lead guitarist of CatchPenny. “It’s great to be able to boost their spirits from day to day and let them let loose and have fun.”

During the day, the band toured around CKV and visited Explosive Ordnance Disposal and platoons with 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, Regimental Combat Team 5. The service members let the band members ride in the Mine Resistant Ambush Protective truck and handle a variety of weapons systems.

The band members met and conversed with the Marines and sailors all over the base to have a “first-eye” glimpse of life in Iraq and to personally thank them for their service.

“It was a good taste of home to have the band members there to play some live music and converse with us,” said Lance Cpl. Michael A. Shipman, 21, a small-arms repair specialist with Headquarters and Service Company, 2nd LAR. “Not many bands dive off stage and drink near-beers with the Marines in Iraq, and that was pretty cool of them.”

The members of CatchPenny crowned the camp tour with a cookout and concert for more than 500 Marines and sailors. During the show, the Marines were able to enjoy hard rock music, and some were afforded the opportunity to play the cow bell and sing on stage with the band.

“I enjoyed it because it was something that doesn’t happen very often during the deployment,” said Lance Cpl. Robert O. Bean, 20, a scout from Palm Bay, Fla., with Jump Platoon, 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion. “Singing on stage with the band and listening to live music was cool because I was able to relax for a while and have a load of fun.”

According to the Marines, the show fostered a great atmosphere for those serving in Iraq. The morale increased dramatically from every non-alcoholic beer drank to every song played.

“It was a good time listening to them and hanging out with them,” said Shipman, from Jacksonville, N.C. “All of the Marines were having a great time and I hope we get more musical acts in the future.”

2nd LAR and other units aboard CKV will continue their operations, but they will do so with the gratitude from the band members in the back of their minds.

“If I were to see them any day after this, I would shake their hands and say thank you for everything they’ve done,” said Raum. “Not many people could do the things you do and I just wanted to say thank you.”

August 10, 2008

Knowledge, skill, will: 1/2 Marines hit ground running

CAMP HABBANIYAH, Iraq — CAMP HABBANIYAH, Iraq (August 10, 2008) – Since June 28, 2004, when the Coalition Provisional Authority officially transferred sovereignty to the Iraqi Interim Government, Marines have done their part to assist the Iraqi people in building a unified Iraq with the political and economic stability needed to govern itself.


8/10/2008 By Lance Cpl. Scott Schmidt, Regimental Combat Team 1

Marines with Task Force 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 1, have hit the sands of Camp Habbaniyah with a passion for their mission. The battalion officially took control of the area from 2nd Battalion, 24th Marine Regiment, Aug. 10.

Inheriting an area of operations in an increasingly peaceful Iraq, 1st Battalion, 2nd Marines will conduct partnered operations and build civic and Iraqi Security Force capabilities to enable a self-reliant and legitimate local security and government apparatus that facilitates transition and provincial Iraqi control.

“We want to see the Iraqis put their face on the mission while we are here to provide over-watch and reassure them they are doing right,” explained Staff Sgt. Issac Sato, a platoon sergeant with the battalion’s Quick Reaction Force.

Taking the reins from their predecessor of the area, 1st Bn., 2nd Marines are working hand-in-hand with the Iraqi Army, Iraqi Police and the civilian populous to improve the quality of life.

The steps the Iraqi people are taking, with the help of Marines, are crucial because, “With Saddam gone and violence down, the Iraqis want their own country and in order to do that they have to take the lead,” said Sato.

Marines have trained across the whole spectrum of warfare, from high intensity conflict to the complex nature of a counter insurgency environment. But now the Marines of 1st Battalion, 2d Marines are helping Iraqis help themselves to improve their infrastructure and develop governance and security at the local level.

“The cohesion and camaraderie, in addition to training, has prepared the leadership as well as the individual Marine to successfully complete every mission,” said Maj. Gordon Miller, the battalion’s executive officer.

Miller stressed the importance of building a unified community by working with the people for security, governance and essential services. “Success will come when Iraqis handle everything themselves,” he said.

Marines and their Iraqi brethren have the “knowledge, skill and will to make it happen,” said Miller.

Memory loss haunts injured Iraq War veteran

Scott MacKenzie recalls little of his past. His parents remember every detail.


The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 08/10/08

The young Marine corporal relies on Robert and Nan MacKenzie to fill in the gaps in his memory. His mother made a scrapbook of baby pictures and tells him about his childhood. Bits and pieces come back, he said, in a slide show of flashbacks.

"I remember my younger sister Savannah was born at 6:29 p.m. and weighed 6 pounds 3 ounces, " he said at his Canton home on a recent furlough. "But I met someone I grew up with and I didn't know his name."

MacKenzie, 23, will retire from the Marines this month with 40 percent disability.

Two years ago in October, he was injured by a roadside bomb in Iraq. A traumatic brain injury wiped away memories of his high school graduation, boot camp and the trip to Iraq.

Six weeks into his tour, he was on foot patrol when an explosion threw him into the air. The lieutenant walking next to him lost both legs.

MacKenzie had three surgeries to repair a fractured jaw and shrapnel injuries.

"When I woke up, I didn't know my last name, my rank or what a square was," he said.

After treatment for his injuries, he was attached to the Wounded Warriors Barracks at Camp Lejeune, N.C., where he has worked helping injured Marines.

His first leave home came less than two months after his last patrol. His family met him at the airport on Christmas Eve.

"He had lost 40 pounds and was still black and blue," Nan MacKenzie said. "We were numb. Our son was the shell of who he had been."

After plastic surgery, the only signs of trauma are slight scars on the left side of his face and arm and a hearing aid in his left ear. His mother said no one knows, though, what families go through after their wounded children come home.

"Friends tell me that he looks fine," Nan MacKenzie said. "I say, come spend a few days with us and you will see."

Her son's road to recovery is not a smooth one. He struggles with breathing problems and bronchitis. He is bothered by pieces of glass and shrapnel in his arms that can't be removed without further damage. He takes medication for seizures, insomnia and depression.

"I raised him to be warm and fuzzy," his mom said. "Now, he is serious and guarded."

She worries that he tries to tough things out instead of getting help when he needs it.

While he was home recently, he started coughing up blood. After a day of listening to their son's protests that he was all right, his family took him to a local hospital where he was treated for bronchitis.

MacKenzie credits the support of his parents, 11-year-old sister and new wife for helping him through rough times.

He met Hillary McConnell, 19, while home for his birthday a year ago in July.

"He wouldn't look me in the eye at first," she said. "His problems didn't bother me. They drew me to him even more."

The couple admits the first few months weren't easy. MacKenzie had a hard time talking about what he had been through and had meltdowns.

"I thought she would think I was stupid because I stuttered," MacKenzie said. "I told her once that she needed to leave. I didn't deserve anyone."

Slowly, she saw him improve. She said his memory is improving, and he is better at telling her what he wants and thinking straight. In recent weeks, though, the couple have hit another rough patch.

They married almost a year after they met. Nan MacKenzie said the couple have their work cut out for them if they are going to make it. She said the family is there to provide a safety net.

"I tell them to focus on respect, compassion and love for each other," she said. "And always put God first."

Family friend Woody Hornsby said MacKenzie — who calls him Uncle Woody — is getting better. Hornsby is helping him start a business selling electronic components to the military.

"He won't be 100 percent — not ever," Hornsby said. "I told him that he came out pretty darn good though, and people look up to him for his honors."

While MacKenzie made plans with Hornsby, he learned the Department of Veterans Affairs would pay for a two-year program at NASCAR Technical Institute in Mooresville, N.C.

He plans to continue in the electronics business and also learn automotive engineering.

Veterans Affairs spokesman Jim Benson said the military is adapting its education programs for the new wave of veterans.

He said financial help is available for vocational training as well as college, and there are programs to help wounded vets learn different skills.

A Defense Department Web site lists 30,349 military members wounded in action in Iraq during the five years ending July 5.

MacKenzie said the help for school gave him direction and hope.

Now, his goal is to get on with his life and put the past behind him. He says he'd also like to get a dachshund, a "little wiener dog."

"I just want to wake up at 6 a.m. every day, go to a job and come home to my family," he said. "I just want to be normal again."

August 9, 2008

Record Runners for Annual Ryan Jerabek Challenge

Private First Class Ryan Jerabek of Hobart was only 18-years-old when he died fighting the war in Iraq.


Updated: Aug 9, 2008 07:07 PM CDT

Four years after his death, more than a thousand people lace up to honor the Wisconsin marine and run in his footprints.

As members of the Green Bay skydivers soared over head, more than a thousand runners laced up their shoes for the 3rd Annual Ryan Jerabek Challenge. The four mile course in Hobart takes runners along the same route Ryan Jerabek ran when he was preparing for boot camp.

"To see this many people, it's 7 months of planning comes down to this and it's just a tremendous tribute to my son and what he accomplished in his life," said Ryan's father Ken. "And to my other son it means a lot to him to be part of this and see the community come together and pay respect to the men and women in uniform."

Of the runners out here today, there are veterans, there are active members of the military, there are family and friends of Ryan Jerabek and there are people who just wanted to be inspired.

"I could cry I'm so proud," says Karrie Kerkela of De Pere. "I love my husband, he's a former marine. It's just one big family, it's a big family."

To Glen Brewer of West Bend, "It's great, it's nice to see that little town of Green Bay other than Brett Favre coming out, people coming out to support a good cause it helps, helps bring awareness."

Troops, veterans, and the fallen are being remembered all over the world. There was a Jerabek run back in June in Iraq. There were runners that ran today in Ryan's name in Texas and next week there's a run in North Carolina.

"This is a marine from the the state of Wisconsin who lost his life, sacrificed his life for his brothers and to have the nation honor him in this way is a tremendous tribute to him," says Ken Jerabek.

A tribute that for most out here, words can't even begin to explain.

Brothers stick together through all

COMBAT OUTPOST AKASHAT, Iraq — It’s common for Marines to refer to each other as brothers-in-arms, but the esprit de corps might just be stronger between two Marines who are actually full-blooded brothers serving in the same unit.


8/9/2008 By Cpl. Ryan Tomlinson, Regimental Combat Team 5

Lance Corporals Kloyce E. Dennard and Nicholas P. Dennard, both scouts with Delta Company, 4th Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, Regimental Combat Team 5, have stuck together as Marines all the way through boot camp to reserve drill weekends to deploying with their company.

Delta Co. is a reserve light armored reconnaissance element attached to 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

“It’s inevitable that when he’s there, I’m there,” said Nicholas. “We’ve always ended up doing everything together, whether it was deploying or spending time at home.”

Kloyce, 22 and Nicholas, 20 were born on different sides of the International Dateline while raised in a Marine family by their father, Lt. Col. Ronald K. Dennard, and mother, Ruby. Moving from station to station, in places like Hawaii and Okinawa, they kept their bond throughout their childhood.

“When we were younger, times were tough with the moving, but me and Nick stuck together through it all,” said Kloyce. “During my childhood, I didn’t always have friends, but I always had my brother.”

After Kloyce graduated high school, the brothers’ relationship became distant for the first time in their lives. While Kloyce was attending junior college, he was faced with hardships, forcing him to drop classes and work full time.

Kloyce was working his way through a dead end job until hearing his brother was joining the Marine Corps Reserve. He decided then that he wanted to join the service he was meant for, along with his brother.

“When my brother was talking about the Marine Corps, I knew it was time for me to join,” said Kloyce. “I always knew I was going to join, I just didn’t know when.”

“The Marine Corps was everything I knew,” said Nicholas. “I always wanted to be able to say ‘I’m a Marine.’”

In December 2005 the brothers signed up together at the recruiting station in Richmond, Va. Only a month after they enlisted, they were on their way to Parris Island, S.C. They arrived and were greeted with an awakening that would change their lives forever.

During their term at boot camp, the brothers were in separate platoons but ran into each other on many occasions. They rallied in events, from performing a physical fitness test to throwing down in a contest of pugil sticks.

“When my brother and I fought in pugil sticks, it was not like fighting (just) any person because it was a grudge match,” said Nicholas said while laughing with Kloyce. “I won from a jab to the face.”

“I remember during the PFT, Nick gave me a high-five during the run portion,” said Kloyce. “It made me laugh and I got my butt chewed by my drill instructor for smiling.”

The new Marines continued serving together through the school of infantry, and they checked into Bravo Company, 4th LAR, at the same time. They transferred to Delta Co. to volunteer to deploy to Iraq, where they would become closer than ever.

“How brothers are back at home are a lot different than how we are,” said Nicholas. “We constantly are there to look out for each other and because of this deployment, it has made us really close.”

Now deployed with Delta Co., they are regarded by their fellow Marines as great Marines and are always ready for the mission despite the costs.

“The Dennard brothers display a great positive energy for the other Marines in the company and are highly respected amongst their peers,” said 1st Sgt. Kevin J. Gilligan, company first sergeant of Delta Co. “As brothers they are always looking out for their other brothers: their fellow Marines and sailors.”

Despite confidence in the combat readiness they’ve gained while training with their unit, they still can’t help but worry about each other. Although it can be stressful worrying about one another, they feel normal serving together in Iraq at the same time.

“It was like he and I were going on a little trip to a far away place,” said Nicholas. Kloyce added, “The only difference is that I’m worried that something might happen to him if we receive contact.”

Nick and Kloyce plan to return to the States and pursue careers in either fire fighting or police work around Mechanicsville, Va., where they currently reside. The Marines say they’re going to remain close no matter what the future may hold.

“Joining the Marine Corps made us better friends and we became as close as brothers could get,” said Kloyce. “The first time he and I went outside the wire together, it was exciting to have him there.”

August 8, 2008

US Navy stops pirate attack in Gulf of Aden

MANAMA, Bahrain — The U.S. Navy says it has stopped a pirate attack on a merchant vessel north of Somalia in the Gulf of Aden.


The Navy says the USS Peleliu responded to a call for help from the Gem of Kilakari on Friday morning. The ship said it was under attack from armed pirates as it was traveling to the Suez Canal.

The Navy's Bahrain-based 5th Fleet said in a statement that the USS Peleliu was about 10 miles (16 kilometers) from the Gem of Kilakari when it received the distress call.

The Navy says the suspected pirate ships fled the scene after the USS Peleliu launched three helicopters. The Navy says one grenade landed on the Gem of Kilakari's bridge wing but didn't explode, and no injuries were reported.

Marines make teen's wish come true by putting him through the paces

Sitting cross-legged on the red turf of Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island's Inchon Firing Range, a Marine rifle instructor by his side, 13-year-old Kyle Drott lowered his M-16 service rifle, wiped the sweat from his eyes and fired. His first shot -- right on target.


Published Fri, Aug 8, 2008 12:00 AM

"Nice shooting, Dirty Harry," said his father, Earl, cradling an M-16 of his own. "But don't get too cocky."

"If we had this kid as a sniper, the war would already be over," said Sgt. Danny Gonzalez to a group of about a dozen Marines crowded around the range. "I'd be expecting a phone call and a knock on your door from recon."

Running through Parris Island's infamous Crucible, sparring with the depot's marital arts instructors, firing off a few magazines of live rounds at the range, Kyle, a Tyler, Texas, native who's battled lymphoma for the past two years, got a taste Wednesday of what it means to be made into a Marine. And he liked it.

"It's been everything I wanted and more," he said. "I expected to come out here and have everyone yelling at me."

While no one got in his face during his visit to the depot, Kyle said the experience to meet and interact with Marines only enhanced his love for the Corps.

"They're amazing," he said. "They're real people, you can sit down and talk to them and laugh with them. I love the Marines Corps now more than ever."

Kyle's visit to Parris Island and a visit Thursday to Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort were the work of a coordinated effort between the Make-A-Wish Foundation's North Texas and South Carolina chapters.

Kyle's mother, Amy Drott, said she wasn't sure if the organization would be able to make her son's wish come true.

"This has been what he's wanted to do ever since he heard of Make-A-Wish, and the doctors said 'Pick something.' And they thought 'There's no way the Marines will do that,' and we didn't think they would either," she said. "To be able to be here and be doing this is amazing. Kyle's wanted to be a Marine since he was 9, and to be able to have your child experience what they've always wanted to do, and be a VIP in the process, is pretty incredible."

Kyle's desire to get an up-close look at Marine recruit training came as no surprise to his father, Earl.

"When this came up, I thought, 'Well, of course,'" he said. "Everybody here has bent over backward and gone the extra mile. They've been sparring with him, running through the obstacle course, working with him on shooting. It's way more than I expected.

"I thought we'd come see the place, I had no idea that he was going to come out of here feeling like he'd been a little recruit," Earl Drottsaid. "I'd be proud to have my kid be a United States Marine."

The Drotts' visit to the Lowcountry was the first time the Make-A-Wish Foundation of South Carolina has had a child, from South Carolina or elsewhere, request a visit to MCAS Beaufort or Parris Island, said Allison Wilder, wish coordinator.

"Both the air station and Parris Island have been wonderful to work with in planning all of the details of the wish," she said. "The Marine Corps has gone above and beyond to accommodate Kyle's specific requests, and I know that his experience will be one that he never forgets."

The Make-A-Wish Foundation of South Carolina, the state chapter of the national nonprofit organization that grants the wishes of children with life-threatening illnesses, granted 137 wishes in 2007, she said.

Kyle's visit to MCAS on Thursday included visits with the air station's fire rescue team, a tour of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 312's hangar, a trip to the base's flight simulator, and lunch with Lt. Col. Todd S. Taylor, executive officer of Marine Aircraft Group 31.

Taylor said Kyle's courage personifies the Corps' core values.

"For Marines, courage is the will to persevere despite uncertainty, and we all wonder if we have what it takes until we are challenged," he said. "This young man, Kyle Drott, is a living example of courage, and his example is a goal that we should all strive for. We are honored to host him and his family."

Kyle was scheduled to finish his trip to Beaufort with a return to Parris Island to attend a Marine graduation today.

Marine, Navy team thwarts pirates

ABOARD USS PELELIU (LHA 5) — Marines with the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, deployed aboard USS Peleliu (LHA 5) in the Gulf of Aden, helped prevent a pirate attack August 8, providing aerial support and Explosive Ordnance Disposal.


8/8/2008 By Cpl. Timothy T. Parish, 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit

At 7 a.m. the crew of USS Peleliu received a distress call from the Singaporean cargo ship Gem of Kilakarai reporting being attacked by two small pirate vessels about 10-miles away from USS Peleliu’s position. After receiving the reports, USS Peleliu changed course and launched three helicopters to provide security for the civilian cargo ship and to run off the pirates.

“The mission showcased the Marine Corps-Navy team's ability to react to a no notice, real-world contingency and execute a successful mission profile within a compressed timeline” said Lt. Col. Pete C. Farnum, 15th MEU Operations Officer.

During the incident, the pirates fired on the Gem of Kilakarai with small-arms and rifle launched grenades. The pirates disengaged their attack upon intervention from USS Peleliu and 15th MEU helicopters. A rifle launched grenade used during the attack failed to detonate and was lodged on the bridge wing of the Gem of Kilakarai. There were no reports of injury during the attack.

Aerial reconnaissance and security flights of Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron-165 (REIN) helicopters over the Gem of Kilakarai helped determine the need for further assistance from the Marines aboard USS Peleliu. After assessing the best course of action, EOD Marines from Combat Logistics Battalion-15 and a security detachment with Golf Company, Battalion Landing Team 2/5, were flown by two UH-1N Huey helicopters aboard the Gem of Kilakarai to remove the threat.

After assessing the threat on board the Gem of Kilakarai, the unexploded grenade was properly disposed of by the EOD team from CLB-15.

“All elements of the [Marine Air Ground Task Force] were utilized as they were designed. The MEU developed the plan utilizing real-time intelligence and photographic imagery from the Combat Camera Marines which validated the suitability of aircraft operations,” said Farnum. “[HMM-165 (REIN)] prepared the aircraft and flew the mission profile; [BLT 2/5] provided security and were prepared to respond to any contingency; and [CLB-15] provided the EOD expertise, which ultimately ensured that the unexploded ordnance was safely and expeditiously disposed of.”

The quick response of USS Peleliu and the 15th MEU garnered praise from the Bahrain based 5th Fleet for their quick, precise and decisive actions in preventing the pirate attack. The incident further highlighted the operational capabilities of the 15th MEU as a forward deployed, quick-response unit, according to Sgt. Michael C. Brandon, Squad Leader, Golf Company, BLT 2/5.

The Marines on the deck of the Gem of the Kilakarai credit their readiness prior to the incident. The limited amount of planning time didn’t hinder a successful operation, Brandon said.

“We’re always ready, our gear is always ready, and so, if a mission is called down,” Brandon said.

The planning and intelligence gathering operations also aided the Marines who boarded the Gem of Kilakarai, according to Brandon.

“The planning process is very important. Being briefed before-hand and knowing as much as possible about the situation before launching helped out tremendously,” Brandon said.

The Gem of Kilakarai, which was transiting the Gulf of Aden to the Suez Canal, presented a unique challenge to the EOD team aboard the Peleliu, according to Gunnery Sgt. Hiram P. Weisinger, EOD Team Leader, CLB-15.

“This was the first time I’ve ever done anything like flying to a ship to dispose of ordnance,” said Weisinger.

The mission also highlighted the readiness of the Marines of the 15th MEU to conduct any mission, Weisinger added.

“In a quick and concise manner, the Marine Corps-Navy team was able to develop and execute a tailored and well coordinated plan that translated into mission success,” Farnum said.

August 7, 2008

Report From a Forgotten War

Helmand Province, Afghanistan — First in a series

Helmand Province, Afghanistan – To Americans of my generation and older, Korea is “The Forgotten War.” For this generation, it’s Afghanistan – or to be precise, Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF).


Thursday, August 07, 2008
By Col. Oliver North
FOX News

This seven-year long campaign against Al Qaeda and the Taliban in the shadow of the Hindu Kush didn’t start out as a “forgotten war.” On October 7, 2001, less than a month after the 9-11 attack, OEF began with a salvo of Tomahawk cruise missiles and raids by B-1s, B-2s, B-52s and waves of carrier-based aircraft. For the next month the entire world was riveted as Afghan “Northern Alliance” troops – bolstered by U.S. Special Operations Forces and CIA teams – swept south toward Kabul.

The November 9 liberation of the capital was an international press event. When the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) landed at Forward Operating Base (FOB) “Rhino” on 25 November to cut Taliban/Al Qaeda escape routes into Pakistan, reporters clamored to cover the operation. For the next sixteen months, most of the so-called "mainstream media" provided at least some regular coverage of the hunt for Usama bin Laden.

Then came Iraq. The start of Operation Iraqi Freedom on March 20, 2003 created a virtual news vacuum in Afghanistan, and it has been pretty much like that ever since. Though there have been brief moments of media interest – like the October 9, 2004 election that brought President Hamid Karzai to power – the potentates of the press have largely ignored developments in Afghanistan and focused on predictions of disaster in Mesopotamia.

Hopefully, that is about to change. Success in Iraq is now an undeniable reality. Here in Afghanistan, the NATO International Security Force Commander, U.S. Army General David D. McKiernan, is calling for more troops to launch a vigorous offensive against a resurgent Taliban. Here in southern Helmand Province, it has already begun.

For the past week, our FOX News “War Stories” team has been embedded with the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (24 MEU) – a Marine Air-Ground Task Force, deployed from Camp Lejeune, N.C. We’re now at Combat Outpost “Bravo” with Weapons Company of 1st Battalion, 6th Marines – a unit we last accompanied in Ramadi, Iraq during December 2006. The following accounts are from dispatches we have filed since re-joining this “band of brothers” in the new “forgotten war.”

- Garmsir, Afghanistan, August 2, 2008:

It is more than 100 degrees Fahrenheit – and the Marines who have been fighting here since April, say that it is cooler now than a month ago when temperatures topped 124 degrees. The bright sunlight is oppressive and a fine dust, the consistency of talcum powder, permeates everything. Terrain more than a few hundred meters from the Helmand River or an irrigation canal looks like desolate lunar landscape. In this climate, drinking at least eight liters of water a day is essential for survival.

According to Lt. Col Anthony Henderson, the Commanding Officer of Battalion Landing Team 1/6, nearly half the Marines in this unit were with us in Iraq. Some have made as many as five combat deployments. All of them are volunteers. Though the Marines don’t tally “body counts,” the Helmand Provincial Government credits the Marines with killing more than 400 enemy combatants in this Taliban stronghold. No one here disputes the number.

- Strongpoint “Bravo,” August 3, 2008:

The IED – an improvised explosive device – detonated directly beneath the lead vehicle of our first patrol. The explosion blew Chris Jackson, our FOX News cameraman from his seat on the right rear of the vehicle. Though heavily armored, the HUMVEE was immediately engulfed in flames.

Trapped in the front of the burning vehicle were the wounded driver, Corporal Arnaldo Figueroa, and Sergeant Courtney Rauch. Despite his own wounds from shrapnel, Jackson immediately jumped up and rushed back to the flaming vehicle to rescue Sergeant Rauch.

As ammunition “cooked off” inside the vehicle, Chris helped the Marines drag Sgt. Rauch and Cpl. Figueroa to safety behind the next vehicle in the column. While medical corpsmen, Jose Peña and Gregory Cox administered first aid to the wounded, Lt. John Branson deployed his Marines to secure a helicopter landing zone.

Within minutes of the explosion, an armed UH1N “Huey” and an AH1J “Cobra” gunship appeared overhead – followed immediately by a CH-46 Sea Knight helicopter. Less than 20 minutes after the blast that had wounded them, the two Marine casualties were in the air headed for the hospital.

It has been my great blessing to have spent most of my life in the company of heroes – people who put themselves at risk for the benefit of others. That certainly defines the young Americans here in Marine Expeditionary Unit 24. Hero is a word that also applies to our FOX News cameraman, Canadian Chris Jackson.

Oliver North hosts War Stories on FOX News Channel and is the author of the new best-seller, "American Heroes: In The War Against Radical Islam."

Group brings veterans to Montana to fish

By Trevon Milliard - Bozeman (Mont.) Daily Chronicle via The Associated Press
Posted : Thursday Aug 7, 2008 7:04:15 EDT

ENNIS, Mont. — Alroy Billiman, 28, stood at the front of a drift boat floating in the upper Madison River.

To continue reading:


August 6, 2008

Run to honor Marine makes it to Iraq

40 competed there in 115-degree heat

HOBART — It could be said that this year's Pfc. Ryan Jerabek USMC Memorial Challenge has gone international.

Please click on above link for photo.

By Sara Boyd
August 6, 2008

Marine Sgt. Peter Vargo hasparticipated in the four-mile run since it began in 2006, however this year was different. Vargo is stationed in Iraq and would not return home in time for the third annual run Saturday.

"I was bummed out because I had run the race every year so far and I'd like to continue to run it every year that they continue to have it," he said in an e-mail from Iraq. "I take a lot of pride in running this race to honor Pfc. Jerabek and all of the other fallen Marines and other troops out there."

Since Vargo would not be able to go to the race, he brought the race to Iraq. Vargo held an honorary Jerabek Run in Habbaniyah, Iraq, on June 22 — just a short distance from where Ryan Jerabek was killed with 11 other Marines in an ambush in Ramadi in 2004.

The annual run is named in Jerabek's honor and follows the route he took every morning to prepare for boot camp.

Vargo's run brought out 40 troops to participate in the four-mile run in 115-degree heat, which continued to rise throughout the run.

Green Bay Marine Cpl. James Klein took first in the run with a time of 18:37, and all participants finished to pay tribute to fallen soldiers, Vargo said.

"I let them all know how appreciative the Jerabek family is for them running in the race and for fighting for our freedom," he said.

Rita Jerabek, Ryan's mother, said she was thrilled Vargo could find a way to participate.

"It's just amazing," she said. "I think they were all proud to take part in it."

Having already had one successful run take place, Rita Jerabek said she's looking forward to this year's annual race.

While the race details get a little easier each year, the memory of her son helps her get through the emotional day, she said.

"It really helps us stay focused on the gift of Ryan and it does energize me," she said, "because I feel like we're able to do something that carries on what was at the heart of who he was."

Amputee Marine returns to combat duty

A year after Cpl. Garrett Jones lost his left leg to a bomb in Iraq, he has rejoined his unit in Afghanistan. Improved medical care and prostheses -- and his determination -- made it possible.

Just over a year ago, Cpl. Garrett Jones was one of thousands of Marines slogging through a tour of duty in Iraq. Today, he is deployed with the same unit in Afghanistan, but he serves now with an unusual distinction.


By David Zucchino, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
August 6, 2008

On July 23, 2007, Jones was on foot patrol near the Iraqi city of Fallouja when he was injured by a roadside bomb. After the attack, his left leg was amputated above the knee. He developed infections and fevers. His weight dropped from 175 pounds to 125. At 21, Jones faced months of painful rehabilitation and a likely end to his service in the Marine Corps.

One year later, Jones is walking smoothly on a prosthetic leg. He not only continues to serve on active duty, but he has worked his way back to a war zone, serving with his Marine battle buddies in Afghanistan.

In previous wars, Jones would have received a medical discharge and returned to civilian life. But in the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, the Pentagon has made it possible for some amputees to return to duty -- and for a few to deploy overseas again. Advances in medical care and high-tech prostheses have enabled amputees to function far better.

Jones said he couldn't bear the thought of not deploying with close friends in his unit after he learned last fall that they would be sent to Afghanistan. He also wanted to pave a path for other amputees and show them what's possible, he said.

"I want to be someone an injured Marine can talk to," Jones said. "And I can tell them: 'Times will be rough and not always easy as an amputee, but you can still make great things out of an unfortunate situation.' That's what I want to do."

Sgt. Matthew Leonard, who served with Jones in Iraq and now works beside him at this desert base in southern Afghanistan, said Jones has earned a special status among Marines because he demanded to be sent back to combat.

"He didn't just choose to come -- he fought to come," Leonard said. "We bled and sweated with this guy in Iraq, and he wants to be with us more than anything. That's awesome."

Jones, 22, of Newberg, Ore., is among a small number of Marines who have lost a limb in Iraq or Afghanistan and returned to duty in a war zone. (A Marine Corps spokesman said the Corps is unable to provide accurate figures.)

Sixty-two soldiers, airmen or sailors have lost limbs in combat and returned to active duty, according to spokesmen for the Army, Navy and Air Force.

No information was available for the number of those amputees who have returned to duty in Iraq or Afghanistan; some estimates put the number at about a dozen.

Nearly 900 of the 33,000 total U.S. wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan have lost at least one limb, according to the Pentagon. Partly because of manpower shortages and partly to retain veterans with combat experience and other expertise, the military has cleared the way in recent years for amputees and other injured service members to remain on active duty.

Unit commanders decide after consulting military doctors what type of duties to assign amputees, either in the U.S., on an overseas base or in a war zone, said Lt. Col. George Wright, an Army spokesman.

Jones said he had to pass medical tests and prove in training that he could walk effectively, get in and out of a Humvee and perform other physical tasks. Once, while in a simulator that mimics a Humvee rolling over, his prosthesis popped off, he said. He reattached it and continued the drill.

Jones didn't get his first prosthesis until November. By the end of December, he had learned how to snowboard again, a sport he had enjoyed for years. He plans to compete in freestyle snowboarding in the 2010 Paralympics in Vancouver, Canada.

"I can do stuff on a snowboard I don't think any other amputee can do," he said. He would compete to win, which would create "good publicity for the Marine Corps," he said.

"He's amazing -- he can do anything," said Cpl. Paul Savage, who works with Jones here at the headquarters for the 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, which is based in Twentynine Palms. "There are no limitations with this guy."

Jones looks like a lot of other Marine enlisted men on the base -- young, fit, suntanned and energetic. Except for a limp, he blends in easily. He is engaging and forthright. He discusses his injuries coolly, without a trace of self-consciousness.

"I roll with the punches," he said. "I'll always have some pain and discomfort, and I've accepted that."

Jones said he was determined to prove that he could perform in a war zone despite his injuries, which included wounds to his right leg and partial hearing loss in one ear. He was wounded 23 months after enlisting.

"Nobody wants me to be a liability -- and I don't want to be a liability," he said.

Staff Sgt. Michael Ortiz, who also works with Jones, said he neither demands nor receives special treatment.

"Not with this guy," Ortiz said. "He doesn't want to be treated any different than any other Marine. Everybody respects him for wanting to come back after all he gave."

Because of the hardships of ground combat in Afghanistan, including hauling heavy gear, Jones changed his military specialty from infantry assault man to intelligence analyst. He works at a computer, assembling and analyzing intelligence reports.

He lives on this fortified base, assuming the same risks of mortar or rocket attacks as other Marines.

Jones' combat experience offers a valuable addition to the intelligence shop, Leonard said. "He brings the grunt's perspective that we don't have."

Jones deployed with several prosthetic legs, including a computerized one, along with five mechanical knee replacements.

He has to set aside time every day to care for his prostheses and other special equipment.

Because of dust and grime in the Afghan desert, he cleans his artificial limbs daily. He hand-washes the special liner that covers his left thigh and applies an ointment to keep the skin supple on his amputated limb.

So far, Jones has not traveled "outside the wire" -- beyond the fortified base -- on roads where insurgents plant the same type of roadside bombs that cost him his leg in Iraq. Largely because of a significant increase in roadside bombs, the number of coalition fatalities in Afghanistan has surpassed those in Iraq in recent months.

Even so, Jones said, he would gladly assume the risk.

"If I were to get the opportunity to leave the wire, I would be throwing gear on in a second, happily," he said. "I miss being outside and operating. . . . Believe me, the first opportunity, I'll be there."

August 5, 2008

Engineers increase battalion’s abilities

HIT, Iraq — Combat engineers have assisted 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 5, with bringing things down to the ground or raising things up from ground level.


8/5/2008 By Cpl Erik Villagran, Regimental Combat Team 5

Marines with 1st Platoon, Alpha Company, 3rd Combat Engineers Bn., have helped 3 Bn., 4th Marines, with force protection, demilitarization of combat outposts and weapons-cache excavations.

“We’ve done a lot of force protection for Coalition forces, Iraqi Security Forces and local nationals,” said 1st Lt. Josiah P. Brand, 24, combat engineer officer from Fallbrook, Calif. “We’ve also done demilitarization for Coalition forces and we’ve done some cache clearing along the Euphrates River.”

The engineers reinforced entry control points in 3 Bn. 4th Marines’ area of operations by putting up barriers, building bunkers and fortifying guard posts. They have moved more than 1,000 concrete barriers while on this deployment, Brand said.

On top of force-protection missions, the engineers spent their time conducting cache sweeps.

“We’ve found everything from 120 mm rockets to 14.5 mm anti-aircraft rounds, and everything in between,” said Sgt. Bryan S. Mohundro, 23, a squad leader from Columbia, Tenn. “When you find a good weapons cache, it’s exciting.”

The missions the Marines have been conducting have helped keep the morale in the unit up because they can see the results of their hard work.

“It’s been good to do tangible things, like placing and removing concrete barriers and finding improvised explosive device materials,” Brand said. “It’s good to know we’re doing all this work that contributes toward the progress in the al-Anbar province.”

The engineer platoon was the first platoon from the recently activated 3rd CEB to deploy. Although many of the platoon’s Marines are on their first deployment, they’ve played a vital role in conducting combat operations in the large area of operations.

“I have to hand it to the young guys,” Mohundro said. “Some of the younger guys have stepped up into leadership positions. This combat deployment has been successful because of the young guys.”

Brand has been pleased with how his Marines have performed throughout the combat tour.

“The deployment has gone very well,” Brand said. “We’ve accomplished a lot. We’ve helped the battalion transition into overwatch and provide the ISF the necessary platform for success when we leave.”

For Injured Corpsman 'Doc,' A Dose Of Naval Honor

TAMPA - Almost half of Ivonne Thompson's three-year marriage has been spent at hospitals helping care for her husband, who was seriously wounded in Iraq last year.


The Tampa Tribune
Published: August 5, 2008

Their son's entire life of 10 months has been spent in the company of doctors, nurses and staff at the James A. Haley Veterans' Hospital. She and her son, A.J., are living in housing on the hospital grounds while hospital corpsman Anthony Thompson slowly recovers from a grave head wound that would have left him dead in any previous war.

"I do it out of love for my husband," she said. "I want A.J. and Anthony to know each other."

On Monday, Anthony Thompson, known as "Doc," received a promotion to petty officer second class while surrounded by members of other services, Navy officers and family. During much of the ceremony, A.J. sat in his lap.

It is unusual for the Navy to grant a promotion when a sailor is wounded and cannot take the advancement examination, Navy Capt. Oakley Watkins III said.

In reviewing Thompson's service record, however, the corpsman with two tours in Iraq earned the promotion on his merits, Watkins said.

He told Ivonne Thompson to remember the event so she could tell her husband about it.

"I believe you will have the opportunity to do that," Watkins said.

For most of the promotion ceremony, Ivonne Thompson clutched a tissue, gently rubbed her husband's neck and steadied A.J. in his lap.

She went through a lot of tissues.

"It was very emotional. It's hard to see him in uniform. It's the first time I've seen him in cammies since his deployment," she said later.

They were married three years ago, just before her husband's first deployment to Iraq. It was during his second tour, while attached to a Marine battalion near Fallujah, that a suicide bomber detonated an explosive under an overpass where Thompson and Marines were standing on April 20, 2007.

The blast injured Thompson and seven Marines.

Ivonne Thompson has been at her husband's side since he was flown to Landstuhl, Germany, and then to Bethesda, Md. She was 20 weeks pregnant at the time.

"The amount of support from the military has been unbelievable," she said.

The presence of his wife and A.J. has helped Anthony Thompson make progress in his months at the veterans hospital, said Steve Scott, one of his doctors.

At first he was not responsive, Scott said. Now he responds to three-word sentences.

He also responds when A.J. is in the room, Scott said.

The explosion left Anthony Thompson with a head injury, a less severe injury to his spine and other wounds.

"He would not be alive in previous wars," Scott said.

The family probably has at least another six months to spend at the Tampa hospital.

"We're not sure how far he's going to go. It's unknown if he will make a full recovery," Scott said.

The veterans hospital, which specializes in spinal cord injuries, has about 25 patients with serious injuries such as Thompson's, said hospital spokeswoman Carolyn Clark.

Some stay at the hospital for more than a year, depending on the severity of their wounds, she said.

Sailor's promotion is small step in a long road

TAMPA — Ivonne Thompson leaned over an ironing board Sunday night and unfurled her husband's fatigues, ready to press them neatly for his promotion ceremony the next day.


By Thomas Kaplan, Times Staff Writer
In print: Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Then she began to cry.

The last time Mrs. Thompson saw her husband in uniform was when he went off to Iraq on Jan. 29, 2007. Navy hospital Corpsman 2nd class Anthony "Doc" Thompson came back three months later with head injuries so severe his doctors said he would have died in any previous war.

But the 26-year-old sailor survived, and has spent the past 13 months recuperating here at the James A. Haley Veterans' Hospital. On Monday, at a ceremony tinged with sadness over the fact he won't remember it, he was promoted a rank to the grade of petty officer second class.

Standing next to her husband and their 10-month-old son, Anthony Jr., Mrs. Thompson was crying again. "It's emotional," she said. "I'm just so proud."

Thompson, a Humble, Texas, native on his second combat tour, was stationed with seven Marines on a highway overpass-turned-observation post outside Fallujah last year when a suicide bomber detonated a truck filled with 3,000 pounds of explosives underneath their feet.

The bridge collapsed. Thompson was pinned under the rubble. With traumatic brain injuries, he came to Tampa last summer completely unresponsive.

But Thompson's doctors say he's getting better. He's attentive. He can wink. He interacts with his son. He's beginning to respond to brief sentences.

Little things, maybe, but they mean the world to his wife. "Every day he does something that he didn't do the day before, that's another push in the right direction," she said.

There is still a long road ahead. Thompson will remain here in Tampa for at least another six months, said his physician, Steven G. Scott.

"A year ago, he was completely different than today," Scott said. "What he'll be a year from now will be very different, too. … How far he'll go, I'm not really sure."

But Monday, at least, was a celebration of how far he already has come. His superiors praised him as a true American hero. They told his family to take lots of pictures so one day, Thompson could remember how he was treated as one.

Mrs. Thompson was not the only person for whom the ceremony was emotional. Also on hand was hospital Corpsman 2nd class Andrew Dye, who tended to Thompson when he was pulled from the rubble and is credited for saving his life.

It wasn't the first time Dye had met Thompson. They went through training together, and Dye said Thompson looked out for him and all the other younger sailors. "Before his happiness, everyone else's happiness came first," he said.

That's why Dye said he was happy to see Thompson honored in front of a crowd of military dignitaries. The man who looked out for everyone else was now getting looked after himself.

"It's good to finally see him get the recognition he deserves," Dye said. "I've known all along that he should, but I'm glad that everyone else thinks that too."

After Thompson's promotion, Dye patted him on the shoulder and whispered into his ear. Other soldiers formed a receiving line of sorts to congratulate him. Thompson blinked with recognition, but couldn't do much more than that.

No matter. Mrs. Thompson said she has always been proud that her husband decided to serve his country. But never had she been this proud.

Tears in her eyes, she looked over at her husband, reclining on his wheelchair, his fatigues still crisp. "It gives hope," she said, "that this isn't all that there is for him."

Marines ordered to stay longer in Afghanistan

WASHINGTON - The Pentagon has ordered roughly 1,250 Marines serving as trainers for the Afghan security forces to stay on the warfront almost a month longer to continue a mission that military leaders say is a top priority, according to a senior military official.


By LOLITA C. BALDOR, Associated Press Writer
Tue Aug 5, 6:24 AM ET

In addition, Defense Secretary Robert Gates has authorized the deployment of up to 200 other troops to Afghanistan to support the Marines. That includes eight helicopter crews that could be shifted from Iraq if commanders decide.

The senior military official spoke to The Associated Press on Monday on condition of anonymity because the formal announcement has not yet been made.

The decision to extend the tour of the 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment in Afghanistan comes just a month after defense officials told the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit that it would stay an extra month in Afghanistan.

According to the official, the decision to hold the battalion there longer is part of an effort to capitalize on the gains the Marines have made in the training mission. The extension means that the battalion would return home in late November.

Asked about Gates' decision, Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said the secretary was responding to a request from the commanders.

Gates "is always pained to have to extend tours. He understands the effect that has on the families of our forces, but he also appreciates our commanders' need to make additional progress while the weather is still good in Afghanistan," Morrell said.

Gates' decision to send the other support forces comes after weeks of discussions by top military leaders who scrambled to find needed troops. He authorized Army Lt. Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, who is temporarily in charge of U.S. Central Command, to shift up to eight helicopters and their crews from Iraq to Afghanistan — four Cobra attack aircraft and four MH-53 heavy lift helicopters.

The remainder of the support forces being deployed are smaller units, including engineers, route clearance troops and explosive ordnance disposal teams. It was not clear Monday whether those support forces also would return home in late November, or if they would stay longer in Afghanistan.

The Pentagon announced in January that the Marine Expeditionary Unit, which is based at Camp Lejeune, N.C., was being ordered to Afghanistan, largely because efforts to press other NATO nations to increase their troop levels at the time had failed. The MEU has been fighting Taliban militants in the volatile south.

At the same time, the 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, which is based at Twentynine Palms, Calif., was ordered to deploy also.

Gates has said he would not replace the Marines with other U.S. troops when they left later this year. But commanders have said they need three more combat brigades — or as many as 10,000 troops — to bolster the fight in Afghanistan. And U.S. officials have indicated they would like to send extra brigades there next year.

Military leaders, however, have made it clear they need to free units from Iraq deployments in order to send more troops to Afghanistan. As security in Iraq continues to improve, officials have suggested that units initially headed for Iraq late this year or early next year could be sent to Afghanistan instead.

Pentagon orders about 1,250 Marine trainers to stay in Afghanistan for an extra 30 days

The Pentagon has ordered roughly 1,250 Marines serving as trainers for the Afghan security forces to stay on the warfront almost a month longer to continue a mission that military leaders say is a top priority, according to a senior military official.


8/05/08 10:24AM GMT
By LOLITA C. BALDOR , Associated Press Writer

In addition, Defense Secretary Robert Gates has authorized the deployment of up to 200 other troops to Afghanistan to support the Marines. That includes eight helicopter crews that could be shifted from Iraq if commanders decide.

The senior military official spoke to The Associated Press on Monday on condition of anonymity because the formal announcement has not yet been made.

The decision to extend the tour of the 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment in Afghanistan comes just a month after defense officials told the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit that it would stay an extra month in Afghanistan.

According to the official, the decision to hold the battalion there longer is part of an effort to capitalize on the gains the Marines have made in the training mission. The extension means that the battalion would return home in late November.

Asked about Gates' decision, Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said the secretary was responding to a request from the commanders.

Gates "is always pained to have to extend tours. He understands the effect that has on the families of our forces, but he also appreciates our commanders' need to make additional progress while the weather is still good in Afghanistan," Morrell said.

Gates' decision to send the other support forces comes after weeks of discussions by top military leaders who scrambled to find needed troops. He authorized Army Lt. Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, who is temporarily in charge of U.S. Central Command, to shift up to eight helicopters and their crews from Iraq to Afghanistan - four Cobra attack aircraft and four MH-53 heavy lift helicopters.

The remainder of the support forces being deployed are smaller units, including engineers, route clearance troops and explosive ordnance disposal teams. It was not clear Monday whether those support forces also would return home in late November, or if they would stay longer in Afghanistan.

The Pentagon announced in January that the Marine Expeditionary Unit, which is based at Camp Lejeune, N.C., was being ordered to Afghanistan, largely because efforts to press other NATO nations to increase their troop levels at the time had failed. The MEU has been fighting Taliban militants in the volatile south.

At the same time, the 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, which is based at Twentynine Palms, Calif., was ordered to deploy also.

Gates has said he would not replace the Marines with other U.S. troops when they left later this year. But commanders have said they need three more combat brigades - or as many as 10,000 troops - to bolster the fight in Afghanistan. And U.S. officials have indicated they would like to send extra brigades there next year.

Military leaders, however, have made it clear they need to free units from Iraq deployments in order to send more troops to Afghanistan. As security in Iraq continues to improve, officials have suggested that units initially headed for Iraq late this year or early next year could be sent to Afghanistan instead.

Keeping a Memory Alive

Find out about an event honoring fallen Marine Ryan Jerabek.


Created: Tuesday, 05 Aug 2008, 7:48 AM CDT

An annual event to honor a local fallen Marine keeps growing. Ryan Jerabek died in a firefight in Iraq in April 2004. This weekend, hundreds of people are expected to take part in the Ryan Jerabek Memorial Challenge, which is a run-walk event on the trail Jerabek used to train on. Ryan's parents, Ken and Rita Jerabek, joined Good Day Wisconsin Tuesday with more on the event.

Marines target oil smuggling, protect citizens

UM AL WAZZ, Iraq – Western al-Anbar province was one of the most dangerous areas in Iraq in recent years, and Marine units operating there have encountered threats ranging from improvised explosive devices to small-arms firefights.


8/5/2008 By Cpl. Ryan Tomlinson, Regimental Combat Team 5

Delta Company, 4th Light Armored Reconnaissance, 2nd LAR Bn., Regimental Combat Team 5 has come across a different threat, however: oil smuggling.

“It’s been passed down from the regiment that there is a threat of insurgents utilizing oil smuggling to transport and fund their operations,” said Capt. Joseph C. Maher, 28, company commander of Delta Co. and an Omaha, Neb., native. “These towns are like home ground for smuggling, and we’re here to ensure it stops.”

The company visited the towns of Um Al Wazz and Midham to search the area and question the citizens for any suspicious activity or knowledge of smuggling. The Marines cordoned off the whole area, ensuring a thorough search.

“Most people in Iraq want to live their lives in a safe and secure environment, and if the enemy elements are invading the town, the (residents) are in danger,” said Staff Sgt. Justin M. Cuomo, a scout squad leader with Delta Co. “Stopping them prevents them from harming an isolated village.”

During the operation, the Marines detained one suspected smuggler and more than four trucks, putting a damper on their operations and profits. The mission lasted approximately two days and consisted of clearing two towns and gathering knowledge.

“When we put a dent in the oil smuggling and insurgency operations, we thereby lay a dent in al-Qaeda of Iraq,” said Lance Cpl. Scott J. A. Baish, 23, a scout from Hagerstown, Md., with Delta Co. “Denying al-Qaeda access to the town will take away the opposition of the city’s government and make it more effective.”

The Marines will continue these operations with visits to other towns around the area of western al-Anbar province. Delta Co. is determined to find all threats, and say they won’t rest until they are neutralized.

“It’s a great thing to be on the ground actively pursuing criminals, taking away the safe havens from these people,” said Cuomo, 33, from Woodbridge, Va. “We’re here to intimidate those who intimidate others and help innocent people live their lives safely.”

Reserve Marines deal with the HEAT

Twentynine Palms, Calif. — Marines and Sailors from Headquarters and Service Company, 2nd Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment, had the opportunity to go through the Humvee Egress Assistance Trainer (HEAT) at Camp Wilson here on Aug. 4.


8/5/2008 By Capt Paul L. Greenberg,

For the past several years, the Corps has used this virtual training system to teach Marines how to react in case their Humvee rolls over in a combat environment.

In teams of four, the Marines went through the rollercoaster-like simulator multiple times.

The class provided a controlled environment that approximates the sense of disorientation and need for immediate action Marines would experience when flipping over their vehicle in combat.

Chief Warrant Officer 3 Bill Allen, the battalion’s chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear officer, explained that the trainer felt like being inside a clothes dryer, with lint and spare change bouncing around.

“I thought it was awesome,” said Allen. “If you actually do get in a roll-over situation, this training is going to keep you from panicking. It’ll build that muscle memory so you can utilize teamwork to get out of the vehicle in a safe manner. The training also teaches you how to set up security to protect and assist wounded Marines until you can get them out of the vehicle and the [quick reaction force] arrives.”

“Spinning around, trying to figure out how to get out, this is good training,” said Seaman Kendrick Minion, an H&S; Company hospital corpsman. “The seat belts actually do their job.”

During his fourth run through the trainer, Minion, a former high school football quarterback, was designated as a simulated casualty. The rest of the crew struggled to pull his hulking, 255 lb. frame out of the vehicle. The task was even more difficult with the 60 lbs. of personal protective gear all of the Marines were wearing.

The Marine Corps fields HEAT trainers at various other bases throughout the world, including Camp Lejeune, N.C; Camp Pendleton, Calif.; Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii; and Okinawa, Japan.

Capt. Ryan O’Connor, the battalion’s assistant logistics officer, explained that the best thing about the trainer was that it gave him a reality check.

“Going into it, I thought it was no big deal, just a check in the box. You climb out of stuff all the time. But being turned around and disoriented like that, it really put the situation into perspective. The training definitely had great value.”

August 3, 2008

Family's heart broken 2nd time

Nearly 12 years ago, the Buila family of Modesto buried 11-year-old son Andrew. He was a happy boy who played baseball, did well at Ustach Middle School and whose favorite color was green.


last updated: August 03, 2008 03:18:07 AM

He died in an accidental shooting while at a friend's home.

Later this week in Hughson, the Builas will bury their eldest, Lance Cpl. Michael Buila, a 31-year-old Marine who died from an apparent heart attack Wednesday afternoon while at Camp Pendleton near San Diego.

An 11-year-old boy dies from a gunshot wound at a friend's home in Modesto, and a seasoned Marine gunner who did two tours of duty in Iraq, known for its roadside bombs and gunfire in the streets, dies from heart failure in his barracks back home.

Sometimes, mom Nancy Buila said, things just don't make sense. There's nothing she can do but shed her tears for Michael and know in her heart that he and Andrew are together again.

"You have to keep going," she said. "You take it and you go. That's all. We're a really tough family."

Still, it hurts deeply, even as Michael's Marine friends and officers told stories about him during a special service Friday morning at the base.

"I'm not going to tell you I didn't pull up on that base and fall apart, seeing all of those Marines and knowing my son was one of them," she said.

Her strength, bolstered by her spirituality and hardened by life's experiences, is being tested once again.

On Nov. 29, 1996, Andrew Buila, the youngest of Nancy and Mick Buila's four sons, was visiting a friend. The boys somehow got into a locked bedroom, where they found a gun. It discharged, killing Andrew.

I wrote about the accident, and I remember to this day how Nancy and Mick welcomed me into their home at such a devastating time.

Fast forward to two weeks ago, when Nancy sent me an e-mail and we later talked by phone. It was the first time we'd been in contact since December 1996, when Andrew's story appeared.

She told me she and her husband had since divorced. She plans to remarry in October. Andrew's brothers, she said, grew into strong, determined men. Michael became a career Marine who served in Iraq.

Matthew, 28, spent four years in the Marines before suffering a back injury while in Iraq, where he once had a chance meeting with Michael. And Andy was with Matthew always, if only in his heart.

"Matthew carried (Andrew's) picture constantly," Nancy said. "In Iraq, the picture finally wore to nothing. He would take it out and look at it all the time."

Joseph, now 25, became an electrician and lives in Modesto.

Nancy e-mailed me because Matthew is battling leukemia and a kidney ailment. He awoke in pain one morning in May. He went to the veterans hospital in Loma Linda, in Southern California. They found he had an enlarged spleen and diagnosed his ailments.

He and his wife, Jissica, are awaiting the September birth of their first child, Hailee Marie, who will bring them more than simply the joys of parenthood. Her umbilical cord contains stem cells that could prolong Matthew's life. They plan on freezing it for use in his treatments.

Nancy has started a fund in his name at Washington Mutual (any branch) to help offset medical costs not covered by their insurance and wanted people to know they could contribute if they are moved to do so. Her voice exuded hope as she talked about her unborn granddaughter and the role the child could play in Matthew's life.

"You see, this isn't a bad story," said Nancy, who now lives in Pollock Pines. "Things happen for a reason. We just have bumps in the road, as my dad would say. We just have to get over this one."

Remember, this conversation took place before Wednesday, the day she got the kind of call every parent dreads -- again. It was more than a bump. Michael, she was told, had collapsed just minutes after meeting and joking with other Marines.

A Marines public affairs officer said only that Michael died en route to a medical facility and that his death is under investigation. But, Nancy said, it was heart failure, a weakness possibly exploited by a kidney stone attack he'd suffered a day or so earlier.

"They're just stunned," said Nancy, who traveled immediately to San Diego upon hearing the news. "Mike was 6-foot-3 and 225 pounds of solid muscle. He was in tremendous shape."

The family plans to hold a funeral service at Lakewood Memorial Park, possibly Friday.

The Builas, who buried one son a dozen years ago, must now bury another.

"God gave me a strength I didn't know was humanly possible," Nancy Buila said. "I am sick with grief, yet remember there is always a tomorrow. Andy missed his big brother. Now, he smiles."

August 2, 2008

Ramadi citizens gather for soccer field reopening

RAMADI, Iraq — RAMADI, Iraq (August 2, 2008) – Mustafa, a 14-year-old Iraqi boy, couldn’t stand still during a recent soccer tournament at the grand reopening of the 17th Street Soccer field July 24.


8/2/2008 By Lance Cpl. Casey Jones, Regimental Combat Team 1

Donning a David Beckham t-shirt, he jokingly taunted the opposing team and passionately cheered for his own. Halfway through the game, a Marine, surprised to see a Beckham shirt, walked up to Mustafa and said, “David Beckham—zien (Arabic for good).” Mustafa, without hesitation, replied, “Beckham—koule zien,” or very good, as he jumped out of his seat and raised both arms as his team scored a goal.

Soccer, often considered “the sport that brings the world together,” is a big part of every day life in Ramadi, leading the city’s officials, with the assistance of Civil Affairs Detachment 2, 1st Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 1, to have the field renovated.

The tournament was sponsored by the North District Council of Ramadi, North Precinct Ramadi Police and 1st Battalion, 9th Marines.

Kareem Ali, the Ramadi North District Council chairman, said the entire city was looking forward to the reopening.

“The people are so glad they have this soccer field again,” Ali said through an interpreter. “Before the reopening, it seemed like everywhere I went somebody would always mention it to me and tell me how excited they were (about the reopening). Soccer brings everybody together regardless of their age.”

Chief Warrant Officer 2 Eric Jett, a team leader with Civil Affairs, said the field was repaired in an effort to give the rebuilding neighborhood another sign of hope. The results were better than expected.

“Everyone thought the soccer field would only have a positive impact on the North Precinct of Ramadi, but after it was renovated everyone from the city started coming over here” said Ali. “It was originally built for the north district, but really it’s for everybody. The reopening has been big for the entire city.”

Ali said summer was the right time to reopen the field, giving the city’s youth a better opportunity to stay active and avoid any negative influences.

“We decided to open the soccer field during the summer because we wanted to get more teenagers and young people involved in some sort of extracurricular activity,” Ali said. “We wanted the youth to have some type of positive activity to help prevent any insurgents from trying to get into their heads and reversing our recent gains.”

The soccer field was closed during the height of insurgent activity because of violence that devastated the city.

The recent developments and peace Ramadi and its citizens are experiencing today would not be possible if they hadn’t taken a stand against al Qaeda, Ali said. The reopening of the field is a testament to the efforts and successes of the general public in coordination with Iraqi Police and Coalition forces.

“Today’s reopening of the soccer field would’ve been impossible two years ago,” Ali said. “We were too scared to go anywhere. We didn’t know what security was because there wasn’t any. The security situation in Ramadi is the only reason why we’re able to be here today.”

Ramadi’s leaders are making the most out of the region’s passion for the sport in the upcoming months, Jett said. City officials are planning a city-wide tournament, renovations to the area’s celebrated Mulaab Soccer Stadium, and they recently hosted a three-day youth conference with a soccer match highlighting the event.

Suspects in bombing that killed 2/3 CO nabbed

By Sameer M. Yacoub - The Associated Press
Posted : Saturday Aug 2, 2008 7:18:18 EDT

BAGHDAD — Iraqi troops have captured two suspected insurgents linked to a suicide bombing that killed at least 20 Iraqis and three U.S. Marines, including the battalion commander of 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marines.

To continue reading:


August 1, 2008

BLT 3/1 patrols on Hansen, works on skill sustainment

CAMP HANSEN, OKINAWA, Japan — The BLT, currently the ground combat element for the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, focused the training on mastering basic tactics and skills of an infantry unit to better prepare them to handle combat and humanitarian operations.


8/1/2008 By Lance Cpl. Joseph A. Cabrera, III Marine Expeditionary Force

The Marines patrolled the base in fire team formations while practicing combat maneuvers and knocking on doors to gather information about base operations.

“The training covers the basics as far as being able to go in and introduce ourselves, let people know we’re here for them and gather whatever information we can,” said Staff Sgt. Richard Estudillo, a platoon sergeant with the battalion’s I Company.

Estudillo stressed the importance of winning the hearts and minds of the local people.

According to Estudillo, the local populace can provide a unit with valuable intelligence crucial to the success and safety of Marines in the area. The types of information gathered may include geographic data and information about hostile or non-hostile activities in the area.

During operations, the BLT Marines may encounter situations that require sharp thinking and immediate action, Estudillo said. He went on to say, the training here better prepares the team for those dangerous situations.

The BLT also practiced immediate actions drills that exercised the unit’s ability to respond to a threat.

Marines need to know how to assess and eliminate enemy threats in a timely and efficient manner, Estudillo said.

The training is important for the success of future missions, he added.

The training also provides junior Marines the opportunity to sharpen skills, said Lance Cpl. John Cardenas, a rifleman with I Co.

The principle aspect of the training is for the teams to gain knowledge and build confidence in their capabilities, he said.

“If something does happen, they automatically know what to do. They’re not going to have to think about it, hey are just going to do it,” Cardenas said.

Although the Marines have received this type of training in the past, this exercise was meant to sharpen their

current skills to handle immediate action drills, patrols and gathering intelligence, Estudillo said.

“There is a saying that goes around — high speed, low drag,” Estudillo said. “High speed is nothing more than being brilliant at the basics, and if we can’t be brilliant at the basics, then we will never be able to make mission.”

K3 Oil Refinery opens

HADITHA, Iraq -- The K3 Oil Refinery opened July 18 and is ready to pump life into the city of Haditha and Anbar province, Iraq.


By Cpl. Erik Villagran
August 1, 2008

“The refinery is going to help the western region (of Iraq),” said Col. Mohammad Hussein Al Shofer, Iraqi Provisional Security Forces. “Marines have really been supportive in the project.”

Some of the support the Iraqi people received was courtesy of Marines with Company K, 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 5. The company has provided security for the project during the last three months.

”The opening of the K3 Oil Refinery is one of many tangible achievements that local leaders can point to while reaching toward the ultimate goal of stability,” said 1st Lt. Christopher Doty, 24, platoon commander, Mobile Assault Platoon, 3rd Bn., 4th Marines, who is from Longwood, Fla. “This wouldn't have been possible without the hard work of Coalition forces and local (Iraqi Security Forces) to provide the ground work of security that will allow this refinery to reach its full potential.”

The combined effort of Marines and the Iraqi government has yielded great results. The refinery has the capacity to process 16,000 barrels of oil per day and will provide many jobs for local Iraqis.

“Honestly, if it wasn’t for the Marines we wouldn’t have a drop of oil in the area,” said Sheik Said Flaieh Ujman Ali, a sheik in Haditha. “It’s because of them that we are here today. Everybody in the whole district is very happy.”

Although, the local populace in the area will benefit the most from the refinery, Ma’moun Sami Rashid, the governor of the Al Anbar Province, stated that the refinery will help all of Iraq.

“Whatever production we make in this area will be for Iraq, the citizens in Iraq and this district,” Ma’moon said.

To see the refinery operational was a highlight for 3rd Bn., 4th Marines as they continue their deployment in Anbar province.

“The refinery has been a focal point for our company throughout the deployment,” said Cpl. Ian Anderson, 27, a team leader with Company K, who is from Gig Harbor, Wash. “With so many high-level Iraqis attending, it was exciting to participate in its opening.”

Marine’s Arabic skills benefit operation

A Marine started several years ago to learn Arabic, a language spoken throughout the Middle East. Recognizing the value of the talent, he decided to put it to use helping his country.


8/1/2008 By Cpl. Ryan Tomlinson, Regimental Combat Team 5

Lance Cpl. Matthew P. Ross, a scout team leader with Delta Company, 4th Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, Regimental Combat Team 5, has studied and practiced speaking, writing and reading the Arabic language for more than eight years.

Delta Co. is a reserve light-armored infantry element based out of Quantico, Va. Currently, the unit is mobilized for deployment to Iraq and attached to 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, RCT-5.

“A language could tell you so much about the country, its culture and the people in it,” said Ross, 21. “Making that connection with the language provides my unit with a large advantage in the operation.”

Born and raised in Fairfax, Va., a suburb outside of Washington, D.C, Ross spent most of his days either spending time with friends or working at a Arabic kabob restaurant to make some money while attending high school. It was there that he was inspired to learn the language and became familiar with it.

“I worked in that restaurant for four years and I worked with all Arabic people and mainly Arabic customers,” said Ross. “Because of all of the opportunities, I had a lot of practice with the language.”

After graduating high school, Ross attended James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va., to study the language more. While attending college he sought out the military as an option to contribute his skills.

“I wanted to do something different other than graduating high school and going to college,” he said. “I wanted to use my ability by experiencing the military myself, so I joined the Marine Corps.”

Now deployed with Delta Co., Ross’s skills are being used on a daily basis in activities ranging from conversing with the locals to coordinating with the city council of Akashat, Iraq. He is a key member in the unit’s Company Level Intelligence Cell and is the unit’s Iraqi infrastructure building liaison. According to other service members and his leaders in the company, he is a vital entity of the mission.

“Ross is an extremely intelligent and people-savvy Marine, [and] people key off his attitude toward everything. His spirit is always the same no matter how bad the situation gets,” said Capt. Joseph C. Maher, 28, company commander of Delta Co. and a Omaha, Neb., native. “Our company wouldn’t be half as successful as we have been if he wasn’t here.”

“He works very hard everyday to ensure the company completes its mission,” said Cpl. Mike T. O’Herron, 26, a light-armored vehicle operator from Marshall, Va., with Delta Co. “The Iraqis have to remain extra careful on how they act and what they say when he is around because of his ability to read them.”

Ross can now be found studying Arabic to further master the language. He plans to study the Farsi language, the language if Iran, and physically condition himself with exercise to achieve his overall goal of becoming a government agent.

“I wanted to be here and establish myself fully with the locals and collect human intelligence for the company,” Ross said. “It’s been a great experience being able to use my skills to benefit this company.”