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August 31, 2004

From Iraq to NYC

A very dedicated group of athletes is training for the New York City Marathon on November 7, 2004 - and they face conditions that go beyond arduous. My son is one of them.

Lance Corporal Bill Riecke, is a US Marine serving in Iraq as part of a Combined Anti-Armor Team (CAAT). He and seven fellow Marines have formed a team and are training for the New York Marathon. They are: 1st. Lt. Isaac Moore, Wasilla, Alaska, the platoon commander for CAAT Blue; Sgt. Ryan Harnett, New York, a section leader for CAAT Blue; Cpl. Kris Benson, Columbus, Ohio, CAAT Blue section leader; Cpl. Bill Riecke II, Salem, Oregon, vehicle commander for CAAT Blue; 1st. Lt. Dave Flemming, Lansdown, Pennsylvania, platoon commander for first platoon of Kilo Company; Cpl. Austin Clancy, Salem, Oregon, squad leader for Kilo 1; 1st. Lt. Chris McManus, Manhasset, New York, platoon commander for CAAT White; and SSGT. Alex Carlson, Chicago, Illinois, platoon sergeant, India Co.

As with their daily operations, this group of Marines came together to focus their energy and abilities in order to achieve their goal to run the New York City Marathon after returning from their mission in Iraq. They are diligent in pursuing their goal despite the high temperature, a mere 130 degrees on most days, unending sand storms, and poor training facilities, along with daily combat operations. Their marathon training ground is a .44 mile route within the perimeter of their firm base, a track they built themselves. The team members train by running in circles for a very long time and usually in the wee hours of the night to avoid the high temperatures.

Operation Iraqi Freedom is their mission and is always their first priority so they train whenever they can. As a CAAT unit, they are always on standby, just like the fire department. They train between missions and the heat and get called to go out at any time.

A few days ago they had been running for about forty minutes and had to go to the assistance of other Marines that had been hit by a roadside bomb. There were casualties which meant securing the helicopter landing zone then transporting the injured Marines to the helicopter. Since they were running when this happened and were dressed in shorts and T-shirts when the call came in, there was only time to put on flak jackets and helmets and grab their weapons before racing out to the vehicles to help their buddies. While definitely out of uniform, they still performed their mission with the dedication and professionalism expected of all members of the U.S. Marine Corps.

Their athletic aspirations provide them with a focus to briefly take their mind off the war and to make a connection to the life they left behind. Sometime in September or October they will return home and training for the marathon will continue. They have been accepted by the marathon as the USMC Team.

We would like to find sponsorship of these very courageous Marines. Airfare and hotel expenses while in New York, as well as running apparel and shoes would be highly appreciated, although I'm sure they would be grateful for any sponsorship. These Marines have spent the past seven months bravely fighting for the liberty for the people of Iraq and the security of all Americans. For most of them this is their second trip to the sand box. If anyone reading this post has suggestions on how to gain sponsorship for the USMC team, please contact Connie Riecke at riecke@marinecorpsmoms.com.

Posted by at 07:31 AM | Comments (3)

August 30, 2004

3/24 reports from Najaf

Matt at Blackfive received a second e-mail from a Marine scout sniper in Najaf - it's an excellent summary of what our Marines have been dealing with. It confirms other reports that the some - not all, but more than previously noted - insurgents currently engaged in hostile conflict are well trained and are sighting in and aiming. It's not just a few local guys with AK-47s.

If you'd like to read his first e-mail, visit the Blackfive site and view it here. I tried to excerpt this second e-mail but I had a hard time deciding what to cut. So, here it is in total.

Family and Friends, First, I want to say that My Marines and I are safe! The power of prayer is amazing!

Several days worth of fighting, negotiating, planning, and peace talks came down to three days of intense fighting around the Mosque. Several days prior to the 25th we were ready to go......on standby........tonight's the night........stand down. (you get my point!).

The early morning of the 25th my platoon was attached to Alpha Compnay, ¼ to support the fight in Najaf. 1/4 sniper platoon was supporting Charlie Company with Special Forces. Charlie Company was to advance first and establish a foothold east of the Mosque. Once they had done this, Alpha Company was to advance and establish a foothold northwest of the mosque. With 1/5 and 2/7 surrounding the mosque from the south and north.

At 2300 Charlie company begins their movement with Tracks! At this point we are getting ready at FOB Baker with A Co. by the time we get settled in (we are O/O for movement) we get the call......get your s@#$... the tracks are on their way to pick us up. Charlie Company had little resistance, but Tanks are taking heavy fire (enemy is rolling IED's down the street in barrel's at the Tanks). Within 20 minutes the entire company is loaded up in Tracks ready to go! (Did tell ya that Murphy lives on my shoulder? As we were loading the tracks, we were to load in the last tack, Number 8. Number 8 went down right there in front of me! Damn! I have 16 people, and now I have to spread load my Marines. A very uneasy feeling. I keep the majority in one track and I take myself and a team and we get into another track.

At, this point I will not lie. As we moved toward our objective in the back of the tracks, I thought to myself, "This is it". I prayed for the safety of all the Marines, Soldiers, and Sailors and our families and I even prayed for the ENEMY, for what was coming their way I would not want to be on the receiving end of!

We stopped at our consolidation point and within minutes we took Mortars. They had the placed pegged. While we waited you could hear the fighting going on at the Objective. We got the word, and in we went. Tracks picked up their pace and they menuvered quickly. The entire time I am thinking to myself.....I hope they drop us off at the right spot, but if they don't how can I link up with my teams? Hell, at this point I thought we have a plan go with it and hope for the best. I was the last one on and the first one off.

As the ramp dropped I could hear the weapons being fired all over........I get off and I see that we are on the street (phase line corvette) by the cemetery (the right spot!) We take cover along side the street and you can see the remains of the prep that arty and air had done in the days prior of fighting. It takes several minutes and my platoon is finally together.

The Marines start clearing the bldgs. Once they are done we move in to take up positions. I attached myself and a team with 3rd plt, and 1st team with wpns, 2nd team with 1st plt. All three taking up different bldgs north of the Mosque. As soon as we get into the bldg we start taking fire from the south. Fighting starts at the top of the bldg, we cannot move to the top because it is still not clear. Then we take our first KIA, A marine is shot in the head from a bldg between us and wpns? Finally we get the go ahead and establish two poistions south/north. We literally fight until sunlight. I found a small (what looked like a closet) room for a hide over looking the cemetery. Myself and my spotter were cramped into this spot for two days.

Because once the sun came up.....The enemy snipers had our position dialed on! No kidding, I give these guys respect (and you do when they start shooting through walls at Marines) It is a MOUNT Environment and you try and record the shot, but with the adjacent bldgs the sound gets thrown around and it is hard to tell where he is shooting from (this is good if you are the shooter!) They were not using the tops of the roofs (totally different from Fallujah) they were set up just like us! Inside the bldg shooting through loopholes. However, we had three snipers shooting at us all day and it took several hours to find and record their position. Once we did, we called AIR strikes and leveled the bldg! By the end of the day we did not have sniper fire on our position.

The night came and weapons were being fired all day to the point you tuned it out, unless it was specific to your location. Like an RPG being fired at your location or a mortar round hiting your bldg. The next morning as the sun came up Machgun fire came into our bldg. My little room became my fighting hole and sucking the deck was normal. The entire time I was hoping someone would be stupid and raise there head, it did not happen that day.

Same thing starting off the day two. I get word that one of my teams took heavy fire and they medivaced one of my Marines?? My youngest Marine (19) took a hit in their bldg and knocked him out and broke some ribs. He would be ok but his team leader saved his life by being aware of weapons systems being fired at them. By day three we had one KIA and 14 WIA. We had leveled several bldgs and had the mosque surrounded.

Day three we moved to another bldg and it gave us a better field of view. We could see the outside entrance to the mosque and several people around it. However, they put us in a cease fire??? During this time we saw enemy militia carring mortar tubes and RPG's to a position. We requested to fire, but was told to stand down??? Several minutes later we were all sucking the deck when an RPG (likely the one we saw) and Machine Gun fire ripped through our bldg. Our Machine Gunner was ready and got the guy shooting the RPG.

Night came and silence for the first time. By morning little fire but they called a cease fire and arranged for the militia to move out and turn over the mosque to the people. By noon we were pulled out and south two blocks from the mosque at an intersection watching the people who we had fought for three weeks leave and the Iraqi National Guard rolling in like they did all the work themselves!
I am thankful to be back with my Marines and to have only have minimal casualties for the entire fighting. We will leave the fighting to the Najaf people.

I tried to shed light on the event's that took place but it is hard to do in a short time on a computer. Overall, we did our job well. We surrounded the Mosque, the people got it back and we are now leaving to go back to our base.

Alpha Company Gunny told me, "Your reservist right"? Yeah! "You guys don't act like it. You fought well and you’re better than our sniper platoon!”

The Marines were proud to hear that. He also wanted to put one of my Marines in for an Award. My Doc, took care of the KIA and did a wonderful job (he is a EMT back in Chicago).

The prayers were answered and we are coming home.

To everyone who has responded and give their support......I thank you and the Marines thank you. It's not over yet, so I will leave it at that.

Continue to pray until we hit deck in the states. Then continue for the ones who are still here!!!!


Amazing. These are awesome men.

Posted by Deb at 08:38 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

More good news from Iraq

Arthur Chrenkoff has compiled another outstanding summary of things going right in Iraq.

Posted by Deb at 01:05 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 29, 2004

ATT and me

I really liked my cellular phone service provider (Cellular One) and was a bit miffed when they sold out to ATT last spring. Cell One had great customer service and each time my son came home on leave, the local store would loan him a phone and add him to my account for a few weeks until he left again, so that he wouldn't have to change his plan or pay roaming charges. So, when I dropped into the newly renamed ATT store that first month to pay my cell phone bill and was informed that they didn't accept payments at the store level but I could mail it, pay it online, or call it in, I wasn't very happy. Not unhappy enough to change providers but not happy.

Last week, I dropped my phone into my dog's water dish. It was toast. Since my son was deploying to Iraq within days, I needed a phone immediately. I stopped in to see if I could get a loaner until a replacement phone arrived under the warranty and was told, "Oh, we don't do loaners."

You do not mess with a Marine Mom whose son is deploying within short order. Especially if she is PMSing. 15 minutes later, I walked out with a loaner phone. And one day later, I realized that the reason it was a loaner phone was because it would not hold a charge. Twenty minutes of talk time drains the battery. Last night, I was in Salem when the battery started beeping. My car charger wouldn't work and so I stopped in at yet another ATT store, 15 minutes before closing, and asked if they could charge it for a few minutes. They not only charged it but sent me home with a loaner car charger - this one worked. They didn't take my name or ask for a deposit. They trust me to bring back the charger and I will.

What a difference a store makes. And while I still plan to switch my plan to Sprint - they have the phone I want - I do appreciate the Salem store's helpful clerks. They not only support our troops but troop families too and that means a lot.

Posted by Deb at 09:37 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

A Marine's Marine

Marines and family members came together on April 12 to say goodbye to Gunnery Sgt. Elia P. Fontecchio, 3/7 Marines, Kilo Company. He died in combat in the small town of Husaybah on the Syrian border of Iraq. He left behind a grieving family; his wife Kinney and two year old son, Elia. And he left behind brother Marines who feel the loss keenly even as they keep on with their mission. He would have been home very soon. Instead, he came all the way home - he now stands guard at the gates of Heaven with those who have gone before.

The men he has lived with and fought beside for the last six months could not be here. They have a mission to complete in Iraq. They were represented by Captain Buster O'Brien who served with GSgt Fontecchio last year during OIF1. He spoke for them:

"I'm speaking here today on behalf of Gunny's brothers in 3/7," started O'Brien, fighting back tears. "I can tell you that though there are many of them here today, the vast majority could not be here-for they are paying their respect to their beloved Gunny by going back out on patrol and doing their job the way he taught them to-with courage, competence, discipline and, when necessary, a smile."

O'Brien, like those who spoke before him at Saint Sebastian's by the Sea in Melbourne Beach, shared stories depicting "Gunny"' as an incredible mentor, teacher, father, husband, friend and Marine.

The thing that made O'Brien's speech stand out were the words, penned by Fontecchio himself, weeks before his death and given to his friend and fellow Marine in Iraq, Capt. Jeremy Graczyk.

"I loved every one of you," Fontecchio wrote in a letter to be read in the event of his death. "You will forever be my brothers in arms."

Before he finished, and fighting for composure, O'Brien addressed young Elia, sitting in the pew next to his mother.

"Elia first of all, we'll have time later on to talk about your Daddy, and we will," he said, tears flowing again. "But today please know that your Daddy was truly a courageous warrior. We were overseas in combat, and at least once a day he took out pictures of you and said, 'Come on, you gotta admit it, is he the cutest kid you've ever seen?' He was so proud of you. You were literally the pride of his existence. He will always be with you. And whenever you need anything, just call on one of Gunny's brothers-in-arms."

Posted by Deb at 08:39 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

August 28, 2004

What's it all about, Kerry?

One of my favorite former Marines, Oliver North, has some advice for John Kerry. He starts by pointing out that it's not President Bush's fault and it's not about the medals and not about getting lost (not) in Cambodia. So what's it about? "The issue is what you did to us when you came home, John."

When you got home, you co-founded Vietnam Veterans Against the War and wrote "The New Soldier," which denounced those of us who served -- and were still serving -- on the battlefields of a thankless war. Worst of all, John, you then accused me -- and all of us who served in Vietnam -- of committing terrible crimes and atrocities.

On April 22, 1971, under oath, you told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that you had knowledge that American troops "had personally raped, cut off ears, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned up the power, cut off limbs, blown up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, razed villages in fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan, shot cattle and dogs for fun, poisoned food stocks, and generally ravaged the country side of South Vietnam." And you admitted on television that "yes, yes, I committed the same kind of atrocities as thousands of other soldiers have committed."

And for good measure you stated, "(America is) more guilty than any other body, of violations of (the) Geneva Conventions ... the torture of prisoners, the killing of prisoners."

Your "antiwar" statements and activities were painful for those of us carrying the scars of Vietnam and trying to move on with our lives. And for those who were still there, it was even more hurtful. But those who suffered the most from what you said and did were the hundreds of American prisoners of war being held by Hanoi. Here's what some of them endured because of you, John:

Capt. James Warner had already spent four years in Vietnamese custody when he was handed a copy of your testimony by his captors. Warner says that for his captors, your statements "were proof I deserved to be punished." He wasn't released until March 14, 1973.

Maj. Kenneth Cordier, an Air Force pilot who was in Vietnamese custody for 2,284 days, says his captors "repeated incessantly" your one-liner about being "the last man to die" for a lost cause. Cordier was released March 4, 1973.

Navy Lt. Paul Galanti says your accusations "were as demoralizing as solitary (confinement) ... and a prime reason the war dragged on." He remained in North Vietnamese hands until February 12, 1973.

John, did you think they would forget? When Tim Russert asked about your claim that you and others in Vietnam committed "atrocities," instead of standing by your sworn testimony, you confessed that your words "were a bit over the top." Does that mean you lied under oath? Or does it mean you are a war criminal? You can't have this one both ways, John. Either way, you're not fit to be a prison guard at Abu Ghraib, much less commander in chief.

One last thing, John. In 1988, Jane Fonda said: "I would like to say something ... to men who were in Vietnam, who I hurt, or whose pain I caused to deepen because of things that I said or did. I was trying to help end the killing and the war, but there were times when I was thoughtless and careless about it and I'm ... very sorry that I hurt them. And I want to apologize to them and their families."

Even Jane Fonda apologized. Will you, John?

Good question. Our vets deserve at least an apology. But so far, Kerry hasn't answered the Swift Boat Vet charges . . . he attacked them 30 years ago and he is still doing so. Major Kenneth Cordier, who spent six years in a Vietnamese POW camp where his captors quoted Kerry's words to him, spoke up against Kerry and was instantly slammed by the Kerry campaign. That's their strategy. Attack the messenger instead of addressing the message. Our vets deserve better and so does this country. To use Kerry's own words, "We can do better."

Posted by Deb at 12:09 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

August 27, 2004

Godspeed, 1/7 Marines

When my Marine was two years old, he went with me as I picked up my car from my mechanic. I made sure he was strapped securely into his car seat and started for home. At a stop light, my car died and I could not get it started again. The guy behind me in line asked me what was wrong and my reply was, "I don't know, I just had it fixed." A little voice from the back seat observed, "I think you need to get it fixed a little bit more, Mom."

Warrior in training

This week, the first wave of 1/7 Marines left the 29 Palms Marine Base for a seven-month deployment in Iraq. At some point they may actually leave the United States. The first unplanned delay kept them on ground an extra 36 hours while they "fixed the plane". This morning, my son called from a mid-west airport. The plane needed to be fixed "a little bit more" and when the part arrives (which part? We don't need to know that. what???) they'll take off on the next leg of their trip. In the meantime, the Marines have landed. They slept in the lobby last night and the airline is feeding them, so they're happy. And, being Marines, they're performing recon in the concourses and scouting the gift shops for life rafts in case they end up rowing to Kuwait.

So, they'll land in the sandbox soon and head for Iraq, a country that needs to be fixed "a little bit more". I've talked with my son for hours this last week and am amazed at his level of motivation and commitment. He said, "I signed up for it, it's my job, and I have no worries. We've got our shit locked tight. I couldn't be in a better platoon. My Company has the best Marines anywhere and we are the best platoon in the Marine Corps. I am confident of that." That's okay, I'll worry for both of us. It's my job, I'm a mom.

They'll be in full Kevlar everywhere they go. They've spent the last ten months training hard, they have state-of-the-art protection, so the only other thing they need (and what they need more than anything else) is prayer.

He's one of the Marines that is qualified to assist Corpsmen in the field. Marine Mom Connie is working on acquiring additional IV equipment so that the guys can carry it with them. My online friends have also helped me find a product called Kwik Clot - if there's a casualty with heavy bleeding, this stuff is supposed to work wonders. I told him the tampon story and offered to send him a supply - he suggested that I send it to the Corpsmen instead. And to avoid associating it in any way with him.

I found a small fold-up stove that runs on fuel pellets yesterday and will send it in his first care package, along with hot chocolate mix, Easy Mac, etc. He also (this is a kid who, all through school, cheerfully offered my services for chaperoning field trips, bringing cupcakes into the classroom, etc.) volunteered me to send his platoon a laptop. Evidently, the C.O. is limiting laptops to one per platoon. None of the guys had one, so Shane said his mom would send one. Some things never change. I've got quite a list of things to send, and it gets longer every time he calls. I need to publicly thank my good friends at EAForums who have donated over $500 towards the laptop. It's something they can use for training, composing e-mails, watching movies, keeping up with online coursework, etc. There is an internet center but the wait is long and they guys are limited to 15-20 minutes at a stretch, so this will really help them maximize their time. My son shared this with his brother Marines and they were blown away that people they'd never met would do this for them. I am deeply appreciative.

Last year when the Marines from 1/7 were deployed to Iraq, they won the hearts and minds of the citizens of the Najaf province. They lived and worked in the cities of Al Hillah and Najaf throughout the summer months, helping with the rebuilding of the region and demonstrating to the residents that there was "no better friend, no worse enemy" than the United States Marines.

It worked. No Marines were lost, after the end of major hostilities last year, due to hostile action. The leadership of 1/7 (then Lt.Col. Conlin and SgtMaj Bergeron) had the respect and ear of Shiite leaders in the city. Our Marines were accorded respect and treated as guests. Here's a letter they sent last fall, shortly before they came home. It's worth reading again and will give you an idea of the caliber of men that protect and defend us.

To the Citizens of the United States,

On behalf of the Marine’s of First Battalion, Seventh Marines, First Marine Division, Twentynine Palms, California, we would like to take this opportunity, to thank all of you for your thoughts and your prayers. Since our arrival in Iraq, we have received numerous cards, letters and packages from the wonderful citizens and children of the United States. These cards, letters and packages were greatly appreciated and had a very positive impact on the morale of your Marines. Although we have gone through great lengths to ensure each received a proper reply, at times we were extremely busy and may have been unable to respond. The intent of this correspondence is to ensure that we have expressed our grateful appreciation to each and every one of you for your outstanding show of support for these fine young men.

While staged in Kuwait, our Marines were concerned with public opinion. Leaders were constantly asked about the pulse of the citizens back in the United States. At the time, things looked pretty grim. There were many Americans opposing the war and news of large protests broadcast on the BBC daily. Celebrities were using their status and making a charge of opposition. Our Marines were seeing the makings of another Vietnam and were not looking forward to the experience. Then the polls turned from negative to positive, and the news of such was passed throughout the battalion. At this point, the morale of our Marines went up significantly. Then came the cards, letters and packages. The enemy did not stand a chance. America was now united and headed towards Baghdad.

Prior to the beginning of hostilities, we were certain that the Marines of this battalion were an extremely confident and capable fighting force. Having seen them in action, we can assure you that your Marines have performed above and beyond our highest expectations. During the early stages of the war, they continuously found themselves in some very dangerous and challenging situations. In every case, they responded with the confidence, courage and determination necessary to defeat the enemy forces. Their collective performance and sacrifices have demonstrated to the Iraqi people that as United States Marines, there could be no better friend (for those who wished peace) yet, no worst enemy (for those who chose war). It was this mentality that contributed greatly to achieving such an overwhelming success in such a short duration of time. We cannot tell you how proud we are to have had the honor and privilege of serving with the Marines and Sailors of this battalion. They are superb Americans who represented their country very well.

Our ability to return these men safely back to their families and loved ones upon our return was the ultimate goal of this battalion. Through the grace of God, which we believe was in the response to your prayers, we have not lost a single member of this command. Unfortunately, some of our sister battalions and sister services were not so fortunate. On behalf of this battalion, we offer them and their families our deepest and most sincere condolences. They were brave Americans who served their country honorably. They will be missed. May God be with them and may they rest in peace.

The major hostilities have now ended. Although the Marines are anxious to return home and reunite with their loved ones, they continue to remain focused and understand the importance of their current mission. The focus of this mission is the stabilization of the country of Iraq. In support of this mission, our Marines continue to patrol the streets ensuring the safety of the Iraqi people and the potential success of the Iraqi communities. The Marines continue to hunt down and apprehend resistance forces whose sole intent is to disrupt the current stability that has already been achieved within most major cities. Importantly, they repair schools, government facilities and restore basic utilities in order for the Iraqi people to return to an acceptable standard of living. Although most of these tasks are not combat related, these requirements are no less important in achieving a smooth transition towards peace and democracy.

We understand that back in the United States, there has been some negative publicity in reference to the acceptance of our presence by the Iraqi people. We personally have not experienced this. Although there are some individuals who do not welcome our presence, the vast majority of the people are extremely happy that we remained committed to their cause and grateful for their newly found freedoms. We base this assessment not on news reports, but on the daily contact we have had with the local population.

The children here are extremely pleasant and happy. They run towards the streets with big smiles on their faces just to wave hello to the Marines as they drive by in hopes that their waves will be returned and their presence acknowledged. They often crowd around the patrolling Marines seeking autographs or just a chance to say "hello" close and personal. Personal touch is far more significant in their culture than it is ours. A simple handshake is all it takes to make their day complete. They will usually return for many more. The little girls offer the Marines flowers as a sign of affection and gratitude. Although the Marines are pleased with the fact that they have brought so much happiness to the people of Iraq, for them, it is a very humbling experience.

Iraqi men of all ages engage the Marines in conversation on a daily basis while women stand in doorways waving and smiling or offering them a cold drink of water or a shot of Iraqi tea. Grown men will shake your hand and, with tears in their eyes, thank us for freeing their nation while offering us their blessings. Once tight lipped, they now speak freely of the horrific years under Sadaam. In the past, they would have had their tongues removed for such statements. With this restriction eliminated, today’s typical phrases are "Down with Saddam", We love U.S.A", "We love you", and yes, "We love George Bush". Just recently we were honored to see "WE THANK U.S.A" written in large letters and repeated three times on a wall in the streets of An Najaf. Contrary to some reports, the request we most often receive from the Iraqi people is that we not leave. Some still believe that should we leave, Sadaam (who is now the Iraqi "boogie man") will reappear and destroy them. We continue to reassure them that Sadaam will never and can never return to power.

The Iraqi people that we have had the pleasure of meeting are generally very good people. Although they have no desire to be a United States, they are very open to the ideals of democracy. The country of Iraq is beautiful and rich in resources. With the implementation of an honest government and under a democratic rule, they have the potential of becoming a prosperous and peaceful nation.

How could this have all happened in such a short period of time? Based on your heartwarming cards and letters, it could easily be assumed to be our actions and ours alone. The truth of the matter is that this success can be attributed to you, the American people. For it is the support of the American people from which our Marines draw their will to fight and their determination to win. When their country calls upon them, with the support of the people, Marines will give the ultimate sacrifice before they let them down. Failure is not an option and a retreat is a place to get away and take a long deserved break. We consider neither during combat!!!

As stated in some of your cards and letters, our Marines have performed heroically and with pride however, even we have heroes and we would like to acknowledge some of ours:

First to our Commander and Chief, the Honorable Mr. George W. Bush who stood up when many others sat down. He demonstrated outstanding leadership at a time when diplomacy had failed. Mr. President, we are proud to have served under your command and prouder yet to be Americans. God bless you and God bless the United States of America.

We thank those who have served before us for all they have given us. You have left us with a legacy and a reputation that intimidated and cowered most of the enemy forces before we ever met on the battlefield. For those who did not believe in this reputation, we convinced them once we engaged!!! Word spread fast and because of this, many lives were saved. Thank you!!! We only hope that we lived up to your expectations.

Semper Fidelis!!!!

Last but surely not the least are the American people who stood behind our President and their military in support of a difficult global decision. During this crisis, the world needed a leader and in typical fashion, the American people showed them one! Now the war has ended and the Iraqi people are free to show their gratitude, you can take comfort in knowing that "It was the right decision".

While patrolling the streets of Iraq, we do not see or hear any thing like, "We love Marines", God Bless Marines, or "Thank you Marines". What we hear and see is, "We Love America", and "THANK YOU U.S.A.". Remember, "America is us". So tonight before you go to bed, take a look in the mirror, take a moment for yourself, understand the impact you have made on the lives of the Iraqi people and pat yourself on the back. You have an admirer. In fact you have 174,000 of them. You are our heroes!!! Our men may not be celebrities and they may not have a celebrity status, but they are United States Marines who serve in the forces, which keep our country free. They are willing to give their lives in its defense and in our opinion, you can’t beat that!!!

Once again, we would like to thank you all for your patriotism, unselfishness and overwhelming support. May other countries take notice. The United States of America will not be threatened, intimidated, nor will they shirk their international responsibilities. They will retaliate when necessary and it will be costly. BECAUSE THE AMERICAN PEOPLE SAY SO!!!!! God bless each of you and God bless the United States of America.

As these brave men return to Iraq this month, they deserve that same overwhelming support. My heart goes with them, in the uniform of a United States Marine. LCpl Shane Conrad, I am so proud of you and am counting down the days until we welcome you back home. Oohrah!

Posted by Deb at 02:56 PM | Comments (19) | TrackBack

August 26, 2004

Every vote counts

Former Marine and rising country star, Adam Marshall, is on the home stretch of his quest to win the Country Line Magazine CD review competition for August, but could use a few more votes to maintain his margin of victory.

The scuttlebutt is that his closest competition discovered that Adam has the Marine family community voting for him and called in the Army. Nice try! At this point, we're not sure when the contest closes but we'll keep voting until it does.

Adam penned the lyrics on his debut album while deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom last year. He had our back then; we have his back now. Please vote for him here.

Adam won! He was just notified that the vote margin was 423 ahead - thanks to everyone who voted for him. His debut CD is in the process of being released. Listen for it on a radio station near you.

Posted by Deb at 11:48 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Update from 3/6

From Captain Conlon Carabine, CO, H&S 3/6:

I apologize again for the frequency that these get out. We, the Marines and Sailors of H&S Company, continue to be extremely busy supporting all that the Battalion is doing. As my mother always said, “idle hands do the devils work”, so I would bet we are all angels by this time. We seemed to have passed what will probably be the half way mark for this deployment and can already look back on several months of both hard work and significant accomplishments by the individual Marines and Sailors and all the sections that make up the Company. The experience of the leaders and men at all levels has grown significantly in every section.

I would imagine some loved ones are beginning to start a countdown on when they can see their Marine or Sailor again. We are still working on dates and it has yet to be decided, but we are getting close to having more of a solid timeline for the return to Camp LeJeune. The battalion that will replace us has been identified, and that is certainly a good start. For those families making plans, it looks very good for Christmas and New Years, but Thanksgiving is still probably up in the air. As soon as things get settled the information will rapidly be sent out, one way or the other.

We have been moving around quite a bit through this deployment, but have settled in recently to a new group of locations and a good chance to operate more cohesively as a Battalion. 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines has already made a positive impact in our new areas of responsibility and I would imagine will continue to have an impact on the course of Afghanistan’s future for the near and long term. Your Marines and Sailors are making a positive impact to the security of both our nation and many thousands of people in Afghanistan in only a short time and I am proud of every one of them.

and a note from the 3/6 Chaplain:

Gooooood Moorrnning Afghanistan!!! It is morning here at the moment. To have some time on one of these machines I need to get up before everyone else so they can do what they have to during the day. Sorry for not having updated my column in some time. But some of us have to work for a living. HAHAHAHA. Actually, I have been doing my job of looking after your Marines. Since we have been scattered over six different bases I’ve been busy trying to get around and seeing them. Because of flight schedules, movement of the troops, and other snags I’ve not been to every place yet. I have seen each company at least once though. Soon most of us will be in one place with a small group at another. Keeping up with everyone will be easier then.

Obviously being away from home and given the circumstances the Marines, on the whole, are doing well. The mindset of Marines seems to be different from others I’ve been around. Not to be simplistic or corny but they are Marines. They chose to be Marines. Want to be Marines. Train like Marines. Think like Marines. Therefore, they act like Marines. We’ve had tragedy and loss. Did it hurt? Yes. Does that change what we have to do? No. And those whom we lost would want us to keep our heads in the game and so we do. That is one way in which we honor them. As you think of your Marine pray for the families of those whose loss is so deep.

Regardless of what you hear through the grapevine, we’ll be home when we get home. That’s not to sound short or mean but to be realistic. There’s word that homecoming will be around the first of December. We were told that might be a possibility when we left. Well it’s most likely now. But as they say out West, “You saddled this horse, now ride it.” This horse wanders all over the place and seldom comes to the barn on time. But when it comes in it’ll be time for lots of TLC. So get your ducks together for a grand reunion. Remember not to get your ducks in a row. Just get them together in a loose flock on the pond so you can gather them up as you need them. Otherwise, if they’re in a row one good shot could kill them all.

Enough of the barnyard chatter. We’ll be home before you know it. It helps us to know that all of you are taking care of business back home. Thank you for loving and supporting us while we try to bring justice to the bad guys and safety, security, and stability for those who want to live in peace. God bless you and keep you till we meet again.


Posted by Deb at 10:01 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

August 25, 2004

August update from Col. Tucker

Here's the latest from RCT-7:

Dated Aug 21 2004

The last month has been a busy time of change in the RCT-7 AO; a trend that will continue as the battalions that arrived with us last February are replaced by newcomers. TF 3/4 was replaced in July by TF 1/8 out of Camp Lejeune NC. As I write, the advance parties for the Battalions coming in to replace TF 2/7, 3/7, and 1st LAR are on board. Over the next month we will assimilate our new brothers-in-arms, and continue to march forward with the same lines of operation and successes that have characterized our operations thus far.

The AO has been relatively quiet over the last weeks. The enemy still engages in cowardly attacks against the Iraqi people, the Iraqi Security Forces, and the Marines employing IEDs and indirect fire. But we continue to rock him on his heels with precision raids, tighter control of the border areas, and the professional presence of Marines providing security alongside the ISF for the people in these communities. Since my last letter, we have seen promising progress in the eastern portion of the AO. A Police Academy and Border Police Academy have been established at Al Asad; a corrupt mayor and corrupt police chief have been forced out of their jobs through pressure applied by the citizens of the communities involved. The Iraqi National Guard continue to grow in competence and professionalism. Local citizens live free of fear from terrorists and criminal overlords. Kids go to school [and play on swing sets provided by Marines], markets are busy and, in a promising development, political parties are beginning to coalesce. This is what victory in counterinsurgency looks like.

In the western portion of the AO we continue to successfully capture and kill terrorists and violent criminals. TF LAR, TF 3/7, and 1st Force Recon have had remarkable success working their way up the terrorist cell structure.

All of these battalions will depart here justifiably proud of their accomplishments. I am in absolute awe of these young men; the deed of the sons have exceeded the deeds of the father, and these men and these units will march into a proud history unencumbered by the dynamics of political agendas and press profits.

Ok..only a couple of pictures this week…

SgtMaj Freed and MgySgt Garcia enjoying an evening cup of espresso
Iraqi Border Police border "fort" under construction on the Iraqi-Syrian Border. The RCT is currently managing an $11M contract to build 24 of these
Detachment, CO half-way through a 300 mile patrol through the central desert.

I speak to every Marine of the arriving Bns. Their intelligence, sense of duty, and perspective are remarkable. They ask questions ranging from small tactical issues to large and significant strategic issues. They fully understand the complexities of U.S. policy and their own role in the future of Iraq. We are striving to establish the rule of law in a country where terror, intimidation, and fear once ruled. A daunting task. But day-by-day, we see progress. How far that progress extends will rightly depend on the will of American people. I was asked by a young Marine yesterday to encapsulate our tasks in a few words. My response: Provide a bulwark against the instruments of terror to allow the rule of law to take root; train the Iraqi Security Forces to do what we are doing now and kill anyone who has a problem with that; accomplish all three of those tasks without harming a single innocent Iraqi and without a single Marine in this RCT losing his moral compass. We continue to march forward on those tasks. Given time that success will be complete.

RCT-7 remembers the sacrifices of Cpl T.J Godwin, 1st Bn 8th Marines, killed in action on July 20, 2004 vic Fallujah, Iraq; GySgt E.P. Fontecchio, 3d Bn 7th Marines, killed in action August 4, 2004 vic Husaybah, Iraq; LCpl J.L. Nice, 3d Bn 7th Marines, killed in action August 4, 2004 vic Husaybah Iraq; LCpl K.M. Funke, 2d Bn 7th Marines, killed in action August 13, 2004 vic Hit, Iraq; and Sgt R.M. Lord, 1st Bn 8th Marines killed in action August 18, 2004 vic Haditha, Iraq.

Please remember their family and friends in your thoughts and prayers.

Share your Courage.

C.A. Tucker
Colonel, U.S. Marine Corps
CO, RCT-7.

My son left this morning to join the RCT-7. Knowing that men like Col. Tucker will command overall operations is reassuring.

Posted by Deb at 12:42 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Another Warrior returns home

Time to celebrate. Sean's home.

Posted by Deb at 09:14 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 24, 2004

Pictures 1-4

This is why I live in Oregon. And will never live elsewhere.

Posted by Deb at 08:35 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

A Marine Corps Baby Shower

Early last April, the 6th ESB in Portland laid to rest one of their own, Sgt. Curtis Jones. Yesterday, Marines, friends, family members, and co-workers gathered to remember Curtis and celebrate the impending birth of his son to his beloved wife, Bobbi. There were both tears and laughter. There was a huge Curtis-sized hole in the room but knowing that Bobbi will soon give birth to baby Devan is a blessing that will help heal this family.

Several months ago, Marine Mom Janise e-mailed LtCol Thomas of the 6th ESB, asking if she could hostess a baby shower for Bobbi. While the image of "baby shower" and "Marine Corps" do not often occur in the same thought, LtCol Thomas immediately responded and shared the idea with two of his officers. The next day, the Inspector Instructor, Major Larson, replied that "baby showers are absolutely a Marine thing" and in true USMC fashion immediately delegated the task to the best (wo)man for the job - his wife Wendy.

For the past six weeks, Wendy, Janise, Claudia Jones (Curt's mom), and Gayle Roberts (Bobbi's stepmom) have been working hard to plan the shower. And here's how it tuned out:

Bobbi and her friends.
The banana poppyseed cake was beautiful and delicious too.
LCpl David Martin and Bobbi discuss the differences and similarities of bottle warmers and hand puppets.
Gayle Roberts (Bobbi's stepmom), Wendy Larson (Major Larson's wife and shower organizer), and Deb Bruns (Gold Star Marine Mom to Cedric Bruns).
Bobbi and Claudia Jones (Curt's mom) looks on as Janise reads one of the cards.
Sgt. James Miller with wife Rebecca and son Caleb; Robert Roberts (Bobbi's dad), Bobbi, and Capt JR Rinaldi (6th ESB Commanding Officer)
LCpl David Martin works on a project with two pint-sized helpers.

Bobbi was showered not only with gifts but with love from her extended Marine Corps Family. While Curtis is gone, little Devan will have a battalion of uncles that will step in, as Marines always have, to care for their own. Once a Marine Corps Family, always a Marine Corps Family.

For those of us who did not know Curtis, we can get a glimpse of his personality by reading this eulogy, written by his mother, that was read at his funeral:

The World Became Brighter When You Were Born
By Claudia Jones

Curtis was a son, brother, husband, and soon to be a father. He lived to the fullest with every ounce of joy that could be found in life. He knew no stranger and gave his friendship and smiles freely.

Always strong and determined, Curtis entered this world one brilliant morning on July 21, 1971 at Fort Sam Houston Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas.

From Texas, Curtis and his family moved to New Mexico, where he spent his days in the sun playing with his brother and close friends. There was never a slow day for Curtis; it was moving in the fast lane no matter what he was doing. He learned to run instead of crawl and kept going from that day. In New Mexico, Curtis learned to love the out doors, camping, hiking, and learning about nature.

This love of the out doors continued when Curtis moved to Laramie, Wyoming where he would spend the majority of his childhood. Fond memories surrounded his life in Wyoming. There, his life became richer from being with nature and any thing fast.

The family continued to hike during all seasons and types of weather, tent camping turned into the joy of back packing and fishing. Curtis loved to sit outside the tent at night with his dad and brother, Mike, and star gaze. That is why you would see a telescope in his dorm room or apartment. The love of adventure and nature followed him.

While in Wyoming, Curtis became a trail bike rider. Since you can ride a trail bike on and off the streets with a license at 14, Curtis spent many afternoons and days just exploring the country and mountain areas around his home. Sometimes going farther than his parents realized.

This sense of adventure and daring kept going through his high school years, where he was involved in track and swimming. Curt may not have been the fastest swimmer, but he had determination to keep going and do his hardest to complete what he started.

When Curtis moved to Vancouver, Washington his senior year, he did it with no regrets at leaving his old life and moving into the unknown. He saw this move as an adventure ? to learn about new things, places and people. Never did he once regret the move or complain. With the move came finding new friends at Mt. View High School where he graduated in 1989 and at work ? selling shoes at the Jantzen Beach Foot Locker during his senior year.

College again proved to be an adventure and again find new friends. Determined to pay his way, Curtis used his love of swimming to work as a lifeguard at the Camas pool, teach swimming to children at several Vancouver athletic clubs, work at Good Samaritan Hospital as an aide helping elderly and disabled patients in water therapy. He attended several junior colleges before receiving an associate?s degree from Clark College in Arts and Science. At Mt. Hood Community College, Curtis was chosen to work as a business intern and lifeguard at Disney World in Florida where he attended business classes and graduated from ?Mickey U?, as Curtis called it.

Taking his love of politics and adventure, Curt attended Western Washington State University in Bellingham. There, he continued his joy of the water by joining the sculling and university crew teams. He was also a dorm representative and started a weekly letter to inform the students about the campus activities and their rights. This letter earned Curtis an award for his efforts.

While in Bellingham, Curtis joined the Marine Reserve. His love of adventure was met with his joy of being with his fellow Marines and feeling of doing something to help others. Of course, it did not hurt to be able to drive BIG trucks and go to exotic, far away places for two weeks. The exoticness lessened after two trips to the desert of California.

Curtis loved going overseas and working with his unit building schools, hospitals, roads and bridges for the under privileged people.

When Curtis returned to Vancouver, he began working at Starbucks. During his work history, he helped open more than 5 new Starbucks and train even more new employees. Curt met each day with a challenge and determination.

It was Curt?s determination, smile, warmth and ?sparkling blue? eyes that won the attention and heart of his wife, Bobbi one day in October at 164th Starbuck. Bobbi was studying for a promotion and, as Curtis would say, talking on her cell. She motioned to him that it was cold in the coffee shop, and being a dashing young knight, he rescued her with a cup of hot water with a note for her to use it as a hand warmer. This kind act soon turned into love.

The love grew faster than either of them expected. By the time Curtis?s Marine Reserve unit was activated for Iraq in the end of January, they had decided that they would spend their life together.
Bobbi would wait for Curt?s return from duty.

Curtis?s return came sooner than any of us expected. It started with a call from a doctor?s office with important and private results from a test. This test result would tragically ask for more determination than Curtis had ever experience. A call to the Red Cross stopped Curt?s deployment and brought him home and a change in life.

Curtis and Bobbi?s bond grew, and by June, each decided that they could not live without the other. There was no reason to search any longer; love had been found for each of them.

Within four weeks a wedding was planned. Days and nights were spent working out the details. Curtis helping to make table decorations with Bobbi and his parents late into the night on his parent?s patio.

The day of the wedding proved even more joyful than either expected. The chosen harp music played throughout the day and night expressing their love.

This love kept strong while waiting for details of Curtis?s illness, his stem cell transplant, and his hospital stay. We all felt that the transplant would bring health and happiness.

Health and happiness would not happen. Even with Curtis?s deep desire and determination to beat the odds of his disease, it did not occur. Through out his hospital stay, he was loved and cared for by his wife, parents and hospital staff. His warmth and thoughtfulness showed in his smile and kind words for others. He never complained about his pain - just the hospital food. When Curtis left us Sunday, April 4, 2004, he was mourned by more than just his wife, family and friends, the hospital staff and doctors, also, felt this loss.

We had hoped for a miracle and that Curtis?s determination and strength would keep him with us, but it wasn?t to be. His smiles, humor, love and deep, blue eyes will always be in our memory and in his and Bobbi?s child that will be born in October.

Curt, we will love you always.

Posted by Deb at 04:34 AM | Comments (2)

E-mail from Najaf

From a Marine Sgt. on the ground in Najaf:

Well folks, I'm officialy exhausted here. We have been engaged in pretty heavy fighting and word around the campfire is it's only gonna get worse. This is classic scout/sniper territory though. Lots of buildings, narrow streets. This is exactly what we trained for. I love the Marine Corps for that. They have there "snipers" too, but speaking for are unit, we have put a serious hurt on them. There is not alot of movement by the bad guys cause we usually pick them off when they come out. They do all kinds of funny stuff like summersaults to avoid being shot!! I must have killed half the Iraqi gymnastic team!!

Honestly, the reporters are really starting to bug me. First off they should not be around snipers cause we have top secret clearance, so they know we can't talk with them. I had one sitting with us the other night at chow, and a couple of PFC's were bitching about this and that without knowing he was right there. Then the reporter said something like "that's the Marine Corps for you". I pulled his ass out and told him he don't rate to comment on the Marine Corps, he is here by choice and these warriors are here because they fighting for his freedom. I chewed his ass in front of everyone and then dragged him to the big man and had him removed from our unit. Our CO said "maybe you would be more comfortable with the Army!!!" I was laughing my ass off. Then I went back and chewed out the two PFC's for runnign there sucks. I love being a Sgt.!!! Damn reporters, and Air Force guys all fall under the label "non essential personnel".

Don't worry about us though guys and gals. We are tired, but we are getting very good at what we do. There is no stopping us. We are learning to live without sleep and food and all the comforts of home. We are just hungry and ready to fight at the drop of a dime. I see the look in my mens eyes, and we all seem so much older. We all look like we can turn on and off the killer instinct. I love that look in our eyes, and it will be something that I think I will miss when I get back home and you just don't see that intensity anymore. Everyday I am here I love it more.

Posted by Deb at 04:04 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Strengthen the Good

Sometimes very small acts reap very large rewards. The Command Post is testing this notion with a new effort called Strengthen the Good; a blogging community micro-effort to parlay small acts of kindness into results that make a difference in people's lives. On the third Sunday of each month, a coalition of bloggers will post "opportunities that are simple, personal, non-bureaucratic, and inspiring" This month's effort is The Gulf Coast Community Foundation Of Venice Hurricane Charley Disaster Relief Fund. Give a dollar or more and pat yourself on the back for making a difference.

Posted by Deb at 01:32 AM

August 23, 2004

Fighting for America in Iraq

In another response to ivory tower pundits, here's a NYT editorial by USMC Major Glen G. Butler, currently in Najaf, Iraq:

I'm an average American who grew up watching "Brady Bunch" reruns, playing dodge ball and listening to Van Halen. I love the Longhorns and the Eagles. I'm you; your neighbor; the kid you used to go sledding with but who took a different career path in college. Now, I'm a Marine helicopter pilot who has spent the last two weeks heavily engaged with enemy forces here. I'm writing this between missions, without much time or care to polish, so please look to the heart of these thoughts and not their structure.

I got in country a little more than a month ago, eager to do my part here for the global war on terror and still get home in one piece. I'm a mid-grade officer, so I probably have a better-than-average understanding of the complexity of the situation, but I make no claims to see the bigger picture or offer any strategic solutions. Two years of my military training were spent in Quantico, Va., classrooms. I've read Sun Tzu several times; I've flipped through Mao's Little Red Book and debated over Thucydides; I've analyzed Henry Kissinger's "Diplomacy" and Clausewitz's "On War"; and I've walked the battlefields of Antietam, Belleau Wood, Majuba and Isandlwana.

I've also studied a little about the culture I'm deep in the middle of, know a bit about the caliph, about the five pillars and about Allah, but know I don't know enough. I am also a believer in our cause - I put that up front just so there isn't any question of my motivation.

We Marines are proudly apolitical, yet stereotypically right-wing conservative. I'm both. And I'd be here with my fellow devildogs, fighting just as hard, whether John Kerry or George W. Bush or Ralph Nader were our commander-in-chief, until we're told to go home.

The other day I attended a memorial service for an old acquaintance, Lt. Col. David (Rhino) Greene. He was killed July 28 while flying his AH-1W Cobra over the eastern edge of Ramadi. His squadron was composed of reservists: "old guys" like me who had been around a little while. But unlike me, these guys had gotten out of active duty to pursue other careers and spend more time with their families. Now, they were leading the charge against the Iraqi insurgency.

The night after the service, I sat around in an impromptu gathering of $10 beach chairs in the sand, watching the sunset and smoking some of Rhino's cigars with friends I hadn't seen in almost a decade. I listened in awe as they told me about their Falluja April, about how they had all cheated death, been shot down, again and again. We talked about the war, pretending to know all the answers, and we traded stories about home, bragged about our wives and kids.

We also talked about the magic bullet that ended Rhino's life. It could have been shot by a sniper who had slipped in over the Iranian border, or maybe it came from the AK-47 of a rebellious Iraqi teenager who viewed shooting at Yankee helicopters the same way mischievous American kids might view throwing rocks at cars. No matter, the single round pierced his neck, and within seconds a good man was dead, leaving his wife a widow and his two children fatherless. I won't soon forget that day, but it was quickly overshadowed by events to come, as I was thrust into the heat of battle in my own little slice of Mesopotamia.

On Aug. 5, after a few days of building intensity, war erupted in Najaf (again). When we had first come to Iraq, we were told our mission would be to conduct so-called SASO, or Security and Stability Operations, and to train the Iraqi military and police to do their jobs so we could go home. Obviously, the security part of SASO is still the emphasis, but our unit's area of operations had been very quiet for months, so most of us weren't expecting a fight so soon.

That changed rapidly when Marines responded to requests for assistance from the Iraqi forces in Najaf battling Moktada al-Sadr's militia, who had attacked local police stations. Our helicopters were called on the scene to provide close air support, and soon one of them was shot down. That was when this war became real for me.

Since then my squadron has been providing continuous support for our engaged Marine brothers on the ground, by this point slugging it out hand-to-hand in the city's ancient Muslim cemetery. The Imam Ali shrine in Najaf is the burial place of the prophet Muhammad's son-in-law, and is one of the most revered sites in Shiite Islam. The cemetery to its north is gigantic, filled with New Orleans-style crypts and mausoleums. We had been warned it was an "exclusion zone" when we got here, that the local authorities had asked us to not go in there or fly overhead, even though we knew the bad guys were using this area to hide weapons, make improvised explosive devices, and plan against us. Being the culturally sensitive force we are, we agreed - until Aug. 5. Suddenly, I was conducting support missions over the Marines' heads in the graveyard, dodging anti-aircraft artillery and rocket-propelled grenades and preparing to be shot down, too. My perspective broadened rapidly.

At first there were no news media in Najaf; now, I assume, it's getting crowded, although the authorities have restricted access after a group of journalists "embedded" with the Mahdi Militia muddied the problem and jeopardized others' safety. I haven't had time to catch much CNN or Fox News, and although I've seen a few headlines forwarded to me by friends, I don't think the world is seeing the complete picture.

I want to emphasize that our military is using every means possible to minimize damage to historical, religious and civilian structures, and is going out of its way to protect the innocent. I have not shot one round without good cause, whether it be in response to machine gun fire aimed at me or mortars shot at soldiers and Marines on the ground.

The battle has been surreal, focused largely in the cemetery, where families continue burying their dead even as I swoop in low overhead to make sure they aren't sneaking in behind our forces' flanks, or pulling a surface-to-air missile out of the coffin. Children continue playing soccer in the dirt fields next door, and locals wave to us as we fly over their rooftops in preparation for gun runs into the enemy's positions.

Sure, some of those people might be waving just to make sure we don't shoot them, but I think the majority are on our side. I've learned that this enemy is not just a mass of angry Iraqis who want us to leave their country, as some would have you believe. The forces we're fighting around Iraq are a conglomeration of renegade Shiites, former Baathists, Iranians, Syrians, terrorists with ties to Ansar al-Islam and Al Qaeda, petty criminals, destitute citizens looking for excitement or money, and yes, even a few frustrated Iraqis who worry about Wal-Mart culture infringing on their neighborhood.

But I see the others who are on our side, appreciate us risking our lives, and know we're in the right. The Iraqi soldiers who are fighting alongside us are motivated to take their country back. I've not been deluded into thinking that we came here to free the Iraqis. That is indeed the icing on the cake, but I came here to prevent the still active "grave and gathering threat" from congealing into something we wouldn't be able to stop.

Weapons of mass destruction or no, I'm glad that we ended the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein. My brother and other American jet pilots risked their lives for years patrolling the "no fly zone" (and occasionally making page A-12 in the newspaper if they dropped a bomb on a threatening missile battery). The former dictator's attempt to assassinate George H. W. Bush, use of chemical weapons on his own people, and invasion of a neighboring country are just a few of the other reasons I believe we should have acted sooner. He eventually would have had the means to cause America great harm - no doubt in my mind.

The pre-emptive doctrine of the current administration will continue to be debated long after I'm gone, but one fact stands for itself: America has not been hit with another catastrophic attack since 9/11. I firmly believe that our actions in Afghanistan and Iraq are major reasons that we've had it so good at home. Building a "fortress America" is not only impractical, it's impossible. Prudent homeland security measures are vital, to be sure, but attacking the source of the threat remains essential.

Now we are on the verge of victory or defeat in Iraq. Success depends not only on battlefield superiority, but also on the trust and confidence of the American people. I've read some articles recently that call for cutting back our military presence in Iraq and moving our troops to the peripheries of most cities. Such advice is well-intentioned but wrong - it would soon lead to a total withdrawal. Our goal needs to be a safe Iraq, free of militias and terrorists; if we simply pull back and run, then the region will pose an even greater threat than it did before the invasion. I also fear if we do not win this battle here and now, my 7-year-old son might find himself here in 10 or 11 years, fighting the same enemies and their sons.

When critics of the war say their advocacy is on behalf of those of us risking our lives here, it's a type of false patriotism. I believe that when Americans say they "support our troops," it should include supporting our mission, not just sending us care packages. They don't have to believe in the cause as I do; but they should not denigrate it. That only aids the enemy in defeating us strategically.

Michael Moore recently asked Bill O'Reilly if he would sacrifice his son for Falluja. A clever rhetorical device, but it's the wrong question: this war is about Des Moines, not Falluja. This country is breeding and attracting militants who are all eager to grab box cutters, dirty bombs, suicide vests or biological weapons, and then come fight us in Chicago, Santa Monica or Long Island. Falluja, in fact, was very close to becoming a city our forces could have controlled, and then given new schools and sewers and hospitals, before we pulled back in the spring. Now, essentially ignored, it has become a Taliban-like state of Islamic extremism, a terrorist safe haven. We must not let the same fate befall Najaf or Ramadi or the rest of Iraq.

No, I would not sacrifice myself, my parents would not sacrifice me, and President Bush would not sacrifice a single Marine or soldier simply for Falluja. Rather, that symbolic city is but one step toward a free and democratic Iraq, which is one step closer to a more safe and secure America.

I miss my family, my friends and my country, but right now there is nowhere else I'd rather be. I am a United States Marine.

That last sentence says it all.

Posted by Deb at 01:52 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

August 22, 2004

"We Laughed Hard and Cried Proud"

By: Linda Kelly Roffe (Mother of LCPL Frank)

Attending the Marine Parent Conference, July 30th in Indianapolis prior to seeing my son off to Iraq was worth every effort in getting there. To come together with so many Marine Parents on a national level was amazingly therapeutic.

Although the conference attendees were from diverse professional backgrounds, income levels, religions and personalities… we all bonded instantly as a Marine family. Whether our kids were starting boot, deployed, have come home or leaving for their second tour… one commonality linked us together… our children in harms way. The parent-children traditional roles have been reversed. For the first time our children are taking care of us—our country—and leaving parents powerless. Our children may have volunteered to be Marines but “we” as moms and dads have been drafted.

I’ve discovered that from Marine graduates to 3rd generation Marine families—they all shared the same pride and anxiety as one emotion. I was impressed that I didn’t hear negative opinions, politics, or complaints at this conference. It was not a pep rally. Everyone shared useful information, experiences and genuine sentiment. We laughed hard and cried proud.

The Presenters were informative and moving. Speakers included famous author, Frank Schaeffer; General Carol Mutter; Marine social worker, Max Beerup; new country star, Marine Adam Marshall; care package senders Operation Interdependence; an open panel of experts with psychiatrists and Marines; Tracy Della Vechia; and many more supporters and vendors. The entertainment was heartfelt and there was plenty social time, for some until 3 am. The food was first-rate and had many generous contributors for the silent auction. I was happy to donate Oohrah, Semper Fi, and MRE wildlife photo posters. A couple more posters were donated to the Madison, Wisconsin USMC parent event in September.

I left the MP conference with a better perception of “Semper Fi” and a deeper understanding of what’s normal for Marine Parents to feel and behave—what’s normal for our Marines to feel and behave. The conference created Marine sisters and brothers—a new family—a support group to help us through day-to-day unease. As Frank Schaeffer states, “As the storm clouds of war gather, at least I know that I can look the men and women in uniform in the eye. My son is one of them. He is the best I have to offer. He is my heart.”

Frank is a gifted writer. Reading “Faith of our Sons” is relief in itself because he nails your feelings with just the right words every time. His site can be visited at www.FrankSchaeffer.com. Marine Adam Marshall just back from Iraq who is making it in the country music world can be visited at www.thelastmarshall.com. The 2005 MP conference will be in Kansas City. Watch for details at www.MarineParents.com and www.marinecorpsmoms.com.

Posted by Deb at 10:15 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

August 21, 2004

Send prayers, Dad, send prayers

From Blackfive's blog comes this e-mail from the dad of a Marine in Najaf:

Hey Brother, Got a call from Danny this morning about 06:00. We haven't heard much from him for three weeks, or there 'bouts. It seems that his MEU is taking it to our enemies, in Najaf. His report: "It's been three days of non-stop fighting and killing, Dad." Says he lost three of his Marines to serious wounds; but, thankfully, no fatalities in his unit. He attributes the latter to close air support, Marine armor, outstanding leadership of the NCO's, and the superb marksmanship of individual (and collective efforts of the) US Marine rifleman. I know he's in a very precarious situation when he asks for prayers. John, his voice has changed -- again. His laconic "Send prayers, Dad. Send prayers. We need 'em. Our guys are getting tired. We haven't had any sleep in a week; pray our eyes STAY OPEN (multiple meaning here). Oh, yeah, send razor blades, shave cream, and flea collars," tells me allot. He's concerned, as well he should be, but he's also looking forward to a new day. This is a good thing!

This dad asks for prayers for 1st LAR Battalion, Company C, 2nd Platoon. I pray for these guys daily, from the Commanding Officer on down, but it never hurts to be specific. Read the rest of the e-mail here.

Posted by Deb at 10:21 PM | Comments (2)

August 20, 2004

al-Sistani speaks

Omar from Iraq the Model reports from Iraq:

News are still foggy but Al-Hurra TV reported that 400 members of Mehdi militia were arrested inside the shrine.

In another related development Radio Sawa reported this afternoon that Al-Sistani from London gave an interview to a news website (link unavailable).

The reporter of Radio Sawa said :

Al-Sistani called the militias to leave Najaf immediately and hand over the city to the Iraqi government describing the presence of militias as illegitimate and that the presence these militias inside the shrine is desecrating its holiness.

Sistani had also stressed on the necessity to hold the elections according to the declared schedule saying that the results of the elections will decide who has the right to lead Iraq.

Sistani added “the coalition forces came and helped Iraqis to get rid of a brutal tyrant that murdered Iraqis and destroyed Iraq’s economy and they didn’t come to kill Muslims or attack Islam”.

This is almost too good to be true but Radio Sawa was always considered as a trust worthy source of information and I just hope that this is true as we’ve awaited such an announcement for a long time. It will deprive Muqtada of any significant legitimacy or credibility among the She’at if he had any previously. Muqtada and his thugs were dreaming to get support or at least silence from the She’at senior clerics. Now Muqtada is left with very little space to maneuver in; Sistani’s statement had put Muqtada in-between two hard choices either handing the city to the government and accepting the fact that he got defeated or he can go on with his crazy battle and get erased together with his militia.
This is important even with these breaking news. Such statements will greatly minimize any unfavorable sequel that may come after military operations due to a possible sympathy from simple minded Muslims towards an “Islamic movement” being destroyed by the government and the coalition forces.

Posted by Deb at 09:33 AM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Choosing to serve

He served in the Marine Corps. He served in the FBI. Now, he is a student at Stanford Law School. And, he's requested a leave of absence from his studies in order to once again wear body armor and eat MREs.

Mike Zummer explains his reasons:

Before Stanford, I was an FBI agent. Before that, I was in the Marine Corps. Leaving the FBI and the Marine Corps were the two most difficult days of my life. I was leaving organizations that I loved with all of my heart. I was leaving the service of my country which I love more than anything in the world. However, I left both because I felt there was something else for me to do. I left the Marine Corps to join the FBI. I left the FBI, because I felt that I could do more as a prosecutor with a degree from a school with a reputation as great as Stanford's.

While leaving Stanford was not an easy decision, staying did not make any sense to me. I did not volunteer because of any sort of death-wish. I did not volunteer because I'm homicidal. I volunteered because Marines are in a fight. When Marines are fighting, it is a fellow Marine's duty to help them. That is our ethos. I couldn't stay protected while my Marines were doing their duty. Our country will survive with one less lawyer, but we need as many Marines as we can get. Especially now. Semper Fidelis.

Fellow law student, Elliot Flagle, adds,

". . . before Mike ships off, I think it is important to point something out. It is the common tripe of the left that the priveleged, or elite, do not serve in wars. That they get the poor, uneducated masses to be misled into fighting for causes that supposedly do not benefit them. Another line is that our "volunteer army" which is supposedly of such high caliber, is in reality stupid kids pressured outside of a shopping center by professional soldier-recruiters, who in a different time would easily be confused for used-car salesman - as documented by Michael Moore.

To those say such things, I personally can only point them in the direction of my friend Mike. Who is capable. Who is elite. Who is brilliant. And who chose to serve not because of any pressure from the outside, but because of an internal pressure of a duty he felt he owed to his country. Now that is just one example. But if we all look around, I'm sure we'll find others.

The truth is that our soldiers are not a bunch of misfits. It takes somebody with guts and a sense of both duty and honor to sign up. And there are no better examples of that than those who walk away from amazing opportunities to give something back not just to their country - but to their friends, families, and loved ones, who are the citizens of the country they serve."

Honor, courage, and commitment. You couldn't find a better example of the Corps values in action than Mike Zummer.

Posted by Deb at 03:50 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

August 19, 2004

Green Side Update

Don't miss Major Bellon's latest update from Fallujah:

On August 9th, the insurgents in the city kidnapped the two Iraqi National Guard battalion commanders within the city subsequently killing at least one of them. It is another clear example of the savagery of the enemy here. The city is now without any coalition influence other than our fires. The local militia that was created as a solution to the April fighting has become a defensive army that is in collusion with the insurgents. The police are complicit with the enemy and the city is literally run by terrorists.

The Iraqi National Guard battalion commander that was killed was Lt Col Sulaiman Hamad Ftikan. We knew him as Sulaiman. He was the closest thing to a true patriot and leader we have found who is actually from the local Falluja area. He was kidnapped and murdered because he had finally gotten his battalion to stand up to the criminals and insurgents who have had their run of the city all these months.

Of course his murder was not merciful. He was tortured and beaten to death. He was so disfigured by the torture that his friends could not bear to look at his body - this from a people who have seen their share of death and torture. There are still at least two soldiers missing that were kidnapped with Sulaiman and more good men are taken every day.

The city has continued to be an epicenter of terror and instability. With everything that I know, I cannot fathom a resolution of this problem that does not include us being allowed to take the city down once and for all. Time and space does not allow me to recount the horrible tales of torture and murder that have taken place inside this town. Too many good men have been taken into the town and beaten savagely because they are trying to be honest policemen or soldiers. It seems that the favorite torture techniques include hanging people upside down and pulverizing feet and toes. However, we have had bodies show up with various unimaginable wounds including some that have had their faces melted off by welding torches. The enemy is savage and will never come around to cooperate with the coalition or the new Iraqi government.

Sulaiman's death in large part ended the Regiment's restraint around the city. The Marines have invested so much time, energy and passion into training the two battalions of Iraqi National guards that were headquartered in and around the town. The enemy surrounded the two battalion headquarters and threatened to destroy them in total. They lured Sulaiman out with promises that they just wanted to talk and that if he exited, he could spare his men. Long story short, immediately after the commanders left their headquarters with the insurgents, the enemy poured into the buildings and beat the soldiers. After a beating, they chased the soldiers out of the headquarters and proceeded to steal all the weapons and ammunition that we had provided and loot all of the garrison property (trucks, TVs, air conditioners, etc...) that we had purchased to stand up the force. The weapons, ammunition and vehicles were taken and are now in the hands of the enemy. The garrison property was sold in the street. The leading insurgent and leading imam (go figure that) then declared that "the Iraqi National Guard no longer exists in Falluja" and that any soldiers seen in uniform should be killed. This same guy controls the Falluja Brigade as well as other insurgents inside the town.

We immediately cut any ties with the city and moved forces to the outskirts. The Marines have been fighting ever since. We have bombed, sniped and fired more tank main gun and small arms that can be counted. I have no idea how many we have killed but it is significant.

Will someone please remind me why academics are insisting we negotiate with terrorists? Try looking at a tortured body and evaluating what might have swayed the guy who wielded the welding torch. This is the embodiment of evil. You cannot negotiate with evil.

There's more. Read it all.

Posted by Deb at 01:25 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Sadr, but not wiser

What happens when you earn degree after degree after degree, then accept a tenure-track faculty position? You get a constipated academic who can pontificate but has no real world knowledge or experience. Juan Cole is an example. He's educated but that's about all that can be said for him. I have friends who get their political notions from his blog. While I usually just shake my head and find a credible source, sometimes a reaction is necessary. Here's an excerpt from a blog link that was sent to me. It is Cole's reaction to a New York Times report.

"I studied colonial history with John S. Galbraith of UCLA, who was known for emphasizing the "Man on the Spot." That is, colonial officials and military men out in Malaya or Africa often made policy without reference to London. (Much of India was acquired in this way. It is amusing to go back and read the cautions of the British cabinet to British governors-general of the 18th century not to conquer more territory without permission).

If Berenson and Burns are right, American Men on the Spot are making crucial policy decisions that have the potential to affect the lives of all Americans and all Muslims. The Marines in Najaf were acting like just another militia, engaging in a local turf war with Muqtada and his men, and giving no thought to the consequences of behaving barbarically in the holy city of Najaf.

Helena Cobban subjects the NYT article to a searching analysis that is well worth reading. She argues that the Najaf attack shows a Marine corps out of control and a command structure that is a "tangled mess" and in which US Ambassador John Negroponte played a sinister role, supporting the initial Marine miscalculation in the Najaf attack. [addendum 10:45 am].

Readers sometimes complain to me that Muslims seem to have lots of holy cities and lots of mosques, so is Najaf really all that special? O.K., here are the holy cities in order of holiness: Mecca, Medinah, Jerusalem, Najaf, Karbala. Najaf and Karbala are especially holy to Shiites. There are other holy sites and cities, of course, but they are mostly sacred because of association with later saints. The five I just mentioned are sacred because of their direct association with the Prophet Muhammad, his son-in-law and vicar, Ali, and his grandson, Husain.

The Shrine of Ali is a tomb, and although it has a mosque attached to it, it is not just a mosque. It is a Shrine. Like the shrine of the Prophet Muhammad in Medinah or the shrine of Imam Husain in Karbala, it is a sacred resting place of holy remains. A lot of mosques could be damaged with impunity. These shrines cannot.

The ignoramus Marines in Najaf clearly don't know all this, and since they don't know it they don't have any business making military policy there. They have endangered all Americans profoundly by potentially spurring a whole new wave of Shiite terrorism against us, recalling the bad old days of the early to mid-1980s (when some of our present allies in Iraq, like al-Da`wa and SCIRI were attacking US targets like the embassy in Kuwait or helping take Americans captive in Beirut)."

I wonder if Cole has ever stood face to face or conversed with a U.S. Marine. I have. I've talked with a number of Marines from all ranks and I've never met an "ignoramus" yet, especially at the Battalion Commander level. The Marines who are on the ground and in the middle of the battle have a perspective that someone who stays safely in an ivory tower will never realize.

If Cole is an expert on Islam, he should realize that when a mosque or a shrine is used as a base for staging battle, it loses its protected status. The revered Ayatollah al-Sistani has implicitly concurred with this assessment. Even so, the Marines have gone to extraordinary lengths to avoid damaging shrines and mosques in all holy cities.

The 1/7 Marines who spent 7 months in the An Najaf province last year effectively contained and neutralized Sadr. They realized that he was a wanna-be cleric who was at most tolerated and mostly disliked by the Shiite Muslims in Najaf, a power-hungry punk who is most likely responsible for the murders of potential rivals Abdul Majid al-Khoei and Ayatollah Mohammad Baqir al-Hakim. When 1/7 Marines left for home last September, they knew that Sadr's quest for power and influence would continue to be a problem. But, the Army took over control of the region and ignored Sadr for months as he built his militia and power base, much like they did with Fallujah. When the 11th MEU arrived on the ground, they found a mess, much like that in Fallujah. And, like Marines have done for nearly 229 years, they cleaned house. It's long overdue. Sadr needs to be removed - one way or another - now.

Grousing by the Army should be taken with a very large grain of salt. If they had done their job, arriving Marines would have had a much easier time. And carping by an academic far removed from the battlefield is absurd.

Cole's vitae states "I also offer with fair regularity an upper-level class, History 542 Modern Iran and the Gulf States." His word choice is unfortunate; he is so full of it that regularity seems to be an ongoing problem for him.

Posted by Deb at 01:02 AM | Comments (3)

August 18, 2004

Dear Very Famous People

A horror is unfolding in Sudan. And one woman is determined to make a difference.

I've known Elyzabeth Marcussen for several years as an online friend. She cares passionately about people who live on the margins of life, people who have no one to speak for them. Recently, she's opened my eyes about the genocidal tragedy in Sudan. Here's an editorial that appeated in the Cincinnati Post, written by Mike DeWine (Republican senator from Ohio) and John McCain (Republican senator from Arizona):

Imagine that we could rerun the events that occurred in Rwanda 10 years ago. With the certain knowledge of horrific events to come, would the world's great nations again stand idle as 800,000 human beings faced slaughter? If the recent expressions of grief and regret from world leaders are any indication, the answer is no -- this time things would be very different. Yet, in 2004, just as in 1994, the international community is on the verge of making a tragic mistake. Mass human destruction is unfolding today in Sudan, with the potential to bring a death toll even higher than that in Rwanda.

Darfur, a Texas-size region in western Sudan, is the site of the worst humanitarian crisis in the world today. Since December the largely Arab Sudanese government has teamed with the Janjaweed, a group of allied Arab militias, to crush an insurgency in Darfur. The methods that the government and the Janjaweed have employed are nothing short of horrific. They are slaughtering civilians in a systematic scorched-earth campaign designed to "ethnically cleanse" the entire region of black Africans. By bombing villages, engaging in widespread rape, looting civilian property, and deliberately destroying homes and water sources, the government and the Janjaweed are succeeding.

The numbers are appalling. Some 1.1 million people have been driven from their homes, and as many as 30,000 are already dead. The U.S. Agency for International Development estimates that, even under "optimal conditions," 320,000 may die by the end of this year, and a death toll far higher is easily within reach. In the face of this catastrophe, the government and the Janjaweed continue to block humanitarian aid, and widespread killing and destruction persist. While civilians flee, the government's Antonov bombers target water wells, granaries, houses and crops, clearing villages so that the Janjaweed can enter and take over. In the meantime, famine looms.

The administration has rightly spoken out against the atrocities in Sudan and taken admirable steps, including the provision of financial support and increased diplomatic pressure. The State Department has also made clear that the Sudanese government is sorely mistaken if it believes it will get a free pass in Darfur in exchange for brokering peace with rebels in the south. But as the rainy season approaches and threatens to hinder the delivery of aid, time is running out. We must do more, and we must do it immediately. . . .

A survivor of the Rwandan genocide named Dancilla told her story to a British humanitarian group. She said: "If people forget what happened when the U.N. left us, they will not learn. It might then happen again -- maybe to someone else." All Americans should realize one terrible fact: It is happening again.

Elyzabeth states:

"I am a strong individual...probably of my friends one of the strongest if not the strongest. I am tapped out in my volunteer efforts, but most able to help those in need. I help them in anyway I can. I certainly do not give excuses like, "I know your husband is beating you but if I call it domestic violence I am morally responsible to help you get out of that situation. I am presently unable to do that. So, therefore it is not domestic violence. And I don't have to help you out."

Instead, I say, "I will protect you in anyway I can." And then, I find a way. By enlisting the help of other friends. By giving to organizations that help that person. By standing up and speaking out publicly about domestic violence.

We are not any less involved as human beings on the same planet simply because we call a waddling, quacking duck a sparrow.

I know there are many important causes in the world, but I'd be a hypocrit if I didn't keep nagging people to write to spur the international community to call Darfur genocide."

She mentioned in an online discussion recently, "For a moment, let's pretend Michael Moore and the Swiftboat Dudes are at a corner bar discussing the 7 minutes Kerry spent on the can. One million plus people are still expected to die while their government not only turns their back on them, leaving them stranded at the border...but continues to strafe them with helicopter gunships put in the hands of those who would see them perish...even burn alive."

The current situation in Sudan is dire. It's too late to save thousands who have been murdered by the janjaweed or died from starvation. Wondering where the international uproar is, Elyzabeth penned the following letter to those celebrities who have opined long and loud about various world events. Her words are compelling and need a wider audience.

Dear Very Famous People:

I write this letter to all the celebrities, pundits, wonks and op ed types in the hope that someone with star powered wattage could turn the world’s eye to the death and destruction continuing in Darfur, Sudan.

I thought that perhaps if people like Michael Moore, Bill Clinton, Linda Rondstadt, Paris and other famous people making the rounds in the headlines shouted out to people for help in Darfur, maybe we could get the world moving.

Mr. Moore. I know you worked very hard on Fahrenheit 911 and it includes some very important footage and revelations. But now, those 7 minutes are really unimportant when you consider that a million people are on the verge of starvation. Remember when you stormed that beach in Connecticut? Maybe you could storm the refugee camps along the Chad/Sudan border and help get the food these people need. You can even poke fun at McDonald’s and Enron while you do it.

Mr. Clinton, I know you’ve already just recently discussed the Sudan on your book tour. But every time they ask how many times you slept on the couch, could you answer with “Oh, this one mom in Maryland would like for me to respond to that very important question with the phone number to Doctors Without Borders, UNICEF, Oxfam, Amnesty International and many other more important numbers?” I think it would be beneficial twice…first, it would get out these phone numbers for people to make donations. And then, it would shut them up, because, really… who cares about your affair with Monica when as recently as this last Tuesday, another village was strafed with bullets from a Sudanese helicopter.

Linda Rondstadt… prove your compassion for the world by saying something productive. And, even better for you, the people dying in the Sudan are mostly not Christians OR Republicans. So, you’d be saving people you like by asking people to donate.

Paris, while you and Nicole are driving around the country in a camper… perhaps you could put the number for your favorite relief organization on the side of your Airstream.

I have written my representatives and the newspapers asking for more attention to this global dilemma. But, apparently, tens of thousands of displaced people dying the cruel death of starvation just isn’t as sexy as a gay governor stepping down with his wife at his side. So, maybe we can find some gay refugees who have momentarily put aside their fight to be married in order to stay alive as the rains, locusts and newly deputized Janjaweed police officers rape their daughters.

Please…speak out against this genocide. Donate to the relief organization of your choice. Talk about this with your friends and family. But do not put this on a back burner. The need for international help is now.

Donations can be made to these very hardworking groups by either writing, calling or visiting on-line:

Amnesty International:


Donate to Amnesty International

UN World Food Program:

Friends of WFP
P.O. Box 11856
Washington, DC 20008

Doctors without Borders:

1-888- 392-0392

Oxfam America:

Oxfam America
Donor Services Dept.
26 West Street
Boston, MA

Episcopal Relief and Development (this is my faith…I’m sure many other faiths have emergency missions underway… in fact, the link below offers a listing of ways for different faiths to donate on-line. The ERD allows me to give directly to their Sudan Relief Fund.)

Episcopal Relief and Development
Box 12043
Newark, NJ 07101

1-800-334-7626, ext. 5129

Another link for ERD,

333 East 38th Street
New York, NY 10016




Can you add your voice?

Posted by Deb at 11:14 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

August 17, 2004

Update on Steve-O

Two months ago, the story of Steve-O was published in the Wall Street Journal. Since then, a number of people have written letters on his behalf and his future is looking brighter. Fox News is running this as a lead story today:

FORT CARSON, Colo. ? Ever since the soldiers of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment returned home to Fort Carson (search) from their first tour in Iraq in May they've been working hard to bring back one of their comrades left behind ? an Iraqi boy nicknamed "Steve-O."

When Steve-O met the soldiers in December 2003 he offered them intelligence that helped them get enemy fighters ? including his own father ? off the street. But the teen?s decision to turn in his father and cooperate with Americans cost him dearly ? his mother was killed later as payback.

The U.S. soldiers were now all Steve-O had, and they vowed to bring him to safety in America, but their deployment was coming to an end.

Once back in Colorado the soldiers contacted the boy?s uncle asking him to sign paperwork allowing Steve-O to travel to America, but that is just one step in an arduous process that isn't over yet.

Pentagon officials say they are ?working with all the appropriate agencies to bring [Steve-O] here as soon as possible for medical assessment and treatment.?

In a few weeks Steve-O will be brought to America to treat an eye injury. The soldiers at Fort Carson have great hopes for his future, that he?ll be out of harms way and receive an education.

The soldiers have already set up a fund to help Steve-O begin a new life in America:

JH Iraqi Youth Trust 6660 Delmonico Drive Suite D #410 Colorado Springs, CO 80919

Getting him to the U.S. is a big first step. I'm keeping my fingers crossed for him.

Posted by Deb at 12:38 PM | Comments (6)

Get Some!

Via Jeff at Backcountry Conservative, here's a report on what our Marines are up to - and up against - at Fallujah.

There is perhaps "no better combined-arms raid force in the world" than a Marine Expeditionary Unit, Col. Jeffery Bearor told National Review Online Friday. Unfortunately for Shiite firebrand Moqtada al Sadr, that's just the force that has been brought to bear on his Mahdi-army militiamen in and around the holy city of Najaf.

On August 5, after months of allowing al Sadr's insurgency to go virtually unchecked, the newly arrived 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (11th MEU) — including attached U.S. Army cavalry elements and Iraqi National Guard troops — began battling the Mahdi army in force.

Last Thursday, the 11th MEU launched a major offensive toward Najaf's city center. On Friday, a tenuous ceasefire was called to allow for negotiations between Iraqi-government officials and al Sadr's chief lieutenants. The talks broke down on Saturday, and the U.S.-led force resumed the offensive early Sunday.

Perhaps al Sadr, reportedly slightly wounded, believes he can buy more time. Perhaps, he hopes Najaf will become another Fallujah: There, al Qaeda strongman Abu Musab al Zarqawi's guerilla forces were being systematically destroyed by U.S. Marines when — in a glaring political move — the Americans were called off to allow a somewhat impotent all-Iraqi brigade to move into the city in early May (Fallujah is still a dangerous battle-zone and Zarqawi is still at large).

Perhaps al Sadr believes his ranks will swell dramatically if the Americans continue pressing the attack, particularly if holy sites like Najaf's Imam Ali mosque are directly targeted, collaterally damaged, or destroyed. The mosque, which has been used as a battlefield sanctuary by Mahdi militiamen, is adjacent to a vast cemetery where much of the fighting has taken place.

Exhorting his followers to continue battling the Americans even if he is captured or killed, al Sadr may be beginning to accept that his days are numbered. Or he may be trying to infuse a fighting spirit in his militiamen.

Either way, he is clearly underestimating the determination of the fledgling Iraqi government and U.S. military commanders to ensure that Najaf will be no Fallujah.

Read the rest here.

I am keeping my fingers crossed that our Marines will be allowed to finish their task this time. If they had been allowed to take out Sadr last summer, it would have prevented a lot of present-day problems.

Posted by Deb at 12:12 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Message from Chaplain Slater

Chaplain David L. Slater writes from the Al Anbar Province of Iraq:

Whether a Marine or Sailor deployed or a family member at home, no one understands better than we do the high cost of freedom. As we worry about each other and take stock of our sacrifices and grief it’s hard not to ask the question, “Is it worth it?” Will all the blood, sweat and tears America has poured into helping Iraq make any lasting difference? The truth is that many of us are skeptical about whether or not the Iraqi people will take advantage of the opportunity for freedom we have given them. This has been a personal struggle of mine. I have thought long and hard about it and this is what I’ve come to realize. The question, “Is it worth it?” is certainly a question worth asking. But to answer it on the basis of whether it will change Iraq is to miss the whole point of what America has done. The measure of our success is not in whether Iraqis ultimately make Iraq a freer and more prosperous country. The measure of our success is simply that liberating and stabilizing Iraq was the right thing to do and doing the right thing is always worth it.

Think of it this way. If someone was drowning and you swam out to save them but in fear, panic or ignorance they fought off your attempt and drowned anyway, does that diminish one bit that trying to save them was absolutely the right thing to do? In fact, couldn’t you be rightly criticized if you said, “Oh, they probably wouldn’t let me save them anyway,” and just let them drown without even trying to help? Even if you died trying to save the thrashing victim wouldn’t your attempt to save them be judged as noble, selfless, heroic and good? Even if Iraq chooses to jump right back into the waters of tyranny it still doesn’t change the fact that trying to save them was the right thing to do. Actually, America has succeeded in saving Iraq from drowning in ruthless tyranny. Saddam’s regime is gone and Saddam has been captured to face judgment for his crimes. Yet, we are still criticized, unfortunately, even by fellow Americans who just don’t get it..

The truth is, the same people who criticize America for being in Iraq and question our success are the very same people who would criticize America for doing nothing if Saddam was still in power and perpetrating human rights violations on the world and his own citizens. This is my point. We will be questioned, criticized and ridiculed no matter what we do. So I’d rather suffer for doing what is right than for doing nothing about what is wrong. This is actually a Biblical principle. I Peter 3:17 says, “For it is better, if God should will it so, that you suffer for doing what is right rather than for doing what is wrong” (NASB).

It is a shame so many people have missed the point that we all know so well and hold so dear. This is not about whether Iraq is worth it. It is about the character of America, and individual Americans and their families who have always been willing to sacrifice and suffer, even for the unworthy, just because it is the right thing to do. As the men and women of Task Force 3/7, we owe our deepest respect, thanks and love to all of you at home for so courageously and faithfully standing with us in doing what is right.

Posted by Deb at 11:17 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

August 16, 2004

President Bush speaks to the VFW

President Bush spoke to the VFW this morning in Cincinnati this morning at the joint opening session of the 105th annual convention. Here's his speech, thanks to Dave H. who passed it along:

Thank you all very much. Thanks for the warm welcome. And thanks for inviting me for your 105th national convention. I'm proud to be here.

One of the great honors of being Commander-in-Chief is meeting the courageous men and women who stand watch for freedom. Nothing gives me greater pleasure than to look them in the eye and say on behalf of our country, thank you for your service. (Applause.) The same is true of each of you here today. When the enemies of freedom were on the march, and our country and the world needed brave Americans to take up arms and stop their advance, you stepped forward to serve. And today, I'm proud to stand before you as Commander-in-Chief, look you in the eye, and say, America thanks you for your service. (Applause.)

I want to thank Ed Banas for his service in being an effective commander of the VFW. I appreciate the job he's done, and I want to thank his wife, Sandra, for standing by his side during this important time for the VFW. Ed, thank you, sir, for your service. (Applause.)

I also thank my friend, Bob Wallace, the Executive Director of the VFW. I want to thank Governor Bob Taft for joining us today, from the state of Ohio; my friend, Tony Principi -- I'll say something about him here in a minute; and Congressman Rob Portman, Congressman from Ohio is with us, as well. I'm honored that these elected officials -- and in Principi's case, appointed official -- is with us today.

I want to thank John Furgess, the incoming VFW National Commander-in-Chief, and Alma. I want to thank Evelyn McCune, the VFW Ladies Auxiliary National President, and her husband, Don. I want to thank JoAnne Ott. I want to thank the VFW and Ladies Auxiliary members for letting me come and address you. (Applause.)

In the audience today are two people I've gotten to know during a very traumatic period during their lives. Carolyn and Keith Maupin are with us today. They're from this part of the world. Their son, Matt, has been missing in action for four months in Iraq. I have vowed to them we will do everything we can to find their loved one, Matt. I appreciate their courage. I continue to send my prayers to these two fine Americans during these difficult times for them. May God bless you, Keith and Carolyn. (Applause.)

The Veterans of Foreign Wars have always stood up for our nation and those who wear the uniform. Since your founding in 1899, the members of the VFW have been serving the men and women who served America. I appreciate your dedication. The VFW and its Ladies Auxiliary are volunteering by transporting sick and disabled vets to and from their medical appointments. You're showing great compassion. You're supporting the men and women who serve today. Some 1,500 VFW posts have adopted military units deployed in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other distant theaters. You've distributed more than 3.5 million pre-paid calling cards to our deployed forces. You've sent thousands of care packages to our troops in the field. You've helped the families back home with groceries and home repairs, and other necessities. America respects our military and their families. I thank you for showing that respect every day. (Applause.)

All our nation's veterans have made serving America the highest priority of their lives, and serving our veterans is one of the highest priorities of my administration. (Applause.) To make sure my administration fulfills the commitments I have made to America's veterans, I selected one of the finest men ever to serve as the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, a combat-decorated Vietnam veteran, Secretary Tony Principi. (Applause.)

Thanks in large part to Tony's leadership, my administration has a solid record of accomplishment for our veterans. When my 2005 budget is approved by Congress, we will have increased overall funding for our nation's veterans by almost $20 billion, or 40 percent, since 2001. (Applause.) We have increased funding for our veterans more in four years than the previous administration did in eight years. (Applause.) To provide health care to veterans, we've increased VA medical care funding by 41 percent over the past four years.

We are bringing care to more veterans more quickly. Since 2001, we've enrolled 2.5 million more veterans in health care services. We've increased out-patient visits from 44 million to 54 million. We've increased the number of prescriptions filled from 98 million to 116 million. We're getting the job done. (Applause.) We've reduced the large backlog of disability claims by about a third; we will reduce it even further. We've cut the average time it takes to process disability claims by 70 days.

We have focused resources on the veterans who need it most, those with service-related disabilities and low incomes and special needs. We've established a new scheduling system to make certain that veterans seeking care for a service-connected condition are first in line. For more than a century, federal law prohibited disabled veterans from receiving both their military retired pay and their VA disability compensation. Combat-injured and severely disabled veterans deserve better. I was proud to be the first President in over 100 years to sign concurrent receipt legislation. (Applause.) We're getting the job done in Washington, D.C.

My administration has launched a $35 million program to provide housing and health care and other support services to homeless veterans. No veteran who served in the blazing heat or bitter cold of foreign lands should have to live without shelter, exposed to the elements, in the very country whose freedom they fought for. (Applause.)

We are modernizing VA health centers, and building new ones, especially in the South and West, where increasing numbers of our veterans live. Since 2001, we have opened 194 new community-based clinics nationwide. And through the CARES initiative, we are providing $1 billion -- and have requested another half-billion for next year -- to modernize VA facilities, and to provide better care for veterans in areas where the need is growing, including here in Ohio. (Applause.)

Our VA hospitals are, on average, 50 years old. That's why we are modernizing our facilities to make sure our veterans have 21st century health care. For example, here in Ohio, we're building one of the largest new VA clinics in America in Columbus, Ohio. We're spending more than $100 million to consolidate two VA hospitals in Cleveland into a single 21st century facility. When it comes to providing first-class care for our nation's veterans, we are getting the job done. (Applause.)

Our nation's debt extends not just to the veterans who served, but to the families who supported them in war and depend on them today. Last December, I signed the Veterans Benefits Act, authorizing $1 billion in new and expanded benefits for disabled veterans, and surviving spouses and their children.

America's veterans have defended America in hours of need. And to honor the veterans from the Second World War for their service to our country, the World War II Memorial now stands on the Washington Mall. And I thank you for your efforts and your hard work to get this memorial built. And we honor all of those here today who fought to defend freedom in the Second World War. (Applause.)

Like the Second World War, the war we face today began with a ruthless, surprise attack on America. The world changed on that September morning. And since that day, we have changed the world. (Applause.) Before September the 11th, Afghanistan served as the home base of al Qaeda, which trained and deployed thousands of killers to set up terrorist cells around the world, including our own country. Because we acted, Afghanistan is a rising democracy; Afghanistan is an ally in the war on terror; Afghanistan is now a place where many young girls go to school for the first time. America and the world are safer. (Applause.)

Before September the 11th, Libya was spending millions to acquire weapons of mass destruction. Today, because America and our allies sent a clear and strong message, the leader of Libya has abandoned his pursuit of weapons of mass destruction. America and the world are safer. (Applause.)

Before September the 11th, the ruler of Iraq was a sworn enemy of America. He was defying the world. He was firing weapons at American pilots who were enforcing the world's sanctions. He had pursued and he had used weapons of mass destruction. He had harbored terrorists. He invaded his neighbors. He subsidized the families of suicide bombers. He murdered tens of thousands of his own citizens. He was a source of instability in the world's most volatile region. He was a threat.

One of the lessons of September the 11th, a lesson this nation must never forget, is that we must deal with threats before they fully materialize. (Applause.) I remembered what Saddam Hussein was like; I looked at the intelligence. I called upon Congress to remember his history and look at the intelligence. I thought it was important to bring Congress, get their opinion on the subject of Saddam Hussein. So members of both political parties, including my opponent, looked at the same intelligence and came to the same conclusion that I came to: Saddam Hussein was a threat. I went to the United Nations; the U.N. Security Council looked at the intelligence and came to the same conclusion, Saddam Hussein was a threat. As a matter of fact, they passed a resolution, 15 to nothing, which said to Saddam: disclose, disarm, or face serious consequences. As he had for the past 12 years, he refused to comply. He ignored the demands of the free world. He systematically deceived the weapons inspectors.

So I had a choice to make: either forget the lessons of September the 11th and trust a madman, or take action to defend America. Given that choice, I will defend our country every time. (Applause.)

Even though we did not find the stockpiles that we thought we would find, Saddam Hussein had the capability to make weapons of mass destruction, and he could have passed that capability on to our enemy, to the terrorists. It is not a risk, after September the 11th, that we could afford to take. Knowing what I know today, I would have taken the same action. America and the world are safer because Saddam Hussein sits in a prison cell. (Applause.)

We have more hard work to do. I'll continue to work with friends and allies around the world to aggressively pursue the terrorists in Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere. See, you can't talk sense to these people. You cannot negotiate with them. You cannot hope for the best. We must aggressively pursue them and defeat them in foreign lands, so we do not have to face them here at home. (Applause.)

America will continue to lead the world with confidence and moral clarity. We have put together a strong coalition to help us pursue the terrorists and spread the peace. There are over 40 nations involved in Afghanistan, some 30 nations involved in Iraq. I appreciate the sacrifices of the mothers and fathers from those countries, to have their sons and daughters stand with our troops to spread freedom and peace. I'll continue to build on those alliances and work with our friends for the cause of security and peace. But I will never turn over America's national security decisions to leaders of other countries. (Applause.)

We'll keep our commitments in Afghanistan and Iraq; we'll help them become peaceful and democratic societies. These two nations are now governed by strong leaders, they're on the path to elections. We set a clear goal, and Iraq and Afghanistan will be peaceful and democratic countries that are allies in the war on terror. We will meet that goal by helping secure their countries, to allowing a peaceful political process to develop, and by training Afghan and Iraqi forces so they can make the hard decisions, so they can defend their country against those who are preventing the spread of freedom. Our military will complete this mission as quickly as possible so our troops do not stay a day longer than necessary. (Applause.)

It's important we send the right signals when we speak here in America. The other day, my opponent said if he's elected, the number of troops in Iraq will be significantly reduced within six months. I think it sends the wrong message -- it sends the wrong signal to the enemy. They could easily wait six months and one day. It sends the wrong message to our troops, that completing the mission may not be necessary. It sends the wrong message to the Iraqi people who wonder whether or not America means what it says. Our friends and allies must know that when America speaks, we mean what we say. We will stay until the job is completed. (Applause.)

In the long run, our security is not guaranteed by force along. We will work to change the conditions that give rise to terror: poverty and hopelessness and resentment. A free and peaceful Iraq and a free and peaceful Afghanistan will be powerful, and examples in a neighborhood that is desperate for freedom. You see, by serving the ideal of liberty, we are bringing hope to others, and that makes America more secure. By serving the ideal of liberty, we're spreading the peace. Free countries do not export terror; free countries are peaceful countries. And by serving the ideal of liberty, we're serving the deepest ideals of America. We believe that freedom is not America's gift to the world, freedom is the Almighty God's gift to each man and woman in this world. (Applause.)

These are crucial times. We have an historic opportunity to win the war on terror by spreading freedom and peace. Our commitments are being kept by the men and women of our military. I've had the privilege of traveling to bases around our country and around the world. I've seen their great decency and their unselfish courage. I assure you, ladies and gentlemen, the cause of freedom is in really good hands. (Applause.)

Those who wear our uniform deserve the full support of our government. For almost four years, my administration has strengthened our military. We have enacted the largest increases in defense spending since Ronald Reagan served as the Commander-in-Chief. We've increased military pay by 21 percent. We have provided better housing and better training and better maintenance.

And last September, while our troops were in combat in Afghanistan and Iraq, I wanted to make sure they had the very best, so I proposed supplemental funding to support them in their mission. The legislation provided funding for body armor and vital equipment, hazard pay, health benefits, ammunition, fuel, and spare parts. The VFW strongly supported my request. I thank you for standing up for our troops. Your work on Capitol Hill paid off; after all, the funding received strong bipartisan support -- so strong that in the United States Senate, only 12 members voted against the funding, two of whom were my opponent and his running mate. (Applause.)

When pressed, he explained his vote -- "I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it." (Laughter.) He went on to say he was proud of the vote, and the whole thing is a "complicated" matter. There's nothing complicated about supporting our troops in combat. (Applause.)

We have more work to do to defend freedom and protect our country. We will ensure that our forces are well-prepared, and well-positioned to meet the threats of the future. Our Armed Forces have changed a lot. They're more agile and more lethal, they're better able to strike anywhere in the world over great distances on short notice. Yet for decades, America's Armed Forces abroad have essentially remained where the wars of the last century ended, in Europe and in Asia. America's current force posture was designed, for example, to protect us and our allies from Soviet aggression -- the threat no longer exists.

More than three years ago, we launched a comprehensive review of America's global force posture -- the numbers, types, locations, and capabilities of U.S. forces around the world. We've consulted closely with our allies and with Congress; we've examined the challenges posed by today's threats and emerging threats. And so, today I announce a new plan for deploying America's Armed Forces.

Over the coming decade, we'll deploy a more agile and more flexible force, which means that more of our troops will be stationed and deployed from here at home. We'll move some of our troops and capabilities to new locations, so they can surge quickly to deal with unexpected threats. We'll take advantage of 21st century military technologies to rapidly deploy increased combat power.

The new plan will help us fight and win these wars of the 21st century. It will strengthen our alliances around the world, while we build new partnerships to better preserve the peace. It will reduce the stress on our troops and our military families. Although we'll still have a significant presence overseas, under the plan I'm announcing today, over the next 10 years, we will bring home about 60,000 to 70,000 uniformed personnel, and about 100,000 members and civilian employees -= family members and civilian employees.

See, our service members will have more time on the home front, and more predictability and fewer moves over a career. Our military spouses will have fewer job changes, greater stability, more time for their kids and to spend with their families at home. The taxpayers will save money, as we configure our military to meet the threats of the 21st century. There will be savings as we consolidate and close bases and facilities overseas no longer needed to face the threats of our time and defend the peace.

The world has changed a great deal, and our posture must change with it, for the sake of our military families, for the sake of our taxpayers, and so we can be more effective at projecting our strength and spreading freedom and peace. (Applause.)

Today, our troops have the most advanced technologies at their disposal -- weapons are more lethal, more precise than were available for you. Our troops are more mobile, they can communicate better. Yet their success in the wars we fight is being made possible by the same thing that made your success possible: personal courage, love of country, dedication to duty.

As our troops fight today in Baghdad and Najaf, and the Hindu Kush mountains and elsewhere, I know America's veterans feel a special pride in them. They're carrying on your legacy of sacrifice and service. They're determined to see the mission through. This country stands with them.

I want to thank you for the example you have set for our men and women in uniform. I want to thank you for your idealism, for your dedication to God and our country. May God bless you all. And may God continue to bless the United States of America. (Applause.) Thank you all very much. (Applause.)

John F. Kerry speaks to the same group on Wednesday. Any wagers as to how often he'll mention Viet Nam? And if he'll mention Cambodia?

Posted by Deb at 11:27 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Good News from Iraq - 8th edition

Arthur Chrenkoff has his latest comprehensive roundup of good news from Iraq posted. Here's a snippet:

The challenges still ahead in Iraq are considerable, but the media in its manic rush from one disaster to the next and from one "quagmire" to another rarely provides the context that would help us understand the situation. Having followed the mainstream media coverage, one can be forgiven for thinking that our task in Iraq is merely to return the country to its pre-war status quo. More often than not lost in reporting is the realization that Iraq has to recover not just from the violence and destruction of the last year and a half, but of the past 30 years. Iraq of March 2003 was not a normal, well-functioning state thrown into chaos and mayhem only by the arrival of the Coalition forces. In reality, the pre-invasion Iraq was a wreck of a country whose great potential of the 1950s and 1960s has been all but completely squandered for the sake of the aggrandizement of one man and the hegemony of his party. It's important to bear that in mind before rushing to criticize the Coalition authorities for failing to rebuild in a year what took three decades to destroy.

That the Iraqi people are not giving up on their desire to overcome the tragic and soul-destroying legacy of the Baath Party misrule and are courageously forging ahead with their new lives is truly a testament to the power of the spirit and human tenacity.

Read his compendium of progress - it's a great way to kick off Monday.

Posted by Deb at 09:03 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

August 15, 2004


This essay, by Lt.Col. Dave Grossman, former West Point psychology professor and retired Army Ranger, was sent by the wife of a retired Marine. She notes, "I've met many Marines in the past 25 years, all the same type: Strong, compassionate, patriotic, brave. Many of our non-military friends say they can't understand why Marines are the way they are. I thought the following article shed a bit of light on these brave men."

Warrior Ethos
"Honor never grows old, and honor rejoices the heart of age. It does so because honor is, finally, about defending those noble and worthy things that deserve defending, even if it comes at a high cost. In our time, that may mean social disapproval, public scorn, hardship, persecution, or as always, even death itself. The question remains: What is worth defending? What is worth dying for? What is worth living for?" - William J. Bennett - in a lecture to the United States Naval Academy, November 24, 1997
One Vietnam veteran, an old retired colonel, once said this to me: "Most of the people in our society are sheep. They are kind, gentle, productive creatures who can only hurt one another by accident." This is true. Remember, the murder rate is six per 100,000 per year, and the aggravated assault rate is four per 1,000 per year. What this means is that the vast majority of Americans are not inclined to hurt one another.

Some estimates say that two million Americans are victims of violent crimes every year, a tragic, staggering number, perhaps an all-time record rate of violent crime. But there are almost 300 million Americans, which means that the odds of being a victim of violent crime is considerably less than one in a hundred on any given year. Furthermore, since many violent crimes are committed by repeat offenders, the actual number of violent citizens is considerably less than two million.

Thus there is a paradox, and we must grasp both ends of the situation: We may well be in the most violent times in history, but violence is still remarkably rare. This is because most citizens are kind, decent people who are not capable of hurting each other, except by accident or under extreme provocation. They are sheep.

I mean nothing negative by calling them sheep. To me it is like the pretty, blue robin's egg. Inside it is soft and gooey but someday it will grow into something wonderful. But the egg cannot survive without its hard blue shell. Police officers, soldiers, and other warriors are like that shell, and someday the civilization they protect will grow into something wonderful. For now, though, they need warriors to protect them from the predators.

"Then there are the wolves," the old war veteran said, "and the wolves feed on the sheep without mercy." Do you believe there are wolves out there that will feed on the flock without mercy? You better believe it. There are evil men in this world and they are capable of evil deeds. The moment you forget that or pretend it is not so, you become a sheep. There is no safety in denial.

"Then there are sheepdogs," he went on, "and I'm a sheepdog. I live to protect the flock and confront the wolf."

If you have no capacity for violence then you are a healthy productive citizen, a sheep. If you have a capacity for violence and no empathy for your fellow citizens, then you have defined an aggressive sociopath, a wolf. But what if you have a capacity for violence, and a deep love for your fellow citizens? What do you have then? A sheepdog, a warrior, someone who is walking the hero's path. Someone who can walk into the heart of darkness, into the universal human phobia, and walk out unscathed.

Let me expand on this old soldier's excellent model of the sheep, wolves, and sheepdogs. We know that the sheep live in denial, which is what makes them sheep. They do not want to believe that there is evil in the world. They can accept the fact that fires can happen, which is why they want fire extinguishers, fire sprinklers, fire alarms and fire exits throughout their kids' schools.

But many of them are outraged at the idea of putting an armed police officer in their kid's school. Our children are thousands of times more likely to be killed or seriously injured by school violence than fire, but the sheep's only response to the possibility of violence is denial. The idea of someone coming to kill or harm their child is just too hard, and so they chose the path of denial.

The sheep generally do not like the sheepdog. He looks a lot like the wolf. He has fangs and the capacity for violence. The difference, though, is that the sheepdog must not, cannot and will not ever harm the sheep. Any sheep dog who intentionally harms the lowliest little lamb will be punished and removed. The world cannot work any other way, at least not in a representative democracy or a republic such as ours.

Still, the sheepdog disturbs the sheep. He is a constant reminder that there are wolves in the land. They would prefer that he didn't tell them where to go, or give them traffic tickets, or stand at the ready in our airports in camouflage fatigues holding an M-16. The sheep would much rather have the sheepdog cash in his fangs, spray paint himself white, and go, "Baa."

Until the wolf shows up! Then the entire flock tries desperately to hide behind one lonely sheepdog.

The students, the victims, at Columbine High School were big, tough high school students, and under ordinary circumstances they would not have had the time of day for a police officer. They were not bad kids; they just had nothing to say to a cop. When the school was under attack, however, and SWAT teams were clearing the rooms and hallways, the officers had to physically peel those clinging, sobbing kids off of them. This is how the little lambs feel about their sheepdog when the wolf is at the door.

Look at what happened after September 11, 2001 when the wolf pounded hard on the door. Remember how America, more than ever before, felt differently about their law enforcement officers and military personnel? Remember how many times you heard the word hero?

Understand that there is nothing morally superior about being a sheepdog; it is just what you choose to be. Also understand that a sheepdog is a funny critter: He is always sniffing around out on the perimeter, checking the breeze, barking at things that go bump in the night, and yearning for a righteous battle. That is, the young sheepdogs yearn for a righteous
battle. The old sheepdogs are a little older and wiser, but they move to the sound of the guns when needed right along with the young ones.

Here is how the sheep and the sheepdog think differently. The sheep pretend the wolf will never come, but the sheepdog lives for that day. After the attacks on September 11, 2001, most of the sheep, that is, most citizens in America said, "Thank God I wasn't on one of those planes." The sheepdogs, the warriors, said, "Dear God, I wish I could have been on one of those planes. Maybe I could have made a difference." When you are truly transformed into a warrior and have truly invested yourself into warriorhood, you want to be there. You want to be able to make a difference.

There is nothing morally superior about the sheepdog, the warrior, but he does have one real advantage. Only one. And that is that he is able to survive and thrive in an environment that destroys 98 percent of the population.

There was research conducted a few years ago with individuals convicted of violent crimes. These cons were in prison for serious, predatory crimes of violence: assaults, murders and killing law enforcement officers. The vast majority said that they specifically targeted victims by body language: slumped walk, passive behavior and lack of awareness. They chose their victims like big cats do in Africa, when they select one out of the herd that is least able to protect itself.

Some people may be destined to be sheep and others might be genetically primed to be wolves or sheepdogs. But I believe that most people can choose which one they want to be, and I'm proud to say that more and more Americans are choosing to become sheepdogs.

Seven months after the attack on September 11, 2001, Todd Beamer was honored in his hometown of Cranbury, New Jersey. Todd, as you recall, was the man on Flight 93 over Pennsylvania who called on his cell phone to alert an operator from United Airlines about the hijacking. When he learned of the other three passenger planes that had been used as weapons, Todd dropped his phone and uttered the words, "Let's roll," which authorities believe was a signal to the other passengers to confront the terrorist hijackers. In one
hour, a transformation occurred among the passengers - athletes, business people and parents. -- From sheep to sheepdogs and together they fought the wolves, ultimately saving an unknown number of lives on the ground.

"Do you have any idea how hard it would be to live with yourself after that?"

"There is no safety for honest men except by believing all possible evil of evil men." - Edmund Burke

Here is the point I like to emphasize; especially to the thousands of police officers and soldiers I speak to each year. In nature the sheep, real sheep, are born as sheep. Sheepdogs are born that way, and so are wolves. They didn't have a choice. But you are not a critter. As a human being, you can be whatever you want to be. It is a conscious, moral decision.

If you want to be a sheep, then you can be a sheep and that is okay, but you must understand the price you pay. When the wolf comes, you and your loved ones are going to die if there is not a sheepdog there to protect you. If you want to be a wolf, you can be one, but the sheepdogs are going to hunt you down and you will never have rest, safety, trust or love. But if you want to be a sheepdog and walk the warrior's path, then you must make a conscious and moral decision every day to dedicate, equip and prepare yourself to thrive in that toxic, corrosive moment when the wolf comes knocking at the door.

For example, many officers carry their weapons in church. They are well concealed in ankle holsters, shoulder holsters or inside-the-belt holsters tucked into the small of their backs. Anytime you go to some form of religious service, there is a very good chance that a police officer in your congregation is carrying. You will never know if there is such an individual in your place of worship, until the wolf appears to massacre you and your loved ones.

I was training a group of police officers in Texas, and during the break, one officer asked his friend if he carried his weapon in church. The other cop replied, "I will never be caught without my gun in church." I asked why he felt so strongly about this, and he told me about a cop he knew who was at a church massacre in Ft. Worth, Texas in 1999. In that incident, a mentally deranged individual came into the church and opened fire, gunning down fourteen people. He said that officer believed he could have saved every life that day if he had been carrying his gun. His own son was shot, and all he could do was throw himself on the boy's body and wait to die. That cop looked me in the eye and said, "Do you have any idea how hard it would be to live with yourself after that?"

Some individuals would be horrified if they knew this police officer was carrying a weapon in church. They might call him paranoid and would probably scorn him. Yet these same individuals would be enraged and would call for "heads to roll" if they found out that the airbags in their cars were defective, or that the fire extinguisher and fire sprinklers in their kids' school did not work. They can accept the fact that fires and traffic accidents can happen and that there must be safeguards against them.

Their only response to the wolf, though, is denial, and all too often their response to the sheepdog is scorn and disdain. But the sheepdog quietly asks himself, "Do you have and idea how hard it would be to live with yourself if your loved ones were attacked and killed, and you had to stand there helplessly because you were unprepared for that day?"

It is denial that turns people into sheep. Sheep are psychologically destroyed by combat because their only defense is denial, which is counterproductive and destructive, resulting in fear, helplessness and horror when the wolf shows up.

Denial kills you twice. It kills you once, at your moment of truth when you are not physically prepared: you didn't bring your gun, you didn't train. Your only defense was wishful thinking. Hope is not a strategy. Denial kills you a second time because even if you do physically survive, you are psychologically shattered by your fear helplessness and horror at your moment of truth.

Gavin de Becker puts it like this in “Fear Less,” his superb post-9/11 book, which should be required reading for anyone trying to come to terms with our current world situation: "...denial can be seductive, but it has an insidious side effect. For all the peace of mind deniers think they get by saying it isn't so, the fall they take when faced with new violence is all the more unsettling."

Denial is a save-now-pay-later scheme, a contract written entirely in small print, for in the long run, the denying person knows the truth on some level.

And so the warrior must strive to confront denial in all aspects of his life, and prepare himself for the day when evil comes.

If you are warrior who is legally authorized to carry a weapon and you step outside without that weapon, then you become a sheep, pretending that the bad man will not come today. No one can be "on" 24/7, for a lifetime. Everyone needs down time. But if you are authorized to carry a weapon, and you walk outside without it, just take a deep breath, and say this to yourself... "Baa."

This business of being a sheep or a sheep dog is not a yes-no dichotomy. It is not an all-or-nothing, either-or choice. It is a matter of degrees, a continuum. On one end is an abject, head-in-the-sand-sheep and on the other end is the ultimate warrior. Few people exist completely on one end or the other. Most of us live somewhere in between. Since 9-11 almost everyone in America took a step up that continuum, away from denial. The sheep took a few steps toward accepting and appreciating their warriors, and the warriors started taking their job more seriously. The degree to which you move up that continuum, away from sheephood and denial, is the degree to which you and your loved ones will survive, physically and psychologically at your moment of truth.

Lt. Col. Grossman is an expert in the study of violence in war and killing. I first read his work when I took a graduate class on the subject of children and violence; it was refreshing to find research by someone who had both academic expertise and real world experience. After reading this, my overwhelming reaction is, thank God for sheepdogs.

Posted by Deb at 09:46 AM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

What would you sacrifice?

If you didn't make it to church today or even if you did, be sure to read the good Rev. Sensing's excellent treatise on sacrificial offerings.

The lives of our children are so precious that it is impossible to imagine offering them up for anything except something of ultimate value, and even for ultimate value we accept only a statistical probability of sacrifice rather than certainty. Combat does not mean certain death: even at Iwo Jima most Marines survived.

But I have a heretical question: is this inability or unwillingness to sacrifice our children with certainty mean that we are morally deficient? Is there anything we treasure so absolutely that we would with certainty part with even our most beloved ones to preserve it?

Posted by Deb at 08:09 AM

August 14, 2004

Update from 3/11

LtCol T. J. Connally sends this update for his 3/11 Marines:

Well the month of July has flown by for most of us here, I hope the same is true for all of you waiting patiently and working diligently to take care of all the projects I and every other father, son, and brother in this Battalion have evaded this past five months. Thanks for all you are doing.

If you’re watching the news it is evident that peace didn’t break out all over with the transition of sovereignty. In some ways things haven’t changed much, in others there is great progress. Of course don’t believe everything you see on the news. We continue to work with the Border Police, Iraqi National Guard, and Iraqi Police in our area of operations, providing training, infrastructure support, and equipment to improve their capabilities. They have responded so well that we have been able to modify some of our operations to address other issues. I just came back from Mudaiysis where I spent two days with India Battery. They are doing great work and everyone was motivated. While I was there the Deputy MEF Commanding General visited and like most of their visitors, was astounded at the high level of morale and performance in such an isolated outpost. It’s simple, great men with great leaders, working, as a team to accomplish any mission and making it look easy. MP Company continues to run the most professional detention facility in the country and meet every other task with characteristic pride. Kilo and Lima Batteries continue to conduct convoy security escorts all over Western Iraq, engaging the enemy when he presents himself and always successfully delivering their convoys. Additionally, when convoy missions have allowed, Kilo Battery has been conducting Civil Military Operations in the small town of Rahaliyah, located on the eastern side of our area of operations. Headquarters has a platoon that conducts convoys, as well as running the Command Post, providing logistics and maintenance support, and communications. This convoy security duty is dangerous and difficult duty and in the last month we have had five Marines wounded or injured in engagements with the enemy. Three of them were returned to duty and all of them will recover. Regardless of the dangers, your Marines and Sailors remain in high spirits and ready for the next mission. We remain thankful that St. Barbara is praying for us and that the Lord continues to bless us with success.

I just returned from a softball game between our Logistics Section and our Headquarters team, it was a bit lopsided with HQ upsetting a spirited Log team. While we stay very busy with all of our missions, softball has become an excellent release for the men. Despite the heat, our Marines and Sailors are exercising when they can, running, playing softball, lifting weights, and practicing Marine Martial Arts. We haven’t had any issues of mass illness often associated with close quarters tent or barracks living. I attribute this to disciplined Marines practicing good hygiene, exercising, eating well, and plenty of fresh air. The Sergeant Major walks through the living spaces daily, reinforcing the importance of clean and orderly spaces. Our Corpsmen and Doctors have done a great job treating the wounded and ill, and taking preventive medicine measures to control insects and maintain hygiene.

We have roofs on all of our tents now and that made a difference the other day when mortars exploded not far from one of our tents. Just as important, those roofs now allow our Marines and Sailors who conduct many missions at night, the opportunity to sleep during the day. The Morale Center continues to be a big hit, despite a couple of nicks from a couple of rockets this month.

Down in Mudaiysis India Battery continues to prosper. We continue to pursue a phone and Internet package for them, and the Hajji Mart continues to provide souvenirs and other small things. We have relocated the platoon from Ar Ar to Mudaiysis. Those Marines were almost nostalgic about leaving the Marine House on the border but it won’t hurt our operations and will improve the Marine’s quality of life. With 3rd Platoon on board, the India team is reunited.

As we approach the end of this deployment, we will be very busy with additional tasks to ensure continuity of operations and planning to reconstitute the Battalion for artillery operations. We cannot afford to take our minds away from our combat operational tasks but we will conduct transition training and reunion briefs prior to returning home. I encourage all of you, who can, to participate in similar reunion briefs for the families that are coordinated by MCCS. Your Marines and Sailors have served magnificently through very stressful combat operations, risking their lives daily. Most of them have been attacked by and have attacked the enemy. Some of them have seen horrific scenes. Similarly, you our courageous families have been under the stress of separation, caring for your families alone, and worrying for your men. I urge you to be patient with your men; I will urge them to patient with you, as you reunite your family. Likewise, I urge you to seek counseling from a health professional, pastor, or priest, if after a few weeks life has not normalized. There is no shame in this; it is the unfortunate result of war that about 1 percent of our service members will experience some form of post combat stress upon completion of combat operations. The good news is that the large majority will recover completely with minimal effort. Don’t let your families or marriages become casualties, work through it together and seek help, the leaders of this Battalion stand ready to assist in getting you that help.

There are rumors flying by now about the training plan and deployment schedule for the future. Upon our return there will be 7 to 10 days of classes and debriefs that we must conduct, the Battalion will change command and then commence thirty days of leave. The following few months will focus on progressive training from individual, section, and battery through battalion level. Most of this training will take place during the working day, but there will be short field operations beginning in December and we are planning for a longer Regimental Firex in the spring. No final decisions have been made on deployments, but be assured that everyone from the Commandant down to the Battalion understand that the Division will need time to rest, reorganize, and reconstitute. We must keep in mind however, that the Global War on Terrorism will continue for years and that sometime in the near future we may be required to deploy again in the defense of freedom. Right now there are no plans for our batteries to deploy until the summer of 2005. Enjoy the time, because the enemy always has a vote.

As I sign off, I want to thank Rhonda M and all of our Key Volunteers for the wonderful job they have done keeping the lines of communication open and information flowing. We are also thankful for all of our courageous families that have kept the home fires burning, lit candles, and said prayers for our safety and success. I also have to wish my daughter Michaela a Happy Birthday. God Bless you, God bless this great Battalion, and God Bless America,

Semper Fidelis

Posted by Deb at 04:36 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Get out of bed

U.S. Navy Capt. Daniel Ouimette is Commodore of Training Air Wing One at the Naval Air Station in Pensacola, Fla. Here is a speech he gave 18 months ago to the Pensacola Civitan Club - it's worth hearing again.

We Americans need to wake up NOW.

That's what we think we heard on the 11th of September 2001 and maybe it was, but I think it should have been "Get Out of Bed!" In fact, I think the alarm clock has been buzzing since 1979 and we have continued to hit the snooze button and roll over for a few more minutes of peaceful sleep since then.

It was a cool fall day in November 1979 in a country going through a religious and political upheaval when a group of Iranian students attacked and seized the American Embassy in Tehran. This seizure was an outright attack on American soil; it was an attack that held the world's most powerful country hostage and paralyzed a Presidency. The attack on this sovereign U. S. embassy set the stage for events to follow for the next 23 years.

America was still reeling from the aftermath of the Vietnam experience and had a serious threat from the Soviet Union when then, President Carter, had to do something. He chose to conduct a clandestine raid in the desert. The ill-fated mission ended in ruin, but stood as a symbol of America's inability to deal with terrorism. America's military had been decimated and downsized/right sized since the end of the Vietnam War. A poorly trained, poorly equipped and poorly organized military was called on to execute a complex mission that was doomed from the start.

Shortly after the Tehran experience, Americans began to be kidnapped and killed throughout the Middle East. America could do little to protect her citizens living and working abroad. The attacks against US soil continued.

In April of 1983 a large vehicle packed with high explosives was driven into the US Embassy compound in Beirut. When it explodes, it kills 63 people. The alarm went off again and America hit the Snooze Button once more.

Then just six short months later a large truck heavily laden down with over 2500 pounds of TNT smashed through the main gate of the US Marine Corps headquarters in Beirut and 241 US servicemen are killed. America mourns her dead and hit the Snooze Button once more.

Two months later in December 1983, another truck loaded with explosives is driven into the US Embassy in Kuwait, and America continues her slumber.

The following year, in September 1984, another van was driven into the gates of the US Embassy in Beirut and America slept.

Soon the terrorism spreads to Europe. In April 1985 a bomb explodes in a restaurant frequented by US soldiers in Madrid.

Then in August a Volkswagen loaded with explosives is driven into the main gate of the US Air Force Base at Rhein-Main, 22 are killed and the snooze alarm is buzzing louder and louder as US interests are continually attacked.

Fifty-nine days later a cruise ship, the Achille Lauro is hijacked and we watched as an American in a wheelchair is singled out of the passenger list and executed.

The terrorists then shift their tactics to bombing civilian airliners when they bomb TWA Flight 840 in April of 1986 that killed 4 and the most tragic bombing, Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988, killing 259.

America wants to treat these terrorist acts as crimes; in fact we are still trying to bring these people to trial. These are acts of war.

The wake up alarm is getting louder and louder The terrorists decide to bring the fight to America. In January 1993, two CIA agents are shot and killed as they enter CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia.

The following month, February 1993, a group of terrorists are arrested after a rented van packed with explosives is driven into the underground parking garage of the World Trade Center in New York City. Six people are killed and over 1000 are injured. Still this is a crime and not an act of war?

The snooze alarm is depressed again. Then in November 1995 a car bomb explodes at a US military complex in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia killing seven service men and women.

A few months later in June of 1996, another truck bomb explodes only 35 yards from the US military compound in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. It destroys the Khobar Towers, a US Air Force barracks, killing 19 and injuring over 500. The terrorists are getting braver and smarter as they see that America does not respond decisively..

They move to coordinate their attacks in a simultaneous attack on two US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. These attacks were planned with precision. They kill 224. America responds with cruise missile attacks and goes back to sleep.

The USS Cole was docked in the port of Aden, Yemen for refueling on 12 October 2000, when a small craft pulled along side the ship and exploded killing 17 US Navy Sailors. Attacking a US war ship is an act of war, but we sent the FBI to investigate the crime and went back to sleep.

And of course you know the events of 11 September 2001. Most Americans think this was the first attack against US soil or in America. How wrong they are. America has been under a constant attack since 1979 and we chose to hit the snooze alarm and roll over and go back to sleep.

In the news lately we have seen lots of finger pointing from every high officials in government over what they knew and what they didn't know. But if you've read the papers and paid a little attention I think you can see exactly what they knew. You don't have to be in the FBI or CIA or on the National Security Council to see the pattern that has been developing since 1979.

The President is right on when he says we are engaged in a war. I think we have been in a war for the past 23 years and it will continue until we as a people decide enough is enough.

America needs to "Get out of Bed" and act decisively now. America has been changed forever. We have to be ready to pay the price and make the sacrifice to ensure our way of life continues. We cannot afford to keep hitting the snooze button again and again and roll over and go back to sleep.

After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Admiral Yamamoto said "...it seems all we have done is awakened a sleeping giant." This is the message we need to disseminate to terrorists around the world.

Support our troops and support President Bush for having the courage, political and militarily, to address what to many who preceded him didn't have the backbone to do - both Democrat and Republican. This is not a political thing to be hashed over in an election year this is an AMERICAN thing. This is about our Freedom and the Freedom of our children in years to come.

Posted by Deb at 01:22 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

August 13, 2004

A casualty officer's retrospective

LtCol George Goodson, USMC retired

In my 76th year, the events of my life appear to me, from time to time, as a series of vignettes. Some were significant; most were trivial.

War is the seminal event in the life of everyone that has endured it. Though I fought in Korea and the Dominican Republic and was wounded there Vietnam was my war.

Now 37 years have passed and, thankfully, I rarely think of those days in Cambodia, Laos, and the panhandle of North Vietnam where small teams of Americans and Montangards fought much larger elements of the North Vietnamese Army.

Instead I see vignettes: some exotic, some mundane:

  • The smell of Nuc Mam.
  • The heat, dust, and humidity.
  • The blue exhaust of cyclos clogging the streets.
  • Elephants moving silently through the tall grass.
  • Hard eyes behind the servile smiles of the villagers.
  • Standing on a mountain in Laos and hearing a tiger roar.
  • A young girl squeezing my hand as my medic delivered her baby.
  • The flowing Ao Dais of the young women biking down Tran Hung Dao.
  • My two years as Casualty Notification Officer in North Carolina,
    Virginia, and Maryland.

It was late 1967. I had just returned after 18 months in Vietnam. Casualties were increasing. I moved my family from Indianapolis to Norfolk, rented a house, enrolled my children in their fifth or sixth new school, and bought a second car.

A week later, I put on my uniform and drove 10 miles to Little Creek, Virginia. I hesitated before entering my new office. Appearance is important to career Marines. I was no longer, if ever, a poster Marine. I had returned from my third tour in Vietnam only 30 days before. At 5’9”, I now weighed 128 pounds 37 pounds below my normal weight. My uniforms fit ludicrously, my skin was yellow from malaria medication, and I think I had a twitch or two.

I straightened my shoulders, walked into the office, looked at the nameplate on a Staff Sergeant’s desk and said, “Sergeant Jolly, I’m Lieutenant Colonel Goodson. Here are my orders and my Qualification Jacket.”

Sergeant Jolly stood, looked carefully at me, took my orders, stuck out his hand we shook and said, “How long were you there, Colonel?” I replied “18 months this time.“ Jolly breathed, “Jesus, you must be a slow learner Colonel.” I smiled.

Jolly said, “Colonel, I’ll show you to your office and bring in the Sergeant Major." I said, “No, let’s just go straight to his office.” Jolly nodded, hesitated, and lowered his voice, “Colonel, the Sergeant Major. He’s been in this G*dd@mn job two years. He’s packed pretty tight. I’m worried about him.” I nodded.

Jolly escorted me into the Sergeant Major’s office. “Sergeant Major, this is Colonel Goodson, the new Commanding Office." The Sergeant Major stood, extended his hand and said, “Good to see you again, Colonel.” I responded, “Hello Walt, how are you?” Jolly looked at me, raised an eyebrow, walked out, and closed the door.

I sat down with the Sergeant Major. We had the obligatory cup of coffee and talked about mutual acquaintances. Walt’s stress was palpable. Finally, I said, “Walt, what’s the hell’s wrong?” He turned his chair, looked out the window and said, “George, you’re going to wish you were back in Nam before you leave here. I’ve been in the Marine Corps since 1939. I was in the Pacific 36 months, Korea for 14 months, and Vietnam for 12 months. Now I come here to bury these kids. I’m putting my letter in. I can’t take it anymore.” I said, “OK Walt. If that’s what you want, I’ll endorse your request for retirement and do what I can to push it through Headquarters Marine Corps.”

Sergeant Major Walt Xxxxx retired 12 weeks later. He had been a good Marine for 28 years, but he had seen too much death and too much suffering. He was used up.

Over the next 16 months, I made 28 death notifications, conducted 28 military funerals, and made 30 notifications to the families of Marines that were severely wounded or missing in action. Most of the details of those casualty notifications have now, thankfully, faded from memory. Four, however, remain.


My third or fourth day in Norfolk, I was notified of the death of a 19 year old Marine. This notification came by telephone from Headquarters Marine Corps. The information detailed:

  • Name, rank, and serial number.
  • Name, address, and phone number of next of kin.
  • Date of and limited details about the Marine’s death.
  • Approximate date the body would arrive at the Norfolk Naval Air Station.
  • strong recommendation on whether the casket should be opened or closed.

The boy’s family lived over the border in North Carolina, about 60 miles away. I drove there in a Marine Corps staff car. Crossing the state line into North Carolina, I stopped at a small country store / service station / Post Office.
I went in to ask directions.

Three people were in the store. A man and woman approached the small Post Office window. The man held a package. The Storeowner walked up and addressed them by name, “Hello John. Good morning Mrs. Cooper.”

I was stunned. My casualty’s next-of-kin’s name was John Cooper!

I hesitated, then stepped forward and said, ”I beg your pardon. Are you Mr. and Mrs. John Cooper of (address)?

The father looked at me—I was in uniform—and then, shaking, bent at the waist, and vomited. His wife looked horrified at him and then at me. Understanding came into her eyes and she collapsed in slow motion. I think I caught her before she hit the floor.

The owner took a bottle of whiskey out of a drawer and handed it to Mr. Cooper who drank. I answered their questions for a few minutes. Then I drove them home in my staff car. The storeowner locked the store and followed in their truck. We stayed an hour or so until the family began arriving.

I returned the storeowner to his business. He thanked me and said, “Mister, I wouldn’t have your job for a million dollars.” I shook his hand and said; “Neither would I.”

I vaguely remember the drive back to Norfolk. Violating about five Marine Corps regulations, I drove the staff car straight to my house. I sat with my family while they ate dinner, went into the den, closed the door, and sat there
all night, alone.

My Marines steered clear of me for days. I had made my first death notification.


Weeks passed with more notifications and more funerals. I borrowed Marines from the local Marine Corps Reserve and taught them to conduct a military funeral: how to carry a casket, how to fire the volleys and how to fold the flag.

When I presented the flag to the mother, wife, or father, I always said, “All Marines share in your grief.” I had been instructed to say, “On behalf of a grateful nation.” I didn’t think the nation was grateful, so I didn’t say that.

Sometimes, my emotions got the best of me and I couldn’t speak. When that happened, I just handed them the flag and touched a shoulder. They would look at me and nod. Once a mother said to me, “I’m so sorry you have this terrible job.” My eyes filled with tears and I leaned over and kissed her.


Six weeks after my first notification, I had another. This was a young PFC. I drove to his mother’s house. As always, I was in uniform and driving a Marine Corps staff car. I parked in front of the house, took a deep breath, and walked towards the house. Suddenly the door flew open, a middle-aged woman rushed out. She looked at me and ran across the yard, screaming

I hesitated. Neighbors came out. I ran to her, grabbed her, and whispered stupid things to reassure her. She collapsed. I picked her up and carried her into the house. Eight or nine neighbors followed. Ten or fifteen later, the father
came in followed by ambulance personnel. I have no recollection of leaving.

The funeral took place about two weeks later. We went through the drill. The mother never looked at me. The father looked at me once and shook his head sadly.


One morning, as I walked in the office, the phone was ringing. Sergeant Jolly held the phone up and said, “You’ve got another one, Colonel.” I nodded, walked into my office, picked up the phone, took notes, thanked the officer making the call I have no idea why and hung up. Jolly, who had listened, came in with a special Telephone Directory that translates telephone numbers into the person’s address and place of employment.

The father of this casualty was a Longshoreman. He lived a mile from my office. I called the Longshoreman’s Union Office and asked for the Business Manager. He answered the phone, I told him who I was, and asked for the father’s schedule.

The Business Manager asked, “Is it his son?” I said nothing. After a moment, he said, in a low voice, “Tom is at home today.” I said, “Don’t call him. I’ll take care of that.” The Business Manager said, “Aye, Aye Sir,” and then explained, "Tom and I were Marines in WWII.”

I got in my staff car and drove to the house. I was in uniform. I knocked and a woman in her early forties answered the door. I saw instantly that she was clueless. I asked, “Is Mr. Smith home?” She smiled pleasantly and responded, “Yes, but he’s eating breakfast now. Can you come back later?” I said, “I’m sorry. It’s important, I need to see him now.”

She nodded, stepped back into the beach house and said, “Tom, it’s for you.”

A moment later, a ruddy man in his late forties, appeared at the door. He looked at me, turned absolutely pale, steadied himself, and said, “Jesus Christ man, he’s only been there three weeks!”


Months passed. More notifications and more funerals. Then one day while I was running, Sergeant Jolly stepped outside the building and gave a loud whistle, two fingers in his mouth I never could do that and held an imaginary phone to his ear.

Another call from Headquarters Marine Corps. I took notes, said, “Got it.” and hung up. I had stopped saying “Thank You” long ago.

Jolly, “Where?”

Me, “Eastern Shore of Maryland. The father is a retired Chief Petty Officer. His brother will accompany the body back from Vietnam.”

Jolly shook his head slowly, straightened, and then said, “This time of day, it’ll take three hours to get there and back. I’ll call the Naval Air Station and borrow a helicopter. And I’ll have Captain Tolliver get one of his men to meet
you and drive you to the Chief’s home.”

He did, and 40 minutes later, I was knocking on the father’s door. He opened the door, looked at me, then looked at the Marine standing at parade rest beside the car, and asked, “Which one of my boys was it, Colonel?”

I stayed a couple of hours, gave him all the information, my office and home phone number and told him to call me, anytime.

He called me that evening about 2300 (11:00PM). “I’ve gone through my boy’s papers and found his will. He asked to be buried at sea. Can you make that happen?” I said, “Yes I can, Chief. I can and I will.”

My wife who had been listening said, “Can you do that?” I told her, “I have no idea. But I’m going to break my ass trying.”

I called Lieutenant General Alpha Bowser, Commanding General, Fleet Marine Force Atlantic, at home about 2330, explained the situation, and asked, “General, can you get me a quick appointment with the Admiral at Atlantic Fleet Headquarters?” General Bowser said, ” George, you be there tomorrow at 0900. He will see you."

I was and the Admiral did. He said coldly, “How can the Navy help the Marine Corps, Colonel.” I told him the story. He turned to his Chief of Staff and said, “Which is the sharpest destroyer in port?” The Chief of Staff responded with a name.

The Admiral called the ship, “Captain, you’re going to do a burial at sea. You’ll report to a Marine Lieutenant Colonel Goodson until this mission is completed.”

He hung up, looked at me, and said, “The next time you need a ship, Colonel, call me. You don’t have to sic Al Bowser on my ass.” I responded, “Aye Aye, Sir” and got the hell out of his office.

I went to the ship and met with the Captain, Executive Officer, and the Senior Chief. Sergeant Jolly and I trained the ship’s crew for four days. Then Jolly raised a question none of us had thought of. He said, “These government caskets are air tight. How do we keep it from floating?”

All the high priced help including me sat there looking dumb. Then the Senior Chief stood and said, “Come on Jolly. I know a bar where the retired guys from World War II hang out.”

They returned a couple of hours later, slightly the worst for wear, and said, “It’s simple; we cut four 12” holes in the outer shell of the casket on each side and insert 300 lbs of lead in the foot end of the casket. We can handle that, no sweat.”

The day arrived. The ship and the sailors looked razor sharp. General Bowser, the Admiral, a US Senator, and a Navy Band were on board. The sealed casket was brought aboard and taken below for modification. The ship got underway to the 12-fathom depth.

The sun was hot. The ocean flat. The casket was brought aft and placed on a catafalque. The Chaplin spoke. The volleys were fired. The flag was removed, folded, and I gave it to the father. The band played “Eternal Father Strong to Save.” The casket was raised slightly at the head and it slid into the sea.

The heavy casket plunged straight down about six feet. The incoming water collided with the air pockets in the outer shell. The casket stopped abruptly, rose straight out of the water about three feet, stopped, and slowly slipped back into the sea. The air bubbles rising from the sinking casket sparkled in the sunlight as the casket disappeared from sight forever.

The next morning I called a personal friend, Lieutenant General Oscar Peatross, at Headquarters Marine Corps and said, “General, get me the fuck out of here. I can’t take this shit anymore.” I was transferred two weeks later.

I was a good Marine but, after 17 years, I had seen too much death and too much suffering. I was used up.

Vacating the house, my family and I drove to the office in a two-car convoy. I said my goodbyes. Sergeant Jolly walked out with me. He waved at my family, looked at me with tears in his eyes, came to attention, saluted, and said, “Well Done, Colonel. Well Done.”

I felt as if I had received the Medal of Honor!

Posted by Deb at 09:25 AM | Comments (13) | TrackBack

August 12, 2004

Playing in the Sandbox

Here's an update from one of the chaplains of MSSG-24:

I am certain that many of you are wondering exactly what your Marine or Sailor is doing in this war on terrorism. Regardless of the emails that are being sent home and all the associated phone calls that can be made through the phone center, we appear, on occasion, to be having fun. Yes, just as if we were back in elementary school playing in the sand box, or in our rooms playing with Legos.

In the sand box I am certain that you can imagine all the things that children did. Things like putting sand in each other’s hair, building little trails or mote’s for the fortress, eating it just because someone who was close to you kicked some up in your face and it appeared to taste good. Oh, yes, must mention the wrestling we did, and still do. That is when we really get the dirt flying. In our rooms with the Lego’s, we would build the skyscrapers, and little toy trucks and cars that we could race by seeing who could throw it the fastest, and we built other such things that eventually became “Transformers.”

Over the past couple of days we have fortified our position against attack by connecting HESCO BARRIERS together and filling them with dirt. In the processes we have had a tremendous amount of dirt in our hair, and every other orifice, that dirt could get into. We have built a fortress by connecting the barriers together in a way that will protect us to the best of our abilities. And of course you could imagine that we were all trying to build and fill faster than each other— NOT. That was said to make you laugh. But we were all out there, even the CO. God I wish I had my camera. Not just for the CO, but to take pictures of your Marine or Sailor as well. I am certain that many of you already have those childhood photos. You know that one, where the child has just been covered from head to toe in dirt or some other messy substance, that you said you would keep along with that naked baby picture to show their spouse. The pictures I could have taken would prove that some kids never change or only grow up physically.

Regardless of what we are doing, we would all rather be home with you eating ice cream at a social or just talking with friends. Pray for us and keep sending the mail. Each piece brightens the dreary day and makes the eaten dirt taste just that much better as we live in our fortress.

Posted by Deb at 03:04 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Democracy in America, coming soon to Iraq

Brian Palmer, a journalist who has been published in Newsday, Newsweek, The New York Times, Fortune, US News & World Report, and other publications, is currently on ground with the 24th MEU in Iraq. He's keeping a digital diary, currently on week 4, and it's fascinating reading. It is as much a personal reflective journal as a reporter's narrative. Here are some snippets from the first four weeks:

Excerpt - Week One:

Tomorrow I depart for Kuwait with an element of the 24th MEU, a group of roughly 2200 Marines. The MEU will spend a number of days training in Kuwait before deploying to the Baghdad area where it will be conducting “security and stability” operations, according to Captain Dave Nevers, a Public Affairs Officer who will deploy to Iraq as well. These Marines will patrol, operate vehicle checkpoints, meet local leaders, and undertake civil affairs projects. Fundamentally, though, they have been sent to fight.

I am going to Iraq, as an American and as a journalist, to witness the war. In this cynical, postmodern era I stress the word witness, a choice that may strike some as old-fashioned, even naïve. I understand I will be seeing the war from one vantage point, that of a single Marine unit, possibly a single rifle team. I cannot tell the complete story of the war. I will most likely not be able to see much from the Iraqi side nor hear what Iraqis have to say about the US occupation. But I will try to report everything I see and hear clearly and honestly.

Excerpt - Week Two:

Marines have been dispatched around the world by successive US presidents in configurations like the MEU to give force to a variety of policies. Administrations say, Jump, and the Marines do just that. Or as a MEU commander told a reporter and me 10 years ago: "We kill people and blow things up."

That crude -- and accurate -- statement floored me. It also changed my life. I was a crunchy Brown University graduate who hadn't served in the armed forces. In fact, I never had any interest in joining up. Vietnam War footage I watched on my family's black-and-white TV as a kid terrified me. Over the years I absorbed the belief, pervasive in some parts of American society, that the armed forces were something to be protested -- or ignored.

Another crucial factor: My father served in the Army during the Korean War, which was just a couple of years after President Truman ordered the armed forces to mix its all-black and all-white units. Truman's desegregation proclamation, however, didn't magically transform the hearts and minds of the white servicemen who attacked and beat my father and his squad, black men, for simply getting "too friendly" with a couple of German waitresses. "Never join the white man's army," my father, the former sergeant, warned, seething.

But the military I covered in the early 90s was not my father's military. The racial dynamic on the ships on which I sailed was similar to what I saw and lived elsewhere in the US; it was a work-in-progress. I stumbled into pockets of matter-of-fact racial and ethnic harmony aboard the USS America and the USS Guadalcanal, even as I noted the scarcity of colored folks in command meetings.

More profoundly, though, the MEU commander's blunt statement -- and the month I spent aboard US Navy ships photographing Marines and sailors -- made me realize that my reflexive mistrust of the military was pointless, irresponsible, and self-indulgent. The military simply is. The armed forces are a tremendously powerful tool that has been misused by Presidents -- and used constructively and heroically by some administrations as well. Understanding the military -- what it is, what it has done, and what it can do -- is a citizen's responsibility. This is, I realized, is a form of patriotism, which isn't just waving the flag and supporting every move the president makes. Nor is it opposing every step of the guy you didn't vote for, but who got elected anyway. Patriotism, in my view, means participating in the shaping of this nation and holding our leaders accountable for their actions.

"You are in a danger zone right now, here in Kuwait," US Army Lt. General David McKiernan says in the videotaped portion of the presentation. The video urges all personnel to stay alert, both here and in Iraq. It is also provides shorthand hints for conducting oneself among Iraqis: "Do not stare at the women.... Shake hands firmly.... Punctuality is not necessarily their priority." Do not show bottoms of one's feet; do not ask specifics; "and do not mock calls to prayer." Subsequent briefings by Marine commanders will cover similar territory, but in the Corps' jaw-dropping, fuck-you manner. "We are going to kill and kill and kill -- not the innocent, only the enemy -- until they are sick of this war," General James Mattis, commander of the First Marine Division, tells the Marines of the 24th MEU. During my week at Camp Virginia, I hear a few, but not many, Marines refer to "hajjis" and make other saddening and disparaging remarks about the folks who live in this region. But I also run into a lance corporal who shows me her Iraqi Arabic CDs and tells me she's struggling to find time to continue studying.

"I want to put an Iraqi face on what we're doing," Colonel Ron Johnson, the 24th MEU commander tells an assembly of officers and senior enlisted personnel. That means training the Iraqi National Guard to beat back the forces who attack the ING and the US military. "Be patient with the Iraqis," Johnson continues. "I know you're going to look at them and laugh. You're going to see young kids with broomsticks trying to do squad-level tactics... Don't let your men look down at these guys."

"Take the sunglasses down and talk to them eyeball to eyeball. In the Arab world, the eyes tell the truth," Johnson adds. "Give these people respect. That's all they're looking for."

Excerpt - Week Three:

"Welcome to fucking Iraq," Gunny Myers cracked at the next formation of his Marines, the first one on the Iraqi side of the border. Later, after they had stripped off their body armor and salt-streaked shirts, I asked the crew of one vehicle what it felt like to be in-country. "Hot," said one, with purposeful understatement. "It's a little warm here,” joked another. These are young and gung-ho guys, 20 and 21 years old, never been in combat. They deploy blasé tough-guy attitudes, for me, I assume, and possibly for each other.

"I'm not saying it's going to be like a day at Six Flags," one Marine adds, but he's psyched to finally be in Iraq and to be on the verge of combat. Lance Corporal Jerry Wemple, at 29 the oldest Marine on his vehicle, is the only on the vehicle who deployed to Iraq last year. He offered a cautionary note. "I don't think they're totally grasping what it's going to be like," he said diplomatically. Older Marines I have spoken to show a hardened matter-of-factness about what they do. I ask Staff Sergeant Moyer how he felt about heading to Iraq. "I just try to focus on the job at hand. Whatever happens, happens," he told me as we rumbled north on MSR Tampa, the highway from Kuwait to Iraq.

But 24th MEU Marines have also been given talking points from higher-ups to use on the media. "Be the cocky obnoxious bastards you can be," commanded General James Mattis at a welcoming briefing their first week at Camp Virginia. Tell the press nothing negative. If they ask about the heat, tell them "no problem," tell them you're thinking of buying property on the Euphrates. Of casualties, he said, "we shall grieve in private." But, he added, make sure to tell those reporters, "watch us tomorrow."

"Contact is likely," Gunnery Sergeant Myers told the men on the last day of the convoy, the last push north. "Ninety-nine percent of the people want us here. The other one percent we're going to fucking kill," he shouted. "Stay sharp the rest fucking way. Trust your training -- and trust your fucking senior Marines."

Excerpt - Week Four:

"Come on," the Master Sergeant yelled at me. As calmly as I could manage, I put on my body armor and collected my cameras, then I followed them into the sharp and disorienting daylight. For a moment, soldiers and Marines milled around anxiously. Mortar rounds exploded meters from the building we occupied. Another explosion. A small cloud of dust bloomed not too far -- but not too close -- to the gaggle of men.

During the momentary lull, soldiers sprinted toward bomb shelters and piled in. "Push in, push in," Marines shouted. "Nut to butt! Nut to butt!" another screamed.

Posted by Deb at 01:46 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

August 11, 2004

Greyhound just made a BIG mistake

Via Jeff from Backcountry Conservative, here's how one South Carolina Greyhound driver treated a USMC PFC trying to return to MCT after boot camp:

All PFC Jay Griffin wanted to do was make it to combat training camp on time, he had his ticket in hand and was at the Greyhound Bus Station in Greenville before the bus arrived, but he was not allowed to board the bus. He was dressed in full uniform, and his mother says that may be the reason why he was denied the ride.

It was Griffin ’s first time using Greyhound, so he asked plenty of questions to make sure he was at the right place at the right time. Fifteen minutes before the bus even arrived, he says he was waiting with his bags at the curb. His mother, Carol Holden says when the bus got there, no one attempted to load his camouflage bags. "So I tapped [the baggage loader] and said, 'what about my son's baggage? And he looked at me and said he may not have a seat."

That’s when the bus driver called for all ticket holders.

"So Jay went on around and he went to board the bus and when he did, the driver put his arm across the doorway and said I don't have a seat for you," explains Carol.

Greyhound says, “We do not have reserved seats, seating is on a first come, first serve basis. An advance purchase ticket guarantees a discounted fare, but it does not guarantee a seat.”

But Griffin ’s mother claims the ticket seller said any last minute tickets were clearly marked as “standby,” in red. And other ticket holders would have a seat. "He said the bus driver checked the tickets as they boarded the bus and that he knew the stand-bys were to be held until the regular ticket holders were seated."

If you'd like to join me in expressing your opinion, here's an address:

President and Chief Executive Officer
Greyhound Lines, Inc.
P.O. Box 660362
Dallas, TX 75266-0362

There is no better friend and no worse enemy than a Marine. Unless it's a Marine Mom.

Posted by Deb at 08:17 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

11th MEU retaking Najaf

CentCom has the scoop on this battle.

FOB DUKE -- Forces with the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit and the Iraqi security forces continue to battle Anti-Iraqi Forces in Najaf today in an effort to rid the city of those who break the rules of law and order.

In response to current enemy operations in the sacred Wadi Al Salam cemetery, MEU forces are currently fighting Anti-Iraqi Forces and capturing numerous weapons caches found in the holy site's catacombs and mausoleums.

The current MEU offensive kicked off Aug. 9 when AIF, who fled into mosques and buildings surrounding the Imam Ali Shrine after an initial Marine assault on Aug. 5, began to once again operate and launch attacks from the cemetery. AIF today are conducting the same tactics -- launching attacks from the cemetery and surrounding areas, only to immediately run back and seek sanctuary in the mosques and buildings surrounding the Imam Ali Shrine.

Early this morning, at the request of the governor of An Najaf province, MEU and Iraq National Guard forces kicked off several joint raids on suspected AIF positions. While enemy were not found at these sites, Marine and ING troops successfully fought off an attempted enemy ambush as they retrograded through the city after their mission. No Marines or ING forces were killed.

In a move to operate efficiently, members of Najaf's ING and portions of neighboring ING units were put under operational control of the 11th MEU yesterday. This action will allow for a more effective integration with ING forces, as both units fight side-by-side against enemy forces that threaten the peace and stability of Najaf. In addition, ING soldiers received a shipment of hundreds of AK-47 machine guns and crates of ammunition.

Also working directly for the MEU are two reinforced U.S. Army infantry battalions, and a U.S. Army helicopter battalion. Units are:
Task Force ask Force 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat
Team, 1st Cavalry Division
Task Force 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division
Task Force 1st Battalion, 227th Aviation Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division

Current MEU offensives are a result of AIF operating from the sacred cemetery and surrounding mosques and buildings, violating international laws of war and the cease-fire agreement between Muqtada al-Sadr and coalition forces. The agreement, negotiated in June by the Governor of Najaf and other local civic and religious leaders, included the creation of an exclusion zone for coalition forces around the Imam Ali Shrine and its neighboring cemetery.

Upon reaching this agreement, AIF wasted no time in using the holy site as an operating base. Using it as sanctuary, they began by staging large weapons caches there. Activity increased over time, to including sporadic offensive operations against Iraqi security forces and kidnapping Iraqi policemen. The AIF kidnapped their victims, including innocent civilians, bringing them to the cemetery for torture, execution, and burial.

While the international laws of armed conflict normally identify such sites as protected places, that status is forfeited if it is used for military purposes. AIF actions make the cemetery a legitimate military objective, which is being assaulted out of necessity and self-defense. During the fighting, great efforts were made on the part of the Marines to minimize collateral damage and preserve the cemetery.

"Let the AIF clearly understand that 11th MEU Marines and Iraqi Security Forces will not allow them to seek sanctuary and hijack this holy cemetery from the people of Iraq,” said Col Anthony M. Haslam, commanding officer of the 11th MEU. “We will not allow them to continue to desecrate this sacred site, using it as an insurgent base of operations. There will be no sanctuary for thugs and criminals in Najaf."

I sincerely hope that the Marines will finally be allowed to finish the job that 1/7 Marines started last year. If Sadr finally comes face to face with the "no worse enemy" face of our Marines, it will go a long way toward establishing peace. My son is itching to go back to Najaf; he won't since his battalion will deploy to the Al Anbar province, but he knows the area, the people, and has trained for just such a mission. However, Najaf is in good hands with the 11th MEU. Get some.

Posted by Deb at 11:37 AM | Comments (25) | TrackBack

August 10, 2004

Swift Vets Interview

Greyhawk has the first in a series of interviews with Swift Boat veterans posted on The Mudville Gazette. It's well worth reading and I look forward to future installments.

Posted by Deb at 01:06 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

If you think Marines are tough, try being a Marine Mom

It's all in a days work. Linda Roffe, a Marine Corps mom from Montana is a photographer who specializes in outdoor photography. Here's a typical day at her office:

Dancing with bears. Linda reports that this little cub has very sharp teeth.
Cuddling with 5 week old wolf cubs.

Linda's son will soon deploy in support of OIF II. I think we should send her too - anyone who can handle bears and wolves with just a camera would make short work of the unrest over there.

Posted by Deb at 11:36 AM | Comments (131) | TrackBack

The legend of Justin Lehew

There are legendary heroes in the Marine Corps. Their stories are taught during the first days of boot camp and retold wherever Marines congregate. Add one more hero, First Sgt. Justin D. Lehew , to the long list, even though he refuses the title: "There are heroes in life, but we are not it. We're just Marines."

Lehew was among a group of Marines who came upon the aftermath of the battle in which Jessica Lynch was captured last year. Her story is well known; his story is not. At least yet. But in years to come, Lehew's account will join those other legends that are told and retold.

Lehew, a gunnery sergeant at the time, was awarded the Navy Cross for his actions that day, March 23, 2003. More than a year later and in the same country in which he earned it, Lt. Gen. James T. Conway, commanding general, I Marine Expeditionary Force, personally presented the medal to Lehew on July 24.

"This is something you'll probably never see again," said Conway, to the MEU Marines that witnessed the Navy Cross being awarded. "This is second only to the Congressional Medal of Honor."

Lehew was a platoon sergeant for Company A, 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, Task Force Tarawa, during Operation Iraqi Freedom. They were riding their way through Iraq in amphibious assault vehicles.

"I can remember the day pretty vividly," he said.

Just outside of An Nasiriyah, his unit was the foremost unit overtaking the area where 8,000 Iraqi soldiers were thought to be surrendering.

They received a distress call from American soldiers in the area. It didn't make sense to them because his Marines were supposed to be the foremost unit there.

"I jumped on the ground and started asking the Marines if they had seen any soldiers around," Lehew said. "They said they hadn't seen anything."

After pushing forward and searching for 2 1/2 kilometers they began to see burnt Army vehicles and after a little further, soldiers began to appear.

"I saw one pop up in the field we were in, then another popped up on the other side waiving his arms. Then we saw soldiers popping up all over the field waiving their arms," he said.

The Marines just happened to come upon them an hour after the soldiers were ambushed. The Marines did their best to help the injured, two of which were critically injured, while under enemy fire.

"I put my corpsmen with the Army medics, and the soldiers were saying the reason many of them were alive was because of my Marines. I think it was because of their medics doing such a great job," he said. "This wasn't a (combat arms unit), but they did what they could for an hour until we arrived."

Lehew then had his Marines help the best way they could. They started "lighting up" the Iraqi infantry so they could help evacuate the injured.

"An (Army) warrant officer came up to me saying he was missing half his soldiers," Lehew said. "That turned out to be the group that was captured including Jessica Lynch."

Wasting no time, the order to press into An Nasiriyah came. While Marine Corps tanks were busy engaging the enemy in the outskirts of the city, the AAVs pushed into the city.

"Our job was to take the southern bridge," he said.

As soon as they moved into the streets a white van with a blue stripe pulled out in front of them and fired a rocket-propelled grenade. The thin-skinned AAVs swerved, successfully avoiding the RPG. The AAVs were all alone once they arrived at the bridge.

"Once we got on top of the bridge it got quiet for a minute. Then all at once it seemed like Armageddon opened up from all angles of the streets," he said.

There was an Iraqi ambulance that was careening toward the front of the convoy. Lehew fired a warning shot but the ambulance refused to stop, so the Marines opened fire on the cab. But when it stopped, and the Marines searched it, they found six Iraqis clad in black. Then more Iraqis in black began jumping out of cars after careening toward a weapons stockpile under the bridge.

"Swarms of Iraqis started converging on our positions," Lehew said. "There had to have been hundreds."

Many Iraqis started firing RPG's out of windows, doorways and cars.

"They were using women holding babies as spotters," Lehew said. "But we had to hold the bridge at all costs."

Reinforcements for Lehew's unit eventually came -- Marine Corps tanks.

"I jumped up on the turret of the tank and peeled off the Marine's earpiece and told him to fire on a building that RPGs were coming out of," he said. "And when I jumped off, no sooner than my feet touched the ground the building was leveled."

It was right next to a mosque that was left untouched.

Lehew ran back to his Marines while under heavy fire the entire time.

"Then I remember our driver, who was from Georgia, said 'Hey look at those guys going the wrong way with their ramp open,'" Lehew said.

It was an AAV from another company whose mission was to take the northern bridge. Its back ramp had been blown open.

"I ran 70 meters to the back of that AAV," he said. "The cargo hatch was blown in."

On the way to the northern bridge, the AAV's unit had stopped for "surrendering" Iraqis who surprisingly ambushed them by turning around with AK-47s. Other Iraqis joined in with RPGs as Iraqi artillery, which had been plotted beforehand, rained down on them.

This particular AAV had tried to come back into the city with casualties to evacuate but an Iraqi with an RPG jumped behind it and fired into its back.

Lehew and his corpsman began to pull out anyone he could.

"When I got to the vehicle there was a young doc from Puerto Rico following me," he said. "He said 'I'm here as long as you're here gunny.'"

While still under continuous fire, Lehew and his corpsman were hurriedly pulling bodies and body parts out but they began to lose faith that anybody in the AAV had survived.

"We were about to leave the vehicle. I stepped into the center of the vehicle to gather the weapons and clear the radios when I heard a Marine gasp,"
he said.

The Marine was underneath the AAV's hatch and was badly injured. The Marine had been reaching for his rifle when the AAV was hit.

"Doc held his head as we ran him back to our vehicle," he said.

That was one of many wounded the two began to carry back. They soon moved them all inside a nearby house to a casualty collection point set up by the battalion executive officer.

There were casualties everywhere and even though the front half of the house was secured they didn't have enough Marines to defend the casualties.

"You could hear Iraqis in the back side of the house," Lehew said. "All I had was wounded Marines, no weapons. So I helped stabilize their wounds and I ran out to gather up weapons."

After gathering some weapons, Lehew went on a search for Marines.

"I grabbed two of the wounded Marines," he said. "I grabbed an M-16 and racked a round. I said 'If anybody comes through that way, shoot them. If they come this way, don't shoot them.'"

Lehew distinctly remembers a Marine he saw who was blown completely out of an AAV. He hobbled up to Lehew with several pretty bad injuries.

"This kid came up to me and said 'I can still fight gunny,'" Lehew sighed. "So I put a rifle in the kid's hands."

The intense fire never seemed to let up. Lehew knew he had to get all these men out of there.

"I started screaming over the radio net to get a medivac," he said. "Finally we started seeing birds in the air."
He saw the several helicopters overhead and began to set up a hasty landing zone.

"That pilot needs to get a Distinguished Flying Cross because he landed in one of the hottest LZ's with power lines and poles all around," he said.

Then Lehew, his doc and a few other Marines began running casualties "a couple football fields" to the helicopter. "The last thing I saw was a Marine's feet hanging out the back of the bird," he said.

Lehew and his Marines loaded back in the AAVs, and with the tanks firing to the left and AAVs firing to the right, they sped back out of "Ambush Alley." They headed to the northern bridge to support the other AAV company.

"They had all the advantage points. They were firing so many weapons from the rooftops and streets, it's a miracle nobody died in that convoy," Lehew said.

On their way back, they started seeing burnt up shells of AAVs every hundred yards. They stopped to assist that unit.

After the dust had cleared and the battle was done, Lehew and his men had evacuated 77 casualties from the scene.

He can remember that there were some Marines that all he could do to help them before they were evacuated was to "sit with them, hold their hand and tell them they'd be alright."

A couple days later, around midnight, they were told the Fedayeen were mounting a 2,000-man counteroffensive against them.

"We were very depleted on ammo and chow, but my Marines still had the attitude of 'Bring it on!'" Lehew exclaimed. "I was lucky enough to go through all this with one of the greatest group of Marines ever."

They never had to fight that battle because Marine artillery broke up the offensive before it ever made it to Lehew's men.

Lehew feels the events of that day showed the steadfast courage of this generation of Marines.

"I've heard some say this video game generation is weak, and that they could never live up to the legend of those at Tarawa and such," Lehew said. "These Marines fought more courageously than I could have imagined. Right now, the Marine Corps is the best it's ever been and it will only get better."

He holds no less confidence in his current Marines with Co. C, Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 4th Marines, than what he holds for those he went to war with.

"These guys are just as good," he said. "The Marine Corps is built upon the back of the infantry rifleman."

Lehew believes the Marine Corps' greatness comes from Marines pitted in days like this one and the camaraderie that comes from fighting side by side.

"Every Marine came into the Marine Corps to fight. They either have something to prove to themselves or someone else," he said. "It's the kids that can't hold their personal life together that win battles. It's the kid the platoon teases, or the kid that his buddies tease because he shoots marksman, that holds off half the Fedayeen. His biggest fear is not that he'll fail, but that he'll let his buddies down. What makes us elite is that we don't want to let each other down."

Posted by Deb at 11:19 AM | Comments (16) | TrackBack

August 09, 2004

Adam Marshall and Mom Power

Last weekend, we met former Marine Adam Marshall at the Marine Parents United convention in Indianapolis. He fought in Iraq during OIF last year with a notebook strapped to his leg where, during his down time, he'd write songs. He's back and is using the money he saved (no place to spend it over there) to launch his career. And, he could use a bit of help. Country Line Magazine has a monthly poll to choose a new artist CD to review. Adam's soon-to-be-released single, Come Home As Fast As You Can is currently in second place. Here's your chance to help him out. Vote for him at Country Line Magazine.

There isn't a lot that I can do for my own son right now, besides writing to him and sending him packages when he deploys at the end of the month. But the Marine Corps family is an extended family and I'm happy to help Adam. You can too.

Posted by Deb at 02:51 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Burning Rubber

Marine Corps Moms all over the country are justifiably proud of what their children are accomplishing in the deserts of Iraq and Afghanistan. Proud Marine Corps Mom Pat Costantini passes along this news story about how the 1st LAR, under her son's leadership, is making the country safer for both Marines and Iraqis. Here's a snippet:

The Medevac helicopter delivered the three wounded Marines at around 2 a.m. to this base in western Iraq, an hour after their Humvee exploded from one of the roadside bombs that increasingly litter this stretch of highway.

"Litter" is the operative word. For at least the third time, the bomb was hidden in a car tire lying in the median of the road.

"To tell you the truth, they should've seen this one. It was pretty obvious," said Marine Lt. Col. William Costantini, 41, commander of the 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion. He is holding a twisted piece of metal, shrapnel from the 155mm artillery round that was hidden in the tire.

"But they were tired, they had already been out for an hour," he explained.

The three Marines will recover; one has a broken leg, another deep lacerations. One will return to duty almost immediately.

The Marines know what to look for.

Not long ago he was inspecting a tire on the side of the road. One of his men walked up to a second one nearby.

"Are they supposed to have antennas sticking out of them?" the Marine asked.

Costantini called in an explosives squad.

"If the shooter had been there, he could have wiped all of us out," he said, shaking his head. "We were just standing there."

Understanding the political climate and history of the region helps.

In this part of Iraq, Costantini says, his enemy is not driven by a political agenda as much as his own self-interest. Rutbah, the closest town to "Camp KV," is a historic center for smugglers. The route is thousands of years old, and became firmly entangled with the Baathist regime during the decade of economic sanctions imposed on Saddam Hussein. What commercial goods Iraq managed to get flowed through this tiny town, and there were profits made at every level.

"They smuggle sheep, weapons, people, probably cash, cigarettes, alcohol," Costantini said. "We don't really care about the sheep."

An effective way of decreasing IED hazard is getting rid of possible havens.

Costantini's job, today, is burning tires.

Four armored LAVs rumble up and down the highway. Every 100 feet or so, they disgorge a two-man crew which pours diesel fuel from an old water bottle on a rag, lights a match, and sets each tire on fire. The grimy, choking work continues for two hours. They cover 10 miles of road. Bllack smoke curls up and obscures much of the blue sky. Marines cleared about 17 miles on an earlier mission, and another patrol will burn the tires on the 5-mile stretch back to camp.

"We'd never do this in California," Costantini says ruefully. "When we started this last week, my Marines were like, 'Are you sure? Is this legal?' If I could, I'd drive around with 7-ton trucks and pick them all up as we go, I would. But I can't do that."

The 1st LAR will return to Camp Pendleton in a few weeks. LtCol Cosantini's wife and mother will be very happy to welcome their Marine home. They've provided unwavering support on the home front; Pat sewed and mailed hundreds of cool ties, and enlisted the help of many other volunteers including her 94 year old mother-in-law. 1st LAR Marines have performed admirably in the sandbox, and their work will make the job of the incoming Marines - including my son's battalion - easier. Not easy, but easier. And maybe, just a bit safer. Thank you, 1st LAR.

Posted by Deb at 02:44 PM | Comments (1)

August 08, 2004

Letters to the troops

Slaglerock has a letter-writing campaign going - it's a great idea and I'm sending off a note tonight.

Now, I issue a challenge to all bloggers and their readers.

If you haven't already done so, please write a post/letter to the troops. Trackback to either this post or my letter.* I will give it a couple of days for the trackbacks to build. Then I will go to each of your sites and print out your letters. I'll use the trackbacks to ensure that I get the letters of all who wish to participate and don't miss any. I will be giving those letters to a Technical Sergeant in the USAF to hand carry to the troops on the front lines.

If you'd like to include a note, leave it either in the comment section to this post or visit Slaglerock at this link. Here's his letter:

Here is what I'd like to say to all of the brave men and women serving in harms way: To my fellow compatriots, the brave men and women of the Department of Defense. Whether you are male or female, Seaman, Airman, Soldier or Marine you are without a doubt the finest human beings on the planet.

We (the US military collectively) have selflessly volunteered to serve this great nation and its just president. Everyday we put our lives on the line so that American's can enjoy their freedoms. We do a job that most couldn't handle. We have chosen a life of service that protects our great land and often intercedes to prevent injustices to nations that aren’t capable of defending themselves i.e. – Afghanistan, Iraq, France.

Throughout our relatively short history the United States has reshaped the face of the planet. At one time, socialist/communist governments were abound. Today very few exist. The great communist superpower, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics crumbled during the cold war. Europe as a whole has been spared enslavement by warmongers on more than one occasion largely due to the efforts of the United States. We have freed the people of Afghanistan and Iraq from brutal oppressive governments. Collectively the United States has ensured freedom for millions of people throughout the world.

Look but do not see the images that Michael Moore depicts. Listen but do not hear the words that his ACTORS speak. Pay no attention to the selective editing that he has so surreptitiously used to try and portray our great president as a money hungry warmonger. Michael Moore has an agenda. His views are shared by John Kerry and vice versa. Hollywood’s left is bent on ousting a good president and Kerry will ride their coattails if it can deliver the presidency.

We all know and understand what fiction is and Fahrenheit 9/11 is just that, fiction, not fact. It is merely one misguided mans opinion of events surrounding September 11, 2001. We all know more INTEL about the terrorists than Moore could ever hope to understand. We are on the inside we see the truth. We have heard the “thank-yous" from Iraqi fathers that will no longer have to worry about their daughter(s) being sent to one of Saddam’s rape camps. We know what we did in Iraq was just and simply put the right thing to do.

For all the officers and NCO's out there keep your young troops in the game. Don't let this garbage of Michael Moore’s disrupt moral or make a troop second-guess his involvement in the war with Iraq. These brave young men and woman are history makers. They are the ones that are molding the world and making it a better place for all of humanity.

My part in Operation Iraqi Freedom will forever be one of my proudest moments. No crooked politician, leftists media outlet or crackpot film producer will ever change my opinion of the President, these United States, our role in the Middle East, or my own personal involvement in the war.

Stay strong, stay safe, and most importantly be proud of who you are and the great nation you serve.

SlagleRock Out!

Posted by Deb at 05:57 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Update from Fallujah

Here's an e-mail from a Marine near Fallujah. Can you tell that he's looking forward to coming home in September?

Hello Friends and Family,

I have been waiting for this week to come for a while. Why, perhaps would the first week in August be significant? Could it be

a) the anniversary of MTV which made it's debut during this time back in 1982,

b) the beginning of WWI back in 1914,

c) the birth of the Jeep back in 1942, or

d) the birth date of Jerry Garcia?

There is actually little significance in the date to me other than I can now tell myself that I leave next month. Of course by just making such a bold declaration I have probably jinxed myself and I will have to stay longer, but I knocked on wood so that will never happen.

I still have to travel back through Camp Pendleton so when ever I do leave here, I still have another week in California before I get to return to Georgia. Oceanside California will get a boost to it's economy when I hit the deck though. I am already making a list in my head of all the local restaurants I plan to eat at. I can see it now...my body will likely go into shock after 7 months of "clean living".

I didn't send any pictures of myself last week because of the fight I lost with the barber, but I figured out a way to still send you a picture without you laughing too much. I am counting on it growing out by the time I return but until then, I'll just wear my cover for the next month and a half.

Anyway, I thought a nice sunset over Fallujah would make for a nice picture. I have to admit it looks so peaceful, but minutes before we were observing US jets "helping" the bad guys in their quest for martyrdom just to the right of the setting sun. Air superiority is a great thing.

Let's see, what else happened. We did get our water turned back on midway though the week so that was a welcome resolution only to have it turned off within two days again.

That spray on armor team I wrote about finished their pilot program and we sent them back home. Long story, short...they proved my hypothesis that it was too much of a burden on the MEF to do. Too bad I don't get paid for my opinion.

On a personal note, I received an email from Meleia this week that was interesting. Earlier this week, she had another snake incident and this is a person who can't even look at snakes in a picture. This is the second time she has had to deal with snakes since I left. The first one actually made it into the house and she wouldn't have noticed it if Sadie wasn't playing with it.

Those of you who don't know Sadie, she isn't the smartest dog you will ever meet. She is also the only black lab you will ever meet that can't swim, but that is another story.

The latest snake was in the garage. She was able to get a neighbor to kill it, but I wouldn't be surprised to find that my family has moved to Hawaii when I get back if she has another encounter with a snake. I think she deserves the imminent danger pay more than me.

This weeks article is about MajGen Mattis and the Marines of 1st Marine Division. I took the liberty of highlighting what I thought was important in the event that you just want to skim through it. The big take away is that regardless of what you hear from the Michael Moore's back there, the Marines believe that what we are doing is important and support President Bush.

But then again...maybe Marines are not average Americans. Until next week...


The USMC - where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the Marines are above average.

Posted by Deb at 05:14 PM

August 07, 2004


My son, Lance Corporal Shane Conrad, has been home for several weeks on predeployment leave. We've had a wonderful visit - they've been bouncing back and forth between various family members, making contacts and memories. We had a wonderful dinner out, thanks to the generosity of a former Marine and his wife who have never met my son but support him and all our troops. Last night, we gathered at his dad's house for a farewell BBQ. (For those who care, all smoke, no sauce. It was wonderful.) This morning, he and his wife are returning to their home base at 29 Palms - it's been wonderful having them home but he has a job to do and a mission to complete with the help of his brother Marines. He is fully motivated to finish the task that they began last year - his battalion was the first over and the last to return.

Eleven months later, they will once again travel around the world, this time to the Al Anbar province. The Marines who have been there since March have done an awesome job of helping the Iraqi people bring stability to their country. They are ready to come home to a well-earned rest. And the 1/7 has been training hard and is ready to go at the end of August. Prayers for their safety and protection as they return to a war zone would be deeply appreciated.

Posted by Deb at 08:29 AM | Comments (12) | TrackBack

August 06, 2004

Hollywood Marines

This term has often been used to provide some good-nature ribbing aimed at those Marines who went through boot camp at MCRD-San Diego. Now, there's more to the appellation. Here's the scoop from Lance Cpl. Heidi E Loredo:

Arabic music echoes through the narrow trash-strewn streets of a mock Iraqi village on a sunny afternoon. Saddam loyalist posters and raggedy clothes for sale are posted on shacks built on dirt-paved roads plagued with donkey droppings and broken glass. A mock Iraqi family stands outside their home shouting anti-America slogans while Marines patrol the area.

A bomb explodes and sends fragments in every direction and for a brief moment the Marines seem paralyzed by the shock. What do they do next?

Marines from 2nd Battalion, 24th Marines, from Chicago, participated in military operations in urban terrain July 27-28 to prepare for their upcoming deployment to Iraq. The training placed the Reservists in a simulated Iraqi town inside Strategic Operations, a training site located on the 11-acre lot of Stu Segall Productions, San Diego's only TV and movie studio.

"Strategic Operations is a training facility that prides itself for being different than any other facility," said Stu Segall, owner. "We use the magic of Hollywood to simulate a real-world training environment for tomorrow's threat. We combine movie-making techniques with the realism for training needs."

My son has spent many hours in MOUT training at March Air Force base and in abandoned base training at 29 Palms. This faciity kicks it up a notch.

The 12,000 square foot tactical training area includes a drug lab, school house, bomb lab, alley and adjacent MOUT facility. Some rooms are equipped with interchangeable floor plans to provide variety in the training scenarios. The lot is specifically designed for law enforcement and military training and is not open to the public.

The shoot house, also called the "kill house," is another feature the facility offers. The "kill house" is a simulated residence fully furnished complete with front yard and security door used for repeated breeches. The home is equipped with furniture, operating lights and real-life surroundings like the laundry on the floor and the dirty dishes in the kitchen sink. The rooms offer overhead viewing catwalks and are available in each scenario. There is also a bomb lab with a complete display of interactive simulated improvised explosive devices.

"We've installed doors that open the wrong way to trap the Marines when they storm a building," said Segall.

The highlight of the lot is the MOUT facility. The facility sits on a four-acre lot. Both the exterior and interiors of these moveable buildings can be easily changed to simulate urban areas in various parts of the world.

"We tried to simulate an Iraq village exactly how it is, from the items they sell on the streets to the animals that are loose and running around in the streets," said Segall. "We provide role players to add to the experience forcing the Marines to react to every little thing they do. All personnel in the unit are free to participate in the training evolution instead of being role players."

And OIF veterans add to the realism:

Strategic Operations also provides professional wound artists that create grotesque and convincing wounds.

"We had Marines who lost limbs in the war come help us," said Segall. "They would go out on patrol with their squad, a bomb would explode, and we'd pretend they lost a leg. The rest of the Marines had to learn how to quickly react to the gushing blood and screams, but at the same time they had to be constantly aware of what was going on around them."

Segal and his team aimed to re-create the fog of war whether it was sound, smell, smoke or explosions from the rocket-propelled grenade to the Arabic writing on the wall.

"When a squad is out on patrol and an improvised explosive device explodes in front of a Marine, the rest of his Marines experience a shock," said Segall. "Here we train them to quickly react and automatically think of what they must do next. When it's all done it takes around two minutes to set up again."

"This is more realistic than March Air Reserve Base," said Sgt. Jonathon Welms, a Chicago, native. "Despite the narrow space, this setup is more productive than any training we've received. I'd rather do this since it is real-world training that is more believable. Having rounds come back at us compared to the cinderblock MOUT facility at Camp Pendleton makes it more real. We're going to be new combat-efficient leaders. The simulations build the privates first class to be better leaders so they are not afraid to stand up and take charge."

Posted by Deb at 02:14 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Memories of Boot Camp

Donald Sensing, from One Hand Clapping, watched as his oldest son Stephen went off to boot camp last week. Matthew, a former Marine writing at South End Grounds is tracking his progress through boot camp through a retrospective of his own boot camp memories. Here's part of his introduction to the weekly series:

Sometimes Boot Camp, especially in the Marine Corps, is maligned for its rigor and arcane traditions. I remember Moms of America came by one day while we were doing LINE training (a martial arts type hand to hand combat). They objected to our use of the word "Kill" as we executed movements. Our Drill Instructors obliged the visitors by ordering us to scream "Death."

I hope that as you read this weekly excursion down memory lane you see that everything that happens on Parris Island - or any other military proving ground - does so for a reason. The transformation from snot-nosed kid to United States Marine is a dramatic one. It doesn't happen by accident and the process of the transformation has been honed over 229 years of developing the world's most elite fighting force.

So why did we yell "kill" as we executed movements designed to kill or injure another? Because if you're going to do that, you have to desensitize yourself to your actions. You are trying to kill someone who is trying to kill you or your comrades.

Combat is messy business. Training for combat shouldn't be a garden of roses.

I also hope you gain an appreciation for what our military endures even at its most basic levels. Boot Camp was no picnic but it was easier than some of the things I did later in my brief and less than legendary career in the Marine Reserves.

This series will be well worth reading for anyone interested in how boot camp works. Here's an excerpt from this week's post:

The forming DI's pep talk left me feeling like I could run through a wall. I met that wall. His name was SSgt. Spitzer. He was about 47 feet tall and built like a brick outhouse. I thought SSgt. Kopp from our opening night on the Island looked like a tank. SSgt. Spitzer made him look like a Yugo.

He wanted to know why my uniform was wrinkled and why I was wearing go-fasters (running shoes). I assumed that he already knew that I had to sleep in my cammies for two nights without the benefit of an iron in the morning and that everyone who showed up with me was ordered to leave our boots packed and wear go-fasters. So, I stumbled and stammered something that he didn't like so he dumped by seabag and began to destroy its contents.

Amazingly, five DI's were doing the same thing simultaneously to 47 mortified recruits. It was like each of them were actually 10 different people. As I write this, I am having trouble coming up with the words to paint the carnage that was unfolding before my eyes.

Suddenly, they were gone. Disappearing into the room from whence they came. All about me lay the contents of our neatly packed ALICE packs and seabags. Every bottle of YES detergent that we brought with us was crushed and empty. The deck had turned from concrete grey to YES blue.

The DI's had established the pecking order. They were the kings and we were subjects. They were the lion and we were the poor yak who couldn't quite get away. They were the hammer and we were the nail. Insert your own metaphor here.

We knew that they were in charge and that try as we might, we would never please them. We would always live in terror. The very sight of them would bring back haunting memories of this moment. They had begun to tear us down. Soon they would lay the foundation and begin to rebuild.

Drill instructors have 12 weeks to take groups of individuals and turn them into a cohesive team, where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. They bring out the best that each recruit has to offer while simultaneously discarding bad habits learned over a lifetime of self-indulgence. My son told me afterwards that if kids went through Marine Corps boot camp at the start of high school that this country wouldn't have a high school drop out problem. Or, many of the other problems that plague society.

Posted by Deb at 09:53 AM | Comments (1)

August 05, 2004

Update from the 24th MEU

Photo by Maj. Clint Nussberger

Col. Ronald J. Johnson, commanding officer of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, talks with Sheik Hisham Al Dulaimi, a tribal leader in the Iraqi province of Northern Babil, during a recent meeting in Baghdad. The two discussed ways of enhancing security and stability in the province, where the MEU assumed operational responsibility July 29. The man pictured in the middle is an interpreter. Below, Col. Johnson updates friends and family of the 24th MEU:

We have arrived in Iraq. In successfully moving all our Marines and sailors up from Kuwait, we have cleared our first significant hurdle. Sadly, we had not yet completed the transition before we suffered our first casualty. Lance Cpl. Vincent Sullivan, an infantyman assigned to Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 2nd Marines, was killed by an enemy mortar round July 23. We mourn his loss, share his family’s grief, and ask you to remember them in your prayers.

As we move forward, security is a top priority. Not only will we harden our operating bases, we will patrol actively outside the gates in search of the enemy. The hostile forces we face are criminals trying to exploit a country in transition. They hope to intimidate the good people of Iraq and scare us off. We do not intend to wait for these thugs to terrorize the neighborhood. To the greatest extent possible, working with the Iraqi authorities, we will engage them on our terms. We will seize and maintain the initiative, letting nobody stand in the way of our efforts to assist the Iraqi people.

Many of you may have heard that living conditions here are well short of luxurious. If it makes you feel any better, they are considerably better than they were last year, as roughly half of us can attest. Most of your Marines and sailors already have showers, two hot meals daily, air-conditioned tents, incoming mail and email access. Those who do not, will soon. We are making improvements every day. The welfare of your Marines and sailors, together with the accomplishment of our mission, remains my paramount concern.

Now that we are all here, we can update you more frequently on our activities. I aim to share a few thoughts periodically. Additionally, as long as we maintain our connection to the Web, you can expect fresh photos and news articles each day. Thank you for your patience and prayers during the transition. And thanks for the letters and packages, which we are now receiving regularly. Please keep them coming.

Posted by Deb at 01:34 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Godspeed, Recruit Sensing

Another Marine in the making, Donald Sensing's son Stephen is immersed in the rigors of boot camp at Marine Corps Recruit Depot - Parris Island. Congratulations to the Sensings for raising a son who is willing to put personal comfort and convenience aside to provide service to his country. It's no small sacrifice, and some families sacrifice more than others. Stephen's grandfather retired from the Air Force. Stephen's father retired from the Army.

Last week, Recruit Sensing stood on the yellow footsteps at Parris Island with other recruits, normal kids who enjoy extreme sports, loud music, and fast cars. By now, he's well into his first week of training. He's met his drill instructors who are tasked with taking individual civilians and turning them into the best trained and most effective fighting force in the world. He is learning the customs and courtesies of the Corps and the rich history that defines why the USMC continues to be an integral part of our armed forces on the shores of Kuwait and in the deserts of Iraq and Afghanistan. These recruits are the lastest chapter in a proud history; Guadalcanal, Guam, and Iwo Jima. Inchon. Chosin. Belleau Wood. Fallujah. And in 11 weeks, one of the newest Marines will escort his parents through the museum at Parris Island as their own tour guide, sharing this history without notes. He will know it, just as he will know his weapons. He won't have a choice; his drill instructors will see to that.

The boot camp process transforms recruits. It brings out hidden strength. It changes them, like heat changes coal, iron ore, and limestone, into steel. They are steeped in the Corps values of honor, courage, and commitment. And, the end product is bigger, stronger, better than the individual elements. This is put to the test during the Crucible. In the field of metallurgy, a crucible is a container in which raw materials are heated to a high temperature and transformed into something more than the original contents. The necessary properties of a crucible are that it maintain its strength and structure under extreme stress and that it not react in an undesirable way with its contents.

In the Marine Corps, the Crucible Event tests the mettle of Marine recruits who have completed seventy-eight days of boot camp. Over a timespan of 54 hours, they march 40 miles while carrying 40-pound packs and wearing ammo pouches cartridge belts, and canteens. They overcome a series of obstacles through cooperation and collaboration. They endure increasingly demanding conditions while experiencing sleep deprivation and hunger. In the process, they are transformed into the few, the proud, the Marines.

When the Sensing family gathers, eleven weeks from today, to watch their son as he is awarded the title of United States Marine, it will be a defining moment in their family history. And their son will be one more link in the history of the United States Marine Corps. Oohrah!

Posted by Deb at 08:48 AM | Comments (2)

August 04, 2004

Signs of the times

It's not unusual to drive through blue-collar towns and see much evidence of patriotism - flags, banners, signs. But upscale neighborhoods are usually different. Unless the home belongs to a family member of a Marine or soldier. Here's the home of another Marine Corps Mom whose son is a currently deployed battalion commander. She lives in "very liberal" Ithaca, NY . . . but so far, positive comments outweigh negatives 4:1.

Posted by Deb at 01:38 PM | Comments (42) | TrackBack

Mattis and his Marines

Most reports of military life in a war zone come from the troops. Here's one by Pamela Hess, a Pentagon correspondent who wears a "straw hat, long skirts, braids" instead of camouflage.

. . . the worse conditions are, the better Marines seem to like it. Marines at a dusty outpost on the Syrian border take great pride they are not serving instead at "Camp Chocolate Cake," as they refer to Al Asad, home of the 7th Regimental Combat Team. Everything here is relative. To an American eye it is downright bleak. But inside row upon row of plywood buildings it is cool. A Marine doesn't care how hot he gets as long as he knows he has a cool place to sleep, I'm told.

An air conditioned place to sleep is one of the things 1st Marine Division Commander Maj. Gen. Jim Mattis requires for his troops.

Just one of the reasons his troops would walk through fire for him. Here's another:

"He leads from the front," one Marine noted in the cool and noisy morale, welfare and recreation tent at Camp Blue Diamond. It has a pool table, a ping pong table, foosball, Nintendo, a large-screen TV, 20 Internet monitors, a library filled with cast off magazines and paperbacks, and a seemingly perpetual dominos game that somehow the Marines have turned into a full contact sport.

When Mattis' "jump platoon" goes out in a convoy - it is regularly attacked and has been hit by improvised explosive devices at least twice - it is not uncommon for the general to have his head out the turret, assuming the same risk as the gunners, say Marines.

A lieutenant colonel gave a more specific example of leading from the front: when the Iraqi-led Fallujah Brigade was created, Mattis decided it needed a test run to see if the native force could actually keep order in the city after weeks of fighting. He sent a Marine convoy through town to see if it would be shot at. He was in the convoy.

For a number of reasons, morale isn't as much of a problem with Marines as with other troops.

Late one night, a female officer was leaving the command operations center when she said pleasantly to a corporal standing guard: "How are you, Marine?"

The corporal was completely alone in the pitch-black loggia of one of Saddam's former palaces, and would be there for hours more before he was relieved.

"Motivated!" he thundered back, cheerily, from the dark.

As a mother whose USMC son will be returning to the Al Anbar province later this month, knowing that my son serves under this type of leadership is hugely reassuring. I'll still worry; I'm a mom and that's my job. But I have utmost confidence in his leadership and not all mothers can say that.

Posted by Deb at 01:13 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Operation Homecoming

Warriors have always been writers. And now, there is support for those with a story to tell. The National Endowment for the Arts is sponsoring Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience, a program for U.S. military personnel and their families. It will preserve the narratives and memories of the American troops that protect and defend our country in wartime.

In coordination with all four branches of the Armed Forces and the Department of Defense, the Arts Endowment is sponsoring writing workshops for returning troops and their families at military installations from Alaska to Florida, New York to California, and numerous sites in between. The workshops also will be held at overseas bases. Taught by some of America’s most distinguished novelists, poets, historians, and journalists, these workshops will provide service men and women with the opportunity to write about their wartime experiences in a variety of forms — from fiction, verse, and letters to essay, memoir, and personal journal. The visiting writers, many of whom are war veterans themselves, will help the troops share their stories with current and future generations.

Here are excerpts from three unedited manuscripts received so far:

3 A.M. With the VFW
By Sgt. Michael Thomas

As I walked off the plane, I was taken aback: in the small, dimly-lit airport, a group of elderly veterans lined up to shake our hands. Some were standing, some confined to wheelchairs, all wore their uniform hats. Their now-feeble right hands arms stiffened in salutes, their left hands holding coffee, snacks and cell phones for us.

As I made my way through the line, each man thanking me for my service, I choked back tears. Here we were, returning from one year in Iraq where we had portable DVD players, three square meals and phones, being honored by men who had crawled through mud for years with little more than the occasional letter from home.

These soldiers – many of whom who had lost limbs and comrades – shook our hands proudly, as if our service could somehow rival their own.

The Cat in Iraq
By Ryan Alexander

She came to me skittish, wild.
The way you’re meant to be,
Surrounded by cruelty.
I did not blame her.
I would do the same.

A pregnant cat, a happy distraction
Some sort of normal thing
Calico and innocent.

The kittens in her belly said feed me.

And I did.

Three Thousand Antoinettes
By Captain William Toti

And then came the moment I’ll never forget. She blinked and asked, “Doctor, am I going to die?” Wham. Just like that.

That was a question that I had never imagined myself having to answer. I looked around our little triage area on the side of the road. The first injured man I had come across was no longer conscious and was doing poorly. Another young lady was standing nearby with severely burned hands, screaming hysterically but otherwise alright. The man we carried up the hill most recently was still screaming and was being attended to by a couple of EMTs. And here lie this woman, with no one to attend her but me. What should I say? Should I tell her I wasn’t a doctor?

The anthology is scheduled to be published in the late fall 2005. It will feature poems, letters, personal stories, memoirs, journal writing, etc. from troops who have served in OEF/OIF and their families. Further information can be obtained from the Operation Homecoming website.

Posted by Deb at 12:44 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Another Mama Speaks Out

Mamamontezz has a must-read letter to our troops in response to Joe Roche's lament over Fahrenheit 9/11's impact on our deployed troops. Here's a snippet, but do read the whole thing.

The motives of any person who would download this film, burn it to a disk, and mail it to a young, exhausted, and vulnerable man or woman far from home doing what has to be the world's most difficult and thankless job have got to be questioned by sane and rational people. Any person who would do this is nothing less than thoughtless and cruel. I liken this behavior to telling "dead baby jokes" to a couple who has recently lost an infant, or amputee jokes to someone who is still learning to use his newly fitted prosthetics.

Michael Moore has an agenda, a very specific agenda, which he promotes with this film: The overthrow of a sitting president for the purpose of weakening this country and her military. He is Jane Fonda in a fat suit. He very obviously cherry-picked those he interviewed and then edited what was said in such a way to make their words as damning to their fellow fighting men and women as possible, and to undermine all sense of duty, honor, and patriotism in each of you, as well as in as many of us who remain at home as possible.

Spc. Roche is right that the youngest of you is the most vulnerable to his deceits, and because of this, you have been targeted for his venom. By undermining your confidence in yourselves, in your NCOs, in your officers, and ultimately in your Commander-in-Chief, he forwards his agenda and comes ever so much closer to accomplishing that which he prizes and seeks so openly. By turning your pride and spirit into despair and anger, he destroys you and all who depend on you. He knows and depends on the fact that when you begin to question yourself, you become a danger to yourself and to the man or woman who stands beside you, and you become a liability to your comrades, to your unit, and to your mission.

She finishes up with this call to action:

It is up to each of us to counter what this man has done, and to heal those who's hearts and minds bear his bitter wounds. Do what's right. Send your support. However small or insignificant you may think it is, there is no such thing. Tell someone you support them and the job they're doing in your name, in our names.


Posted by Deb at 11:57 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

August 03, 2004

It's a girl!

Matt from Blackfive has a birth announcement posted. Born yesterday, 7 lb. 13 oz., 20 inches. The vital statistics don't do her justice. She's beautiful. Please go add a comment - I'm sure the thread will be printed out for her baby book.

Posted by Deb at 06:40 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

The Original Oregon Cowboy

Adam Marshall with Deb, Janise, and Connie

He's talented, charming, and cute as can be. And he's a former Marine.

Adam Marshall, winner of Country Thunder USA�s �Young Guns� national finals competition, also won the hearts of the folks in attendance at the Marine Parents United conference in Indianapolis last Saturday night, performing a number of songs from his first album, The Last Marshall. This album, available through his website, holds 9 songs that were written on scraps of paper in fighting holes dug while Adam was deployed to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Come Home As Fast As You Can, the first single from his album was released nationally this week. The liner notes on the CD state, "I used to close my eyes and imagine being home with my family.... the letters... the pictures... the memories... that's what kept me going." The song title comes from letters sent to him by his mother and sister - come home as fast as you can. It's the prayer of every family member for their Marine at war.

In a bit of downtime between firefights just outside of Basra, the Marines decided to write a song. Although only only a few Marines preferred country music, two of them held the rank of Sergeant, so a command decision was made. Dissenters were told, "If this place was a democracy, we wouldn't be here." The subject of the song was a no-brainer. Marines cherish their women and spend much time thinking about them, writing to them, waiting in line for hours to make a 5 minute phone call home. Because no Marine wants to be wrong, or worse, have to admit that he was wrong, the guys decided that they needed a song that would say it for them while they were scoring points with flowers and candy. The result was the 5th track on the album, "Honest Man".

Adam thanked the Marine Corps Moms in the room for their support, saying "They got your back. There's nowhere they can't reach." A voice called from a back table, "And there's nothing we don't know." Adam paused, then said, "That's really true...and that's why I got along so well in the Marine Corps." Yep. Before there was boot camp, there was Mom.

His debut single,Come Home As Fast As You Can, is slated for nationwide play very soon. Starting September 1 (East coast) or September 3 (West coast), please call your local country radio station and ask them to play it. The support of Marine parents helped him to win Country Thunder. The larger community of troop supporters can help his single climb the charts.

Once you hear his single, you'll want more. Order his album here. A portion of his album sales will be donated to the USO.

Posted by Deb at 01:31 PM | Comments (2)

August 02, 2004

Words to live by

Here's a list of suggestions for troops arriving in Iraq. It's written by a soldier for soldiers but Marines facing their first deployment will almost certainly find something useful here too:

If you're a new guy to the unit, learn as much as you can as soon as you get there. If they hand you a TM or FM, memorize it in its entirety. A lot of people will want to help you out when you get here, take advantage of that. Stay the fuck away from people that have negative attitudes. Avoid these bad apples like the plague. For example people who brag about how many article 15's they have, or guys that start off every sentence with: "Man, this is bullshit..." or "Fuck The Army." or "I aint doin shit" or "Fuck this shit." You start hanging out with shit, you're going to end up smelling like it.

Remember, if the enemy is within range, so are you.

Whenever you find an IED, weapons cache, or a stack of old Artillery rounds that are just sitting there in plain sight, automatically think it's a decoy and be prepared to be ambushed.

Its not a question of IF you'll get RPG'd or IED'd here in Iraq, it's a question of WHEN. When it happens, look around and make a mental note of every single person you see standing around. Try to memorize those faces. Because, the next time you get hit, and you see the same faces standing around watching, that should tell you something. Tell your chain of command, "Hey, those same guys were hanging around at the last place we got hit" And detain those guys ASAP for questioning.

When you get hit with an IED, expect to be ambushed with small arms and RPG fire immediately after.

The number one advice I have for people coming to Iraq is become very good friends your interpreters. They will help you out a lot out here. Learn as much as you can from them. They know this place better than anybody else, they have their ears to the streets, they will tell you where the dangerous neighborhoods are, what to look out for, what to do and what not to do. Listen to them.

Learn as much Arabic as you can. You can get a speak Arabic in 10 days crash course CD off Amazon. Constantly practice your Arabic as much as you can, on the interpreters, contractors, shop owners, whoever.

On patrols, they're constantly going to tell you to scan rooftops for possible attacks. But also be aware that, they also like to fire RPG's from the corners of the buildings and disappear in the streets. Be aware of that.

Know the maximum affective ranges of your enemies weapons, and be aware of that when you're scanning. When on patrols, reverse the situation in your head, think: If I was going to attack us, where would I do it from and how. These people are geniuses when it comes to playing dirty, they've been fighting for like that for years and years.

Always assume that somebody is watching you, because they are. And always assume your going to get hit, and in your head think: if something happens right now, where would I go and what would I do. Always be at least one step ahead.

Always expect the mission to last way longer than it's supposed to and plan accordingly. One time they told us this mission was only going to last 48 hours, and we were out in the field for almost 3 weeks. If you smoke always bring at least a carton. That was you don't have to worry about running out of smokes, and when everybody else runs out and starts turning into nicotine addicted crack addicts, you can charge 10 to 20 bucks a pack. And yes people will happily pay that for a pack of smokes in the field.

This one is going to be a hard one to explain, but I'll do my best on this one. Everybody here owns an AK47. One way to help tell if the person holding the AK47 is Friendly (like an ICP or ING) or Foe is by his body language. Example: the "bad guy" with an AK47, will be crouched down in an attack position, sneaking around with an AK up ready to fire. He's in a threatening position, being sneaky. An ICP or ING, wont move his body like that. He'll usually be in a standing up position, more relaxed, walking around. I can explain this one better verbally and in person.

Situational awareness. Always be aware of your surroundings.

If you're a new guy, don't complain about shit, cuz nobody wants to hear it. (oh my feet hurt, I'm tired, I dont wanna, stuff like that.)

Not everybody here is a bloody terrorist. (This doesn't mean put your guard down and think everybody here is your fuckin friend either, they're not) Target identification is key. One time we were doing a raid on a house, and we blew the front door up with some explosives and it woke up some Iraqi who lived down the street, who was a police officer during the day. And he came out in civilian cloths and an AK47 to investigate what the hell was going on. He lived, but he almost didn't. I'm not going to tell you what to do in a situation like that, that's up to your chain of command, but make sure you know your PLT's S.O.P's and ROE's inside and out for situations like this, so when you get here, you know exactly what to do in situations like that if they come up, which they will.

It's still Iraq. It's just as dangerous now, as it ever has been. People are still getting killed here every day, and every time you leave the FOB your still entering the concrete jungle that's filled with people who would love to kill you, by any means necessary. Always have your guard up, and never get complacent.

These are, literally, words to live by. My son is facing his second deployment and I'm printing this out to give to him. He'll tell me he knows all this stuff already, but I don't care. I'll tell him, "read it again".

Posted by Deb at 05:59 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

August 01, 2004

These boots were made for dancing

We're still at the Marine Corps Parent convention and will be heading home today . . . got in far too late last night to update anything. And we slept in far too late this morning to do anything but post this picture:

From left to right, Marine Corps Moms Connie, Linda, Janise, and Deb.

Posted by Deb at 07:12 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Update from Camp Babylon

Major Danyluk sends an update from Camp Babylon:

"I want to thank everyone who responded with packages for LtCol "Robbie" and his men. I have been away from my base camp for a couple of weeks, but when I came back this morning there were already a couple dozen packages that had rolled in."

Major Danyluk reports that the Iraqi National Guard troops who work with our troops, and their families, can use care packages from us. If you have a few bucks and a few minutes, consider putting together a gift to the men and women who are forgoing personal gain to rebuild their country and create a brighter future. It's not an easy task. But we can help. By reaching out on a personal level, you can show the true face of America - generous, supportive, and a true friend - to those who have the same hope for their future that we enjoy today.

If you would like to send a care package to the Iraqis who work side-by-side with our Marines, Major Danyluk reports that the Iraqis have developed a system to divide items up in order that they can be distributed equitably amongst the Iraqi troops.

What to send? Non-perishable food items, office supplies, toys for their children, toiletries for their wives. Nation-building can happen, one person at a time. If you'd like to help, e-mail me at deb at Marinecorpsmoms.com - you can make a difference.

Posted by Deb at 07:08 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Update from Major Bellon

The Green Side has been updated. Here's a snippet:

We have been very active since my last update. Fallujah remains a closed city but we have made real progress in targeting and destroying the enemy where we find him. We know that our efforts have been effective and have a significant effect on the extremists inside the city. At the same time, we have gotten better at communicating our desire to improve the lives of the average citizens should they elect to cooperate.

The city remains divided. It is a lawless sanctuary for all kinds of criminal and enemy elements. It has a history of being relatively incorrigible and Iraqis from outside the city regularly tell us that "the only solution is to level the city." The history of the city and the animosity of other Iraqis toward it has cultivated a level of xenophobia that results in astounding levels of paranoia and isolationism.

Today the city is dominated by three different elements. The most dangerous are the extremists who are religious ideologues. These would be your classic Islamic Terrorist who's twisted view of the world is one that cannot coexist with anyone who does not only agree with their beliefs, but who willingly submit to the severe limitations of individual freedoms that the beliefs entail. To be frank, these elements will never accept a peaceful coexistence with free people. Their rhetoric and will to enforce their extremist beliefs are mutually exclusive with anything but direct conflict. We will be fighting them until a clear winner is determined.

Read the rest here.

Posted by Deb at 07:04 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack