November 11, 2009

Thank You, Veterans

One of the highlights of a recent trip to Camp Pendleton was taking an afternoon to drive a few hours east to visit the oldest living Congressional Medal of Honor recipient. It was an impulse - Connie Riecke and I had flown down to help Andi and her team with this year's west coast SpouseBuzz - and we had a few hours to kill before her late afternoon flight home. The conversation started out, as so many of our conversations do with an hare-brained idea that didn't have a chance of being successful . . . and by putting two never-say-die minds together, we figured out a way to make it happen. She does that to me.

We gave him a call, he was delighted to have us visit and we spent a wonderful afternoon listening to his recollections of Pearl Harbor . . . but he was just as interested in hearing about my father's service as a Navy officer (they shared the same rank) and my son's deployments in Iraq with 1/7 Marines.

The official citation, read on board ship, nine months later, with his beloved wife Alice in attendance reads:

For extraordinary heroism distinguished service, and devotion above and beyond the call of duty. During the first attack by Japanese airplanes on the Naval Air Station, Kaneohe Bay, on December 7, 1941, Lt. Finn promptly secured and manned a .50-caliber machinegun mounted on an instruction stand in a completely exposed section of the parking ramp, which was under heavy enemy machine gun strafing fire. Although painfully wounded many times, he continued to man this gun and to return the enemy's fire vigorously and with telling effect throughout the enemy strafing and bombing attacks and with complete disregard for his own personal safety. It was only by specific orders that he was persuaded to leave his post to seek medical attention. Following first aid treatment, although obviously suffering much pain and moving with great difficulty, he returned to the squadron area and actively supervised the rearming of returning planes. His extraordinary heroism and conduct in this action were in keeping with the highest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service.



Finn1.jpgHis wife Alice on board the USS Enterprise during the Medal of Honor ceremony nine months after Pearl Harbor. He said he still doesn't know how they got her on board the ship
His favorite drink is a Sioux City Sarsaparilla and he's an accomplished story-teller. We listened to stories of his childhood and distinguished Naval career.Finn2.jpg
Finn3.jpgHe called this his "Alfred E Neumann" face.

He mentioned an upcoming trip to the city of Boston that he looked forward to - he doesn't do much traveling any more, aside from climbing the hill behind his home each morning. Here's an account of his visit:

A 100-year-old United States Navy veteran and Congressional Medal of Honor recipient was among the veterans who gathered at the State House this morning for a Veterans Day ceremony honoring those who served their country and the families of soldiers who never returned.

Retired Navy Lt. John Finn, of San Diego, Calif., stood from his wheelchair with the help of other veterans to salute the men and women honored at the annual ceremony in the Hall of Flags.

"It's indescribable," said Finn, who was greeted by Gov. Deval Patrick and other dignitaries after the service.

Finn and his fiance, Frances Carmichael, were invited to the ceremony by state Secretary of Veterans Services Thomas G. Kelley, who is his friend and fellow Congressional Medal of Honor recipient.

"He's from Pearl Harbor. I'm from Vietnam," said Kelley. "He really brought a lot of sparkle and dignity to the event."

Finn was awarded the Medal of Honor for his role in the Pearl Harbor attacks. According to his citation, Finn manned a .50 caliber machinegun on an exposed section of a parking ramp under heavy enemy machinegun fire.

Kelley said he was wounded repeatedly during the assault.

Today, Finn recalled when he joined the Navy his dream was to join the crew of the U.S.S. Constitution.

"When I was just a little curley-headed boy, I wanted to serve on the Constitution," said Finn, who visited the storied warship vessel in Charlestown several years ago.

"By then I was a retired Navy lieutenant. I didn't know one sail from another," he said.

Since my son enlisted in 2002, I"ve met hundreds, if not thousands, of veterans and currently serving troops. I will never forget the afternoon I shared a Sioux City Sarsaparilla with John Finn and listened to his stories of life before, during, and after WWII. This memory is a keeper.

Thanks to all Vets. Whether a Congressional Medal of Honor recipient for not - they're all heroes in my eyes.

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December 30, 2007

The down side of running a milblog

Since April 2004, I've shared hundreds of wonderful stories about the Marines who preserve our way of life and our liberties. And, I've received thousands of emails from parents, family members, and supporters of our military - most very appreciative of men and women in uniform. Many of their stories have been shared here at Marine Corps Moms. A good friend of mine, Mary Helen Bartch, shared with me pictures of her husband, Col. Richard Bartch, who was deployed at the same time my son was during the 2004 holiday season. We coped by immersing ourselves in supporting ourselves and our troops through Operation Santa,sending thousands of filled Christmas stockings to Iraq, and many late night phone calls. And, we celebrated when my son and her husband came home safe and sound that next year.

Last October, I became aware that this site had been used for another purpose. A low-life scammer had taken the pictures of Col. Bartch and a few details of his life to create a fictitious identity, posting details on a number of dating websites. I don't know how many women responded to the identities, thinking that they were corresponding with a divorced Marine Officer who was interested in meeting them.

Instead, they were corresponding with someone who had nothing in common with the Marine he impersonated. Honor, integrity, courage, and commitment - none of these were part of the scammer behind the persona of a Marine Colonel. I've corresponded with a number of the women who were victimized, but I'm sure there are many more out there.

Here are a few details from today's Marine Corps Times:

Wendy McKay thought she had met someone special when the Marine colonel deployed to Iraq started chatting with her on the online dating Web site.

Someone claiming to be Col. Richard Bartch told her he was in Iraq for the first time after volunteering for duty. And like her, he was divorced. Chats quickly led to e-mails and within a day he sent her photos of himself in uniform.

In one, he stood in his woodland digital-patterned utilities, proudly holding up his Bronze Star citation and medal. In another, he's lounging in desert cammies in a chair, with his service pistol holster pulled taut across his broad shoulders just next to his name tape.

His e-mails were romantic, echoing the sentiment of a schmaltzy Hallmark greeting card: "I went to sleep last night with a smile because I knew I'd be dreaming of you . . . but I woke up this morning with a smile because you weren't a dream," he wrote to the 52-year-old British woman Oct. 21, just one day after they made introductions online. "Though miles may lie between us, we're never far apart, for friendship doesn't count the miles, it's measured by the heart."

The e-mails quickly picked up intensity. "[T]he feeling is getting stronger and stronger," he wrote the next day, Oct 22. " . . . think it will not be hard to LOVE you huh!"

By Oct. 23, his e-mails reflected he was sure it was love. "You awakened a part of me that had lay [sic] dormant all of life. [A'lthough [I] had loved and been loved before, never had it been so intense and so deep as what we feel for each other. [T]his much [I] am sure of, we share a love so true that [I] have never before experienced the true joy of complete empowering, soul-felt love as we share," he said.

McKay almost bought it. That is, until she realized doing so was really going to cost her.

Bartch - or more accurately, the con artist who had stolen the identity of the real Marine officer, from a family-oriented military Web site - wanted her to send him $5,000.

Wendy McKay was knowledgeable enough to realize that no Marine would pull such a stunt. Other women who had little information about the military weren't so fortunate. This morning, I received yet another e-mail from a woman in Germany who had sent money to someone in Ghana, thinking that she was loaning money to a Marine who had lost his luggage and needed a short term loan. It's heartbreaking to read through the e-mails, knowing that the real Marine who came home to a loving wife and strong family had his identity taken from this website. I hope they catch whoever is responsible for this travesty. My apologies to the Bartch family and thanks to Marine Corps Times reporter Kimberly Johnson who was willing to shed light on a very dark corner of the internet.


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October 18, 2007

Trading Deserts

Lance Cpl. Nicholas M. Dunn Cpl. Matthew Beaudin, fire direction control man, India Battery, 3/11, says goodbye to his wife, Kristie, and son, Matty, before departing the Combat Center Monday.


Photo and story by Combat Correspondent, LCpl Nicholas M. Dunn

The Marines and sailors of India Battery, 3rd Battalion, 11th Marine Regiment, left Monday for seven months in Iraq, in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. We'll add them to the list of units to support through Operation Santa USMC 2007 - if you'd like to be involved, click here for details.

"This is the first M777 battery to deploy to Iraq, so we're looking forward to the experience," said Lt. Col. James C. Lewis, 3/11 battalion commander. "We can't wait to see how the capability is employed and we'll take lessons learned for future deployments if necessary."

An awkward feeling of gloom and excitement hung over the Combat Center Monday as India Battery said goodbye to their friends and families.

"I'm really sad," said Lindsey Ledbetter, wife of Cpl. Tyler Ledbetter, artilleryman, India Battery, 3/11. "I'll probably cry when he says goodbye to our daughter. It's very depressing he's leaving, but I'm very proud of him."

Ledbetter agreed with his wife, but said he's been waiting a long time to go to Iraq.

"It's going to be hard leaving my wife and daughter behind, but I'm really excited to get this show on the road," he said. "Chesty Puller!"

Sgt. Trevar Perkins, fire direction control man, India Battery, 3/11, also expressed his excitement to deploy to Iraq. He said he felt the message should be short and to the point.

"Let's do this," he said.

Overall, it seemed the Marines and sailors of India Battery were excited to deploy to Iraq, but would miss their friends and families.

"I'm excited, but I just want to go over there and come home as soon as possible," said Cpl. Matthew Beaudin, fire direction control man, India Battery, 3/11. "I want to come home to my family and move on to other things."

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October 03, 2007

"The 5 things I saw that make me support the war"

This essay, written by an American hero, could have turned out much differently. USMC Sgt. Marco Martinez earned a Navy Cross for his actions on April 12, 2003. The battle is related in detail here - it's an awesome story about bravery and courage under fire. During a fierce battle, the 22 year old Corporal ran into incoming fire to retrieve a fedayeen rocket launcher and then used it with outstanding success against the enemy. He saved the life of a wounded Marine and protected the rest of his squad, exemplifing the traditional values of the Corps that have endured for almost 232 years.

His story is even more remarkable when you consider that just five years earlier, he carried a gun as a gangster on city streets here in the United States. In a CNN interview, Martinez discussed why he left the gang to enlist in the Marine Corps:

"But the thing that helped me pull out of that particular lifestyle was my father, God rest his soul, who passed away not too long ago, he had told me I didn't come from Mexico for a member of my family to be a burden on American society. He had earned his citizenship by serving as an Army Ranger for 20 years, and that really resonated with me. And I decided I needed to do something good, something productive, something that's going to help America. So I decided to join the Marine Corps infantry. And my father and mother were ecstatic, and everyone was proud that I had finally decided to do something worthwhile. "

Worthwhile indeed. Having seen the results of violence as both a gang member and United States Marine, he is uniquely qualified to render opinion on the current conflict in Iraq and why the United States has a responsibility to finish the mission. Read the whole thing.

Liberals often like to say that "violence is senseless."

That's wrong.

Violence isn't senseless. Senseless violence is senseless. And I should know. Before being awarded the Navy Cross and having the privilege of becoming a Marine, I was a gang member. Sometimes it takes having used violence for both evil as well as good to know that there's a profound moral difference between the two.

People often ask me whether I still support the war. I never hesitate when answering: "Absolutely I support completing the mission," I tell them, "Now more than ever."

I was honored to have been given the opportunity to fight in Iraq on our country's behalf. And it was that experience - and five things I saw firsthand - that illustrate the foolishness of those who would equate American military power to that used by thugs and tyrants.

1. Mass Graves

I was part of a group that was tasked with guarding Saddam's mass graves. And let me tell you something: anyone who could look straight down into those huge holes at the skeletons and remains and see what that monster did to 300,000 of his own people would have no doubt that we did the right thing in removing him from power. Saddam's henchmen would tie two people together, some with babies in their arms, stand them at the crater's edge, and then shoot one of the people in the head, relying on the weight of the dead body to drag them both into the hole. This would save on rounds and also ensure that both people died, one from a gunshot, the other by being buried alive.

2. Tongue-less Man

You never know how precious freedom of speech is until you meet somehow who has had it taken from them -literally taken from them. During a patrol we came upon two hungry Iraqi men scavenging for food. When our translator began speaking with the men I noticed that one of them had a stub for a tongue. Through the translator we learned that the tongue-less man had spoken against the regime and that Saddam's henchmen had severed his tongue. Saddam had quite literally removed the man's freedom of speech.

3. Adrenaline-Fueled Fedayeen Saddam

I couldn't for the life of me understand why the ninja costume-wearing terrorists we encountered in a series of hellish firefights just wouldn’t go down - even after being shot. Once my fire team and I cleared a terrorist-filled house in a close quarters shootout, I saw dead bodies all around the kitchen. I looked up at the countertops. Scattered everywhere were vials of adrenaline, syringes, and khat (pronounced "cot"), a drug similar to PCP that gives users a surge of energy and strength. That's when we realized that our zombie-like attackers were zealots who came to fight and die.

4. Human Experiment Pictures

I still can't shake the pictures out of my head. We discovered them inside a strange laboratory we found inside a Special Republican Guard barracks that had been plunked down inside an amusement park. When I cracked open the photo album, my jaw dropped. There in front of me were the most horrifying images of experiments being performed on newborn and infant children. Picture after picture, page after page, the binder was filled with the most extreme deformities and experimental mutations one could imagine. One baby had an eye that was shifted toward the middle of its head. We turned the books over to our lieutenant as valuable pieces of intelligence.

5. Bomb-Making Materials In a Mosque

Well after the invasion we were tasked to conduct city patrols and build rapport with local sheiks and mosque members. On one occasion we revisited a mosque where the sheik had previously been warm and friendly. Yet this time something seemed a little off. As we made our way through the mosque compound, we were told there were certain "praying houses" we weren't allowed to enter. But when a Marine walked through a side hallway and passed by a door that had been left ajar, he spotted a huge bottle of nitroglycerin and assorted bomb-making materials.

When I think about my gang member past I shudder in shame. But if there was one lesson I learned from my past it is that there is a profound moral difference between using violence to destroy lives and using violence to save lives. Terrorists do the former; soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines do the latter.

Antimilitary liberals need to learn the difference between the two.

Originally published at Townhall, it is copied here with the editor's permission.

Sgt. Martinez' book, Hard Corps From Gangster to Marine Hero is at the top of my Christmas list this year. Find it here:


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October 02, 2007

" . . . the most inspiring moment I have had here in Iraq"

Major Jim Higgins who recently returned from a year in Balad Iraq, where he served as Chaplain to the 2-135th GSAB, posted this on his website last May, but if you haven't read it yet, you should. And then, make a copyfor a civilian teen that you know.

I recently attended a showing of "Spiderman 3" here at LSA Anaconda. We have a large auditorioum we use for movies as well as memorial services and other large gatherings. As is the custom back in the States, we stood and snapped to attention when the National Anthem began before the main feature. All was going as planned until about three-quarters of the way through the National Anthem the music stopped.

Now, what would happen if this occurred with 1,000 18-22 year-olds back in the States? I imagine there would be hoots, catcalls, laughter, a few rude comments, and everyone would sit down and call for a movie. Of course, that is, if they had stood for the National Anthem in the first place.

Here, the 1,000 Soldiers continued to stand at attention, eyes fixed forward.

The music started again. The Soldiers continued to quietly stand at attention. And again, at the same point, the music stopped. What would you expect to happen? Even here I would imagine laughter as everyone sat down and expected the movie to start.

Here, you could have heard a pin drop. Every Soldier stood at attention. Suddenly there was a lone voice, then a dozen, and quickly the room was filled with the voices of a thousand Soldiers:

And the rockets red glare, the bombs bursting in air, gave proof through the night that our flag was still there. O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave, o'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

It was the most inspiring moment I have had here in Iraq. I wanted you to know what kind of Soldiers are serving you here.

Inspiring indeed. A comment left by one of his readers noted:

When I was at Valley Forge Army Hospital in 1971, we had a theater and a good many flicks.

The first few rows of seats--which are generally on the flat part of the floor--had been taken out. Those were where the guys in wheel chairs sat.

They had each chosen a less wounded buddy to help them stand during the Anthem.

Damn.

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July 22, 2007

Josh Gracin hits a high note in Oregon

Sometimes, things are meant to be. Just ask Michelle Williams. When former Marine and American Idol contestant Josh Gracin visited Albany, Oregon last week to play the Linn County Fair, her boyfriend had purchased tickets. She'd just taken a new job at Joe's and didn't want to ask for time off. Michelle was ringing up customers at Checkstand #3 when Josh came through her line


"There was a long line, so I wasn't even looking up yet," Williams said. "It's really busy, he bought some stuff, and he had a hat on, so I didn't even recognize him." Gracin brought out a credit card but hadn't signed the back of it, so Williams asked to see his license. Then she looked up - and burst into tears.

Gracin, working on the dumplings later for his paprikash in a trailer behind the main stage, recalled the incident with a grin. "I said, I have a lot of fans, but they don't usually cry." He asked her why she was crying, and she told him how much she admired his music. "Are you coming to my show tonight?" he asked, and she told him the story: the purchased tickets, the work schedule, the tickets given away. "He said, 'Can I talk to your manager?'" Williams said. "I was like, what? Oh my gosh!"

A few minutes later, manager Charles Wines called Williams to his office and asked her why she hadn't told him she had concert tickets. "I said, well, I have to work,” she said," and he said, 'Well, you’re going. Josh said it made his day.'"

Gracin said he offered Wines tickets for himself if he would let Williams go. "He said, 'No need to do that, I'm sure we can work something out.'"

And, they did. Several hours later, Gracin's crew had enjoyed a fine meal of Chicken Paprikash and Michelle and her boyfriend had enjoyed the concert from the front row. Oohrah!

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February 14, 2007

Love Story

USMC Sgt. Ty Ziegel spent Valentine's Day 2005 at Brooke Army Medical Center in Texas. Not quite two months earlier, he was on patrol near Al Qaim and a suicide bomber detonated next to the truck he was in. One arm was gone and he lost three fingers on his other hand. His head was severely burned - both ears were gone and one eye was blinded. But when his tracheotomy tube was removed, his first words were to his girlfriend who had spent the last six weeks at his side. "Renee, will you be my Valentine?"

And she was. Last October, they were married - she wore a beautiful white dress, trimmed in red. He wore his dress blues with his Purple Heart prominent among his combat ribbons and medals. Here's a link to their wedding picture - copyright restrictions prohibit posting it here.

Happy Valentine's Day, Ty and Renee Zieger.

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February 04, 2007

What Marines do in their spare time

1/7 Marines - LCpls Stomberg and Hegland singing and dancing during a bit of down time. This was taken during their third deployment to Iraq (they're home now). It makes me laugh every time I see it.

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July 31, 2006

"We have democracy now, let him speak"

LtCol Nick Marano sends this July update from the Syrian border:

It’s hard to believe that another month has gone by, but it has. July has been another good month for the First Team as we continue to keep the enemy on the run in Al Qaim. Unlike other Sunni areas of Iraq, the First Team lives and patrols in the urban areas and has established a high level of trust and confidence with the locals. Your Marines and Sailors are truly winning this fight. The enemy won’t just give up and walk away, but he has been forced to the edges of the society here as most locals are happy with the security situation and have had enough of the chaos and violence. They are no different from us in that they merely want to be able to earn a living and raise their families.

We began July with an important visit from the Al Anbar Governor, Maamoon Sami Rasheed al-Awani. All the local sheiks and municipal leaders attended the meeting and it gave the Governor a chance to talk about what he was doing for Al Qaim, and to listen to the concerns of the people here. This meeting gave the people here a view of what a return to normalcy here would look like under Iraqi-style democracy. These sheik meetings are always entertaining to be a fly on the wall for their theatrics, orderly chaos and emotional outbreaks. In a funny exchange, one minor sheik was complaining about an obscure issue to the Governor; everyone else attempted to shout him down. One of the most important sheiks looked at me, winked and said 'we have democracy now, let him speak.'

July was a good month for police recruitment as well. We will soon have IPs on duty in every town in the Al Qaim region. The IPs, as they are known, have proven to be a valuable resource in the fight against the terrorists as they are all locals and have a vested interest in the security of their hometowns. Every line company has had success in working with the IPs and they have expanded our ability to take the fight to the enemy before he is able to attack us or our Iraqi allies.

The enemy did not let up in July, and in fact has resorted to extreme measures as the partnership between the First Team, Iraqi security forces, local government and tribal leaders continues to grow. These enemy actions included the use of a female suicide bomber. Each time, your Marines and Sailors have proven to be more of a match for the terrorists. Every line company had heroic actions this month. Charley Company not only killed an entire IED Cell, but one brave Marine, LCpl Hiller, prevented a truck bomber from killing anyone but himself. Weapons Company has largely rolled up the entire IED Cell from last month which cost us three brave men from CAAT White. Please keep our wounded heroes and their families in your thoughts and prayers. I am hopeful that all our Marines wounded this month and in previous months will eventually make a full recovery.

We celebrated the Fourth of July with a traditional BBQ and flew the meal out by helicopter to the Company Battle Positions.

Congratulations to SSgt Escalderon, Weapons Company, who was awarded a Bronze Star this month for valor during the last deployment.

The summer heat has arrived here as in 29 Palms, thanks to Navy Seabees, all Battle Positions now have air conditioning. We have entered our fifth month here; the battalion ADVON will be assembling for redeployment one month from now, followed by everyone else two weeks later. We are on schedule to turn over Al Qaim to 3/4 on 15 September and the battalion Main Body redeployment should begin soon after. I have told the Marines here to keep their focus and not let their guard down as the end of the deployment is now in sight. I ask our families to do the same so we finish this deployment as strongly as we began.


Posted by Deb at 07:01 AM

June 06, 2006

How anti-war demonstrations hurt the troops

Currently deployed in Iraq, USMC Cpl. Anthony Ippoliti sent this letter to his hometown paper, The Ridgefield Press.

I am fortunate enough to receive The Ridgefield Press every few weeks and enjoy keeping abreast of the local issues currently pressing in our small town. I am a U.S. Marine Infantryman currently serving in Fallujah, Iraq, and my mother usually includes The Press in the many care packages she sends me. Since we have very limited access to telephones, The Ridgefield Press is the primary means by which I receive local news.

Almost every week, I open The Press and find an article or letter to the editors denouncing the coalition effort in Iraq. Invariably, the individuals behind these anti-war letters and rallies mask their political agendas by asserting that they "support the troops but not the war." People like Vince Giordano, Paul Sutherland and Anne Stubbs are pictured in the April 13 edition of The Press carrying a yellow-ribboned coffin and signs that say “Bring Them Home Now." They read off the names of the dead and claim to "show support for our troops" while urging lawmakers to “bring them home.��? They believe that the U.S.-led coalition should never have entered Iraq and that the current effort is a never-ending quagmire that has made no progress. They believe that things are progressively getting worse and think that our forces should just pick up and leave.

They do all this under the pretense that they are supporting the troops. However, what they are really doing is using our lives and the issue of our safety and well-being as a means to achieve a political end.

***

My primary concern is the assertion that these individuals support the troops in Iraq but not our mission. It boggles my mind that this logic is actually utilized on a large scale.

Supporting the troops but not the war is like saying that you support filmmakers but not making films. One cannot claim to support an individual in a given profession but not support what the said profession entails. This is essentially a slap in the face to those in the service.

How protesting the job we are doing in Iraq while demanding our withdrawal constitutes supporting us is beyond me.

Furthermore, I am particularly interested in how these people support us, specifically. I have never once received a letter from an individual who claims to "support the troops, not the war." Not a single Marine I know has received anything that could be considered remotely supportive from any of these people or the groups they represent. We have received phone cards, hygiene supplies, food, etc. from members of state and local government, radio stations, schools, private individuals and organizations, but never once from any group claiming to "support the troops, but not the war."

I ask again: How can these groups claim to support our troops while telling us that what we are participating in is wrong?

How can they support us if they are essentially saying that our blood and sacrifices have all been given in vain?
How can they support us if they say that our comrades and brothers who have been wounded or killed in action have done so for a hopeless and morally questionable cause?

* * *

I reply to the questions I pose with a simple answer: They can't. As a matter of fact, I assert with a considerable degree of confidence that their efforts make our already difficult job even more difficult. I'll go so far as to say that their rallies and protests cost more and more servicemen their lives and limbs every day.

I support my assertion with evidence gathered first hand. I see the Iraqi people every day. The protesters do not. I speak with the Iraqi people every day. The protesters do not. I don't sit behind a desk and do paperwork or resupply efforts in the military. I am an Infantry Marine and I walk the sewage-filled streets of this city every single day.

In Fallujah, the people watch Al Jazeerah. However, they also watch CNN. A lot of them fear that the United States will soon cut and run. The people of Iraq see when our country is divided. When they see rallies to "Bring The Troops Home," they see that as a sign that we will end our efforts prematurely.

Furthermore, they know that the insurgents will not end their efforts early. That leads them to the conclusion that when we leave, the insurgents will still be there. Therefore, if they help us, their lives and the lives of their loved ones will be in great jeopardy the minute we leave - if we don't finish the job.

Much that they see on American television leads them to believe that we intend to abandon our efforts before the new Iraqi government is capable of defending itself and its citizens.

* * *

The actions of these aforementioned organizations and the heavy media coverage their rallies often generate serves as fuel for the insurgency. Insurgents believe they can drive us out through the idea of "death by a thousand cuts." The longer they persist in their efforts, the more the American public becomes disenchanted with the coalition effort.

The insurgency sees this as a result. These criminals will continue to kill Iraqi civilians, Iraqi Police, Iraqi Army and coalition forces so long as they see that their efforts are alienating the American public from its military.

And for those of you that aren't up to speed with the situation in Iraq, the insurgents attack and kill established public services (such as Iraqi police and Iraqi army) more often than they attack coalition forces. As a matter of fact, an explosive-laden insurgent blew himself up last week outside the Iraqi police station that is attached to our compound.

The insurgents aren't fighting simply to drive America out of Iraq. They are fighting to destroy any semblance of the Iraqi government so that they can impose their will on its people.

Publicly protesting our efforts in Iraq fuels the insurgency. Doing it under the pretext of "supporting our troops" is disgraceful.

* * *

Let me now emphasize that I respect an American citizen's right to voice his or her opinion in a public forum. Such a right is granted in the U.S. Constitution.

However, voicing one's opinion in such an irresponsible way is something I do not support. Additionally, using deployed service members as a mask to serve your purely political purpose is downright shameful. If your desire is to protest the war, then protest the war, but don't use me or any reference to our troops as a tool to bolster your purpose.

I'll summarize by saying this: Organizations such as The Ridgefield Coalition to Stop the War do not support our troops. No matter what they say or what is printed on the signs they carry, they effectively do the opposite of support us. They downright hurt us.

Such organizations damage the morale of the men and women in the armed forces and progressively cause them to believe less and less in the mission at hand. The conditions here are difficult as it is. Opening a month-old edition of The Ridgefield Press and reading an article about an anti-war demonstration that uses our troops in an effort to mask its true cause doesn't help.

Please do not feign support while effectively telling us that we are fighting for an unworthy cause. I think I speak for an overwhelming majority of our troops when I ask organizations like The Ridgefield Coalition to Stop the War to discontinue using Marines, soldiers, airmen and sailors as a means to serve a political end.

You are neither supporting us nor honoring us. You are doing the exact opposite.

Well spoken. I hope it strikes at a few consciences. And, thanks to Jarhead Dad for sending it along.

Posted by Deb at 10:18 AM | Comments (1)

June 05, 2006

Letter from Iraq

It's always a treat to get a letter from Iraq. My son has never enjoyed writing but there is little alternative - his platoon is at a location with no internet and only one satellite phone. Here are a couple of snippets from the letter I received over the weekend - first I got scolded for my description of Memorial Day camping, then he described his current living space:

It's funny to hear you complaining about a tent. Could be worse - you could have to carry it all on your back, LOL. Camping is fun. First off, you have a tent, then beer, and real food, not to mention a truck and the scenery in Oregon. I think a trip to Diamond Lake will be in order when I get back. Maybe I'll have a bike too and John and me can go for a ride and you can take the truck.

That works for me. And I do admit that even a tent sounds better than this:

This place sucks. The walls are made of dirt so there is mold growing on them. No AC and 100+ degree weather. It makes for an interesting smell.

Could you send me another head lamp? Someone acquired my last one. Hey, we have a 16 yr old Iraqi kid as our intrpreter. He goes on most patrols and is basically a part of the platoon. He would give just about anything to go to the U.S. and join the Marines. Maybe your friends could send him some packages - he's a good kid.

I sent a Motomail, asking for clothing and shoe size, as well as family information. If anyone is interested in sending a care package to this Iraqi teen, let me know.

Posted by Deb at 11:40 AM | Comments (17) | TrackBack

May 29, 2006

General Hagee: On Marine Virtue

General Michael Hagee, Commandant of the Marine Corps, issued this message to his Marines as a reminder of the Corps values of Honor, Courage, and Commitment:

Recent serious allegations concerning actions of Marines in combat have caused me concern. They should cause you to be concerned as well. To ensure we continue to live up to General Lejeune's description of a Marine as someone who demonstrates "all that is highest in military efficiency and soldierly virtue," I would like to review the importance of our core values.

As Marines, you are taught from your earliest days in the Corps about our core values of honor, courage and commitment. These values are part of and belong to all Marines, regardless of MOS, grade, or gender. They guide us in all that we do; whether in combat, in garrison, or on leave or liberty.

To a Marine, honor is more than just honesty; it means having uncompromising personal integrity and being accountable for all actions. To most Marines, the most difficult part of courage is not the raw physical courage that we have seen so often on today's battlefield. It is rather the moral courage to do the "right thing" in the face of danger or pressure from other Marines. Finally, commitment is that focus on caring for one another and upholding the great ideals of our Corps and Country.

The nature of this war with its ruthless enemies, and its complex and dangerous battlefield will continue to challenge us in the commitment to our core values. We must be strong and help one another to measure up. The war will also test our commitment to our belief in the rule of law.

We have all been educated in the Law of Armed Conflict. We continue to reinforce that training, even when deployed to combat zones. We do not employ force just for the sake of employing force. We use lethal force only when justified, proportional and, most importantly, lawful. We follow the laws and regulations, Geneva Convention and Rules of Engagement. This is the American way of war. We must regulate force and violence, we only damage property that must be damaged, and we protect the non-combatants we find on the battlefield.

When engaged in combat, particularly in the kind of counterinsurgency operations we're involved in now, we have to be doubly on guard. Many of our Marines have been involved in life or death combat or have witnessed the loss of their fellow Marines, and the effects of these events can be numbing. There is the risk of becoming indifferent to the loss of a human life, as well as bringing dishonor upon ourselves. Leaders of all grades need to reinforce continually that Marines care for one another and do what is right.

The large majority of Marines today perform magnificently on and off the battlefield. I am very proud of the bravery, dedication, honor, courage and commitment you clearly display every day. And America is proud as well. Americans, indeed most people around the world, recognize that Marines are men and women of the highest caliber - physically, mentally, and morally.

Each one of you contributes in your own unique way to our important mission; I am proud of your dedication and accomplishments. Even after 38 years, I still stand with pride every time I hear the Marines Hymn. The words of that Hymn mean something special to me. Especially, "Keep our Honor Clean". I know that means something to all of you as well. As Marines we have an obligation to past Marines, fellow Marines, future Marines and ourselves to do our very best to live up to these words.

As your Commandant, I charge all Marines to carry on our proud legacy by demonstrating our values in everything you do - on duty and off; in combat or in garrison. Semper Fidelis.


Posted by Deb at 06:51 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 28, 2006

"It's one more rifle out of the fight."

Photo and story by Gunnery Sgt. Mark Oliva
No one is ever going to tell Cpl. Patrick A. Diener not to kick rocks again. The 24-year-old from Knoxville, Tenn., was kicking at some loose soil when he turned up a buried insurgent sniper rifle.

Diener, assigned to B Company, 2nd Reconnaissance Battalion, Regimental Combat Team 5, was on a "knock-and-talk" patrol in this rural area south of Fallujah when he made the find. It was the end result of patience, careful questions and a stroke of luck.

"I looked around to see if I could stir something up," Diener said. "It was the third hole I checked out at that site and it looked like something could be buried there."

Diener dug at the ground with the toe of his boot until he uncovered a smooth, black plastic surface. He knew he had a weapons cache.

"I saw a bag inside and pulled it out and it was the rifle wrapped up," Diener said.

Specifically, it was a modified Mauser 98 bolt-action rifle. It had a scope mounted on top and a crudely-fashioned sound suppressor over the barrel. For the small team of reconnaissance Marines, many of whom are trained snipers, it was an important find.

"It"s important for me," Diener explained. "We don"t have much to work with, so for a recon team to eliminate a sniper rifle from the fight, it"s an accomplishment."

The cache discovery was the result of a day's worth of work. Marines set out to patrol the area, gathering information. After several stops, one local Iraqi spoke of seeing men digging in a nearby farm field. Marines moved into the area based on that tip.

"Sometimes, it feels like we're playing CSI," said Sgt. Aaron C. Torian, a reference to the TV show about crime scene investigations. "Sometimes it's more of a gut feeling. Everything here happens in the shadows."

Torian, the 28-year-old team leader from Paducah, Ky., led his Marines to the area only to find they recently passed it earlier. They couldn't see most of the area, though, because of overgrown reeds in a canal.

"When we walked by the first time, we saw only one male," Torian explained. "When we came back everyone was gone. The family that was left didn't even look at us."

Torian reached into the black cylinder and wrapped his hand around the end of the rifle, wrapped in the burlap sack.

"As soon as I felt it, I knew," he said. "I felt the scope. It's a big prize for our snipers. For them, that's a trophy."

Torian said the find was the result of diligence and finding the patterns by which insurgents operate in this region.

"It's not a lazy man's game," he explained. "It's like chess. It takes a lot of moves to get to where you want."

It's long, monotonous work for the reconnaissance Marines. They'll patrol areas for hours on end, turning up empty on nearly every turn. It's frustrating at times, but every weapon they find is one less that can be used against them.

"You go out for 10 days of boredom and its 10 minutes of excitement," said Cpl. Scott Ostrom, a 21-year-old from Plantation, Fla. "Right about the time you want to give up, you find something. It keeps you going."

"It would be better to kill the dudes," Ostrom added. "You see the insurgent videos and it makes you feel good to get rid of those weapons."

Diener said he couldn't be sure if the rifle was accurate or even effective. Still, he said getting the rifle out of the insurgents hands was the important part.

"You constantly put yourself our there," Diener said. "Even though it's a little find, it's one more rifle out of the fight."


Posted by Deb at 02:24 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

May 24, 2006

1/7 update - "your Marines are truly the hunters"

1/7 Marines from Charlie Company send along a few messages for their loved ones back home

From 1st row left, Cpl Anderson, PFC Haag, LCpl Rodgers, and Sgt. Feeney

1/7 Battalion Commander LtCol Nick Marano has good news from the Syrian border:

Families of 1/7,

We are well into our third month now and you can really see the Marines and Corpsmen hitting their stride. The days and weeks spent in the field on predeployment training have really paid off for the platoons and companies. Iraq may seem on TV like a violent place with a faceless enemy, but your Marines are truly the hunters. They are taking the counterinsurgency fight to the enemy everyday, and winning. Every line company is aggressively patrolling their Area of Operations (AO) and everyday we are rolling up insurgents, discovering IEDs, weapons caches and keeping the terrorists off balance. In my last letter, I spoke about April being historically a violent month and it unfortunately remained this April as we lost three fine Marines. I pledge to you, as we have pledged to each other, that their sacrifices will not be in vain. We are committed to moving the Al Qaim region forward, and we are making steady progress. It will not be easy, this is a hot, dirty and dangerous job, but it is one we are capable of completing and we will all be safer for it. I could not be prouder of the Marines and Sailors I am fortunate enough to lead. Even in the midst of tragedy, their selfless devotion to each other and their mission is remarkable - and moving. In my letter following the rocket attack on BP Tarawa, I detailed some of those actions. Today, I am happy to report to you that the little girl who LCpl Simons and Cpl Kutner were so worried about has lived. We were able to get her treated and MEDEVAC'd to a hospital in Baghdad. She would have certainly died had it not been for two brave Marines; those Marines cared more about their comrades and a little Iraqi girl than they did their own lives.

We continue to work with the Iraqi Army, and now the Police, to improve their capability and prepare them for the day when all Marines depart the Al Qaim region. This job, like every other in Iraq, is difficult. There are no easy problems here! There are many times that working with the Iraqi Army and Police has the "one step forward, two steps backwards" feel. We currently have Iraqi Police patrolling in Husaybah with Baker Company and soon will have them on the street with Alpha Company in Ubaydi. As the Marines have found out, it initially takes more work to patrol and work with Iraqi security forces, but in the long term these soldiers and police will perform the tasks that your Marines currently do.

Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to wish all the mothers a Happy Mothers Day. As you enjoy the day at Victory Field, please know that we couldn't do any of this without your strength, support and love. You are what make all of this worthwhile and we look forward to the day when we will all stand together on Victory Field in celebration. The story of what your Marines and Sailors do here has been written about in major newspapers around the world and the Al Qaim region is held up as one of the positive areas within the Sunni regions of Iraq. We have generated so much attention, that even Toby Keith is coming here to play for us. Yes, that's true, Toby Keith will be here on 29 May and I will do my best to ensure every Country Fan is here to enjoy it. He specifically asked to go to where the "real" Marines are, so he is obviously coming here. Thank you for staying strong and keeping the faith.

This group includes LCpl Ruiz, PFC Santos, LCpl Bronson, and PFC McDaniel.

Posted by Deb at 01:36 PM | Comments (1)

May 21, 2006

Update from 3rd LAR

Captain Michael Nakonieczny, CO of 3rd LAR, Apache Co. sent this update to the friends and family of his Marines:

All is well here in West, Al Anbar. As of this moment, we are 33% done with the deployment. The weather is slowly beginning to rise and the temperature has consistently been in the low 90’s during the day. Fortunately, the increase in temperature is coming gradually and we have the opportunity to acclimate to the changes. There is also a major project in the works that will greatly increase the quality of living for our Marines. These improvements include better living quarters and air conditioning. Just in time as it will get very hot here, very soon.

We have enjoyed more than a fair amount of success and continue to work with the Iraqi Army on a daily basis. It is a welcomed relief to see the Iraqi Army soldiers ready and willing to work beside us. They are brave, eager to learn, and want to do well. You can't ask more of a fellow soldier/Marine than that. More are on the way to the city we work out of and seeing their interaction with the Iraqi civilians makes me very optimistic. The insurgents in this city are like a cancer. They are small in number, but lethal to innocent Iraqis. We could go into this city at anytime and cut out those insurgents, but with out the proper treatment, the cancer will grow back. The Iraqi Army is that proper treatment. As these Iraqi civilians see more Iraqi Army soldiers stand up to these thugs, I have no doubt, they too will strive to be free. In fact, I am continually amazed at the number of Iraqis that are stepping forward and giving us information on the insurgents. That is how it looks here, at least, from the ground with your men.

As for operations, we have been pretty busy here in Apache for the last few weeks. Forgive your Marine if he has been unable to call. We are proud to say that we have detained a number of known insurgents and have also been successful in finding and then destroying more than 11 weapons caches throughout our local area. 1st platoon (commanded by 1st Lt Gaitens) and 2nd platoon (commanded by SSgt Harper) have been doing a terrific job manning the traffic control points that lead in and out of the city we operate in. Their stringent attention to detail and mentoring of the Iraqi Army continues to ensure weapons and insurgent fighters are unable to get into our city. Third platoon (commanded by 2nd Lt Brobyn) and fourth platoon (commanded by 2ndLt Niznik, formally of Dragoon company) have been kept busy with maintaining security on the main road that travels through our area of responsibility and in patrolling the local area. Headquarters and weapons platoon have been keeping very busy too. Most of these Marines are responsible for maintaining the security of the companys forward operating base. There vigilance keeps us all safe and their job is very much appreciated by all. We rotate the units around so they are never on the same duty for more than a month or so.

Updates:
Congratulations to LCpl and Danielle Ohotnicky on the birth of their son, John Anthony. He was born on 11 April at 2344 in Joshua Tree, California. He weighed in at a healthy 7 pounds 15 oz. He is 19.5 inches long. Our very best goes out to you Danielle and John.

Congratulations are also in order for LCpl Bobby Metzler and his wife who also were blessed with the birth of a child on 11 April. Avery Breane Metzler came into our world at 7 pounds and at 18 inches. As a proud father of a little girl, I have assured Bobby that his life and perspective of it will forever be changed for the better.

Newly promoted Marines for the month of May:`(rank listed is their new rank):

Congratulations to our executive officer Joe Shusko who was recently selected for promotion to Captain. Congratulations are also in order for:

  • James Brobyn (3rd Platoon) promoted to the rank of 1st Lieutenant
  • Isaias Hernandez (4th Platoon) promoted to the rank of Lance Corporal.
  • Nicholas Maxedon (4th Platoon) promoted to the rank of Lance Corporal.
  • Jose Calvache Jr. (1st Platoon) promoted to the rank of Lance Corporal.
  • Harley Bottoms (3rd Platoon) promoted to the rank of Private First Class.

Parting shots:
Be proud of your Marines. They are extremely tough, brave, resilient, and they never say no. It is with complete sincerity when I tell you they are an awe inspiring to watch as we execute our missions.

Thanks to you all for your continued letters of support. Mail makes even the best day here better. Please keep it coming..

Posted by Deb at 10:26 PM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

May 18, 2006

3/1 Change of Command

One of the benefits of calling a retired USMC colonel by the title "Dad" is seeing what goes on behind the headlines. Yarbz, from Juggernuts, shared a story from his father yesterday - here's a snippet and one of the pictures, but do visit Juggernuts for the full story. His dad is a wonderful photographer and has shared his pictures with our site before . . . something we very much appreciate!

Photo by Col. BB Yarborough, USMC Ret.
SgtMajor Edward T. Sax was relieved from his post as SgtMaj of 3dBn, 1st Marines, and assumes new duties of SgtMaj of a Marine Air Wing in Mira Mar, CA. Sax distinguished himself in 3/1, deploying as SgtMaj of 3/1 for 3 combat tours. His last tour was as a volunteer and at his insistence, otherwise he would have been assigned non combat duties more than a year ago.

Before he left I asked him why he wanted to go for the third time, and he said that there were so many new officers and staff NCO's that he felt obligated to help indoctrinate and train them so that "his Marines" would have a better chance to make it safely through the tour. The Bn lost 4 men killed in action, tragic, but evaluated as an overall operation, excellent results.

Thanks to father and son for letting us excerpt it here. Full story at Juggernuts. And, while you're over there reading the story, do leave a comment wishing Col. Yarborough a very happy birthday!

Posted by Deb at 11:59 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 16, 2006

The Real Deal

I've watched the NBC show, Deal or No Deal, a few times under protest - game shows based solely on greed aren't my idea of a good time. Last night, I made an exception as a Marine wife from Camp Lejeune was surprised with a video visit from her deployed husband. Sgt. Sara Wood, AFP reporter, filed this report:

The wife of a Marine from Camp Lejeune, N.C., got more than she bargained for as a contestant on NBC's game show "Deal or No Deal" last night.

Renee Stokes, whose husband, Marine Staff Sgt. Justin Stokes, is currently deployed to Iraq, was the second contestant of the night on the high-pressure show that allows people to try for cash prizes up to $1,000,000 in a game of odds and chance.

Stokes was joined on stage by her best friend, her mother-in-law, and a family friend. The show allows contestants to bring family members and friends on stage to offer advice at crucial decision-making points.

Stokes and the other three women were wearing "America Supports You" lapel pins. America Supports You is the Defense Department's program to recognize citizen support for military men and women and to communicate that support to members of the armed forces at home and abroad.

At the show's beginning, Stokes said she and her husband had just celebrated their one-year anniversary, but it was a lonely celebration because he was in Iraq. She said if she won the $1,000,000 prize, she would buy herself a motorcycle to match the one she and her husband bought right after they got married.

After Stokes had played the game for three rounds and had to make a decision of whether to make a "deal" and accept a cash amount instead of continuing with the game, she was given a huge surprise by host Howie Mandel.

"This is a tough decision, a big decision, and I know you brought supporters and family. I also know that your biggest supporter is not here," Mandel said. "This is a time you have to make a serious decision. You've got to get as much help as you can possibly get."

As Mandel finished saying this, Stokes' husband, Justin, appeared on a large video screen via satellite from Fallujah, Iraq. Justin's appearance was greeted by screaming and applause from Stokes, her family and friends, and the audience.

"I already won my million," Stokes said, referring to her chance to see Justin.

Justin was able to provide advice and encouragement to Stokes throughout the rest of the show, with the help of Marines from his unit who were assembled behind him.

At one point in the show, "Tonight" talk show host Jay Leno made an appearance, presenting a motorcycle of the exact model Stokes wanted. The show's "banker" was throwing the motorcycle into the deal to try to convince Stokes to abandon her pursuit of the big money. After consulting Justin, Stokes said no to the deal, but Leno didn't leave without thanking the troops for their service.

"I want to thank you for all your service," Leno said to Justin and the other Marines. "We really appreciate what you men and women are doing."

Justin's mother, Judy, who was on stage with Stokes, then tearfully addressed her son.

"Dad and I love you, and I have your Marine necklace on and your bracelet that you gave me," she said.

Justin's father was in the audience and was also emotional as he spoke to his son. "We love you. Be good and get home safe," he said.

In the end, Stokes won $28,000 on the show, which she said was still enough to buy her motorcycle.

I'm glad she won enough to buy her motorcycle. But, she should have made a deal when Jay Leno came out on stage - $99,000 and the Harley AstroGlide that she'd dreamed of. That's the problem of understanding probability and risk assessment - and why I don't watch the show. Unless there are Marine families in the background.


Posted by Deb at 12:27 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

May 13, 2006

"I want to tell everyone how great he was"

On May 3, another hero fell. Captain Brian Letendre, deployed with 1/25 Marines, was killed on May 3 when a suicide car bomber attacked his observation post in the Al Anbar province of Iraq. A Potomac News story shares details of Cpt. Letendre's life:

"He's a hero. This young man is fighting the global war on terrorism for other people to give them a chance to have a better life," said Bill Bann, a friend of the Letendre family and a retired Marine Lt. Colonel. "He was over there, saw it, experienced it first hand and wanted to go back because he believed in what they are doing."

Letendre, a Marine since he graduated from Milligan College in Tennessee, made his family's friends proud, they said.

"He was a fine young man, the best our country has to offer," said Bann, whose twin sons befriended Letendre in elementary school. "He was full of passion, a man of courage, conviction and integrity. He loved being a Marine."

Since they were teens, Letendre and friends David and Brian Bann dreamed of becoming officers in the Marine Corps.

They played G.I. Joe in the woods near their Woodbridge home, said David Bann.

Letendre's father, Milton Letendre, said his son was strong, high mannered and moral.

"He was looking forward to [his tour in Iraq]. He's a very motivated, very patriotic young man who believed in what his country is doing," said his father.

Letendre, a 1996 Potomac Senior High School graduate, won a posthumous Purple Heart Medal and an Iraq Campaign Medal this week, said Gunnery Sgt. Pete Walza, DoD spokesman.

Those medals add to Letendre's 14 other awards during his nearly six years of Marine Corps service.

He joined in May 2000 as a second lieutenant and nearly at the same time married his college sweetheart, Autumn. She and their 3-year-old son live in Indianapolis.

And last week, Autumn Letendre wrote a letter to the men of 1/25 who served with her husband.:

Dear Friends and Family,

I write this letter with a pain I never imagined could exist. It was just last week that I was telling you our story and what a story we have. Although I feel cocooned with extreme sadness I could not be any prouder. Brian loved the Marine Corp and all that encompassed its purpose. He believed that being in Iraq was right and that no one should resist the chance to liberate another human being even if that meant putting his life on the line. He leaves our three year old son Dillon- a blessing and mirrored image of Brian. I can not find a word with enough meaning, enough passion to explain how great of a father Brian was. Dillon loves his daddy so much and has truly lost an American Hero.

I am smiling right now as I reminisce our first date, our first kiss, the day he told me he loved me, when he proposed etc. Wow, what happiness fills me with these thoughts and how I want to tell everyone how great he was.

(To those of you separated by deployment)

As our news shocks and terrifies you, please stay strong for your men. They need your strength as they must complete their mission. Do not let fear take away the great bond that deployment can create between you and your spouse. I encourage you to write them and write often. Tell them how you truly feel and live with extreme pride to be married to one of the few.

I have no regrets as I always told Brian how proud of him I was and still am. I may have lost the love of my life, but I have gained a life and story that few in this great country have.

Thank you for your prayers
Autumn Letendre

I am reminded of another example:

The night before last at dinner, I listened to General Mattis speak of another helicopter crash in Afghanistan. Desperate for a replacement, he contacted Washington and obtained one from the command back home. Later he learned that, that evening, the young widow of one of the men who died in the crash, seven-months pregnant, showed up with fresh-baked brownies to bid farewell to the outgoing crew as it headed out to Afghanistan.

Fallen Marines are often described as having given the ultimate sacrifice for a free country. That is certainly true. But their spouses give the penultimate sacrifice - the loss of the love of their life - as they assume the mantle of both parental roles. Think of the widows of those fallen heroes tomorrow on Mother's Day.

Posted by Deb at 01:18 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Update from Camp Fallujah

Here's an update from Col. Larry D. Nicholson, commander of RCT-5 :

Dear Families and Friends of the Regiment,

Already May, and after nearly 3 months in Iraq, we are really starting to hit our stride and find our daily rhythm. So many great things being done by our Marines, Sailors, and yes Soldiers. Most of these things never make the news, but I am immensely proud of our accomplishments and the manner in which we are treating the Iraqi people.

Currently we have 3/5, 1/1, 2/6, and 1st RECON BN on deck along with Tank, AAV, Engineer, and Arty Company's / Batteries from both coasts. Nearly 5 thousand folks on RCT-5 morning reports and this is just the US side. We also have 5 Battalions of Iraqis working under the RCT-5 banner, and with them our daily count is near 8 thousand. So as you might imagine, we are exceptionally busy moving all of these units and personnel in the same direction every day. We are also in the middle of unit turnovers for some of our Battalions, and this complex and challenging process is going very well so far.

Life inside Camp Fallujah is "almost" comfortable in the sense that the weather is still nice, California like in fact, and the food and billeting for all hands is much improved from my last trip here. This does not mean however that we do not need care packages from home. We each look forward to the mail trucks arrival and just like kids at Christmas, can"t wait to rip into those packages.

I am very encouraged by the great participation of our families back home in attending our sponsored events. Our family network is doing a wonderful job of keeping the lines of communications open and providing the critical support required for our family team.

On a sad note we morn the loss of LTCOL Jay Bargeron and Capt Jason Freeby's fathers these past few weeks. Our prayers are with them, their families, and all of our Marines and Sailors who have suffered family losses or illness during this period.

Thanks you again for your continued strong support of your Marine and Sailor, there is no way any of us could make this deployment successful, and stay focused on our important work, without the dedicated support of our loved ones back home. I very much look forward to writing to you again in June.

Semper Fidelis,
L.D.Nicholson
CO RCT-5

Comfortable weather is a relative statement - other reports indicate that temperatures are ranging upwards of 100 each day. I'm adding powdered Gatorade to each care package - staying hydrated is essential in the desert heat and Gatorade helps. And, I'm sending a couple dozen pairs of socks a month since it is essential to change socks frequently - my son said he'd pour a pint of sweat out of each boot at the end of the day. The comfort of a new pair of socks cannot be overestimated.

Deb

Posted by Deb at 01:03 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 10, 2006

Update from the Al Anbar Province

Major General Rick Zilmer, Commanding General of I MEF Forward sends this update from the front:

The tough mission of securing the western province of Iraq and training our Iraqi Army partners continues to keep the Marines, Sailors, Soldiers, and Airmen busy, and focused on the task at hand. The Marines and Soldiers in Ramadi had a lot of success working with their Iraqi partners and rid the city of a large number of insurgents in the past couple of weeks. Slowly, but surely, the Iraqi Army becomes stronger and is more and more capable. This past week, a new class of Iraqi recruits graduated from boot camp and will join our efforts. The new recruits are the result of efforts to bring more Sunni Muslims into the Iraqi Army and Police Force to fight in the Anbar province, which is made up mostly of Sunni Muslims.

We work hard everyday making sure that the service members are well equipped, well prepared, and well supported. Despite the rising temperatures -- we're just breaking 100 degrees now -- the operational tempo remains high. With the promising new leadership in the Iraqi Government, it is clear that Iraq is moving in the direction of democracy. The Marines, Sailors, Soldiers, and Airmen, with their Iraqi counterparts, are unfazed, dedicated and are doing a great deal to move the nation toward their goal.

Recently, a couple of visits from former heroes and entertainers gave the service members a much needed break from the seriousness of the task at hand. Two Medal of Honor recipients recently visited, sharing their war stories with our young warriors, and providing them an evening of camaraderie and inspiration. The Charlie Daniels Band also came out for a well-attended concert at Camp Taqqadum.

A large part of our resilience and ability to continue the fight is due to your outstanding support! Thank you. Please keep us in your thoughts and prayers and continue to write, email, and MOTOMAIL. Please check back after May 15th to hear more news about your Marines, Sailors, Soldiers, and Airmen doing a fine job out here in the Al Anbar Province. Until then, take care on the home front and Semper Fidelis.

Good news . . . except for the hot weather. I just mailed a box of 48 Snickers bars for my chocolate-deprived son and his Marines. Sounds like they'll be Snickers Soup by the time they get there . . . but they'll eat them anyway. Life as an infantry Marine does have its challenges.

Posted by Deb at 01:05 AM | Comments (73) | TrackBack

May 09, 2006

Lunch with the President - "It was just some motivating stuff"

Most enlisted Marines rarely - if ever - talk with their battalion commander. Chains of command are there for a reason and messages are passed up and answers are passed back down. One of the high points of SOI for my son was the day he went through grenade training. He pulled the pin, threw the grenade and just then realized there was a full bird Colonel standing right behind him. As he hit the deck, he managed to throw his body into attention while saluting. He said the landing was a bit uncomfortable but he wasn't going to take a chance on not following protocol.

Imagine having lunch with the Commander in Chief of all U.S. armed forces. It happened last week for the Marines of the Combat Center, 29 Palms.

Cpl. Jesse Markel, recently returned from Iraq with 2/7 Marines, shakes the hand of President Bush.

Cpl. Markel's mom (Nicole Markel who coordinated Operation Santa for 2/7 Marines last fall), commented, "Leave it to our son to get an opportunity to sit at the head table next to the President for lunch! He had a great time, said they talked about everything from Iraq to football. He said he is very down to earth, easy to talk to. Pretty cool!!!"

Cpl. Evan M. Eagan, Combat Correspondent, reports on the day's events:

President George Bush came to the Combat Center April 23, to visit Marines, Sailors and their families during a three-day tour of the Southern California area.

Marking the first time a president has visited the Combat Center, Bush attended church services at the Protestant Chapel and ate lunch with the service members and their families at the 7th Marines mess hall, where he addressed those who assembled.

During his speech, Bush expressed his appreciation for the Marines, Sailors and their families for the sacrifices they have made whether overseas or stateside.

You represent the very best of America, he said. You represent men and women who volunteer to serve during dangerous and historic times. And because of your service, we're defeating an enemy overseas so we do not have to face them here at home. Because of your service, we've liberated people from the clutches of a tyrant. And because of your service, we're laying the foundation of peace for a generation of Americans to come. These are historic times, and your service makes me incredibly proud.

And I also want to say something to your families, Bush continued. It's hard when your loved one is overseas. I respect your sacrifice, and want to thank you very much for your service to our country, as well.

Many Marines who ate lunch with the president were excited to meet with their commander-in-chief.

For Sgt. Daniel D. Reuss, an assault gunner with Weapons Platoon, Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, meeting President Bush was a rewarding experience.

I sat about 20 feet away from the president when I ate brunch with him, said the Redding, Calif., native, and two time Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran. He said he was very happy to see us. He told us the Marine Corps was doing an excellent job. It was an awesome experience, which was worth a lot. Not everyone gets to meet the president.

Lance Cpl. Christopher L. Parks, an infantryman with 3rd Platoon, Echo Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, wasn't seated as close to the president, but still had the opportunity to meet him.

When he first came in to the chow hall, he became social with all of us who were standing in line,"said the Corpus Christi, Texas, native, and Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran. After eating, he walked around the whole chow hall to shake hands with everyone. When he got to our table, he told us how much of a good job we're doing. He also asked about our families and how things were going at home. It was a pretty motivating experience. He gave me inspiration to keep doing my job and doing it well. He really showed us he cared and he wanted us to know that. It was an honor to see him because it's something that I might not have the privilege to do again.

Sgt. Matthew L. Barber, a machinegun squad leader with Weapons Platoon, Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, was motivated by the president's visit. Eating with the president is an experience he won't soon forget.

I was very motivated to even get to see the president," said the Olathe, Kan., native. "When he first got to the chow hall, he busted out with a Semper Fi. That was very motivating.

We all were very happy to have the president come to our base, continued Barber. “He actually took the time from his very busy schedule to come see us for a day. I know everyone in 3/4 was honored to talk to him. It was my best experience here. It was just some motivating stuff.

After spending time with the Marines, Sailors and their families, President Bush made his way to the Combat Center parade field where he boarded Marine One and departed.

I'll send these pictures to my son, currently deployed in Iraq. He missed meeting President Bush by a few hours in Ireland last February, to his regret. And if he had to miss President Bush's visit to his home base, he'll be happy that his good friend, Jesse, was the Marine who sat next to the him, chatting about the things that are of interest to men everywhere - sports and combat.

Posted by Deb at 12:16 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 04, 2006

24/7 Marine Professionalism

Pfc. Andrew M. Kalwitz correspondent for the RotoVue at MCAS-New River, had this to say about Marine decorum, on and off duty:

Since we perform our duties as a service to the American people, it is essential to the Marine Corps existence that we have their support. In order to gain this support, Marines must conduct themselves professionally; on and off-base. When recruits get off the bus and stand on the renowned yellow footprints for the first time, they begin a 13 week indoctrination to become U.S. Marines. Their training will take them from the parade deck to the rifle range and from the gas chamber to the swim tank. They also attend numerous classes to learn the history of the corps, how to provide first aid, customs and courtesies and the appropriate behavior expected of a Marine. These things are not to be forgotten.

One man who owns a business outside the New River gate, retired gunnery sergeant Anthony P. Waters, co-owner of Muddys Coffee House, said there has never been a problem inside the coffee house, but he is aware of the inappropriate conduct Marines have displayed elsewhere. "I have seen some pretty bad stuff," he said. The majority of Marines is very respectful. However, many Marines seem to have become much too comfortable with the use of profanity. It isn't unheard of for them to use inappropriate language in public places and around children, said Waters.

Waters said he recently witnessed a Marine wife speak to a master sergeant using profane language after her husband was corrected for wearing one of his green undershirts with his civilian attire. “The Marine did nothing to stop his wife,? he added. Waters said he also saw a private first class walk into a sitdown restaurant in his blue coveralls. But that doesn't qualify for the number one spot. “The worst thing was in Wal-Mart. It was a lance corporal and he was wearing his Alphas,? he started. “But they were unbuttoned and the belt was completely taken-off.?

In a military community like Jacksonville, where many retired and former Marines reside, there is a strong influence to ensure today's Marines maintain current standards. Retired Sgt. Maj. Ihor Sywanyk, owner of Sywanyks Scarlet and Gold Traditions night club, explained that Marines need to have a respectable appearance while in public. By dressing like a Marine, one is more likely to act like a Marine, he said. “I personally believe that when people dress better, they act better.? Sywanyks Scarlet and Gold Traditions is the only place in Jacksonville with a dress code, he said.

Aside from appearance, speaking professionally also says a lot about the Marine Corps as an organization.
"I ask all Marines to be aware of their own actions and to take charge of themselves," said Sgt. Maj. Lewis Summerville, Station sergeant major. "We have to stop setting the wrong example to those that we serve and protect. Every Marine has to remember that he or she is part of the Marine team and that team is much bigger than any individual." Many young Marines also agree that using profanity is unprofessional and tarnishes the Marine Corps' reputation with the surrounding communities. “We are Marines 24-seven and it is unprofessional,? said Lance Cpl. John D. Floyd III, Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron weather observer. “We should be professional 24-seven.?

Floyd explained why Marines need support from the community. “We need their support. We wouldn't be here without them,? said Floyd. “They pretty much put the money in our pockets.? Sometime after the proud moments that followed the graduation of basic training, many Marines lost some of the professionalism and pride that had been instilled in them. If it was worth working so hard to become a Marine, it is definitely worth the effort it takes to stay a Marine.

When my son is home on leave, he stays cleanshaven and his haircut is within regs. He wears a belt and his shirt is tucked in. Although, there was that one time when he had a two-day beard growout. I told him I'd wait for him to shave, but he didn't want to take time. So, I waited until we were in the Costco parking lot before acting. "Shane, is that Gunny Dukes?" He knew better than to take a chance on the senior recruiter for our region finding him in need of a shave. Nothing more painful than a dry shave with a dull razor in the front seat of Mom's car. And we bought an electric razor that same day with a car charger. No more excuses.

Posted by Deb at 09:45 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

May 01, 2006

Finding peace in the middle of war

I've always enjoyed reading messages from chaplains who minister to the spiritual needs of our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. Knowing that they are smack dab in the middle of the area that I used to teach my Sunday School kids about it is breathtaking. My son came home from his first deployment with pictures of Nebuchadnezzar's palace and the ruins of Babylon. Men from his platoon were baptized in the Euphrates River. And they gained a deep understanding of the longing for peace by people who had known mostly war in their lifetimes.

Photo by SSgt. James Goodwin
Cpl. Nick Duncan participates in an Easter Mass held at Al Asad Air Base. Cpl Duncan serves with RCT-7, 1st Recon.


Here's a homily by Chaplain Mark Smith (CMDR, USN) that captures that human longing perfectly:

I was walking back from the chow hall in the dark after breakfast the other morning. A lonely, wide, gravel path between encampments where armored vehicles sometimes wait for diners to return, it was rather quiet at this time. Keeping my eyes sharp to avoid stumbling, and always on the alert for the unexpected, I saw out of the corner of my eye a strange, quick movement above the berm. Something was scrambling rapidly and erratically over one of the synthetic canopies that stretch between poles to cover either small buildings or areas where people gather out of the sun and view. The creative ways Marines erect these often produce interesting rolling landscapes. This thing darted in and out of shadows, creases, folds, and over every synthetic hill created by a pole. I couldn't guess what it might be, since it seemed to barely dent the fabric at all.

I suspected it was not a threat to me - across the concertina wire atop the berm - so I walked close to get a better view. It was a kitten. Or maybe more of a teenage cat, having the time of his life. He was running to and fro, capturing imagined prey, avoiding pretend predators. When he saw me, he stopped and stared, eyes and ears at full attention. When he soon became bored by me, he went back to the challenges of the acrylic hills. As I continued on my way to my office, I noticed the birds singing in the eucalyptus trees. They were not bothered by the sound of the cannons doing terrain denial around the base, nor the machine gun fire coming from the range.

There is a war out here. But nature doesn't always seem to notice. The world goes on, and the wind whispers, "This too shall pass." Though we need to remain alert, aware of our surroundings and conscious of our purpose, we could also learn from the play of the kitten and the song of the birds. In the midst of all this, I too can find peace.

The Christian communities have just celebrated Easter and continue in the next few weeks in the Easter Season. The Gospel reading on the second Sunday of Easter reports on some of Jesus' post-resurrection appearances to his disciples and others. In that passage Jesus says several times to his disciples, "Peace be with you" - a normal Jewish greeting - but he says it repeatedly, even in the same visit. They may have been frightened by his sudden appearance, or even still rattled by witnessing such a momentous event. But what Jesus wished for them was peace. In their hearts, in their lives, in the midst of all the terror and loss of the crucifixion of their leader. Peace.
If the one they called the Prince of Peace offers peace in times of trial, we might begin to recognize that peace is not dependent on the world's cooperation. Peace can be in our hearts even in the middle of struggle, pain, fear and war. A calm assurance that despite all that may assail me, I can have peace.

Look to your sources of peace, whether it be your faith, your training, or your love and loved ones, and be at peace, even during war. Though we need to remain alert, aware of our surroundings and conscious of our purpose, we could also learn from the play of the kitten and the song of the birds. In the midst of all this, we too can find peace.

Peace be with you.

There's also a very interesting look at the life of deployed military chaplains in yesterday's Washington Post. Here's a snippet but do read the entire piece.

It's Chaplain Jamie Deason's first night on FOB Diamondback. Alone at last in his seven-by-twenty-foot shipping container, Deason, a Southern Baptist, is unpacking his rucksack and praying about a mosque.

Earlier over dinner in the chow hall, Deason met the outgoing chaplain he'll be replacing at the chapel. Major Michael Morehouse was charging through the long list of responsibilities he'll be handing off to Deason -- advising the FOB command on morale, caring for soldiers in units without a chaplain, humanitarian missions, Sunday services, meetings, reports, R&R briefs, and critical incident debriefs. During one of those debriefs, after a military police unit had been ambused and one of them wounded, Chaplain Morehouse sat with the 50 MPs in a big circle while they tried to come to grips with the fact that they could die here.

As Morehouse ran through this list of responsibilities with Deason, he said, "There's a mosque on the FOB, and I've been trying to get some work done on it," as if to say this mosque, which was here long before the Americans, would soon be Deason's responsibility, too.

That took Deason by surprise.

"The Muslims on the FOB are all coming to clean up the yard day after tomorrow," said Morehouse. "They say, 'We can't believe a Christian minister is helping us clean up our mosque!' And I say, 'In America, we play nicely.'"

"Mm hm," Deason murmured, as if he was still listening. But his eyes were already far away.

Now he's praying for guidance. He's all for cooperation, he says. But helping a religion that is not Christian, if it's not a military activity, is a compromise he doesn't think he can let himself make. It's a long way from the west Tennessee hills where he grew up. You've got to stand for something or you'll fall for anything. He heard that line about the same time he found Jesus, and he never forgot it, a line from a song by country musician Aaron Tippin. Outside, the nightly song that calls Mosul to prayer rises and falls in a minor key.

Thanks to Grim for the link.
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Posted by Deb at 03:07 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

April 19, 2006

A Letter to Military Children from the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff

Kids who grow up in military familes face their own unique challenges. It's hard to make lasting friendships when orders to new duty stations arrive with just a few weeks warning. Military parents can be gone for weeks or months . . . or years at a time. But families are important and it's nice to see children given special tribute from General Pace.

I want to take this opportunity to recognize the extraordinary contributions of our Nation's military families, who have faced many challenges-from family separations to frequent moves-with great courage. I would especially like to acknowledge a special source of inspiration: children of military families.

You are patient and understanding when duty calls and your Mom or Dad cannot attend a soccer game, music recital, birthday party, or other important family or school activity. You are heroes in a quiet, thoughtful way, and I am grateful for the unconditional love you give your Mom and Dad. Many of you have experienced the sad and sometimes frightening experience of having your Mom or Dad far from home, serving around the globe in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. Through your personal courage and support, you serve this Nation too - and I am proud of you!

Frequent moves are a way of life for the military child. It is never easy to say goodbye to friends and familiar routines, to begin again in a new school, a new neighborhood - and sometimes a new country! But your resilience and self-confidence are strengths that others admire, including your parents.

Growing up in a military family offers some challenges, but it also provides some special rewards. You can be proud of your Mom and Dad for their brave defense of this great country. Your love and support sustains them. So thank you for being there for Mom and Dad. You are American patriots and role models for us all.


PETER PACE

General, United States Marine Corps

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff

Posted by Deb at 04:31 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 15, 2006

3rd LAR Delta Company Update

Photo by 1st Lt. Nathan Braden
Before they moved to the Syrian border, the Dragoons participated in a cordon and search operation near the Thar Thar Dam. Here, Sgt. Joseph L. Massey (left), a 26-year-old scout squad leader from Shelbyville, Ky. and Lance Cpl. Nathan D. Wagner (right), a 22-year-old scout from Fruitland, Idaho fill out detention processing forms.

The 3rd LAR has landed and this latest update from the Delta company commander is a fascinating glimpse of what it takes to deploy a battalion of Marines:
Dear friends and family of Delta Company "Dragoons,"

I am writing our first e-mail status report later than I had hoped because of an extremely busy schedule as of late. Let me begin by saying how proud I am of our Marines and their hard work up to this point. Including work-ups, pre-deployment ranges and classes and loads of field ops and vehicle maintenance, this has been a grueling period for everyone, one I am sure they will never forget. However, I am convinced their hard work and strong efforts will help us complete the missions we've been assigned and guard our troops against a difficult enemy.

First let me tell you at the writing of this e-mail, we have kept everyone safe, there are no injuries or illnesses. The Marines are smelly and tired after being in the field twenty days, but morale is good. My e-mails are checked, so I will not speak of any combat related issues unless allowed to in this or future e-mailings. I will let the Marines tell you about those items when we get home.

After our departure from 29 Palms MCAGCC we drove to March AFB. The USO had a great set-up for us with breakfast including coffee, juice and snacks. The volunteers were mostly veterans of previous wars who wanted to wish the troops a goodbye. Older men and women, they greeted our Marines with smiles and stories of "shipping out" for Americas previous wars. We were all flattered by their honest patriotism and dedication to the troops. After a few hours wait, we took off with World Air, a charter company that primarily flys for the military. They had flight attendants and played movie after movie to keep the Marines entertained. They seemed to be happy to make us comfortable, and 1stSgt Ward reminded me a round trip flight to Europe would usually cost us over $1,500, but this one was free. We landed in Bangor Maine first, and after a brief turn-around flew across the Atlantic to Shannon, Ireland. Many of the new Marines remarked that this was their first trip across any ocean, and were motivated by the trip. The Marines mostly slept on the flight. We were not allowed out of the airport in Ireland, but the Marines all seemed to enjoy the countryside through the windows. The Shannon airport is surrounded by lush green countryside, there was a sense that it had rained recently. Adjacent to the airport was also a golf course, and though it was the middle of the day, there were a few stalwart older gentlemen out on the links. We were not allowed to drink, but on our return trip I will waive that rule. The Irish folks waiting in the airport seemed confused by all the men in uniform, but some seemed happy to talk to the Marines and wish them luck. Most of the Marines took the opportunity to charge their video games in the airport outlets and get a meal paid for by the airlines in lieu of airplane food. No Irish food, but sandwiches, chips and sodas.

Our landing in Kuwait wasn't nearly as warm a welcome. It was the middle of the night, and you can imagine the stacks of cargo, lines of vehicles and crates, and tight security. Having been on two deployments to Kuwait, I can assure you we weren't missing much, the area around the airport is not very interesting. After a few hours, we met up with our seabags and were bussed to Camp Victory. A small camp used for transients awaiting transport in and out of Iraq. I met up with one of my former Marines, now a Master Gunnery Sergeant, and one of my former bosses, now a Lieutenant Colonel and they explained some of the recent goings on and current operations in Iraq. This is a busy place, to say the least.

Once our flights had been arranged we took a C-130 to Al Assad. Also a night flight, it lasted just over an hour. The Al Assad base was huge and sprawling, but had not received a mortar attack for more than six months. They had a PX and small fast food restaurants including a Pizzia Hut and Burger King. It's going to be hard to keep our Marines fit if they keep feeding us this way. Living conditions were tight, to say the least. Billeting is always a problem when moving around, especially with many other units coming and going also. We officially detached 3rd Platoon back to our Battalion for further tasking in Korean Village (KV as it's called). Lt. Niznik and SSgt Arbuthnot have them well at hand attached to Alpha Company for missions in Rutbah in the Western province. We were taught a few classes by the Regimental Gunner on current Rules of Engagement and the importance of picking our fights wisely. We do not wish to hurt innocent civilians over here.

The Company boarded CH-53 Marine helicopters for our next link. Our destination was Al Quaim, a place very familiar to those in the Company who had been here before. For the newcomers, this was their first Helo ride, and it was eventful. The flight was amazing, and we passed through terrain that looked as ancient as its history. Our helo's flew low and fast over the landscape, and we passed over rolling deserts with sand dunes and rocky outcroppings. Much of the infrastructure, at least from the air, seemed intact, with damage to powerlines and some buildings. As we passed over the Euphrates river, a mass of green seemed to cling to its banks, and shrouded in the trees and high reeds we could see ancient palaces and small towns. Minarets, Mosques and arabesque portals and doorways were clearly visible outside the gunners bubble on the CH-53. It was easy to envision the hanging gardens of Babylon and the cities that used to make up the silk trade routes between Europe and Asia. Haditha Lake was the most unusual thing to see in a veritable sea of sand. An enormous body of water, there were islands of rock and green reeds. Storks or cranes flew low over the surface in the direction of our helos giving it a Discovery Channel, nature show appeal. The pilots and aircrew were uncommunicative, having ferried countless troops North, and my usual attempt to sit in the jump seat and listen to the pilots communicate with ground stations and other aircraft was sternly rebuked by the crew chief. The wing was all about business here, and wasn't interested in entertaining us grunts.

Our landing in Al Quaim was dramatic and like something from an old war movie. I've landed in many bases around the world, but this one was unique. The base at Al Quaim is inside an old Rail yard. With signs still hanging over the massive railcar bays proclaiming "Royal Iraqi Railways." There were lines and lines of rail car and engines. Some seemed to still have cargo onboard, all appeared to be suspended, waiting for an engineer. Many had been stripped or blown up, but there are plans in place to get the railways back up and running within the next three months. An amazing feat in this war torn country. The first of many surprises in what used to be the hostile North West portion of Iraq. The base had HESCO barricades, a kind of foldable metal mesh that can be filled with sand and rock to make an eight foot tall walls to keep out terrorists. It was ringed with guard towers and cammie netting, and razor wire, helos landed and touched off regularly. We saw sweaty, dirty Marines with their gear and sea bags lining up, waiting for us to unload so they could get onboard and head back to the States. They practically pushed us out of the way, I am sure we will feel the same way in another six months. We had an opportunity to see some detainees. Wiry, black hair, tanned arms and faces, these were our enemy, at least the ones we'd gotten. They didn't look very threatening, and most of our Marines towered over them in size, stature and military bearing. Nothing is more convincing to me that we can win the war with just a handful more Devil Dogs. These people are ineffective against our rugged Marines unless they hide, cowardly, behind their IEDs, mortars and snipers.

Many experienced their first dust storm. Much similar to the ones others had seen or I had experienced in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, they were enough to blast the enamel off our teeth. The temperature wasn't too hot yet, and along the Euphrates it's cold at night dropping to mid forties. The days are in the eighties, and increasing in temperature as we get closer to summer. We officially detached from 3d LAR and attached to Regimental Combat Team-7. Commanded by Lt. Col. Marano, we were welcomed and billeted in SWA huts (South West Asia). This was the last spot for Marines to use phones and send e-mail. We had ordered enough sets of E-SAPI plates and side SAPI plates for everyone. This is the newest generation IV and V armor your Marines will wear. The latest in Marine gear, it defeats some of the biggest enemy weapons when properly worn. The side SAPI plates protect our Marines from their vulnerable flanks. We also convinced the supply Sergeant to issue all Marines a pair of fire retardant gloves, called NOMEX and a hood made of the same material. This can really save the Marines trouble in the event of a fire on the vehicle. All this gear is, of course, heavy, cumbersome, and will be extremely hot, so I am ensuring our Docs keep a close eye on our Marines to ensure they are drinking enough water when the weather turns. This also marked the beginning of our operational phase, we were no longer in transit, being guided from airport to airport. From here on out we had our feet planted firmly on the earth as with generations of grunts before us. We are, however, mounted like the cavalry, and thereby just a little better than the average grunt. Smarter, faster, and better armed and armored. Our motto, "Dragoon," is defined as a mounted warrior who dismounts for battle. We have definitely earned that title here, as I will describe later, driving across half of Iraq.

We boarded up in armored trucks and moved up North across the Euphrates. We passed IED holes and spent brass casings on our way to "Memphis bridge." Crossing through the various companies zones, we saw a profusion of construction. New schools, mosques, houses; the people up North are rebuilding with a fury. Once on the other side of the river, we were greeted with a huge surprise, especially for the old timers. Children sprang out of houses and waved and jumped up and down with huge smiles. Moms held their little ones up to see us passing, and all greeted us with warm and happy faces. There were many farms irrigated by the Euphrates, green and producing. Cattle and donkeys helped the farmers trim their crops, and farmers stopped their days work to wave as we passed. Children in schools ran to the balconies and waved at us, laughing and smiling. We were caught off guard by the "atmospherics." A new term in the working lexicon of the U.S. Marines, the term "atmospherics" is used all the time to explain how the locals view us. You'll hear an NCO talking to a new NCO saying "The atmospherics at Tinian were great, kids were smiling and waiving." We passed Iraqi Army soldiers standing post at check points. Their uniforms were clean and clearly marked, they wore sunglasses, and stood proudly. The Iraqi flag waived atop all their positions. They waved nonchalantly as we passed. We were shocked, expecting something more like the news had shown, with sporadic small arms fire and IED's detonating daily. That is a reality in other parts of Iraq as we would find out later. Here, there was peace and rebuilding that astonished most of us.

We were assigned a battlespace, to be renamed AO Dragoon (AO is Area of Operations) for our arrival. Owned by Weapons Company (Warlord) of 1st LAR (the Highlanders) from Camp Pendleton, for the previous four months. We didn't know it, but we wouldn't be here more than eleven days before being ordered elsewhere, but for now it seemed livable. There were battlepositions in our sector named for famous Marine battles, we were honored by our new mission and took stock of our situation. My opposite from 1st LAR filled us in on the mission. The Marines in his company had been working tirelessly to get connected with the locals. We were driven to the houses of all the local sheiks and they offered chai tea and discussed their problems and issues. Most had projects ongoing in their areas, from new pumphouses for irrigation to water purifiers for drinking water. Unfortunately, there are no restrictions on Syria so they dump pollutants in the water and it rolls down river into Iraq carrying disease and industrial waste. The Euphrates in AO Dragoon had tested positive for intestinal worms, chicken pox just to mention a few. I hoped the Sheiks had boiled their water well enough before serving their tea, but custom prevented me turning down their sweet-tea mixture. After we finished with the Sheiks we drove to each of the battlepositions. I had attached to my command a platoon of thirty Marines from 1st Battalion, 7th Marines. They were eager, as were we all, to get to work improving our battle positions.

Our HQ battle position was shared with the Iraqi Army, much to everyone's surprise. The partnership included an Iraqi Army Lt. Col. named Lt. Col. Najim. He and his troops would be partnered with mine in all things, and he was technically under my command. Every patrol was 50% American and 50% Iraqi. We were amazed. Could the system be working? We found the Iraqi Army soldiers to have varying levels of proficiency (one platoon was weak), with most fully capable of holding their own. The Marine Corps was definitely the enforcing power behind them, but they were professional and dedicated. It was unusual to have a HQ with an American flag on one side and our former enemies' flag on the other. I met and surveyed their troops and had a late night dinner with Lt. Colonel Najim. We discussed his plans and how we would continue the good partnership established by Highlander, 1st LAR. He asked for nothing and explained that he was very happy with the progress. He said he looked forward to a time when Americans were no longer needed, but not in a derisive manner. He said he looked more forward to when his troops were not needed to garrison the countryside, and could get to work defending their country against the Syrians and Iranians. He seemed authentically angry that they would threaten his homelands borders. He was gracious for the efforts Americans had expended to benefit his land, and looked forward to happier times with his family.

We moved into our living quarters after an exhausting day. Wooded bunks inside sandbagged bunkers were the living arrangements. The food consisted mainly of Tray-Rations, called T-rats or Tray-rats by the Marines. They come in a tin heated in a steam heater and served with canned fruit and vegetables. They always reminded me of school lunches, nutritious, flavorful, but not something Grandma would save in her recipe book. These were augmented by a huge stock pile of "extras" the Highlander Company Gunney had been hoarding. It consisted of Gatorades, muffins, granola bars, cokes and non-alcoholic beer, etc. There was a gym with weights and some cardio machines and a T.V. that wasn't working, but had DVD movies playing for the Marines.

It was here we finally accepted our vehicles. They were dirty and used, but we were glad to be Dragoons again. We accepted them, and the XO, company Gunney and Platoon Commanders Platoon Sergeants and I worked through the inventories to see what was broken missing or damaged. We assigned watch rotations for the Marines and began our "joint" patrolling and guarding post with the Iraqi Army and some of the men from Highlander. There was still enemy activity up here, but not as frequent as other places in Iraq. An occasional IED, and some "small arms fire," abbreviated in my reports as SAF. But during our ten days here we experienced little of it. The next few days we patrolled the area with our Iraqi counterparts, toured new schools, new water treatment facilities, and planned the way ahead for our Company. There was a lot of rebuilding, and Marines were the center of the construction projects. I felt more like a civil affairs officer than a ground combat commander, but if this was the new face of Iraq we were happy to have the Marines safe, and to be doing something that was useful and democratizing the people.

Nothing solidified in my mind the amazing result of all our hard work in this zone than our meting with all the Sheiks of Al Quaim. There were twenty head Sheiks. Three from AO Dragoon, and seventeen from around the area. They sat with the Colonel in charge of the Army, and the new head of police (no permanent police had arrived, that's why the Army did many things consistent with policing duties). After about an hour of arguing and deep discussions I stopped my translator mid-sentence and went out to get some of my Marines. I briefed them that inside was a Sheiks meeting, and I was astounded by what I considered "Democracy in action," in its truest form. Leaders meeting to discuss the sewage, or electricity in their areas. Leaders meeting to make life better for their families and that of their communities. Leaders sitting opposite the military and police officials, unafraid of them, and willing to tell the Iraqi troops and police what to do to better support the people. The Marines and I were impressed. Two of them, Cpl Casillas and LCpl Rodriguez, had been here last year and remember Al Quaim (abbreviated AQ). They remember suicide bombers, nightly mortars, and a people angry at the imposition of a foreign army who they considered invaders. No longer. The Marines stood in the background and let them argue and discuss, much akin to a town council meeting back in the States. I was struck by their honesty with their issues, they still seemed greedy to have their sewage repaired before their neighboring county, they still seemed motivated to get contracts signed for new schools in their district first, but what American politician isn't doing the same thing for their constituency. If we can do the same thing in the rest of Iraq, this place will be buying Levis and opening McDonalds before five years are up. I saw no reason why, at least this portion of Iraq, could not be turned over to the Iraqis within the next four months.

Our new peaceful side of the war was to change as we accepted new instructions. After ten days we were ordered to pack up everything we could carry and commit to the drive to Korean Village (abbreviated KV) in the Western Midlands of Iraq, on the Syrian border. This was the Headquarters of our faithful Battalion, the Wolfpack. A wide expanse of land called AO DENVER and AO WOLFPACK. We packed our gear and drove across the Euphrates for an evenings wait at the rail yard. Waiving goodbye to the kids and mothers as we passed the fertile farmlands one last time. The next morning we began the six hour long drive to KV. Our trip was uneventful.

For parents of deployed Marines, hearing the landing and first few days described as "uneventful" is a very good thing. Best of luck to the 3rd LAR as they begin their tour of duty.

Posted by Deb at 05:46 PM | Comments (72) | TrackBack

April 14, 2006

The bias of our media elite

Embedded journalist Franklin Raff was asked the following question by an Iraqi Army officer of high rank:

"Why do you people not tell our story? Why do you not say what is going on? Why do you come to our country and see what is happening, you see the schools and the hospitals and you see the markets and you eat with Sunni and Shia soldiers - everybody eats together, everybody works together -you see that Saddam is gone forever and we are free to speak and complain.

You see we are working and eating together and fighting together - Sunni and Shia - you see what we are building here, you see the votes we make as one people. Then you say to the world about a great war and horrible things and how we are all killing each other? We are not animals! We are Iraqis. Look around you! Look!"

His full reply is here, but the following excerpts reveal much about the truth behind the news presented to us by mainstream media outlets:

It was hilarious at the time. So funny, in fact, I nearly wept. I will never forget the sight of my colleague, a well-known, market-leading radio reporter feverishly clutching his satellite phone as a Chinook transport helicopter flew by, half a mile or so away. He was standing right beside me as he dialed through the time zones to go "live from Iraq":
We're right in the middle of the action! I'm sorry ... I can't hear you! There's a Blackhawk landing right behind me! I can't quite describe what's going on! This is unbelievable!
At the time, you see, we were just outside an Embassy chow hall, quietly discussing the weather. We had just eaten a magnificent lunch. In this combat reporter's trembling right hand was the target of his desperate screams, the satellite phone - his listeners' link to the horror and chaos of war, the sweat and tears, the booming, blood-shod tragedy of it all. And in his left hand - I swear it - a chocolate milkshake.

So, how do the troops react?

What bothers them is that when we put pen to paper, we tend to stab them squarely in the back by misrepresenting and over-dramatizing our experiences. It is no wonder a "PRESS" tag will get you a few hairy eyeballs in the field: There's a general consensus that we are liars.


And, just as important, how do these news reports set with Iraqis?

Non-English speaking Iraqis are distressed and disheartened by American media bias. Many feel personally offended by what they read in translation and hear of in the foreign press.


Do read the entire article. Raff's observations are consistent with what I hear from our troops - things are getting better, but you wouldn't believe it from front page stories and news reports from reporters who know better. We need more voices like his.

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Welcome home, Marine. You're on our list

Earlier this week, 26 Marines arrived home from eight months in Iraq. When they arrived at LAX, Northwest airlines allowed 25 of them to board their connecting flight to Minneapolis St.Paul airport.

SSgt. Daniel Brown was informed that he was on a terrorist watch list and denied boarding. Never mind that he had spent the last eight months fighting the real thing. Never mind that this was his second deployment. His name appeared on a TSA list and he was grounded.

From the St. Paul Pioneer Press:

Everything seemed normal when Brown, 32, of Coon Rapids, and the other Marines, all wearing their uniforms, gathered at the Northwest Airlines counter in Los Angeles Tuesday morning. The unit had served in Al-Anbar province of Iraq, known as the dangerous Sunni Triangle. But when Brown tried to check in, there was a problem.

"I was told it was going to take some time because they informed me I was on a government watch list," Brown said. "People at the Northwest counter said they had to call somebody to get me cleared."

The clearance took time, and Brown missed the flight. He was scheduled to arrive in the Twin Cities at 2:30 p.m. but didn't get here until 3:45 p.m.

All the Marines thought Brown should have received a better welcome from his country.

"It didn't sit well with any of us. I wasn't the only one upset about it. We all were," Brown said.

There's more. When the first 25 Marines arrived in Minnesota, they knew their familes were just a few miles away - families they hadn't seen for eight months. They also knew that SSgt Brown was on his way.

They waited for him.

"We don't leave anybody behind," 1st Sgt. Drew Benson said. "We start together, and we finish together."
Just one more example of the esprit de corps that makes the USMC unique among our fighting forces

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March 06, 2006

1/7 Marines arrive on the Syrian border

1/7 Marines have landed in Iraq and are settling in for seven months on the Syrian border. First reports are encouraging according to my Marine son who called this afternoon - no IEDs when they toured the town in their LAVs. It's all good.

LtCol Marano, Battalion Commander sent this letter out to families shortly before they left:

We, the Marines and Sailors of the First Team, will soon begin our deployment to Iraq for Operation Iraqi Freedom 05-07. I would like to share a few thoughts with you, our family and friends, as we leave home one more time. I am the most fortunate man in the world as I have the honor of serving with the bravest and most capable Marines and Sailors in our Corps - your sons and husbands. We have trained hard for eight months and I can report to you today that we are well-led and ready for what is to come. No two deployments are ever the same, and this one will be different from our last. Much has changed in our Area of Operations, and the situation on the ground has changed considerably since the First Team last patrolled Western Al Anbar Province. For the first time, I am optimistic that we are making a difference and will eventually succeed - and I base that optimism on a cold analysis of the facts on the ground. Large numbers of Iraqi soldiers and police are in place or will soon be. In fact, we have an entire brigade of Iraqi soldiers operating with us, not long ago there were none. We will soon have hundreds of Iraqi police operating with us, not long ago there were none. The platoons and companies of the First Team will conduct joint patrols with these Iraqi security forces; my goal is to start turning urban areas back to Iraqi control during our deployment. None of this will be easy. Training Iraqi security forces to do the job that US Forces currently do will be difficult, plus Iraq remains a violent and dangerous place even on a good day. Your Marines and Sailors, however, are up to the job. This battalion has a proud history, your loved ones will be writing a new chapter of it.

I want all the families to know that you are always in our thoughts and prayers and know that we remain in yours. Despite the frequent separations, you have remained strong and have kept the faith with us, and each other, especially during periods of maximum stress and high anxiety. These deployments are much harder on wives than Marines. You must keep the family going by yourself, taking care of everything from children's grades to the leaking radiator while wondering and worrying about your husband and your family's future. Your strength is comforting to us and your support of each other forms the basis of what is a very strong support organization.

I would like to recognize the fine work of the battalion's Key Volunteers. These ladies have provided us the love and support we need as we embark on this latest deployment. They have worked selflessly to make sure that every family has the information they need and is prepared for the hardships of this deployment. I want to thank each one of you from the bottom of my heart.


Each platoon will be working directly with an Iraqi Army platoon. By the time 1/7 leaves next fall, these soldiers will have gained invaluable skills from our Marines - the best trained and most revered fighting force in the world.

However, alliances are formed on arenas other than the battlefield. An early request from 1/7 is for baseball gloves, bats, balls, and other gear so that they can introduce their Iraqi brothers to this most American game. (They know they'll get their butts handed to them on the soccer field but this will help even the score.)

One week down, seven months to go.

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January 19, 2006

2/7 War Dawgs are coming home

Photo and story by LCpl Michael S. Cifuentes


There are no words that can adequately describe the anticipation that grips a waiting crowd of family and friends who are waiting to welcome warriors home from war. LCpl Michael Cifuentes was there yesterday as the advance party from 2/7 returned home to Victory Field at 29 Palms. Here's his story:

After seven grueling months of carrying out combat operations in Iraq, more than 40 Marines of the advance party of 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, returned to the Combat Center Wednesday to reunite with their loved ones and lives left behind.

The party arrived to Victory Field in the afternoon where they were met by their families, friends and fellow Marines who expressed their enthusiasm by holding up banners and posters that read "welcome home."

It was a long and nerve-wrackingwait for some wives and family members for their loved one's return. Tragically, the battalion lost 11 of its members who were killed in action during the deployment. For those who kept in contact with the Marines and Sailors of 2/7 who were serving in OIF 3, the deployment grew more and more difficult for them.

"It was hard to hear about what was happening on the front," said Pvt. Robert R. Ribinskas, rifleman with Golf Company. Ribinskas, a Ft. Worth, Texas, native, remained behind with 2/7's Remain Behind Element. An important role the RBE played during 2/7's deployment was supporting the wives and families of the battalion by giving information of the battalion's whereabouts and helping out with any other issues the family members dealt with.

"All of us in the RBE wishes we were there with them for the deployment," continued Ribinskas. "Still, I'm glad that they are coming home now. It feels like yesterday they left this field. I've actually been having dreams about them coming back."

The wives and family members of the Marines and Sailors who were returning arrived on Victory Field early as they anticipated the party's return.

"It was a long wait, and it was a bit harder for me than his first deployment because of our newborn son," said Teneyia Wilson, wife of Cpl. Darnel Wilson, field wireman with Headquarters and Service Company. Present with Wilson was her 4-month-old son, Darius, and 3-year-old son, Darnel Jr.

"I was more worried for his wellbeing than his last deployment," added Wilson. "But, the RBE kept me informed of what was going on out there, and they answered all of my questions. I know he is hurt right now because he lost some of his friends. I can't imagine what that was like. As for now I am glad he is home and is able to spend time with his children, one whom he has never seen. We plan to go back to our hometown in Denver to spend time with the rest of our families."

The experience was new for Marissa Silva, wife of Staff Sgt. Melvin Silva, Headquarters and Service Company. Present with her at the homecoming ceremony was their 3-year-old son, Alejandro, and her in-laws.

"It was me and my husband's first deployment," said Silva. "The time away from him was nerve-wracking. I was always thinking about him and what he was doing. I did keep in contact with him mainly through e-mails. He assured me that he was doing well but in the back of my mind I knew he wasn't telling me everything. I am just really glad that I will see him here today. I can't sit still. We plan to go back to the Bay Area where we can relax and spend time together."

The homecoming event was a success, and all who came out to see their loved ones return were filled with joy when the advance-party bus rolled up to Victory Field. The rest of the battalion is scheduled to return to the Combat Center and reunite with their loved ones in the near future.

Posted by Deb at 03:30 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

January 18, 2006

Working Hand in Hand


This picture, of the 3/1 Kilo CO and a Sgt.Major from the Iraqi Army working with 3/1, was passed along by Cris Yarborough from the always entertaining Juggernuts. His retired USMC father has more 3/1 pictures sent by the CO posted at http://imageevent.com/colbb/imagesfrom31iniraq Check them out - including proof that American Capitalism has truly taken hold in Baghdad.

Anyway, back to 3/1 Marines. Last January 14, my son celebrated his 21st birthday in Iraq by being knocked off his feet, along with the rest of his 1/7 Bravo Company fire team, by a mortar detonated as they patrolled the streets of Husaybah. That no one was seriously hurt was a miracle. This year, a number of similar events were prevented through coordinative efforts between 3/1 Marines and the Iraqi Army they are working and training with. From Barwanah:
Iraqi Army soldiers and Marines with 2nd Platoon, L Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, were conducting routine security patrols roughly 500 meters east of southern Barwanah Jan. 14 and heading back to their base after a long day's work.

That is when Friday, one of L Company's interpreters, noticed a discoloration in the dirt.

It appears that the bad weather depressed the dirt and, because of the recent rain, left it a different color. After digging around in the dirt, they started finding ordnance.

"It appears that these munitions were hastily buried within the last couple of days," said Capt. Shannon Neller, commanding officer of L Co.

The Iraqi soldiers and Marines conducted a thorough search of the area and unearthed a total of 11 buried weapons caches within a 300 meter radius that terrorists planned to use during attacks in the area.

When all 11 caches were unearthed, they contained 139 artillery rounds, 56 mortar rounds, 47 122mm rockets, 94 14.5mm armor piercing incendiary rounds and 19 100-pound bags of propellant.

"There were 12 Iraqi Army soldiers directly involved in finding and digging up these caches. This gives them a sense of ownership and pride in what they're doing," said 2nd Lt. Geoff Meno, 2nd Platoon Commander with L Co. Although these caches were found by Marines and Iraqi Army soldiers patrolling, citizens of the Haditha region have increasingly provided information to disrupt insurgent activities so their community will be safe from insurgent attacks.


It's definitely a good thing that those munitions are destroyed. That the caches were noticed by a Iraqi interpreter and dug up by Iraqi soldiers is even better news.

"Taking these caches out of the hands of insurgents puts a tremendous dent in their logistics. Every round that the Marines and Iraqi Army take off the streets is one less (improvised explosive device) ... one more saved life," said Meno.

"This is a testament to the vigilance of the Iraqi Army soldiers and Marines. They've been doing a hell of a job out here. It is nice for them to see what they are doing occasionally comes with a tangible pay off," said Meno.
One of the many things that are underreported by most media sources is the excellent working relationship between our Marines and the Iraqi Army. Trained by the best fighting force in the world, they are rapidly becoming capable of protecting their own country against outside forces. When that happens, our job will be done.

Posted by Deb at 03:56 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

January 12, 2006

1/2 Marines: Waging war and peace

Photo by LCpl Peter R. Miller
Cpl Stephen Jordan, 1/2 Alpha, hands a young Iraqi girl a muffin as his fireteam provides security in the Hit area.


LtCol "Drew" Smith, CO, Battalion Landing Team 1/2 sends this update:
Greetings and best wishes to our families and friends,

The BLT 1/2 continues to conduct combat operations in the Al Anbar Province of Iraq to provide for the security of the citizens and local government of Hit area and to disrupt insurgent activities in the 22 MEU Area of Operations. Operations are going well and the Marines and Sailors continue to demonstrate the highest levels of professionalism and tenacity in their performance of duties.

As was mentioned earlier, daily operations see the BLT conducting security patrols in their respective sectors to assist the local government and citizens and to disrupt and destroy insurgents and their resources. With regard to the latter, recently coordinated efforts between the BLT companies and the BLT's Combat Engineer Platoon have netted several caches of insurgent weapons and ammunition in the area. I won't go into the methods and techniques by which the caches are uncovered, but I will tell you that our combat engineers have achieved much success in identifying the enemy's techniques and are now exploiting that knowledge to rid the area of munitions and weapons that can be used against the coalition forces and, as we have found, can be equally dangerous to the citizens of the area. The diligent and courageous actions of our Combat Engineers are some of the many ways in which the risk to our forces and those around us is reduced. CEB is doing great work.

I am also very proud of the courage, vigilance, and savvy our warriors are displaying every day in identifying improvised explosive devices (IED) the enemy emplaces in our AO. These devices are the enemy's feeble attempt to deter our efforts, shake our commitment and undermine the combined efforts of coalition forces and the local government in providing security in the post election period. In talking to the Marines and Sailors of that patrol the streets day and night, I have found their resolve to be "rock steady." On the rare occasion where a device does directly impact one of our patrols, the vehicles and personal protective equipment used every day is standing the test extremely well. Although no amount of material can completely prevent damage or injury from occurring, first rate gear and vehicles coupled with very vigilant warriors has-and the data bares it out-put the odds clearly on our side. Our warriors are getting right back in the saddle after the event to reassure the local citizens and keep the pressure on the enemy.

There is more work to be done and this BLT is continuing to lean forward in planning and conducting operations that will address the security issues in our area of operations. Exactly how long we will be in Iraq remains to be seen. I would draw your attention to the recent update provided by the Commanding Officer, 22 MEU regarding the length of our deployment. As mentioned in the update, there is no indicator that we will be extended on this deployment; our return window remains in early May. Should there be a change to that picture, the most up-to-date and accurate information will be conveyed through our KV Network and 22 MEU and BLT 1/2 official web page.

Once again, I ask that you keep us in your thoughts and prayers. Very best regard.
Photo by Gunnery Sgt. Keith A. Milks
A recent story by GySgt Keith Milks provides more details on the CEB's success with IED discovery:
In early January, a section of CAAT vehicles accompanied a platoon from BLT 1/2's A Company on a patrol near Forward Operating Base Hit, and was able to land a one-two punch on the insurgents plaguing Iraq's highways.

"Every once in a while we'll dismount and walk alongside the vehicles," said Twigg as he shouldered his M-4 carbine and began walking along the road's shoulder as his Humvee kept pace. "We do this so we can get a better, more detailed look than if we were driving. By walking we get better (situational awareness)."

No sooner had Twigg explained himself than the column of vehicles and Marines came to a screeching halt. Further ahead, the point element had discovered a suspicious pile of rocks and concrete covering an IED. Immediately establishing a defensive cordon around the site, the patrol leader, 2nd Lt. Davis Gooding Jr., called for Explosive Ordnance Disposal.

"We'll bring EOD up to deal with it," explained the Henrico, Va., native. "Until then we'll maintain a perimeter around the IED to keep ourselves and the locals safe."

While waiting for the EOD technicians to arrive, the Marines in the patrol kept a vigilant eye to the surrounding terrain, and after a few minutes, noticed a pair of men across the nearby Euphrates River acting suspiciously near another road.

"We kept them under observation for a while then determined they were planting another IED," said Gooding.

Using high power scopes and binoculars, the Marines correctly determined the pair's intent and engaged them, killing both just as EOD arrived on the scene.

Working with time-honed expertise, the joint Navy-Marine EOD team destroyed the IED in place. Meanwhile, elements of the patrol jumped aboard a CH-46E Sea Knight from Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 261 (Reinforced), the MEU's aviation combat element, to get a closer look at the bomb placement site across the river.

"There was a shovel and stack of rockets near the men," said Gooding, who examined the scene, "so we were able to stop them just in time."

After the engagement and the IED was destroyed, the patrol continued its mission, knowing that danger lurks around every corner.

"We just had some successes," said Twigg, commenting on the IED discovery and destruction of the insurgent IED team, "but we always have to be on alert and they (the insurgents) have to know we'll be ready for them."

Posted by Deb at 01:42 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

January 11, 2006

Father's Day comes early this year

DOD Photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Ryan C. McGinley, U.S. Navy
Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Josh Stoneman cuddles his newborn son for the first time. Petty Officer Stoneman came home on Monday to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii after six months aboard the USS Chosin as part of the USS Tarawa Expeditionary Strike Group.

Posted by Deb at 10:50 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

January 09, 2006

Highlander Update - "Good things are happening in Iraq."

LtCol Rob Kosid, 1st LAR, sent this update - not sure when it was written (or over what time period, since it references both the October 15 elections and Operation Santa) but it's a fascinating look at the success brought by the efforts of this force.
Dear Friends and Families of the Highlanders,

Happy Holidays from your Marines and sailors of 1st LAR Battalion (Forward)! We're doing well and continuing to make a difference in at least two Areas of Operations. More on that a bit later. Of course, we hope that all of you enjoying the Holiday season back home - at least as much as you can under the circumstances. Believe me, we think about you all the time and are eagerly anticipating our homecoming in a few more months. In the meantime, thanks for all the cards, letters and packages.

Currently, the majority of the Task Force is conducting operations in our normal/assigned area of Operations near Ar Rutbah. Weapons Company, on the other hand, is currently working for 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines in the vicinity of Al Qaim. I speak with Capt Sucher on a regular basis and he reports that Warlord is doing very well and doing what they were trained to do. Am also getting many compliments on their performance from the Commanding Officer of 3/6. Their terrain is a little more urban than ours and they have the opportunity to do some great work in an area that has, up until last month, always been a thorn in the Coalition Force's side. Their Engineers have done a remarkable job turning an austere combat outpost into a functional Company firm base. I wouldn't go so far as to say that it's "comfortable" but it's a vast improvement over what they originally moved into! For those who participated in Operation Santa back home, we have made arrangements to have Weapons Company's packages sent up to them.

The rest of us have had a busy first half of December. On the 6th, we had the good fortune of hosting the Commandant of the Marine Corps, General Hagee. He stayed with us for approximately an hour and a half and gave all of us more than enough opportunities to talk with and listen to him as well as numerous photo opportunities. SgtMaj Ward has even figured out a way for you to see all of the photos. If you hit this link: http://www.usmc.mil/cmc/photos/index.html and go to the Al Asad section of the December 3-9 CENTCOM visit, you can find our photos beginning on page 11. Our server's a little slower out here but there are lots of photos and the chances are good that your Highlander is in there somewhere! Following our visit, he took a flight out to our POE at Trebil where he visited Capt Jeff Goodell and our Marines and sailors of Alpha Battery - their pictures begin on around page 23 or so. All in all, the visit was a success and the Commandant had great things to say about what we're doing.

While CMC's visit was certainly big news, our biggest event occurred yesterday - 15 October. We set up and provided security for two polling sites in advance of Iraq's election of a full-term Parliament. Alpha Company (Apache) teamed with two Platoons from our partnered Iraqi Army unit - the 2d Company 2-1-1 and established a polling site in the vicinity of Ar Rutbah. All was set on the evening of 14 October and I visited the site at approximately 0845 on the 15th. In short, as surprised as I was at the turnout in Barwanah on the 15th of October, I wasn’t prepared for yesterday's voter turnout - it was unbelievable. As you probably already know, we're in a heavily Sunni dominated area and the turnout for the previous two elections was minimal at best. Without getting into too many details - official results are apparently a week or so away - the IECI workers (poll site employees) ran out of ballots and the line of voters stretched, at times, at least a quarter of a mile. Our polling site that H&S Company (Hammer) and their partnered platoon from 2d Company set up in Akashat had similar success - over 350 women voted out of approximately 1500 very enthusiastic voters there. When we visited that site, there were many people in the area and virtually all proudly displayed their ink-stained fingers. We attribute much of the success - at least in terms of how security affected the turnout - to the great work done by all of the Highlander elements in the few weeks preceding the election. I could not be more proud of their efforts and the expressions on the Highlander faces yesterday spoke volumes. Good things are happening in Iraq.

As I type this, we are in the process of sorting through the two tractor trailer-sized containers of mail brought to us by Combat Logistics Battalion - 2 last night as well as the four containers brought in by helicopters a few hours ago. Our company office is literally stacked to the ceiling with boxes from well-wishers. Both SgtMaj Ward and I cannot overstate how thankful we are for the wonderful generosity shown by so many of you. It inspires us! There are so many people to thank that I’m going to send a separate update and attempt to provide a proper "thank you" shortly after Christmas Day. Until then, thanks for your support!
They've promised Operation Santa pictures - can't wait to see them!

Posted by Deb at 11:10 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

January 01, 2006

Christmas in Afghanistan

Happy New Year - we're still wrapped in Christmas spirit here, and this commentary by Air Force Staff Sgt. Jess Harvey will have you smiling too.
When most people think of Christmas, they think of spending quality time with family and friends, sitting around a beautifully decorated tree, opening brightly-colored gifts and eating a feast of homemade goodies.

Others say Christmas is all about giving.

All of which I believe, but if you'd have asked me a week ago, I'd have said my Christmas was looking rather dreary, being deployed here in Afghanistan.

After all, I wasn't going to be watching my two children, ages 4 and 1, awaken all excited to see what had magically appeared under the tree during the night. I wasn't going to be holding my wife and laughing as the kids tore into their gifts with a fervor that goes unmatched at any other time of the year.

I wouldn't be eating all the freshly-cooked turkey, ham, dressing and pies, and smelling all the beautiful aromas that come with them.

But, even though my Christmas lacked all of the things that normally inspire the Christmas spirit, if you ask me today, I'll tell you I had one of the best Christmas experiences of my life.

Thanks to the diligent efforts of an Army staff sergeant with whom I share living quarters and the kind words of half a dozen Afghan guards who watch over us like guardian angels while we sleep, I experienced a magic on Christmas Eve like never before.

The festivities started around 6:30 p.m., but as could be expected during a deployment and with my lack of enthusiasm this year, I arrived about an hour late to an underwhelming number of people and a total lack of Christmas Sprit.

There was loads of food brought from all over, holiday cookies from home and individually packaged treats from a box, but the magic just wasn't there.

Whether it was the sports talk on TV filling the void where holiday music should have been or the lack of children's laughter throughout the house, the mood just wasn't in the air.

About the time it really started sinking in that this Christmas Eve probably would be best spent sleeping in my bunk, the staff sergeant caught my attention and said, "Grab some cookies. We're going to hand them out."

In my confusion, I picked up a tray of cream-filled cookies and followed him past all the revelers, out the door, through the yard and into the alley behind our safe-house where Afghan guards work around the clock.

We started handing cookies to each of the guards, who in turn, greeted us with salutations of "Merry Christmas" and their heartfelt thanks and appreciation for our being here in there country instead of at home with our loved ones.

After our exploits as cookie Santas, we returned to our house accompanied by a few Afghan guards who had shown up early and were not on duty yet.

In our back yard, their fire pit burned dimly. We all sat, warming our hearts and feet, to the crackle of the fire and laughter of good friends, some of which I'd met for the first time that night.

The Afghan guards shared with us their tales of love, laughter and freedoms -- all gained, according to them, since the arrival of the coalition. We shared our own experiences, jokes and thanks with them in return.

We also shared food, lots of food. When one of the Afghans, warming himself next to the fire, would grab an apple or an orange, he would always offer half of it to someone else, sitting nearby, as I later learned is their custom. The same went for the grape and apple juice we used to toast one another.

Before long, all of my sorrows had departed and I started feeling as though I'd known these guys all of my life. As the guards started getting ready for work, and I prepared to climb in my bunk, one guard, who teaches English in his off hours, leaned over to me and told me something I hope will stick with me for the rest of my life.

He said, "Tonight, my brother, you have shown me what Christmas means. Now I can go and teach my students about it."

That's when it hit me square in the heart. This night the Christmas Spirit had become more vivid and alive than ever before in my lifetime, all because of the laughs, smiles and hugs shared with my new-found brethren.

Christmas truly is about giving, whether it be a smile, a hug, a cookie or freedom.

Christmas is also about spending time with loved ones, whether you've known them all your life, or whether you've just met for the first time. If I were given the chance to do it all over again, I would not have changed a thing. After all, my Afghan brothers helped me to truly understand the meaning of Christmas.

Posted by Deb at 01:27 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

December 29, 2005

Notes on General Abizaid's speech - "We are winning"

General Abizaid spoke recently to the Naval War College regarding the current status of the war on terror, and that speech was summarized by an unidentified student. The file was briefly available at C-Span, but is no longer available. Patrick, at Liberating Iraq, was kind enough to translate the PDF file into plain text - visit him for the full transcript, but here are talking points that need to be heard:
The insurgency is in four of 18 provinces in Iraq, not all 18. You do not hear about the 14 provinces where there is no insurgency and where things are going well. The insurgency in Afghanistan is primarily in Kandahar province (home of the Taliban) and in the mountain region on the Pakistani border. The rest of the country is doing well.

Iraq now has over 200,000 soldiers/police under arms and growing. They are starting to eclipse the US/coalition forces. Their casualty rate is more than double that of the US. There are more than 70,000 soldiers under the moderate government in Afghanistan and growing.

He predicted that the insurgencies in the four Sunni provinces in northern/central Iraq and in Southwestern Afghanistan will be there for the foreseeable future, but they will be stabilized and become small enough so the moderate governments will be able to keep them under control.

2006 will be a transition year in Iraq and that will see the Iraqi forces take much more of the mission from the US forces. This is necessary to bring stability to Iraq. We need to be fewer in numbers and less in the midst of the people for the moderate Iraqi government to succeed.

Our primary enemy is not the insurgency in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is al Qaida and their ideology. We are at a period now that is similar to the 1920s where Communism and Nazism had not taken hold in Russia and Germany. The ideology of Al Qaida is out there and it has not taken hold in any country in the Middle East. We need to make sure that it does not and we are doing that, but it will be a long problem with a long commitment.

He said that we are focused on the things that we (Americans) have done wrong, like Abu Ghraib, and not talking about this enemy. We need to talk about this enemy. al Qaida is all over the world. Their goal is to get the US out of the region and come to power in the Islamic countries of the region. From there, their goal is to establish a Caliphate (under a single Islamic ruler) that goes from the Atlantic in North Africa to Indonesia in the Pacific. Fifty years after this happens, their goal is to rule the rest of the world.

Since Desert Storm in 1991, US forces have not lost any combat engagement in the region at the platoon-level or above. al Qaida has no beliefs that they can defeat us militarily. They see our center of gravity as being the will of the American People. That is influenced by the media and they are playing to that. They don't need to win any battles. Their plan is keep the casualties in front of the American people in the media for long enough that we become convinced that we cannot win and leave the region. This would be tragic for our country.

The battle against al Qaida will not be primarily military. It will be political, economic, and ideological. It will require the international community to fight too. We must not let al Qaida get hold in any country. It will result in our worst nightmare. Picture life in Afghanistan under the Taliban, that is what Al Qaida's ideology has as a goal.

If you look at the geography (of al Qaida), there is no place to put a military solution. They are networked and they are all over the world. They are a virtual organization connected by the Internet. They use it to proselytize, recruit, raise money, educate and organize. They have many pieces that we must focus on: the propaganda battle in the media, safe houses, front companies, sympathetic members of legitimate governments, human capital, fighters and leaders, technical expertise, weapons suppliers, ideologically sympathetic non-government organizations (charities), financers, smugglers, and facilitators. A lot of their money comes from drugs.

We are winning but we have got to maintain constant pressure over time with the international community and across the US government agencies. No one is afraid that we can't defeat the enemy. Our troops have the confidence, the courage, and the competence. We need the will of the American people to be sustained for the long haul.
If only our politicians and media had the confidence our troops have.

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December 25, 2005

"From your Marines in Iraq"

From One Marine's View - here is Captain B's Christmas message to us:
We are away from home this holiday season to complete our mission and to eliminate terrorists and defend our nation. It is unfortunate for us to be away from loved ones on earth and in heaven however, its probably the best Christmas gift Ive ever given. No family gatherings, snow drifts or missile toe. Just always on watch ready to go. Scumbags are scared and are on the run, regardless of wherever they go they will find us with lots of guns. While you are in the states celebrating the season know that we are on the front lines for a reason. As this war continues you may not always hear it, but we are full of American and Christmas spirit.

As you celebrate Christmas, be thankful for what you have and where you are. Know its better to give than receive and be thankful you are with someone who cares enough about you to pick you up when needed. You don't need a lot of money and fame to have a great Christmas just the Christmas spirit is enough. Enjoy your health and enjoy life. In the states, on a rocky Afghani mountain or Iraqi desert, have a Very Merry Christmas and this holiday, have the time of your life.

From your Marines, Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah from Iraq.

Captain B

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December 21, 2005

Rest in peace, your Marines are on guard

Here's an excerpted glimpse of Christmas in Iraq from Cap't B - he can't be with his own family, but he's with his other family.
I take a walk outside to check out the weather as it starts to rain, this is the first rain Ive seen for a year here as it turns to hail. Im not at home anymore Im here still in Iraq, with a different family, the Marine family. Another milestone has been achieved and the elections are a success. A country is in motion with democracy and freedom and the last years work is paying off although we have paid a price. There are no lights here except for the few strings Marines have put up from care packages, and the occasional illume artillery round fired in the night sky. I guess there is a special glow from the chemlights that line the walkway but they definitely aren't the holiday type. There are no crowds except for the locals on the street in the city and they aren't shopping. The IEDs and other explosions echo though the area now days. Im not sure if it's the cloud cover or what but now when there is an explosion it echoes through the area for a few seconds unlike before. Counter battery rings out and dang that first one always gets ya, at least I wasn't in the head this time. Sporadic fighting continues around the area but nothing crazy. Marine's morale is high and everyone has accepted the fact that this is the only family they will be sharing the holiday with and actually that's not a bad thing. You could say it doesn't bother you to be away from home on the holidays . . . you could say you're a liar too. However, we are a disciplined force and know we have an important job to do. That job requires discipline, commitment and sacrifice. Sacrifice in the hundreds to those who won't ever go home, ever. Where ever there is injustice in the world we will go there. Wherever there is an evil dictator killing his own people, we will go there. Why? Because as US Marines that's our job and that's what Marines have been doing for over two hundred years. We will fight our nation's battles in any climb and place and anytime of the year. That young Marine standing post in the chilly desert night knows it's the holiday season as does that young Marine who is on his second dozen convoy mission through the worse area in Iraq. The Soldier on a lonely checkpoint out in the middle of nowhere with nothing but his team and gun truck, they know it's the holiday season too. The tanker, the pilot the warrior. They all know it's better to give than to receive. A simple concept that they and their buddy's have proven with blood and sweat. A simple concept that many "Don't get". We are a proud military, a volunteer military who take pride in what we do for a nation that is great. This holiday season, cherish what is yours, smell the trees, have fun with family, take walks, have some egg nog and a stoag for us and enjoy your holidays. Although we had rather be home, know that we will finish what needs to be done and you can rest in peace, your Marines are on guard this holiday season. Merry Christmas & Semper Fidelis

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1/2 Holiday Update

LtCol "Drew" Smith, CO, Battalion Landing Team 1/2 sends this Christmas greeting to 1/2 friends and family:
Happy Holidays

On behalf of the Marine and Sailors of BLT 1/2, I want to extend to all of you "best wishes for a Happy and safe holiday season." As we continue in this deployment, and as our focus remains firmly on our duties, there will undoubtedly be thoughts of home and of celebrations that accompany this time of the year. Christmas Trees and decorations are going up without the assistance of loved ones that are deployed, families are gathering and kids are counting the days until school lets out and the jolly-little-red-suited-elf makes his rounds. During this time of the year, there are thousands of American service men and women forward deployed and serving their country. I need not go into any detail of their courage and sacrifice and that of their families. Please keep the BLT in your thoughts and prayers. We wish all an enjoyable and safe holiday season.

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December 20, 2005

Holiday Letter from Major General Natonski

Here's a holiday message from the 1st MARDIV Commanding General:
Families and Friends of the 1st Marine Division,

As we prepare for the upcoming holidays, I want to extend my best wishes to you during this joyous season. You have each made significant contributions to the success of our Marines and Sailors both here and abroad. Your dedication, understanding, and unwavering support throughout our intense training schedules and long deployments instills confidence in the men and women of the "Blue Diamond" division. Thank you.

During this season let us also take a moment to remember those families who have lost a loved one or friend. We honor their sacrifices and our thoughts and prayers go out to them, let us never forget our country's heroes, those that paid the ultimate price for our country and Corps.

I wish you all Season's Greetings and a Happy New Year. God bless the members of the 1st Marine Division and their families and friends!

Semper Fidelis,

R. F. Natonski
MajGen USMC

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December 17, 2005

"'Step on daddy's shoes, let him lead you"



There is nothing that can transform a fierce warrior into a soft-hearted smiling daddy faster than one small girl. And that transformation happened several hunded times recently at the Mary Fay Pendleton Elementary School 2nd Annual Father-Daughter Dance. Marines donned their dress blues and escorted their daughters into the gymnasium for a night of dancing and relationship-building. And, for some Marines who will leave soon for deployment - and months away from their families - this was a chance to leave their daughters with memories of a very special night.
"Who would wear their 'dress blues' if they didn't have to?" asked Lori DeMille, a second grade teacher at the school. "Be hot and stuffy for two hours; they have to love their kids to go through that. It takes a special dad."

The dance was a chance for fathers to spend time with their daughters between deployments. It was a night of eating, dancing and bonding. And for those whose daddies were currently deployed, there were stand ins so that they would not have to miss the dance.

"It might be small to some, but things like this are big for the hearts of the girls," said Gunnery Sgt. Samuel Reed, father of Mary Fay elementary students Michaela and Krystal Reed. "It brings unity and builds synergy. Synergy is the relationship."

"I think it's awesome," DeMille said. "With the increase of deployments, we saw the need to do more functions like these with our kids."

Principal Lynn Gilstrap also thinks the dance is an amazing experience for the children and fathers.

"A lot of these dads are deploying within the next couple of months," Gilstrap said. "One dad just got home yesterday and another is deploying tomorrow. (He) deploys in the morning, but he said, 'I couldn't miss this night with my little girl,'" DeMille said.

Most dads wanted to do all they could to make sure their daughter was as comfortable as possible.

"To help his daughter dance I heard one dad say, 'step on daddy's shoes, let him lead you,'" DeMille said.

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December 14, 2005

Report from Fallujah: Courage under fire

Another email from the front (passed along by JHD), this one by a wounded Marine who provides excellent insight into the third iteration of this war as his men engage in "fighting the enemy, protecting the innocent, aiding the weak, defending one another".

To All:

I was growing concerned that the increasing tempo of operations leading to the December 15th elections would prevent me from writing home prior to this watershed event. Luckily and unluckily, events have provided a few days for me to reflect on my experiences and pen a few thoughts. For those who did not already know, I was wounded on December 8th. My platoon was protecting a logistics element inside Fallujah when we were caught in an ambush. A rocket struck my vehicle to no effect, the armor saving the two Marines inside from harm. Both walked away from the attack with just their "bells rung" and even the truck will return to duty in a few days. When the rocket hit I was outside the vehicle setting security with another Marine. We immediately came under small arms fire from a machine gun some blocks away. We were able to fight our way out of the ambush but in the process I was shot in the right thigh. I am in good physical condition, back with my platoon, just a little sore. The wound was clean, punching through my quadricep muscle without hitting femur or femoral artery. Unfortunately, I will be on crutches for at least a week before I can fully return to duty.

Recent weeks have been very successful for the Battalion. Shortly after Thanksgiving we conducted a large operation resulting in a number of enemy caches uncovered and insurgents captured. The Marines are becoming increasingly proficient in our area of operations and with the incumbent tactical success, morale is very high, even considering the Holidays. As the recent pronouncements suggest, the enemy has identified our area as a strategic focus in the coming weeks. The October 15th elections, with the exception of Sgt. Adams's death, featured almost complete calm for the city of Fallujah.

We defended a high voter turnout for both Sunni and Shia. While the vote was an overwhelming "no" to the Iraqi Constitutional referendum, largely due to Muj intimidation, so long as the populace chose to express their dissent through the democratic process and not with violence, than the election was a resounding success. I do not think that the Muj will allow December 15th to pass similarly undisturbed. Regardless, there are many signs of success here. One of the most notable is the Iraqi Army. I have operated with them and argue that the issues of administration and discipline they face are not fatal but merely endemic as in other Third World militaries I have trained beside. Not that our own military history has always enjoyed the same spirit of volunteerism, high morale, low desertion, rigid discipline and extraordinary combat efficacy as now. The Iraqi Army battalions here are very brave, almost to recklessness. They are always eager to tangle with insurgents and bring an enthusiasm for combat rivaling that of my Marines. The most valuable capability they bring though is their understanding of the cultural context of the people. Where we might search a home for hours or interact with a village for several days before we comprehend the inner workings of the village, an Iraqi Army patrol, as Iraqis, already know where to look for hidden weapons, they can quickly sift out the wheat from the chaff of information, the "head man" from the "loud mouth" and the "poor illiterate farmer" from the "local man of esteem." To best illustrate how considerable this is, allow me to explain some difficulties I routinely encounter.

Day here begins before the sun rises and after it falls. We patrol in and out of the firm base to and from our assigned sector for the day, sometimes driving with no ambient light using only night vision goggles. It's exhilarating when through my left eye I can see the green of the goggles, the sides of the roads rushing by, the infra-red headlights illuminating everything clearly for several hundred meters while through my right eye I can only see black with the roller-coaster consciousness of blindly hurtling into darkness. The adrenaline rush rivals coffee to start the day. We normally patrol to sectors of the city or surrounding countryside where recent contact has occurred or where enemy presence is suspected. Experience makes it possible to template where the enemy likes to hide equipment and munitions. Experience has also made more apparent what is normal and abnormal, a difficult feat two months ago when literally everything seemed out of the ordinary. While mistakes still occur, my Marines can now look down a stretch of road and quickly point out the one or two things that are not quite right. The one challenge that experience has not yet made us equal to is working with the Iraqi population. I cannot speak Arabic beyond a few sentences but I have learned enough of the vocabulary and gestures that I can understand what I am being told. Many of our conversations are predictable. My favorite is the "I know nothing." It goes something like this (Arabic purists please forgive, I have written these phonetically):

Me: "Salaam" (Arabic Greeting) Him: "Salaam" Me: "Shlonak" How are you). Him: "Zien" (Good) or "Mu Zien" (Bad - when they say bad they always point with their hand at our vehicles and Marines setting security around with a tone of annoyance). Me: "Wane Eish?" (Where do you live?) If he points at the ground or the area around I ask with an inquiring tone "Biet" (House), usually they point to their house.

At this point my Arabic is almost exhausted so my interpreter, by far one of the bravest man I ever met, begins a pre-planned spiel on why we are here, and exchanges pleasantries, asking about local crime and any needs of the population. We ask about crime because one "black ski mask gang", native or foreign, is like another, bouncing between "Mujahadeen" (Holy Warriors) and "Mujarem" (Criminals) as the mood suits them. The wants of the population are always one of two things, either electricity or water. Water is usually the more prevalent of the needs.

I listen politely to the requests for water, power and security and promise to do what I can to get these to him. Usually the man I am talking to thanks me (Shukran), and I say "You're Welcome" (Afwan). Pleasantries complete I ask him whether he has seen any strangers. The answer is always "No." At this point, any English speaking ability the man has immediately disappears, from "Oxford to Al Anbar" faster than 0 to 60. I then ask, "Have you heard any loud noise, seen
anyone with guns or anyone acting strangely?" The answer is always
"No" repeated multiple times, two hands waving in front of his face and head shook side to side. Usually he invokes Allah's name a few times to testify to his honesty.

My favorite trump card to play is then to ask them what they were doing yesterday (the time of the attack) and then walk them to the crater of yesterday's attack, or in some cases, the still smoking crater from that day's attack. Of course, their response, now much more vociferous in its physical emotion is still "No, I know nothing", vocabulary I have learned well, coupled with an even more strident invocation of Allah. Eventually my interpreter uses the facts in front of us to verbally persuade them to admit what they saw. For an Iraqi Army unit, quicker to scent duplicity, these interactions are immeasurably briefer and often more successful.

I do not mean to say that no Iraqis help us ever. Quite the contrary. There are those rare brave souls whose hatred for the Muj or for the situation in general, willingly step forward and help us. These men, like my interpreter, are true heroes. Usually though, most Iraqis will not assist without a relationship developed over time, trust gained by longevity and the provision of basic necessities. They do not want to risk all without demonstrated staying power and proof positive you can impact the local situation. My life was saved by one such man about a month ago.

In some cases they request the impossible but often it is easy to make changes on their level. In one instance, I visited a water starved village. After an hour of the mayor recounting the figuratively and literally "dry" history of the village, he finally explained that their water source had been stolen by a neighboring town who had tapped into the piping to increase their irrigation supply. This was an easy fix, as people usually do not say "no" when ordered by a Marine patrol to turn off their pirated water flow. The second and third order effect of such fortunate interaction is immeasurable.

With all this said, the challenge of working in the cultural context is a pleasant intellectual hurdle to overcome, possessing an intimidating and stimulating duality. Far more difficult to overcome are the daily battles my platoon contends against complacency and fear. It is easy to become complacent here. Creature comforts increase, familiarity breeds relaxed vigilance, Marines start counting down the number of days until we go home and suddenly the mistakes I mentioned earlier occur. Similarly, fear creeps into the
subconscious. The difference between Marines new in country and combat veterans is that a veteran knows that unlike film depiction, you don't see the sniper, you hear a -crack- and a Marine falls. At the moment of detonation, you don't see the IED that explodes under or beside you. You never see the dramatic blaze orange ball of flame,
just the terrifying mid-sentence thunder of the blast, the instantaneous cloud of dark smoke and the overwhelming force of the overpressure from the charge pushing through the armor and shaking your entire body. The wounded do not cry out when they get hit. It all happens too suddenly to say a word. It's this knowledge, that everything can change in less than a heartbeat that gives combat Marines a bit of an edge, a confidence tinged with alert nerves. What carries my platoon through these struggles is the courageous leadership of my Non-Commissioned Officers, my Corporals and Sergeant, hardened perfectionists.

An example of the impact and heroism that these NCOs have is Sergeant Isaac Luna of Kansas. Sgt Luna is a vehicle commander in another platoon in the Company. In the last month we have had sniper attacks on stationary units. Several have been killed and injured by this threat. A few weeks ago while operating in the city, Sergeant Luna's crew came under fire from a sniper. Private First Class Kimungu of New Hampshire was wounded across from his vehicle, the round penetrating his helmet. Though the shot was followed with a burst of small-arms fire, without a moment hesitation and with complete disregard for his own safety, Sgt Luna rushed into the open street, administering a pressure bandage to PFC Luna. Though completely exposed, Sgt Luna did not abandon his position until relieved by the platoon corpsman, HM3 Cruze from the Bronx. Throughout, Sgt Luna remained in the street, securing the wounded Marine. This courage under fire is what NCOs bring to the fight.

Examples like Sgt Luna's are important to me because they defy the alleged norm of human conduct. A recent essay I read contrasted the artwork of Mary Cassatt, glorying in simple beauty, with the more aesthetically erratic work of Joan Miro. The author sought to disprove the theory of critic Theordo Adorno that the horrors of modern war, exemplified by the Second World War, had forever thwarted the ability of art to convey the wonder of everyday human existence. This argument, carried to its logical conclusion, would point that in the face of brutality, the triumph of the human spirit over evil is now rendered impossible; that no action or expression can ever again convey humanity's finest qualities. I bring this relatively obscure argument to light because I think it is emblematic of the mindset that no good could come of what we do here. I will not lie, there are days where the things I see, the things I do, infest my heart with doubt.

No one said war was a pleasant thing. Time and time again though, it is Marines like Sgt Luna who cleanse my soul. They have seen death at its ugliest, in the face of the wrecked body of a child. They have seen their brother in arms carried away in their final moments. They have faced fatigue, fear, boredom, complacency, a lack of personal space and home-sickness. Yet for all their adolescence of years, they continue to soldier on as "warriors for the working day" with the dark humor of combat infantry. I don't know whether they understand or care about the politics of this war. I have never asked them. All I do know is that I have seen them at their best and worst, as they have me. As much as they would rather be home, enjoying Holidays with their family (for most of us this is our third Holiday season away in three years), they seemdemigods when they can see the difference they make. Whether it is fighting the enemy, protecting the innocent, aiding the weak or defending one another, they are at their highest when most directly challenged. While I cannot paint, I wish I could because in those often unheralded moments, I see something approaching the sublime, despite what all the naysayers, cynics and critics might claim.

I know this was a very long e-mail, largely because I am stuck in my "dry dock" for a few more days. To everyone thank-you for the outpouring of thoughts, prayers, letters and packages I receive. Special thanks to the citizenry of Tinley Park, Illinois, whose generous outpouring of care packages have ensured yet again a Merry Christmas for the Marines here. I will try to use the next few days to write back to those who have sent letters and e-mails. Thanks again and God Bless.

Semper Fidelis,
Brian Donlon

Not all painting is done with brush and canvas. Words can provide a rich medium with which to portray the sublime against a backdrop of gritty reality. That was accomplished in this e-mail.

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December 09, 2005

Last minute Operation Santa request from the sandbox

We're wrapping up Operation Santa for this year - over 12,000 stocking mailed so far - but we just got the following request:

The problem is we have some units in Afghanistan and Iraq that will not receive their MWR dollars in time to plan a Christmas holiday for the troops.

Don't have an exact number of troops, and the Master Sgt that e-mailed
me from Afgan (whom I know personally) has not been able to re-email me since.

But if some stockings could be sent to their unit commander that would really help. Please let me know for sure though so I can tell them to expect something. Thank you again, and bless you both for all you are doing for our service members and their families.

I'll be working this weekend to fill this request - if you'd like to donate to help with the cost of filling an additional 250 stockings, hit the PayPal donation button here (if you're not concerned with a tax deductible receipt) or on the Marine Corps Family Foundation site (be sure to note that it will be for the 1107th AVCRAD effort) if you want to be able to claim your donation on your taxes.

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December 06, 2005

2/2 Commander's Update

Here's a December update from LtCol Minick:

Warlord Family and Friends,

Success continues throughout our area of operations, particularly in preparation for the upcoming government elections on 15 December 2005. Our Marines continue to do great work and are achieving the priorities I established when we first arrived to Iraq. Daily they conduct counterinsurgency operations, train and work with the Iraqi Army, and conduct Civil Affairs Operations. All of these move towards the goal of preparing Iraq to determine the future of their country and our eventual departure. I am confident that we are on the right path and I continually see results and evidence of our success in all areas.

Locating enemy weapons caches has been a major part of our success lately. Platoons have located thousands of enemy munitions and weapons of varying types. Most importantly, we have stripped from the battlefield the required ingredients to build Improvised Explosive Devices (IED's). This is critical and removes a source of supply from the enemy hands. In doing so, we continue to disrupt their ability to attack coalition forces and effect the upcoming elections.

Another considerable change for us has been the weather. As innocuous as this sounds, after the 120+ degree Fahrenheit days of summer, the current daytime temperatures of 60's and 70's and nighttime temperatures in the 40's is welcome. Of course, as was expected, the Marines already have started complaining about the cold and the wish for the warmer weather. In that regard, I suspect I will never keep them happy. Nearly every day we have clouds, but so far no rain. December is supposed to be the wettest month in Iraq but in looking at the historical statistics, "wet" is a relative term in comparison to Camp Lejeune and other areas in the United States.

Thanksgiving brought us a great good spread of traditional food at the chow hall, for those that were able to eat there. Despite the holiday, operations continued unabated so we trucked out food to every company firm base for those available to enjoy. The chow hall provided a decent feast with turkey, stuffing, all associated side dishes and tables of different types of deserts. Though not at home, we were able to enjoy time with fellow Marines during the holiday.

Care packages have been flowing in regularly and I suspect that will increase during the Christmas holiday. For all that send them, we thank you very much. These actions mean a lot to each Marine and provide him a moment of relaxation and time to reflect on home and those he loves. We may not be with you during Christmas but will think of you and be with you in spirit.

The reality of the ever-present danger in this fight was felt again this month. We suffered two casualties. LCpl Shiavoni on November 15th and LCpl Troyer on November 19th were taken from us on the field of battle. They were great men and Marines. The Task Force misses them deeply and we all pray for their families as we all struggle with this tragic loss. The Men will fight on in respect of their memory, for that is exactly what they would wish and deserve.

To help counter our heartache, I'm pleased to announce more additions to the Warlord family. The dedication of our Task Force and their families is unsurpassed. The following households are enduring a deployment without the luxury of being together during this momentous time. I'm unable to describe my appreciation for your continued sacrifice.

The following Warlords had recent additions:
Capt Corry and Whitney Murphy; Nathan; H&S
LCpl Jason and Amanda Flagale; Rio; Wpns
LCpl Salome and Danielle Garcia; Reehna; Golf


During the upcoming holiday, we wish we could be with you and will turn our thoughts to you regularly. Nonetheless, we will continue to push hard to ensure the elections are safe and eventless for the Iraqi people as they exercise their right to vote and take ownership in their future.

This is my 10th of 13 newsletters. I hope they help to keep you updated on the successes of our Task Force. They amaze and impress me daily.

Thank you for your continued loyal support.

I remain Semper Fidelis,
James J. Minick

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November 10, 2005

Happy Birthday Marines!

The 230th birthday of the United States Marine Corps was celebrated today wherever Marines congregated. Last year, General Hagee authorized 2 beers and a ration of rum for each Marine in Iraq. Everybody was 21 that day. This year, here's how one deployed Marine celebrated:

OK last year I got to wake up with my beautiful wife at Parris Island and go get a sweet Eagle Globe and Anchor Tat on the MC Birthday and I thought to myself this is the best one yet. I was wrong. Tonight I ran the gauntlet through Karmah a crappy little town next to Fallujah that keeps us busy taking care of Ali baba and all the Misters on a regular basis, not a good place. But it is a place that hold 4 small AO's with small detactments of Marines, who live the basic life and get 2 hot meals a week. BUT it the dang Corps Birthday, 230 years of taking the garbage out, so those boys deserve their cake just like all Marines around the world, ssooo tonight I hooked up with a buddy of mine from 2/2 and we went on a cake run. It was awesome, only had to stop once for possible IED's which was great because its usually 2-4 times a trip. made it to all for AO's and got to get Marines their frikken Birthday cake. THIS is the best birthday I have ever had. Happy frikken birthday Marines, go get your piece of cake( and drink one for us)

From me and my Marines in Camp Fallujah Iraq.

We had to wrap them in trashbags, because of the nasty dust.

Happy Birthday to all Marines. And, a special thanks to the ladies of the Vancouver Washington Marine Corps League Women's Auxiliary who spent a day making and sending birthday cards for Marines around the world, including my son.

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November 05, 2005

2/2 Warlord Update

LtCol Minick, CO for 2/2 Warlords, sends this update from the sandbox:

1 November 2005

Warlord Family and Friends,

Following a successful constitutional referendum, 2/2 continued to aggressively pursue the enemy throughout the area of operations. Data received indicates that a significant increase in the percentage of Sunnis voted in comparison to the January 2004 interim government election. Now that the people have accepted the constitution, another election in mid-December will be to elect a new government to serve for the next five years. Whatever final form the government takes, the important point is that the Iraqis are exercising democratic rights.

A big part of counterinsurgency is separating the people from the insurgent, causing them to lose popular support. Our Civil Affairs effort is working to support that goal by identifying needs within each given area, coordinating with the Marine Company Commander and local Iraqi civil leaders and Sheikhs. The ultimate goal is to assist the Iraqis in developing their economy. Long-term employment will improve the lives of the populace and provide hope and reason to pursue peace for all.

Our Iraq counterparts in the Iraqi Army continue to do an outstanding job in their assigned area of operations. Their competency and skill continues to improve and with their ability to conduct operations with minimal or no Marine support has furthered our ability to influence a much wider area. They are a major part of the future success of this country. As well, Iraqi Police forces are developing and will begin to provide the enforcement of laws as the new government develops. The rule of law is vital to achieving peace and security. With Iraqi Security Forces providing security, the people can feel safe to live their lives, educate their children, go the mosque, and work to improve the economy.

Amidst our success, the Warlords suffered very painful losses. From Mobile Assault Platoon White, Weapons Company, SSgt Pummill, LCpl Russoli and LCpl Szwydek were killed in action. Easy Company lost Capt Swisher their company commander, Sgt Hodshire, Cpl Cockerham, HM3 Thompson, and LCpl Butler. We will miss them deeply and will continue to pray for their families that they may find peace and strength. The Warlords will continue the fight against insurgents while improving the daily lives of Iraqi citizens. By continuing to do so, we honor our fallen Marines.

After such sobering and tragic losses the news of newborn Warlords help us recover and find hope in troubling times. I'm pleased to announce the additions to two families in Golf Company.

Captain Joel and Lisa Schmidt Alexander Golf
Corporal Michael and Nichole Donnelly Dylan Golf

More great news for the Donnelly family. Corporal Michael Donnelly (Co G) was selected for meritorious promotion to Sergeant Nov 2nd. He was competing against a very competitive field from several other battalions and independent commands. We are extremely proud of him and happy for his family.

The following Marines were promoted and I want to offer my congratulations to them.

Maj Brandon Conway Weapons Company 1 October
GySgt Keith Harris Golf Company 1 October
Capt Stephen Musick H&S Company, Supply 1 November
SSgt Michael Skinta H&S Company, Sniper Platoon 1 November
GySgt Mike Smith (frocked) H&S Company 1 November

In closing, I would like to express my continued THANKS for the great support our Men are getting from those of you back home. You are truly "force multipliers" as you pump-up the morale with care packages, letters and emails. Special thanks to our Key Volunteer Network, led by Jayme Alexander and her terrific team of coordinators. During these trying times as we deal with our casualties they have been superb. We are half way to the end of our deployment. We remain focused on the mission and each other and will not get distracted by approaching "Homecomings". We have too much to accomplish. To be sure, we all cherish the day we are home with our loved ones.


I remain Semper Fidelis,

James J Minick

2/2 Marines are one of our Operation Santa battalions - in addition to her Key Volunteer duties, Jayme Alexander is making sure that all 2/2 Marines have a happy holiday. If you'd like to help, contact us at operationsanta@marinecorpsmoms.com.

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November 04, 2005

"And here they fly Old Glory proudly" - report from Fallujah

Here's a must read from the American Courage Newsletter. It's written by a civilian employee who is in Fallujah, working with Marines.

Hello all! I am now a resident of Fallujah. As I have found, this is a very different place from Victory, and a very different world.

The Marines run Fallujah. Marines are different. Their way of life is different. More disciplined. More regimented. More austere. Harder.

I'm surrounded by dozens of them when I go to chow or to the Morale Center (the MWR). Especially at the MWR, it's mostly the youngest of the Marines in what must be the closest thing to a purely social gathering they'll experience here. Few NCOs and fewer officers, just them and their buds.

They're young men, mostly Privates, Lance Corporals and Corporals, between the ages of 18 and 22. They're slim and lean of build, yet muscular. Broad at the shoulder and narrow at the hip, as Jimmy Dean would say. There are no chubby Marines here.

Almost to a man, they wear their hair high and tight: buzzed on the sides with just a close-cropped shock on top to give their Kevlar helmet a lightly padded resting place. A few shave their heads altogether but most wear the sidewalls.

Many have a white stripe on either side of their face, running between the eye and the ear, where their skin was shielded from the harsh Arabian sun by their sunglasses or dust goggles. All are clean shaven, though some don't look like they need it regularly. Some still haven't outgrown acne.

They're good, honest faces. When they look at you or speak to you, you sense that there is no nonsense about them; no guile in their manner. It's as if their life is too busy and their spare time too precious to fritter it away on anything but straightforwardness and candor. Their life here revolves around linear thinking and linear action, going straight from Point A to Point B. And their demeanor shows it.

Their behavior is more reserved than I've come to expect from a gathering of the same age group from any other service. No braggadocio and no trash talking. It's not that they're deathly grim, they're just not as boisterous as a typical group of American 20-year-olds. They're aware that their next appointment with fate is only a few hours and a few hundred yards away. And the only thing that keeps them alive tomorrow could well be that pimple-faced Marine sitting next to them.

In this setting you truly can sense the depth of their camaraderie; the respect among those who've shared a common, life-changing experience. They behave as if they were family, a brotherhood of baby-faced warriors.

The job of the Marines is different, which makes them different. They don't rely on all manner of 21st Century techno-wizardry, like the Army or Air Force. Sure, they have tanks and helicopters and night vision goggles and the like, but those do not form the core of the Marine's order of battle. To them, the perfect weapon is a gutsy Marine with a keen eye, a steady hand, and a rifle that shoots straight. These are serious people doing a deadly serious job. It's a difference they wear on their faces.

The Marines make this place different. Frivolous living takes away the edge; hard living makes hard men. They pay scant attention to creature comforts and don't "waste" precious assets on it. Why buy a billiard table for the Unit's rec room when you could spend the same dollars on another 20,000 rounds of 5.56 ammunition? Besides, anything necessary for living already was issued to them but the Corps. Officer and enlisted, their entire world packs away into just two duffle bags and a ruck sack.

Marines talk differently, too. It's a port, not a door, a deck not the floor and a head, not a toilet. Equipment or personal items aren't lost, they're adrift. It takes a bit of getting used to.

Most everything they do for recreation involves athletic competition (it enhances both fitness and Esprit de Corps). And the equipment list rarely is longer than a football and an open field or a volleyball and a net. It makes no difference that it's only a friendly game; they still play like their lives depended on it.

Here they fly the US flag. It always has been understood that Camp Victory was an Iraqi base, albeit with a large number of Americans residing on it. It would have been disrespectful to the "landlords" to fly an American flag there, so none were. The US flag was never flown on the installation where I lived in Honduras many moons ago, and for the same reason. There is no such concern for the host's sensibilities here. This was never a palatial compound. It was us -- the US -- who dislodged the terrorist vermin from this place and it is we who man this post. And here they fly Old Glory proudly.

Basically the entire camp is as safe as a typical police station. Camp Victory butts up against some outlying Baghdad neighborhoods so certain areas of the camp have locals living right outside the wall. And they sometimes toss "surprises" over that wall and into the compound.

Here at Camp Fallujah, on the other hand, the Marines have cleared back any semblance of vegetation or habitation for what seems like several hundred yards from the camp's outer wall. That cinderblock wall is pretty tall (I'm guessing 11 or 12 feet) and this place is so flat that there are very few spots where you can stand on the ground and see anything beyond it. Where you "can" see past the wall, the most apropos image I can think of to describe it is Hiroshima after the bomb. The ground is barren and strewn with destroyed vehicles, both civilian and military. There is nothing there but desert and rusted hulks, a barren and desolate monochrome brown as far as you can see.

Marines man the numerous guard towers and scan the surrounding wasteland for anything approaching the camp. Anything that appears in that no man's land and looks to be headed toward the wall automatically is presumed to be hostile and reduced to just another piece of the lifeless landscape. It's a very stark image but it also is reassuring to know that none of the bad guys can get anywhere close to here without incurring the wrath of the bulldogs of the USMC. They guard their homes fiercely.

The PX here is the smallest I've seen in Iraq. And come payday, the Marines descend on it like so many locusts. With that double-whammy, the shortages I've seen elsewhere are even more widespread here. When we first got here, they were out of practically all the items I needed to set up housekeeping in my new swingin' bachelor pad (aka "bunker").

I wanted a reading lamp to replace the one I'd abandoned when I left Camp Victory. The PX had the lamps but only 115 VAc light bulbs. The current here is 220VAc.

They were out of fly swatters. And brooms. And buckets. And mops, er swabs. And extension cords/power strips. But they did have an impressive selection of decorative Christmas lights.

When I moved in, my bunker... I mean my room... was filthy. There was dust a full quarter inch deep on the window sills. Not house dust but the brown stuff that passes for desert sand here. The walls and part of the ceiling were streaked with the same stuff. The room stank with the same earthen odor as a dust storm. Since this used to be a bath house, the obvious solution was just hose it down and swab it out. But the PX had no buckets. Or mops, er swabs. Or detergent (except liquid Dial hand soap).

It took us three days to find a mop and bucket that we could borrow from the Marines. Then it took my roommate and me a solid eight sweat-soaked hours to scrub the grime out of the room. We worked from top down, naturally, and by the time the floor had dried, there was dust settled on the window sills again.

Our site lead spends a lot of time trying to convince us it could be worse. If he's hoping to convince me, he's got quite a lot of ground yet to cover.

P.S.,
If you think the invasion of Iraq had nothing to do with the greater international war on terror, you need to come here and look around. This place was West Point for the Islamo-Fascist terrorist crowd. Saddam hosted training for all the major flavors of Muslim terrorism in this place, including Al Qa'aida, the Taliban and the PLO. The dormitories and some of the military-style training facilities (obstacle courses, etc.) still are there. Some of the things I have seen here send chills down my spine because they are undeniable proof of the unholy terror that was grown here to be exported to the rest of the world. I think I understand the revulsion that the Allied liberators of the Nazi concentration camps at the end of WWII must have felt.

Eventually I will post pictures that I think are conclusive enough to sway all but the Kool-Aid drinking anti-war crowd that Saddam was growing an infectious disease here to be loosed on the Western world in general and the US in particular. One photo in particular shows a dormitory wall painted with an Iraqi flag and a Palestinian flag waving over an American eagle, beside which is written in Arabic, "Death to America". That one shot pretty much says it all.If Chuckie Schumer or Cindy Sheehan or Teddy (hic!) Kennedy or any other of the anti-war moon bats were to come here, open their eyes and see what I've seen, they'd know better (thought I expect they'd never admit it).


Posted by Deb at 07:14 PM

November 02, 2005

2/6 update

LtCol Scott Aiken, 2/6 Commander sends this update from the sandbox:

I would like to reiterate that it is imperative for all friends and family members to maintain operational security. Please do not discuss any specific information over the phone or in letters, such as locations, troop movements, times, dates, etc. E-mails via the internet and chat rooms are non-secure sites that are easily compromised. Again, this is for the safety and welfare of all of the Marines, Sailors and Soldiers (both U.S. And Iraqi) of Task Force 2/6.

We have had several "scrapes" with the enemy this week. Our men and the Iraqi soldiers we are partnered with performed well; you should be proud!

The weather here is getting cooler but remains extremely dry. The country continues to observe the Islamic tradition of Ramadan, which will end in early November.

Thank you all for your support of 2/6. Your gifts of e-mails, letters, care packages, and words of inspiration and gratitude are crucial.

Have a happy halloween!

2/6 is one of our Operation Santa battalions. If you'd like to help by adopting a platoon or making a donation, e-mail operationsanta@marinecorpsmoms.com.

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October 22, 2005

2/2 Marines - Commander's Update

Via Jarhead Dad, here's a battleground update from LtCol Minick, battalion commander for the Warlords of 2/2:

Yesterday the government of Iraq declared a national holiday to further support the turnout for the Constitutional Referendum. Our Marines did not allow the insurgents to circumvent the Iraqis march towards democracy. As always, your Marines performed exceptionally. I am proud to be here as part of the Warlord family that helped this new country forge its path towards a new tomorrow.

Preparing for the elections was a tremendous task. The combined effort by the people of Iraq, the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq (IECI), and the Coalition Forces ensured the success of yesterday’s referendum. Our higher headquarters, the 2d Marine Expeditionary Force, planned extensively with the interim government. However, it was the IECI and interim government that determined the Marines would not be directly tasked with securing the individual polling sites. Instead, we were postured ready to respond to any incident within our area of operations (AO). The companies and the battalion staff worked diligently to prepare and organize our forces to accomplish this task. Their hard work executing disruption operations prior to the referendum and their continued active security patrols yesterday ensured a safe voting environment for the Iraqi people. Also, the 1-4-1 Iraqi Army and the newly created Karmah Police contributed to a peaceful referendum. Not only did they help secure the poll sites, but also they actively took part in their new democratic government by casting votes of their own. As you may know, our AO is predominately Sunni. During the January election, this segment of the Iraqi population stayed away from the polls. This was not the case yesterday. Your Marines and the Iraqi Security Forces have clearly gained the confidence of the citizens in Karmah and Nasser Wa Salaam. Regardless of the outcome, the choice was the Iraqis to make. The fate of their country is increasingly in their hands.

This historic election and promising future for the good people of Iraq did not come without a costly price. The Task Force suffered a tremendous loss. On the 6th of October our Warlords lost four of our bravest and best men. Cpl Cherava, LCpl Kenny, LCpl Frye, and PFC Cabino all from Golf Company, were going to the aid of their fellow Marines when an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) attacked them. Words cannot describe how much they meant to us, or the magnitude they will be missed. At this time, we can only pray for their families as they struggle with this tragic loss. Their death will not be in vain, and we will continue the mission that we started together, as they would have wished. We will bring freedom and peace to the people of Iraq, and we will honor their memory with our deeds.

The Marines continue to inspire me with their dedication and selfless service. I am fortunate to be surrounded by such men. Thank you all for your continued support of Task Force 2/2. We could not carry on with the mission without your letters, care packages, and words of inspiration and gratitude. Every day brings a new opportunity to preserve the freedom of a democratic Iraq. The Warlords are honored to have this opportunity, and I am humbled to lead them. Have a happy Halloween.

I remain Semper Fidelis,

James J Minick



Posted by Deb at 11:16 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 11, 2005

2/6 Update From Iraq

Lieutenant Colonel Scott Aiken, Battalion Commander of Second Battalion, Sixth Marines, sends along this update:

Our sister battalion from the Sixth Marine Regiment is en route back to Camp Lejeune. They have done an outstanding job; we wish them a safe trip home. We hope they have a happy homecoming with their loved ones.

The voters of Iraq are preparing to vote in their constitutional referendum on October 15. Our mission is to provide them a safe security environment so they can vote.

The weather here continues to be warm and dry. Cooling spell is occurring with high eighties. The country continues to observe the Islamic tradition of Ramadan.


Posted by Deb at 02:17 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

October 10, 2005

America's military as first responder

Following natural disasters, the world looks to the United States to help out. After the tsunami last winter, our military spent weeks ferrying supplies, coordinating logistics, and being a friend to the people who have experienced devastation. The photo below shows the cargo bay of a C-17 en route to Pakistan from Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan. Our military presence in Afghanistan provided a head start on providing food, water, medicine, and blankets for Pakistanis affected by the earthquake.

U.S. Air Force photo by Capt. James H. Cunningham

From SPC Claude Flowers at Centcom, here's a description of current efforts in Pakistan:

A United States Air Force C-17 delivered the first relief supplies here within 48 hours of the devastating earthquake that has left thousands dead and thousands more injured and displaced.

The aircraft and its crew from the 7th Airlift Squadron, McChord Air Force Base, Wash., delivered 12 pallets - weighing almost 90,000 pounds - of food, water, medicine and blankets from Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan.

With only a few hours notice, Airmen and soldiers at Bagram, successfully worked to palletize the humanitarian relief supplies and prepare them for the flight. Three aerial port specialists were also on the flight to coordinate and manage the cargo once it arrived at Islamabad.

"This was a total team effort," said Col. Mike Isherwood, 455th Air Expeditionary Wing Vice Commander. "Our hearts go out to all those affected by the earthquake and we are thankful we were able to help out."

Pakistan Army Brig. Gen. Imtiaz Sherazi, director of logistics, is coordinating the relief efforts as supplies arrive and ensuring rapid distribution of assistance to areas that need it most.

Said General Sherazi, "These items are very valuable to us because there are lots of people in great distress."

As relief efforts are ongoing worldwide, United States Central Command will continue to identify and provide additional capabilities for airborne reconnaissance, heavy lift ground equipment, medical support, shelters, rations and water to aid and assist the people of Pakistan.


Posted by Deb at 11:38 AM

September 21, 2005

The kids of Iraq

Photo by Cpl. Ken Melton
LCpl John Anderson, deployed with 3/25 Marines, with 4-year old Afooie.


When my son was interviewed by the local paper last summer while home on leave, he was asked what he enjoyed most about being in Iraq. Without hesitation, he answered, "the kids - they're just like kids anywhere". When the reporter asked for details, he mentioned setting up observation posts inside local homes and spending 24 hour or so with the family. During that time, they'd play with the children and show the "no better friend" side of the Marine Corps to the adults.

Here's a story about 3/25 Marines in Hit who take much the same approach.

While patrolling through the city of Hit, Marines with 1st Platoon, K Company, 3rd Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment decided to rest in a nearby house to escape the sweltering heat.

After asking permission to enter the house, the residents were nervous and unsure of their visitors' intentions. The smallest member of the household, though, approached the Marines and began to question and eventually played with them.

The Marines, impressed by the child's courage answered his questions and responded playfully with him. After awhile, the 4-year-old child named Afooie left and later returned with his other playmates to introduce them to his new friends.

"It was a relief from our day-to-day actions just to play with them," said 23-year-old Lance Cpl. John W. Anderson, an assistant team leader with 3rd squad. "It reminded us what we were over here for."

An hour later, the Marines were once again back on their patrol, though the child and his parents asked them to stay awhile longer.

"They seemed sad that we had to leave, but we had a job to do," the Delmont, Penn., native said.

A few days later, his squad was in the same area so they decided to visit their friends again.

Upon approaching the house, they were instantly recognized by Afooie, who greeted them and then ran off to retrieve his other friends.

"Most of the Marines have younger family members back home and when they interact with these children it's like they're back home," the 2001 Franklin Regional High School graduate said. "Not only that, but it also gets the citizens used to having military personnel in the area."

Since then, they have seen a positive change in the adults' attitudes in the area. Most admit they were scared to walk the streets because of the insurgents and now feel safer because the Multi-National Forces are in the area.

Some even provide the Marines information about unusual activity and invite them to stay in their homes when they are on patrol.

"People are upset that the insurgents are killing civilians in their attempt to hurt us," said Painesville, Ohio, native, Sgt. Peter J. Rivera, a squad leader with 3rd Platoon. "People understand that we are here to help and it makes these guys feel good that they are making a difference."

The squad, along with the Iraqi Security Force, visits Afooie and his friends when they are patrolling in the area. When on these patrols, they often carry toys, hygiene items and candy for their young friends.

"By doing little things like this, they are helping the country by befriending the younger generation who in years to come will view the military as friends," said Rivera, a 33-year-old father of four children and 1990 Harvey High School graduate. "When they get older they will help us help their country."


Posted by Deb at 04:55 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

September 19, 2005

1/2 prepares for future deployment

LtCol "Drew" Smith sends this update for families and friends of his 1/2 Marines:

Greetings to the families and friends of Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, Second Marines. At the time of the last update, the BLT was embarked aboard amphibious shipping and was fully engaged in the execution of the Expeditionary Strike Group Exercise (ESGEX). I am pleased to report that the exercise went extremely well with each company displaying very sound integration with our US Navy counterparts and demonstrating excellence in their core capabilities as each responded to simulated real-world contingencies. It is worth noting that the completion of the ESGEX represents a significant step in the BLT's overall pre-deployment training schedule. We now have our sights set on the Certification Exercise, or CERTEX; another combined “at-sea? and ground training evolution that will begin in mid-September and will carry through to the first week of October. It is during this exercise that the BLT will be formally evaluated in its ability to execute special operations and conventional missions as the Ground Combat Element (GCE) of 22 MEU. The CERTEX has all the makings of being a very demanding and rewarding training evolution. The BLT has worked very hard up to this point and in a wide variety of areas to increase its tactical proficiency and enhance its overall ability to successfully accomplish assigned missions. I have complete confidence that the superb team of Marines and Sailors that comprise BLT 1/2 will aggressively meet and exceed mission objectives. I look forward to sharing the many stories of mission success with you in mid October.

My hope is that the Labor Day Holiday offered a time for our Marines, Sailors and families to relax and enjoy a few days away from the training schedule. It is worth noting that the BLT, as the Air Contingency Battalion (ACB), had increased its alert posture briefly over the Labor Day Weekend in anticipation of supporting aid and recovery operations in New Orleans, LA. In the end, a fellow infantry battalion from here in Camp Lejeune was directed to deploy to New Orleans area, thus allowing the BLT and 22 MEU to continue its training schedule and prepare for the up and coming deployment. The BLT remains the ACB; however, it along with the other elements of 22 MEU will not deploy in support of the disaster relief operations in and around New Orleans.

I want to add my personal "thanks" to all for the safe conduct of the holiday period. As you might suspect, longer holiday weekends allow for personnel to travel longer distances to see family and friends than what can be executed on regular weekends. As the Commanding Officer, I take great reward in seeing my Marines and Sailors enjoying well-deserved time off with family and friends. I can understand that I am also greatly relieved when my commanders report to me that they have recovered all their personnel safely after any liberty period, and particularly after a long holiday weekend. It is during the latter periods that personnel will often attempt to drive longer distances, at times with increased speed, in order to maximize the time with friends and loved ones. I have also found that some of our younger warriors tend to press the envelope in recreational activities. Speed, fatigue and mixing driving and recreational activities with alcohol continue to be the primary factors in injury and death to Marines and Sailors. Before my Marines and Sailors depart for the weekend, they are exposed to several different operational risk management (ORM) initiatives, ranging from safety briefs to vehicle safety inspections, and review of travel plans should they be traveling in their personal automobile. Leaders within the BLT are pressing home the message of safety in all that we do. I humbly ask that moms and dads, brothers, sisters and friends help us reinforce to our service members the importance of safe and responsible conduct while on liberty. The strength of this BLT rests in the health and readiness, faithful service and professional contributions of each of its members. The contributions to that end by our families and friends located in hometowns are invaluable. Please keep up the great work.

The first and second week of September will find the BLT engaged in a variety of activities in preparation for the CERTEX and the impending deployment. The list of requirements and events is long and varied and ranges from a detailed maintenance inspection, enhanced rifle marksmanship training, medical and dental readiness, to instruction on ship-board fire fighting and thorough administrative review of individual's service records including updating of wills, powers of attorney and record of emergency data. We will be leaning forward in completing these very important requirements so that our Marines and Sailors can return from a successful CERTEX in early October, clean and ready their weapons and equipment for the deployment, and then ready themselves for a well-deserved pre-deployment leave period.

With regard to the pre-deployment leave period, I envision the BLT being authorized to take leave from the 12th to the 31st of October. At this writing, I know of no circumstances, or contingencies that would prevent leave from occurring during the aforementioned period. I will add that there is always the possibility of developing real-world requirements impacting the leave period, so I would ask that you maintain good communication with your service member to receive any updates. For now, "it looks good" for the 12-31 October. Specific guidance will be provided to the Marines and Sailors on when they will be authorized to depart on the 12th and when they will be expected to be physically back and accounted for in the BLT area on the 31st.

Finally, I want to extend my most sincere thanks to two groups; the ladies that make up the BLT 1/2 Key Volunteer Network and our families. The first group plays an integral role in the overall readiness of this organization. This group of over thirty ladies - spouses of our Marines and Sailors - serve as a conduit of information and referrals for assistance for both our married and single personnel. The second group, our families deserve the utmost appreciation for supporting their respective Marine or Sailor while they serve our great nation. "Thanks for all you do."

Until next time, "best regards to all."

1/2 Battalion is comprised of three rifle companies, a weapons company, and a headquarters company. They arereinforced by a variety of forces from throughout the 2nd MARDIV, including tanks, assault amphibian vehicles, combat engineers, etc. Collectively, the reinforced battalion is referred to as a Battalion Landing Team.

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September 12, 2005

New Orleans Marines ride out the hurricane

When Hurricane Katrina hit, the base in New Orleans was evacuated and most Marines headed for higher - and dryer - ground, Staff Sgt. Matthew J. Davis and Sgt. Lorenzo L. Edwards were the only Marines among 25 troops who volunteered to remain behind at the Naval Air Station, watching the storm from a supply bay.

"I have been through typhoons in Okinawa, Japan, but this was worse than anything I ever saw there," said Davis, 3/23 electronics maintenance chief.

"I volunteered because I knew my family was out of harm's way and I could be more useful here," said Edwards, a mechanic. "Growing up in Alabama, I have been through many hurricanes, so I knew what to expect."


As soon as the winds died down, they went to work clearing the Coast Guard landing zones of debris and fallen trees so that search and rescue operations could begin. Next, they loaded seven ton trucks with essentials - food, water, fuel and other supplies - for those in need. The troops ran multiple convoys each day and were, at the time, the only supply force on the west side of the river. In their spare time, they welcomed Marines from the 24th MEU, setting them up with work space and billets.

"We helped in any way we could to get (the MEU) set up," Edwards said. "We gave them information on what was happening on and off base to provide them with better situational awareness."

"I take pride in not only helping as a Marine, but as a resident of this community," Davis said.

(Story details provided by Cpl. Rocco DeFilippis.)

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September 08, 2005

2/7 Update from Fallujah

Lt Col JA L'Etoile included this reflection in his latest letter to the families of his 2/7 Marines:

Our sacrifices are not without gain. Every day the citizens of Fallujah are one step closer to self determination. The city is vibrant with reconstruction and the terrorists are finding our area of operations tougher and tougher to operate in. We have been successful in taking a number of the enemy off the streets and we have uncovered a considerable amount of weapons, explosives and other contraband. Each one of these events prevents violent acts of terrorism. Additionally, our partners in the Iraqi Army continue to make great strides.

We are no longer the new Marines and Sailors on the block here in Fallujah. The 2nd Bn, 2nd Marines arrived recently and have taken their position on our flank. It's hard to believe that most of us have been here 55 days already. Regardless, there is much work left to be done. As the political and military events of Iraq play out you can rest assured that your loved ones are in the best company possible, the company of their fellow Marines and Sailors. Together we will accomplish what our Nation asks, and return to our loved ones.

Semper Fidelis


Posted by Deb at 09:18 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

August 12, 2005

2/7 update from Fallujah

The families of 2/7 Marines showed their support as 2/7 Marines deployed from 29 Palms last month. Here's the most recent update from LtCol L'Etoile .
The last of the 3rd Bn, 4th Marines has left and will be returning to 29 Palms any day. We now own our little chunk of Iraq and we are working hard to make it a better place. Our priorities right now are to learn the city, its people, and to gain a better understanding of the unique problems that we face. Fallujah and its surrounds are a complicated operational environment. At any given time our Marines are the cop on the street, ambassadors of America, combat troops, and general problem solvers for the Iraqi people. They are doing a great job.

We have already established very good working, and in some cases personal, relationships with our partners in the Iraqi Army. The Marines understand how important the development of the Iraqi Army is to the success of our mission. For this reason, the majority of the patrolling and post standing that we do is in conjunction with the Iraqi soldiers. It is very encouraging to see our young Marines picking up key Arabic Phrases and the young Iraqi soldiers expressing themselves in English. In most cases the most productive thing I can do toward building the Marine and Iraqi Army partnership is to put our young men together with the Iraqis and then get out of the way.

The rebuilding of the city continues at an encouraging pace. Everywhere you go there are piles of bricks and sand and hundreds of builders putting Fallujah back together. We have a long way to go before the wounds of terrorism and war are healed over, but our Nation's investment in Iraq is present everywhere you look, to include in the smiles of most of the Fallujahns.

In my mind we have completed the first phase of our tour in Iraq, namely our deployment and settling to our battlespace. We have found our stride and we are getting better and better and finding our enemy and his caches of weapons. We have had some great early successes working with the Iraqi Army, and we are gaining the respect of the Fallujans one patrol and one Marine at a time. I am very proud of all our Marines and Sailors.

We miss all of you and appreciate the support from the folks back home. You remain in our thoughts and prayers.


Posted by Deb at 10:46 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 13, 2005

2/7 War Dawgs arrive in Fallujah

2/7 has arrived in Iraq - here's the first update from LtCol L'Etoile:

Friends and families of the 2nd Bn, 7th Marines,

We have arrived safe and sound and are currently conducting a relief in place with the 3rd Bn, 4th Marines in and around Fallujah. Soon we will be arrayed throughout our area of operations conducting counter insurgency operations and developing the Iraqi Security Forces. 3/4 is doing a great job showing us the ropes and setting us up for success. Lt Col Kennedy and the Marines of 3/4 have performed magnificently and should be proud of what they have accomplished in this troubled city. Much work remains to be done, but the foundations for success have been laid and 2/7 is up to the challenge.

The movement to Iraq could not have gone smoother. The operations and logistics Marines of the Bn (S-3 and S-4) flawlessly planned and executed the movement of nearly 1000 Marines and our gear halfway around the world and delivered us to our Forward Operating Base here at Camp Mercury without a hitch. Of course it was the SNCOs of the battalion, as it always is, who ensured we arrived with all of our gear, organized, and ready to operate. I could not be prouder of our Senior Enlisted leaders.

The Marines are in exceptionally high spirits and I have never seen a more cohesive and energetic team. Our small unit leaders have prepared our Marines well, the Marines are good and they know it! Certainly there are challenges ahead, but none that we cannot handle.

If you have not heard from your Marine please understand. A relief in place of one battalion by another is a very busy time. Additionally, two battalions are currently swamping any phone and internet services available. Soon your loved ones will have time to catch their breath and write a letter, send an e-mail, or place a phone call. Until then, know that you are all in our hearts and that we look forward to your letters and e-mails.

Semper Fidelis
Lt Col JA L'Etoile


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July 09, 2005

Greetings from 26th MEU

Here's the message that Col. Tom Qualls sent to the family and friends of his Marines:

Friends and family of the 26th MEU, All's well here out on the edge-the edge of the sword. Busy, but doin' well. The Marines/Sailors of the 26th MEU (SOC) are presently employed in eight different countries throughout the Central Command Area of Responsibility. We trust ya'll are enjoying the festivities of the 4th of July as we defend the principles of the 4th from far away.

To give you a vague glimpse of what we are up to: you've got Marines/Sailors providing counter-terrorist training to foreign military forces in a nearby nation that will enable them to react to terrorist incidents better on their own; you've got Marines/Sailors conducting security reinforcements in another nation; in our biggest operational thrust to date, you've got Marines/Sailors performing recon/intelligence/surveillance ops deep in another country; here at sea we have Marines and machines who are working to defend critical economic areas and points of interest; and rounding out the many countries we are operating in, we have numerous logistical Marines scattered ashore at sites keeping the 2,134 Marines/Sailors of the MEU supplied with beans, bullets and band aids.

While just a few of us will have the chance to celebrate, most will not. We are pretty busy operating, planning, and controlling today's, tomorrow's and next month's events. We have many opportunities to have an impact in our remaining months here. Rest assured though, each of us is appreciative of the support you are providing while we are supporting our nation, our "One Nation Under God, with Liberty and Justice for all."

Today and tonight, think of us as the children laugh and play, and as the fireworks explode high above in a starlit sky. We will be thinking of you too knowing you are celebrating the very freedoms we are defending on this special day. You are helping us make a difference.

See ya soon. Happy Independence Day!

Semper Fidelis,
Colonel Tom Qualls

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July 08, 2005

3/25 passes the halfway point and reminds us that "You can't stop the clock"

H&S Company sends this report:

Hello again to all the friends and families of 3\25. The past two months have continued to be demanding for each Marine and the Company as a whole. Fortunately the pace only makes the time seem to move faster as they have little time to sit idle and think about home. They don't seem to mind the pace though. The oft-heard mantra of "You can't stop the clock" is getting louder. Sprits went up this month as we officially crested the halfway point of the in-country deployment.

The weather is pretty warm now with temperatures consistently above 100 degrees. A dip below 90 degrees would probably trigger hypothermia. It's dust and wind season here as well. Although all we notice is the view from the top of the dam changes everyday.

It's been amazing to watch the company adapt to new challenges each day. The intense multi discipline training the Marines accomplished in California prepared them well for the multitude of demands unique to this conflict. Most work within their specialties each day, but when the need arises they've proven their skills serving with mobile patrols, quick reaction forces, observation posts, and unfortunately corpsmen. They know now, that together, they can accomplish anything.

The future of Iraq is upon us now as we move to integrate with the newly developing Iraqi Army. Marines in Hit were already working with the old ING (Iraqi National Guard) - since dissolved, but they are about to receive a company that will be based with them. The importance of working along side the [Iraqi] soldiers is not lost on the Marines. These will be [Iraqi] soldiers that assume our duties sometime in the future. The future of Iraq is ultimately in their hands.

Operations continue on constant roll, as most of you are probably aware of from watching the news. What is typically hard to grasp from the media is the breadth of success we see during the operations. Again the training has paid off as the Marines negotiate rooting out the insurgents while protecting the innocent people of Iraq. The daily take of weapons caches and detainees is constant while the professionalism of the Marines has won the respect of countless civilians. The task at hand is typically difficult and stressful yet the Marines confidence and resolve is unwavering.

There is no doubt that the pride that keeps the Company moving is bolstered by the support of our friends and families back home. The continuous e-mail contact, letters and care packages keep the Marines connected with a familiar outside world. They are constantly reminded of who they are, where they came from and why they are here.
I am once again at a loss to describe just how proud I am of your sons, husbands and fathers. They are truly an inspiration to all.


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July 04, 2005

4th of July at Al Asad

Members of the Al Asad joint service color guard post the colors during the Independence Day observance here, July 4.
Photo and story details by: Cpl. C. Alex Herron

Here's a glimpse of Independence Day at Al Asad in Iraq where Marines gathered to celebrate in one of the world's newest democracies. Cpl. Alex Herron was there - here's what he observed:

Following its adoption in July 1776, the Declaration of Independence was read to the public in various American cities. Whenever it was heard, patriots erupted in cheer and celebration.

In 1777, a year after John Hancock, the President of the 2nd Continental Congress, signed the Declaration of Independence, Philadelphians remembered the 4th of July with ringing bells, firing guns, lighting candles, and setting off fireworks.

When the Revolutionary War ended in 1783, July 4 became a holiday in only certain places around the country. In Boston, it replaced the date of the Boston Massacre, March 5, as its major patriotic holiday. Speeches, military events, parades and fireworks marked the day. In 1941, Congress declared July 4 a federal holiday.

The second president, John Adams, would have approved. "I believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival," he wrote his wife, Abigail. "It ought to be celebrated by pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other..."

For Marines serving in Iraq there may not be pomp or parades, but the holiday was celebrated during an Independence Day observance here.

"It is important to celebrate and not forget the importance of the Fourth of July," said Cmdr. Ron Brown, command chaplain for the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing here. Following the sentiments of a fellow chaplain, Brown said, "Millions of people have served the armed forces in our country, but billions of people around the world have reaped the benefits of those service members."

The observance was highlighted by guest speaker, Col. John T. Rahm, the chief of staff for the forward deployed 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing, who spoke on the importance of preserving freedom for everyone in the world.

Rahm, who grew up near Valley Forge, Penn., and spent his childhood visiting Carpenters Hall and the Liberty Bell, began with a brief history of how Thomas Jefferson and the other committee members put together their draft of the Declaration. Rahm further explained how Jefferson and John Adams had an argument and eventually decided Jefferson would write the rough draft of the historic document.

After the brief history and some interesting trivia, Rahm got to his main point. He highlighted for those gathered the difference between the rough draft written by Jefferson and the final product we know today.

"In Thomas Jefferson’s original draft of the Declaration of Independence he wrote, ‘all men are created equal and independent and from that equal creation they derive in rights inherent and inalienables, among which are the preservation of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,’" Rahm said. "When the Continental Congress made their changes they took out ‘the preservation of…’ and just made it simply 'among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.'"

"Well I agree with Jefferson his words were better," Rahm said. "We have preserved life and liberty. We have the right to be here in Iraq, Nicaragua, Grenada, Vietnam and Afghanistan."

Serving in Iraq during this prestigious holiday is an honor for the service members here.

"I feel like I am fulfilling Thomas Jefferson’s words," the Valley Forge, area native said. "We have the right to preserve life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

"When we first celebrated our Independence we were in a struggle to maintain our own freedoms," Brown said. "And now we are doing the same. We are helping the Iraqi people gain and maintain the freedoms we have enjoyed for our entire lives."

The Marines, sailors, soldiers and airmen deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom on the Fourth of July are fighting a similar battle to the one fought more than 200 years ago. Although not fighting for their own freedom, service members here are fighting for the ideals Jefferson had intended in 1776; to preserve life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all.

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July 03, 2005

26 MEU - why training is critical in the WOT

Here's an update to friends and especially family members of the 26th MEU from Col. Tom Qualls, Commanding Officer:

The big ship pulled into port today. It's good to be back in Bahrain again. Believe it or not, we have Marines in 8 different countries as of today! This week we deployed another major training effort ashore into a foreign country.

Training is critical in the War on Terrorism in enhancing other nations' ability to fight terrorism and to deal with contingencies on their own, without US assistance. This latest ashore event is focused on that segment. Our entry into other nations give us the opportunity to show goodwill and to demonstrate that our nation, our Marines/Sailors, and our people are trustworthy and cordial as well as fully capable to assist them raising their response capability.

Next week we will launch another operational thrust, this the largest of our many. First, before we do that, we have more detailed planning to accomplish while in port; and, we need to gather up at least 2 other planning teams that were away for the past week.

So there will be work to be done in port, but we will have a small amount of down time too. The need for balance will once again be very real---balance between down time and the need for professional attention to the combat preparations that are ahead of us.

Hey, we are at the mid-point in the deployment! Keep the cards, emails, and care packages coming...and remember your Marines are going to need your continued support all the way to the finish line....which is still expected to be on time. Speaking of mail: Yes, mail has been delayed---but that's to be expected; the good news is that 18,000 pounds of mail is expected to be on-loaded today. That should be exciting!

Hope everyone is enjoying their Summer! See ya' in the Fall!

Semper Fidelis,
Colonel Tom Qualls


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July 01, 2005

The Three Rules of War

Letters home from our military heroes in Iraq and Afghanistan describe the reality of combat from those who experience it with stunning clarity. Col. Brett Wyrick, Commander of the 154th Medical Group, Hawaii Air National Guard, is currely deployed as a surgeon in Balad with the 332nd Expeditionary Medical Group. He recently wrote a letter home to his father, describing the valiant efforts of a top-notch group of medical professionals to save the life of a young soldier. Read the letter in full here. I thought his closing thoughts were a wonderful reminder of the price paid by heroes throughout the centuries so that we can enjoy a carefree holiday weekend. And, unfortunately, some will enjoy it without putting overmuch thought into the men and women who have made it possible.

Col Wyrick's letter:

The first rule of war is that young men and women die. The second rule of war is that surgeons cannot change the first rule. I think the third rule of war should be that those who have given their all for our freedom are never forgotten, and they are always honored.

I wish there was not a war, and I wish our young people did not have to fight and die. But I cannot wish away evil men like Bin Laden and al-Zarqawi. These men are not wayward children who have gone astray; they are not great men who are simply misunderstood.

These are cold-blooded killers and they will kill you, me, and everyone we love and hold dear if we do not kill them first. You cannot reason with these people, you cannot negotiate with these people, and this war will not be over until they are dead. That is the ugly, awful, and brutal truth.

I wish the situation was different, but it is not. Americans have two choices. They can run from the threat, deny it exists, candy-coat it, debate it, and hope it goes away. And then, Americans will be fair game around the world and slaughtered by the thousands for the sheep they have become.

Our second choice is to crush these evil men where they live and for us to have the political will and courage to finish what we came over here to do.

The last thing we need here in Iraq is an exit strategy or some damn timetable for withdrawal. Thank God there was no timetable for withdrawal after the Battle of the Bulge or Iwo Jima. Thank God there was no exit strategy at Valley Forge. Freedom is not easy, and it comes with a terrible price - I saw the bill here yesterday.

The third rule of war should be that we never forget the sacrifices made by our young men and women, and we always honor them. We honor them by finishing what they came to accomplish. We remember them by never quitting and having the backbone and the guts to never bend to the yoke of oppression.

We honor them and remember them by having the courage to live free.

Thank you, soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines who protect and defend us so that we can live free. May we never forget the sacrifice of this brave soldier and the hundreds of thousand of other troops who have bled and died in the name of freedom.

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June 22, 2005

26th MEU is on their way

From Col. Tom Qualls, CO of the 26th MEU:

Many thanks for the Father's day gifts that have flowed into us in the past several days/weeks. This Father's Day finds many of your father's, sons, brothers, nephews, and even future fathers hard at work in the conduct of yet another intensive operational pulse-this one into yet another country that will bring new adventure and challenges to the Marine/Sailor team.

This foray will be a training thrust and will prove to be exciting and full of adventure, and quite a bit of hard work in some quite austere conditions. Your Marines/Sailors, as always, are fully ready for this challenge.

Perhaps once this exercise is over we will be able to reveal where it is located, and more details as to what we are doing. In the meantime, thanks for bearing with me in this journey which many times takes both you and us into the unknown.

We appreciate your continued support. Rest assured your Marines aboard the Kearsarge are ready for our huge responsibility as the Theater Strategic Reserve. We are ready too for even more operational employment, in a multitude of locations across the Central Command Area of Responsibility.

We had a great, motivating visit by our Commandant of the Marine Corps the other day. While here he had a chance to visit Marines on all three ships, and to speak and answer questions on the current and future state of our Corps. He thanked us Marines for what we are doing, while at the same time thanked you--the families--for all that you do to support the cause. He also made time to snap photos with your Marines; perhaps you've already seen many of those images. A good day.

Happy Father's Day to all the dad's and grand dads at home. And, again thanks to all for making our Father's Day here a special one. The pillow cases are real winners. Photos of your Marines and their cases will be posted in the days ahead.

Semper Fidelis,
Colonel Tom Qualls


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June 10, 2005

3/3 Marines are coming home, leaving the Kunar Province "one step closer to freedom"


Captain Sweeney from India company recaps the last seven months:

The Kunar province has undergone many changes in the 7 months India Company has been on the ground here. In Nagalam, 1stLt Bellman and GySgt Vannelli have turned a small Special Forces advanced camp into a full-blown Forward Operating Base capable of accommodating a reinforced rifle platoon and a company of Afghan Security Force soldiers. They have built several buildings from the ground up improving the operational capability and the quality of life on board the camp. If you can remember early on, phone calls and emails from the Marines of 2d platoon were non-existent. Camp Blessing now has full commercial and military Internet capability, phones, washers and dryers, an outstanding gym facility, chow hall and many other improvements. Quite honestly, living at Camp Blessing has become a rather pleasant experience compared to what it used to be like back in November and December. The Marines of 1st and 2d Platoons who have been residents there should be commended for their hard work aboard the camp. They accomplished all of this without slowing down their operational tempo "outside the wire." The Pech District, where Camp Blessing is located, was once compared to the "Wild West," but because of the Marines dedication to the mission, the security in the region has greatly increased. The schools are full, new mosques, medical clinics and district administration buildings are in place and the area is one step closer to freedom.

Throughout the province the Marines and Sailors have touched thousands of Afghan citizens lives. We have provided humanitarian assistance in the form of food, blankets, tools, medical supplies, and many other assistance items. All of the Marines have worked closely with the Afghan National Police and Afghan National Army training and conducting joint operations. Their efforts have improved the individual and unit skills of the two forces, making them much more effective and ensuring the security of the people in the province well into the future. Their experiences here will be remembered for years to come, they have truly made history. The Marines will have some great stories to tell of their exploits in Afghanistan so in a few short weeks, sit back and enjoy.

Here's a significant event that happened in April but I don't recall seeing it in print before. It's a sign that the times, they are a'changing and that the future looks bright for the people of Afghanistan.

A former insurgent commander swore allegiance to the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan April 14 in Asadabad, agreeing to turn in his weapons and cease hostilities against Afghan and Coalition forces. As Coalition forces have been hunting near the Afghan-Pakistani border for insurgent leaders, Najmuddin turned himself in to Company I, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, abandoning his run as one of the more elusive insurgent leaders.

The Marines were informed by a message received the morning of April 10 explaining where the commander was located and his intent. The company leadership quickly moved to the designated location and, crossing over a bridge into the compound, finally came face-to-face with the man they were able to recognize only from an outdated photograph. He has been allowed to participate in the Allegiance Program, a program currently offered to Taliban and Hezb-E Islami Gulbuddin fighters who wish to stop fighting and start participating in the rebuilding of Afghanistan.

"We've been working on this guy for a long time," said 1st Lt. Justin Bellman, India Co. Executive Officer. "It was just a matter of time before either we captured him, killed him or he turned himself in. He made the right decision and we're going to hope that he becomes a positive force in his community."

A ceremony which was attended by nearly 300 civic and religious leaders from across the Kunar province was the first step in the process of repatriation for Najmuddin who explained his reasons for turning himself over to the Marines through an interpreter. "I am tired of running," said the former insurgent. "I realized that my community was suffering because of [our] attacks on the Coalition and I did not want that any more."

His participation in the Allegiance Program comes on the heels of extensive operations around the areas Najmuddin was known to frequent in the Pech Valley. Aggressively pursuing the detention of insurgent leadership in the area afforded Marines the success that had eluded other units.

"This individual orchestrated several attacks against Coalition forces before we got here and began to conduct attacks against us in Nagalam from the moment we arrived. It did not take us long to let him know that we were not going to sit back and take that," said Lt. Col. Norm Cooling, commander of 3rd Bn., 3rd Marines. "Instead we took the fight to his backyard, to the difficult, cold and mountainous terrain of the Korangal Valley." The Marines of India Company, once tasked with eliminating the threat Najmuddin posed to stability in the area, applied constant pressure on him for two and a half months.

"In that time, he didn't have time to conduct attacks against our installations," said Cooling. "He was too busy trying to survive and he finally got tired of it." While he said the constant presence of well-trained Marines was the ultimate reason he turned himself in, it was also the humanitarian outreach and rehabilitation projects in his area that Marines participated in that convinced the former insurgent leader to come forth.

Bellman, who spoke with Najmuddin, said he expressed happiness with many of the good things he saw the Marines doing in the Pech Valley and that he knew his area was improving because of the Afghan and Coalition forces.

The governor of Kunar, Asadollah Wafa, said the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan hopes the program will put an end to local insurgencies and further drive a wedge between Afghans and the foreign-national terrorists who have been operating in Afghanistan. By accepting former insurgent "middlemen" like Najmuddin, he hopes that the money and support that keeps the insurgency alive in eastern Afghanistan will dry up.

The Allegiance Program is an effort to bring many formerly prominent Afghans back into the fold of the new government, Wafa said. As long as an individual has committed no crimes against humanity, he may get a second chance at citizenship.


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June 08, 2005

"Be proud of them...they do great things for the right reasons"

The HMM-162 (Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron-162) has landed and the situation is well in hand. LtCol Diehl updates the friends and families of this Aviation Combat Element:


It's been a little over two months since we departed Eastern North Carolina for Operations in the Central Command (CENTCOM) Area of Operations (AO) and, as most of you probably know, the preponderance of the ACE is now in Kuwait.

Over the past couple of weeks the Rotary Wing Marines of the ACE have been operating from the Udairi Training Area while our Fixed Wing and Intermediate Maintenance Level Marines continue to support operations from aboard the USS Kearsarge....it's all part of distributed operations...more on that later.

While at the Udairi Range we continue to train and enhance our desert operational proficiency. We've been able to take advantage of some excellent live fire ranges here with both Rotary Wing from the land, and Fixed Wing from the sea.

Additionally, the living conditions at both locations are not too bad either. Life on the boat has been made more comfortable because our "feet-wet" Marines and equipment can stretch out a bit due to their squadron mates and ground mates being "feet-dry".....more space...shorter lines...better living. Those of us on the beach can't complain either.

We're living in tents but there's air-conditioning to ward off the daily 110-degree temperatures and the dining facility stocks Baskin Robbins ice cream, which the Marines tell me is only being consumed to regulate their core body temperatures. There's also a coffee shop, a fast-food restaurant, and even a PX...small, but it offers some of the things the Marines & Sailors miss from home...so life at Udairi is not too bad either.

As the CENTCOM Theatre Reserve, the 26th MEU remains on-call for any mission within the AO. That means we will continue to conduct sea-based operations from the USS Kearsarge for the foreseeable future. The ACE has conducted operations in Iraq over the past week and will likely continue to do so in the weeks ahead. However, as the Theatre Reserve we remain ready to depart our current location on a moments notice to answer the call for assistance anywhere from Afghanistan to the Horn of Africa.

The MEU and ACE are very flexible organizations that are designed to conduct operations from one location, or we can task organize and conduct missions from separate locations...."distributed operations". It is likely some of your Marines and Sailors will have the opportunity to go forward with elements of the MEU to conduct distributed operations as part of a military to military engagement program our government has with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Others will remain aboard USS Kearsarge to either stand ready as the Theatre Reserve, or continue to conduct operations within Iraq.

Your Marines & Sailors will have the opportunity to work from various locations both "feet-wet" and "feet-dry". We all will participate in bringing the awesome capabilities of the combined Marine Expeditionary Unit and Expeditionary Strike Group to bear within the CENTCOM AO. Your Marines and Sailors stand ready for the challenges they will face shortly. They are trained, equipped, and continue to function as a tightly organized team...each member more concerned with the well-being and success of the Marine or Sailor on his left or right...then for themselves.

Be proud of them...they do great things for the right reasons. As always, take care of one another & know you are always in our hearts and minds.

Semper Fi,
LtCol Kurt "BIG" Diehl


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June 06, 2005

"We pray for the soldiers every night."

Michael Yon is a writer currently travelling in the Kurdish area of Dohuk, Iraq. During a visit to the village of Yezdinar, Yon asked the Headman of the village a simple question:

An Iraqi. A Kurd. A Yezidi. A village Headman. Whatever the label, more than forty years after his birth, this man came home. Only now, after the latest war, does Mr. Qatou finally have confidence in the peace, after more than a half century of life lived under orders or under sentence.

This seemed like the moment to ask the question, "What do you think of the United States?"

"We cry when America loses one soldier. We pray for the soldiers every night."

Many Kurds had expressed the same sentiment. One had said poetically: "For every drop of American blood, we shed one thousand Kurdish tears."

"What do you think about the United Kingdom?" I asked.

"Also very good."

His answer for some of the other countries, those that abandoned his people to get back to their beer and wine, was merely a quick frown followed by silence.

Read more at his website.

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June 04, 2005

The Better Beer Prayer

One of the first things that many Marines look forward to upon returning from deployment is celebrating their homecoming with a few cold beers. And, LtCmdr Phillip Lee who serves as Chaplain for the 8th Communication Battalion, currently deployed, understands that tending to the needs of his Marines sometimes covers subjects never addressed in divinity school . . . and that spirit-filled has more than one meaning:

I have been around Marines long enough to know Memorial Day was a challenge for many of you. A challenge because you were not able to share a beer with your buddies during a barbecue unofficially marking the beginning of summer. I have also heard many of you have discovered the "near-beer" (nonalcoholic beverages with beer-like flavor) available here doesn't quite measure up to. After PT in the hot sun or at the end of a hard work day, having a beer to relax probably sounds pretty good to many of you. I know some of you may lay awake at night dreaming about having a "cold one." Beer commercials on TV would be sheer torture to a few of you in your current mental state having been deprived of what you might Out of concern for your morale and well being as we enter into the hotter summer months, I wanted you to know I am praying for your emotional stamina and endurance. To represent my prayers for you, I have decided to reprint a prayer drafted about eight years ago at the request of a master sergeant in Yuma, Ariz. (another hot place).

I was on a short deployment with Marine Aircraft Group 41. I arrived on station a day before the main body as the advance party. The master sergeant in the group sounded off after I entered the room where they were celebrating their success of having everything ready. He said, "Chaplain, you know what we need is a better beer prayer."

He was half joking and probably trying to see how I would react. They do that sometimes, as many of you already know. We laughed and I replied, "That's a new request for me, master sergeant. Let me think about it and I will see what I can do." To be honest, my reply was about as serious as his initial request. In the next few days, I couldn't get his request out of my mind. So one night I took up my pen and wrote the following words:

Dear God, Maker of the heavens and the earth: We know you are the creator of all good things. For that reason we come now before you to ask for a better beer. We request it have a taste like unto the sweet nectars of the Garden of Eden. May the blend of its flavor pour gently over our tongues and satisfy not only the thirst of our mouths, but the longings of our souls.

Make this beer so good all who drink it will no longer drink the present beers which often lead people to bring injury to children, other drivers or themselves. Make it a beer that multiplies wisdom, instead of killing brain cells. Lord, you know we human beings really cannot afford to sacrifice many brain cells anyway.

Finally, Lord we ask this beer would be so good its consumption would never cause us to jeopardize or sacrifice our relationship with others or you. May the camaraderie generated by this beer make the celebrations and special occasions of our lives even more special by helping us to fully appreciate one of the most sacred dimensions of life-fellowship with our friends, loved ones and you.

Hear our prayer, oh Lord. Improve our lives with a better beer such as we have described and if you can think of any further improvements, by all means please act on our behalf.

By Your Leave, Sir
Written for U. S. Marines
Semper Fi

Since the first printing of this prayer I have kept my eyes open to see if such a beer has come into existence. I haven't seen it yet, but I am still hopeful. If nothing else has come from the master sergeant's request, may it be you find yourself thinking more carefully about the choices you make the next time you decide to celebrate.

The reprinting of this prayer is dedicated to all the master sergeants of 8th Communication Battalion because it was a master sergeant who first requested such spiritual support. (Ephesians 5:15-20)

Amen.

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June 03, 2005

Memorial Day at Al Asad

Photo by Cpl. C. Alex Herron

Marines with the 6th ESB, currently deployed in the Al Anbar province of Iraq, took time on Memorial Day to honor one of their own - First Sgt. Michael S. Barnhill. He was killed on Saturday, May 28 by an IED explosion. Here are memories of 1st Sgt. Barnhill from his CO and the Marines he led, as reported by Cpl Herron:

Maj. Sean J. Riddell, 6th ESB, Alpha Company CO:
"Barnhill hated leaving the wire. But the only thing he hated worse was knowing his Marines were out there, and there was nothing he could do if something happened. World War II veterans define courage as being afraid, but going anyway. By that definition, Barnhill was a very courageous man. He hated leaving the wire, but he did it for the Marines. He was old enough to know he wouldn't live forever, but young enough to know he wanted to do a lot more with his life."

Sgt. Justin Babbit:
"He helped out his junior Marines even when he didn't have to. He was buoyant and loud. His personality was one of the defining personalities of our company. I had never met a bigger, tougher man who showed his love for his junior Marines."

Cpl. James Peterson
"My first meeting with [First Sgt. Barnhill] was at a company formation before the unit was to deploy in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003. When he stood in front of me to ask me why my dog tag had not been placed in my left boot like he had instructed I responded that I was new and had not heard the order. Then he proceeded to explain why that was no excuse. His [Peterson's] noncommissioned officers should have passed the word. That is what he expected of them, to look after their junior Marines just like he did."

Lance Cpl. Jared Tjaden:
"He always found a way to make you laugh. He always made sure his Marines were taken care of."

1st Sgt. Barnhill was married to Joanna and leaves a legacy of three children, Michael, Michelle and Ashlee. He would have retired from the USMC in December. He will never be forgotten by the Marines with whom he served and the world is forever diminished by his death.

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May 23, 2005

HARD Fighting Marines

For those who are curious about the caliber of men who lead their sons into battle, here's LtCol Jurney's philosophy of leadership for his 1/6 Marines:

My personal leadership philosophy can be captured in one phrase "Lead by Example." When in charge, take charge. Lead from the front and by example. All values and ethical behavior for leading Marines stem from this basic position. When maintaining the standard in both our words and our deeds we consistently establish clear standards of what is expected. Time gets wasted when a leader sends mixed signals. Our actions must support our words. To lead by example is to tell our Marines what the standards are; why the standards are important and how the standards will accomplish the mission and save lives on the battlefield. Personal example is the strongest and most persuasive tool in our leadership kit bag. I expect every member of this command to embrace this simple philosophy, and "walk their talk" to garner the loyalty and respect from those with which we have the honor to serve.

Tenets of 1/6 "HARD":

Marine leaders in 1/6 should always be doing one of two things;
leading their Marines in combat or preparing their Marines for combat. Nothing is more fundamental to war fighting excellence than a solid base of character. We must have trust and confidence in one another’s actions and commitments:
  • HONESTY If you say you are going to do something, do it.
  • ACTION If you see something is wrong, fix it.
  • RESPECT If you want to be treated well, treat others well.
  • DUTY If you put the mission and the welfare of those with which you serve first… then our team will be second to none.
  • Summary:

    Marines strive for excellence in everything we do. Our history records it, our appearance reflects it, our confidence and swagger state it. The essence of being a Marine is teamwork. That is what has won our battles and written our history. Therefore, we must work together to set the example and instill the spirit of teamwork in everything we do - our future success depends on it.

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    May 22, 2005

    Mean Moms Make Mighty Marines

    Chaplain Ryan, ministering to the spiritual needs of Marines in Fallujah wrote this tribute for his mother - and all mothers who spent Mother's Day apart from their son.

    There is a day in the month of May when people throughout the United States take time to thank their Mother for all the love shown to them throughout their lives. There have been many years when I have sent the obligatory card to my Mom and not really thought much about all she has done for me throughout my life. For some reason, this Mother's Day seems different than others.

    Maybe it is because being away from home for a long time has a way of making a person realize what is truly important in life, and so I think more about how special my Mother is to me. Maybe it is because my Mother has been very sick lately and I cannot help but think about what life would be like without her. Or maybe it is because I realize all the overtime that my wife has to put in as a Mother while I am away, and I appreciate all of her hard work.

    My Mother is one of the greatest respected Kindergarten teachers in Nashville, TN. She has taught Kindergarten at the same school for over 30 years. She is an incredible woman, and an even better Mother. However, I think you need a little insight into what my home life was like. My Mother was the meanest Mother in the whole world! While other kids ate candy for breakfast, I had to have cereal, eggs, and toast. When others had a Pepsi and a Twinkie for lunch, I had to eat sandwiches. And you can guess my Mother fixed me a dinner that was different from other kids, too. Mom insisted on knowing where I was at all times. You’d think I was a convict in a prison. She had to know who my friends were, and what I was doing with them. She insisted that if I said I would be gone for an hour, I would be gone for an hour or less.

    I was ashamed to admit it, but she had the nerve to break the Child Labor Laws by making me work. I had to clean my room, wash out the bathtub, take out the trash, vacuum the floor, iron my clothes, and occasionally do the dishes. I think she would lie awake at night thinking of more things for me to do. One time she even told me that the reason she had a son was so that I could do work around the house. She always insisted on my telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

    By the time I was a teenager she could read my mind. Then, life was really tough! Mom wouldn't let my friends just honk the horn when they drove up. They had to come up to the door so she could meet them. While everyone else could date when they were 12 or 13, I had to wait until I was 16.

    Because of my Mother, I missed out on lots of things other kids experienced. I have never been caught shoplifting, vandalizing other's property, or ever arrested for any crime. It was all her fault. I never got drunk, did drugs, stayed out all night, or a million other things the other kids did. Sundays were reserved for church, and we never missed once. I knew better than to ask to spend the night with a friend on Saturdays.

    Now that I've left home I'm a God-fearing, educated, honest adult. I'm doing the best I can to be a mean parent just like my Mom was. I want to say thanks to all the "mean" Mothers out there. You helped to make us into the men and women we are today. We miss you.

    May God bless all the work you do and have done to raise your children.


    Posted by Deb at 08:27 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

    May 21, 2005

    Update from 1/6 Marines at Camp Baharia

    LtCol Jurney sends greetings from Camp Baharia.

    As expected our Marines and Sailors have picked up the ball and have made significant strides in our area of operations. In just a few weeks we have conducted operations which involved finding, capturing or killing insurgent elements.

    Everyday we continue to work hand in hand with the Iraqi Security Forces to degrade the enemies' ability to instill fear and intimidation among the people of Fallujah. This integrated concept has paid big dividends by way of successful offensive operations and winning the trust and confidence of the people of Iraq through our civil affairs projects.

    On a daily basis I move around our area of operations and see our Marines and Sailors hard at work conducting countless missions. On any given day - I observe our Marines putting blackboards up in a school that we are rebuilding; to finding unexploded ordnance or booby-trapped explosive devices; to engaging hard core insurgents in a one on one firefight . . . it's the textbook example of what we call a "three block war." Our Marines and Sailors are constantly on the move and they are routinely having to make life and death decisions in a matter of seconds. They are truly amazing young men and I couldn't be prouder of what they are accomplishing out here.

    As I mentioned earlier, we are working hand in hand with the Iraqi Security Forces who are eager to restore peace and prosperity throughout Iraq. The establishment and training of Iraqi Security Forces is a major part of our mission. As part of that effort we have just graduated a number of young Iraqi's from our first Iraqi NCO Training Course, known as our Combat Leaders Course. Additionally we put together our own mini Iraqi boot camp that held its first graduation a few weeks ago. As mentioned above, the operational and training integration of our forces has been key to our success.

    Our Public Affairs NCO has done a tremendous job on getting the stories out to the local papers and on the Marine Corps Website. When you get a chance log-on to www.usmc.mil and read about your Marines and Sailors and how well they are performing in this very complex and dangerous environment. They are truly making a difference and are helping Iraqis take charge of their country.


    Posted by Deb at 06:28 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    May 18, 2005

    Operation MATADOR report from the front

    From LtCol Mundy in Al Qaim:

    Friends and families, I think it was Mark Twain who once said, "Never put off till tomorrow what you can do the day after tomorrow." Thankfully Mr. Twain is not running this Task Force, chasing the enemy, or keeping you updated of all that's going on. From the news reports of last week, many of you are aware of what happened during Operation MATADOR and now know why you did not receive that Mother's Day call from your son or husband--they were out showing the world why there is no better friend and no worse enemy than a United States Marine. As their Commanding Officer, I wanted to personally share with you why I'm so intensely proud of YOUR Marines and Sailors of Task Force 3/2.

    Operation MATADOR was a great success. It was my privilege to lead the men of Task Force 3/2 into enemy territory to conduct combat operations against anti-coalition forces situated along, and north of, the Euphrates River. During the weeklong operation, I saw our Marines and Sailors conduct themselves with the height of honor, depth of courage, and breadth of commitment indicative of the world's finest warriors. I couldn't be prouder of these men and all they accomplished. I know you must feel the same.

    Let me explain why this operation was necessary:

    The war on the terrorists came late to Al Qa'im. This area is isolated by distance and cultural idiosyncrasies from central Iraq . For centuries, this has been a corrupt trade route area on the Euphrates. For decades, not even Saddam Hussein truly controlled the crime, corruption, and disloyalties. This abnormal, different area became the natural safe haven for some foreign fighters. They transit the area and use it as a staging ground for insurgency and terrorist actions in other areas of the country. We didn't have a good ability to cross to the north side of the Euphrates and stay for longer than a raid. In the last six to eight months, the foreign fighter presence and activity grew in the area north of the river. Task Force 3/2 is situated in the midst of this volatile area, and believe me, none of your sons, brothers, husbands and/or fathers shrink from the challenges we find because of it! There is a dangerous enemy here, but your Marines and Sailors know their jobs, and they do them well, so we can handle the threats.

    Our RCT headquarters planned offensive operations under the name MATADOR to clear the area of insurgents and to prove to the foreign fighters that they had no safe haven north of the river. Your men proved just that! We were joined in the fight by several units: Bravo Company, 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance (LAR) Battalion and Lima Company, 3rd Battalion 25 th Marines. While we have always been superior in individual fights in the area, we increased the strength of the Task Force to clear through the strongholds in the north and maintain security in the south.

    Our two rifle companies, Kilo Company 3/2 and Lima Company 3/25, reinforced by one Warpig mobile platoon fought bravely with entrenched insurgents in the towns of Ubaydi and Ramana. Their tenacity to take the fight to the enemy resulted in a significant number of enemy kills and captures, thereby hampering enemy ability to move at will in this region.

    Bravo Company, 2D LAR and Alpha Company, 4th AAV provided protection on our flanks, much need flexibility in the field of battle, as well as the ability to quickly move large numbers of our men across enemy territory. The men of India provided a blocking position in support of the operation, and also continued their fight around Camp Gannon , while the Warpigs of Weapons Company also manned the key blocking position as well as provided effective fire support during the entire operation.

    Needless to say, there were many moments of fierce fighting. Many Marines demonstrated heroism and accomplished extraordinary feats. I don't need to provide details of firefights-trust me when I say your men performed as I expect them to perform when they carry the title of United States Marine. They were awesome! As we continue our mission in this region, we humbly ask for your prayers and thank you for the faithful support you've given this Task Force. We could not do what we do without all of you.

    Our thoughts are also with the friends and families of the 9 Marines who died protecting their brothers in arms. I held a memorial service in their honor Sunday evening, 15 May in the orange light of a setting sun. These are the names of our fallen comrades:


    • SSgt Anthony L. Goodwin, Regimental Combat Team-2, attached to Lima Company, 3rd Battalion 25th Marines

    • SSgt Kendall H. Ivy II, Regimental Combat Team-2, attached to Lima Company, 3rd Battalion 25th Marines

    • Cpl Dustin A. Derga, Lima Company, 3rd Battalion 25th Marines

    • LCpl Lawrence R. Phillippon, Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion 2nd Marines

    • LCpl Wesley G. Davids, Lima Company, 3rd Battalion 25th Marines

    • LCpl Nicholas B. Erdy, Lima Company, 3rd Battalion 25th Marines

    • LCpl Jonathan W. Grant, Lima Company, 3rd Battalion 25th Marines

    • LCpl Jordan L. Grez, 4th Combat Engineer Battalion, attached to Lima Company, 3rd Battalion 25th Marines

    • PFC Christopher R. Dixon, Lima Company, 3rd Battalion 25th Marines

    There really is no greater love than he who lays his life down for his friends. They lived as warriors, died heroes, and will forever be honored. May God bless their memories and comfort their families. We also had wounded Marines who will require, in some cases, lengthy recovery times. Keep them and their families in your prayers as well, as we wish for a full recovery and return to 3/2.

    I've said this once before and it bears repeating: Mail and care packages from home continue to be a weekly highlight for our men. Anything you send from home reminds us of your love and support and really boosts morale. The generosity of all who've given does not go unnoticed.


    Posted by Deb at 10:03 PM | Comments (4)

    May 15, 2005

    Honoring Mom

    LtCmdr Lee, Chaplain for 8th Comm, wrote this message for the Marines under his pastoral care.

    I have often heard it said, "A woman's work is never done." This statement is especially true for women who have children. Most mothers get little rest because they invest countless hours in supervising the well-being of their children. Observing this deepest of passions, "a mother's love". I have discovered that such love focuses on at least three primary concerns. A mother doesn't seem to rest until she knows her children are satisfied, situated, and safe.

    These primary concerns begin to appear in a mother's care for a newborn. Mom makes sure that the baby is satisfied with plenty to eat and regular diaper changes. This is not to imply that Dad cannot contribute to these needs, but Mom will make sure these essential needs are met so that the baby isn't crying all the time. With the infant satisfied, Mom works to get the little one situated. This may involve cradling the child close to her body or laying it in a comfortable place, wrapped in a warm blanket.

    As the newborn's sleeping patterns change and it grows older, Mom seeks to satisfy the child by providing toys, friends to play with, and eventually a good school to attend for educational purposes. Mom's concern for a child becoming situated may explain why the first day of school or leaving for college is such a big deal to her. I am positive it has something to do with why mothers push to make sure everything goes well at weddings and then cry through much of the ceremony. They simply love their children and long to see them situated well in all categories of life.

    Having their children satisfied and situated is not yet enough to convince mothers to rest a bit. They are going to labor at guaranteeing a child's safety before they lean back at all. I once visited a habitat for the largest bears in North America, the Kodiak Brown Bears. As we walked through the bears' territory, the guide told us, "The last thing you want to do is get within 100 yards of a female bear with a cub." Any hint of threat to that cub would spark an intense reaction from the "mama bear" that would have devastating results.

    Little compares to the fury of a mother's protection; this is among the most intense instincts. I have seen this kind of behavior in a few Moms as they protected their young and in most cases they were not going to relax a bit until they sensed their child was safe. This concern for safety is what prompts many Moms to practice a tireless prayer effort, building a perimeter of spiritual protection around their child so that the devil can do no harm. This concern is also the reason why Moms encourage us to have a right relationship with God. Mom is just trying to protect us from any harm.

    Realizing these factors are so important to a mother, honor your mother today by calling her and letting her know that you are being satisfied with access to the best chow the Marine Corps can offer and clean clothes on a regular basis. Tell her that the Marine Corps has situated you with lots of equipment, plenty of new friends and a learning environment that exceeds some of the best classrooms in the world. Then tell her you are as safe as possible in this environment, surrounded by the best war fighters in the world, coupled with the never-ending watch care of God. She will rest a bit better tonight and her motherly duties will be less taxing having received these assurances from you.

    After you hang up the phone, remember to thank God for the blessing of a Mom who did her best to keep you satisfied, situated and safe. If you can't talk to your Mom today because she has already finished her living on this earth, then honor her memory by telling someone about the great ways she showed her love for you: fixing your favorite meal, sending a card, hearing about your hurts. Per chance you haven't had a Mom that bothered herself with these primary concerns, learn to observe them in others and make sure your children receive such love.

    Duplicating such love in others is the ultimate honor to a mother (Exodus 20:12).

    Happy Mother's Day! We love you, MOM!

    Thanks. We love you too.

    Happy Mother's Day to deployed 8th Communication Battalion Moms:
    SSgt Sabrina B.
    Sgt Christina C.
    Sgt Sara M.

    Posted by Deb at 07:16 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    May 13, 2005

    33 KIAs, 400 Purple Hearts

    If you're not reading Juggernuts, you're missing out on a unique view of the world in general and occasionally the military in specific. Sometimes, Cris posts something that takes my breath away . . . and this picture, taken by his father (retired USMC Colonel) is one of those. Visit his site to read the accompanying e-mail from his dad (snippet below):

    I was an invited guest for the memorial dedication honoring the KIA's of 3dBn, 1st Marines. The CO, LtCol W. Buhl, a very impressive officer. This shot shows the formation of the 33 KIA's, with helmet, rifle, boots & name tags.

    There was a final roll call, where the name of each of the 33 was called out by the Sergeant Major, and answered with a single toll of a bell. A piper in formal kilts played "Taps" and then a firing squad gave a 21 round salute.

    In addition to 33 KIA, the Bn awarded some 400 Purple Hearts.

    Visit Juggernuts for the rest of the story.

    Posted by Deb at 09:17 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

    May 11, 2005

    Iron in the blood of the Betio Bastards

    My son called me this morning - it's always nice to hear from him, even at 5:30 a.m. He was watching news reports from the Syrian border and remarked, "It's great to see that Husaybah is finally getting the attention it deserves." He speaks from experience, having recently returned from seven months at Camp Gannon. While 1/7 Bravo company had great success in keeping insurgency controlled while it was there, it was clearly time to clean house, USMC style. Marines excel at cleaning house and this battle is no exception.

    General Conway answered questions at yesterday's press briefing - here is an excerpt:

    Let me give you some geographical context, if I can. Of course, Husaybah butts up against the Syrian border. Just southeast of there is the town of al Qaim. We've had a battalion out there for a long time now. Recently, I think it's fair to say that the commanders have evaluated that the center of resistance in the Al Anbar has moved further west since the fall of Fallujah, and now is in what we would call the Ramadi-Hit corridor, extending westward, as opposed to Ramadi-Fallujah.

    About 72 hours ago, U.S. forces, the 2nd Regimental Combat Team, effected a river crossing at a place called Ukedi (ph), and they established a blocking position at a little townlet called Rommana, and put forces across the river to flush what had been reported as groupings of insurgents there. They were decisively engaged; a fairly significant battle followed. Use of close air support and combined arms have been employed. And at this point, the fight continues. There are reports that these people are in uniforms, in some cases are wearing protective vests, and there's some suspicion that their training exceeds that of what we have seen with other engagements further east.

    So, at this point, the fight continues.

    Question: At this -- right now it's a U.S. operation. From what we understand, there aren't Iraqis there. Does that pose a problem as far as a U.S. face being on this battle along the border, that Iraqis have been very concerned about -- (off mike)?

    GEN. CONWAY: No, your assessment is correct based on my knowledge, Bret, and my observation of the task organization. I think as you know, we do have Iraqi forces based at Habbaniya that are working both the Fallujah and the Ramadi area. At this point, those operational forces have simply not extended their reach far enough west to join the U.S. forces there.

    There are Iraqis operating in border forts along the borders. But in that interim area, they're simply not there yet.

    And I want to offer that the fight's not finished. We saw where the Iraqis provided tremendous value to us in Fallujah. And if the fight continues, if it does involve fighting in built-up areas, that's not to say you won't see Iraqi forces involved.

    Question: Can I follow up on that? Can you say whether or not you've seen any evidence of some of these foreign fighters, as you've described them, crossing back over the border? And are the Syrians in any way involved in this or in any way cooperating?

    GEN. CONWAY: I don't think I used the term foreign fighters. I don't think we know that yet. Certainly it's in proximity to the border. There is a major crossing site there, Husaybah, and again, there's smugglers' routes both north and south of that location. So it's not unrealistic to expect that there could be foreign fighters engaged.

    At this point, we simply don't know if the there is movement across the border associated with this, because the preponderance of our forces are engaged in this fight.

    Question: Has there been any contact with the Syrians or any sort of effort to get them to help out, any --

    GEN. CONWAY: From an operational perspective, I can only say that there is low-level contact that goes on, on a continuing basis. The captains and the field grade officers of that battalion have a fairly routine dialogue with the Syrians. I cannot speak to whether or not it transcends that.

    Question: Assuming that this operation is successful, what do you expect the effect will be? You said that the center of the insurgency has effectively moved west. If you are able to succeed in this mission's objectives, what do you think the result will be? Will you have broken the back of the insurgency? Will --


    GEN. CONWAY: No, I think it's way too early to say that. I think, as we have experienced in every fight up to this point, where we find the insurgents, we will attack them, to capture or kill if they resist.

    If you look at what happened -- what has happened in the region up to this point, we have had a fairly significant Special Operations operation south of al Qaim, where we captured or killed 54. We have had two engagements in Husaybah, one the attack on Camp Gannon where they attempted to breach the perimeter with a large explosive device, the fire truck. We've had a Zarqawi sighting, and now we have this fairly significant gathering of insurgents.

    So where we find them, we will fight them, to take them --

    Bill Roggio and Chester are doing a fantastic job of blogging the battle. Here's an excerpt from Chester's methodical accounting of on-ground operations - visit his site to view the referenced map:

    Numbers on the map correspond to the listed event. There are in chronological order as best as can be determined.

    1. Sunday, early morning: The bridge crossing(s) that began the operation were supposedly slower in progress than planned. Did this give a tip-off to the enemy? Mortar fire hit the bridging sites from Ubaydi and on the south side of the Euphrates at another site.

    2. Sunday morning: Insurgents were spotted driving to rural houses in the north of the area of operations in Ribat, retrieving weapons stockpiles, then driving back to the cities.

    3. One squad of Lima Co, 3/25, spent the better part of Sunday clearing a particular house in Ubaydi. The enemy had hidden in the basement and fired armor-piercing bullets through the floor at the Marines. Most of the day was spent destroying them, by this one squad, reinforced with heavy machine guns, a tank, and F-18 airstrikes.


    The list goes on and on, but this point is fascinating to me:

    10. Tuesday night? Marines engaged a vehicle that did not stop at a checkpoint SE of Ubaydi. Two civilians were killed, but the survivors asked the Marines to please attack the city, stating that the terrorists were forcing the men to fight.

    The Marines are doing what they do best - fight. It's hard on the families back home who are alternating between refreshing the CNN website and channel surfing to catch the latest news about their Marine's location. But the Marines who command the troops also care about the families. 3/2 Commanding Officer LtCol Mundy recently sent this message to the families of his Marines:

    President Theodore Roosevelt once wisely noted, "Thank God for the iron in the blood of our fathers." I can say with full confidence, were it not for the iron in the blood of your husbands, sons, fathers, and brothers, our effectiveness here would be significantly diminished. Vigilance and attention to detail continue to win the day and foil the many traps the enemy attempts to place in our path. Mines and IEDs are discovered and destroyed before they cause harm to our men. Furthermore, as the result of some successful raids and the pressure put upon the enemy because of our presence, terrorists continue to be captured or killed. I am glad to say that our enemy now realizes why we're called "The Betio Bastards!"

    Since the attack on Camp Gannon a few weeks ago, things remain as they once were: still dangerous, but the strong advantage remains with the Marines. India Company continues to be challenged at Camp Gannon, but strikes back with precision and effectiveness. Lima Company continues to expertly conduct their security missions around Al Asad. Kilo Company was detached from 3/2 for a short period to battle alongside another battalion in Haditha, and executed their attack fantastically. Weapons and H&S Companies had to cover the vast areas around Al Qaim, and did so with professionalism, keeping the enemy in this area at bay. I'm proud to say that all the Marines, Sailors, and Soldiers attached to Task Force 3/2 are working as a cohesive unit, overcoming any obstacles in their path, and are making significant progress in our area of operations. That being said, it's not hard to be cautiously optimistic!

    The dangerous work of stopping the enemy must continue until the mission is complete, and at times we're conducting very important operations. That means it may be necessary from time to time to minimize our regular contact with you at home and I trust you can understand why. Unfortunately, our current mission means that mothers might not get a well-deserved Mother's Day call from your grateful sons. Please know that they are thinking of you and thankful for you. I'll also take this opportunity to thank you mothers for raising such fine men. May God bless each of you and fill your Mother's Day with joy. I know you must be proud of your sons.

    Before we hung up this morning, I asked my son if he thought the U.S. troops would ever be able to clean out the insurgents and foreign fighters. His assessment was that while it was unlikely, we would eventually achieve success in training the Iraqis to complete the mission. That's what it's always been about, but it's good to hear it again.

    Posted by Deb at 11:29 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

    May 05, 2005

    A nation under God

    The National Day of Prayer was observed at Al Asad today as the Marines, soldiers, and sailors paused to exercise their right to freedom of both religion and speech. Here's a report form Cpl. Rocco DeFilippis (who also took the above picture).

    Chaplains, religious program specialists and chaplains' assistants from the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward) and the 326th Area Support Group organized the breakfast and allotted times throughout the day for service members to partake in specific prayers for family, government, military and the people of Iraq, among others.

    Prior to the meal, those in attendance enjoyed musical selections from the 2nd MAW Band and a praise team. Army Sgt. Daniel Estinfort's saxophone soothed the crowd with hymns as they ate.

    After the meal, Lt. Cmdr. Terry Eddinger, Marine Aircraft Group 26 chaplain, lead the gathering in prayer for our nations leaders.

    Following the prayer and a brief introduction, the wing commanding general gave an inspiring speech.

    The guest of honor at the prayer breakfast, Brig. Gen. Robert E. Milstead Jr., commanding general of the 2nd MAW (Fwd), quoted from "America the Beautiful" and spoke of the importance of prayer and God's grace.

    "We are not only blessed as individuals, but as a nation," Milstead said. "Our country is truly blessed with freedom and prosperity unparalleled across the nations."

    "We join together this morning, people of different faiths, but serving one God," Milstead punctuated. "As servicemen and women we are called to not only stand for our nation but our faith."

    Milstead said the theme of this year's National Day of Prayer, 'God Shed His Grace on Thee,' highlights the importance of God's grace in our daily lives.

    During a difficult time for the people of Iraq and America, Milstead said the importance of prayer and faith should not be overlooked.

    "From the earliest days of our founding, we have been a nation under God," he said. "Today we ask God to shed His grace on us and the people of Iraq, and just as He promised, we will receive it."

    Milstead's words echoed those of President Abraham Lincoln, who said, "it is the duty of nations as well as men, to owe their dependence upon the overruling power of God."

    After Milstead's speech, and prayers for military personnel and family, Capt. Christian Pappas concluded the ceremony by playing Amazing Grace on the bagpipes.

    Amen.

    Posted by Deb at 09:22 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

    May 04, 2005

    Safety Letter to Marine Parents

    LtCol S.D. Aiken, 2/6 Marines Commanding Officer recently sent this reminder to the parents of his Marines.

    Dear Parents,

    As your son's Battalion Commander, I sent a letter dated August 1, 2004 in which I provided you with some information and requested your assistance. I would like to provide you an update.

    As Spring arrives, the Battalion will receive all of our deployed Marines and Sailors back from Afghanistan and Iraq. Thus far, every Marine and Sailor has performed exceptionally well in these series of antiterrorism missions; their efforts have been vital in the prosecution of Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. Upon completion of these current deployments, the Battalion will deploy next Autumn to Iraq for seven months. Therefore, the Summer will be busy with predeployment preparations and training, culminating in a three-week exercise in California. We have scheduled a leave period for August, so folks can start making vacation plans. You can rest assured that our predeployment preparations and training will be realistic and thorough. Additionally, your son is in the process of receiving the best equipment that money can buy. The Battalion will be well prepared when we deploy.

    During my last letter, I asked your assistance during periods of liberty and annual leave. Specifically, I asked that:


    • After periods of liberty please urge your son, if he is traveling by car, to depart early enough so he can safely make his required 6:00 PM formation or check-in time.

    • Encourage him to drive at posted speed limits and, most importantly, to wear seat belts.

    To date, our safety record has been good; our Marines and Sailors have been conducting themselves in a professional, mature manner. With Springtime around the corner, the Battalion will be shifting the focus of its safety efforts to include the safe conduct of outdoor activities. I would like to thank you for your past assistance and ask for your continued parental efforts in keeping our Marines and Sailors safe.

    Posted by Deb at 11:39 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    May 03, 2005

    3/3 India Company accomplishing their mission

    Captain James Sweeney, 3/3 India company reports from the Kunar Province of Afghanistan:

    The deployment will soon be over for the Marines and Sailors of India Company 3/3. Even though there are only a few short months before we are back home, we still have a mission to accomplish here in OEF. The Marines are as focused as ever and continue their extraordinary efforts to accomplish that mission. The change in the security situation here in the Kunar province has been tremendous. Many of the projects planned by the Army's Provincial Reconstruction Team have been able to commence and be completed unimpeded by the activity of the Anti-Government Forces. It seems that there is a new school, clinic, district house, bridge or well opening up every week. Your Marines hard work, spending days on end living and working among the communities has really paid off. The relationships and trust that has been forged between the Marines and the Afghan communities is tremendous. After all, it is that trust that has proven to be our most effective weapon against the people who want to see the reconstruction effort fail. Our cooperation and training with the Afghanistan National Army (ANA) and National Police (ANP) has come leaps and bounds from where we were in November. Your Marines are playing a huge role in shaping these two forces that will be tasked with defending Afghanistan's future. Everything we do now involves participation from the ANA and ANP in a joint effort to stop the terrorism against the communities.

    Because of this cooperation and constant presence in the areas most frequented by the Anti-Government Forces, many of the terrorists have given up the fight, no longer wishing to go up against the coalition and Afghan forces. We are working hand in hand with the Government of the Kunar Province to continue these efforts and take a new step towards stability as we approach the summer months.

    The base here in Asad Abad has now started up a weekly flea market where the local vendors can come and sell goods. The Marines can find many high quality crafts made by the local workers at low, low prices. We try to allow the Marines the opportunity to purchase small souvenirs of their deployment when we can. Of course, our mission comes first and there is not exactly an ATM on every corner. But, hopefully, the Marines will be able to bring back some small trinkets as reminders of their heroic efforts here in Afghanistan


    Posted by Deb at 06:13 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    April 28, 2005

    Welcome home, 1/3 Marines

    After months in Iraq, the Marines of 1/3 are coming home to Hawaii, via Okinawa. Here's a tribute from 1stSgt John Armstead, H&S Company:

    As the Company First Sergeant, I want you to know how proud I am to have served with such fine Warriors. In my opinion they all are heroes for their actions in Fallujah, but the true HEROES are you all at home. We know you spent many sleepless nights wondering what was going on; you took on both duties as mother and father. You handled all the financial responsibilities for the home, and you had to endure all the unfortunate memorial services by yourselves. Your contribution is truly remarkable and inspiring. We could not have done what we did without you.

    We went to a country with a determined enemy, who was willing to sacrifice his life just to kill one Marine or Sailor. What they didn't realize was the determination, the dedication and the Esprit de Corps a Marine and Sailor possess. On D-Day the enemy found out quickly that the Lava Dogs were an elite fighting force ready to conquer terrorism. Your loved ones made history by enabling a country the right and the freedom to vote.

    For most in the company this was their first time in combat, and just like a new recruit standing on the yellow foot prints for the very first time at either MCRD San Diego or MCRD Parris Island, he looks young and unsure of what he is about to embark upon. For me, I noticed those same things with my Marines and Sailors like I did with my recruits. They looked so young and unsure of what they were about to conquer. Now, when we return I'm sure you will see a difference in how your Marine or Sailor carries himself. He has aged some, he has a certain confidence about himself, and he knows exactly what it takes to be a Warrior.

    Posted by Deb at 03:21 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

    April 21, 2005

    Getting it right

    A few weeks ago, we ran a story about the Salem-Keizer school district decision to alter a photo of an active-duty infantry Marine in order to remove the weapon he carried. This generated a national response and the principal and superintendent received hundreds of e-mails and phone calls. They backed down.

    In contrast, Aaron Cooke, a teacher at Lebanon Union High School, recently invited USMC recruiters into the school to speak to his Military History class. They brought their weapons into the classroom, escorted by Lebanon Police Officers, and provided an educational view of military life. Kudos to this teacher. This morning, LCpl Shane Conrad, recently returned from Iraq, also visited the school at the request of his cousin Barbie McGehee who is a LUHS junior. I'll post details about Shane's question & answer session with the students soon . . . but I couldn't resist posting this picture of my handsome son and beautiful niece tonight. If you're wondering why his right arm is wrapped in plastic . . . he got his first (and hopefully last) tattoo a few hours ago. Pictures soon.

    LCpl Shane Conrad with cousin Barbie McGehee just before Shane spoke to Barbie's 1st period Military History class at Lebanon Union High School.

    Posted by Deb at 08:59 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

    April 17, 2005

    Pope John Paul II remembered in Fallujah

    Photo by LCpl Evan M. Eagan

    Chaplain John Hannigan leads more than 40 Marines and Sailors in prayer at Camp Fallujah, Iraq, Friday during a memorial service held for Pope John Paul II.

    Here are a few snippets from LCpl Evan Eagan's description:

    Those who gathered shared in some of the pope's favorite prayers, songs and readings from the Holy Scripture. A slide show highlighting his life was scheduled, although due to an electrical problem, it was not played.

    Chaplain (Lt. Cmdr.) John Hannigan, II MEF Headquarters Group, II Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward) presided over the 45-minute service.

    "The pope wasn't into ornate, flowery types of things," said Hannigan. "We wanted to do something simple in keeping with the pope, who was a simple, down-to-earth man. He stood for what God wanted him to stand for: truth, justice and peace."

    For those attending the service it served as a way to pay their final respects to the pope who passed away April 2, at the age of 84.

    "I didn't get a chance to see the funeral on television so I came here today," said LCpl Joe McGinty, information operations, Regimental Combat Team 8, 2nd Marine Division. "He was the epitome of the perfect catholic and leader, and he helped a lot of people and countries," added the Augusta, Ga., native.

    For LCpl Lawrence Hurtado, heavy equipment operator, II MHG, the pope was an inspiration. "He did a lot of good things that people could strive for," said Hurtado, a Pueblo, Colo., native. "He set a lot of goals and he accomplished them."

    Posted by Deb at 01:16 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    April 16, 2005

    Two Causes: to never forget our brothers and to tend to their families

    LtCol Mark A. Smith, CO for 2/24 Marines reports that all Mad Ghosts are back on U.S. soil. I've heard from several very thankful parents this week and look forward to sharing their homecoming photos with you soon.

    Greetings and well wishes. It is my profound pleasure to report to you today from sunny Southern California! Additionally, I can report to you that 100% of the Mayhem Battalion is back from Iraq. Now, while I know this is not news to any of you, I did not want to send an update until I could report 100%, and 13 of our Marines were designated as pallet riders and did not arrive back until Monday. These were the Marines who accompanied our unit gear back on Air Force Cargo Planes.

    I know the magnificent and sharp families of 2/24 well enough to know that at this point you are saying, "well, if you had 100% of the Battalion back on Monday, it is now Wednesday, so what happen to the update on Tuesday?" The answer: yesterday was our Battalion Memorial Service and that dominated our attention, and rightfully so. I will come back to the Memorial in a few minutes, but right now, as is my practice, I would like to bring you up to speed on the current status of YOUR Mad Ghosts.

    The last 10 days or so in Iraq were spent aboard Camp Striker, on the grounds of Baghdad International Airport. YOUR Marines during this time were essentially guests of the US Army, and we could not have asked for better hosts. The Marines were afforded, for the first time in the deployment, a virtual vacation. They had access to some phenomenal chow 4 times a day, much rest, as much physical training as they desired, and the opportunity to see every movie that has been captured on film for the last 20 years. I could not have been happier for them for this time that was allotted to them, and as is usually the case with the Mad Ghosts, they pressed on, took full advantage of the situation and maintained their sturdy professionalism the entire time.

    Since returning to Camp Pendleton in successive waves, the Marines have been executing the tasks required to demobilize the Battalion. Things here have gone extremely well and both the work that had been done by the advance party as well as the outstanding support we have received from the 1st Marine Division have been nothing short of outstanding. So, I can report to you that your Battalion is healthy, happy and EAGER to return to you. Flight times have been published and I know final coordinating measures for the Homecoming celebrations are underway! The PWST staffs will be publishing all required information shortly, if they have not already done so. I know for each Homecoming there are some "concerns" over varying matters. Ladies, what I can honestly tell you is that every decision that is made is being made for the best benefit for the most people, and with "what is best for the Marine and his family" being the standard against which all decisions are based. That being said, I would ask for your understanding in the enormity of the tasks, logistically and administratively, that are part and parcel of events like homecomings, and to think about the million or so moving parts behind the scenes that must be executed to make these things happen. Throughout this entire process I would like to think that a nugget of wisdom or "line to live by" to put on my wall would be from some historically famous General or great Warrior, but in reality, the line of knowledge that has dominated my life lately actually comes from the famous comedian Bill Cosby: "I do not know the key to success. I just know the key to failure is to try to please everyone." No intention here of slighting anyone, but just hoping to assist in the management of expectations and hoping that all can understand how issues sometimes of simple mathematics, i.e., a finite amount of space of arena floor versus a large number of people who want to be on the floor. Such realities require decisions. These decisions will not please everyone, but are made with the best available information and with the aforementioned standard as the measurement device.

    Now, for yesterday. At 1430 hours we commenced a Memorial Service in tribute of our fallen heroes. I can truly only describe it as a beautiful and heart touching event. There was much sadness in the auditorium, but there was more love. Love of our brothers who gave all. Love of our brothers who have left behind family and friends. Family and friends who are now OUR family and friends, and will be for life. There was a dedication of two causes: one - to never forget our brothers, and two - to tend to their families. For the first is the Warrior bond, and the second is our charge. We can not and we must not forget that our brothers have left behind broken hearts and shattered dreams. We honor them by tending to those hearts and helping to build new dreams. The fallen and our wounded MUST become integral parts of our lives now. We must care for them, we must assist them, we must ensure they are part of this magnificent family from now until every last one of us has breathed our very last collective breath. Anything less is unacceptable, and anything less would be less than the Mayhem standard. This Battalion and its families have never failed in combat, and I know as sure as our fallen were with us yesterday from their post in Heaven, this magnificent Battalion and its families will not fail in a lifetime of peaceful and tender service to our wounded and the families of our fallen!

    Following the memorial service, we had some VIPs who made some presentations and received gifts from the Battalion. Chief among these was Peggy Kane, a 71 year old lady from Fountain Valley, CA, who has no connection with the War save one: SHE IS AN AMERICAN PATRIOT! She had been one of our biggest supporters and sent countless cards, care packages, letters and posters (very motivational ones such as autographed posters of the Arizona Cardinals Cheerleaders, a Mad Ghost favorite). She is representative of so many Americans who have shown support is more than verbal, it is action. It was a thrill to recognize her in front of the Battalion, and she, through her words and actions, demonstrated for the Marines the beginning of what they have not quite grasped yet: that their exploits are both known and deeply appreciated by many, many Americans who they know not. For that, I am eternally grateful to Peggy Kane, and all the citizens like her.

    Oh yeah, another huge thing Peggy did, she brought one of the greatest examples of athletic gentleman this country has ever known: Rod Carew, Hall of Fame baseball player for the Minnesota Twins and California Angels. Mr. Carew is the quintissential example of a gentleman, a very private man, and one who honored YOUR Marines by attending our memorial service and then personally autographing baseballs and taking pictures with our Purple Heart recipients. If all athletes were like Rod Carew, there would be no resistance to them being called heroes!

    Ladies, in closing, I should thank so many. The families and their support, the unknown Amercians who sent us so much, the Generals and Colonels and staffs who supported us and helped us win our fight, my XO, S-3 and entire staff who were tireless and relentless in their duties, my Company Commanders who led the fight against evil, the attachments from Trucks, Engineers, HET, CAG, EOD, Comm Company, K9s and their handlers, our Navy brothers who tended to our wounds and our spiritual needs, all who made an absolute all-star line-up. I could thank the Marines of 2/24 proper, the greatest Battalion. I could attempt to thank all these, but the reality is my inadequacy and my words would fall woefully short. All I can say to even try to express my gratitude is this: I have as my wife one of the most beautiful women on the planet, and two daughters that when I look at them I see two angels in training, and I am as excited as I can be to see them. But, with that said, and I know my wife and daughters will forgive me for this, these days passing right now are some of the saddest of my life. I know with certainty that never again will I be surrounded by such men accomplishing such feats. Never again will I experience both the realm and intensity of emotion that I have for the past year. Never again will I be so honored and humbled all at the same time. No, the only thing I know for sure is soon, and I suspect very soon, I will find myself beginning that Warrior's road to slowly fading away and longing and wondering in my mind's eye: "where has the Mayhem AO gone...and where, where are my Mad Ghosts?" For no man was ever as honored as I to have shared time and space with these unbelievable men, these unbelievable Mad Ghosts, these MARINES!

    Wishing you the most joyous of homecomings and long, healthy, prosperous and God Blessed lives.

    Posted by Deb at 06:50 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    April 14, 2005

    2/6 Golf Company tribute

    They're home, but their work in Iraq is worthy of praise. Here are some good words from Golf Company CO, Captain Wardman:

    At this time, I’d like say a couple of words about YOUR Marines. They have done an incredibly difficult job with poise and tact. I will tell you this; there were a lot of ‘nay-sayers’ out there that did not think that ‘an ordinary company of grunts’ could perform this mission. I will agree with that, because your Marines and this company are not ordinary. They established themselves as a force to be reckoned with as soon as we set foot in country. People around here quickly understood that we were not ‘ordinary grunts’ and that we meant business. Your Marines controlled everything here: access control, policy enforcement, physical security, and crisis management, which included casualty treatment. Your Marines were always the first out the door, the first on scene and the first to establish order and security in the midst of chaos. In short, when everyone else ran away, your Marines were running in.

    In an environment where the actions of a single Marine could affect international relations, your Marines performed flawlessly. The decision-making ability of every Marine, from PFC to Sgt, was tempered by good judgment and conviction. When Marines stood their ground on an issue, they were right every single time. For six months, whether it was dealing with an irate foreign ambassador or near misses with rockets and mortars, your Marines were flawless in their duties. Your Marines did those things everyday, without complaint and with complete diligence. They did things that impressed and astounded people. Not a day went by that I did not receive some sort of praise for the way a Marine stood his post, did not back down while being challenged by senior officers, and/or conducted themselves professionally even when their challenger did not.

    Every single day, people in other branches of the United States Military told Marines how much safer they slept at night just knowing that Marines were out on the line. Your Marines did this. Immediately, local residents were frantic to know what they had done wrong to deserve Marines in their sector. In an area known to be a "hot spot", your Marines established themselves as hard but fair and completely professional.

    We started to notice a trend in our area. It was always quiet when we went out on patrol. Other units weren’t always as lucky. I think that the populace knew the difference between Golf Company Marines and the Army units that also operated in that sector. There is no higher form of respect than that of your enemies. Your Marines earned their respect and held them in check. I am proud of them. All of them. They did a job that was not glamorous and, at times, flat out boring. They did this job with absolute professionalism and unwavering devotion to duty. I cannot say enough about them.

    On a more somber note, the Company sustained a loss during this deployment. Corporal Joe Ayala had a stroke while he was here. He had a previously undiagnosed blood vessel deformity in his brain. The blood vessels ruptured and he was medevaced from Baghdad back to Bethesda. Initial reports were not promising and many doctors did not expect him to make it, but Joe proved them all wrong. He is currently amazing the doctors with his will and drive to get better. Despite the doctor’s prognosis that he would never walk again, he can now walk with a walker and has recently started walking with a cane. Doctors said that he would probably never talk again, but Joe can speak slowly and is getting better everyday. Our hearts and prayers go out for him and we want him back because he is a fine Heavy Machine Gunner! All words of comfort can be directed to his father, Joe Sr., at: joe_r_ayala@raytheon.com His father, a retired Marine, would be extremely grateful for any prayers or words of encouragement!

    Welcome home and thanks for a job well done.

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

    April 11, 2005

    Small Craft Company honors LCpl Parrello

    Last January, a hero from 2nd MARDIV's Small Craft Company was laid to rest. LCpl Brian Parrello was killed in action on January 1st in the Al Anbar province. His brothers held a memorial service for him on the shores of Lake Habbaniyah. His funeral service at home was equally fitting to a hero's memory. An attending Marine sent his brothers in Iraq this description:

    To the Marines of Small Craft Co,

    Brian Parrello was laid to rest today at 10:30 EST in a very solemn and dignified ceremony in his home town.

    The funeral mass took place at his church. It's a small church in West Milford on elevated ground with a cemetery on the hill behind it. I for one find it comforting that he'll be in his home town, near his church, where his family can visit him. Several hundred people were in attendance and the church couldn’t hold that many people. Many stood out in the rain or waited for the mass to end in an adjoining building.

    The weather was to say the least, crappy. It was cold and wet and the ground was covered with snow and ice and mud on the hill where Brian's grave site was located. Only a Marine would appreciate the hump, uphill in the rain and the cold through snow and mud to bring Brian to his final resting place near the top of the hill. Most of the attendees walked more than a quarter mile in that nasty weather to make it to the graveside. They did so with no complaints.

    The Marines of the I & I staff and the Marine Reserve Unit 2/25 at Picatinny Arsenal did a fantastic job from beginning to end. Major Paulus and his staff had everything covered down to the finest detail. Brian's family was escorted every step of the way that I could see. The graveside ceremony went off without a hitch and was conducted with precision and grace. The Parrellos were surrounded by friends and family as they laid Brian to rest.

    The entire hill was silent as the Marine pallbearers carried his flag draped coffin to the grave. It was no easy task as the ground was slippery and uneven, but they covered the ground silently and without incident. They made it look easy. They placed his coffin over the grave and stood at attention on either side as the graveside ceremony took place.

    The rifle detail stood in the distance, looking sharp and executed the 21 gun salute. While almost everyone else had umbrellas or stood under the tent, they stood out in the pouring rain leaning into the icy hill. Anyone who’s stood at parade rest for a prolonged period of time can appreciate how hard it can be, especially when you’re leaning into the hill and in the cold and rain. Their feet had to be numb after just a few minutes of standing there. But the Marines of the rifle detail stood there, unflinching. Some things never leave you and as a Grunt I swear I could hear the M-16 rusting as they stood there in that unrelenting rain. At the designated time they executed the salute with perfect precision.

    The pallbearers folded the flag as a bugler played taps.

    The graveside ceremony concluded with 16 pipers and drummers from two bands playing the Marines Hymn in a slow solemn tempo.

    I never knew Brian, and I regret that. I find similarities in that we're both from north Jersey, we both joined the Corps right out of high school and we both fought for our Corps and Country. As I said to Brian's brother, while we're all saddened by his loss, we can all take solace in the fact that he died a hero, doing something he loved and believed in, and in the company of great men. Marines, and other servicemen and women have been making the supreme sacrifice since the birth of our nation so that we may live free. Brian has reminded us once again that freedom isn't free and that Brave men and women are the reason we are the greatest nation in the world. He's our inspiration and we're all better people because of him.

    I offer all of you my sincere condolences for your loss, and my sincere admiration for carrying the torch.

    Semper Fi Marines!

    And his name lives on in Iraq. The name of the base camp is now known as FOB Parrello.

    Posted by Deb at 09:15 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

    April 06, 2005

    Another request from the front - no more books!

    Last month, we printed a request from Sgt Morgan asking for donations of books for his Marines. You came through and your generosity is overwhelming - Sgt Morgan is now spending his limited free time building bookshelves and cataloging donations. They have enough and do not need more - if you still have books or DVDs to send, consider Books for Soldiers. It's highly recommended. Here's Sgt Morgan's e-mail thanking you for your support:

    I first want to thank every one of you, your friends, family, and fellow supports that have supported us here at the Prison. The library I have set up with your support is doing very well, and we have so many books, my free time goes to sorting them, building book shelves, and writing you wonderful people. Which is one of the reasons why I am emailing you all today. I try to pride myself in answering everyone of your emails and letters, but there is one that has slipped through the cracks. Before I had the chance to write down his Address someone cut it out of the box and burned it for security reasons. I am trying to reach a man by the name of Jim Bromely. He was a SSgt for 10 years in the 60's and 70's and was one of my very first donors. His letter is the only one sitting on my rack gaining dust because I don't have an address for him. If any of you know him I would appreciate his address so I can mail his letter.

    Furthermore, I am so pleased to be a Marine, especially in these hard times. I have seen nothing but the Honor, Courage, and Commitment we so tightly hold on to from these Marines stationed here. I just want you all to know that the Marine Corps. is making me very proud and I hope they are doing the same for all of you. There isn't another organization in the world I would rather be apart of. I have been in the Marine Corps. for almost 6 years and this being my first combat tour has made me understand what all the hype is about the Marine Corps. When in reality it's not at all hype, it is the real thing. We play hard, work hard, train like we fight, and kick A$$ when were told. Semper Fi and God bless you all for your personal dedication to the corps.

    Sgt Morgan
    USMC

    THE MARINES HAVE LANDED AND THE SITUATION IS WELL AT HAND!

    Update: Jim Bromley and Sgt. Morgan are in touch.

    Posted by Deb at 11:41 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    3/2 Marines ride the thunder

    LtCol Mundy, 3/2 Commanding Officer sends an update from the Syrian border:

    I hope this update finds all of you well, and having enjoyed a happy Easter. April is here, which means we're ticking off the months until we return home! Your Marines and Sailors are continuing to do a fantastic job in the Al Qaim region, including Al Asad and Camp Gannon .

    The battalion task force has been conducting many operations over the past month. Kilo and Weapons companies succeeded in capturing several important enemy leaders in the area, and have continued to discover mines and IEDs that threaten our movement. The threat of enemy mortar fire continues, but we are getting quicker at firing back at him to destroy his weapons and crews. The work of H&S Company in supporting the task force in all camps, and running convoys back and forth to Camp Gannon is crucial to our success. The Security Platoon from H&S has also been as busy as any platoon in the battalion.

    In Camp Gannon , India company has also pushed out into the city near their base and conducted operations that captured and killed enemy personnel that have been harassing them. The security and protection of Camp Gannon is very good, so even though they are fired at by the enemy, most times that is nothing but an inconvenience to the men.

    Lima Company is doing a fantastic job around Al Asad, conducting security missions very similar to the rest of the battalion out west. They have done patrols, vehicle check points, and are certainly doing a critical mission. The Battalion Commander and Sergeant Major they are currently attached to have talked to me and SgtMaj Mennig, and they rave over the professionalism of your Marines and Sailors. Lt. Wingate's 3d Platoon, Lima , is continuing a fabulous job as the Regimental Combat Team-2 Quick Reaction Force, involved in quickly springing onto insurgents when they are detected in the area. They were mentioned specifically in an article on www.usmc.mil , the Marine Corps Website. Lima Marines and Sailors are getting their mail, but again I encourage you to use this LAAD Battalion (the unit they are currently attached to) address to make sure it goes straight to them.

    Rank and Name
    Lima Company 2d LAAD Det-A
    Unit 78087
    FPO AE 09502-8087

    As you can tell, everyone in the Task Force is involved in sharing the dangers here, and everyone is a vital member of the team. I can't accomplish my mission without the hard work of all your husbands, sons, fathers, and brothers. I am exceptionally proud of the job they are doing here, and you should be as well.

    We have continued to get large deliveries of mail, and we appreciate it very much. I think we've had great success across the board with keeping in touch via the Segovia internet and phones, but it is always special to receive the hand written cards and letters, and the boxes with treats from home are a great morale booster and make many days here seem like Christmas again! I would also like to thank the numerous churches and support groups who have “adopted? men in 3/2 for letters and care packages, and others who just send packages in support of the entire Task Force. The encouragement we get from knowing we have the support of our families, but also so many of the American people, is tremendous.

    There continue to be stories written and posted about your men in 3/2. Most appear on the Marine Corps website, at www.usmc.mil . But, about ten days ago, we had a CNN crew that did several live interviews from Camp Gannon , and two stories about 3/2 Marines and Sailors in western Iraq . We're also getting a Chicago Tribune reporter coming to visit us soon, so keep watching the news to see information about your warriors in action.

    Unfortunately, since the last time I wrote to you, we've also suffered a few casualties, and while everyone here understands the nature of combat means we will have them, that knowledge doesn't make it any easier when we lose comrades or see them hurt. We held a great memorial service on 22 March in honor of our first Marine KIA, LCpl Kevin Smith, Security Platoon, H&S Company. He is a hero, and we'll miss him.

    Please keep us in your thoughts and prayers.


    Posted by Deb at 12:48 AM | Comments (9)

    April 05, 2005

    More from 3/3 . . . "missions still to accomplish and a war to win"

    Kilo Company Marines sends holiday greetings, thanks to correspondents Capt Mallicoat and 1stSgt Santiago:

    Greetings once again and Happy Easter from Afghanistan. The weather has begun to ease with the onset of spring and we have begun getting outside the base more often despite the odd blizzard every few days. Our operational tempo has increased as the snow has retreated, but the run-off has produced another obstacle -- flooding in lower areas. Nonetheless, aerial assets have become more reliable and we have taken advantage of this increased support. In the last months, we have conducted or taken part in at least 1 battalion-level, 2 company-level and 9 platoon-level operations resulting in multiple caches discovered, medical care given to over 700 Afghans, and humanitarian assistance supplies given out to dozens of villages in 3 provinces throughout Afghanistan.

    First, congratulations are in order for Corporal William and Mrs. Dove Mitchell in the birth of their daughter Lauren born on 19 March 25, 2005. Lauren measured a petite 19 inches and weighed 7 lbs, 2 oz. Both mother and daughter are doing well and are looking forward to Daddy's return. Congratulations to both happy parents on this newest little blessing.

    The last two months have seen quite a few promotions to the next rank here in-country. Those Marines promoted in February were: Corporals David R. Myers, Michael J. Pruitt, Troy M. Arndt, and Jason O. Valencia; and Lance Corporal Michael A. Madalena. Those Marines promoted in March were: First Lieutenant Steven J. Boada; Corporal Ajuna A. Montano; and Lance Corporals Arden M. Wright, Chase A. Snyder, Stephen C. Richardson, Joshua P. Ott, Colin C. Nelson, Daniel L. Moss, Christopher L. Monsegue, James Meeks, Daniel J. Mariakis, Edward L. Holloway, Kristopher L. Giuranna, Emmanuel Diaz and Orlando Carrasquillo Jr. Congratulations to these Marines in their achievements in attaining the next rank.

    Kilo Company also had 3 Marines reenlist in March. These Marines are: Sergeant Robert R. Campbell, Corporal Jon K. Burns and Corporal Michael J. Rowland. Sergeant Campbell will be changing assignment to Marine Forces Pacific on Camp Smith, Hawaii; both Corporals Burns and Rowland will be transferring to Weapons and Field Training Battalion aboard MCRD Parris Island. Congratulations, good luck and Godspeed to these Marines as they embark on another chapter of their careers.

    Kilo also recently recognized a few Marines for receiving the Good Conduct Medal, which is awarded to Marines who serve 3 years without any incidents resulting in company non-judicial punishment or higher. These Marines are: Staff Sergeants Jose M. Giron (third award) and Robert A. Meyer (fourth award); Sergeant Thomas J. Hood (second award); and Lance Corporals Robert D Berve and Joseph E. Brinker (first awards).

    Our family and friends have been very good to us throughout the deployment by sending much-needed supplies, from baby-wipes to bibles, from candy and pens for the Afghan children to cards and letters for the Marines themselves. In fact, our supporters have been so good to us that we no longer need any boxes to be sent to us for 2 reasons: 1) we will never use all the supplies we have and so intend to turn a lot over to our relieving unit, and 2) we will soon reach a point where we will be back home before boxes arrive.

    These last months serving with your Marines and Sailors have made me proud to be called their commander and I feel a sadness in knowing I will soon give up that position. This deployment has changed a lot of us including myself, but we hold our freedoms more precious for it. For some of us, this will mark a time of transition as we become reacquainted with each other and, in some cases, prepare to move on to our next assignments. That light at the end of the tunnel is getting steadily brighter, but it is still a little ways away. Until we stand in that light, we in Kilo know that we have missions still to accomplish and a war to win. Until next time, take care and God bless each of you.


    Posted by Deb at 10:41 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

    April 04, 2005

    3/3 update from Afghanistan

    Captain Sweeney updates us on his India Company Marines:

    As India Company nears the halfway mark in our deployment in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, we have taken the time to take a step back and evaluate our impact on the country of Afghanistan thus far. Since arriving here in November, there have been some noticeable changes in the security of the Konar province. Your Marines and Sailors have been conducting a wide range of operations--capturing known terrorists and anti-government forces, recovering many weapons caches, clearing the roads so international workers can continue to build the infrastructure, and providing support to the local populace in the form of medicine, clothes, tools, and food. I need not say that they have been extremely busy and have all been doing an outstanding job. Our months ahead will prove to be just as productive as we continue to press the attack into the spring and summer months. February has served as our coldest month thus far. Of course, a little snow is not going to stop your Marines from continuing their mission; however, it is quite a change from the warm tropical breezes of Hawaii. The weather has had an impact on some operations, but we continue to adapt to our environment. Not allowing rain to pace us, India Company has moved throughout our area of operations and recovered several caches. Along with the caches, 2d and 1st platoon detained several individuals with ties to terrorist groups. Those individuals will no longer hinder the progress this country has made. We saw snow for the first time in Asadabad on the 17th of February. With conditions worsening in the later days of the month, 3d platoon set off for an eight-day field operation that followed a very wet four-day operation the week prior.

    Also this month, the company conducted a relief-in-place between our 2d and 1st platoons at Camp Blessing. 2d platoon now calls Camp Eggers, Asadabad home after a very successful three months at Camp Blessing. 2d platoon's outstanding performance in the Nangalam area has caused the most dramatic changes in the province. In an area well known for supporting anti-government activity, the coalition has now gained the support of the local populace. 1st platoon will continue right where 2d left off, and I'm sure they will do great things too. If you have a Marine or Sailor in 1st platoon, don't be surprised if the frequency of your loved ones calls lessen and their e-mails stop altogether. Camp Blessing has very limited commercial communication capabilities. For those of you with 2d platoon Marines, they should now have the opportunity to get behind a computer on a regular basis and catch up with all that is going on at home. Although there are a few more amenities in Asadabad, the Marines of 2d platoon are sure to miss the smaller, quieter, and more remote spoils of Nangalam.

    I must mention again the support we have been receiving from home is incredible! Just yesterday the company received over 200 bags of mail. A lot of it has been stuck in Bagram for the past couple of weeks because of the weather. Please KEEP UP THE SUPPORT! As the company commander, I cannot stress enough the impact on the Marines’ morale when they receive a package or letter from a loved one. Many of the packages have come from support groups and India company alumni from all over the country. To those of you that have taken the time out of your busy days, I cannot thank you enough. As the Marines say, you truly are Great Americans! I only hope the Marines of India Company continue to make you proud as we continue the mission here in Afghanistan.

    From the Soldiers, Sailors and Marines of India Company 3/3, Aloha.


    Posted by Deb at 04:31 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    March 28, 2005

    Operation Iraqi Freedom II: Oregon Marines

    Proud Marine cousin Amy Fascholtz-Ames sent this update from Major Anthony Randall who serves with HMLA 367. She reports that cousin Tony graduated from Bonanza High School (Bonanza, OR) and OIT (Klamath Falls). Grandparents Louis and Maren Randall own and operate the Circle 5 Ranch in Langell Valley. Several other family members still reside in the Bonanza and Klamath areas. The family is very proud of their Marine!

    Right to Left: Major Tony Randall, Bonanza; LCpl Ryan Smith, Canby, Sandpoint ID; LCpl Aaron Reed, Corvallis; 1stLt J. D. Callicoatt, Grants Pass; Cpl Jose Elias, McMinnville, Beaverton, Eugene; Cpl Anita Strahl, Portland, Medford; Cpl Ryan Pecknold, Durham Cpl Karl Kriegh, Eugene; Sgt Mike Moore, Capt Robert Cox, Bend; Capt Cris Faught, Grants Pass
    Not pictured: SSgt Thomas Greggory, Portland; Sgt Anthony Gay, Gresham; Cpl Michael McCain, Bend; Cpl Matthew Sowder, Gresham; LCpl Joshua Gray, Medford; 1stLt Todd Shuck, Grants Pass, Eugene
    As the Aircraft Maintenance Officer for Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron (HMLA) 367, it has been my intention to write on this subject for almost six months now. As our time in Iraq draws to a close I guess its time to put the idea on paper. In our squadron of approximately 345 Marines and Sailors, 260 of which work directly for me, there are 17 proud serving Oregonians. Its not my intent with this to be self-serving in any way. I will always have my own personal memories of the time that we spent in Iraq and that is all I will ever want. This is written is to bring to your attention, the quality of young men and women that the state of Oregon has produced and what some of them have accomplished.

    Our deployment to Iraq started back in August when we departed from our home base, at Camp Pendleton, California. For the past seven months we have been living and conducting flight operations out of Al Taqaddum Airfield in central Iraq. Al Taqaddum is located in the lower, western corner of the Sunni Triangle between Ar Ramadi and Al Fallujah.

    During our time here, both the Battle of Fallujah and the Iraqi national elections were conducted. To say the least, our time here has not been without excitement. For the majority of us that time has been hours and hours of pure boredom broken up by moments of sheer terror. Some of us are lucky enough to be pilots or aircrew on the AH-1Ws and UH-1Ns that the squadron flies. We have seen the Euphrates River Valley and the green fields that run along it. We have flown to places like An Najaf and Baghdad. We were the lucky ones.

    The majority will spend the whole of their seven plus months within the confines of Al Taqaddum Airfield. This entails a six-minute walk each way from the living area to the hangar where they turn wrenches, bend metal, chase trons, repair weapons or load ordnance on helicopters. Most have seen the map on the wall showing the Euphrates River one mile to the north and Habbaniyah Lake one mile to the south and west, but as neither of these are visible, they have no concept of what lies beyond the main camp.

    For most of the Marines in this squadron, Iraq is a pile of sand and dirt with a runway down the middle and some hangars and tents. Its sort of like being at camp for seven months. There is a very small exchange that is adequate for most living items, a chow hall, whose quality rises and falls like a sine wave, a tent with a bunch of donated books (thank you American public) and a gym with a strange assortment of both commercial and homemade weights and machines. Overall, pretty good for a deployed Marine base.

    The biggest difference between this and a bad summer camp is that here, the tents have standing water inside every time it rains, the dust storms restrict visibility to less than 100 yards, and rockets and mortars occasionally fall on the base. During the build-up to the Fallujah battle the number of rocket and mortar rounds that impacted the base rose until we were getting hit every day. I believe that on the worst day there were 21 impacts and they all came within the space of about two minutes. Nothing worse than being in a chow hall with 100 other people who are trying to crawl under the table; unless its walking out in the open on the parking ramp with no cover anywhere.

    Once the Fallujah battle was over that number fell significantly until we only received incoming about once every two weeks. We experienced a small buildup again leading up to the elections, but since then, our little piece of the theatre seems to have calmed down a bit. I hope it continues to stabilize.

    Do I think that the Marines in this unit have had it hard? No. They all signed up for this and I think will all be better for it. As a pilot, I have been in direct support of those Marines whose pictures you have seen on the magazine covers and I know very well that they have had a much harder time then we ever did. Its like life; theres always someone who has it easier and always someone who has it harder.

    The Marines in this unit spent their time keeping aircraft in the air in order to support the Marines in the thick of the battle on the ground. At the peak of the Fallujah battle most of them were working 14-hour days at a minimum. They had total focus and dedication for the task at hand. This squadron has flown over 1000 hours per month for the past six months. To put that in perspective, most HMLA squadrons fly in the neighborhood of 650 hours per month during peacetime operations.

    These young Americans, and a couple who arent, have persevered in an austere environment month after month and of the complaints I have received, none have been about the job that we must do here. Some are of the opinion that the military is a place for those who had some sort of problem trying to go to college or get a real job, but I would tell you that is the thought process of a generation that was raised with a military of the draft.

    An all-volunteer force is a wondrous thing. The people who are here want to be here. They are a cross section of the rest of you. They just happen to wear their countrys uniform to work every day. They are no different than the young men and women with whom I attended college, with the exception of the rules and regulations that they are required to live under. They have come to a war zone and performed admirably.

    I am proud to be a Marine and I am proud to serve with each and every individual in this unit. But I am extremely proud to be one of the Marines that claim Oregon as their home. Some of these Marines, maybe all of them, will return to Oregon one day and continue to contribute as they have done here. If those contributions are equal to the level of performance I have witnessed here, Oregons future is bright indeed. Be proud of these young people and if you happen to have the good fortune to run into one of them on the street in the next couple of months, please welcome them home.


    Posted by Deb at 09:29 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

    March 25, 2005

    MGen Natonski wins the hearts and minds of a few 1/7 Marines

    As 1/7 Marines waited through the last few hours in Kuwait prior to boarding planes for home, a few Bravo Company Marines were picked to load the plane. General Natonski walked over to them and asked them how they were so lucky to be selected as the work party. He then told them, "You'll ride 1st class on the way home. My officers can sit in coach".

    Here is one of them - LCpl Aaron Henehen on the right. My son, LCpl Shane Conrad is on the left. He wasn't part of the work party but spent some time visiting the Marines riding up front. I think they would have cheerfully ridden in the baggage compartment just to get back to the U.S.

    Here is CG Natonski's latest message:

    During the next few weeks, elements of the Division will be redeploying back to home station. The past year has challenged us in many ways and in each endeavor the Marines, Soldiers, Sailors, and Airmen of the Division have risen to the occasion. I cannot express my pride in the accomplishments of every member of the 1st Marine Division. In cities such as Al Qaim, Husaybah, Hit, Hadithah, Ramadi, Nukhayb, Ramadi, Habbiniyah, Fallujah, Karmah, Mahmudiyah, and Iskandariyah, we have faced a determined enemy and on every occasion the courage and spirit of the men and women of the Blue Diamond have carried the day. The capture of Fallujah and the Iraqi elections that followed in January can be viewed as turning points for the future of Iraq. In recent months we have seen hope and freedom begin to take root and we are optimistic that democracy will take hold. This is due in no small part to the hard work and perseverance of the members of the Division.

    On many occasions I have used the phrase One team, one fight to describe our efforts in Iraq. The Blue Diamond was at times composed of Marines from all four Marine Divisions, the Armys Strike Brigade of the 2d Infantry Division, the Blackjack Brigade of the 1st Cavalry Division, 2-2 Infantry of the 1st Infantry Division, Army Psychological Operations and Civil Affairs units, Special Operations Forces, and the 24th and 31st MEUs. We would not have enjoyed the success we had without the support and efforts of these distinguished units.

    Our success has come with a price. We will forever remember our fallen comrades who have given their lives in our mission. Our thoughts and prayers go to their loved ones.

    I want to extend my thanks to the many volunteers who maintained the Divisions Family Readiness network. Your sacrifice and hard work throughout the deployment was critical to ensuring that our Marines and Sailors were able to focus on the tasks at hand. Your mission was vital and you executed it with professionalism and compassion.

    We all eagerly anticipate our reunion. Every member of the Division will be afforded the opportunity to take leave in order to rest and adjust to life at home again. I ask your assistance in ensuring that everyone returns safely back to their home station after their leave period. We deserve to celebrate our accomplishments and our return home to families and friends, but we need to do it in a safe and smart manner.

    May God bless the 1st Marine Division and its families and friends.

    Posted by Deb at 08:31 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    March 19, 2005

    One country closer!

    1/7 is closer to home - they've left Kuwait. Hooray! My son called an hour ago and said he would see me tonight. I am a very happy mom right now.

    Posted by Deb at 07:28 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    Finishing Strong

    The Green Side is updated - RCT 1 is coming home.

    In one of his last second-tour letters home, LtCol Bellon describes the difference brought through the efforts of his Marines.

    As I have said before, Fallujah is now thought of as a "safe zone" by the citizens. The atmosphere of fear and intimidation is now lifted. People move about during the day without fear. The curfew remains at night and frankly, that is just fine with the people. Iraqis outside the city talk of how safe they feel when they come to Fallujah. Talk about a truly incredible turnaround.

    Last night we went up to the roof of the building where we stay and looked out over the city. Many lights are back on and more come on each night. It was quiet as could be. Perhaps the best description I can offer is "peaceful." There is no doubt that the muj will continue bring episodes of violence and terror to Fallujah. It is inevitable but they cannot undo the hope that is growing inside the people that things are getting better.

    While the men have been working inside the city, other Marines have been relentlessly chasing and attriting the enemy outside the city. We have had more success capturing high value targets in the last week than perhaps during any other during my 22 months here. Once again, the Marines continue to exceed expectation. Instead of coasting in and playing it safe, they are pouring on the coal and finishing strong. The result has been a number of indicators of insurgent leadership seeking to open a dialogue with the Iraqi Government. Again, not to put too rosy a picture on it but it really is encouraging to the guys who have been here grinding away. The bad news for the enemy is that fresh legs are here and it is about to get worse for them.

    Read the rest.

    Posted by Deb at 03:14 AM | Comments (11) | TrackBack

    March 14, 2005

    "We made a difference"

    My son will soon be home. Seven months ago, he left for his second deployment to Iraq and has spent those seven months in one of the most remote locations, at the end of the mail and supply lines. His phone call yesterday (3:00 a.m., sitting on the back porch in my pajamas to get the best cell phone reception) brought some very good news. He said that after having been isolated for seven months, seeing what has happened to mainstream Iraq is incredibly encouraging. Democracy is taking hold. There is positive optimism. And, that makes it worth the sacrifice. At 21, Shane has spent almost 6% of his life in Iraq, helping to bring freedom and democracy to people who wish to live in peace. And he can see that he and the thousands of other Marines, soldiers, sailors, airmen, and others who have given their sweat, tears, blood - and in some cases their lives - have made a difference. They're coming home, but they are leaving a legacy of freedom behind.

    Posted by Deb at 11:34 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    March 10, 2005

    12 heartbreaks, 12 cuts to the soul

    Another hero falls - and we all mourn with his family. I have the address if anyone would like to send condolences. Here is LtCol Mark A. Smith's tribute to Lance Corporal Andrew W. Nowacki:

    It is with profound grief that I report to you the death of Lance Corporal Andrew W. Nowacki, Truck Platoon, H&S Company, 2nd Bn, 24th Marines, United States Marine Corps. LCpl Nowacki was killed when an improvised explosive device detonated on his motorized patrol while he was operating as a machine gunner in the turret of an up-armored security high mobility multi-purpose wheeled vehicle. LCpl Nowacki was immediately secured by his platoon mates and air-medevaced to the Combat Surgical Hospital in Baghdad where he was pronounced dead.

    LCpl Nowacki was a crushing loss for this Battalion. A crushing loss for the fact that he had joined the ranks of our fallen heroes, and for the impact he had on his fellow Marines. As I attended the memorial service, I was overwhelmed by the words spoken by his closest friends and fellow Marines during the teammate remembrances portion of the ceremony. All of them spoke of his unbelievable spirit. They spoke of his ability to never be down, no matter what the circumstances. They spoke of his always smiling, always laughing and always being the one that everyone else leaned on when the going was rough or uncomfortable. They simply made it clear that he was the rock upon which so many drew their strength. Such men are the leaders around which other men find steadiness and courage in dark times.

    Now, one of the unfortunate parts of being the Battalion Commander of over 1,100 of the World's finest warriors, is that you just do not get the chance to know all of them in personal ways. You know all of them by face and name, and usually some glowing characteristic about them, but to understand them all at a deep level is just not an option. LCpl Nowacki was just such a Marine for me. However, on the day he achieved authorized entrance at his new post in Heaven, something happened that I shall never forget, so long as air fills my lungs, a song fills my heart, and thoughts of thanks fill my head for having been so lucky and honored to have shared the earth with such MEN as LCpl Nowacki.

    To understand what it was that happened on his last day of earthly existence, I have to paint a bit of background, so bear with me. Now, Marines by nature are a cocky bunch; that is one of the things that makes them run to the sound of gunfire when everyone else is running away from it. And, part of being cocky is being "macho" in your bearing. In my numerous travels about the AO, I am always asking the Marines why they never wave at each other. I mean, when we pass one of our many checkpoints, where the Marines on duty are doing deadly work, living hard and suffering great discomfort, I fail to understand why their fellow Marines fail to give them a quick wave or a thumbs up. But, you should see them. As the sentry at a checkpoint waves a patrol of vehicles through, the ritual of "I am badder than you are" begins. Each Marine stares the other one down through any number of brand names of ballistic goggles and covered in pounds of armor and high tech killing gear. As they come abreast of each other, the tolerant scorns are exchanged and no words spoken. It is as if each one is trying to communicate to the other via telepathy the same message: "you wussy, you don't have it half as bad as I do." Now, when they actually are around each other and not on some combat duty, well, then it is high fives and hugs and banter and jokes! But, on duty, the ritual seems rigid, inflexible and a violation of some unwritten code if it is broken.

    So, back to the day when a piece of my heart was broken and part of my soul was crushed forever, Feb 26. The day that will always be remembered and honored in the Smith household as the day LCpl Nowacki departed gate 3 at FOB St. Michael, and later that day met St. Michael face to glorious face. On this day, we were scheduled to take the leadership of the unit that will replace us on a tour of the Mayhem AO. Now, we have our procedures down to a science, but as can be expected, when joining units unfamiliar to our ways, some confusion reigns. The confusion on this day led to some delays in our departure and a shifting of the "timeline." Any time the "timeline" shifts, Mayhem 6 becomes a not so nice person to be around. So, our vehicles were staged, our Warriors armored, locked and loaded and waiting for departure. This of course meant, the ritual of the "game face" was underway. I was standing next to my vehicle monitoring the radios and waiting for the final elements to fall in place when a second motorized patrol began to make movement passed our staged vehicles. By the combination of armored HMMWVs and 7 Ton trucks, I knew instantly it was "Heavy Roller" (the tireless Marines of Truck Platoon and Marines from H&S who move about the AO daily in support of hundreds of tasks supporting the Battalion, and who does so with their own skilled and self-provided security that has engaged many a Muj with the skill and precision of any of my infantry elements). And, at the head of the column was a Marine standing behind his machine gun in the turret, with the largest smile on his face you had ever seen, and waving. Waving at every one of our vehicles that he passed at 5 mph as they followed their ground guide to the dismount point. I watched this and knew this was a Marine with a special heart! He was dispensing with the ritual. He had no need for pretention, no need for "badness." He was a Marine "comfortable in his own skin," as it were, and among those he loved. Something struck me as I was watching this Marine wave: he was living every day as if it might be his last, and he did not want to leave any unfinished business. You see, when we think of waving, we assume it is to say hello. But in this case, he was also waving goodbye, for the Marine who struck me on this day was Lance Corporal Andrew W. Nowacki. And hours later he would be dead...but no doubt, born again to new life.

    In eulogizing their beloved brother, LCpl Nowacki's platoon mates reiterated the theme that he was ALWAYS the one that every one else clung to when they were at their worst, because he was always at his best. He was always joking, always laughing, always smiling. He was described as "the most unprofessional professional Marine" they had ever known. Far from being oxymoronic, to all Marines, that is the description of the Warrior upon whom so many have leaned on since the Corps was established. All Marines and Veteran Marines reading this will instantly know what I am talking about and will remember a Marine from their platoon who had the same quality and spirit of life as LCpl Nowacki.

    As this week has gone on, as all weeks do, and I thought about how I would speak about LCpl Nowacki's death, I received news both here and from home of several children's births. That is always a cause for celebration. But what I really was thinking was: I wonder; I wonder how many of these parents who have just received the greatest gift God has to offer will teach them? Will they teach them of the deeds of men like LCpl Nowacki? Will they teach them that life is precious, and freedom it's greatest gift and deepest desire of mankind? Will they teach them to be prepared to either repel the evil doer or support those who do? I wonder? For I know one thing, 12 times every year, from here on out to my final rest, my wife, my daughters and I will stop on the 12 dates that some of the finest men the planet has ever known breathed their last, and we will say "thank you."

    We will say thank you by name. We will say thank you by name and we will light a candle. We will say thank you by name, we will light a candle and we will pray for our fallen heroes and their familes. Then, we will reflect on our lives. Our grand and wonderful lives lived free, and we will remember. We will remember that no matter how distasteful, no matter how much the mind does not want to believe it and no matter how much the body rejects it, freedom has a very great cost! And that that cost is borne by young Warriors from generation to generation. We will remember, and we will say thank you again!

    So, in closing, my heart has 12 breaks and my soul 12 cuts, and time will not heal them. God willing I will return home and I WILL be the same man I was for my wife and my daughters, as I believe we all will be. No, scratch that, we will be better men for the lessons we learned from those 12 breaks and those 12 cuts. And, on the day of my death, should the Lord be willing and I make it home, I know exactly what I am going to do when I see Lance Corporal Andrew W. Nowacki. When I see him...I am going to wave! I am going to wave at him and then I am going to salute him.

    LCpl Nowacki: you waved that final fateful day, and I truly believe you were saying both hello and goodbye. So tonight, and in this letter, on behalf of all the Mad Ghosts, upon whom you had such an impact and have left such a hole: goodbye sweet Warrior! May the light of Jesus surround you, may the touch of his hand heal you and may you never know another tear, for ours flow freely for loss of you!

    May God Bless and be with the Nowacki Family in this time. The Mad Ghosts are here for you.

    May God Bless and Keep the Magnificent Families of 2/24.

    Mark

    "For those who, in a dark and terrifying hour, saw what needed to be done- and did it." - Lynne Jonell, Bravemole

    Tim Carroll sent along this note describing how LCpl Nowacki was honored upon his final arrival home:

    LCPL Nowacki served his country two fold, United States Marine and a Police Officer for Grand River, Ohio a suburb of Cleveland.

    Accordingly, when he arrived home last Friday night (3/4) some 50 - 150 Police and Military vehicles escorted him to the funeral home where at the funeral home waiting in chilling night air were about 100 people who came to pay their respects.

    On Monday, as is custom in Police Funerals, Officers from all over the area, the US and Canada came to honor him.

    God Speed Officer Nowacki and Thank you.


    Posted by Deb at 07:05 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    March 08, 2005

    One step closer to home

    My son called at 3:00 this morning - he's one step closer to coming home. No more helicopter rides, so another worry crossed off my list. After 7 months on the Syrian border, living in very spartan conditions, the variety of options available on the interim base is overwhelming. There is fast food after months of MREs. A PX where he's gone shopping for the first time in months. There are women who are not wearing burkas. And, when he comes home, we'll continue the culture shock in Las Vegas. I am driving down to 29 Palms next week and will be there when the bus comes in. Right now, I'm overwhelmed with emotion - after seven months of anxiety, homecoming is almost here.

    Posted by Deb at 12:18 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    March 07, 2005

    Request from the front - send books!

    UPDATE - April 6, 2005 - Sgt. Morgan thanks you all for your generosity and requests no more books. He's running out of room and spending his free time building bookshelves and cataloging donations. If you still have books to send, consider Books for Soldiers. It's a wonderful organization and the troops are very appreciative. Here's the original post:
    Here's a worthy request from Sgt Morgan who is looking out for the morale of his Marines. If you have a few extra books or magazines lying around, put them in an envelope, send them to Iraq, and make a few Marines happy. And while you're at it, put in a few extra care package items - they'll appreciate it.

    I am trying to set up a Marine Corps library for the Marines on this base. This place is out in the middle of nowhere and is at the end of the supply chain in Iraq. If the Marines here need anything they have to take a 30 to 45 min convoy for books and stuff. The less traveling we have to do the better. If there is any donations you like to send in way of books or any reading material, the Marines and on this base would greatly appreciate it.
    If there are any other companies that you know of that might want to donate reading materials please share this address.

    Sgt Morgan follows up with this suggestion:

    I feel it's important to have books on motivation and Marine Corps history for young Marines to read. They get inspired knowing that in the past there have been men and women that have done the same things they are doing in the present.

    My son also suggests any kind of magazine . . . but Marines will especially enjoy those dealing with bodybuilding, truck and car, and other men's magazines (no porn - it's against regs - but they do enjoy Maxim). I also send hometown newspapers, news magazines, business and investment news. There's not much opportunity to spend their paychecks while deployed, so entrepreneurial magazines go over well.

    Paperbacks - check out the new books table at Costco and load 'em up. They'll feel the love from home . . . especially if the box contains a few treats (non-melting candy, snacks, and a card or letter from you).

    Posted by Deb at 11:32 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

    March 05, 2005

    Five Outstanding Marines

    2nd LAR Apache Company is filled with outstanding Marines. Here are four of them from 3rd Platoon, plus an essential addition to any combat unit - a Navy corpsman, as related by 1stLt Joshua M. Phares.

    Lance Corporal Phillips LCpl Phillips is from VA where his family currently resides presently. LCpl Phillips is the platoon mechanic and in my eyes just short of a god. Some how he has managed to keep all of our vehicles running and combat effective in the harshest environment. LCpl Phillips is another one of my Marines that can speak two languages, English being his primary language and country being his second primary language as he would say. Justin is well liked and highly respected in the platoon and has earned the respect of his NCOs and leaders above him. If it were not for LCpl Phillips the very nice house we live in, relative to Iraqi standards, would still be with out lights. He has only been shocked a handful of times and it is said to be healthy for him. I am not sure who said it but it makes him feel better each time he gets shocked, I think. Justin is expecting a baby girl at the end of March and is very excited to see her when he gets home. LCpl Phillips' goals after the Marine Corps are to live at home and have his wife take care of him, a plan still in the works; he has not run it by his wife yet. LCpl Phillips is a one in a million Marine and has been a pleasure to work with the entire time. Justin wanted to say hello to his family back home in Virginia and he will be home in time for striper fishing.

    Private First Class Griffith
    PFC Griffith is the squad automatic machine gunner for 1 and is an asset to have on the vehicle. PFC Griffith is from IL where his family currently resides. He is also expecting a baby girl shortly after he returns home from deployment and is very excited about seeing his new daughter. PFC Griffith is a very versatile Marine. He has the ability to kick in the door and keep his cool under pressure one minute and turn around and tell you a joke the next minute. He is the source of many people laughing much of the time and can always be counted on to keep peoples spirits up. PFC Griffith has performed outstanding the entire tour and is excited to get home and see the Cubbys play ball in the spring. PFC Griffith has been an outstanding diplomat from the US always handing out candy to the kids while on patrols only making fun of them half of the time. PFC Griffith has undeniably gained the confidence of every Marine in the platoon to watch their 6 and the respect of all his leaders, even though he is usually making fun of the Platoon Commander. PFC Griffith is still undecided about his future in the Marine Corps. There is no question in any of his peers or leaders minds though that he would be an asset for this organization to hold on to. PFC Griffith has outstanding leadership skills and will succeed in what ever he does in the future. His Platoon Commander is confident in that, again even though Griffith makes fun of him.

    Lance Corporal McGing
    LCpl McGing hails from OH and is the gunner for 2. This is a vital role being that 2 is the point vehicle for most of the company operations and all of the platoon operations putting him up front. He is the first person to see much of what lies ahead and the first person to be able to detect any threats that the convoy may encounter. LCpl McGing can give early warning to his platoon and follow on forces about possible enemy threats and obstacles. LCpl McGing has handled this responsibility well and continues to impress his vehicle commander, Sgt Shaw. The noteworthy accomplishment of LCpl McGing is that he is originally a 0311, infantryman. He had the pleasure of being put in a drivers billet the last time he came over here in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom 1 and remained a crewman because of his success. He has performed outstanding throughout his transition from infantryman to driver and from driver to gunner. LCpl McGing has proven himself in all aspects of being a Marine, both in Garrison and in Combat, time and time again and has earned the trust and respect of both his peers and leaders appointed over him. He would like to say hello to his family back home and to his son. He does not like to brag about it but he has also successfully read the trilogy of the Lord of the Rings for the 8th time since arriving in country, a feat for not just any man.

    Lance Corporal Fairchild
    LCpl Fairchild is from RI and is the squad automatic machine gunner for the crew of 2. LCpl Fairchild takes his job very seriously and is always professional and trustworthy. As a scout LCpl Fairchild provides security to the flanks and rear of the vehicle. He also conducts dismounted patrols and vehicle and house searches. LCpl Fairchild is a very valuable part of the platoons operations as the translator. LCpl Fairchild went to a month long school prior to deployment in country that focused on the Arabic language and prepared him to intermingle with the local population. A very important part of security and stabilization operations. Among the previously named qualities of LCpl Fairchild, he is also the duty expert on just about everything from ancient history to politics. Much of the time he leaves his crew with confused looks on their face, kind of like when you try teaching your dog a new trick. He has a few good conspiracy theories, brought on by the horrific punk music he listens to, or at least that is what his vehicle commander and platoon commander think. LCpl Fairchild is thinking about making the Marine Corps his career choice and would definitely do well. LCpl Fairchild has proven himself under fire and in many stressful situations. Matt would like to say hello to his beloved girlfriend, his also loved Mom and Dad, and the rest of his family back in Rhode Island. He would also like to say hello to the other 10 people that live in Rhode Island as well. He will see you soon.

    Corporal Basso
    Cpl Basso is from NJ where a majority of his family still resides in the immediate area. Cpl Basso is the lead scout for Bravo section (one half of the platoon) and is directly responsible for 8 scouts. Cpl Basso rides on the Platoon Sergeants vehicle. This is the 2nd time he has deployed with SSgt Keisler so things run pretty smoothly, meaning he knows when to argue and when to shut up. SSgt Keisler, Cpl Bassos vehicle commander has known him since he was a PFC in the Battalion and has been with him as he progressed up the ranks. SSgt Keisler continues to push him past his limits encouraging him to excel and preparing him for the next rank of Sergeant. Cpl Basso has all the confidence from his leaders that he will have success at this rank as well. SSgt Keisler has many stories on Cpl Basso, most of them he keeps to himself as leverage. He could not think of any that he could write in this with out damaging any chances of Cpl Basso having a political career in the future. Cpl Basso is a very resourceful Marine who can be tasked with acquiring almost anything that the platoon needs. Cpl Basso is looked up to by all the junior Marines for his wisdom and experience as well as respected by his peers and seniors for his ability to accomplish the mission. His future plans are still open, wavering between reenlisting or in his words sitting back after he gets out and chilling for awhile and then getting a job at a casino. SSgt Keisler personally hopes he decides to reenlist and continue to give his knowledge to Marines of the future. He would like to say hello to all his friends and family back home and to keep on sending him packages.

    HN Cannon
    HM Cannon is from CO and is the platoons corpsmen. He is referred to simply as DOC among other things that the very loving Marines in the platoon call him. It is not easy being one of the few Navy personnel in the company and the only Navy personnel in the platoon but there is no doubt of his ability and is trusted by every Marine in his platoon that he will take care of them if injured. Doc Cannon rides on the Platoon Sergeants vehicle and as everyone knows is not an easy task due to having to go on many re-supply runs. Coincidently, Doc finds someone that needs medical attention many of those times. Doc Cannon is very energetic, motivated, and always ready to pull the trigger if need be. Doc has progressed a long way since first joining the platoon. In his Platoons eyes, Doc is the best junior corpsman in the entire company and at times of conflict rises to the occasion, a trust that has come through treating the injured under fire on several different occasions. His ability to treat patients in a timely manner gives them more of a chance for a healthy recovery and he has not let anyone down so far. Doc seems to have a sixth sense, appearing many times with his medical bag ready to go without even being briefed. Doc plays a big part in winning the hearts of the local population giving children candy and treating everything from eye infections to broken bones. Doc was promoted from HA to HN while being over here and is currently studying for his Fleet Marine Force pin, a very good accomplishment for corpsmen who work directly with the Marine Corps. Doc says that he misses hanging out with friends from home and he is looking forward to seeing friends and family upon his arrival back in the states and it will not be much longer. Doc Cannons future goals are to go back to college and finish school when he gets out.


    Posted by Deb at 09:42 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

    March 04, 2005

    Mad Ghost Families: THEY GAVE, AND THEY GIVE!

    In which LtCol Smith pays tribute to his wife (grab a tissue - you'll need it) and the amazing families of the 2/24 Marines:

    I trust this update reaches you while you are in OUTSTANDING spirits, full of motivation and singing the Marine's Hymn as you go about your daily duties! If not, let's work on that, for all three are now standard requirements for the families that comprise the Mad Ghost Mayhem Battalion.

    This week I have decided to forego any details of the adventures of the Mad Ghosts. I can assure you that this week MANY ENORMOUS enemy weapons caches were uncovered and safely detonated, MANY of our most high value targets have been watching their Lieutenants and Operations Officers find themselves in the custody of the Mad Ghosts, and the Iraqi citizens of our zone ever increase their cooperation with us in rooting out the evil insurgents, terrorists and criminals that have repressed them and brutalized them for decades. Yes, we march ever closer to total victory and a safer world for all through the establishment of democracy and freedom in a zone of the world that has not known it, and blamed us!

    No, this week I am going to discuss the exploits of another very special group of Mad Ghosts; the Mad Ghost families of 2/24. For in the last 6 months, I have come to witness, through selfless acts, through phenomenal patriotism, through unbelievable support and through unbridled dignity the most Amazing collection of human beings one could ever hope to be associated with: the Mad Ghost families of 2/24. I have seen more beauty, more love, more compassion, more support, more inter-connectedness and more of Heaven than any poor gun toter from Indiana should ever be allowed to see while in earthly existence! Now, it would be virtually impossible for me to detail for you ALL of the amazing things I have been witness to of the Mad Ghost Families of 2/24, and even if I had the time and space, my words and descriptions of the accounts would be insufficient to do justice to those acts, so if you will bear with me and allow me to beg your indulgence, I will focus on a few. Those few are representative of so many, of the collective you might say, and without a doubt the Mad Ghost families of 2/24 proved the social philosophy theory of THE WHOLE IS GREATER THAN THE SUM OF THE PARTS. For together you have cried, together you have laughed, together you have loved, together you have missed and been longed for, and together you have helped and supported the families of my fallen heroes! For all these, but in particular for the caring of our wounded families who have buried their beloved and bade them God's grace, well, for that you have one unrefined LtCol in the USMCR at your every behest, your every beck and call.

    I have always tried to deflect attention away from me in these updates, for it is the Commander who reaps both the credit and blame of a unit. But, in 2/24, ALL credit for the unbelievable success of your Mad Ghosts, rests with the Mad Ghosts themselves, their amazing Company Commanders and my tireless Staff. Me, I have been but the luckiest SOB on the planet just to observe it all in action. However, I am going to have to take a little bit of the spotlight myself tonight, sort of. See, for as lacking as I am, one thing I executed perfectly, one judgement that I cannot be questioned on is the choice of a spouse. My wife Sheila, has a strength and beauty that exceeds her physical beauty, which is something in itself to behold. Now, this lady who accepted my hand in marriage, after my active duty time in the USMC, has struggled with me through the times that have left lesser marriages in the dirt. All the way, she taught me and mentored me that the marriage is first and foremost about the committment, and exemplified that in her many days of stress over my chosen occupations. Her answer was always one of support. She has seen more than her fair share of separations, and through them all, she stands at the end of it with a smile on her face, an embrace in her arms and heart, and a home and family both in far better shape then when I left them. She has taught me so much, and doesn't even know it. For that, I am to blame. But this time, and in front of all the Mad Ghost families of 2/24, I am going to thank her properly and give her her due. You see, all she has done for me could fill a Dr. Phil book on loving, but nothing more than what she did for me a little over a month ago. Unbeknownst to me, my wife had suffered a herniated disc in her back. The pain so excrutiating, she could rarely sit. She was forced to either stand or lie. Her answer to this dilema was to continue to tend to our daughters, our house and all the duties that you all know too well that accompany managing a family solo.

    And, when the pain was almost too much, and at our Doctor's begging, she had surgery. Surgery that would lay her out for a couple of weeks, with many more weeks of extremely limited duty. She executed all the planning required to ensure our girls had rides to their Catholic school, that homework would still be done, that they could get to gymnastics, that there would be lunches for them and meals at home and every other stinking detail of raising kids that makes planning combat operations appear as child's play. She does all this so she can have the surgery and know her duties as a mother have been accounted for. Then she has the surgery. And she begins her recuperation. All of this I am made aware of AFTER THE IRAQI ELECTIONS.

    Now, for my personality, or lack thereof depending on your perspective, I wanted to rage with anger, but when you hear "I just did not want you to worry, because you had such important things going on," well, the selflessness of the act overwhelms you and there is but one emotion: humility. Humility and bewilderment as to what it is that you have ever done to deserve such a woman. That bewilderment will last a lifetime. So, to my wife, and let me say for all the 2/24 Marines who have who have wives like mine, I RESPECT YOUR STRENGTH, I ADMIRE YOUR COURAGE, I THANK YOU FOR YOUR SUPPORT, AND I LOVE YOU!

    Oh, and one other thing my wife did, was to bear me two angels. Two angels straight from Heaven. How else do you explain an 8 year old and a 6 year old who donated hundreds of toys to Toys for Tots, and who got the only Christmas present they wanted: a framed picture of LCpl Daniel Wyatt, (killed in action in Iraq with 2/24) and a letter from Mr. Wyatt. That is what adorned their tree last Christmas; but I believe as a result, Daniel protected them and the Lord adorned their hearts. So, to Nichole and Brittani, and all the Mad Ghost children just like them, let me say on behalf of all Mad Ghost daddies: I AM PROUD OF YOU, YOU ARE PATRIOTS AND I LOVE YOU!

    Next: Joannie Watson, my niece. 21 years old and full of life as a 21 year old should be. Currently in Rome. What does she do with her time? Party? No. Shop for fine Italian clothes? No. Seek the best Italian restaurants? No. She climbs the concrete stairs that in the Catholic tradition are believed to have been the steps Christ climbed to be condemned by Pilate. She climbs those stairs to pray for me and the Mad Ghosts. She climbs stairs and prays for us, at 21. Oh, by the way, she climbs them on her knees! Unbelievable. Unbelievable, and again, humbling. To Joannie and the amazing and faithful Watson family, from all the Mad Ghosts, Thank You and May God Bless You.

    Sharon Semrow, Key Volunteer Coordinator for Fox Company. Sharon Semrow, or call sign: the Semrow, mother of 6! Gives so freely of her self in service of others as a Key Volunteer, that the VFW submits her for an award, and she wins! National Key Volunteer of the Year. Sharon is representative of all of our Key Volunteers and their selflessness in the face of adversity. Who in their right mind could expect a mother of 6 to be a key volunteer coordinator? Nobody! Nobody that is except the spirit that drives the soul of Sharon Semrow and those like her. Unbelievable. Unbelievable and humbling. To Sharon, and all the volunteers that are the Key Volunteer Network, Thank You and May God Bless You.

    Regina Simon, wife of Chad Simon. Chad is a SSgt with Golf Company who was critically wounded in an IED that took the lives of three of our magnificent Marines in October. Regina, who maintains a bedside vigil with her husband in a VA hospital in Minnesota, and who has children who are still being raised. She takes the time to send me an email offering her prayers for me and the Marines and families of 2/24. Unbelievable. Unbelievable and humbling. And, although my heart wants to break for her so bad, it does not. It does not because she is an absolute pillar of strength and hope. So strong indeed, she keeps YOUR heart from breaking. There is no such thing as doing too much for Chad and Regina, as she is a light for all the world of faith, hope and love. To Regina, the prayers of an entire battalion of Marines are with you, Chad and your family, and I believe a legion of Angels surrounds you and admires you for what you are and for what you have shown us all. To Regina, Chad and all our wounded and families of our wounded, May God be with You.

    Cpl Prenning's mother and father. Cpl Prenning KIA of 2/24. They send me emails congratulating us on our successes, wishing us well and praying for us. The selflessness stymies the mind. They would have every right to close out the world, and especially the Marine Corps; but in their selflessness, in their LOVE, they reach out and they bring peace to us with their words, and their strength. Unbelievable. Unbelievable and humbling. That the Lord be always by your side, that is our wish for you.

    Cpl Hammond's parents. Cpl Hammond KIA of 2/24. They send their son's platoon commander the story of going to Camp Pendleton and of meeting with President Bush. They talk of how the President knew much about their son, to include calling him "Nate." The talk of the President crying with them, and of his genuine pain for their loss. They talk of the pride of receiving a personal Presidential Bronze coin, and of the burden of the President. What about their burden? No mention of it. Just talk of their pride in their heroic son, and of well wishes for his mates that are 2/24. Unbelievable. Unbelievable and humbling.

    The Warns family. Family of Robert "Bobby" Warns KIA of 2/24. The family who produced a video so moving, so incredible, so deeply touching that to this day I have been unable to complete a viewing of it in its entirety due to my need to control my sobbing. Now, please, no attempt at anything but sincerity here, but the Bobby Warns video should receive an academy award for its power, its majesty, its tribute to Bobby. I have NEVER seen anything as painful, yet as beautiful as that video. If you think about it, kind of the absolute analogy of this War. Right and beautiful in its cause, unbelievably painful in its violence and loss. The Warns, all of them, routinely email me with prayers and well wishes. Unbelievable. Unbelievable and humbling.

    Now, these are but some of the amazing events the last 7 months of my life's history have touched me with. Many is the day I have asked myself what is wrong with me? I used to be basically emotionless, and now can cry at the drop of a hat. I mean, I should have season tickets to the Oprah show. But, as we close our time on our deployment, it hit me. It is that I have been touched by the hand of God over the last 7 months, touched daily and touched deeply. And as is always the case with God, he has used the people in our lives to do it. He has done it with the Mad Ghosts of 2/24 and the Mad Ghost families of 2/24. He has done it through all of you! Why do I say it is God? Well, pretty simple, because if you look at the snapshots I have described above, they all have one unmistakeable characteristic in common. SELFLESSNESS! The absence of self. They are a continuum of acts for which those acting received nothing. THEY GAVE. THEY GAVE, AND THEY GIVE! The absolute antithesis of what our "modern" culture tells us we should be. And the amazing thing, when the self is gone, the end result is not the reaching of personal goals, but the touching of interpersonal souls! Now, no matter what or who your god is, that has to be the ultimate goal, else this is all for not. And, I for one, will not believe that.

    So in closing I have attached two items. One are the poems that Sheena wrote for the funeral of her brother, and our hero LCpl Wichlacz. Now, get your tissues ready for it is painful reading. But more than painful, it is beautiful. It is the tribute of love and honor between and brother and a sister, that CANNOT and WILL NOT be broken by death. And I dare say, Sheena could write these words for she let go of self. She gave all for her brother, and you will be, like I was, touched and forever a better person for her selflessness expressed in her words. God Bless and Keep You Sheena, you are amazing.

    Then, after you have gathered yourself and feeling the sting of death, open the second attachment. For it will be living proof that in losing of self, peace and healing DO follow the suffering. For the picture is the fiancee of PFC Vroman, KIA 2/24. The picture needs no words. God Bless PFC Vroman's fiancee, whose name I will not use, for right now, and in her selflessnes, I believe she would prefer to be called: PFC Vroman's fiancee.

    After you view those, and reflect upon this update, you will know why I live every stinking day of this deployment in utter disbelief that I could be granted such a glimpse of heaven. If I never achieve it for real, it will be for my own failures, but if I ever do get there, it will be much like my life is now and will be full of people like the amazing Mad Ghosts and Mad Ghost families of 2/24.

    Yeah, as I ponder our last couple of weeks fighting the Muj and bringing freedom to Iraq, I find the words of that famous philospher Rod Stewart most appropriately describe my life this last 6 months: "some guys have all the luck."

    May God Bless and Keep the Magnificent Families of 2/24.

    LtCol Mark A. Smith, MAYHEM 6
    CO, Task Force 2/24
    "Mayhem from the Heartland"
    or as the terrorists call us
    "The Mad Ghosts"
    Mahmudiyah, IZ
    2nd Bn, 24th Marines, H&S Co, Bn Cmdr
    Unit 43495

    Here's the dedication to LCpl Wichlacz:

    A DEDICATION TO TRAVIS ... MY BIG BROTHER ... MY MARINE!

    The Strength Of My Soldier

    You Are The Strongest ... Of Those I've Met And Known.
    You've Progressed So Much, And I'm Proud - Of The Way You' Grown.
    You've Succeeded - In All You've Done, And It's Clear To Me Now ... That You Are The Chosen One.

    My Angel - My Strength, And The Tears In My Eyes.
    I Know Deep Down In My Heart ... You've Never Left My Side.
    Through The Smiles I Smile, And The Tears I Cry - I Known That God Is Not One To Lie And Though This May Seem - Like A Goodbye - I Want You To Know ... That It's Really Hello.

    As Your Little Sister ... I Refuse To Let Go. And As The Tears - Drip Down My Face, I Realize You've Been Taken - To A Better Place. Your Presence Is Felt, Though You Are Not Here. Behind The Beat Of My Heart ... You'll Always Be Near. R.I.P. Big Brother ... My Marine!

    I Know You're In Heaven ... Watching Down Today,
    And I Know ... That Is What You Would Want - So, I Wouldn't Have It Any Other Way ...
    I've Watched You Struggle, I've Watched You Fight
    And Even Surpass ... All The Obstacles That God Has Set In Your Path.
    But, Through The Hard Times ... I Never Left Your Side.
    I Was There When You Smiled, And Always When You Cried
    I Was Even There - When You Needed To Confide.
    And When People Said You Couldn't - Or Even That You Wouldn't ...
    I Gave You My Faith And Believed In You.
    I Gave You The Courage - To Carry Through.
    In The End ... You Made Me Proud All On Your Own.
    You Succeeded - And Reached The Top - All Alone.
    And Though I Will Miss - All The Conversations On The Phone ...
    I Will Reminisce Without Hesitation - About The Way You Have Grown,
    And The Love You Have Shown.
    See ... When In Heard The News
    When I Saw The Marines Staring Back At Me, Through The Screen Door ...
    It Felt It - A Pain, Like None Other I've Experienced Ever Before.
    I Couldn't Believe My Eyes. My Ears.
    It Was Like I Was Drowning - In My Very Own Stream Of Tears,
    And As The Hours Pass ... I Just Pray For You To Reappear,
    But You Don't - And I Know You Won't.
    So Now, After My Own 20 Years, I Realize I Need To Face
    One Of My Biggest Fears ... Your Absence.
    And At Times I May Cry - Or Question Why,
    But I Will Never Be Ashamed, Afraid - Or Even Too Shy To Admit ---
    That You Are My Life, My Joy - My Pride! And, I Will Love You Forever
    Until My Own Life Turns Dry, But I Need Your Help Now.
    And, Since This Is How We Are Destined To Be ...
    I Know You Are Up There - Watching Over Me.
    I Need Your Help, Your Strength - And Guidance ...
    To Not Give Up. Let Me Feel Your Touch, And Help Me To Survive
    Through The Presence ... Of Your Spirit, And Your Love.
    And Please ... Hear My Last Words - As You Watch From Above.
    I Would Give You The World, My Life. I Would Give You My Soul,
    If I Thought For A Second - That It Would Bring You Home.
    But Since It Won't ... I Gave You My Words
    And If Give You This Poem. Travis, My Big Brother - My Marine
    I Want You To Know ... That You Are - My Inspiration, My Motivation.
    And, As Appreciation I Give To You ... The Rest Of My Life.
    This Is ... My Dedication.


    Posted by Deb at 02:46 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

    March 02, 2005

    3/2 Marines arrive in Al Qaim

    LtCol. T. S. Mundy, CO for 3/2 Marines, sends this report from Al Qaim, Iraq:

    I am writing this update to you on the last day of February, as Task Force 3/2 is currently settling into our new home in Al Qaim, and areas around Al Asad, and learning about the environment from the battalion we are replacing. I just watched the last Marines and Sailors arrive out here in Al Qaim, and two days ago the men of India Company moved into their base at Camp Gannon. The battalion task force has now gotten completely moved to the areas in Iraq where well work for our tour here.

    I referred to Task Force 3/2 now, because the unit is much larger with the addition of some great Marines, Sailors, and Soldiers, that give us additional capabilities of armored firepower, engineering, truck and armored transportation, explosives detection and handling, and intelligence. This is a great team, and I additionally have responsibility for the numerous other units that are here in Al Qaim to support us, including helicopters, an advanced medical capabilities team, civilian contractors, combat service support Marines, and even military working dogs. We are well prepared and well supported to do our mission here in Iraq.

    We are working closely with Task Force 1/7, and their Marines and Sailors are bending over backwards to conduct a thorough turnover with our men, so that we learn all the lessons they have gained in their time in Iraq. Their battalion task force has done an exceptional job here, and I am very pleased to be getting the instruction we need from true professionals from such a fine unit. They are teaching your men how to recognize and avoid improvised explosive devices and mines, and how to fight against the enemy we face here. That doesnt guarantee we wont suffer some casualties, but it certainly better prepares us for the dangers.

    Lima Company, 3/2 has started doing their mission in several sites around Al Asad, and I am comfortable with the arrangements for their important work over our deployment here. They will be well taken care of by the battalion they are joining for their security mission at Al Asad, and I will also keep tabs on them and keep you updated on their progress.

    And with 3/2 on the ground, the First Team is ready to come home! It's been a long seven months and I can't wait to see our Marines come off that bus next month. Oohrah!!

    Posted by Deb at 03:39 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    Moonbeams

    1stLt Z Philpott from 2nd LAR Apache Company sent this anecdote:

    The other night on guard post one of our Marines calls the Marine in charge of the guards. Corporal, Ive got something bright in the air that is glowing out here.

    What is it? asks the Corporal.

    I dont know. It is glowing white to the Northeast. The vigilant Marines reports.

    Ill be right up.

    After careful inspection and deliberation, the Corporal has to inform the young Marine. Thatsthe moon, bud.

    Posted by Deb at 02:05 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    February 26, 2005

    2/10 Marines return home

    Photo and text by Pfc. Christopher J. Ohmen
    USN Corpsman Raymond W. Culver, serving with 2/10 Lima Company greets his wife Briana after returning from a seven-month deployment.
    2/10 Marines are home after a seven-month deployment to Iraq.

    The Marines did a great job, said 1st Lt. Steven C. Allshouse, Headquarters Battery commander.

    While deployed, they completed numerous security operations to include providing security for firm bases around Iraq, patrols inside and outside of the firm bases, and convoy security for third country nationals.

    According to Allshouse, some of the units were under constant small arms fire while doing their job. One incident with insurgents turned into a four-hour firefight, but the Marines handled the situation effectively.

    Some Marines from the battalion were put in charge of security for one of the voting polls during the democratic election. Others were used as security for workers at one of the polling sites.

    In addition to providing security, the battalion spent time helping the surrounding communities. The Marines participated in several construction projects restoring running water, plumbing and electricity to several villages near Camp Taqaddum. The Marines also distributed clothing and school supplies improving relations with the local populous.

    The local contractors and villagers were hired to improve the housing in the villages, said Gunnery Sgt. Patrick T. Patton, information and operation chief with the battalion.

    The battalions mission required extra personnel from Combat Service Support Battalion 1, 1st Force Service Support Group and several Army units. Many of these Marines joined the unit right before the battalion deployed. Within a few weeks of the deployment, the new Marines got to know the rest of the battalion and many new friendships were born, according to Allshouse.

    The Marines of the battalion now receive a well-deserved block of leave to spend with their families and loved ones. After helping and protecting communities in a foreign country for seven months, these Marines now get to relax with the ones they protected at home.

    Posted by Deb at 01:17 AM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

    February 25, 2005

    Midweek update from the Mayhem Marines

    Here's another update from LtCol Mark Smith - if I weren't already a fan, his comments about the Oregon National Guard would have tipped that balance.

    A mid-week "update" of sorts. As we continue to press the attack against our evil and cowardly enemy, and since chopping from the 2 BCT to the 5 BCT, we continue to receive enormous support and forces in the Mayhem AO. Some of those forces are from a National Guard Battalion, a company of which is from Oregon and depicted in the below article, who was chopped to the Mayhem Battalion a couple of weeks ago. Now, these Warriors have been OUTSTANDING. I say that for two reasons:
    1. I have seen much press bashing the National Guard. I can tell you this. Since chopping to the US Army Command, we have had significant contact with National Guard Units, particularly support units. They have gone out of their way to support the Mad Ghosts. They have always crashed through the walls of bureaucracy and provided maintenance and logistics support with a sense of urgency, based out of respect for the fight the Mad Ghosts are in. As Warriors, A and C 2-162, of which A or "Angel" Company is depicted below, have been dedicated, professional, and tactically proficient Warriors. THEY HAVE BEEN AN ABSOLUTE WELCOME ADDITION TO THE MAYHEM BATTALION, AND FOR ME, I HAVE NOTHING BUT RESPECT AND ADMIRATION FOR THE NATIONAL GUARD AND THEIR SERVICE TO THEIR NATION, THEIR PATRIOTISM, AND THEIR DEDICATION TO THE NEVER ENDING CAUSE OF FREEDOM.

    2. Second reason, they have fought side by side with YOUR Mad Ghosts. And, anyone that does that, well, HE is my brother...for life! May God Bless and Keep the Magnificent Families of 2/24, now inclusive of the families of A "Angel" and C "Cajun" Companies of the 2-162. Oregon just became part of the "Mayhem from the Heartland"...all the way from the Left Coast!

      LtCol Mark A. Smith, MAYHEM 6
      CO, Task Force 2/24

    Posted by Deb at 10:07 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    Oregon National Guard working with 2/24 Marines

    Photo by Major Arnold V. Strong
    Capt. Eric Riley calls for covering fire.


    Major Arnold V. Strong, Public Affairs Officer for the Oregon National Guard, has been a lot of help to the Oregon Marine Corps Moms with past projects. Here's a story he recently released about the Oregon National Guard in Iraq, currently attached to the Mad Ghosts:

    Six Roadside bombs. Three days. No casualties. An enemy on the run is a good enemy. A sure sign that the insurgency is on the run and the coalition is continuing its progress. Alpha Company, 2nd Battalion, 162nd Infantry, of the Oregon National Guard is currently attached to the 2nd Battalion, 24th Marines, a Marine Corps Reserve unit that can relate to the citizen-soldiers of Oregon in more ways than as foot soldiers.

    Since the day these soldiers have arrived in the sector, they have been in contact with a hidden enemy. In the past three days, six of the company's vehicles have been struck by Improvised Explosive Devices. In a testament to the strength of the equipment they are fielded with and the training they have borne by experience, none of the soldiers have been injured in the attacks. All but one of the vehicles, after a brief term in the maintenance shop, has been returned to the line.

    Led by Capt. Eric Riley, 35, of Roseburg, Ore., and Sgt. Maj. Randall Mefford, 42, of Medford, Ore., Alpha Company is a unique element of the Volunteer battalion. True volunteers, the great majority of this unit are not native to the battalion but volunteered as augmentees from the 1st Battalion, 186th Infantry out of Southern Oregon and 1st Battalion, 162nd Infantry out of the Portland area. Many of these soldiers have already served on Active Duty since September 11th, 2001, either as peacekeepers in the Sinai Peninsula, with the Multinational Force and Observers mission of 2002 or as ground infantry in Operations Iraqi Freedom I in 2003. When the chance to again serve in combat alongside their fellow Oregon Guardsmen came, hundreds of Oregon citizen soldiers volunteered to join the fight. This company is a shining example of that Volunteer spirit.

    For most of the soldiers in this unit, the change in pace from Baghdad is refreshing and an opportunity to close this deployment on the high point of targeting the enemy and destroying the resistance of the insurgency in the last few weeks they serve as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom II.

    "At least it doesn't smell like burning garbage and raw sewage out here," said Lieutenant Michael "Corey" Jones, 27, of Grant's Pass, Ore., of the change from urban sprawl to rural farmland on the first day the unit served here in the Babel province, south of Baghdad. By the end of the third night here, his assessment was far more direct. "Forget the IEDs. It is just a sign of how desperate these guys are. I want to go house to house, tell these people that we are here to find the bad guys and I want to get these guys that are killing our trucks and trying to kill us," he said to a dark room full of battle hardened noncommissioned officers. "This is where it's at," he told his squad leaders. "This is the best place to be for all of us right now. It is the last chance we have to get the bad guys, tell these people that we mean business and that we are not going to tolerate their nonsense," he concluded.

    The company has been doing just that. In taking the fight to the enemy, they are moving, platoon by platoon, building by building, room by room, mounted in HMMWVs or dismounted on foot through thick marsh-filled farm lands, across this rural landscape; establishing their presence and informing the local farmers and village merchants of their purpose: to stop the insurgency that is exploiting the people of Iraq, to confiscate the means to destroy coalition forces and to capture or destroy the terrorists. It is a purpose that these soldiers take very seriously. Eight of their brothers in arms have made their final journey home since this battalion arrived in Iraq last year and with six roadside bombs detonated in the past three days, many of these war weary troops want to destroy the enemy with extreme prejudice, move themselves and their equipment North for the final withdrawal from Iraq and get home to their families, friends and communities in the next month.

    "It is clear that we have the enemy on the run," said Capt. Riley. "I just returned from the (Marine) battalion command and they want all of us to know that, as dangerous as it has been in the past days, this is a sign of the desperation of these insurgents that their only method of attack is with these IEDs," he said in describing a meeting with the staff and commander of the 2-24 Marines. "Beside all of that, you need to remind your men of the great work they are doing. This is the best way we could possibly close out this deployment, and your men are doing a fantastic job," he concluded.

    The little things seem to make this trip more tolerable, if not enjoyable. Last night, the platoon sergeant of 1st Platoon, Sgt. 1st First Class Shannon Compton, 38, of Roseburg, Ore., brought a special gift from the 2-24th Marine Battalion Commander. On a resupply mission to the battalion's headquarters, Sgt. Compton picked up crates of potatoes, green peppers and onions, boxes of frozen hot dogs, buns and cases of condiments for an old fashioned hot dog roast. In the courtyard of the bombed out former police station that has become home to these citizen-soldiers and Marine reservists, Sgt. Compton and his noncommissioned officers made a feast to write home about. "This is awesome," said Specialist Baldwin, 25, of Salem, Ore., "This is the first hot meal we've had in about a week. And it was good," he paused. "Awesome."


    Posted by Deb at 10:00 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    Keeping Iraq Safer

    A 2nd LAR Apache Weapons Marine on post. The sign reads: "Suicide Bomber Checkpoint. Please stand on the wooden pallet, open your coat and raise your hands. Do not approach the sentry until directed."

    Posted by Deb at 09:51 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    February 24, 2005

    1/7 Update - "We accomplished our mission"

    Here is the latest update from Lt.Col. Woodbridge - homecoming is so close!

    First off, let me apologize for not sending an update to this message for a while. As our deployment to Iraq comes to an end we have been any less busy, and most of the month of January was a blur of activity preparing for and conducting the Iraqi elections.

    I'm sure you have all seen what a success the elections here have been, and you should all be very proud of the work our nation and your marines and sailors did to make this a reality. These were the first free, democratic elections in Iraq in over 30 years, and this historic event marks the beginning of Iraq's future as a free country. The entire battalion taskforce performed flawlessly in supporting this event. We accomplished our mission and provided a secure environment for the citizens of Al Qa'im to exercise their right to choose to participate in the future of their country.

    Now, the question I know is on everyone's mind: when will we be home? Let me tell you, it feels great to be able to say: "the battalion will be home next month." We will, but until I have the exact days and times, I'm not going to get anyone's hopes up. As soon as we know who is flying home on specific flights, we will let you know.

    As close as our return is, everyone must keep in mind that the deployment is not over until we walk off the buses at 29 Palms. Between now and then we will continue to operate in this extremely hazardous place. Over the next few weeks we will very busy as we both engage the enemy and prepare to turn the area over to the battalion relieving us. Your support and prayers are even more vital now as we make a hard sprint into the finish line. Your Marines and sailors have the courage and endurance to push through to the end, so please be as strong as they are, and before you know it, we will be with you.

    God bless you and Semper Fidelis,
    LtCol Woodbridge

    Posted by Deb at 04:11 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

    February 22, 2005

    "Little by little, success comes"

    Col. Tucker, Commanding Officer for RCT-7, has been busy for the last few months - this update tells why:

    It has been 4 months since I have written. Much has passed in those months: a time of great victories, an election, the emergence of a competent, professional Iraqi Army and Police units who stand to their tasks, and a tipping point in this battle against terror and evil.

    I believe that my last letter was dated 18 October 2004. On 21 Octoberunder cover of one of those dirt-fog nights unique to Iraq; with drivers barely able to see the edges of their hoods---the RCT Command Element moved from Al Asad to Camp Baharia, a protected FOB about 5 kilometers east of Fallujah.

    TF 1/8 joined us two days later; BLT 1/3 a few days after that. We added 2d Recon Bn to the mix, assumed an area of operations south of Fallujah, and between 25 October and 6 November conducted a series of operations in the vicinity of Fallujah designed to force the enemy to show his hand.

    Meanwhile, back in Al Asad, the Command Element of 31 st MEU assumed command of operations in our old AO. TF 1/7 remained in place vic Al Qaim. TF 1/23 remained in place vic Hit-Haditha. And 3d LAR, for a time, remained in place in Korean Village near Ar Rutbah. As plans developed, the 3d LAR HQs, one LAR Company, and B Co 1/23 would eventually move east and join RCT-1.

    On 5 November, TF 2-2, a U.S. Army Mechanized Bn joined RCT-7. At 1900 on 8 November, the RCT crossed the line of departure north of Fallujah, By 2200 all three battalions were through the breach and fighting in the city. There followed 30 days of intense infantry combat fought in houses, tunnels, spider holes, and underground complexes against an enemy who routinely feigned surrender, feigned injury, used women and children as shields, booby trapped his dead and fought to the death from fortified and mutually supporting positions. The actions and courage of your Marines and Sailors were aptly captured in the media and I have neither the time nor adequate words to describe their actions here. History will record their deeds with an honor due their forefathers.

    We pulled out of Fallujah on 8 December, and assumed an area of operations around the city. BLT 1/3 remained in the city with RCT-1. TF 1/8 and 2d Recon Bn joined the RCT in the outlying area of operations. In January 2005 TF 3/8 replaced TF 1/8. And on Feb 5 th 2005 the RCT returned to Al Asad, leaving Fallujah and environs as the safest place in the Sunni Triangle. We relieved 31 st MEU on 8 Feb, and once again assumed control of our old area of operations. As I write both 3d LAR and B Co 1/23 have returned to us and the RCT team is whole again.

    Al Asad is crowded. We are beginning the RIP with RCT-2 and 2d MarDiv; their advance parties and lead elements are flowing into theater and into our AO. 29 Palms units will start flowing home soon, with CSSB-7 leading the way towards the end of this month, and then your husbands, fathers, uncles, and sons begin flowing in a steady stream of homecomings that will happily consume the month of March. Still work to be done here. But we are anxious to come home.

    Okjust one picture today. And there is a story to go with it.

    Election day. RCT-7 is assisting the Iraqi Security Forces and IECI at two polling sites located within 10 kilometers of the city of Fallujah. Much work and preparation has gone into this day---a strong effort to ensure that those Iraqis who chose to vote can vote in safety. Polls open at 0700. At 0915 I am at the easternmost polling site in my AO. And not a single voter has come to the polls. At 0930, a man, two women, and two children walk up to the security gate, into the polling station, and then depart. As they are leaving the man walks up to the Iraqi Army Colonel standing with me and tells us that there is a group of people gathered in the nearest city who want to come vote, but want to be reassured it is safe. He informs us he is going to go tell them it is safe. 20 minutes later, 1500 Iraqi men and women come over the hill and take their place in line. For the next 7 hours, the scene in this photograph remained unchanged as 5000 people from the surrounding community walked over the hill and into history. Over 7000 voted in the city of Fallujah itself. 12,000 in an area that 3 months before was the hells acre of terrorists and vicious criminals. It is now the safest area in the Sunni Triangle. And it will remain so.

    Twice in the course of this day the enemy fired mortars at the polling station. In both cases the mortars flew harmlessly overhead and impacted as duds in the field beyond. The women prayed, the men held their children close. But they all calmly held their places in line, and they cheered when we located and killed both mortarmen.

    Women cried as they walked out after voting. Both women and men walked up to and hugged the Marines as they walked out of our perimeter. TF 3/8 was holding that perimeter, and had been in Iraq for less then 2 weeks.

    But the Marines from my Detachment have been here for a year. Cocky, confident young men. Men of 19 and 20 and 21 who have fought their way through 4 major battles, traveled over 30,000 miles on some of the most dangerous roads in Iraq, 10 of whom have been wounded and returned; young men who have handed candy to children, painted schools, pulled children out of the line of fire, played soccer with their Iraqi peers, and helped farmers pull tractors out of the mud. And they watched. And waved. And returned the hugs. They stood there with an air of accomplishment and satisfaction that cannot be described in words. About 1300, as the line showed no sign of diminishing, one of the Corporals walked over to me and said Sir, we knew they would come. And we did. Those of us here knew they would come. You dont often get a chance to see a nation show its courage. On 30 Jan 2005, the people of Iraq reminded us of the virtue of self-determination. We continue to win. Little by little, success comes until it tips inexorably towards victory. And it has tipped. There is much to do still. But it will be said---of those who have fought this last year for the future of Iraq and the destruction of the terror that threatens our nation---it can and will be said that they ventured into hell, and did not return with empty hands.

    Share your courage. We will be home soon.


    Posted by Deb at 10:17 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

    February 21, 2005

    THIS WAS A VERY GOOD WEEK!!!

    More from the awesome warriors of 2/24:

    Greetings. I hope beyond hope that this letter finds you in high spirits, good health, and planning feverishly for that day when you will be reunited with your beloved Marine or Sailor, your Mad Ghost. It truly is rapidly approaching! Advance elements of the unit that will be replacing us are on deck and learning the Mayhem AO. And, I just completed a two hour orientation brief from my staff on redeployment planning. All of this is relayed to you so that you may know it is a horizon event, and you are rapidly approaching the spot where the sun meets the sea!

    Now, that said, the fight continues, and it continues in earnest. This was a good week. THIS WAS A VERY GOOD WEEK!!! We completed the third of three Bn Operations that were dubbed Red Mayhem I, II and III. These Operations combined the assets and forces of the Red Team, our HHQ, the 5th Brigade Combat Team, and your Magnificent Mayhem Mad Ghosts in company succession, I for Fox, II for Golf and III for Echo. As always, our magnificent Mobile Strike Teams provided lethality and maneuver, the Personal Security Detachment provided for mobile Command and Control and movement of Mayhem 6, the Motor T and Truck Platoons provided mobility and critical support, the Comm Section provided the communications assets for Command and Control, the HET Marines provided the interrogation set and skill, remaining elements of H&S provided stalwart FOB defense, our Navy brethren provided medical care and religious services and our Staff Section Marines surged from their standard 18-20 hour day duties to augment the combat forces and power of the Mayhem, and our magnificent military working dogs, Tino and Dingo, were forward in the fight, where they most like to be. Yes, THIS WAS A VERY GOOD WEEK!!!


    In each and every one of these operations, the insurgency learned, yet again, we go where we want, we go where they think we can't or WON'T, and we find them; we find their caches and we bring help, assistance and hope to those whom they have terrorized. During Red Mayhem III, some of the caches we found had been buried with all of the skill of a puppy first learning how to bury a bone. The Marines and Soldiers from the 1-7 CAV, as well as our Iraqi Army counterparts found them with relative ease and very early on in the operation. And, by the way, on this operation we assigned our Iraqi Army counterparts, for the first time, their own search sector. Marines from the Civil Action Platoon from Co E acted from overwatch only. And, if I might, the Iraqi Army performed magnificently! They found several caches of insurgent/terrorist weaponry, and they moved and acted like professional soldiers from start to finish. Yes, they are inching ever closer to the day that THEY WILL operate without US Forces, and will crush those who oppose law and order.

    There is no doubt the tables have turned against the insurgents in our zone! The atmospherics we get from the people are SIGNIFICANTLY different than when we first arrived. They talk of fighting back against the insurgents. They talk openly of their respect for us and their gratitude at our assistance. They are far less afraid to be seen talking and cooperating with us. They are growing. GROWING IN FREEDOM in what will be a long process, but one whose outcome is inevitable. There is a wind of change in this part of the world. And it blows strong and hot. And it blows with a discontent for evil, for repression, for tyranny, for brutality. It blows with it a desire for peace, for righteousness, for dignity, for tolerance and for FREEDOM. I tell you, you can taste it in the air.

    Now, our enemy will not cease. He continues his daily war of IEDs and cowardly tactics. The Mad Ghosts continue to hunt him relentlessly. For example, this week, the Marines of Mobile Strike Team 2 were executing one of the unique techniques that have been adopted by the ever evolving Mad Ghosts, but will remain ambiguous for security reasons, when they seized a boat on a canal. In the boat were IED making materials and the two Iraqis in the boat tested positive for explosives, and were immediately detained. One of the sharp Marines noticed wire, which they traced to a daisy-chained IED consisting of 11 explosive rounds! The IED was safely disposed of by the professional US Navy EOD team currently assigned to the Mayhem Battalion. This was but just one of the many HUGE successes accomplished this week by your Mad Ghosts.

    Let me tell you another one. The Marines of Co E, who have to have set a record for miles logged in foot patrols, and whose phsyical condition is currently second to no one, were on one of their daily and continuous patrols through Mahmudiyah. While on this patrol, they were approached by a local who told them of a shooting a couple of blocks away. The local explained that armed men pulled up in a couple of cars, sprayed another car with machine gun fire, kidnapped the male driver, left the female driver for dead, and then placed a bomb in the trunk. Now, immediately, the Marines of Co E knew this was a standard tactic of our enemy who knows no limit to his cowardice. They approached the scene cautiously and established a safe cordon around the vehicle. From the cordon, the squad's US Navy Corpsman, through long range observation, saw what he believed to be bubbles forming in the blood underneath the nose of the supposed dead female. "Doc" made the decision that she was still alive. With that information, the Doc and the Squad Leader moved forward, extricated the female, and were approximately 30 meters away when the car detonated in a huge fireball of death and destruction. This entire episode was captured by one of the Marines on video and is as dramatic as any Hollywood scene you have ever viewed. Now, we can debate the smartness of their actions all we want, but what I ultimately know is this: this Marine and Sailor COMPLETELY AND UTTERLY DISREGARDED THEIR OWN SAFETY TO SAVE THE LIFE OF AN INNOCENT IRAQI WHO HAD BEEN GUNNED DOWN IN COLD BLOOD, IN BROAD DAYLIGHT ON A BUSY STREET! Now unfortunately, the women later died at the Mahmudiyah Hospital. But know this, the Iraqi crowd that had gathered to witness this whole event, well, they cheered. No, check that, they celebrated in the Arab way of near hysteria for the heroic actions of the Doc and the Marine. They saw once again what AMERICANS are all about. And, I have no doubt, once again, they have learned. They have learned for future actions. They have learned evil and terror can be fought. They have learned that there is a heavy price, BUT GOOD ALWAYS TRIUMPHS OVER EVIL!!!!! (Now this video should be released soon, and if it does not make the major media outlets, well, then something is wrong! But if it does not, we will show it to you all upon our return.) It is heroism in action, and just another day at the office for the Mad Ghosts of 2/24.

    One more story and then I shall take my leave of you for another week so that you may turn to your important tasks and duties. This story revolves around a pin: it is called the Fleet Marine Force Pin. It is a decoration that may be worn by US Navy Corpsman who have earned it. It says that they are Fleet Corpsman. It says that they have completed the required screening, training and evaluation to wear this pin. It is a US Navy design with a United States Marine Corps Eagle Globe and Anchor emblazened in the center of it. And...it is coveted. For all that is difficult to attain is cherished most. One of the things that has to be accomplished to achieve the pin, just one of many, is for the Sailor to pass the USMC physical fitness test. Today, one did. But, you ask, what is so special about that? Well, part of the USMC Physical Fitness Test is a 3 mile run. And, in the Mayhem AO, we embrace the warrior spirit, we do not challenge it. So, EVERY TIME you leave a hardened structure, whether it is to go to the porta-pottie or to run 3 miles inside the wire around the FOB, you do it with your helmet on, your flak jacket and SAPI plates on (approximately 30 lbs) and with your weapon and ammunition. So, this is how the good Doc ran his 3 miles. In full up gear, or as we like to say "full battle rattle!" And, he accomplished it in 27 minutes. Phenomenal time with that much gear on.

    Only accomplished through sheer determination and will to succeed. But, for you hard to impress types, let me add a couple more facts. The Doc that did this....oh yeah, he is 55 years old! You heard me, 55 years old. He is a brain surgeon in Chicago! He joined the Navy at 52 to give back to his country following the impacts felt around the world on September 11, 2001. He has a fantastic wife and two lovely children. He to this day refuses to tell me how much money he is losing by being here, but my simple Hoosier mind knows it is at least 6 figures, if not 7. He is as hard as woodpecker lips and as gentle as a fall breeze. He is the man we should ALL aspire to be. He has taken sacrifice and dedication and compassion and EXAMPLE to a new level. And you know what; in the middle of the blood and the mud and the hate and the terror and the fear and the violence, I have never once seen him that he did not have a smile on his face! His enthusiasm is contagious. He is an amazing human being. And although my junior in rank, he is a shining example of manhood and the Warrior Code, and we are all just lucky as lucky gets to have him among us!!!

    YES, IT HAS BEEN A VERY GOOD WEEK!!!


    Posted by Deb at 09:09 PM

    February 20, 2005

    Semper superbus...nunca plenus

    Major Holton from 2/24 Golf Company sends along this update from the sandbox:

    This past week saw the return of 3rd Platoon to the company, after a period of about a month where they belonged to the army. They have continued to thrive in conducting the separate and critical mission of securing the Main Supply Route that runs through our area of operations. Without a doubt, they have experienced the roughest continuous living conditions of anyone in the battalion. To give you an idea of how others view them/us, when the army unit they worked with drove up for the first time to their positions, they asked, Where do you stay at? When the Marines replied, We stay out here, the soldiers shook their heads and said Were not staying out there. But our guys do it, and they do it because a conscious decision has been made that this approach is the best way to accomplish the mission. Luckily, the company is blessed with a group of men who understand that mission accomplishment is not just important when the task is easy.
    The past 10 days has been one of the most professionally rewarding periods of my life. The elections were a great accomplishment that every one of our Marines and sailors can be proud of for the rest of their lives. What occurred on that day, from the great turnout of voters, to the low effectiveness of violence by the insurgents, was a testament to all of the hard work that has been put into this area for the months leading up to them. We had the opportunity to help bring about a process that we take for granted in our country, but which I think meant a lot to the people of this country. Though in the big scheme of things, the elections were only one step, they were a huge step. If this country is ever going to be truly free, this step had to happen. And the fact that it did, almost flawlessly after all of the warnings and doom and gloom predictions, made it that much more impressive. After the elections, your Marines rolled right back into normal operations and has continued to push. Just yesterday, we conducted an operation that netted our companys best one-day output of detained insurgents since we arrived here. We continue to execute in everything we are given. I feel confident that there is no tactical mission that can be given to us that we wouldnt knock out of the park. Why do I feel that way? Because history and experience are the best gauges for predicting the future, and my history and experience with Golf Company is that we have succeeded in every tactical mission we have ever been given (now if we could stop losing gear, I may be able to remain as company commander until we get back to Wisconsin!). It really is neat to see the type of things that our guys do automatically now, and then to see the sum of all of the parts in operation. When we are in the middle of tactical operations, everyone knows what they are supposed to do, accepts their role, and then does it to the very best of their ability. It sounds so simple, but just those three actions, consistently applied, has been our secret of success. And it doesnt just happen by chance. You should know that the Marines leading this company -- the platoon commanders, platoon sergeants, squad leaders, and all of the noncommissioned officers continue to lead in the best way possibleby example. If there is one thing that I am proudest of within the company is that we dont have Marines that lead by fear, directive, or rank alone.

    We have people who get it that important component of leading is by doing and letting those around observe what the expectation is.

    I feel as though I have to thank you once again for the great job your loved ones are doing over here. One of the other things that I am proud of in this company is how close the Marines and sailors are to one another. Yes, we all have ranks and our guys know well how to operate within the rank structure. But more important than having great Lance Corporals, Corporals, Sergeants, Captains, and Majors is just having great Marines and great men. And that is what we have in Golf Company. These guys offer no pretense to be that which they are not. They just go out every day and get the mission done. The mission is repetitious and challenging in the enormous consistency it requires to attain success. Every day when a squad walks or drives out of the base for an operation, the challenges it might face on that day range from looking for and/or discovering an improvised explosive device, dealing with angry people who have complaints about water, gas, or lack of a job, or getting sniped at randomly from some location. Sometimes, the challenges they face are finding a small boy who has been beaten up and left in an abandoned house, dealing with a man who has been detained for insurgent activity who then has a heart attack, or having the mother of a detained man faint and slump to the ground as her son was led away. In all cases, your Marines and sailors have had to transition from one mindset to another very different one in a matter of seconds, and then to make decisions and act when literally lives are in the balance. They have proven themselves quite adept at the type of flexibility this demands.

    We continue to pray for our wounded Marines. Staff Sergeant Simon, Sergeant Ganem, Sergeant Cornell, Lance Corporal Skaar, and Lance Corporal Kruchten are on our mind all of the time and we are grateful to get the updates on their progress. We look forward to the reunion with them and are proud to have had the wonderful opportunity to serve with them. We also keep in our mind the sacrifices that were made by Corporal Warns, Lance Corporal Ramey, Lance Corporal ODonnell, and Lance Corporal Cantafio made for all of us. I am in awe of such men and consider myself extremely lucky to have the opportunity to serve in the company of heroes.

    The next few weeks will test us in ways that we wouldnt have envisioned five months ago. Not only will we be fighting an active (but dwindling) insurgency, we will also be fighting complacency and our desire to be home NOW. The tasks and missions that were brand new three months ago are commonplace to us now. We have the benefit of being able to apply experience to almost any task now; however, we also have the danger of what is routine causing us not to address each task with the amount of detail that is due in combat operations. Our time will come and we know it will seem like a blink of the eye before we are reunited with all of you at Madison Airport. Until then, help us to keep the kind of singular focus that has helped the company to be as successful as it has. If you havent been stern with your Marine/Sailor to date, now is the time to do it. If you havent lectured your son/brother/husband/friend, now is the time to do it. Focus is all we really need to ensure that we can finish in the way that we a started, and is the strongest variable in the equation that equals all of our Marines and Sailors stepping off the plane and into your arms. Have a great week, thanks again for what you do to support us individually and as a company, and I will send out another update next week.

    Best regards,

    Adam Y. Holton
    Major, United States Marine Corps Reserve

    Semper superbus...nunca plenus!!!
    Always proud...never satisfied!!!


    Posted by Deb at 10:51 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    February 17, 2005

    MSSG-31 reports from Iraq

    LtCol James A. Vohr sends this note to the families of MSSG 31 - another group looking forward to returning home.

    Wanted to bring you up to date on what we have been doing lately here at the MSSG. I dont know if you might have seen the article on the Marine Corps Official Website highlighting the end of operations in Iraq for the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (31st MEU). MSSG 31 is a member of this organization, so this message applies to us and we have completed operations as well. Our focus now has shifted to the multitude of tasks it takes to get a unit ready for redeployment.

    Ive said it before and I will repeat it now. You would not believe how these Marines and Sailors have matured. We held a crew-served weapons shoot the other day to check weapons functioning and to re-familiarize all Marines with the skills required to operate the .50 caliber machine gun and the M240G. The non-commissioned officers manned each weapon and we cycled the junior Marines through to fire. To the man (and woman), they knew what they were doing and handled the weapons with proficiency. These are all Marines whose primary military occupational specialty is something other than infantry, and yet they know how to handle weapons. Even our Corpsmen were involved and they are as competent as the Marines.

    Speaking of the Corpsmen, I am extremely proud of the entire Health Services Platoon. Throughout the deployment, their motto has appeared to be, how can I help. They have been involved in everything from convoy support to providing medical care to insurgent detainees. Our medical officer led a trauma team at BRAVO Surgical Company during the fight for Fallujah, and I am sure made a life or death difference for many wounded Marines. Since the 31st MEU and the MSSG were at different locations, our dental officer served as the 31st MEU surgeon, and employed her Arab language skills to support the civil affairs efforts in the 31st MEUs operating area. To top it all off all of the Corpsmen have all qualified for their FMF pins, a difficult challenge requiring them to master many skills normally associated with Marines and pass a proficiency exam. It is unheard of to have a 100% qualification rate.

    Ill keep you posted on our progress. There is still a lot of work to be done, but I am confident the Marines and Sailors of MSSG 31 will do it well. We are all looking forward to seeing the green Island of Okinawa, Japan!

    Until next time and as always, Im proud and you should be proud of the Marines and Sailors of MSSG 31. It is an honor to serve with them

    Thanks for all your support

    Sincerely,

    J. Alex Vohr

    Posted by Deb at 01:49 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    February 16, 2005

    Valentine kisses

    Photo by: Cpl. K. T. Tran
    1MARDIV Marines with Civil Affairs Detachment 4-4, RCT 1 passed out Valentine's card and candy to kids in Fallujah last Monday while checking progress on several local projects. Here, Cpl. David Pavon, a civil affairs NCO gets a thank you kiss from 8 year old Rajah.

    Posted by Deb at 10:45 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

    February 15, 2005

    Seeing Stars and Earning Stripes

    On Saturday, a few NR folks visited Walter Reed. Here's Jim Robbin's most memorable observation:

    One of the wounded Marines was in ICU, and was still feeling the effects of the anesthesia, having just come from surgery. A Lieutenant General stopped by to see how he was.

    "How are you doing, Lance Corporal?" he said.

    "Lance Corporal my a**," the semi-conscious Marine said, "I have enough time in to be a Corporal by now." The 3-star nodded, went off and made a phone call. Within the hour the young Marine had his corporal's stripes.


    Posted by Deb at 07:47 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

    February 14, 2005

    A Valentine for Military Spouses

    A Valentines Message from the 3/8 Commanding Officer to the families at home:

    I?d like to take this opportunity this Valentines Day to say thank you for all that you do.

    Being a military spouse is not easy,
    Especially on the most challenging deployment
    But the mission we have to accomplish is important
    And critical to the success and future of Iraq.

    The sacrifices you make on behalf of your Marine or Sailor are great and put a strain on the strongest of relationships.

    So on this Valentine?s Day, I would like to say thank you for keeping the fire in the home lit, bread on the table and for the loving support you give each day.

    Thank you again for your patience, understanding and devotion.

    Best Wishes and Happy Valentines Day!
    S.M. Neary

    For Cassandra and Carrie, Mrs. Blackfive and Mrs. Greyhawk, for Diana and Amy, Mary Helen, Sarah, and all the other Marine (and other military) wives out there - Happy Valentines Day!



    Posted by Deb at 09:26 AM

    February 12, 2005

    " . . . oh my God have these guys delivered"

    Captain Griffin from 2nd LAR summed up the recent Iraqi elections with one word - historic. His entire post, including some well-earned praise for the hardworking Marines under his command, is in the extended entry and will give you new respect for the Marines who fight and never quit.

    Here's his closing that you can pass along to anyone who asks, "why are we still in Iraq".

    And finally let me share with you two of most meaningful events of the day (election day). Two "feel good" stories about why we are here away from our families for seven months at a time, serving in a dangerous land:

    1. An older gentlemen, apparently well educated, made it a point to get the attention of every Marine, Solider and Sailor along the VCP, motion him to come over, shake his hand and say "Thank you. This is the first time in my life my vote actually means something. I hope you never leave."

    2. My translator approached me about mid-morning and I could tell he was ancy about something. He asked "Sir, can I go vote now." I told him "Hell yes, Jimmy. Go vote." He replied "Thank you, sir. It is my right now. Thank you."

    While the second was obviously more personal to me because I have come to respect Jimmy for all he has done for this company and in turn his country, I believe today was historic. And we were glad to just do our part. It has made so much of this deployment worthwhile and hopefully we honored all the Marines, Soldiers and Sailors who have paid all in this mission by accomplishing what we have done today. To think that just two months ago we were attacking the city with lethal, overwhelming firepower and now a democratic election rose from the ashes of the city defies reality. This is the power of America. This is the power of the human race who can be brutally suppressed by a regime for 30 years and terrorized in their homes by selfish cowards. The resiliency and the survivalist mentality of the Iraqi people makes it easy to believe that we are in the right fight.

    There's more. Read it all.

    31 January 2005

    I am not sure how the elections will be portrayed on the news today but I know you were watching. I can only hope it is reported accurately.

    I know I can sum it up in one word - historic.

    Over the past two months we had established a rotation plan to send Marines back to Camp Baharia once every eight days to shower, rest, call home and use the internet. It was my call on 20 January to stop that rotation so we can maintain as many Marines in the field and in the fight in preparation for the elections. Please do not blame your Marines for not calling or writing, it is not their fault, it is mine. We will reinitiate the rotation again on 2 February so I expect everyone should hear from their Marines again by the middle of the month. But during that time, know that once again, your Marines were heroes.

    Since the fall of the insurgency base in Fallujah, Apache prepared for two events:

    1) the reoccupation of the citizens of Fallujah and

    2) the watershed event - the national elections; the latter being the larger of the two.

    All of our actions were directed at achieving success in both endeavors but Election Day was the largest cloud laying on the horizon - 30 January.

    What would that day bring? What would it ultimately mean and what was in store for my Marines?

    We surged in our operations, both offensive and defensive, in the past ten days making our positions stronger, developing better force protection plans, conducting aggressive patrols to keep the enemy off balance, extending our security zone and doing a lot of what the Marines enjoyed the most - kicking in doors in the middle of the night, capturing bad guys and delivering them to justice. While AMZ and UBL are still loose, we have been rolling up bad guys at the cyclical rate. We have taken down so many insurgent fighters, IED makers and emplacers, financiers, harborers of terrorists, rocket and mortar men, leadership at all levels relative to our area, that the enemy ceased to fight in our zone on election day. We have earned tremendous accolades from the regiment for disrupting and taking down insurgent cells and groups. While these missions are the more desirable, "sexy" missions that my platoons are just so masterful at accomplishing, this is a team fight. The company motto is "Everyone fights. No one quits." It has clearly come to signify who we are. All the Marines in the company participate in the offensive operations but that is not our only mission. Before I get back to the elections, let me tell you about what else we have been doing and able to accomplish.

    Our weapons platoon has been primarily responsible for running our vehicle control point. With out getting to in depth, this is a mission where they have to control upwards of 3700 personnel a day and over 500 vehicles. Control being the operative word here. Every morning around 0530, they have to get out in the dark and sort through this traffic jam of personnel and vehicles, ensuring that all the vehicles are sorted, prioritized, screened, searched, directed and controlled. In US terms, probably not that big a deal. But remember we are in a country where we do not speak the same language, our enemy does not wear a uniform but dresses like a civilian, he has no appreciation for innocent life, he uses the civilian crowds as a means to get close to us. Where every citizen wants to get back in the city to recover the remains of the their homes and get their lives started again, desperate people who have suffered greatly who merely want to get to a distribution center, or make a solatia claim, or get to a propane or kerosene distribution area because they need the fuel to cook for their family, boil water or just try to stay warm through the night. We don't have stop lights and we don't have a lot of technology here nor a local media that can publish directions for our VCP. No - the Marines of weapons platoon had to make this happen on the ground alone. Utterly amazing.

    While there are other control points around the city, ours initially received the least attention from higher because we were out in the hinterland. So after the Marines from weapons got through the day, at night they would refine their positions by filling sandbags, running new wire or repair the wire that was destroyed during the day, refine their own procedures, plus continue to support the other platoons, and maintain security on their platoon position and run patrols. It has been the stuff legends are made of. The VCP is now almost 700m long and while we did receive some engineering support from other brethren at 2d Combat Engineer Battalion, the lion's share rested on the shoulders, backs and brains of the Marines of weapons platoon. While every Marine in that platoon would rather be dropping mortar rounds in a fire for effect mission or calling out "TOW on the wire" as their anti-tank guided missile system fires a missile down range, or my engineers laying demo, adding "P" for plenty into the demolition equation, these guys bring a "can do" attitude to the battlefield, that they can handle any task, accomplish any mission and still look you in the eye as if you haven't even tested them. It is inspiring. Our maintenance section continues to be the bedrock for which the company stands firm. Separated from their maintenance tent and storage containers back at Camp Baharia, dealing with a supply line that sometimes extends back to the states, this company has maintained 100% readiness over the past four months. It has been a Herculean effort. I remember when I first came to LAR I was cautioned by former LAR friends about mechanics. They said "Griff - don't "wig" out when they [mechanics] don't wear and do grunt-like things in the field. They are not grunts. Give them a little wiggle room because they will keep your vehicles running." It seemed like sound advice at the time and I set out to follow it. But I can say today, they were wrong. My mechanics are as hard and as capable as any infantryman in this company. I would dare another grunt to come to my company and pick out who the mechanics were on a patrol, raid, cordon and search, VCP, etc. These guys are my heroes. They bring a trouble shooting mentality to the team that we will figure out any challenge or puzzle regardless what the book solution may say. That is a tremendous force multiplier.

    The Marines of headquarters platoon are the unsung heroes of this company. Because they are so diverse in responsibilities and personalities, I will leave it to the compassionate, caring wit of my XO to talk about them individually. But the headquarters Marines are the arms that surround and support this company, sweeping up and plugging the gaps everywhere. They are diverse in capabilities and in occupational specialties in the platoon but generally only one deep.

    So while these Marines deliver chow, fix our gear, drive everyone everywhere, support each platoon, serve as corporals of the guard, maintain two sites (peninsula and Camp Baharia), ensure our communication gear works, keep care of our administrative needs, order, receive and deliver parts, deliver fuel, maintain our armory; they also conduct patrols, search houses and fields, participate in the nightly raids and provide security for the HQ CP. Of particular note, standing guard at the headquarters CP warrants more description. They do not have the convenience of maintaining a schedule for the guard force because whenever something goes wrong for the company, headquarters Marines have to be involved. Thus, their guard assignment come often at unknown times for unknown durations because they know their relief may be out doing their primary responsibility and will only be able to relieve them when that task is accomplished. These guys are professionals and it is an honor to serve among them.

    The latest stars to rise from this company are the Marines we now refer to as call sign "Lion." One of our key missions is to defend critical infrastructure - in this case a dam that sits on the Euphrates River. Initially I had been given an Iraqi platoon with a Marine captain and Marine SNCO to help advise the platoon. These advisory billets are referred to as ASTs. They did a good job for us but didn't bring that Apache passion to the team. This is not to belittle the efforts of my fellow Marines - not in the least bit. I admire their efforts and their role is a key piece in the strategic success of the overall mission here in Iraq. But there came a time in December when the Iraqi platoon was to be replaced and I would not get any ASTs. So I chose two Apache Marines that I thought would be up to the task to replace a captain and a staff sergeant - I chose a sergeant and a lance corporal (Sergeant Jackson and Lance Corporal Ellison). I was unsure of what level of success they would achieve. I never doubted they would accomplish the mission but not having the benefit of training that the ASTs had received, not having received any Arabic language classes, not having the benefit of years of experience and troop handling that a captain and a staff sergeant bring to the table - how much would they accomplish being in charge of Iraqi soldiers in which some of the Iraqis out rank them.

    Not to be clich, or slang, or conversational but - oh my God have these guys delivered. These two Marines accomplished more with less than anyone I have ever seen. The expression "no rest for the weary" pales in description to what these Marines have endured and accomplished. These guys have not only "advised" the platoon, they have constructed a well positioned defense, run regular security patrols and IED sweeps, conduct convoys, teach the Iraqis classes, ensure the place is squared away, run the guard, deal with senior officers and officials from the US and Iraqis who come to visit the platoon on the dam and so much more.

    This platoon went from being a positive neutral in the mission accomplishment equation to positive success. These guys are out there - alone and unafraid. On top of that, the platoons of Iraqis get switched out about every two weeks, generally unannounced and these Marines start from ground zero over and over again. And yet, every time I go down to see them or they come up to the CP, they are smiling and positive about their mission. They have become such a positive influence on this command that I added three more Marines to the team and the addition has been exponentially more successful. I was a former enlisted Marine who was once a lance corporal, a corporal and then a sergeant. I am almost embarrassed to admit that seeing what these five guys who have earned the same rank as I did have been able to accomplish. Compared to these guys and what they have been able to do, I should never have qualified to leave recruit training.

    Even as I write this, reread it and edit it, in order to try to describe to you the power and influence that every man in this company has achieved on the success of the mission and this nation, it seems almost fictional. I hope that when you read it you understand that is told with passionate truth because every Marine in this company legitimately deserves to be recognized as a hero but none of the writing is embellished to illustrate a point. It is ground truth. It overwhelms me daily that so many good men were put on one team at one time and I was the fortunate lottery winner.

    As I mentioned earlier, this company has been receiving tremendous accolades from the regiment. I would like to share just two that I have received recently. The first comes from the regimental intelligence officer, Lt Col Bellon, copied from an email (edited for brevity and clarity):

    "You are booming out there on the frontier. In short, you are doing things that other units said were unsupportable. It has convinced me that LAR guys are just more mentally agile and aggressive when finding a way to take it to the enemy. We will see how tonight goes [29 Jan, the night prior to the election] but if we don't get any IDF [indirect fire], I will be assessing that it is largely do to the successful operation[s] that you [Apache] ran. . . Keep it going."

    Tonight at the regimental operations and intelligence meeting, the regimental commander, Colonel Shupp, stated the following (paraphrased again for brevity and clarity):

    "I need to recognize you and your Marines in a public forum. Since Apache has taken over the peninsula, your company has been undermanned the entire time covering a battalion zone. You and your Marines run the busiest VCP and you built it from the ground up. You have single handedly taken down the insurgency that was active on the peninsula. You and your Marines are solely responsible for preventing any indirect fire from attacking the city today from the peninsula area. The operation you and your Marines pulled off the other day was to attack a battalion size objective with less than a company and round up 90 military age males. In total fifteen bad guys, seven of which will be going away for a long, long time. Your company has been doing a tremendous job out there. Bravo Zulu."

    And finally let me share with you two of most meaningful events of the day (election day). Two "feel good" stories about why we are here away from our families for seven months at a time, serving in a dangerous land:

    1. An older gentlemen, apparently well educated, made it a point to get the attention of every Marine, Solider and Sailor along the VCP, motion him to come over, shake his hand and say "Thank you. This is the first time in my life my vote actually means something. I hope you never leave."

    2. My translator approached me about mid-morning and I could tell he was ancy about something. He asked "Sir, can I go vote now." I told him "Hell yes, Jimmy. Go vote." He replied "Thank you, sir. It is my right now. Thank you."

    While the second was obviously more personal to me because I have come to respect Jimmy for all he has done for this company and in turn his country, I believe today was historic. And we were glad to just do our part. It has made so much of this deployment worthwhile and hopefully we honored all the Marines, Soldiers and Sailors who have paid all in this mission by accomplishing what we have done today. To think that just two months ago we were attacking the city with lethal, overwhelming firepower and now a democratic election rose from the ashes of the city defies reality. This is the power of America. This is the power of the human race who can be brutally suppressed by a regime for 30 years and terrorized in their homes by selfish cowards. The resiliency and the survivalist mentality of the Iraqi people makes it easy to believe that we are in the right fight.

    I hope CNN's 30 second sound bites were able to capture this.

    Until next time. . .

    Pray for peace and God Bless America.

    Apache 6 - out
    Semper Fidelis

    Capt John F. Griffin


    Posted by Deb at 04:56 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

    More from the Mad Ghosts

    LtCol Mark Smith, 2/24 Battalion Commander, sent this update from Mamudiyah last week - it's great reading, as always:

    As usual, I am sincere in hoping that this week's update finds you in good health, high spirits and full of that good ole' Marine Corps motivation. Many has been the occassion, too many, that I have dreaded typing on this computer on a Thursday night, knowing that I would be communicating to you the tragic loss of life of our Marines. Those occasions are branded into my memory, and will haunt me many a day and night. I will finish this update by coming back to that very point. But, on this particular occassion, it has been all I could do not to send the update early. I have eagerly anticipated typing this week's update and communicating with you the momentous events of this past Sunday. So, please bear with me, for this is a story worthy of being told, and then passed from generation to generation of Mad Ghost families; for they should share a pride that both binds them and guides them for decades to come; decades to be spent in peace and FREEDOM.

    To truly understand the significance of what occurred in the Mayhem AO on 30 Jan 2005, I have to give a brief history lesson, covering facts that I was not at liberty to divulge prior to the election. In November of 2004, the Iraqi Interim Government (IIG) had made the decision that the S Baghdad District, better known to you as the Mayhem AO, would not have elections. The IIG's reasoning was sound and their logic clear: it had no Iraqi Police, a fledgling Iraqi Army/National Guard and a violence level that was beyond acceptable. However, and not that it would have mattered one iota, 2/24 was not advised of this decision. All 2/24 knew was that we had a mission: conduct security and stability operations in zone to ensure the conditions were set for the establishment of Iraqi civil administration. Now, please remember back to an earlier email where I introduced you to the Assistant Division Commander of the Fighting 1st Marine Division, BGen Dunford, and his remark that professional Marines do not "discuss exit strategies," they "achieve an end state." Well, our stated end state was simple: ensure the conditions are set to conduct elections in S Baghdad on 30 Jan 05!

    There's more, click the link to keep reading:

    For months, we executed our strategy to achieve that end state. We went into the "zip code offense." We seized the former and destroyed police station with Co F in Yusufiyah, an absolute stronghold of the Wahabists and Salafist terrorist networks along the Euphrates River. We sezied a former Iraqi Government building with Co G in Lutafiyah, an absolute stronghold of FRE, Ba'ath Party and opportunistic criminals. We took control of Mahmudiyah and Rasheed with Co E and their relentless foot patrolling effort. And, we had the monumental task of securing a 22 mile or so stretch of interstate closed to civilian traffic, and a high visibiIty/target rich environment for the enemy. In doing this, we deliberately chose challenge over simplicity, hardship over comfort, and taking the fight to the enemy over being defensive. It has been phenomenally challenging: from every aspect of Battalion Operations, admin/intelligence/operations/logistics/communications/engineering/civil military operations/ information operations, etc, etc, etc. Just the sustainment challenge alone required the absolute OWNING of main supply routes (MSR). This was done by YOUR Marines living some of the most brutal conditions you can imagine. No, no Hollywood version of brutal, I mean real brutality. No showers, MREs day on stay on, and living under a bridge. Yes, under a bridge. The Marines of Co G who accomplished this mission DESERVE your respect for not only their sheer physical toughness, but for engaging the enemy relentlessly and devastating his ranks to a level that their MSR is now open to civilian traffic! The next challenge was to own one of the alternate supply routes, which was harassed daily by the insurgents, and challenged our sustainment effort. Well, it was time for the Iraqi National Guard to step up. At this time, I was reading much press in the US about the absolute failure of the ING. I did not believe it then, and I KNOW for a fact I don't believe it now. Our magnificent engineers from Va, supported by our outstanding Marines from Truck Co, PA, set about to move the materials required, and in less that 5 days total time: built 2 bridges and 3 Iraqi checkpoints, all under the watchful eyes and lethal skills/firepower of our Mobile Strike Teams from Weapons Company. Since that time, the ING have captured some of our most high value targets, and now routinely conduct offensive raids against insurgent forces. They are not US Marines, nobody is but US Marines, but they are a viable security force, operating efficiently, and OWNING the streets of the towns in our zone, along side, and more and more, independent of their Marine counterparts. The efforts of Captain Guillermo Rosales, and his unbelievable Marines from 3rd Plt, Co G, who have served as our combined action platoon (CAP), living, mentoring and training the ING have been phenomenal. A book should be written about them and how to conduct CAP.

    Simultaneous with these efforts was the counter-insurgency fight! This was where the heavy lifting of the letter companies, E, F and G, supported by the Mobile Strike Teams, Artillery, Mortars and Combat Operations Center would earn their keep and truly see if they have what it takes to be Marines. The Companies set out in earnest, following seizures, on relentless and round the clock patrolling efforts. They learned every resident of every house and every owner of every store and every nook of every cranny. They learned the ebb and flow of the town. They knew when something was right, and when something was wrong. They knew who had legitimate business and who had insurgent business. And, as I expressed last week, they always carried the Flag of the US. They carried it in their spirit. To the legitimate and the oppressed, which was usually one and the same, they brought all the best our country has to offer: compassion, concern, genuine caring and an attempt to solve problems and make life better. To those who had insurgent business, they brought violence. Often times this violence ended in enemy casualties, most times in incarceration.

    While the Companies were doing this, the enemy did not sit idly waiting. He set his lethal IEDs, he fired his rockets and mortars, and on some occassions he attacked. On 12 Nov, he tried an attack on Fox Company, that to date, I can find no evidence of a similar attack anywhere in country similar to what he attempted on that day. But what he learned, was futility. Futility and the AWESOME lethality of the combined arms team of a Marine Rifle Company, fully supported by arty, air, mortars and a competent COC can bring. He has never again attempted that suicidal feat, though we stand ready for it, should he try. When he would fire his mortars and rockets, we would fire back. The Marines gained phenomenal skill in counter fire drills and would routinely be firing back en masse in less than minutes, making the occupation of an insurgent mortarman a VERY dangerous profession. They studied his IEDs hard and learned his techniques, and adapted their movement methods to outsmart him.

    We had casualties, you all know that. We suffered the sting of death of our own. But, YOUR Marines pressed on, and they pressed harder. They continued their relentless fight, and slowly but surely, the tide was turning. The mortars and rockets were less and less. More IEDs were being found and rendered safe than being detonated. And, hundreds, many hundreds insurgents were raided in the night and whisked off to Abu Ghraib. This was done because as the Companies were unleashed in their zone the intelligence picture was developed. See, the Marines would gather the information, and the amazing Marines of the Human Exploitation Team and the Intelligence Section developed the picture. They learned the cells, identified the networks, put names with faces. In this counter-insurgency our goal is simple: give me two things, their name and where they sleep. If you are an insurgent and we know your name, and we know where you sleep, well, "it is game on for us, game over for you!"

    Now, in our saga, we are approaching Christmas time, and we, as a Task Force, are switching from the Command of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit under Col Ron "Jawbreaker" Johnson, to the USA 2nd Brigade Combat Team under Col "Fightin' Mike" Formica. With the 2 BCT came added forces and a set of toys that allowed us to take relentless to a new level: sleepless pursuit of the enemy. For we were still seeking our end state. Then, like a slap in the face, we were hit with the news: no elections in our zone. People living in our zone would have to transit to Baghdad to vote. AGAIN, PLEASE UNDERSTAND THAT AT THE TIME THIS DECISION WAS MADE, IT MADE SENSE! We had no issue with the decision for its merit, only disappointment that we had achieved so much and felt as if we were facing failure. For Marines, this is the worst fear of all: FAILURE. But, just like every good story with a happy ending, this one was full of heroes. One of them was Col Mike Formica. Col Formica went to bat for the Mad Ghosts, and for his Troopers that had 13 months in country, were on an extension to assist us in zone, and had fought in Najaf, Mosul and Fallujah. He went to bat and made the argument that the Mayhem Battalion had achieved the conditions necessary for elections by reducing violence, and could make this happen. Next in the heroes, MGen Chiarelli, CG 1st Cav Div, who took the ball to the next level.

    Beyond that, I do not know the heroes, for they are far above my pay grade, but they said yes. They said yes on the caveat that the 2 BCT and 2/24 would have to do the hard work. We would have to establish and secure the sites that would allow for the workers to conduct an election.

    Now, for the sake of brevity I will tell you this. Identication of, keeping secret until 48 hours out, seizing and establishing force protection of polling sites is not an easy task. It was days of meticulous planning, changes to the plan, changes to the changes, and then flexibility. But, here is what happened: 8 sites, 2 per urban center in the Mayhem AO were seized and secured. Force protection barriers and procedures were emplaced.

    Our Iraqi Army counterparts assumed the inner cordons and hundreds of Iraqi Election Workers and Officials were moved into the sites. Our Election Set was complete at 0700 30 Jan 2005!

    What happened? Well, most of you have heard stories in the media and the internet. I will focus on our zone. What happened was a miracle! You can attempt to diminish it any way you choose, if you choose to do so. But for those of us that witnessed it, it was a miracle! Thousands of Iraqi citizens WALKED to the polls to vote! The walked to the polls, they waited in lines for hours, and they voted. They had been threatened with death if they did so, and they voted! They voted for the first time in their lives as FREE men and women. They voted among falling mortars. In Yusufiyah, 20 separate mortar attacks were attempted. Fox would identify the origin, and counter-fire. The enemy was highly ineffective because one, he knew Fox would shoot back, and two, he has been so shot up and decimated he is using his junior varsity, which with these guys the varsity is suspect at best. In Lutafiyah, they tried to mortar and then escape, which is what these cowards do. Too bad for this mortar crew their route of egress was cut by a Mobile Strike Team. Well, suffice it to say, one of them will never be a mortarman or anything else ever again, and two were apprehended, and all of their weaponry and mortar tubes seized! They tried to mortar in Al Rasheed as well, and were attempting to use a four man observation team to direct the accuracy of their rounds. Seems bad luck was all-around this day for the insurgents as one of our Sniper teams put an immediate and permanent halt to that activity.

    But, for all the precision and tactical efficiency of your Marines on this day, the miracle was the Iraqi people. With all the threatened violence, and most importantly all the REAL violence that was going on around them, they VOTED! They never broke and ran. They never hesitated. They stayed, and they VOTED. Why? Because, they had tasted the power of FREEDOM. They have had enough of the tyranny, the repression, the brutality, the sheer suffocation of other men telling them their destiny and the inner thoughts of their own minds and their own souls. And, as powerful as those emotions, those passions are; it requires strength to break the chains. Their strength on that day was YOUR Marines! But more than that, and please forgive me, on that day their strength was THEIR Marines!!! Now THEIR Marines and YOUR Marines are the same. YOUR Marines are the Marines that have lived in THEIR towns, have endured THEIR hardship and have striven hard, and given their lives for THEIR children. THEY recognized it. THEY appreciated it. THEY honored it. They did all of these things by standing side by side with YOUR Marines and offering the only resistance to the insurgency they have, THEIR FREEDOM! On this day they showed the world what they learned from YOUR Marines; that "it is better to die on your feet, than to live on your knees." And one simple question should come of their actions: where did they learn this courage? From a cave hiding Osama Bin Nothing? From a hate spewing and slithering snake Abu Masab Zarpunkery? From Sadam Hussein? No, they learned it from YOUR Marines! And, if you were to ask them, they learned it from THEIR Marines, THEIR neighbor Marines, THEIR caring Marines, THEIR freedom Marines, THEIR brother Marines! Just don't know how else you explain a midget pushing his 70 year old father two miles under mortar fire so his father could know freedom and the power of the ballot before he dies!

    Now Ladies, I do not know what will happen in this region of the world over the next decade. I suspect much violence. I know for us, our fight is not over, and has only intensified as we try to strangle the life out of an insurgency that will never quit and must be vanquished. It will remain for us mortally dangerous work until the day we depart. But, I know this: on 30 Jan 2005 a flame was lit that cannot be extinguished! A flame of liberty that is going to continue to burn until repressed and oppressed people are free of tyranny and terror. It will take a while and it will be bloody. But, such was the beginning of our Nation, and has been our history as we continue to seek the perfection of the human condition to the best ability mankind has to offer!

    In closing, let me offer one last anecdote of our weekend. Hundreds of the Iraqi election officials were aboard our FOB, St. Michael, as we achieved election set. We closed our chow hall and turned it into a lounge for them. Something occurred in that lounge that you all MUST know about. The Iraqis, as is their custom, set about drinking sodas, smoking cigarettes and talking in the loud and demonstrative tones they are accustomed to. Except for one spot. There was one spot in our chow hall where they would not smoke, they would not drink, they would not talk. There was one spot where all they would do is stand in silent reverence. That spot...our memorial table with the pictures of our heroic fallen. No, at this spot, they showed nothing but respect and honor! This was not something they were told to do, it was something that came natural to them.

    I have asked myself many times why that is, and I have come to this undeniable conclusion: for they were bound with those Marines who gave their last full measure of devotion on the battlefields of Iraq not by religion, not by race, not by color, not by creed, not by custom, not by culture, not by anything one can think of save one thing: they were bound with those Marines as FREE MEN AND WOMEN. And, you see, FREE MEN AND WOMEN can disagree, but cannot hate! In this simple truth is the cause of Operation Iraqi Freedom. In this simple truth, we press on. In this simple truth, Cpl Brian Prenning, Cpl Robert Warns, Cpl Nathaniel Hammond, Cpl Peter Giannopolous, LCpl Branden Ramey, LCpl Daniel Wyatt, LCpl Richard Warner, LCpl Shane O'Donnell, PFC Ryan Cantafio, and PFC Brent Vroman gave their lives. That in bringing freedom to the world, hate will vanquish, and YOU, the ones the loved so dear, will live on free: free of fear, free of opression, free of tyranny and God Almighty in Heaven willing, free of War!

    To my 10 Heroes: mission accomplished. Be proud in your brothers, for they honored you. Be proud in your people, they supported you. Be proud of the Iraqis, they learned and they drew courage from you. May you rest with the Angels...eternally free of all pain and sorrow!

    God Bless and Keep the Magnificent Families of 2nd Bn, 24th Marines, keepers of the flame of FREEDOM.

    LtCol Mark A. Smith,


    Posted by Deb at 02:45 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

    February 10, 2005

    First Update from 3/8 Marines

    LtCol Neary sends this update from Fallujah:

    Dear Family and Friends of Task Force 3D Battalion, 8th Marines,

    This is my first letter to you in the first month of our deployment to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Mail has started a steady flow and many of you should be in contact with your loved ones by phone or email. Please guard the information that your loved ones pass along to you. During a casual conversation, they may accidentally transmit sensitive information to you. They should not discuss information regarding our operations here. Please remind them if they do. I know they are excited to tell you about their work here, but please help me with this. I also ask you not to post names and information about our activities on any private Internet web sites. I know that these sites exist for good reasons, however, the enemy here can also access these sites and if they get any sensitive information from them, they will use it to attack us. Again, I am asking for your help on this.

    Your Marines and Sailors have been very active in our sector and there are many things happening each day to keep this incredible organization going and keep the enemy on the run. We have been working and training the Iraqi Security Forces and National Guard. Many of these soldiers put their lives and their familys lives on the line to work with us. The work is constant 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The days are full and pass quickly for most of us. We work hard to improve our living conditions and overall security. Except while on patrol every Marine and Sailor has a hard roof over his head, and gets two good hot meals a day. They have access to showers and communications back at their main operating bases at least once a week.

    On 30 January, your Marines and Sailors performed magnificently during the first Iraqi election to elect their Transitional National Assembly. The engineers helped modify the two polling sites while our truck platoon moved supplies, barriers, etc., weapons company was providing security on all the major roads, Co I, K, and L provided security at and around the sites while our snipers well they watch over everything from afar. Of course we cant do this without H&S Company involved in all aspects from medical, maintenance to communications and the chaplains prayers. You would have all been proud. My staff is sharp group of men and I am truly blessed for their dedication to the mission and each other.

    Sergeant Major James and I travel our battle space everyday to ensure everyone is doing well. Right now, daily temperatures hover around 60-70 degrees during the day and drop to 40 degrees at night. As we know in a month the temperature will start to climb. I can tell you first hand that your Marines and Sailors are doing a magnificent job performing in conditions like this. They are alert and professional. So far we have been fortunate to have no Marines or Sailors killed in action. I attribute this to our high level of training, intelligent decision-making, aggressive action and some very good luck. Prayer is also helping.

    As time permits, I will write again soon. I hope this update has provided you with an insight into the Battalions accomplishments and progress. To the spouses, if you decide to move during the deployment please let your Key Volunteer or GySgt Smith know so we can keep you updated. Thank you to all the Key Volunteers for your professional work. Thank you to all the spouses and families for the support you are providing to this fine outfit. I am humbled to be their leader.

    May God Bless You and Task Force 3/8,
    Semper Fi!
    Stephen M. Neary
    Lieutenant Colonel
    Commanding Officer, Task Force 3/8
    Fallujah, Iraq

    Posted by Deb at 01:07 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

    February 08, 2005

    11th MEU is coming home, wave by wave

    Photo by Cpl. Matthew S. Richards
    Army General George Casey, commander of all coalition forces in Iraq, visited 11th MEU Marines and sailors here and congratulated them on their role in the success of Najaf, Iraq, Feb. 3. Stating that the battle of Najaf was a tactical success that turned into the first strategic win for the Iraqi people and the Iraqi Interim Government, he also congratulated them on a successful elections that was made possible by the peace they helped create in the city.

    The first wave of 11th MEU is home and families have been reunited. Here's a report from those still in the sandbox:

    It has been a whirlwind of a week. The first main body of MEU Marines and Sailors arrived back at Camp Pendleton today, and no doubt it was a joyous day for those troops and their families and friends.

    Earlier this week, Gen. Casey, the top commander of all troops in Iraq, visited MEU Marines and sailors at FOB Duke and congratulated them on their role in the success of Najaf. Stating that the battle of Najaf was a tactical success that turned into the first strategic win for the Iraqi people and the Iraqi Interim Government, he also congratulated them on a successful elections that was made possible by the peace they helped create in the city.

    Within the next upcoming weeks and days, the rest of us in Iraq will finish up preparations and packing before heading to Kuwait to catch our plane home. There is still quite a bit to do, but Marines and sailors eager to go home can make miracles happen. We can't wait to see you all again. Also, just as warning, on Feb. 9 our e-mail will shut down and we will not be able to update the webpage anymore. Take that as a positive sign that we'll be home soon!

    In closing, North County Times reporter Darrin Mortenson and photographer Hayne Palmour are still with us. Just in case you might have missed on, listed below are the stories that they have produced so far. If you would like to read these, go to the newspaper's website www.nctimes.com and do a search on "11th Marine Expeditionary Unit." Links to these articles will pop up.

    In addition, we had the following media embedded with the 11th MEU or out in town covering elections last week. If you want to read more about how Najaf is doing, you can do searches on the following agencies and their reporters and photographers:


    • Doug Struck-Washington Post
    • Lin Noueihad-Reuters
    • Lamia Radi-Agence French-Presse or AFP
    • Ed Wong-New York Times
    • Thanassi Camabanis-Boston Globe
    • Liz Sly-Chicago Tribune
    • Jill Carroll-USA Today
    • Anne Garrells-National Public Radio or NPR
    • Dan Murphy-Christian Science Monitor
    • Ashraf Khalil- Los Angeles Times
    • Babak Dehghanpisheh- Newsweek

    Photographers:

    • Lucian Read-World Picture News (our embedded photographer who has been with us since May!)
    • Max Becherer-Polaris and New York Times
    • Ghaith Abdul Ahad-Getty Images
    • Brent Stirton-Getty Images
    • Hadi Mizban-Associated Press Photo

    North County Times articles:

    • Feb. 6: Hard-fought peace still fragile as Marines pack up
    • Feb. 4: The mentors of Camp Pendleton: In Iraq, they're training National Guardsmen to take over
    • Feb. 2: Iraqi poll workers return to hometowns
    • Feb. 2: With election over, local troops packing for home
    • Feb. 1: Marines resume patrols after election
    • Feb. 1: Pendleton Marines responded to British crash
    • Jan. 31: Peaceful, joyful, day of voting in Najaf
    • Jan. 30: Pendleton Marines stand by during historic vote\
    • Jan. 29: Marines get crash course in how to come home
    • Jan. 28: Marines raid suspicious Iraqi tent city
    • Jan. 27: Marines clear roads in preparation for vote
    • Jan. 26: Navy Seabees build school for Iraqi nomads
    • Jan. 26: Commander: Marines made history
    • Jan. 25: U.S. Marines pay Iraqis for battle damage, death
    • Jan. 24: Marines try to heal body, spirits of girl maimed by U.S. bomb
    • Jan. 23: Marines try to capture hearts of locals in quest to keep peace

    Posted by Deb at 10:07 PM | Comments (1)

    February 06, 2005

    24th MEU Chaplain's Call

    If you could write your life, what words would you choose? How would you develop your own character and plan your personal plot? Lt. Cmdr. Louis Rosa, 24th MEU Chaplain, contemplates the magnum opus still in production by the Marines who will soon end the chapter on this deployment and move on to the next.

    Deployments are like a novel. Each novel is divided into parts. The pre-deployment work ups and planning is the introduction, the body of the book is the deployment and the conclusion is the return and reunion. Many books have an epilogue, the final scene of a story that comments on or summarizes the main action. Regarding our deployment, this is yet to be written.

    Like any good book, the reader should walk away from it having experienced different emotions. A great book is designed to make us grow, expand our horizons and challenge us. Deployments are definitely designed to do that. Our reunion with our loved ones is the 'epilogue' of this deployment. How we choose to summarize what has taken place in our life the past few months are pages yet to be written-by us.

    How we have changed in the area of our home life, work and emotions will take some creative writing because it comes from the true creativity that only deployments can inspire. Like a focused author it takes effort to do this effectively.

    If someone read your novel how will they know how you changed? Which new skills and interests have you acquired? How has your appearance altered from a few months ago? How have new routines changed the family structure? Most importantly, how has this deployment shifted priorities in your life? Books and deployments focus on an aspect of what is important to the author and to the reader. If you were writing an account of this deployment what would be the evidence of what's really become important in your life? How will the epilogue, the summary, of your novel indicate a shift in perception of what the future will be like now that your loved one is home?

    How you choose to write the epilogue of this deployment will determine how great of a bestseller it will be. So whether yours is a romance, an action thriller, a mystery or a how to book on how to survive a deployment the ending is the cinch to it's success. Remember, every great book leaves room for a sequel. Here's wishing you a bestseller success!


    Posted by Deb at 11:16 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

    February 05, 2005

    After-election report from MSSG-31

    LtCol J. Alex Vohr reports from Iraq:



    I hope this letter finds you well. It has been a busy month for MSSG 31 with all of the events leading up to and culminating in the historic Iraqi election yesterday. Every Marine and Sailor played a large role in the setting the stage to allow for election success by either working to support the I MEF efforts to provide a secure environment or by helping put together polling sites that were a secure place for Iraqi citizens to vote. It was pretty incredible to see and nothing less than the result of a tremendous amount of hard work on the part of many people.

    I am truly in awe of the Marines and Sailors of MSSG 31. When I assumed command in June 2004, I was struck by how many junior personnel we had in the unit. Most were Privates First Class and Lance Corporals. In the time we have been here they have all become experienced professionals. The exposure to operations in a combat environment has transformed them all in a positive way. During the elections we were responsible for the movements of significant amounts of barrier materials and building the force protection barrier plan for a large polling site. The Marines of the motor transport detachment and landing support moved all of this material without a hitch. The engineers worked an entire day and throughout the night to build the site, adjusted it all during the following day, and then stepped up to the task of being active members of the security force during the actual elections. The female Marines and Sailors of the MSSG served as searchers for female voters, demonstrating tremendous courage at the point of greatest danger. Every other Marine and Sailor of the MSSG contributed to the efforts to include an entire platoon acting as provisional infantry to bolster security through the crucial time period. In short, they were and are unbelievable!

    The Executive Officer, Sergeant Major and I often comment on how good they are and how what they are learning now will make the difference as they mature and assume leadership roles in the Marine Corps or in a civilian role if they choose to go that way. With Marines and Sailors like these, the future of the nation is well in hand.

    It will not be long before MSSG 31 heads towards home port. Until then, we will keep doing what we are doing and I will keep you posted.

    Until next time and as always, Im proud and you should be proud of the Marines and Sailors of MSSG 31. It is an honor to serve with them.

    Thanks for all your support


    Posted by Deb at 12:46 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    February 04, 2005

    The All Star Team heads for home

    CSSB-7 is coming home to 29 Palms! Here is the last update from LtCol Doolin,
    Commanding Officer:

    Dear CSSB-7 Friends and Families;

    I am happy to report that this will be the final letter for this deployment! As I mentioned in a recent letter, the majority of CSSB-7 personnel will return stateside *****, with twenty-five percent arriving ******. That will bring a close to Operation Iraqi Freedom II-II and your loved ones assignment to CSSB-7.

    When we first arrived in Iraq last August I set some clear and challenging goals for this battalion. First, I wanted us to quickly come together as a team, as we came from around the Marine Corps and around the world to build this battalion. I used the analogy of an All Star Team where we have ties to great units, places, family and friends, but for these 6 months, we would build something special that we could be proud of and remember for years to come. Second, we would set high standards and maintain them throughout the deployment so we could show the younger Marines what it is to be in a truly great unit. Third, I said that we would become the Best Combat Logistics Battalion in the U.S. Marine Corps. Lastly, and most importantly, by achieving these lofty goals, we stood the best chance of succeeding in our mission and bringing everyone home alive.

    As of the date of this writing, we have met and exceeded these early goals. You will not be surprised to know that your Marines and Sailors excelled at every turn and are deserving of the title hero, although none of them will want to be referred as such. While the challenge was significant, and the enemy cunning and persistent, we have shown the tenacity and wherewithal that Marines and Sailors have shown for over 200 years. We did not come away unscathed, as this is war, and war has high risk and costs. We continue to pray for all our brothers and sisters from all services who were wounded or killed in combat, and we pray for continued strength for their loved ones who have sacrificed dearly. We particularly remember our brothers from Charlie Company, 6th Engineer Support Battalion from Peoria Illinios who suffered greatly in a suicide vehicle attack on December 22, 2004. Your courage and sacrifice is not forgotten.

    We thank each of you and the thousands of Americans who have supported us throughout this deployment. The cards, care packages, letters from schoolchildren, prayers, and well wishes were phenomenal and gave us immeasurable strength. A heartfelt Thank You also goes out to the Key Volunteer Network who gave so much of their time and care to the families of this battalion. You are Awesome!

    It has been an honor and a privilege to command this wonderful battalion of Americas finest. I look forward to returning to Twentynine Palms, California to rejoin my family and friends, and begin to prepare CSSB-7 for the next time we are called upon to serve in combat.

    May you have a wonderful reunion with your loved ones, and may God continue to bless you in the months ahead.

    Thank you for your untiring support.

    Sincerely,
    Drew T. Doolin

    It looks foggy but it's a sandstorm. We're again recruiting volunteers to sew sand scarves - strips of t-shirt material that wrap around the lower face to protect against the invasive sand. And if your Marine needs them, let us know. We have a small supply that we'd like to get over there. As always, these are done on strictly volunteer basis so there is no charge for the scarf.

    Posted by Deb at 08:03 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

    February 02, 2005

    The price paid for freedom

    Last week, when television networks broke the story of a helicopter crash with Marines on board, each family of a Marine in Iraq held their breath, mentally evaluating where their child or husband or sibling was located, what the odds were that they might be on that chopper, trying not to think of what might be on the other side of a knock at their door. For 31 families of Marines on that helicopter, that terrible calculus was proved. Their loved one will not be coming home.

    Darrell Ankarlo, whose son LCpl Adam Ankarlo serves with 1/3 Marines, has posted his son's account to his website. The following is an excerpt:

    As most Americans know by now, we lost 31 of our boys last Tuesday when the CH-53 Sea Stallion they were flying in went down in an Iraqi field about 200 miles west of Baghdad. When the incident first crossed my news wire I was only seconds from going on the air. It took my breath away and I prayed a quiet prayer for all of the families but, to be honest, I never even considered that Adam, a Lance Corporal in the Corp, would be in that part of the country. Days earlier he told me his team would be moving out but even he was uncertain where they would land.

    As the day progressed and the news said the guys were from Charlie Company I became even more concerned. My wife, Laurie, and I awaited word but it didnt come. As the minutes ticked into hours every devastating thought a person can have ran through my mind. As Laurie paced and emailed, I sat in my office working on the next show. I had to stay busy. I had to keep my mind off the sandbox and the tragedy that had just changed families lives forever. Finally, 17 hours after the accident we heard from a source that our son had been spotted on the ground and that he was okay. We breathed for the first time all day.

    Im a pretty strong soul and a man who doesnt often express emotions, but since that fateful day I find myself tearing up as my mind races to that point in time. Today, though, was the worst. Today, I heard the full story. It broke my heart.

    The full story is heart-stopping - do visit his website and read the full story. Sheila Smith, wife of a deployed soldier in Afghanistan, shared her reaction to Darrell's account.

    I was at Kaneohe Marine Corp Base yesterday with my son. We had gone there to look at cars and stop by the commissary to pick up a couple of things for dinner with a friend. As I entered the gate I noticed the Marines in their formal attire and then my heart sank. I looked to my left and there was the statue of the Marines as they were raising the United States Flag and gathered around this statue were families, friends and loved ones of the 27 Marines who were killed in this helicopter crash. I can only tell you that my heart stopped and all the trivial things of this world didn't seem to matter. What mattered was that someone had lost a husband, father, son, brother or best friend. I too felt a strange sense of guilt like this man's son felt. I know our guilt was different but I thought Lord I have lived my life why these young men? How can I be so blessed that my husband has seen combat and death but will be coming home to me? Lord what does it all mean? I pulled over on the side of the road and I looked at each face of those standing there, I looked at the flag as it blew in the wind and I realized the price that these young men and the numerous others had paid for the freedom we experience. As I say that flag blow freely in the wind I cried and I ached at the price that had been paid for it and I remembered what my husband said "It's what we do Shelia, it's what we do". I ask my self at that very moment what do we do? What do we do with the freedom that these lives have afforded us? I never want to forget that moment. I never want to forget the price that has been paid for our flag to fly across this great country.

    Take a moment today. Forget about those things troubling you and fall to your knees and pray for these families and lift up the loved ones of every military member in prayer. Then make the decision to make each day the best it can be. Love more than you have ever loved before. Help that stranger. Say I'm sorry. Hug your husband, child, mother, father and know that you are blessed to have them near. Look into their eyes and rejoice at what you see. Live like there is no tomorrow because there are no guarantees. Live your life to bring honor to those who gave theirs so that you and I could be free. Bring honor to them and to their families by making each day the best it can be.

    I love each and every one of you and I thank you for letting me share my heart with you today. Thank you for your love and support. Thank you for your prayers.

    God Bless and Keep Each of You - God bless and comfort you Adam!

    May God bless and comfort all the 1/3 Marines - Darrell's son, Liam's brother, each and every one. I will attend the memorial service for Cpl James Moore - one of those 30 Marines - from Roseburg, OR tomorrow afternoon. If anyone would like to e-mail condolences, I'll include them in a sympathy card for the family.

    Posted by Deb at 03:57 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

    After-election report from Mamudiyah

    Here's the most recent message from LtCol Mark Smith, shared by Marine Mom Linda Kelly:

    As you are all probably already aware, the polls have closed in Iraq. Due to the historic significance of this day and YOUR loved ones role in it, and while I have just a few minutes, I must communicate a few things to you.

    First, the fight is not over! Much work remains to be done, and the Mad Ghost Marines and Sailors of TF 2/24 will slacken not one inch in our cause. Second, I violated my own rule. I'm sorry, I could not resist. I just had to know how the media was portraying this day. I turned on the dust covered TV in my "office" at the FOB and caught the initial lead in to a network broadcast from their main anchor. It took all of about 30 seconds before I had hit maniacal rage stage, known around here as "oh crap, they tripped Mayhem 6's switch again." Moral of the story, in Cliff's Notes version, is this: after describing both the violence and the turnout, this anchorman said that the best way to handle the coverage of what has actually occurred is "to do it the same way we do in the states, and wait until all the facts are in," or words to that effect.

    Well...knock me over with a feather, slap my face and call me a stupid hillbilly! "do it the same way we do it in the states." Did I hear that right? You have got to be kidding me! This was not an election in the only country that has known true representative democracy for 229 years. This was not an election in a country that has overcome the human inidignity of slavery, survived a civil war, slowly and, to our shame, took hundreds of years to bring the vote to women and minorities, has fought through TWO World Wars, all in the name of evolving and perfecting the human condition. THIS WAS AN ELECTION IN THE HEART OF THE ARAB WORLD, AND BY AN ELECTORATE THAT HAS NOT ONLY SUSTAINED DECADES OF REPRESSION, BRUTALITY AND TERROR, BUT VOTED UNDER THE THREAT OF DEATH, AND THE ACTUALITY OF VIOLENCE!

    No, I quite disagree. The only FACT of interest in this election is that ANYONE showed up to vote. And they did, and to my initial understanding, they did in droves. That, I get from the web; but what I know, is that tens of thousands VOTED in our zone. And, they did, mulitple times while the enemy was firing mortars at the polls. YOU HEARD ME, WHILE THE ENEMY WAS FIRING MORTARS AT THE POLLS! We did have some Iraqi's injured. On each and every occassion, YOUR Mad Ghosts returned fire and pursued the enemy. I take no displeasure in telling you that while some of those enemy awoke this morning with the intent of slaughtering innocent men, women and children, the destiny of their day was that IT WAS TO BE THEIR LAST!

    And, what did the Iraqi citizens do, they waved at YOUR Marines, they smiled
    at YOUR Marines, they kept the hands of their children gripped tighlty and held them close, AND THEY KEPT RIGHT ON VOTING!!!!! There are many things to not understand about the Iraqi people from an American perspective. There are some that can easily lead one to hate. But there is so much more to respect and admire. TODAY, in the Mayhem AO, the enemy has earned even more of our disdain, but the people, well the people, they have earned our undying RESPECT and ADMIRATION! For today, in the Mayhem AO, and under the watchful, compassionate and professional cover of YOUR Marine, they demonstrated courage to a degree that would, and rightfully should, shame lesser people!

    Unfortunately, due to our election set, I cannot shake the hand and manly hug each and every Marine of this Battalion, who today have humbled me beyond belief, and therefore, with the wizardy of some of my computer Devil Dogs, we produced a Power Point to be shared electronically. As the most magnificent KVN in the USMC, it is sent to you as well. There should be nothing but unstoppable pride in your soul for the performance of YOUR Marine.

    God Bless 2/24, God Bless the wonderful families of 2/24, God Bless the USMC, God Bless America, and God Bless Iraq!

    Unstoppable pride, yes. Absolutely yes.

    Posted by Deb at 01:28 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

    February 01, 2005

    "Would I vote if I thought I might be killed for doing so?"

    In another message posted just before the elections, LtCol Mark Smith passed along a message from one of his officers, Major David Durham.

    It is far too momentous an occasion for you not to share in the lives of YOUR Marine at this point in time and space. What I can tell you is we are in our election set. We have prepared for every possible, conceivable act our cowardly and evil enemy might throw at us, and the Iraqi people. There is electricity in the air! This must have been how the Minutemen felt.

    Below is a letter that our S-4 Maj Durham sent out tonight and was kind enough to cc; me on. I think its eloquence speaks for itself. It is followed by the message I sent to all hands of 2/24, to all the Mad Ghosts as we are on the dawn of a new day; as the beginning of the end of terror is announced. A long, hard slog remains, but after tomorrow, there shall be no doubt as to its outcome.

    May God Bless and Keep the Families of 2/24, as His Providence begins anew
    tomorrow!

    From Maj David Durham:

    All,

    I'm sure a few of you disagree with some if not all of what I have written you over the course of the last 6 months or so, and have been very kind and polite not to respond with your thoughts and opinions - I do appreciate your restraint - and I do respect your opinion. You have probably shown more wisdom and maturity than I have been able to muster when my passions flair - I'm trying to be a reserved man, but being in a war zone gets you going some times. All that to say thank you for letting me vent from time-to-time. Having said that, I'm going to violate my own admonition and ask you to think about something on the eve of the Iraqi election.

    Lieutenant Colonel Smith asked a question tonight and I think it is worth repeating, passing the question on for you to answer. How many of us would vote if there was a good probability that the polling places would be mortared? How many of us would vote if there were gangs of thugs threatening to kill you in the street - today, next week, a month from now - if we are seen voting?

    Tomorrow - which will be tonight for you at around 10 pm US Central time - the Iraqis will begin to leave their houses on foot to vote. They have been told by our enemy that they will die if they do. I don't know if tomorrow will witness a "large" voter turn out - or a "small" voter turn out I don't know if Kofi Anan of the United Nations will be sufficiently impressed by the turn out to bless the elections he and our "friends" have done nothing to facilitate - or not.

    Tomorrow will witness the birth of a new freedom in Iraq - you will see newly free Iraqis exercising their "inalienable right" to self govern.

    There are many things I don't like about Iraq and many things I do not like or respect about Arab culture - I could fill a book. But I know courage when I see it, and I can only guess if I would have the same courage for me to risk my life to exercise my responsibility as a citizen.

    From my previous e-mail you know I've been reading about our nation's birth (Christmas presents from my Dad,) I have often wondered if I would have had the courage to risk everything for a principle - or an idea. Tie that in with our current situation. I hear the arguments against what we are doing in Iraq - those types of arguments generally come from the same quarter they always have - time immemorial. It's so easy to be a critic - a cynic a spectator - a drop out - and so difficult to stand up and do the hard thing - to work - to fight - to strive - to get knocked down and get back up - over and over - and make no mistake - this is hard - this is tough stuff - not so much for me, but for our young Marines. They all have the courage to risk everything - and some have given everything - "the last full measure," for a principle - for each other - for our nation.

    I've copied and pasted below a list of 56 men - the Gallant 56 who signed the Declaration of Independence - the Band of Brothers and what happened to them. Those who signed below this statement: "We mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our Sacred Honor." Read this list and again ask yourself the question - "would I vote if I thought I might be killed for doing so." Tomorrow - as you witness the Iraqis shake off the chains that have for all time so tightly bound this region of the world - have some respect for their courage.

    The last thing I would ask of you is this, tomorrow the polling places will be visibly guarded by US Marines and Soldiers who will have set up a small cordon of protection around the polling sites. The next time you go to the polls at home - please realize that they also are guarded by US Marines, Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Coast Guard and Policemen --who have a very large protective cordon around you. Understand the enemy that seeks to kill and destroy the new democracy here in Iraq has sworn before god to destroy you.

    I wish you could see them - I really do - they want so much for you to see them - to understand them - so many times I've seen them around you at home - at Family Day - or some parade - like my own boys wanting my approval so badly - they so desperately want you to be proud of them - and I know that you are. If you could only see them now - so brave - so confident such MEN!

    Keep our Marines in your prayers - Stay the Course.
    David

    Continue reading for Major Durham's list of gallant men who risked all to ensure a free country for their descendents . . . and reflect on his question: "would I vote if I thought I might be killed for doing so."

    • Carter Braxton of Virginia, wealthy planter and trader, saw his ships swept from the seas. To pay his debts he lost his home and all his properties and died in rags.
    • Thomas Lynch Jr. who signed that pledge was the third-generation rice-grower. Aristocrat. Large plantation owner. After he signed his health failed. With his wife he set out for France, was never heard from again.
    • Thoraas McXean of Delaware was so harassed by the enemy that he was forced to move his family five times in five months. He served in Congress without pay, his family in poverty and in hiding.
    • Vandals looted the properties of Ellery and Clymer and Hall and Gwinnett and Walton and Heyward and Rutledge and Middleton.
    • And Thomas Nelson, Jr. of Virginia, raised two million dollars on his own signature to provision our allies...the French fleet. After the war, he personally paid back the loans, wiped out his entire estate. He was never reimbursed by his government.
    • In the final battle for Yorktown he, Nelson, urged General Washington to fire on his...Nelson's own home, which was occupied by Cornwallis. It was destroyed. He died bankrupt and was buried in an unmarked grave. Thomas Nelson, Jr. had pledged his "life, fortune, and his sacred honor."
    • The Hessians seised the home of Francis Hopkinson of New Jersey.
    • Francis Lewis had his home and everything destroyed, his wife imprisoned. She died within a few months.
    • Richard Stockton, who signed that Declaration, was captured and mistreated and his health broken to the extent that he died at fifty-one. His estate was pillaged.
    • Thomas Heyward, Jr. was captured when Charleston fell.
    • John Hart was driven from his wife's bedside while she was dying. Their thirteen children fled in all directions for their lives. His fields and gristmill were laid waste. For more than a year he lived in forests and caves and returned home after the war to find his wife dead, his children gone, his properties gone; he died a few weeks later of exhaustion and a broken heart.
    • Lewis Morris saw his land destroyed, his family scattered. Phillip Livingston died within a few months from the hardships of the war.
    • John Hancock history remembers best due to a quirk of fate rather than anything he stood for. That great sweeping signature attesting his vanity towers over the others. One of the wealthiest men in New England, he stood outside Boston one terrible night of the war and said, "Burn Boston, though it makes John Hancock a beggar if the public good requires it." He, too, lived up to the pledge.
    Of the fifty-six, few were long to survive.
    • Five were captured by the British and tortured before they died. Twelve had their homes. ..from Rhode Island to Charleston...sacked, looted, occupied by the enemy, or burned. Two lost their sons in the army. One had two sons captured.
    • Nine of the fifty-six died from the war, from its hardships or from its more merciful bullets.

    Posted by Deb at 10:49 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    More from the Mad Ghosts of Mamudiyah

    Here is an e-mail updates from LtCol Mark Smith from proud Marine Mom Linda Kelly. It's the first of two from him - he's quite a writer and I sincerely hope he puts these into book form someday.

    Very good evening to all of you. It is my sincere hope that this letter continues to find you in high spirits, good health and filled with motivation for the challenges that lie ahead. I fully realize that with over half of the deployment behind you, the stress grows even more intense as your longing for your loved one morphs into an intense desire. This is ultimately good, but also can bring with it side effects that can be very challenging. Well, just for example, my email in-box was filled this week with hate mail for me on decisions that I had made, that several wives and girlfriends were in bitter opposition to. Now, I have always shot straight with my beloved ladies of 2/24, and have always said to feel free to contact me with questions or concerns, but I do wish that when I receive hate mail that it be based on facts, and not on decisions I never made! See, many people were spun out of control by a rumor concerning liberty in Germany. This rumor, and the emails that bombarded my wartop computer as a result are but a bug's flatulation in the grand scheme of life, but are symptomatic of a larger, and potentially more devastating effect. The effect of lack of understanding. You see ladies, I will be addressing redeployment and homecoming within the next week or two. And, I have no doubt that some of the decisions and RESTRICTIONS that will surround the Battalion's redeployment will not be welcome news for many of you. But, what I need all to understand, is that like all other decisions, the manner in which we handle redeployment and reunion issues will be based on what is best for the Marines, and what is best for the families. Even if it does not appear that way, that is what it will be. It will be that way because, despite my boyish looks (HA!), I am forty years old. And, in that forty years, I have twenty three in the beloved Corps. I have mobilized three times and deployed to war twice. In that time, I have learned a few things from my master, the USMC. And folks, I have to tell you, my master is very good at what she does. And, one of the things she does is deployment and redeployment. We know what we are doing. AND AGAIN, we will do it in a manner most beneficial to the YOUR MARINE and to YOU! Even if it does not appear that way to you. However, the details of which will have to wait for a few days, because total focus right now, hate mail notwithstanding, is the elections.

    Now, for the elections. Rest assured that your Mad Ghosts are working hard to shape for successful elections in our Area of Operations. They will bring to the people of the "triangle of death" there first chance at self-determination. With our brothers-in-arms at large, we will bring to the Arab world, for the first time in history, its chance at self-determination. Did you hear that? For the first time in its history, this region of the world will experience its FIRST CHANCE AT SELF-DETERMINATION! Imagine that. Very hard for you to do, isn't it? Very hard to imagine because we take for granted the RIGHT to determine our government. Very hard to imagine because we take for granted that the social contract MANDATES that people be governed by consent, not by decree and force. Very hard to imagine because as Americans we make assumptions about the rest of the world being just like us, when in reality they are worlds apart, literally and figuratively. Well, for the Iraqi people, it is very hard to imagine as well. It is very hard to imagine for them because they HAVE NEVER HAD THIS OPPORTUNITY! Their entire lives they have been governed not by rule of law, but by law of force. Brutal, unrelenting, unmerciful force! And, as they seek to break the chains of oppression, the vacuum of Sadam's henchman has been replaced by the maniacal and insane philosophy and violence of Osama Bin Nothing and Abu Musab Al Zarpunkery! They are faced with the hate and terror that brought you Sept 11 and a declared Jihad on everyone in the world who dares think like a rational, free human being. Why just today an IED detonated in our zone that killed two Iraqi citizens and critically wounded eight others. Posters were placed in one area that said that anyone that voted violated the laws of Allah and would be killed for it and to remember that "the Americans and Bush will not be here for long." Yes, once again, this enemy shows his hand for what he is, an absolute COWARD whose only goal is to terrorize and break the will of the people. The Iraqi people and the American People. He is an enemy who fights 4th Generation Warfare, which has as its core belief that it accepts from the outset he cannot win militarily, so he targets the will of the people! Now, to be brutally honest, I could not for one milli-second question the Iraqi people if their wills were broken. They sustained thirty plus years of unspeakable brutality and oppression at the hands of Sadam and his EVIL empire. That has been followed by two years of occupation by foreign armies, and a relentless and deadly assault from radical and maniacal groups led by AMZ, his Wahabi bretheren, and a consortium of thugs, bandits and criminals. After that, saying "uncle" would be understandable. But, they are not. Now, we will see, but I believe on Sunday they will come out and they will vote. They will come out and vote despite all of this, because they have seen something they have never seen before. They have seen compassion. They have seen generosity. They have seen strangers risk, and lay down their lives for them. Why? They have asked this question of me. They have asked me as the "American Commander," why do your Marines protect us. They say we are told that the Americans are only here for the oil. Yet we see them. We see them living in our towns and we see them living very hard lives. We see them out on patrol and raiding houses of what we know are "Ali Baba." We see them bandage our wounded, play with our children and try to help. We know that they have families that they love and miss, and yet they are here.

    Why? Boy, that is the million dollar question, isn't it. Well, I think I know why. And, I know the attacks will come at me fast and furious. But the why is BECAUSE THIS CAUSE IS RIGHT, AND IT IS FRONT AND CENTER ON THE WAR ON TERROR! Simply said, if the Arab world tastes freedom, even so much as gets a whiff of what self-determination is all about, it will be the beginning of the end for the terror network. If for a fraction of a second they can break the chains of oppression and life by edict, those who have held sway over them for so long will be on the run. They will be on the run from a people who now have the most powerful weapon known to mankind, the weapon of freedom. For all men, regardless of religion, race, color or creed have an unqueachable thirst to live free, to choose their own destiny, to walk their own path. The Iraqi people have seen this. They have seen it in your Marines! They have seen men who do not worship as they do, who do not speak as they do, who do not eat what they do, but have bled, killed and died for them. They have realized that they do this for the Iraqi people, and not only for themselves. These Marines have done this to show the Iraqi people, and more importantly THE WORLD, that the only hope for humanity in the long run is free people seeking to live, not dominated people seeking to survive. There is no attempt by anyone to convert the Islamic world from their religion, just a sacred attempt to lift the saddle of tyranny from the backs of the Arab world so that they may seek peace. For in this, the War on Terror will ultimately be won.

    This is a two front War. Violence against the combatant, liberty to the oppressed. We carry forward the Flag, and in the end, success will depend on two visions: for the people of the Arab world the Flag must represent the best of who we are; for the enemy, the Flag must represent the violence we can bring. Those two fronts are being fought simultaneously by your Mad Ghosts, and their success on both fronts will bring out the people, and they will vote. They will vote and they will choose essentially a "Constitutional Convention" that will lay the cornerstone for a free Iraq. It will be the first step, a milestone, in a long journey that will set this part of the world on an unstoppable move towards freedom, and with freedom will come tolerance and progress. But, they will choose more than a constitutional convention, they will choose a destiny. One where rights will mean more than religion in governance. One where law will mean more than Jihad!

    In thinking about this and YOUR Marine's place in it, let me offer you two quotes. The first is from Abu Musab al Zarqawi (Zarpunkery)

    (AMZ): January 24, 2005; Al Qaeda leader Abu Musab al Zarqawi has released an audio tape on the Internet, where he declares, "We have declared a bitter war against the principle of democracy and all those who seek to enact it." He declared that anyone who voted on January 30th would be seen as an infidel (non-Moslem).

    The second is from Thomas Jefferson on the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence:

    "May it be to the world, what I believe it will be, (to some parts sooner, to others later, but finally to all,) the signal of arousing men to burst the chains under which monkish ignorance and superstition has persuaded them to bind themselves, and to assume the blessings and security of self-government.....All eyes are opened or opening to the rights of man. The general spread of the light of science has already laid open to every view the palpable truth, that the mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few, booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately, by the grace of God. These are grounds of hope for others; for ourselves, let the annual return of this day forever refresh our recollections of these rights, and an undiminished devotion to them."

    On whom do you want the hope of the world to rest? AMZ or Thomas Jefferson? For me, this is a no-brainer! The Arab world must be shown freedom. This is their "signal of arousing men to burst the chains...and to assume the blessing and security of self-government..."

    I fully realize that this stands in stark contrast to other's opinions, and squarely calls out most of what is portrayed in the mainstream media, but YOUR Marines are not fighting and in some very unfortunate cases, dying, for anything less than this. Let this final story be the final truth. I know most of you probably saw many news stories about a week ago concerning a suicide car bomb dressed as an ambulance that detonated on a wedding party in our zone, near Yusufiyah. The bomb killed 18 Iraqi's and severely injured several more. This wedding was not unlike any wedding you would go to in the good ole' US of A. It was a feast. It was a celebration. It was a gathering of family and friends to toast the union of a man and a woman. There were men, women, boys and girls. They were outdoors eating and celebrating. Yup, not at all unlike a reception in the good ole' US of A, save an ambulance drove down the canal road in front of the house, turned into the drive and detonated a high explosive. Not at all unlike a reception in the good ole' US of A, except for those milli-seconds of violence when shrapnel flew through the air at thousands of feet per second, and accompanied by a shock wave that pounds anything in its lethal path with a ferocity you cannot imagine.

    Now, what you did not hear reported in the news was that it was YOUR Marines that responded to the scene. It was YOUR Marines that conducted the scene analysis. It was YOUR Marines that apprehended several terrorists STRONGLY believed to have been involved. No, that ain't news. However, to the Sheikh of the tribe, who is a very powerful Sheikh, the Marines are a BIG part of the story. I, Maj Mann and CWO5 Roussell met with him days after the attack. What he told us would not square with the reasons the media told you the wedding was attacked. No, when I asked him why he thought his tribe was attacked, he looked at me with the look that let you know why he is the Sheikh, and said: "because I have prepared my tribe to vote. I have educated them. I have signs throughout all my villages telling them to vote. We do not want a Shia government, a Sunni government or a Kurdish government. We want a government of the people."

    First picture is of the blast site. This could have been anyone's family!
    Second picture is the Sheikh's reception of us days after the attack. Notice the spread he provided us. Think his will has been broken? Then why should ours even be in question.
    "A government of the people." Where have I heard that before?

    Pray for the success of YOUR Marines and their historical mission! 30 Jan is the first step in a journey of a thousand paces, but it will chart the course of a ship destined for free waters, and will ensure your children and grandchildren never hear the words terror or terrorists. I don't know about you, but I see that as my sacred duty for my two Angels!

    May God Bless and Keep the Magnificent Families of 2/24.

    LtCol Mark A. Smith, MAYHEM 6
    CO, Task Force 2/24
    "Mayhem from the Heartland"
    or as the terrorists call us "The Mad Ghosts"


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

    January 31, 2005

    E-mails from the Syrian border

    Here's my son's thoughts on Saturday, before the election:

    I feel its going to be a dangerous mission to secure those people voting. The local insurgency is planning attacks. That's nothing new. But this is the best trained fighting organization in the world and we will accomplish this mission.

    And Sunday night, after the election:

    People around here actually went out and voted So thats cool. Despite death threats and mines placed in the roads. That's pretty cool.

    Very cool indeed - especially when you consider that those brave Iraqis had to travel to another town, 12 miles away, over one of the most dangerous stretches of road in Iraq, in order to vote. Way cool.

    Posted by Deb at 10:03 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    January 26, 2005

    Planting Seeds of Democracy

    Lt. Cmdr. Louis Rosa, 24th MEU Chaplain, sends along this account of a recent visit to the Regional Democracy Center in Al Hillah.
    Photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Anthony Pilozo
    Lt. Cmdr. Louis Rosa, 24th MEU chaplain, stands in front of the Regional Democracy Center in al Hillah, Iraq earlier this month.
    Recently, I had the privilege to visit with a group of Marines the Regional Democracy Center. The center, about 95 kilometers south of Baghdad, is designed to provide a gathering place for Iraqis of all backgrounds to discuss principles of democracy and develop programs aimed at empowering their own groups and civil society initiatives. The center's founder Sayyed Farqat Al Qizwini's vision is that from the center all Shi'ia, Sunni, and Kurd start building a new democracy in Iraq. He hopes the center will be filled with all Iraqis, especially including women for a united Iraq. For 35 years Iraqis didn't know about democracy. Now the center is teaching its people about it. The Center provides a place for sheikhs, tribal leaders, community leaders, men, women, and students to promote democracy throughout south central Iraq, an area that includes 12 million people. It is refreshing and extremely hopeful to participate in the educational opportunities of the Regional Democracy Center. The Marines had an outstanding opportunity to hear and see the dialogue of democracy in its full bloom. Inclusive to the excitement is the chance many of the Marines have to engage in discourse with citizens of this nation which they so bravely fight for to have the right to Democracy and Freedom. The four pillars of the Center's philosophy are: Equality, Justice, Liberty, and Peace. The members of this center know that the key to the future are it's children so it is expanding activities to reach the children in its region. Children are the promise of each future generation. Like the many Palm trees growing in the desert here, the key to success is deep roots and lots of flexibility. The Regional Democracy Center is in the planting business. Plant ideas, ideals and lots of hope and the future will reap a bountiful harvest of freedom!
    Marines of the 24th MEU enjoy lunch with their new Iraqi friends during a recent visit to the Regional Democracy Center in Hillah, Iraq.
    Petty Officer 1st Class Anthony Pilozo

    Posted by Deb at 06:29 PM | Comments (1)

    ". . .don't get me wrong, being mortared is not fun"

    Major Holton from 2/24 Golf Company sends this late January update:

    Dear Golf Company Families,

    Another week has passed, and your Marines continue the same excellence they have exhibited throughout our time here. The next week is going to be a busy one for us with the elections occurring here. The challenges are going to be many, the nature of the most dangerous threats are known and have been measured, and I feel confident that the result of the elections will be the same positive result as we have seen since we arrived in Mahmudiyah 123 days ago.

    The first item I wanted to address in this week's update is 3rd Platoon. As you all know, they have been attached to the Army for a few weeks now. It is my understanding that a number of concerns had been expressed by the parents at the Family Day at the HTC this past weekend, after talking to their Marines. Understanding that I am responding to concerns that have been passed on through several hands before they were brought to my attention and I might not be responding to exactly the same concerns that were expressed, let me explain a few items, as I think the hardest position for anyone to be is in the dark on things, and you deserve as good of information on what is happening here as is possible.

    I will warn you that some of this information is somewhat detailed on what your Marines have faced from time to time here, and if you don't want the details, please move on to the next paragraph:


    • Let me preface what I know with this - I am in NO way upset that concerns are being raised by the parents. At the end of the day, it is information that allows me to make decisions. If that information comes from what I seegreat. If that information comes from the Marinesgreat. And if that information comes from parentsgreat! This only shows that you are concerned enough about your children, friends, and loved ones and courageous enough to speak out when something needs to be changed or clarified in your minds. I don't view this as a breach of the chain of command; rather I view it as one more source of information. What you must know is that I will never tolerate retribution on Marines for anything that is passed to us in this manner. We have had several instances on this deployment where concerns were voiced by families, from as small of an items as 3 volt batteries to as large as Up Armored "HUMVEES." In all cases, it has allowed me to evaluate information that I may not have had. In some cases, what the family member was purporting turned out not be what was happening or was only partially correct; however, on other occasions, they were right on the money. The bottom line is this is your company too, and there is a whole Key Volunteer Network (KVN) in place who will help to raise your concerns in the quickest way possible. I would be a hypocrite if on one hand I accepted all of the support and help all of you have given us, and then on the other hand refused to you the ability to have input to what is happening here. Besides, in then end, as it relates to the company, no matter how many inputs there are, ultimately I alone will make the decision. So, please continue to pass on your concerns. Major Race and Barb W know they are just an e-mail away from me and 1st Sgt Eastwood and they have done a fantastic job of passing on issues that were raised by family members.

    • One of the concerns that was voiced to me from the family day at the HTC (again this is what was passed on to me and my have already mutated into something different than how it was offered up) deals with 3rd platoon's relationship with the Army unit they are attached to. A version of a story is floating around that says the army unit abandoned 3rd platoon one day during a mortar attack. Let me tell you the truth of what occurred. On that day, there indeed was a mortar attack. On that day, there were two Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicles that were delivering food to our Marines where they are located when the mortars started landing. It is true that the Bradleys left after they had finished dropping off the food, and just after the mortars had stopped landing. It is also true that our guys did not do what we should have to call in for artillery support to crush the insurgents who were shooting at them. For some reason, we became very fixated on those two Bradleys being at the position and were ready to ascribe blame when they left. Now, put in the same situation, would our guys have left the site? Almost certainly notthey tend to run towards a fight and not away from it. But on that day, those two Bradleys were tasked with dropping off food, and they were doing what they were ordered to do. Them leaving in no way put the Marines in 3rd platoon in any more danger than what they already were. The barriers that are constructed there can have an 82mm mortar (the mortar of choice for the enemy here) land within 5 meters of it, absorb the blow and leave everyone behind them absolutely unharmed. Now, don't get me wrong.being mortared is not fun.

      In November, we went a stretch of about 14 days where we were mortared in Lutayfiyah every day with very accurate fire. It took us a while then to find and decommission the individuals who were doing that. It is a nerve-wracking experience to have mortars exploding 50 feet away from you, and we know well that it can have deadly results. However, on that day that is in question, the rounds were landing a few hundred meters away from our platoon, who was in a well-fortified position. The army did not abandon us on that day, and have stood side by side with us in this thing. Unfortunately, some of our guys, placed in situation fraught with friction, lost their cool. Even as good as our Marines are, this is going to happen from time to time, and is a natural outcome to being here for an extended period of time.

    • The other major concern was that the Army was using our guys to do menial tasks that they didn't want to do. This stems from the day they put one of our guys on radio watch back at the main base. These "extra" requirements are no different than what are levied on us (and in turn we levy on the Marines) by our parent command. As a matter of fact, the platoon from the Army that has been working with our company to plug the whole that exists from having 3rd platoon taken from us has had a number of the same requirements placed on them as well. We never like when one of our guys are placed on guard duty, detainee watch, radio watch, FOB escort duty, etcbut it is just a matter of reality that these extra requirements have to be filled to accomplish the overall mission, keep the unit sustained, and keep the unit protected as much as it should.

    We had a fairly atypical visit to our company's FOB yesterday. Dan Rather of CBS News came to Iraq to do a story for 60 Minutes II on fighting the insurgency and the upcoming elections. His two-day visit was hosted by Colonel Johnson, our MEU Commander (who is the boss of Lt Col Smith, our Battalion Commander). They spent time on the first day of the visit solely with the MEU Commander, and then yesterday, they visited two sites in our zone, with ours being one of them. The visit here in Lutayfiyah went great from my perspective. There were a few one-on-one interviews, and a group "discussion" with a squad from mostly second platoon and some of weapons platoon (I wish that I could have him talk to everyone, but with operations going on, many of our guys were outside of the wire at the time he visited). If I had to guess, I would say a clip from the group discussion will end up in the final story. I felt good that Rather had the opportunity to talk to enough of the Marines here to get a real sense of the "spirit" of Golf Company. Regardless of what "angle" he was looking for the final story, your Marines did a phenomenal job yesterday in laying down for him how they feel and what the reality on the ground actually is. The producer told us as they were leaving that the story will air this Wednesday night (Thursday morning here) on 60 Minutes II. I would ask as many of you as possible to tape the episode, as I am not sure we will actually get it on the satellite TV here. We have one channel that tends to shift back and forth between news and shows on the major four stations, so we are not guaranteed to get the show here at all.

    It has been passed on to us that the recommended cutoff date for mail and packages has been set by our Battalion as Feb 1. Based off of the timetable for retrograde that has been briefed to me, here is what I think makes sense. I would use Feb 10 as a hard cut off date for packages, and even then, I would only send the necessities that your Marine is requesting. We still have our "Wal-Mart" here in Lutayfiyah stocked with all kinds of extras. For regular letter mail, I would recommend sending out no later than Feb 20th. And lastly, the MotoMails that all of the Marines have been receiving can be sent out right up until just a few days before we leave the country. If you have not yet used MotoMail used, it an easy to use, web-based, FREE, service (www.motomail.us). You can sign up for an account and then type in a message much like you are sending an e-mail. The message gets sent to post offices over here in Iraq and then printed out and delivered to our unit. I am looking at a MotoMail right now that was written in the states on January 19 and was delivered to me yesterday (January 23).

    The next week will be historic and it may also be the hardest week of our lives. There is so much uncertainty on what we will see. As a commander, my assessment of what we will encounter ranges from not much violence at all (due to the extensive shaping operations we have conducted the last few months) to large-scale suicide bomb attacks on the polling sites and our base. There are just a lot of unknowns, not of what the threat are, but where, when, and how often they will come. The elections clearly are going to be treated as a huge symbolic target for the Mujahadeen and other insurgent forces in this country. Regardless of what occurs, this I am certain about - your Marines and Sailors are ready for any eventuality. I am as proud of the 181 men of this company as the day I took command, and I thank God for every single day that I have the opportunity to serve with them. Have a great week, and I promise I will send out an update as soon after the elections are complete as I can.

    Best regards,
    Adam Y. Holton
    Major, United States Marine Corps Reserve
    "Semper superbus...nunca plenus!!!"
    "Always proud...never satisfied!!!"


    Posted by Deb at 01:50 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    January 23, 2005

    January update from Apache Nation

    Capt John F. Griffin, RCT-1, 2d LAR Bn, Apache Company, Fallujah, Iraq describes life in Fallujah for his warriors:

    Happy holidays and happy New Year to all the family and friends of the Apache Nation! We hope that everyone enjoyed his or her holidays - all things being relative, we did as well. All of the platoon positions were covered in holiday cheer from all of our loved ones back home. Myself, the 1stSgt and merry bunch of camouflaged elves, in a green armored 7-ton truck went to each platoon CP to serve chow. The 1stSgt wore a red hat that day. Pretty festive although I thought a green fuzzy costume with a small dog and big moose horns would have been more appropriate for him. But getting him to wear something that is not in keeping with the Marine Corps uniform regulations was a big win nonetheless. We probably received 100s of Christmas cards and letters from numerous children and schools across the nation. The children's honesty, innocence and sincerity were heart felt and quite often - just down right humorous. One card in particular was adorned with patriotic symbols and colors as well as Christmas cheer with two simple sentences - "Merry Christmas. I hope you don't die." I can say across the board - we agreed.

    Speaking of platoon positions, I have to say sorry to my Marines for this one, but do not, do not let them pull the sympathy card with you. If they have been trying that since 25 Nov - shame, shame, shame. When we first arrived on the peninsula, I chose a location for the company CP for tactical reasons. I gave the platoons their missions and told them to choose platoon CPs that met the tactical guidance. I am not sure who can learn from whom on this one - but I can tell you my platoon commanders picked the nicest houses on the peninsula and they are living in mansions. Now yes, there may be some barb wire, sandbags and machine gun bunkers around, but there is no getting around that these guys pulled a page from the Better Homes and Gardens into their decision making process. If anyone is crying sympathy because of their living conditions - please, please, tell me their names and their exact quotes. I could really have a lot of fun with that one.

    It is hard to believe that almost six weeks have passed since I wrote to all the people back home whom I consider part of the Apache family. My apologies. A counter insurgency war is weeks of boredom mixed with minutes of chaos. The past weeks have become just that. November has come and gone and regardless what the path of this country takes, we know we did our part
    - and that is all we ever asked.

    Following the fall of Fallujah, we assumed a mission on the flank of the city protecting the regiment and we have been executing that mission ever since. It is a good mission and it puts us in a position where we are still taking the fight to the enemy. Only this time, we are taking it into his home. The Marines of this company have been doing a tremendous job working with the local population. The tide has definitely turned in this area and we are seeing more and more Iraqi citizens coming to us with information about the insurgents. They have provided us with information that has no doubt saved many Marine lives. We have uncovered hundreds of pieces of ordnance, discovered and defeated numerous IEDs waiting for a convoy or patrol to come by and we have detained and put away many insurgents. It is very satisfying to drive out in the middle of the night or even in broad daylight sometimes, surround an insurgent's home and rip him from where he thought was his safe place. He believed he had refuge and sanctity. And just as he had taken that from the people of Iraq, we are now doing that to him. To see his face, knowing he is caught and defeated, humbled as he sits on the floor while we secure him and search his house is extremely satisfying. He is no longer the brazen thug who intimidates the population, uses terror as his weapon and masks himself behind a veil of violence. He is now exposed for what he truly is - a coward. And we in the Apache Nation have delivered him to the Iraqi authorities where he will sit and rot for the years to come and not receive what he thought was an honor to die for the cause.

    The elections are close at hand and I can only imagine the spin the media is making this out to be. All of us here look forward to the election because it will truly mean mission accomplishment. Even if only a small minority of citizens comes out to vote, the message will be historic and revolutionary. The path of this country will be in the hands of free Iraq and regardless of the path they chose, be proud for we gave them that opportunity to chose. Regardless if we agree or disagree with their decisions, particularly if you disagree, be proud. They are realizing a dream world that we as Americans take for granted - a government elected by the people. But remember, as well, that a legitimate Iraqi government will take time. In this day and age of instant everything (remember when Tang was exciting because the astronauts drank it), instantaneous governing is unrealistic. Remember that it took the United States 14 years to ratify its Constitution and we started with a failed form of government in the Articles of Confederation. Let us not be hypocrites.

    The countdown is on as we head down the deployment highway - about 80 exits to go. Celebrate life because it is special. You do not realize how good the life you live is until you see others who never had it. I think the MEF commander's guidance is right on target. This is a three star general who is in charge of 20,000+ personnel and a big piece of land in Iraq - one his leadership principles is: Who did you make laugh today? There is a guy who has it figured out.

    Until next time, pray for peace and God bless America.

    Semper Fidelis.

    Posted by Deb at 03:25 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    January 21, 2005

    Update from The Mad Ghosts of 2/24

    Here's the latest from Col. Mark Smith, Battalion Commander for 2/24 Marines

    Well, the new year is upon us...and it is my most sincere hope that this letter finds all of you in HIGH spirits for the blessings that surely will abound in 2005!

    The new year was welcomed by the Mad Ghosts in BIG fashion. We were part of a Brigade size operation, with our "newest, best buddies" from the 2 Brigade Combat Team and Colonel "Fightin' Mike" Formica, as we forayed into previously uncharted territory along the Euphrates River. This was the largest operation to date for the Mad Ghosts and was a "full-up" round consisting of helicopter-borne assault, mechanized assault and motorized assault. It involved virtually every element of the Battalion. And, our brothers in the ING (Iraqi National Guard) were tasked, for the first time, to operate in a field environment for an extended period of time (a task they performed extremely well, I might add!) The mission was precise: establish a cordon of the area and locate Anti Iraqi Forces (AIF) and capture them, and to disrupt their seemingly never-ending supply of ammunition and explosives, with which they fight their cowardly war of IEDs and VBIEDs.

    Now, with all the moving parts, there are about a gazillion things that could go wrong. NONE did! The Mad Ghosts and our Brigade partners were flawless in execution. They swept into an area, coming from 360', in the middle of the night, via helos, trucks, HMMWVs, tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles and at H Hour plus 20 minutes, a stretch of land approximately 16 kilometers long by 10 kilometers wide was cordoned and owned by elements of the Mad Ghosts and the 2 BCT. Many Iraqis woke that day to a situation they had never seen! The systematic search was begun, and approximately 48 hours later, almost 100 insurgents had been identified and incarcerated and an unbelievable amount of cached weapons and explosives had been located and confiscated. Two VBIEDs were located that were in the process of being equipped with their explosives and were destroyed.

    This was all accomplished through a massive "team" effort, and I would like to recognize some key players:


    • The Marines of the Engineer Platoon from Virginia: they hunt weapons caches like a dog hunts squirrel. Their tenacity in search techniques has ensured hundreds of explosives that saw their life cycle completed through a safe and controlled detonation at the hands of the engineers, rather than at the trigger of a fanatical Muslim seeking a one way trip to Virgin-land. I will never be able to say enough about the performance of these Marines and the unbelievable amount of work they have accomplished for this Bn. And, more importantly, I will never be able to say thank you in any manner of sufficiency for the number of lives they have saved! But, you know what, if you could see the light in their faces when they find a cache...I think they get all the thanks they ever wanted.
    • The Marines of the Truck Platoon from Pennsylvania: now understand, these Marines are from Truck Co, 4th MarDiv, and as such are designed to be a "tactical" asset used primarily to maneuver fighting Marines to the combat zone. However, reality of a counter-insurgency requires that they also be used in a combat service support role: picking up mail, repair parts, etc. These Marines have been tireless in their support and have logged some of the longest hours known to man. And for this operation, they seamlessly transitioned into Warrior mode, and delivered hundreds of Marines to the fight, at night, with night vision goggles (NVGs) and did so without incident. They also are on the LtCol Smith List of Never-Ending Thank You's.
    • HET 9 (Human Exploitation Team) These Warriors come from all over the Marine Corps, active and reserve, and are the ones who do the field interviews of our persons of interest. Simply said: they are the best in the Marine Corps and all of Iraq. This group of Warriors has produced more intelligence, saved more lives (both in the Mayhem AO and outside) than any intelligence asset in the War. They are remarkable, sleepless, and define "dedication to duty." CWO2 Murphy, their OIC, was a casualty in October after being shot in the foot, and they have pressed on under the leadership of MSgt Ertz in a manner that is nothing short of inspiring. Please allow me one second to digress: Murph, you should swell with pride and tears right now, for YOUR Marines have been spectacular...and a testimony to your leadership and preparation. (Oh yeah, and don't think for a second you are not in for a rash of ---- about your letter home following your injury describing your "ambush dance"...skip, shoot, duck, shoot, hop, shoot, swim with the fishes, shoot, etc. etc. etc.)
    • The COC Marines: COC stands for Combat Operations Center. These are the Marines that run the command and control systems. The radios and computers that on the modern digital battlefield are indispensable. Each of them does the work of 3 people, run long shifts and ensure the situational awareness and report/process execution that is critical in this counter-insurgency. For an operation like this one, I had both my forward COC and my Main COC in operation, and they were brilliant in their execution. They are and will always be the "unsung heroes" of the Mad Ghost deployment. (And for me personally, Cpl Kostyn and LCpl Blackford were a source of humor, the importance of which just cannot be understood unless you have attempted to command in a high stress environment; but for those who have, and for those who will, you will cherish the uncanny humor of such Marines...they helped to sooth the savage beast that is GySgt Engram!)
    • The fighting Marines of Fox, Echo, Golf and Weapons: who take precision violence to the enemy, and a spirit for victory that knows no equal. H&S Co, who provides the security and support to all these operations, and conducts much of their own patrolling and "hunting" of the Muj, and who have taken our FOB and turned it into a fortress. The Marines of this last paragraph are the Bn proper, and no Commander has ever had the privilege of leading a better one. My duty is their mission accomplishment and welfare...and my duty has been my honor.

    Now, with all of that said, let me finish by telling you the best part of the story of this Operation which was code named: Operation River Walk, for it goes without saying we cannot do anything without a "code name." It is just what we do...code names and acronyms. As successful as this Operation was, it like all others, shapes us for future operations. The hunt will go on and ELECTIONS WILL OCCUR.

    I have stopped watching the news from the US totally. I no longer can take the maniacal rages it places me in as I swear ungentleman-like profanities at the TV in my dust covered cubby-hole of an office, directed at "pundits" and "experts" who do not, in my very humble opinion, have a single clue and who report every single incident that occurs here as if they are color commentating on a football game.

    Well, I can barely fog a mirror intellectually, but I think I know a thing or two about this war thing, and the vast amount that I don't know, I have certified geniuses like Maj Dan Whisnant and CWO5 Roussell to teach me. And what I know...war is a slog. And a counter-insurgency fourth generation war is definitely a slog. The only weapon the enemy has IS the MEDIA, and the target is YOU! They are attempting to win this War by breaking your will.

    I pray that will not happen. Because...and this is the moral of the story...the best part of the story of Operation River Walk is what we discovered about the people. You see, our belief going into this operation was that this part of our Western zone (which we had not been able to foray into much due to other commitments) was the heart of a massive AIF insurgency, replete with popular support and headed by Wahabiists (yes, the very people who brought you the slaughter of 9/11). We found many of the Wahabiists and their caches. They are now headed to Abu Ghraib and their caches destroyed. But the people...no, what we found among the people was MUCH support for the US and what we are doing here. We found a genuine desire to live free and to ELECT who they want, not who the Imams and terrorists want.

    See, what we found is what we always find: a majority of people being intimidated, terrorized and oppressed by a radical, fanatical and clinically INSANE few. We found people who want us to finish this fight, no matter how long it takes, and who were genuinely appreciative of our efforts...a little different than what you hear out of NY and Washington News Rooms.

    Gotta tell you, would love for my Marines to actually meet these "fighters who are resisting a foreign invasion of Iraq," because they might actually fight the way Soldiers do. NO, what we meet time and time and time again, is radical Muslim extremists whose sole goal is the defeat of America and the spreading of their brand of medieval thinking that abhors technology, enslaves women, cheapens human life and seeks the establishment of their brand of religion, or death.

    So I say, let all the national media talking heads rave on.


    • Rave on about every single act of insurgent violence and trumpet it as some massive blow to the MNF effort.
    • Rave on about how we are losing.
    • Rave on, as if you really care about any of what you are spewing.

    Just, Rave On.

    The ground truth is known by those actually on the ground. And for those on the ground, we will win, we will bring freedom and democracy to a land that has NEVER known it, and we will suffer and sustain the hardship required to do it.

    We will do it, and we will take the time required for such a massive effort in a world that wants a "drive through window" war.

    We will do it in the spirit and with the best example we have; the spirit of 1776 when freedom and democracy was also brought to a land that had NEVER known it, a land that would become known as THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.

    We will win because although the violence is a huge part of what we do, ultimately this global war on terror will be won by ideas. And YOUR Mad Ghost, YOUR Marine is the best example of what the best idea in the history of mankind has to offer. Their never ending decency and compassion has lit, and will continue to fuel for the people of Iraq, what freedom is truly all about: respect, dignity, hope, love and a personal quest to find meaning in YOUR OWN WAY!

    For this, 10 of my most prized possessions and reason for my existence gave their last full measure of devotion on the battlefields of Iraq, and for this, WE rave on!

    May God Bless and Keep the families of 2/24...and may we all offer a special blessing on the families of our fallen heroes...and those of our wounded who struggle daily, particularly Regina Simon as she prays beside the bed of SSgt Chad Simon, and is a beacon of strength and grace for us all. God especially be with you Regina, and your wonderful husband Chad.

    Rave on and OOHRAH!

    Posted by Deb at 12:44 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

    January 20, 2005

    Vote and Die

    USMC CWO5 Roussell has this to say about the upcoming elections in Iraq:

    Understandably, American casualties in Iraq get most of the news coverage in the United States, but Iraqi police and troops have been taking 80 percent of the losses since the interim Iraqi government took over last June 28th. Many of the Iraqi dead have been due to car bombs, and 181 of those have been used in the last six months. Not all those car bombs involved suicide bombers (only 38 percent did). But those bombs caused some 3,000 casualties, over 90 percent of them Iraqis and a third of them fatal. The peak month for car bombs was last November, when there were 48. Because many of the car bomb workshops were overrun in Fallujah that month, the number of car bombs fell to 27 in December, but is slowly increasing this month.

    The frequent use of car bombs has done little to thin out the chaotic traffic in Iraqi cities. Considering the way Iraqis drive, and that their accident rate is several times what it is in the United States, that's probably a reasonable decision. American soldiers have noted that driving without your seat belt is more dangerous than the threat of roadside bombs or car bombs. Iraqi gossip still likes to blame all the car bombs on Americans, but the chatter in the coffee shops and blogs tells a different tale. Iraqis know who is doing the bombings, and the debate is over how hard should the government lean on the Sunni community, and how soon. Iraqis feel that soon the Sunnis will no longer be a major threat to the government. Iraqis take pride in the growing number of Iraqi police and army units that can storm into a house or neighborhood and carry out a raids and arrest, with no shooting and no casualties. "Just like the Americans," is the phrase you hear muttered, half in resignation, half in pride.

    Saddam had soldiers who could do raids like that, although they would often kill a few bystanders just for the terror effect. And the people they took away were usually never seen again. Now those efficient soldiers of Saddam are making car bombs, and slipping threatening notes under the doors of election officials. "Vote and Die" is the phrase the opposition is using.

    But most Iraqi election officials are standing their ground, and many Iraqis, especially those living near Sunni Arab neighborhoods or towns (nearly half the population), look forward to election day with dread. That's because voting could mean exposure to another car bomb, and not voting means giving Saddam's thugs another victory. It's a no-win situation. But it's also a no-lose situation.

    Over 14 million Iraqis are registered to vote, at over 3,000 voting locations. Over 100,000 Iraqi police and soldiers will be guarding the voting places, along with thousands of local men armed with their AK-47s each household is allowed to keep (but not take outside, a rule that is often flouted for emergencies like this.) If the anti-government forces make a major effort to attack many polling places, they will spread themselves thin and even up the odds. This will mean more failed attacks, and more dead Baath Party and al Qaeda members. "Vote and Die" has many meanings.


    Posted by Deb at 02:53 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    Update from Al Asad

    LtCol John McGonagle , CO of Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 774 sends this January update:

    This week has been a good week! We are into the New Year, and that's a big psychological milestone on our calendar to come back home. The advance party will be leaving in 2 short months, with the main body not far behind.

    This week started with the basketball team hanging on in the final seconds of the league championship semi-final game for a big win, which moved them into the finals for the championship. With a lot of solid play by all of our Marines on the team, they pulled off a big win against a strong MALS-16 team, the same team that beat them earlier in the season by 20 points. In an earlier email I reported the loss to MALS, and predicted that our guys would get them back later in the season. Well, they kept me honest, and did just that! Corporal Stripling from MALS-42 det. B was on the MALS-16 team, and had to take the tough loss, but it was a good game, right down to the last seconds. Congratulations to all of our Marines for a fine season; their team work was a joy to watch. I have attached a team picture from the championship game below.

    We had a formation on New Years day, and promoted the following Marines:

    Staff Sergeant Alabre
    Sergeant Mendez
    Sergeant Frank
    Corporal Farren
    Corporal Norman
    Corporal Barsanti (meritoriously)
    Corporal Lagunas (meritoriously)

    Staff Sergeant Harris also received a Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal for his sustained superior performance as the Airframes Staff Non-Commissioned Officer In Charge. Congratulations to all of these Marines; their promotions/award were all well-deserved!

    We had a department head meeting today with the squadron leadership, and all of the discussions revolved around coordination on turnover of billeting spaces, aircraft, etc., and how/when we were going to be leaving Al Asad. It seems no one minds doing the planning for going home! The fact that we are planning now makes our departure seem even closer; our big goal now is to keep everyone's head in the game over here, and not get too distracted with leaving town, but staying focused on our mission. We still have a job to do, and our Marines and sailors have done phenomenal things so far, and I'm sure will continue to perform in an outstanding manner up until the day we leave.

    We also discussed our leave plans for when we return to Norfolk. If you haven't already done so, you may want to start talking about your leave/vacation plans with your Marine/sailor for when he/she returns home. My intent is to have a 96 (4 days off) as soon as possible after our return to Norfolk, with two 2-week leave periods during the month of April. Taking leave is not mandatory, nor will it have to be taken in 2 week increments, or during the month of April, but the earlier you make plans, the easier it will be to deconflict everyone's leave so that we can continue to conduct operations at home, while allowing our folks the flexibility to take some time off when they desire.

    Well, that's all for this week. I hope you all made it through the holidays without too much stress, and got to enjoy the season as it was meant to be celebrated! Have a great week, and I'll talk to you all next week.


    Posted by Deb at 02:46 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    Coconut diplomacy

    At Meulaboh, Indonesia, an area devasted by the tsunami last month, our Marines are finding common ground with Indonesian soldiers, one coconut at a time. Marine Sgt. Maj. David Bullock with the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit is instrumental in working with Indonesian Marines to coordinate supply unloading and distribution. Here's an excerpt from an AFP story by Samantha Quigley (she also took the picture above).
    At mid-morning, one of the Indonesian servicemembers scaled a palm tree and dropped a few green coconuts. One of his colleagues on the ground looked at a Marine and pointed to one of the coconuts, indicating that the Marine should pick it up.

    Before it was all over, Bullock was learning how to hack away the top part of the coconut to get to the milk. With that mission complete, it was time to unload the second landing craft of the day.

    When the 35 pallets of supplies - 20 with boxes of rations and 15 with boxes of bottled water - were stacked on the beach, it was time to load those trucks. That's when it became apparent that teamwork not only builds bridges, but also moves dump trucks stuck in the sand.

    Members of both militaries pitched in to get the truck back on the road. Once the truck was "unstuck," the two groups gave themselves a round of applause followed by a group picture.

    Unfortunately, getting supplies from the beach to the truck was almost as difficult as getting the truck out of the sand. The distance between the two was sizeable. So, instead of risking getting stuck again, a relay line was formed ... until someone complained about being hot and tired.

    Then, to the amusement of everyone on the beach, Bullock and Indonesian Capt. Benny Fauzi decided to make a point.

    "Hot doesn't bother me," Fauzi yelled and headed for the supplies. Between the two of them, they double-timed three boxes of bottled water to the truck. The awe, mixed with laughter, created a bond as both sides pitched in and finished loading the truck.

    The day ended with Bullock and Fauzi in an arm-wrestling match. The winner wasn't really clear and a rematch is imminent.

    "What do I get if I win?" Fauzi asked.

    To which Bullock replied, "My friendship."

    Fauzi accepted with mock disappointment and began negotiating for a uniform. Ultimately, he settled for a T-shirt with Bullock's unit printed on it, but offered one of his uniforms in exchange.

    A high-five and a handshake later, Bullock and Fauzi headed their separate ways, vowing to meet at the arm-wrestling chair the next day. Tables are hard to come by.

    "He's a good guy," Bullock said as he headed for the helicopter that would take him back to the ship so he could rest up for the rematch.

    Note which officer is carrying two cases of water. It's symbolic of our military which customarily does the heavy lifting for the world.

    Posted by Deb at 01:30 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

    Message from MGen Natonski

    Here's a New Year message from the Commanding General of 1st Marine Division:

    January 14, 2005

    The Division continues to be very busy in the new year. The city of Fallujah is now completely open to residents. Members of the Division are working in conjunction with Iraqi officials to process returning Fallujah citizens and ensure that they have lifes basic necessities such as food, water, and blankets, if required. We are also assisting the Iraqi government in restoring municipal services and repairing battle damage. The Marines, Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen of the Division are proving that their compassion is as great as their ferocity in combat.

    Our current focus of effort is to ensure that all Iraqis in the Al Anbar Province have the opportunity to vote in a safe and secure environment. The elections are critical to the future of Iraq and our role is to assist the Iraqi Government and Security Forces help those Iraqis who wish to exercise their basic right to vote in the upcoming election. This is a right that we as Americans take for granted. We are taking this task very seriously as we all recognize the importance of our mission.

    I know all of you are eagerly anticipating the homecoming of your loved one. We have already begun the process of bringing in forces to relieve elements of the Division. Our planners are working hard to ensure the transition goes as smoothly as possible and that we bring our units home in an expeditious and safe manner. This will be the largest relief in place in combat in Marine Corps history and I am confident that the Division will execute this operation with the same professionalism and competence that we have exhibited in all our previous endeavors.

    We wish to extend our thoughts and prayers to the families of those who sacrificed the greatest for our mission. We think of them daily and will especially remember them as we anticipate our reunions with our families and friends.

    I want to wish you all a very Happy New Year. I pray that 2005 will bring you many joys with the return of your loved ones and may God continue to provide His blessings to the 1st Marine Division family.


    Posted by Deb at 12:03 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    January 19, 2005

    LtGeneral Sattler on Fallujah

    Lieutenant General John Sattler, Commander, of 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, gave a special briefing on the 1st MEF operations in Iraq yesterday. Here are his opening statements:

    Thank you very much. And again, thanks to everyone for giving us the opportunity to go ahead and answer some questions and make a very brief opening statement. What I wanted to do is just talk about some of the atmospherics within the town of Fallujah. If you remember, on the 23rd of December, Prime Minister Allawi decided to go ahead and reintroduce the citizens of Fallujah back into the town. He made the decision we would do it one district at a time, and there are a total of 18 districts within the city. He gave us three days to get the first districts set, and then after that point, we rolled one district at a time each day.

    On the first day, on the 23rd of December, just to give you an idea of how the atmospherics have changed, how the Fallujan have become more comfortable, more confident in the security environment within the town, on the first day opened up, we brought 921 citizens back through the checkpoints. Yesterday, we brought 9,400 into the city through the same five checkpoints.

    On the first day we opened up, 12 government workers showed up to go and assist us with the operation. Yesterday, we had 640 government workers working side-by-side with coalition team.

    On the first day, we had 192 contractors who actually signed contracts to clear up debris, to remove stagnant water, and to go ahead and work on the water plants and the lift stations within the town. So, 192 on the 23rd of the December. Yesterday, we had over 400 contractors show up. And we have been as high as over 600 in some of the contracting areas.

    Humanitarian assist visits, we set up three humanitarian assistance points within the city in conjunction with the Iraqi government. On the first day, we had six visits at the humanitarian assistant sites. Yesterday, we had over 2,000 visits. And that's to pick up food, water, blankets, heaters, petroleum, water bottles, et cetera -- all the necessities that someone would need to go ahead and spend an extended period within the town.

    We also just last week, we had it cleared with Prime Minister Allawi to go in and pay each head of household, and we figured there is somewhere between 32,000 and 34,000 heads of household within the town, to go ahead and pay each one of them $200. This is a humanitarian assistance payment. It's not to offset any of the damage that was done to their home, but it gives them some money in their pocket so they can go ahead and buy the necessities as they move back in to reestablish themselves within the town, or if they decide to go back to where they were staying, they'll have some money to go ahead and put in the kitty if they're staying with relatives or friends somewhere else within the country.

    And the last column, when we first did this, there were two, three, four ministries that came in from the prime minister's office. We actually worked that up to 19 ministries that were working with us, side-by-side, taking the lead to go ahead and set the standards to reintroduce the citizens back to the town of Fallujah. Yesterday, we had 45 individuals show from the ministries.

    So, all of the indicators, all of the movement has been in a positive direction. There's still a lot of work to be done in Fallujah. The essential services are coming back up on line. By the end of this month, we should have all the running water. The treatment plants are already functioning, and we should have running water out to all districts within the town by the end of the first week in February.

    The electrical grid, we have the grid, the main power stations back up, and we have electric power going to the essential services -- the pump stations, the clinics, the hospitals. It will take a number of months to go ahead and re-string the wires throughout the town. We can't turn the entire grid on out to the individual homes right now because of the danger -- loose wires, the danger of electrocution of the women, children and men who have -- (coughs) -- excuse me -- who have now returned to the town of Fallujah.

    And the last big success were the lift stations. Fallujah, part of the town is below the water table on the Euphrates, and there's a series of lift stations that keep the water table pumped back into the Euphrates River. They had all been shut down during the conflict, and now all of those lift stations are back up. And even a better story, they're all being run by minister of Municipalities. So, the Iraqi government is in fact running those lift stations with some very strong assistance from our Navy Seabees.

    For the complete text of his speech,including his answers to questions from the press, read the complete transcript.

    Posted by Deb at 02:21 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    January 16, 2005

    New Year wishes

    The chaplain from the 1st FSSG shares these thoughts:

    A new year is fast approaching! In order to share with you from the Battalion, I asked Marines to share with you their wishes for the New Year. Here are a few of the things they said:

    I wish to keep the friendships I have made out here in Iraq.

    I wish I could find someone to have a relationship with!

    I wish I could spend more time with my loved ones.

    I wish I could be home with my family.

    I hope to hear the words I do from my girlfriend.

    I wish that there will be peace for the people of Iraq.

    I wish to never leave my family again.

    I wish to come home safe with all of my co-workers and friends.

    I wish to make it home safe and have Iraq be better.

    I hope to get back in college and finish my degree.

    I wish for everyone to have the best of holidays!

    Thanks for all you do to help keep us going! We are grateful for your love, support and prayers!

    God bless and Happy Holidays!


    Posted by Deb at 01:41 AM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

    January 14, 2005

    Please Pray for God's Intervention

    CH (CPT) Lyle Shackelford, Battalion Chaplain for HHD, 57th Transportation Battalion sends this request:

    As a transportation battalion, my unit will be delivering the voting machines and the ballots to villages and cities throughout Iraq during the upcoming elections. (January 30/31) Our convoys are prime targets for the insurgents because they do not want the equipment to arrive at the polling stations nor do they want the local Iraqi citizens to have the chance to vote; timely delivery must occur so that the elections occur. Encourage your friends and family members and those within our churches to pray specifically for the electoral process. Historically, the previous totalitarian regime would not allow individual citizens to vote. Democracy will not be realized in Iraq if intelligent and competent officials are not elected to those strategic leadership positions within the emerging government; freedom will not have an opportunity to ring throughout this country if the voting process fails.

    Announce this prayer request to your contacts throughout your churches, neighborhoods, and places of business. Those with leadership roles within the local church post this message in as many newsletters and bulletins as possible. There is unlimited potential for God's presence in this process but if we do not pray then our enemy will prevail (See Ephesians 6:10-17) A prayer vigil prior to the end of the month may be an innovative opportunity for those within your sphere of influence to pray. This is a political battle that needs spiritual intervention. A powerful story about God's intervention in the lives of David's mighty men is recorded in 2 Samuel 23:8-33. David and his warriors were victorious because of God's intervention. We want to overcome those who would stand in the way of freedom. David's mighty men triumphed over incredible odds and stood their ground and were victorious over the enemies of Israel. (Iraqi insurgents' vs God's praying people). They don't stand a chance.

    I will pray with my soldiers before they leave on their convoys and move outside our installation gates here at Tallil. My soldiers are at the nerve center of the logistic operation to deliver the voting machines and election ballots. They will be driving to and entering the arena of the enemy. This is not a game for them it is a historical mission that is extremely dangerous. No voting machines or ballots. No elections. Your prayer support and God's intervention are needed to give democracy a chance in this war torn country. Thank you for reading this e-mail. Please give this e-mail a wide dissemination.

    Thank you for your prayer support for me and my family. Stand firm in your battles.

    Thanks to proud Marine Mom, Mary Ellen Salzano, for passing along this request.

    Posted by Deb at 03:47 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    2/10 update

    LtCol Brennan, 2/10 Battalion Commander sends this update:

    Well, the holidays are over, again thank you all for the wonderful support you have been providing us.

    Your Marines are truly a part of history. They were key players in Operation Al Fajr (the liberation of Fallujah) and currently we are preparing for the first free elections in Iraq . Your Marines will all have some thing to tell the children about.

    Now on to what is truly on your minds, when we will come home. Unfortunately, I won't have those dates until approximately 30 days before we are scheduled to return. I can tell you, currently no unit in 2/10 is scheduled past the 7 month mark or 210 days in country, so all rumors of 2/10 being extended are officially untrue. As for official return dates, as I confirm them they will be released by each Btry commander. When I know they will know.

    Well again thank you for your continuing support and we all look forward to coming home.

    God Bless

    Lt Col Brennan


    Posted by Deb at 01:44 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

    My son is in this picture

    Photo from the BakerOneSeven website

    Somewhere.

    I've spent the last 30 minutes examining each face, hoping to identify him, and I've narrowed it down to two. I so want to see his face but will have to wait until they redeploy, I guess.

    Today, Friday, is his 21st birthday. Happy birthday to you, LCpl Shane Conrad. He won't celebrate - his latest e-mail said, "Its funny because as far as anyone knows in the Marines, I've never had a birthday... somehow I just miraculously get older. A birthday in the corps is a beatdown so well see if I slip through the cracks again. Well Im running out of things to talk about. Just the same old shit. Rockets, Mortors and pop shots. An average day in Husaybah. I'll write you soon. Love you."

    Love you too. If he gets my birthday package, it won't be much of a secret - I sent enough Ding Dongs for his platoon, with icing gel writers and birthday candles. Ah well. He's a Marine, he can take it. And, he'll have forgiven me by the time he returns.

    Posted by Deb at 01:38 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

    January 13, 2005

    11th MEU update

    January 10.

    It's getting close. We're almost home. One month to go! In fact, several members of the MEU are already on their way with the advance party. The rest of us here, albeit maybe jealous, are counting down the days until we get home.

    In the meantime, we're getting Najaf and Karbala ready for elections, and are continuing to help with the reconstruction effort. In Najaf, we've paid out more than $10 million in four months to assist with rebuilding and refurbishing the holy Shiite city. There's still work to be done, but we're wrapping it up as we enter the home stretch. We're all eager to get home and spend time with our families and friends.

    Posted by Deb at 11:00 PM

    January 12, 2005

    1/7 Warriors

    1/7 Marines have spent the last five months in a very hostile region along the Syrian border. They don't get a lot of press - reporters tend to stick to safer areas. However, the fierce warriors of First Team have seen action on an ongoing basis since their arrival last August. In a phone call earlier this week, my son mentioned a fire fight where LCpl Julio Cisneros-Alvarez gave his life in the pursuit of democracy for the citizens of Iraq, and another good friend broke his arm. He asked me to send a sympathy card to LCpl Cisneros-Alverez's parents and I will, from both of us. Each time a Marine falls, it's a blow to all Marine parents.

    Another 1/7 Marine, LCpl Stacy Alexander was recently medevaced to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center. While there, he had some unexpected - and high ranking - company. Here's the rest of the story, as related by Master Sgt. Phil Mehringer

    Photo by Spc. Christopher Goodman
    Sergeant Maj. Carlton Kent, I MEF Sergeant Major, led a group of sergeants major consisting of Wayne Bell, 1st Marine Division, Joseph Staudt, 4th Civil Affairs Group and Carlos Rios, I Marine Expeditionary Force Headquarters Group. Command Master Chief Raphael Sanchez, I MEF and Hospital Corpsman Senior Chief Gerard Chiu, 1st Marine Division, rounded out the entourage of senior enlisted visitors.

    The group of senior Marines and Sailors addressed a group of ambulatory Marines first, thanking each of them for their contribution to the War on Terrorism, before moving to the more severely wounded Marines confined to hospital rooms.

    "Your priority now is to get healthy so you can get back in the fight," said Sgt.Maj. Kent, as the Marines bellowed a loud "OOH RAH!"

    Lance Cpl. Stacy Alexander, infantryman, 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, had just come out of surgery to clean and repair shrapnel damage to his right arm and left leg when Kent and the group entered his room.

    The young Marine was surprised by the amount and seniority of his visitors; nevertheless, he enjoyed the conversation and the familiar pattern of Marines wearing their digital pattern desert camouflage utilities.

    "I can't really explain it," said the wounded Alexander, a 20-year-old Marine from Carlin, Nevada. "The camaraderie the Corps has when you get some of the highest ranking Marines in the Marine Corps to come see you at the same time. That's a pretty big deal to me."

    Posted by Deb at 02:55 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

    January 11, 2005

    "I felt your prayers, Dad"

    LCpl Adam Ankarlo, USMC in training

    If you do nothing else today, listen to this audio clip. It's a recording by proud Marine Dad Darrell Ankarlo of his son, LCpl Adam Ankarlo's letter describing his trip into Iraq. It ends with, "I've done some stupid things out there, you've always had my back. This time, I've got yours. Love Adam." Ankarlo reminds us that 130,000 of America's best and brightest young men and women are wearing the uniform of a United States Marine in Iraq and Afghanistan . . . and they have our back.

    Thank God for Marines.

    Posted by Deb at 02:18 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    Working ourselves out of a job in Iraq

    Here's a New Year greeting from 1/7 CO, LtCol Chris Woodbridge.

    Happy 2005 from all of us here in Iraq. The new year is here and has brought a few changes with it. As most of you probably know, the next big event here is the national election. This event will be truly historic--the first democratic election in the history of Iraq. It is also no secret that our enemies here will try to interfere with the elections as much as they can. We are all fully prepared for increased violence as the elections approach. Since the majority of the population of this part of Iraq lives to the east of the area where we are located, the majority of the voting will occur outside the battalion's area of operations. In order to reposition more Marines in the eastern part of the province, 1/7 has been directed to move some of our Marines to the east as well. What this means is that C Company (Suicide Charley) has moved to a position about 40 miles east of Al Qaim known as "Camp Wolf." Their job in this new location is to secure a large ammunition supply point and to help train Iraqi Security Forces. This task--training Iraqis to do the things that the American military is doing for them now is one of the most important things we can do to "work ourselves out of job" in Iraq. Unfortunately, Charlie company will not have the same access to phones and e-mail they enjoyed at Al Qaim so you will not hear from your Marines/sailors in "Suicide Charlie" as regularly. They will still be getting regular mail, and they will be able to call home in case of emergency or special occasions as always.

    What has not changed with the new year are the hazards and challenges of this environment. On Jan 6th LCpl Julio CisnerosAlvarez of weapons company was killed in action in Husaybah. We all mourn his loss and our prayers are with his family in their time of grief. We will always honor his memory, just as we honor the sacrifices of all our fallen brothers. Since deploying in August the battalion has had 54 Marines and sailors wounded in action and we will forever honor their personal sacrifices no matter how minor the wounds. The battalion has also suffered the loss of several Marines who have been seriously wounded in action, and whose lives will be changed by their injuries--most recently Cpl Evan Morgan of weapons company, SSgt John Jones of C company, and LCpl Kenneth Roach of B company all of whom are greatly missed by all who know them. We all support them and all of our wounded comrades and they have our constant prayers for a fast recovery. The sacrifces of all of us here in Iraq and on the home front are part of the price we all pay for the freedom and security we hold so dear. Your continued support from home is critical to our success and I am forever grateful for your courage, patience and commitment to these men who have answered their country's call.

    Just to put an end to any rumors--the battalion is still on schedule to return home in March and I know I speak for us all when I say that we all look forward to our reunion with you. God bless you all, and semper fidelis.

    Ltcol Woodbridge

    I have no information on first two injured Marines, but LCpl Kenny Roach is doing well and may be returning home soon. His mom describes his recovery as "a miracle" . . . and those seem to be happening every day. One of the best ways to support our troops is to pray for them. My son has described some situations where there is no way they should have come out alive. The only thing I can attribute this to is the thousands of people all over the world who are praying for our Marines and other troops. Thank you. And thanks also to the drill instructors at MCRD-SD, SOI instructors at Camp Pendleton, and his command who have a goal of bringing every Marine home.

    Posted by Deb at 10:32 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

    January 10, 2005

    3/3 Marines go vertical

    A recent comment asked about Marines in Afghanistan. Here's a report by Cpl. Richard Mattingly that provides a look at conditions that 3/3 Marines faced during a recent visit to the Korangal Valley.

    Marines of I Company, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, have been operating at the forward edge of Operation Enduring Freedom, often in isolated areas where support for insurgency against the Afghan government and Coalition Forces remains.

    Last week, I Co., 3rd Bn., 3rd Marines, entered the Korangal Valley in Kunar Province with the mission to capture or kill terrorists suspected of conducting attacks against Coalition Forces while working to win over the trust of the local villagers.





    We get intelligence that lets us know where the bad guys are, explained 2nd Lt. Roy Bechtold, 2nd platoon commander, I Co. After we get grid locations, we work with our assets to plan the best way to go in and get them.
    The Korangal Valley is infamous for its inaccessibility and the numerous defeats the Russians suffered there during their ill-fated campaign to control Afghanistan.

    After vertically inserting in CH-47 Chinook helicopters, I Co. set into blocking positions along the roads and maneuvered into their positions.

    The best way to come in is on foot or by air, said Bechtold, We have to leave as small a signature as possible in order to not spook the guys were looking for into running. If you come in with vehicles, theyll be long gone before you have a chance. Bechtold admitted that Marines in the past have had difficulty getting into villages sympathetic to Anti-Coalition Forces without having the targets flee.

    Once in place, the mission of I Co. evolved to house-by-house searches as the clock started ticking on how long the Marines had until it was unlikely that their targets remained.

    Up and down the bluffs and rocky faces that double as paths between the impossibly stacked-up houses of the valley, the Marines and Afghan Security Forces talked to village elders, shook hands and searched houses from top to bottom.


    It all goes back to attention to detail, said Sgt. Shawn Kelly, an acting platoon sergeant in I Co. You cant skip anything, it could be that one cache or that one guy you miss that could help us stop an improvised explosive device emplacement or attack on Coalition Forces.I Co.s attentiveness paid off on the second day of the operation as Lance Cpl. Sean Decoursey, rifleman from Jacksonville, Fla., crawled through a small opening in a floor to find a cache of weapons and ammunition hidden under a pile of hay.

    I found the AK-47s and ammunition, said Decoursey, modest about the find. I almost didnt look in that hole either it looked like maybe it only went back about two or three feet until I crawled in there.


    With the discovery of the weapons, the Marines held one Afghan man for questioning, confiscating his illegal weapons and ammunition. Their find was a good one. After being questioned, the man named several other anti-Coalition militants operating in the area which put I Co. right back to work in the villages.

    It feels really good to be here and to be getting something done, said Decoursey, who has been in the Marine Corps just over a year. It feels like were really making a difference when we can catch one of them.


    Posted by Deb at 01:56 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    January 09, 2005

    Tsunamai Relief

    Photo by Lance Cpl. Andreas A. Plaza, USMC

    3rd FSSG Marines assist with the distribution of humanitarian aid at Palonia Air Field, Medan, Indonesia, last Wednesday as part of Operation Unified Assistance.

    Posted by Deb at 11:25 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

    January 08, 2005

    God is in this place

    USMC Captain Shannon Arnwine is a Supply Sgt. serving at Camp Fallujah. Here's an e-mail he sent to his parent in Sonora, Texas:

    Hey Mom and Dad,

    I am doing well. It was good to hear your voices yesterday. Thank God for technology. Y?all had said that you might have a letter of mine printed in the paper, or read at church. I would like at least the people in Sonora to understand what is really going on over here, not what they hear on the news.

    My first taste of the Middle East was when I landed at Kuwaiti International. I thought: What a dirty, hot, disgusting place. The wind was blowing extremely hot, and when I arrived on station here at Camp Fallujah, it was even worse. How could God be in this place?

    Then I met the people of this land. They stunk. They were uneducated. We have to constantly watch them because some are thieves. I thought again: How could God be in this place?

    If you watch the news, especially CNN, MSNBC, ABC, NBC or CBS ? they all show you the death and destruction that is happening over here, soldiers and Marine dying daily ? one would think that we were losing this war.

    Just like the Vietnam War, the public thinks we are losing. But just like the Vietnam War, we in truth are winning. We have won every conflict, every skirmish, every firefight, but the media wants the great American people to believe this is a losing cause. It isn?t.

    Today, I was able to go to church. It was held at the base theater. With a laptop computer, a projector, two speakers and a microphone, the chaplain played some praise music. I sat there and watched ? watched the Marines, soldiers and sailors walk in and greet each other, all different ranks from a Navy captain all the way down to a Marine private, and all perfect strangers but all brothers and sisters.

    As I listened to the music, I began to notice an awesome presence. I have been in a church where I felt the presence of God, but not like this. I fought back the tears, can't have the young warriors see a Marine captain cry. Overtaken by his presence, I began thinking about all the info y'all see on the news and what the newspapers tell you about this place.

    I was wrong. God is in this place. The beginning of life, so close to the land of milk and honey, and what is it? A war zone. Rockets, mortars, small arms fire, IEDs; how could this be? Is this where it all began?

    This is why we are here. These people are good people; they are our brothers and sisters. They were so brutalized by Saddam Hussein?s regime that, when I walk by them, they cower from me. Yes, some are thieves, but they try to steal out of necessity. These people need us and want us here; they have told me this themselves.

    Because we are here, they have jobs again, they get paid, they put food on their tables, their schools are open and children are learning, their hospitals are open and working, their infrastructure is up and running. Do you see this on the news?

    We are helping our neighbors. These young Marines, soldiers, sailors and airmen are doing wonders over here. I am in complete awe of them.

    This cause that we are fighting and dying for is a worthy cause; what we are doing over here is the right thing to do.

    You have paid with your own flesh and blood. Shane Folmar died a hero, on his feet, facing the enemy. He gave his life so that this battle would be fought here, not at home.

    God bless you all and God bless America. Pray for us. Semper Fi.

    PFC Folman, also from Sonora, was eulogized by his brother Marines following his death on September 24, 2004 as a result of hostile action in Ramadi. Here's what they said about this fallen hero:

    "We come here to seek closure and try to understand why a friend, a fellow human being has been lost," said Lt. Col. Randy Newman, commanding officer, 2/5. "We try to understand and respect the fact that he was dedicated to his duties, executed them as a Marine flawlessly and paid the ultimate sacrifice because he understood his call to duty here in Iraq."

    Folmar, a Senora, Texas, native, was known through his platoon for his sense of humor work ethic and always striving to improve himself.

    "Shane was a good friend, with a great personality," said Lance Cpl. Jose Osornia, a rifleman with Company F, 2/5. "He would never complain and he could always make you laugh. His platoon and company will miss him."

    While Folmar's peers recalled the man, his commander remembers the Marine.

    "He never complained, he never fell out and he never quit," said 2nd Lt. Robert Jones, a platoon commander with Company F, 2/5. "He never wanted to let anyone down, that was the type of Marine he was."

    Folmar was killed doing his duty by advancing and engaging the enemy, and he will be remembered as a true warrior.

    "When he died, this Marine was taking the fight to the enemy," said Cpl. Widener, a squad leader with Company F, 2/5. "He would never let up, he would never quit, he was a true spirited warrior. We will continue the best we can, but it will be hard to fill his place. He will be deeply missed by me, his squad and platoon."



    Photo by Lance. Cpl. Graham Paulsgrove

    Pfc. Timothy Shane Folmar will never be forgotten by his brother Marines. Here, Sgt. Ryan Schulze, 2/5 Marines, F Company, pays his final respects during a memorial service held Sept. 28, 2004 at Combat Outpost.

    Posted by Deb at 07:56 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

    January 06, 2005

    New Year's greetings from CSSB-7

    Christmas Eve mail delivery for CSSB-7

    LtCol Drew T. Doolin, Commanding Officer for CSSB-7 reports from the Al Anbar Province of Iraq:

    Happy New Year! Our battalion area was quite festive for the holidays. Folks from around the U. S. sent Christmas cards and decorations, which adorned our work and living areas.
    One of our welders, LCpl Tara Taylor, made a steel Christmas tree that is positioned in front of our Command Post. Religious services were available for those who wanted to attend. All in all, it was a joyous holiday, as we spent this special time with our Marine Family. Of course, our families and friends at home were constantly in our thoughts and prayers during this holiday season.

    Your Marines and Sailors continue to excel in everything that they do. They remain highly motivated and are setting new standards of providing logistics support in combat. For example, our Truck Company has been averaging over 230,000 cumulative miles driven per month. For any given vehicle, we are averaging about 1,600 miles driven per week. That puts an incredible strain on the equipment as we put years worth of mileage on it in just a matter of months. We have great mechanics that keep these vehicles operating.

    A topic of much media interest lately has been armor on vehicles. Rest assured that all of our military vehicles that go outside the wire beyond the base where we live and work are armored and have ballistic glass. On the occasion when we must use non-military vehicles to deliver supplies that require special handling that cannot be accomplished with military vehicles, we take special care to protect these vehicles within our convoys. We are not suffering from the shortages that were reported in the media.

    . . .

    Thank you for your untiring support.

    Sincerely

    Drew T. Doolin

    Posted by Deb at 03:47 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    Honor, courage and commitment in action

    When recent MCRD-PI graduates Pfc. William Patnode, Pfc. Charles Meskunas, Pvt. James Stewart and Pfc. Gregory Lafountain spotted a fiery crash on New York's Interstate 87, they didn't hesitate. Here's why they were 2 hours late to Recruiter's Assistance training, as related by Sgt. Pamela Shelley

    The Marines pulled their vehicle to the side of the road, and all four Marines instinctively leapt into action to help.

    As we approached the vehicle we noticed two females standing there. We asked them if there was anybody inside the vehicles, and they said they didnt know. With the heat, the flames and the tires blowing, we looked at the fuel truck, and we didnt know if it was empty, said Lafountain. Since there was no cell phone service, Patnode and I drove about a half mile in order to call 911. We still couldnt get through to 911, so I called my dad. Hes a Captain with the State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigations, he was able to get us aid.

    While Lafountain and Patnode went for help, Meskunas and Stewart, with the help of an unidentified truck driver, pulled the 57-year-old Cornelius J. Mahar from the burning vehicle. After the unidentified truck driver used a knife to cut away Mahars seatbelt, the Marines carried him on a sleeping bag to a spot about a quarter mile away and applied basic first aid to Mahar while waiting for emergency assistance.

    Assemblymen Chris Ortloff, who was also on his way to Albany, pulled over to help and photograph the Marines life-saving steps.

    I was on the ledge trying to get the attention of drivers in the northbound lanes to call the troopers, said Ortloff to the Press-Republican. When I looked back the Marines were trying to get the guy out. Thats when Ortloff captured the Marines actions with his digital camera.

    When help arrived, the Marines continued doing their part at the scene of the accident by directing traffic and assisting with emergency vehicles.

    They were working on him when we arrived, said Westport Fire Chief, Jim Westover to the Press- Republican. They grabbed gear from the ambulance and kept working. They were incredible.

    Mahar was listed in critical condition at Fletcher Allen Healthcare in Burlington, Vt. The driver of the tractor-trailer, 36-year-old Gloria Morgan, sustained only minor injuries, according to State Police.

    Two hours late, the foursome reported in for their class here. After the Marines told Sgt. Maj. Andrew L. Yagle, sergeant major RS Albany, about their ordeal, Yagle recognized their adherence to the Marine Corps ethos.

    They definitely displayed their honor, courage and commitment, said Yagle. The purpose of my class here is to remind them of the positive image and roles they need to portray here on the home front. They did just that, they set a good example, and were proud of them.

    "(Lafountain) came down here with all the tools, especially maturity. We just chipped away the rough edges and transformed him," said Staff Sgt. Robert L. Lytle, Senior Drill Instructor of Platoon 3110, India Company, 3rd Recruit Training Battalion, Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, S.C. " He was an outstanding recruit who has obviously turned into an outstanding Marine."

    All four Marines credited their life-saving action to the training they received from Senior Drill Instructors Staff Sgt. Norman, Staff Sgt. Collinson, and Staff Sgt. Lytle during recruit training at Parris Island, S.C. They said that training gave them the ability to handle a situation this critical.


    Posted by Deb at 03:29 AM | Comments (11) | TrackBack

    January 05, 2005

    24th MEU update

    Col. Johnson sends this update from the front. His caution on operation security regarding deployment information is worth noting:

    Remember back to June and July, as the whole deployment lay ahead of us? Remember thinking to yourself how much happier you'd be once Thanksgiving arrived? And that once Christmas came, we'd be home free? Well, we're just about there.

    It's been another busy month, the highlight of which was the VTC we enjoyed with you. It was easily the best 60 seconds of the deployment. I will tell you that grown men were crying upon seeing their newborn children for the first time.

    We continue to remain extremely busy in our area just south of Baghdad. Operation Plymouth Rock - our way of celebrating Thanksgiving -- was a huge success. We took 200 more bad guys out of action and found 11 more of their weapons stockpiles. Sadly, we have suffered casualties. Our hearts go out to the families and friends of those who have made the ultimate sacrifice. We will never forget them or the difference they made in the world.

    While still very volatile, the situation here in Iraq is getting better, and we are proud of our accomplishments. They owe in large measure to the love and support we get from you. We cannot thank you enough for the boxes, packages, emails and letters that keep us going strong each and every day.

    We know that thoughts of us coming home are surely going through everyone's minds, not least our own. But as the anticipation grows, I would ask that we temper our excitement with the reminder that war can bring unforeseen consequences. Although we remain on schedule, we must prepare ourselves for any eventuality.

    Speaking of our homecoming, please permit a reminder about the importance of protecting information that might be useful to our enemies. We're all full of anticipation and excitement about reuniting with loved ones. But please be very selective with the information you discuss in your phone conversations and e-mails. What may be common knowledge to all of us can be very valuable intelligence to the enemy.

    You can play an important role in safeguarding critical information concerning the MEU. Information that directly or indirectly can be used to determine unit movements, redeployment dates, arrival and departure times for aircraft, ships and convoys, and the number of people that make up the various elements of the MEU should all be protected.

    Rumors are now rampant. Please avoid contributing to the confusion by passing on information that may not be true. Each element of the MEU will probably be coming home separately. You may feel that you are doing others a favor by passing the word, but I ask that you refrain until you hear from us officially. Handing this information over to our enemy through phone calls and e-mails can jeapordize everyone's safety. Today we add a twist to the old World War II watchword: Loose lips and fingertips sink ships!

    Soon we look forward to being in your arms again and feeling the relative safety of our homes. But until then, we must remain vigilant in order to combat the dangers that we face hourly. We will not relax just yet. There can be no reprieve for those who would do us and the innocent Iraqi people harm. We will stay in the attack so as to deny the enemy the upper hand.

    I could not be prouder of the Marines and Sailors of the 24th MEU. And since they depend so heavily on their loved ones to sustain them, I could not be prouder of you. Please keep us in your thoughts and prayers, as we will keep you in ours.

    Semper Fidelis,
    R.J. JOHNSON
    Colonel, U.S. Marines

    Posted by Deb at 01:30 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    January 04, 2005

    Task Force Wolfpack reports from Ramadi

    LtCol Steve Dinauer, Commanding Officer of the 3d Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion/Task Force sends this report from the Al Anbar province:

    To the Families and Friends of Task Force Wolfpack: As always, I hope this note finds you all in good spirits and health. I must keep this note to the point and brief. I am at a camp just west of the city of Ramadi with a little over half of Headquarters and Service Company and Company C. We also have a unit from one of our fellow infantry battalions under our tactical control. I expect we will stay here through the elections on 30 January 2005. Ramadi is the capital of the Al Anbar Province, so it is critical we keep the security situation stable for the elections. The city of Ramadi is a dangerous place, but it is not at all like Fallujah was before it was taken back in November. We are primarily operating in the rural areas outside of the city. The living conditions aboard this camp are the best weve had in Iraq from the excellent billeting to the great chow hall to the Post Exchange.

    Speaking of Fallujah, the Battalion performed superbly in accomplishing our mission of isolating the city from the west on the peninsula. We went in a day before the major assault began to secure the bridges across the Euphrates and the main hospital. We had casualties, to include one Marine killed in action. The enemy was a bit more persistent in attacking us once they figured out we were there to stay. We turned the enemys persistence on him, however, and killed quite a few when he tried to take us on. The Marines, Sailors, and soldiers (yes, we had some Army units under our control) morale has never been higher than after this fight. We came off of the peninsula on Thanksgiving Day and enjoyed a fine meal in the chow hall after 18 days in the field. We also mourned our loss at a very heartfelt memorial service. A bunch of mail was waiting for us, as was a small ration of beer and rum courtesy of the Commanding General of the I Marine Expeditionary Force and Budweiser. There was no drinking age observed.

    The remainder of Headquarters and Service Company, and Company A are still at Korean Village essentially continuing our former mission out there, but at a higher tempo since the rest of us are not there. The artillery battery that worked for us at the border crossing points recently had two of their Marines killed, and our hearts and prayers are with them. Company D is also still in the west working for one of our fellow infantry battalions near the city of Hit (pronounced Heat). The Commanding Generals Jump Command Post crew is still doing what it does. They are right across the river from us near Ramadi.
    Except for handful of our folks, the mailing addresses have not changed. However, since weve been moving around a bit, the mail catches up to us in big batches. Since I expect to be here in Ramadi for a bit, mail should be more consistent.

    . . .

    As I write this note, I have seen or heard nothing to indicate that the
    Battalion will be extended here in Iraq. . . .

    Once back, we will have a 96-hour pass, and then wait a week or two before sending everyone out on leave. I encourage all the families to come see their warrior return home. Be advised, however, that flight schedules are notoriously flexible, so when the time comes for us to fly, you may only get a three-day window for our exact return. We will have a system to publish the time changes as they become known.

    This Nation is in a global war and deployments can always be modified to meet wartime requirements.

    For anyone interested in reading about what combat veterans face upon
    returning home, I highly recommend the book Odysseus in America, by
    Jonathan Shay, M.D., PH.D. While the book is based on Dr. Shays work with Vietnam veterans with acute psychological combat trauma injuries, it offers a timeless view on combat veterans and their emotions as they return to the civilized world.

    Have a Happy Holiday season and prosperous New Year. God Bless the soul and family of Lance Corporal Justin D. Reppuhn, Marine, killed in action against the enemy on the night of 10-11 November 2004, west of Fallujah. A son of Michigan, his fathers boy and mothers baby, he shall be missed by all. His name is forever woven into the Battalions Battle Colors and legacy.

    Semper Fidelis,
    Steve Dinauer
    Lieutenant Colonel, Marines


    Posted by Deb at 08:14 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

    January 03, 2005

    Landstuhl Christmas

    Diana Hartman sends this report:

    a major army deployment returned to the germany area at the height of christmas package arrivals through the post office (hundreds of soldiers mailed stuff home that wouldn't fit in duffle bags) so many packages to families were delayed and didn't arrive until after christmas to include some of the packages of cards...

    many american families in this area had two christmases -- one on the 25th, and one on the day all the packages came in...

    we are all military families who are used to celebrating christmas on another day, so the extra day of opening gifts was quite special...this same specialness was shared with the wounded at landstuhl who had a party on the 17th to include pizza and a card shower, celebrations on the 25th, and another card shower this last thursday on 30 dec...whoever was here on the 17th would've been stateside by the 25th...whoever was here on the 25th would've been stateside by the 30th...between the marine liaisons and the families of marine forces europe, we were able to provide celebrations for whatever marines were in the hospital on each of those days...bethesda and walter reed also held celebrations so while the guys got at least one party, they celebrated in two different places...

    this latest visit to the wounded coincided with my husband, robert, dr's appt...he suffered an injury in iraq last year and has had work done since then...this last thursday was the appt where he had the pins in his toes removed and hopefully this means he will be able to walk without pain for a good long while although he will still wear a boot for a few more months...he was getting impatient with his doctor as he wanted to visit the wards with us as he does with his every appointment but just not this latest time...he was able to hang out with the outpatients in the marine liaison's office though so that was a good time for all of them...

    my 18 yr old daughter and her boyfriend justin (usmc cpl, camp pendleton) were able to fly in for christmas so they went with us and toured the wards as well...as a mother, it was hard for me to have my daughter with me as there were many burn victims, some facial burns...i must've done something right when i raised her cos she got over her initial shock very quickly and had the guys smiling and laughing in no time...i was so proud!

    as is always the case when robert visits with us, justin and the wounded marines had lots to talk about and were quite the chatterboxes...it's funny when there are more than 2 marines in a room because they seriously just yak and yak like old women at the fenceline and no one else is going to get a word in edgewise...justin and robert were in iraq last year for the same 7 months, and justin will be going back in february for 9 months...

    as usual, the cards and letters from kids were the biggest hit with the guys...i've learned to keep tape with me as inevitably the guys will ask me to hang these cards and letters up on their wall or the door of their room...one room had 4 marines in it and they all wanted their things hung up on the door -- that was one decorated door -- and they insisted that the door stay open so they all could see the cards and letters...in that particular room the wall was textured and tape wouldn't stick so we hung the rest of the cards on the light covers behind their beds...i also provide each of them with a gallon-size ziploc bag so they can store their cards in them when they leave...no one leaves their cards behind and this gives them a way to keep them so they don't get mangled in their baggage...

    the dec 17th party was a great success...many marines from (marforeurhq) marine forces europe headquarters here in stuttgart drove up to help set the whole thing up for their wounded brethren...donations allowed them and the marine liaison's office to set up a feast of american food in the chow hall for all the outpatients and those marines on the wards who were mobile enough to get there...by "feast" i don't mean turkey or ham and the fixin's...i mean the wounded were set up with what they requested: pizzas, hot dogs, meat and cheese platters with sub bread, and all the soda they could handle...i sent a lot of card packages down with the marforeur marines who helped out with that...my husband, who was still on crutches then, attended the chow hall party...

    a female gysgt and i took stuff to the guys on the wards who were unable to get to the chowhall party...the chowhall didn't have a cart for us to tote stuff so one of the marine liaisons commandeered a wheelchair for us...we hauled 11 large pizzas, plates and napkins, goody bags, and card packages up to the wards...we piled the pizzas up in the chair part, hung the bags off the handles, and used the footrests as drink holders for the six packs of soda...we were quite the sight!...the soda had been chilled beforehand and was still cold by the end of the tour...we had one vegetarian pizza that had no takers til we got to the last guy who loved vegetarian pizza so he got the whole thing to himself...much to his delight, the nurses put the other half of his pizza in the fridge for him to eat later and he was most tickled that he would have pizza for breakfast for the first time in over a year...

    i really appreciate your having taken the time and having made the effort that made so much difference for these guys...they love hearing from those in the states especially in the form of mail as everyone loves mail!

    thank you so much for your support!


    Posted by Deb at 09:39 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

    Happy New Year, part II

    Here's how my son celebrated New Years Day. I took out the details of a raid, but his e-mail ended up with:

    Nothing like spending New Years in a hostile city. Well God bless the Commandant. He ordered all Marines to get one shot of Bacardi and 2 beers so weve got a fridge full of beer in the hooch.

    Seeing as how he turns 21 next month and told me that sending him alcohol would get him in more trouble than it would be worth, this will have to do. However, he's also instructed me to make reservations at The Palms in Las Vegas for his 96-hour liberty. This will be the first time I'll be able to buy my son a beer - one beer, I'm a mom after all - and I'm looking forward to it. I imagine we'll have a few more Marines with us to join in the fun and I really hope they won't mind me joining them. It's like they're all my sons and I am so proud of all of them.

    Posted by Deb at 09:07 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

    January 02, 2005

    Tsunamai Relief

    The United States acted swiftly after the 9.0 magnitude earthquake that struck Dec. 26 off the coast of Indonesia causing tsunami waves that have affected 12 countries. In addition to pledging $350 million which is the entire U.S. foreign disaster assistance budget, U.S. Senator Richard Lugar, head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said yesterday Congress will work to pass emergency legislation to go "well beyond" that figure, possibly to billions of dollars. In addition, thousands of troops have been sent to the region. Lt. Smash notes "the irony that the USS Bonhomme Richard, the same ship which Navy deserter Pablo Paredes refused to board, has been directed to the area to provide humanitarian aid. ".

    And, President Bush issued this statement:

    The disaster around the Indian Ocean continues to grow both in size and scope. I have been monitoring closely the developments and our recovery and relief effort underway. I also look forward to the detailed report of the official delegation led by Secretary Powell and Governor Jeb Bush that will travel to the region very soon.

    The United States has already provided an initial, substantial effort through existing emergency response resources, the formation of the core group, and military assets. To help coordinate the massive relief effort, disaster response officials are on the ground, and we have established a Support Center in Thailand that is manned and operational. More than 20 patrol and cargo aircraft have been made available to assess the disaster and deliver relief supplies. Many of those aircraft are on the scene. We have dispatched the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln, the Maritime Pre-positioning Squadron from Guam, and an amphibious ship carrying a Marine Expeditionary Unit. They will soon be in position to support relief efforts to include the generation of clean water. We are leading an international coalition to help with immediate humanitarian relief, rehabilitation, and long-term reconstruction efforts. India, Japan, and Australia have pledged to help us coordinate these relief efforts, and I am confident many more nations will join this core group in short order. Reports of strong charitable donations are also very encouraging and reflect the true generosity and compassion of the American people.

    Initial findings of American assessment teams on the ground indicate that the need for financial and other assistance will steadily increase in the days and weeks ahead. Because of this information and based on the recommendation of Secretary Powell and Administrator Natsios, I am today committing $350 million to fund the U.S. portion of the relief effort. Our contributions will continue to be revised as the full effects of this terrible tragedy become clearer.

    Our thoughts and prayers are with all those affected by this epic disaster.

    Predictably, there were some who reacted with outrage, sputtering that only they had the moral authority to manage this crisis. Former British International Development Secretary Clare Short had this to say:

    I think this initiative from America to set up four countries claiming to coordinate sounds like yet another attempt to undermine the UN when it is the best system we have got and the one that needs building up, she said.

    Only really the UN can do that job, she told BBC Radio Fours PM programme.

    It is the only body that has the moral authority. But it can only do it well if it is backed up by the authority of the great powers.

    Ms Short said the coalition countries did not have good records on responding to international disasters.

    She said the US was very bad at coordinating with anyone and India had its own problems to deal with.

    I dont know what that is about but it sounds very much, I am afraid, like the US trying to have a separate operation and not work with the rest of the world through the UN system, she added.

    Well, duh. The "UN system" is one of graft, corruption, and utter inefficiency. Although it has recently been included after a conversation between Colin Powell and Kofi Annan, this is a clear signal and challenge from the United States to the United Nations. About time.

    Ed from Captain's Quarters correctly points out that "it's the Clueless Clares of the world who sacrifice the downtrodden of the world to the brutal and incompetent clutches of the UN for the greater purpose of having a single world government. The idea that Short can make this kind of assertion with a straight face shows the depth of corruption on the radical Left. I say bravo to George Bush for bypassing the grifters and rapists of the UN."

    Here are a few images of how American troops are helping:

    U.S.A.F. photo by Tech. Sgt. Richard Freeland
    Airman Autumn McHam of the 733rd Air Mobility Squadron, Kadena Air Base, Japan, helps cover an aircraft pallet of MREs to be sent to Southeast Asia as part of the disaster relief effort.
    U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Justin Sturn, 733rd Air Mobility Squadron loads cases of MREs.

    U.S.A.F. photo by Tech. Sgt. Richard Freeland

    U.S.M.C. photo by Cpl. Jonathan K. Teslevich
    U.S. Marines load a pallets of prepackaged dehydrated meals onto a C-130 Hercules aircraft on Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, Okinawa, Japan, Dec. 30, 2004. The Marines are loadmasters assigned to Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 152. The meals, along with support supplies, are being sent to Utapao, Thailand, the hub of U.S. Pacific Command's humanitarian assistance and disaster relief efforts.
    Aerial view of a devastated Sumatran landscape from a Navy SH-60F helicopter, Jan. 1, 2005. The sailors are assigned to the U.S. Navys Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron 2, taking part in during humanitarian relief operations on the island of Sumatra, Indonesia.

    U.S.N. photo by Seaman Patrick M. Bonafede

    U.S.A.F. photo by Staff Sgt. Cohen A. Young
    .S. Air Force crewmen, assigned to the 36th Airlift Squadron, 374th Airlift Wing at Yokota Air Base, Japan, unload water from their C-130 airplane after landing at Phuket Airport in Thailand, Dec. 31, 2004.

    A Marine father reports that care packages for Marines headed to the tsumai relief effort should include disposable surgical masks and oil of peppermint. Masks can be purchased at larger drug stores, and oil of peppermint can be found in the spice aisle at the grocerery store. Vick's VapoRub will help too - rub a bit under the nose. They'll be issued gloves and protective gear but the masks and aromatic oil willl help mask the smell of death.

    And if you're still wondering how you can personally help, Cassandra from Villainous Company suggests:

    In a way, it's like Chaos theory - a butterfly's wings beating on this side of the world can start a mighty wind half a world away: your small $10 donation may save a human life.

    Or you could go buy a six-pack of beer at 7-11.

    $10 isn't much but the final effect of cumulative $10 donations adds up. Amazon contributions so far have totalled over $12 million with an average contribution of approximately $80. All contributions reach the American Red Cross.

    Scott Ott at Scrappleface also has a list of Christian relief organizations who will put your contributions to good use. And, Hugh Hewitt recommends World Vision. If the page is slow to load, you can make a phone donation at 1-800-777-5777 or 1-888-562-4453.

    Finally, click here for a comprehensive list of international aid organizations.

    $10. If each of us donates just that much, the final magnitude of the effort would save many lives.

    Posted by Deb at 11:08 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

    December 29, 2004

    3/1 Update from Fallujah

    This is a few weeks old but I just received it - here's the latest from LtCol Buhl in Fallujah:

    Greetings from the City of Fallujah.

    This is my sixth letter to you, published on the Anniversary of the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor, 7 December 1941. We are in the sixth month of our deployment to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom II. As you are probably well aware from the headlines, the Thundering Third has continued to perform its duties in Iraq with a high degree of combat efficiency in accordance with the legacy of valor and professionalism we inherited from our distinguished Veteran forebears. There is a popular phrase that you may have heard in the past that describes our recent actions in the City of Fallujah. It goes something like this, "There are only two kinds of people that understand Marines: Marines and the enemy. Everyone else has a second opinion."

    As most of you now know, "Your" Battalion was the 1st Marine Division's main effort for two weeks of high intensity combat operations to rid the City of Fallujah of international terrorists and Iraqi insurgents. Known as Operation "AL FAJR" or "New Dawn", this operation was successful in killing or capturing thousands of terrorists and insurgents, denying them sanctuary, and destroying thousands of weapons and ordnance items.

    The fighting experienced in Fallujah was some of the most violent I have observed over my career in the US Marine Corps. We were up against determined adversaries who were well armed, and had prepared defensive fighting positions in complex urban terrain. The 1st Marine Regiment (RCT-1) advanced into the western half of Fallujah with the Thundering Third, 3d Bn., 5th Marines, and the 2d Bn, 7th Cavalry, armed with M1A2 tanks and Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicles. Fully supported with all the combined arms resonant in the Marine Air Ground Task Force to include USAF AC-130 Gunships, your Marines, Sailors and Soldiers aggressively attacked the enemy and maintained relentless pressure on him until he was reduced to operating in small isolated groups, hiding in homes.

    As I mentioned above, the fighting was extremely fierce. During our advance we uncovered enemy from many different neighboring Arab countries, large quantities of weapons and ordnance of every type, sensitive items such as passports of murdered hostages, torture rooms, propaganda studios, military skills training centers, etc. As we had long suspected, Fallujah proved to be a massive sanctuary and cache site for the enemies of peace. Indeed, the extent of the ordnance located in this city is such that the city continues to experience daily explosions, as our Explosive Ordnance Disposal teams destroy newly discovered explosives and munitions.

    Shortly before Operation AL FAJR began, we pulled the entire Thundering Third in for only the second time we'd all been together since we began our Operation Iraqi Freedom II deployment in June. It was a blessed if not expectant time together.

    You may have seen the article published on our "First Annual Thundering Third Ben Hur Memorial Chariot Race." This race actually proved to be a number of timed heats due to uncooperative horses. These horses had been impounded temporarily when suspected infiltrators brought them around our base under the guise of scrapping. A number of men in the Battalion with horse handling experience cared for them in the weeks preceding the horse race. All of our horses had fresh hay every day and their own little stable inside Camp Abu Ghurayb.

    They actually gained weight and appeared content until race day, when nearly every one of them decided he'd had enough cart pulling in his lifetime!
    Needless to say, the event was a morale raiser, replete with uncooperative horses, Marine actors in costume, race music and starter's trumpets piped in over our loudspeaker, our Battalion Color Guard and National Anthem, Chaplain's Prayer, a couple of short speeches, and the singing of the Marines' Hymn as a Battalion.

    24-hours later the Thundering Third was in the attack into N Fallujah. Our opening gambit included the seizure of the Fallujah Train Station. You may recall my description of our Iraqi National Guard Brothers from India Company in Nasser Wa Salaam. Well, these fine men joined our Marines from the Battalion's Combined Action Platoon (CAP) and aggressively attacked and seized this train station, with support from Company L (the ING continued its superb performance throughout the operation in support of Lima Company). This began our Regiment's assault from this portion of the city. After that we conducted a forward passage of lines with our Army Brothers from the 2d of the 7th Cavalry, and followed them into Fallujah for the first day of combat.

    The morning of the 2nd day saw the Thundering Third out in front, assigned as the RCT-1 main effort through the most dense and complex portion of Fallujah, known as the Jolan. Indeed, we remained RCT-1's main effort all the way through to the end of high intensity combat operations 12 days later.

    After this, we had another week or so of hunting down isolated pockets of resistance - insurgents and terrorists that moved from other parts of the city into our zone. We systematically eliminated these pockets over the subsequent days. Today a calm has descended over our portion of the city, broken only by the sound of controlled detonations as described above. We are busy hardening up our firm bases, conducting joint patrols with Iraqi Soldiers from the new Iraqi Army, creating humanitarian assistance sites and entry control points into the city, and clearing up rubble.

    We also took time to truck out a fine Thanksgiving Feast to our Lads in the field. Vat cans of turkey, steak, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, vegetables, gravy and cake were brought to every Marine, Sailor and Soldier in the field. All hands rejoiced in the special brotherhood of a Combat Veteran Marine Infantry Battalion. All hands were simply thankful to be together to share a meal at the end of one of the greatest bonding events any will experience in their lives. As I have said in every letter since we hit the deck in Iraq, whether in contact with the enemy or with friendly people seeking a better life, your Marines, Soldiers, and Sailors are doing great things out here every day.

    Weather Report: As you may have heard from your loved ones out here, daily temperatures have now become down right chilly. After a blistering summer in the Al Anbar Province, all hands have donned their polypro undershirts and Polartec Fleece shirts. My thoughts turn back 54 years ago, when this Battalion was at Hagaru, North Korea. A few remarks are inevitably made referencing the chill, often followed by mention of our Korean Veterans... "How'd they do it up at the Chosin Reservoir?" For a more recent example, last year the Thundering Third was up in Bridgeport, CA, for cold weather mountain warfare training. This year, despite the drop in the mercury, we have it a bit more comfortable. The Thundering Third was in the attack against our Nation's foes on our Marine Corps 229th Birthday, though many a "Happy Birthday Marine", or "Happy Birthday Doc" was passed on that special day. After the dust settled a bit, as described above, in accordance with tradition, we trucked out another holiday meal to every company in the field in Vat Cans. "Every meal a feast" and "every formation a family reunion" describe this day best. I must also mention that there were many smiles across the Battalion as we were granted a I MEF special ration of two beers per Marine, and one small bottle of rum. This special ration, combined with another superb dinner and birthday cake - should solidify the memory of our 229th Birthday in Fallujah, Iraq for the rest of our lives.

    Ladies and Gentlemen, large quantities of mail and packages continue to arrive and are greatly appreciated. At this point, I would ask those who desire to send packages to limit the contents to food and tobacco items which can be consumed. Of course, reading materials and DVDs are also welcome and will be used. Thanks to the generous folks back home, most hygiene items are in large supply out here. All of the thoughtful donors who have sent things to our Marines are too vast to mention here, but the members of G-3-1 Korea have been particularly generous to their Battalion. I will also mention Marine Corps League Detachments from Ventura and Mount Diablo, CA, Las Vegas, NV, Rear Admiral King, USN (Ret.), Rusty's Chips from Balboa Island, CA, the great people from Coorstec in Golden Colorado and the good people from the Jefferson County Colorado Government Center there.

    SgtMajor Ed Sax continues to experience flash backs to his company gunnery sergeant days and never gets tired of distributing these items for delivery to our Marines, and sometimes to Iraqi children. I want to repeat that I cannot tell you how good it feels to know how many people are behind us back home. These packages and the inspiring messages contained within really make a great difference to our Marines and Sailors... all are deeply, deeply appreciated. This month, in an effort to reduce the length of my portion of the newsletter I will not mention all of our meritorious Marines by name.

    As you can well imagine, we have an incredible group of heroes in the Thundering Third (as an example, I invite your attention to the article attached below our Family Newsletter on Cpl Robert Mitchell, a superlative NCO and hero from Company K).

    We also have standouts in a reinforced infantry battalion full of standouts. Sergeant Major Sax and I share the great personal and professional privilege and pleasure as career Marines to see our men earn combat promotions, NCO and Marine of the Quarter honors, and earn additional qualifications while participating in combat operations.

    I can well imagine the pride felt by the families of these outstanding Marines as they write and phone home to relate the good news - superlative Marines and Sailors, who are serving their country most honorably in a time of war. Like their forebears in the Thundering Third from WWII (15 Feb 42) to present, our Marines and Sailors have continued to serve with fortitude in the face of adversity.

    As you must know, we continue to sustain casualties here in Iraq. The recent period of high intensity combat in Fallujah was particularly rough in this regard. Due to great combat leadership and training, protective equipment, and the best Surgeons and Corpsmen in the 1st Marine Division, a high percentage of our wounded are returning to duty. Unfortunately, as noted in previous letters home and the comments above, we have had a few men hurt enough to be medevaced back to the USA. On this note, our Marines and Sailors continue to be blessed with visits by a number of the Battalion's Distinguished Veterans and the Families and Friends of our Battalion. These visits mean the world to our men and their families, and mean the world to the rest of us in Iraq, knowing that our Lads are being well cared for in the rear. Since I last wrote to you, it is also my sad duty to report to you that we have lost 23 of our brother Marines and one Iraqi Special Forces Soldier killed in action here in Iraq. All of these men gave their lives for their brother Marines and Sailors here, and for all Americans in defense of the freedoms we are all privileged to enjoy. America owes these Marines and their families an endless debt of gratitude. They are greatly missed by their brothers here and by their families back home. Our thoughts and prayers go out to their families. We continue the mission we began here together, as they would have wanted.

    I will conclude this letter with all of our best wishes for Happy Holidays to you at home, especially to the great Ladies who continue to do great things in our Thundering Third Key Volunteer Network. You who have sacrificed at home over the past six months to enable your loved ones to serve our Nation overseas in a time of war - our men couldn't accomplish the things that they have without you behind them. I recently read a book by Steven Pressfield entitled, "Gates of Fire." Ostensibly it is the story about the Spartan defense of the pass at Thermopoly. What the book is really about is the commitment and sacrifice of a people for their nation. Although we have a different form of government and live in a different time, there is much to admire about the Spartans and indeed the ancient Greeks, where Western democracy was born. To bring you back to my main point, one of the greatest parts of this book described how Leonidas, the King of the Spartans, selected the 300 Soldiers he brought with him to Thermopoly, a mission that all realized would mean the deaths of those defending the entrance to Greece from Persian hordes under King Darius. Leonidas relates that the way he chose the men who would accompany him to Thermopoly was by an evaluation of their women - wives and mothers. Please don't misread my intent with this story, we all deployed to Iraq with the full intention of bringing everyone home. That intention continues in earnest, especially after all this Battalion has been through.

    My final point is that we have an incredible group of supportive family members led by our Key Volunteers behind us out here. We are a volunteer force of committed professionals who serve our Nation, Navy, and Marine Corps with happy hearts. Throughout the rigors of OIF II, our Key Volunteers have been there for our Battalion Families in EVERY circumstance. Ladies, I do not have the words to express how important the compassionate work you are doing means to all of us out here, and to our Marines and Sailors and their families back home. Ladies, THANK YOU from all of us forward deployed for the continued superlative support - we all cannot wait to be home with you again soon.

    As time permits, I will write again. I hope that this update has provided you with an insight into the Battalion's recent accomplishments and progress. In addition to your support for your Marines and Sailors over here, I also respectfully ask that you keep the families of our lost and wounded Marines and Sailors in your thoughts and prayers. Since I last wrote to you, it is also my sad duty to report to you that we have lost a number of our brother Marines and one Iraqi Special Forces Soldier killed in action here in Iraq. All of these men gave their lives for their brother Marines and Sailors here, and for all Americans in defense of the freedoms we are all privileged to enjoy. America owes these Marines and their families an endless debt of gratitude. They are greatly missed by their brothers here and by their families back home. We continue the mission we began here together, as they would have wanted. The 3d Bn, 1st Marines forever honors the sacrifice of Staff Sergeant Russell Slay (2d AAV Bn), Sergeant Christopher Heflin, Sergeant William James, Sergeant Byron Norwood, Sergeant Morgan Strader, Corporal Theodore Bowling, Corporal Dale Burger, Corporal Brian Oliveira, Lance Corporal Jeramy Ailes, Lance Corporal Bradley Arms, Lance Corporal Benjamin Bryan, Lance Corporal Luis Figueroa, Lance Corporal Michael Hanks, Lance Corporal Justin McCleese, Lance Corporal Andres Perez, Lance Corporal Juan Segura, Lance Corporal Abraham Simpson, Lance Corporal James Swain, Lance Corporal Nathan Wood, Lance Corporal Louis Qualls, Lance Corporal Joseph Welke, Lance Corporal Philip West, and Private First Class Nicholas Larson, and Jundi Majeed, Iraqi Special Forces, who are gone but never forgotten. John 15:13 "Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends."

    God Bless and Semper Fidelis,
    LtCol Willy Buhl
    CO, 3d Bn, 1st Marines

    Here is the story, written by Staff Sgt. Nathaniel T. Garcia, referenced in LtCol Buhl's letter:

    "The feeling of hot metal going into your body has become pretty familiar, and I don't like that," said Cpl. Robert Joseph Mitchell.

    For the fourth time in the last five months, Mitchell would again be injured during the fierce fighting in Fallujah. As he recalls the event, his gaze turns from those who are listening to a place far away. "I was leading my squad down a road where we were clearing the buildings," said the 24-year-old native of Omaha, Neb. "I saw another one of the sergeants from another platoon run out of a house after huge amounts of fire erupted from that area. He had been wounded in the hand and said 'there were still friendlies down in the house.' He didn't know who or how many."

    Mitchell and his Marines sprang into action, Nov. 13. Entering the first room of the house the Marines noticed a dead man on the ground suggesting the room had been cleared. Two rooms over Mitchell could see that there was a Marine down who needed to get out. Mitchell, along with three other Marines including his first sergeant tried to cross the larger of the two rooms to reach the wounded Marine.

    As soon as they entered the next room, they received incoming fire from the top of a stairwell to their left. "Someone was firing down the staircase and throwing (fragmentation grenades) down at us," said Mitchell, a squad leader with 3rd Platoon, Company K, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment. "We made it through to the next room, and there were other Marines in there trying to help the Marine that was down." The insurgent threat had the Marines trapped in their rooms with his direct line of fire covering their only exit. "Obviously the guy had a pretty good kill zone by firing right down the stairs at us," said Mitchell. "We couldn't move the down Marine because he was shot in the upper thigh. He was in a lot of pain and screaming."

    During their movement, Mitchell's first sergeant and another one of his Marines had been hit. Unable to make it the room with Mitchell, they remained on the ground in a room slightly behind the stairs. Mitchell ran from the room he went in to the first sergeant and the other injured Marine. The first sergeant had been shot in the right leg and still conscious. He told Mitchell that he had taken a few shots in his calf. The blood around the area was evidence enough. Mitchell's other Marine had been shot in the leg as well, but the first sergeant thought the Marine might have been shot in the gut as well.

    "I was getting ready to help the first sergeant out, but he told me to take care of the other Marine first," said Mitchell. "I went over to the Marine and started stripping his gear off. I was looking around for a wound. I thought for sure that I was going to see just his guts spilling out all over the place but that wasn't the case. He hadn't been shot in the gut. He did receive a shot to the left center of his back though. I thought that maybe he had taken a lung shot. He wasn't bleeding to bad."

    The Marine he was tending to happened to be one of Mitchell's best friends. Seeing his injured friend hit Mitchell pretty hard. Despite his feelings, Mitchell knew he had to do something. "I had (medical) gear and went through the squad medic's course. I was pretty much prepared for whatever," said Mitchell. "I ended up just slapping a dressing on his back and throwing a tourniquet around his leg to stop the bleeding. After that, there wasn't much I could do for the first sergeant because I was out of dressings and tourniquets."

    Although Mitchell didn't have enough tourniquets to use on the first sergeant, he noticed that the wounds were not bleeding too excessively, and he knew the first sergeant was a tough Marine. "I mean, it was 1st Sgt. Kasal, the guy that was the epitome of Marines," said Mitchell. "From there all I could do was monitor their situation and try to figure out how the hell we were going to get out of that house. We couldn't even expose ourselves in the direction of the door because the guy upstairs would just pour rounds down at us."

    The Marine he had just treated that was still conscious and looking around. He pointed out to Mitchell that his weapon had been damaged. Mitchell looked at his weapon and noticed that a round had hit the bolt. "At this time I started feeling a little bit weak in the leg. I looked down and my leg was pretty bloody," said Mitchell. "Not too bad, but I noticed there was blood on it and I could feel pain. I thought it was fragments from the concrete around the wall that had hit me. I didn't see any punctures through my cammies though." He continued to monitor his Marines and the radio and direct traffic till help arrived. Help arrived in the form of a squad from 2nd Platoon. They showed up just in time to help the Marines plan casualty evacuation.

    However, Mitchell was worried that the platoon may fire on the building with them still in it. He cried out to the Marines, "Do not fire, do not fire inside the house!" Second platoon managed to get a squad inside the house to help evacuate the casualties and the other Marines by taking up positions to suppress the fire while they escaped. Once everyone was out of the house and a safe distance away, the Marines planted satchel charges on the house to bring it down on the insurgent inside. Once they had the chance to account for everyone, Mitchell's squad was down from 13 to seven capable members. Mitchell also had a chance to look at his own wounds. He found that shrapnel had been lodged in his thigh for some time during the encounter in the building, but can't remember when.

    This encounter with insurgents in Iraq is a possibility every Marine is faced with. Unfortunately, this is not the first brush with enemy fire for Mitchell. On three different occasions, he has been the casualty of enemy fire.

    The first time he was injured was July 7 near Fallujah, two weeks after his unit arrived in Iraq. Mortars came over the wall of the compound he was in. Mitchell and several other Marines headed for the wall to return fire. As they did, another mortar came down almost directly on top of them and blew up. A dime size piece of shrapnel hit Mitchell on his forehead directly between his eyes. "Seeing my Marines getting injured and going away on casualty evacuations mostly just angered me and made me want to fight harder," said Mitchell. "Getting hit myself really pissed me off."

    "The first time (he was hit), we had a patrol scheduled, and I'd be damned if I wasn't going to go on it." Fifteen minutes later, Mitchell would be out on that patrol with his face sticky with blood from the shrapnel in his forehead. The second time was the day before the incident with gunman up the stairs. Mitchell and his team encountered another insurgent who was firing through a closed gate. One round went through his tricep and another round ricocheted of a wall and burned his leg. When he was shot, he again determined to finish the job by pushing through the excruciating pain in his injured arm to return fire. "I wasn't going to stop there either. I wanted to get those guys," said Mitchell. "When I got fragged in that last house, I wasn't going to leave with my first sergeant and another Marine injured in that house. First of all I didn't know that I was hit because the adrenaline. I just got pissed off again and tried to figure out a way to kill these guys." The third injury he couldn't remember when or where it happened. However, Mitchell realized a small piece of shrapnel was embedded in his chin.

    "When you get hit multiple times there is always a thought in the back of your mind, like where is the next one coming from and where is it going to hit you," said Mitchell. "It started taking a little bit of a toll on me, after the last time. I knew that I could do my job and that I could lead Marines, but I didn't want to put myself in the situation of 'what if I did hesitate, and it wasn't me that got hit but someone else.' It is definitely not worth the risk to any other Marine."

    Mitchell was told by his commanding officer that it would be best that he didn't go back out. One of the only reasons Mitchell could see for this was because of the emotional toll it has taken on him. His family was notified of his injuries and shared the battalion's concern, mostly for his physical safety.

    "I am going home with the rest of the Marines whose service time has ended," said Mitchell, who enlisted in February 2001. "I was given the choice to stay and it was a hard one. But I figure if I am not back out there leading my Marines, which is probably best that I don't, than maybe I can go back to the injured Marines who are already back home and bring them some company." Though he is going home, the thought that he is leaving without completing the mission has crossed his mind.

    "Being told by my (commanding officer), sergeant major, platoon commander and all my buddies that I have done enough -- that helps to ease my thoughts," said Mitchell. "It is supportive, but at the same time, I came out here to lead a squad and finish the job. Now, my squad is being led by Cpl. Wolf, who is 100 percent capable of the job, and there is nobody else I'd rather have leading my squad. So that eases my mind a little." Going home after his second tour in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and the assault on Fallujah, the graduate of Riverside High School in Oakland, Iowa, knows that his perspective of the world will change even more.

    "National holidays hold a little bit more meaning for me now," said Mitchell, who spent time working on a farm as a farmhand in the area he was growing up, harvesting crops and caring for cattle. "I was always patriotic when I was growing up, but I don't think anybody could ever explain the patriotism that I have now. I know a lot of guys feel the same way."

    For his Marines who remain in Iraq, Mitchell only has a few short, but meaningful words. "I love 'em, and I'll never forget them," said Mitchell of his fellow Marines. Mitchell will never forget the Marines who have paid a large price in the name of freedom, which is truly never free.

    "I believe that everyone deserves their right to the freedoms that the United States offers," said Mitchell, who has seen several of his closest friends and Marines under his care fall to enemy fire. "But I believe that everybody who has done anything in the military deserves to practice those rights even more. It is kind of selfish to say because it is our job and it is what we do. But I know a lot of guys who have made too many sacrifices over here for those rights and I think a lot of people take that for granted sometimes."

    Posted by Deb at 02:58 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

    3/4 Marines return to Iraq

    1,000 Marines with the "Thundering Third" at the Marine Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms, CA stayed a bit closer to base over the holidays than they might have wished. All holiday leaves were canceled as their second deployment to Iraq in the last year was moved up from March to early January. They returned from Iraq last July.

    Capt. Chad Walton, base public affairs officer, said Monday that the 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, an infantry unit, will be part of the "security and stability operations that the other Marines have been doing in Iraq".

    Posted by Deb at 12:17 AM | Comments (1)

    December 28, 2004

    Send in the Marines

    As the death toll in Indonesia and surrounding countries mounts, the rest of the world is scrambling to put together a comprehensive relief effort that will help meet needs of that region. Here is a link to a comprehensive list of international aid organizations. On that list and strongly recommended by Hugh Hewitt as "the most efficient disaster relief agency in the world" is World Vision. If the page is slow to load, you can make a phone donation at 1-800-777-5777 or 1-888-562-4453.

    The United States, as usual, is the most generous nation in the world. Initial promises of $35 million have been made, and more is planned, once the magnitude of the disaster is clear. And, the Pentagon is sending in the III MEF.

    U.S. Pacific Command is sending a forward command element (FCE) to Utapao, Thailand, to establish the command, control and communication structure for Joint Task Force 536 (JTF 536).

    Thailand's decision to allow use of this Thai military facility is welcomed. The U.S. intends to use, with Thailand's cooperation, this military facility as a regional support center for emergency and medical personnel providing assistance throughout the region as well as a staging area for U.S. military and rescue aircraft, forensic experts, and other relief assistance.

    The FCE and follow-on JTF will coordinate U.S. military relief efforts in the region. The FCE and JTF will work with the U.S. Department of State, the U.S. Agency for International Development, host nations and humanitarian relief agencies to identify requirements and coordinate relief efforts.

    The focus of the mission will be to prevent further loss of life and human suffering by expeditiously applying resources to the overall relief effort. The FCE team is comprised mainly of personnel from the III Marine Expeditionary Force. Additional personnel will be deployed from other locations in the Pacific command area of responsibility.

    U.S. military relief efforts include:

    • U.S. Air Force C-130 cargo aircraft in Yokota, Japan, loaded with relief supplies are expected to deploy to Utapao, Royal Thai Air Force Base, Thailand.
    • U.S. Navy deployed P-3 aircraft from Kadena, Japan, to operate in the vicinity of Thailand with Utapao, Royal Thai Air Force Base, serving as a hub for operations.

    Other forces enroute to the region that could be committed to relief efforts, if necessary, include:

    • USS Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group, including USS Shoup, USS Shiloh, USS Benfold, and USNS Ranier and
    • USS Bonhomme Richard Expeditionary Strike Group, including USS Duluth, USS Milius, USS Rushmore, USS Thach, USS Pasadena and USCG Munro.
    • U.S. Air Force will deploy KC-135 aircraft from Japan and Guam to provide assistance as directed.

    U.S. military exercises often include training for humanitarian assistance. This humanitarian assistance training helps ensure the U.S. military is able to rapidly respond as directed to support relief efforts.

    The Commander of the U.S. Pacific Command will continue to review resources available and direct forces as necessary to provide authorized humanitarian assistance and disaster relief to affected nations in the region.


    Posted by Deb at 08:23 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

    December 25, 2004

    Santa's new sleigh

    Official USMC Photo

    Santa Claus joined the flying leathernecks of Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 263 -- the aviation combat element of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit on a CH-46 Sea Knight last night, bringing the gifts of democracy and a country free from fear to the children of Iraq.

    Posted by Deb at 03:03 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

    Tending Distant Fires

    Greyhawk is spending his Christmas in the sandbox, giving up the comfort of his own hearth and company of his wife and children for that of other Marines who selflessly serve. He sent this verse, reminding us that our ability to live well is due to the sacrifices made by our troops for over 200 years. Thank you to all Marines, soldiers, sailors, air men and women, and coasties who protect and defend so that we can keep our home fires burning.

    Tending Distant Fires


    Far from hearth and home, watching
    Cold alone but not alone
    On distant shore and only wanting
    Safe return and little more

    What tales we'll tell
    When that time comes
    When tales can be told

    When things grim
    Seem far away
    When other fires go cold

    Some distant sunset, vision fading
    Memories remain
    And tired eyes gaze 'pon folded flags
    While distant drums beat their refrain

    Saluting fallen friends whose names
    And youth will never fade
    Here's to those on other shores,
    for them live well, the price is paid

    -Greyhawk,
    -Iraq, December 2004

    He also provides this list of deployed Milbloggers with a suggestion:

    Visit here; spread Christmas cheer
    and if you can, throughout the year
    1000 Words from Iraq

    2Slick's Forum

    Able Kane Adventures

    Armor Geddon

    Beef Always Wins

    Blog Machine City

    Dagger JAG

    In Iraq for 365

    Iraq Calling

    Lance in Iraq

    A Line in the Sand

    The Mudville Gazette

    Never heard of this place till now!!!

    News from Baghdad

    OIF

    The Questing Cat

    Steven Kiel

    Training for Eternity

    Tweak's World

    Life in This Girl's Army

    pure-randomness

    NotQuiteDead

    And those who wait:

    Trying to Grok

    Please visit the links that he has provided and spread that Christmas cheer!

    Posted by Deb at 12:52 PM

    December 22, 2004

    2/10 sends Christmas Greetings

    Captain Scott Ference sends along this update from Fox Company. This Company was included in Operation Santa - Michelle Keenes took care of 1st platoon and Jan Lisachenko did the rest - over 100 Marines from Fox (plus more- she's amazing!). Here's the latest report from the field:

    The Holiday Season in Iraq

    We are experiencing some of the same aspects of the holidays over here that you, our family and friends, enjoy back home. There is cold weather, gifts (in the form of care packages), Christmas trees, and it even snowed! This will be the first Holiday Season away from home for many of the Marines and Sailors of Fighting Fox Battery. Our unit has grown extremely close over the past few months and I am sure that we will make the best of the season despite not sharing it with you back home.

    This is the season for sharing. We have received many gifts - please accept my appreciation for the packages that you sent, and also accept my advanced apologies for receiving much more than we can possibly provide to you back home. There are a number of factors that limit our ability to send gifts. First of all the Internet service, while reliable, (at times) is tough to use as a purchasing medium because your allotted time limit often expires prior to making your purchase. In addition to that, the PX is stocked with many of the necessities for service members, and plenty of ?nice-to-haves? but it does not offer much in the form of presents.

    Since we have arrived we have received many care packages from numerous groups and organizations. It is comforting to know that you all appreciate our efforts. The packages contain useful items and we are thankful for them all. I doubt if any of us will have to purchase a toothbrush, toothpaste, dental floss, deodorant, lip balm, or package of wet wipes for the remainder of our time here. If I can suggest an item to place in future packages, it would be instant hand warmers. The vast majority of our time is spent outside and the temperature has dropped significantly in the recent weeks. (The coldest temperature to date has been 21 degrees F.)

    If anyone wants to send a box of handwarmers their way, e-mail me for their mailing address. deb@marinecorpsmoms.com I pick them up at Costco for $18.99 for a box of 80. Other needs are thermal boot socks, gloves, and microfleece beanies or balaclavas to be worn under helmets. It's cold and the fierce winds create a wind chill factor that can be bone chilling.

    Here's another update from 1st Sgt. Solt, Lima Company (this is actually a 3/10 company that is attached to 2/10):

    As we near Christmas the morale of the Marines and Sailors remains extremely high. The overall reason the morale level could be so high while deployed, especially during the holiday season, is the belief that what we are doing here truly makes a difference in the lives of the Iraqi people and the world as a whole. I must add I?m proud to be a part of this battery and battalion. It?s provided me with the opportunity to see the unselfishness and giving of the Marines and Sailors in an effort to do the right thing and be professionals at their jobs on a daily basis. To be a witness to this endeavor is truly a blessing.

    The on going devotion of our loved ones and support from friends has shown through again and again with mail and care packages. Your continuous commitment to the troops of course aids in such a remarkably high morale level. The quantity of packages the battery has received is unbelievable. Many people and groups have adopted us. Words cannot begin to express how much we appreciate your thoughtfulness. By the time the New Years arrives, we will all need to go on a diet!

    As the New Year approaches we all have something to be proud of, as 2004 has been an important year in so many of our lives: our families, our training, and the mission. With the arrival of the New Year, we can start counting down the days until our return. Having said that we will not be done until our last Marine/Sailor is back home with their loved ones.

    As always, your support and understanding keeps us going. Never forget what your Marines and Sailors have done and continue to do here on a daily basis to improve the lives of so many people. In the United States we often fail to remember the countless others in this world who have never known freedom and equality, to live day to day without fear. Your Marines and Sailors are helping create that for the people of Iraq.

    God Bless you all...
    Ooh Rah,
    1stSgt Solt, J.A.

    Maureen Benz, whose son is part of this unit recently posted this plea:

    Right now, my son's unit, 2/10 Lima Battery, is on the outskirts of Fallujah (since September 7th). When they first arrived in Iraq the weather was HOT. Now my son tells us he is always cold. At night it is worse. Since they are living in tents it keeps some of the cold out but the dampness is always with them. The young men and women are requesting anything that is warming; cups of soup, hot cocoa, individual coffee packs and tea bags. I have sent in the last box, a number of the hand warmers which skiers use that are disposable and can be put in the boots, gloves and in their hats. Also, thermal socks are an added comfort at night!

    I sent my son a small stove that burns fuel tablets. It's small enough that he can carry it in his pocket and make instant soup, Easy Mac, instant oatmeal, or other snacks in his canteen cup. In his last e-mail home, he said that Peaches and Cream oatmeal was the best. He hasn't changed - this was a breakfast staple in our home when he was 3 years old and it's still a favorite, I guess. I also mail all food in plastic containers since it protects against weather conditions as well as both insects and mice.


    Posted by Deb at 01:10 AM | Comments (2)

    We are the ambassadors . . .

    Marine Mom Janise sends along this update from the 6th ESB from Portland, OR, currently deployed in Iraq:

    Merry Christmas to our Marine Corps family. We're now over the hump and are on our downhill portion of the deployment. Regardless of how the deployment has affected us (families included), we are all still very proud to be serving here. Our Battle Rhythm now includes our regular 1000 church service on Sundays with Chaplain Perez. We hold the service in the MWR building that the Marines constructed a few months back. Following the worship service, Capt Grimm, the Executive Officer (XO), opens up "Ram-Rods" beauty salon (his barbershop is now commonly referred to as beauty salon to be "PC" since he cuts both male and female Marines' hair). The 1stSgt, GySgt Taylor, has refused time and time again to allow the XO to cut his hair. I think the real reason is that he's afraid it may not grow back.

    We're now experiencing the coldest of the desert temperatures. Highs are now in the low 50s and lows dip down into the mid 20s. Sgt Carpenter keeps looking for his ice fishing shack but can't seem to find it anywhere! It's especially cold considering that we were just experiencing the brutally arid & fantastically hot climate . . . not the bone chilling temperatures that we're now enduring.

    We've hung our ornaments from the Christmas tree and I can't thank everyone enough for their efforts in making our Christmas in the field seem a little more like home-at least a taste of home. The Santa, the banner, the quilt with all of your pictures; Again, we appreciate your collective efforts in making this possible. Our Key Volunteer Network has been phenomenal and we pay honors to you as you get us through the home stretch of our deployment.

    When we first learned of our re-deployment to Operation Iraqi Freedom-II, I focused the Company training on three pillars: Moving, Shooting and Communicating. The three most dynamic facets of our environment. That training has paid off tremendously. I entrusted my faith and confidence in the abilities of our NCOs and they have repeatedly proven worthy of every ounce of it. Our good fortune continues as we progress through the deployment, and although it's not been without its bumps and bruises along the way, we've remained vigilant in our stance to protect each other. Again, our success can only be attributed to our young Warriors that are making things happen through quick and accurate decision making...Decisions that sometimes effect the success of the entire company.

    Our pride and esprit de corps are as conspicuous as ever. I'm amazed at the numerous challenges and hurdles that we manage to overcome on seemingly a daily basis. And yet, the Marines seem un-phased as we continue to execute in the rich tradition that our Marine Corps forefathers set before us. They too would be proud of our accomplishments, and for the way that the Marines have bestowed honor among our sister services. We are the ambassadors of our families, our towns, our Marine Corps and our Country-to the people of Iraq and with our coalition partners.

    The care packages and Christmas gifts that we've been receiving are more than abundant and again, words cannot thank you all enough. We have received so much that we felt that we too should share in our abundance . . . giving to the coalition forces that don't have as much as us, and to the children of Iraq. After all, as ambassadors of the United States, it is the impression that we leave with those children that will become our legacy and will eventually win this war that we're engaged in.

    WISNER, M. P. CAPT USMC

    Posted by Deb at 12:16 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

    December 21, 2004

    Tragedy at FOB Marez

    The news from Mosul today is heartbreaking and families all over the United States with a beloved son or daughter, husband or wife at FOB Marez, are holding their breath, waiting for a car in the driveway, a knock at the door, a greeting that begins "We regret to inform you...", words that will forever alter their family structure. It's a worry that family members of deployed troops always have running in the back of their minds - always.

    Chaplain Lewis who ministers to the troops at FOB Marez shared his experience at the scene:

    The day began early as I didn't sleep very well last night. Once I was awake I decided not to just lay there and stare at the darkness so I got up, got dressed, shaved and headed into the TOC, the heart of what goes on. In the TOC (Tactical Operations Center) they monitor several different radio nets to keep abreast of what is happing in the area. It's the place to be if you want up to the minute information. When I arrived it was fairly calm. I made small talk with the guys there and sipped that first cup of morning coffee. The day was clear and there was very little going on, or so it seemed. A very short while later we received the initial reports. In this area there are several "camps" or "posts" that house the various combat and support units that do the day to day fighting and working around here. The first report said that a mortar had just hit one of the nearby chow halls during the middle of lunch (I'm on GMT so my morning is actually the middle of the day). It's called a MASCAL or Mass Casualty event and it's where the rubber meets the road in military ministry. They said there were approximately 10 casualties. That was the extent of it so I kind of filed it away in the back of my mind and continued to sip my coffee. The next report wasn't so good. 10 dead and approximately 50 wounded. They were being transported to the Combat Surgical Hospital down the street. The Chaplain at the CSH is a good guy and I knew he'd be in need of help so I woke my assistant and we rushed to the hospital. I didn't expect what I saw.

    The scene was little more than controlled chaos. Helicopters landing, people shouting, wounded screaming, bodies everywhere. As the staff began to triage the dead and wounded I found the chaplain and offered my assistance. He directed me to where he needed me and I dove in. I would be hard pressed to write about every person I had the opportunity to pray with today but I will try to relate a few.

    I found Betty on a stretcher being tended by nurses. I introduced myself and held her hand. She looked up at me and said, "Chaplain, am I going to be alright?" I said that she was despite the fact that I could see she had a long road to recovery ahead of her. Most of her hair had been singed off. Her face was burnt fairly badly, although it didn't look like the kind of burns that will scar. What I do know is that it was painful enough to hurt just by being in the sun. I prayed with Betty and moved on.

    Ilena (a made up name. She spoke very softly and had a thick accent so I couldn't really hear her) had been hit by a piece of shrapnel just above her left breast causing a classic sucking chest wound. The doctors said she had a hemothorax (I think that's what they called it) which basically meant her left lung was filling with blood and she was having a very hard time breathing. For the next 20 minutes I held her hand while a doctor made an incision in her left side, inserted most of his hand and some kind of medical instrument and then a tube to alleviate the pressure caused by the pooling blood. It was probably the most medieval procedure I have ever been privy to. In the end she was taken to ICU and will be OK.

    Mark was put on a stretcher and laid along a wall. A small monitor on his hand would tell the nurses when he was dead. Even a cursory glance said it was inevitable. Mark had a head wound that left brain matter caked in his ear and all over the stretcher he was lying on. I knelt next to Mark and placed a hand on is chest. His heart was barely beating but it was beating so I put my face close to his ear to pray with him. If you've never smelled human brain matter it is something unforgettable. I had something of an internal struggle. He's practically dead so why stay? He probably can't hear anything! A prayer at that point seemed of little value. But I couldn't risk it. I prayed for Mark and led him in the sinners prayer as best I could. There are few things in this life that will make you feel more helpless. After that, I needed some fresh air.

    I stepped outside and found the situation to be only slightly less chaotic. The number of body bags had grown considerably since I first went inside. I saw a fellow chaplain who was obviously in need of care himself. I stopped him and put my arm around him and asked how he was doing. A rhetorical question if ever I asked one. He just shook his head so I pulled him in close and prayed for his strength, endurance, a thick skin, and a soft heart. Then I just stood and breathed for a few minutes.

    Regardless of what some may say, these are not stupid people. Any attack with casualties will naturally mean that eventually a very large number of care givers will be concentrated in one location. They took full advantage of that. In the middle of the mayhem the first mortar round hit about 100 to 200 meters away. Everyone started shouting to get the wounded into the hospital which is solid concrete and much safer than being in the open. Soon, the next mortar hit quite a bit closer than the first as they "walked" their rounds toward their intended target...us. Everyone began to rush toward the building. I stood at the door shoving as many people inside as I could. Just before heading in myself, the last one hit directly on top of the hospital. I was standing next to the building so was shielded from any flying shrapnel. In fact, the building, being built as a bunker took the hit with little effect. However, I couldn't have been more than 10 to 15 meters from the point of impact and brother did I feel the shock. That'll wake you up! I rushed inside to find doctors and nurses draped over patients, others on the floor or under something. I ducked low and quickly moved as far inside as I could.

    After a few tense moments people began to move around again and the business of patching bodies and healing minds continued in earnest. As I stood talking with some other chaplain, an officer approached and not seeing us, yelled, "Is there a chaplain around here?" I turned and asked what I could do. He spoke to us and said that another patient had just been moved to the "expectant" list and would one of us come pray for him. I walked in and found him lying on the bed with a tube in his throat, and no signs of consciousness. There were two nurses tending to him in his final moments. One had a clipboard so I assumed she'd have the information I wanted. I turned to her and asked if she knew his name. Without hesitation the other nurse, with no papers, blurted out his first, middle, and last name. She had obviously taken this one personally. I'll call him Wayne. I placed my hand on his head and lightly stroked his dark hair. Immediately my mind went to my Grandpa's funeral when I touched his soft grey hair for the last time. And for the second time in as many hours I prayed wondering if it would do any good, but knowing that God is faithful and can do more than I even imagine. When I finished I looked up at the nurse who had known his name. She looked composed but struggling to stay so. I asked, "Are you OK?" and she broke down. I put my arm around her to comfort and encourage her. She said, "I was fine until you asked!" Then she explained that this was the third patient to die on her that day.


    Visit his site and read the rest.

    The families of the fallen troops will be in my prayers. Also, the surviving troops who will be tasked with boxing up the personal effects of those killed and wounded, and sending them home to grieving families. This would be so hard any time of the year but especially during the holiday season when our focus is on home and family and loved ones far away.

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

    December 20, 2004

    Merry Christmas from MSSG 31

    Today, Everyones 21.
    Cpl Revere and Sgt Guerrero from MSSG 31 Motor Transport and Headquarters Detachments celebrate with two beers and a shot during a belated Marine Corps Birthday celebration.

    LtCol James A. Vohr sends this Christmas greeting to friends and family of MSSG

    Merry Christmas everybody and an up- front Happy New Year to all. I just looked at the calendar and realized it had been since the 4th of December since I had penned my last update and so that means it is time for another submission to let all know what we are doing.

    Things have continued to be challenging here at Camp Fallujah and our daily missions have changed with the maturing situation in the City of Fallujah. We are all still busy, still working hard and that never seems to change. For the last few months, as some of you may realize, we have not had all of the Marines from the MSSG at the same location. Some have been spread out across different camps for one or more reasons which speak to the many different missions we have in this unit. We have, for example, a medical contingent and some of our disbursers and postal Marines who have remained with the MEU command element to provide support to them. They have been away from the MSSG, but have been performing missions no less important and have been doing a great job.

    I stopped by the group aid station the other day, as I will often do, to see how our Sailors were doing. During the battle for Fallujah these professionals made an enormous difference and contribution. Every convoy or engineering project that went forward had the constant presence of a corpsman in the event a Marine was injured. Many of our Sailors spent many hours in vehicles or in the city of Fallujah. At daily sick call our corpsmen provided care for not only our Marines, but as I have mentioned before, the soldiers of adjacent Army units. At one point a group of Iraqi soldiers discovered our aid station and for a number of days appeared like clockwork to get dressings changed on battle wounds. Our medical logisticians made sure the infantry battalion aid stations located forward had the required supplies prior to even thinking about asking for them. Im sure this made a difference to many a wounded Marine. Weve also had corpsmen providing support to the detainee detention facilities at more than one base and in this effort have treated a variety of medical problems they never expected to see.

    On of our busiest platoons as late have been our engineers. They have a tremendous amount of capabilities and I dont think Marine engineers have been so consistently busy since the Vietnam War. They take care of field showers, mobile electric power, bulk fuel and water storage, mine detecting and sweeping, and horizontal construction. They are always in motion and doing a tremendous job supporting the mission.

    An element of the MSSG you often dont think about when it comes to combat service support is Explosives Ordnance Disposal (EOD). For years this tight knit community has focused on support to training ranges and rendering dud munitions safe. However, OIF has seen all of that change and the services of these experts in their field is in constant demand. They are always on the road, destroying anti-Iraqi forces arms caches or de-fusing and destroying improvised explosive devises. During the battle for Fallujah they spent many days providing direct support to the infantry battalions as they fought through the city. The fact they are so near the fight became obvious to us when one of them was seriously wounded as he worked to destroy munitions in a house that had not yet been cleared. Fortunately, he will be fine, but it demonstrates the nature of what we are doing and the challenges EOD and the rest of the MSSG face on a daily basis.

    At the start of this letter I said Merry Christmas. I can certainly say for all we would rather be at home with you for the holidays. Since we cant we are doing what we have time to do to ensure we recognize the season. For those inclined, there are many opportunities for worship services, as the chaplain corps is here in full force. For everyone too, we are having a combat Christmas tree contest to see which platoon can build the best tree with available materials. None of the parts can be store bought, and you should see what the Marines are coming up with as entries. I will be sure and get pictures and post them to the website. We are also having opportunities for the Marines and Sailors to see movies and are running a talent show as well. Finally, the boxes and mail are really flowing, something we all appreciate. Thanks for the continued efforts.

    Well, until next time and as always, Im proud and you should be proud of the Marines and Sailors of MSSG 31. It is an honor to serve with them.

    Thanks for all your support

    Sincerely,

    J. Alex Vohr


    Posted by Deb at 03:05 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

    December 15, 2004

    Fort Apache - Iraq: You order, we mortar

    Here are a couple of updates from the Gunny and Platoon Sgt. of 2nd LAR, Weapons Co. Again, their courage and bravery under fire is compelling reading.

    Weapons Platoon is the largest platoon in Apache Company. At full strength, 33 Marines, one Navy Corpsman and 6 Vehicles, we provide the Commanding Officer an Indirect fire asset and also the ability to engage and destroy Main Battle Tanks and other Armored vehicles. The six-man Engineer Squad gives us the capability to construct and breech obstacles. To date, the Weapons platoon has performed a variety of tasks and missions ranging from mess duty at Camp Baharia, to the Engineers blowing up and disposing of Improvised Explosive Devices, we have taken our turn at camp guard, camp police and even found time to shoot a few TOW missiles and drop a few mortar rounds. In my 18 years in the Marine Corps, I have had the opportunity to meet and work with a number of people. I can honestly say that the MEN that make this platoon are some of the finest I have served with.

    SSgt Tierney, the Platoon Sergeant, will go more into detail about the TOW section and Cpl Golden will highlight the Engineers. In the weeks to follow expect much more timely updates and more about the individuals that make up this unique Platoon.

    Recently we assumed the duty of manning a Traffic Control Point on a Peninsula to the west of Fallujah. The Platoon has occupied a house that acts as the Command Post for the VCP and the Security and Reconnaissance Patrols that we run on a daily basis in our Area of Operation. To date, the Platoon has found and disposed of several IEDs, Unexploded Munitions, recovered several weapons and aided some of the displaced civilians by helping them to retrieve some of there belongings along with food, clothing and blankets from there homes. We have had a squad of seven Iraqi soldiers attached to us, which has been a big help in interacting with the local populace.

    Although not the most popular subject to discuss with loved ones, the Platoon played a significant role in the siege of Fallujah, especially to the south. The TOW section was in direct support of the Line Platoons, while the Mortars were detached from the Company and attached to 2nd Reconnaissance Battalion. From Fire Base Apache, we dropped almost 700 rounds in support of two Recon Companies and our own Apache Company. The phrase as coined by PFC Timothy Mclaren, You order, we mortar held true threw out the siege.

    I want to thank all of you for allowing me the opportunity to serve with your sons, brothers, husbands and fathers.

    SSgt Tierney's update is continued below.


    I am Staff Sergeant Tierney, the Platoon Sergeant for that thing known as "Weapons Platoon." In addition, to my duties as Platoon Sergeant, I am also the Section Leader for the Anti-Tank Section, and a Vehicle Commander for an LAV-AT.

    Weapons Platoon has been doing what only could be considered an excellent job since we have arrived Iraq. A diverse and adaptable bunch, Weapons Platoon is constantly tasked with a wide variety of missions, from Vehicle Checkpoints to Dismounted Patrolling to whatever the CO may call for us to accomplish. There is no task too difficult, too challenging, too unusual or sometimes too boring for Weapons Platoon to accomplish. "Semper Gumby" (Always Flexible) isn't just a phrase tossed about within the platoon; its a way of life.

    There are three distinct sections within the platoon. First is the Mortar Section. With its 2 LAV-M's and capable crews, they provide an unmatched ability to support the company's mission with indirect fires or whatever may be required. Next is the Anti-Tank Section. At full strength, the section has 4 LAV-AT's and the capability to destroy any armored threat on the battlefield. The third section is our Engineers. These six Marines excel at both building and blowing things up, but mostly they like to blow things up.

    So much has happened since we have arrived; it is tough to try to find a starting point. However, I'll begin with an update of what has happened most recently. Additionally, I will to try to give you an idea of how are platoon fits into the big picture.

    On 15 November, at about 1545 local time, a 122mm rocket landed approximately 5 meters from my vehicle and exploded. I didn't hear the rocket coming in, and only felt a huge wave of heat and pressure. My left arm caught the majority of the effects as I was standing in the Vehicle Commander's position on my LAV-AT. The rest of my crew received minor injuries, mostly due to luck and the excellent construction of the vehicles, although my Gunner, LCpl Carnahan would later be sent back to the US so he could get better care for his wound. A piece of shrapnel hit his left wrist and the Doctors wanted him to get the best possible care.

    I knew I was hit, and sent a radio message to that effect, but most important to me was how the rest of my crew was. When I saw they had all sustained minor injuries I was relieved to say the least, and I allowed HM3 Kloppenborg to start treating my wounds.

    I was Medevac'd to Bravo Surgical on Camp MEK and they continued my care. I can tell you first hand that the doctors, nurses and corpsman working there are the very best and care deeply about their patients.

    A week later, I was allowed to return to Fort Apache and continue my recovery.

    The rest of my crew, LCpl Contreras, and LCpl Johnston were able to return to full duty and are currently taking good care of my vehicle while it is temporarily under "new management".

    THE ANTI-TANK SECTION

    As you may guess, there are few enemy tanks left in Iraq. After the first Gulf War, and later Operation Iraqi Freedom the vast majority of the Iraqi's tanks were destroyed or captured. In addition, the insurgents favor tactics that do not involve large armored vehicles.

    So you may ask, "What does an Anti-Tank section do when there are no tanks?" Well, as it happens, the TOW missiles that we use are not only good at blowing holes straight through over two feet of solid steel on a tank, but can be pretty handy when you need to put a hole in a building. In fact, based upon my experience, they are pretty good for making a doorway on one side of a building and putting a window in the other. Of course, they also put a hurt on whoever is trying to shoot at the Apache Nation from that building.

    The Anti-Tank section is seldom used as a section by itself, but is commonly attached to the "Line Platoons" (1st, 2nd and 3rd Platoons each with 4 LAV-25's). The LAV-ATs have powerful day and night optics that enable them to track and identify vehicles and personnel in any weather conditions. Often, a vehicle or pair of vehicles is placed where it can watch a specific area of interest, while the platoon it is attached to will provide the local security. With their optics and firepower, the Anti-Tank Section is a welcome addition to any platoon.

    Second Platoon has had a special relationship with the Anti-Tank Section. Circumstances being as they are left them short one vehicle. And each of the LAV-AT crews has spent some time with Second Platoon, not as an attachment or additional force, but as an integral part of the platoon. My vehicle was filling such a role when it was hit.

    The Anti Tank Section is:

    SSgt Tierney VC of 3 (currently on light duty)
    Sgt McNichol Current VC of 3
    Cpl Singles Gunner of 3 (Replacing LCpl Carnahan)
    LCpl Javier Contreras Driver of 3
    LCpl Johnston Loader for 3

    Sgt Whitmore VC of 5 (and acting Platoon Sergeant and Section Leader)
    LCpl Frederickson Gunner of 5
    LCpl Johnson Driver of 5
    LCpl Snyder Loader of 5

    Sgt Coleman VC of 6
    Cpl Reukauf Gunner of 6
    LCpl Hoover Driver of 6
    LCpl Ellison Loader of 6

    LCpl Boswell and LCpl Dunphy eagerly await the arrival of a new LAV-AT to replace the one that was damaged when we first arrived in country. At that time there will be a bit of crew reshuffling. Until then, they are working in various tasks to help the company complete its assigned missions.

    THE MORTAR SECTION

    GySgt Brower, the Weapons Platoon Commander, leads the Mortar Section. However, Sgt Olsen of Mitchell, South Dakota, handles the day-to-day operation and the coordination of all fires. The Mortar Section rides in two LAV's that resemble some gypsy wagons with all the gear strapped to the outside and a bunch of heads popped up in the main compartment looking around. The Mortar Section has one primary mission "To provide accurate and timely indirect fires." In this they excel. To accomplish this mission, the section is again broken in to four different elements; the FDC (Fire Direction Center) consists of 3 Marines. Sgt Olson, LCpl Big Webb, and PFC Mclaren. The Forward Observers call the target information to PFC Mclaren, he in turn relays it to Sgt Olsen and LCpl Webb who calculate the data, confirm the data, then pass it to the 2nd element, that being the Gun Line. The Gun Line consists of two 81mm Mortar tubes mounted in the LAVs. Gun one is manned by LCpl Adam the best mortar gunner in the Corps Wagner, and his Assistant Gunner LCpl Henderson. Gun one is also known as the adjust gun, meaning that any missions where the rounds must be adjusted on to target will be shot by this gun. The Ammo Man for Gun 1 is PFC Vales. His duties include laying the gun on its Direction of fire, ensuring the correct nature of ammo is selected, ensuring that the ammunition count and re-supply is done. It is also the responsibility of Gun 1 to ensure that Gun 2, manned by LCpl Rumbley, his A-Gunner, LCpl Renfro, along with Ammo Man, PFC Little Webb. Upon the completion of each Fire Mission, element 3, headed up by LCpl Madden and assisted by LCpl Harkness takes over. It is there duty to ensure that each Ammo Man is provided with the type and number of rounds to fire another mission. At times this can be a difficult task as some missions role from one target to another. They must also advise the Section Leader of Ammo on hand and anticipate re-supply. The 4th element consists of the Gunny who ensures the sections gets into the best location for firing, drinks lots of coffee, gets in Sgt Oslons way and we are still trying to figure out what he does after that. Additionally, the Mortar section must be prepared to conduct dismounted operations to include MOUT, Military Operations on Urban Terrain, vehicle and personnel checkpoints and any other tasks that may be directed by the Commanding Officer.

    Most recently the Mortar Section fired numerous fire missions in support of operations in and around the city of Fallujah during the taking of the city.

    The Mortar Section is:

    GySgt Brower, Platoon Commander and VC of 1
    PFC McLaren, driver for 1 and Radio Operator
    LCpl Webb, FDC Chief (Fire Direction Center) on 1
    LCpl Wagner, Gunner for 1
    LCpl Henderson, Assistant Gunner for 1
    PFC Vales, Ammo Man for 1

    Sgt Olsen, FDC and VC for 2
    LCpl Madden, driver for 2 and Ammo NCO
    LCpl Rumbley, Gunner for 2
    LCpl Renfro, Assistant Gunner for 2
    PFC Webb, Ammo Man for 2
    LCpl Harkenss, The platoon mechanic, and mortar guy in training on 2 and Assistant Ammo NCO

    THE ENGINEERS

    The six engineers who make up the Engineer Section at the very least have a bit of an identity problem. They belong to Weapons Platoon, work in pairs for the Line Platoons, and when they all work together they can be attached to HQ Platoon. Unlike the rest of the Marines in the company, they do not necessarily have a vehicle to call their own and it is usually only after a mission is announced that they can find out where they are riding. By contrast it is rare for the other Marines in the company to shift about on vehicles mission to mission. However, "Engineers Can Do" and "Semper Gumby" are the mottos of this bunch.

    The engineers are led by Cpl Golden, and are all originally from 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion, which is also based on Camp Lejeune. The engineers provide a unique capability to the company. With unmatched demolitions skills, there is nothing to big for them to blow up. Mostly, their demolitions expertise is called upon to destroy Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) and weapons or ammo caches. Recently, however, the engineers were asked to take down 4 trees to clear a lane of observation on a target area and within 30 minutes they had the four trees down in a big cloud of smoke.

    The engineers aren't only about blowing stuff up though. Whether it is trying to determine the trafficabilty of a route or the capacity of a bridge, they assist in our reconnaissance operations. The engineers are also skilled with a hammer and a saw and are quite adept at construction. Many of the projects around the camp have been built by, or been influenced or assisted by our engineers.

    The Engineer Section is:

    Cpl Elrod and Cpl Bauer who work with 1st Platoon

    Cpl Golden and LCpl Ponce who work with 2nd Platoon

    Cpl Talamantes and Cpl Cardona who work with 3rd Platoon

    The newest member of the Platoon is our Navy Corpsman, HN Doc Bailey. His duties include; daily sick call for the Platoon, including the Iraqi soldiers, daily hygiene inspections for the Command Post and surrounding areas, and if needed too, but hopefully not, treat battle field casualties and arrange for medivac if needed. Doc will not hesitate to fill a sand bag or assist in searching cars on the VCP. He is big asset to the Platoon.

    Posted by Deb at 01:40 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

    December 14, 2004

    1/7 Alpha Company Update


    "Our flag's unfurl'd to every breeze, from dawn to setting sun"

    Here's the latest from 1/7 Alpha Company.

    Dear Wives, Family Members, and Friends, We have finally reached December and I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. However, the Company is focused and continuing on in its mission. I wish I could express to you the fantastic job that your Marines are doing. The hours are long; the gear is heavy, and the mission tedious. Still, their spirit is not broken and their will unbreakable. If only the news can see these guys the way I do.

    Congratulations go out to our newly promoted Marines: Cpl. Johnson, Cpl. Devers, LCpl. Gutierrez, LCpl. Manjuarrez, and Pfc. Lewis. Meritoriously Promoted is Cpl. Merrill. Good Job!

    Now I want to focus on you, the wives, families, and friends of Alpha Company. This is my 21st year of service in the Corps and I have never seen the kind of support we are receiving. Every time we go to pick up our mail, we have to use the HMMWV to do it. A mountain of letters and packages are delivered every three or four days. We have received hygiene items, magazines, games, books, and many different types of food and Christmas decorations. To my amazement, we even received full sized Christmas Trees. I must admit that the most important things we have received are your encouraging words and love. From wives to schoolchildren, from Veterans to teachers, from girl friends to people whom we dont even know, the letters role in. Thank you.

    Soon Christmas and New Years will be upon us and these are hard times to be separated from the one you love. Soon that day will come. The sun will rise and he will be home. Until that time comes, I can assure you we will keep his head in the game. I will leave you with this quote, which seems very appropriate at this time.

    General Douglas MacArthur, US Army:
    "I have just returned from visiting the Marines at the front, and there is not a finer fighting organization in the world!"

    Semper Fidelis,
    1stSgt Weir A. M.

    Posted by Deb at 03:25 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

    December 10, 2004

    Reports from Husaybah and Al Qaim

    USMC parents and spouses live for news broadcasts where they might - just might - catch a glimpse of their Marine. Some locations are so remote that it just doesn't happen - I have my Google News alerts set for Husaybah and days or weeks go by without a word. It's not that the region is quiet - far from it. But, there are no reporters to chronicle the battle for truth, justice and democracy. However, FOX News reporter Steve Harrigan is my new favorite reporter after filing this slice-of-life report from Husaybah today.

    Four of us in a room here, but Marines know how to get along in small spaces. When we came in, the Chief Warrant Officer sat on the floor in a corner and went to sleep sitting up while we got our equipment ready.

    "Real eggs today," an officer said to us on our way in to chow.

    "I heard they got real eggs today," a corporal said to us on our way out.

    I hadn't noticed. I was just a visitor to this world. I had the eggs and a cold biscuit, but passed on the Cheerios because all they had was strawberry, chocolate, or banana flavored milk.

    Then I left the table, stood outside, and had a cup of coffee in a paper cup with three non-dairy powdered creamers and two packets of sugar, that were wet from the morning dew and stuck in clumps. I moved so the sun hit me. Another perfect blue morning. I added another sugar, stirred it with a plastic knife and looked out at the camp. Nothing was moving in the mud. Somewhere it was Sunday morning.

    Chow gets worse the closer you get to the fighting. The first thing to go is ice cream, then salads, then vegetables. Then you go to A-rats. Then MRE's.

    In Homer's "Iliad" the best fighters get the choicest cuts of meat. In the military it's the reverse, the conditions are hardest for those who have the hardest fighting.

    Real eggs. Something we take for granted here, but the men of 1/7 Baker Company have been eating MREs for months. Thanks to some very generous donations to Operation Santa, we were able to mail microwaves and electric griddles, with enough pancake mix and syrup for a holiday pancake feed for all Marines and Corpsmen at Camp Gannon.

    Harrigan continues:

    Sometimes I hear stuff I've never heard before. Sgt. Cress is in charge of keeping me safe so he's always with me. We started to walk towards the live shot position last night, then I broke off from him.

    "Piss call?" he said.

    "Yeah."

    It was a piss call, a new phrase for me, and a trip to the "piss tube." They are three-foot white tubes at about a 45 degree angle in to the ground that you urinate into. I encountered my first tube in Fallujah, and like most men, enjoyed having a target. The tubes here are covered with a mesh screen, which creates minor splashing, hence the process is not so satisfying.

    Ordinary things in a war zone are more deliberate. To take a dump here you have to put on your flak jacket and helmet, go outstide and walk a few hundred yards to a wooden stall and sit on boards over a hole. It is not something you do casually.

    Marines who have endured Iraqi summers report that head calls result in an experience much like getting their butts sandblasted. Now that temperatures are dropping below freezing, I'm wondering how they'll describe the conditions upon their return.

    Proud 1/7 Marine Mom, LouAnn Stark was able to see her son via a video link also from the FOX site - just click on the Video tab and select Barbed-Wire Border Turns to Sand. Sorry, no clickable link.

    Harrigan also visited Al Qaim - 12 miles and a lifetime away from Husaybah where he interviewed Corporal Terry Orndoff, also with 1/7. Click on the video link titled Al Qaim: Benefits Outweigh Risks to watch.


    Posted by Deb at 01:38 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    December 08, 2004

    1/10 update from Camp Fallujah

    More news from the front, this time from 1/10 Charlie, via Laurie Want. Note the props for Op Santa volunteers - my records show that Laurie Want, Cheryl LePage, Karen and Tom, Hawthorne School from Sweet Home, Oregon, and Deb Thane coordinated stockings and gifts for the 5 platoons of Charlie Company.

    Friends and Families of Charlie Battery happy holidays from your Marines defending freedom and democracy from Camp Fallujah, With OPERATION PHANTOM FURY, otherwise known as the battle of Fallujah, drawing to an end life aboard the camp is returning to almost normal. The Marines have seen the population of the camp double, the chow hall serve only two meals a day and a nightly light show over the city as the assault commenced. Life for the Marines changed very little other than an increased sense of awareness. In preparation for the offensive, some of the resident units on the camp and some soldiers from a nearby camp augmented us. We worked side by side and made new friends along the way and in some cases learned from each other.

    Your Marines continued to man towers, work the gates and defend the pump house, the only water supply for the camp. During the onslaught of the battle for the city we encountered an increased frequency of incoming rocket and mortar fire, that has since subsided and the last few days have been relatively quiet. I am pleased to say that we have yet to encounter our first casualty or serious injury. Of the engagements we have seen, in every incident your Marines have reacted as they were trained and been successful and without injury. I can assure you all of your Marines are safe and in good health.

    As Thanksgiving approached the Staff Non-Commissioned Officers, Warrant Officers and Officers of the battery and MEF HQ Group volunteered to man the posts for the Marines to afford them the opportunity to have the holiday meal in a warm chow hall. The holiday meal was a feast of ham, turkey, prime rib, shrimp and all the trimmings. It was quite entertaining to see Master Sergeants, Senior Chiefs, Majors and a Lieutenant Colonel relieve the Marines on the post. Thank goodness the bad guys didnt know, because if they had attacked it would have been a significant emotional event for all involved. In the end, I think the replacements enjoyed their time on the wall. If nothing else, it gave them a taste of what your Marines do on a daily basis, which is always good to know. We have seen a drop in temperatures here and in the next few days freezing temperatures are expected. We are doing what we can to keep the Marines comfortable, the thought of someday going home safe to families and friends is enough to keep most of them warm in the mean time.

    I would like to thank all those that have sent Thanksgiving and Christmas mail to us. We receive about 200 lbs of mail a day and have filled a couple of storage containers with Christmas packages. These packages are filled with stockings, letters and holiday spirit from home. Soon well put up the Christmas tree and surround it with the packages and gifts from home. Happy holidays and thanks again for the your support of the Marines of Charlie Battery.

    and

    October was an interesting month. We have completed the changing of the guard and assumed the areas of responsibility, which our counterparts have left for us. In the midst of getting adjusted to our new surroundings and activities, we have successfully reenlisted the following Marines: Cpl Ellis, Cpl Glover, Sgt Woodard, and Sgt Mondloch. To the family and friends of these warriors, thank you for your support and dedication to stay in the Marine Corps family.

    Creativity has been apparent this month as when Halloween came it was quite shocking to see a Marine with his face totally painted in the scheme of a circus clown, with the hair to boot. I dont know who he was, but it was done up pretty good. You could tell by the decorations within the hallways of the barracks, we still had the Halloween spirit. I cannot count the times I had to duck around the hanging spiders on the strings as I walked the corridors. It was GREAT!!

    November is closing out and we have gorged ourselves with a well-planned and deserved Thanksgiving meal at the mess hall. We are shifting gears, much like all of you at home, in regards to the change in weather. If you had any doubts about the desert getting cold, well let me tell you for the record, YES it does.

    Special Thanks, to all of the Operation Santa All Stars. Your boxes have been arriving by the tons and our lonely little mail clerk LCpl Cheung, can now compete against Arnold Schwarzenegger (OORAH). We are just about set for Christmas, I wonder if there is a Santa suit for the CO, Hhmmm?

    We are Charlie Battery!!!
    If you arent on the edgeyou are taking up too much space
    1stSgt Wilson
    THE SYMBOL

    Okay, I'm putting Santa Suits on the list for OpSanta 2005! I can't wait to see those pictures.

    Posted by Deb at 11:31 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

    December 06, 2004

    Fighting in Fallujah - 3/5, India Company

    Fox News recently published a gripping account of embedded reporter Greg Palkot and cameraman Pierre Zakrzewski's experience during the Battle of Fallujah. Here are day-by-day excerpts from his diary:

    November 8:

    Tonight there's just a particularly annoying wall to scale and a rooftop to reach. The roof seems like a nice place to relax until the sky above it is filled with whizzing terrorist AK-47 fire and much nastier Marine responses.

    This will be the first of many times the phrase "nowhere to run, nowhere to hide" rattles around my head.

    November 9:

    We watch what would be the beginning of another routine of the week. The enemy hunkers down at night, intimidated by the hi-tech night-vision gear the U.S. military commands. Then, the bad guys get out at first light to make trouble.

    What they don't know is that the Marines want the guys to come out. That's what they came for.

    November 10:

    Later, we find ourselves on yet another roof for an end-of-day officers' meeting with Chontosh. As sniper fire flies overhead, the Marines get word that a group of 15 to 20 militants are roving around a neighborhood a few blocks away.

    As I quickly learn, Chontosh (who won an award for bravery in last years initial invasion of Iraq) is not one to sit back and let his guys do the dirty work. Moments later we are out on the street, heading for potential trouble.

    Make that REAL trouble.

    November 11:

    Seeing somebody you had been joking with the day before being carried out of a house on a stretcher brings everything into sharp clarity.

    Looking at an injured fellow's bloody flak jacket and vest stays with you.

    Watching the belongings of someone who has been killed being packed away to be shipped back to family in the States underscores that this is all as serious as it gets.

    A few squad members are very shaken and two have to be pulled out of the action. The rest, outwardly at least, seem pretty stoic, ready to press on and get the job done.

    When I ask Chontosh what he feels about the day's losses, the captain almost seems annoyed at the question.

    "How does it feel to lose a good man?" I ask. Without missing a beat, but also not looking at me, staring at the scene where a sniper cut down one of his commanders, he snaps, "Any man going down."

    November 12:

    India Company still hasn't cleared out the neighborhood where the militants were first spotted on Wednesday. And the hope to wrap up India's assault early is long forgotten.

    Now the Marines are going to level a neighborhood to make sure the bad guys never use it again. It isn't quite the "destroying a village to save it" formula of the Vietnam War, but it comes close.

    Air strikes, tank fire and mortar barrages make minced meat out of school buildings and houses. When the dust clears and the rubble stops falling, Chontosh takes us on a tour of the place.

    His instincts are pretty good. We go into a room in a schoolhouse knee-deep in insurgent weaponry. There isn't a schoolbook in sight. No school buses in the courtyard ... just a vehicle rocket launcher.

    And in the houses all around, Marines pull anti-personnel and tank mines out of one place, rockets out of another, a complete IED factory in the bedroom of a third.

    November 13:

    More Marines are injured, including Jensen, who is hit by fragments from grenades hurled by insurgents from the roof of the building. Jensen limps away, and within a day claims he's at 95 percent strength. "I can even run on the leg!" he proclaims to me.

    Not good enough. Capt. Chontosh takes him out of the fight.

    And there's more grousing about the Iraqi security forces who will have to take a major role in making sure Fallujah works in the future. Some of their units are filling in behind other American squads that have done the heavy lifting. Without proper radios or other equipment they are blamed more for getting in the way then helping out, even firing around U.S. military forces.

    One of the officers in charge of training the Iraqis tells me the brass wants a full Iraqi Army up and running in six months. "It's not going to happen," he complains.

    Sounds like our Marines are going to be sticking around.

    November 14:

    I'd like to say these guys are fresh and raring to finish the job. But to be frank, our boys look like toast. Some still haven't gotten over the losses of the days before. And all are a lot more careful as they work through every house.

    They still have time, though, to go through some mail, which has somehow found its way into the heart of this terror enclave. Lance Cpl. Jelnick reads me his girlfriend's letter. There isn't anything extraordinary in it.

    What is extraordinary, however, is that she has written him a letter every day he has been in Iraq.

    The 20-year-old Chicago Cubs fan is comforted, but also filled with the feeling that maybe he'll have to get serious about her when he gets out of all this. Eeek ... love! Sometimes trickier than dealing with insurgents.

    November 15:

    The day starts like most others. We check out mosques that Marines believe have been used by insurgents as terror "bed and breakfasts" sleeping places and medical stations for use between attacks.

    Marines also find plans and propaganda associated with attacks. Right down to some maps.

    Then another platoon marches off to check out one last bunch of houses.

    India Company literally is just a few blocks from finishing its chunk of the assault. But its Marines are about to walk into a terror hornet's nest as bad as any military unit will find in the operation in Fallujah.

    Back at India Company's makeshift headquarters, a fateful word crackled over the radio: "Contact!"

    Read the extended entries here.

    Posted by Deb at 05:33 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

    December 04, 2004

    The Prayer of St Ignatius for Corporal Brian R. Prening

    GySgt Perez included this letter by LtCol Mark A. Smith in a comment to the previous post on LCpl Daniel Wyatt, noting that it was "forwarded to me by former Lieutenant E. M. Kohnke / USMC. Daniel's name is mentioned below." It deserves wider readership.

    On Tuesday 16 Nov 04, I had the honor of taking my command element forward to Fox Company's position for the Field Memorial Service for Corporal Brian R. Prening, F Co, 2nd Bn, 24th Marines, killed in action against enemy forces Yusufiyah, Iraq. Now, I say honor, because as tragic as the situation was, and as painful as it was, what I witnessed that day is forever and indelibly etched into both my consciousness and my soul. So, if you will allow me, I will try my utmost to communicate to you the events as they unfolded that day. Fox Company has been forward in FOB St. Joseph for over two months now, attempting to bring stability to an area that had not had a presence of Multi-National Forces. As I have communicated to you previously, it was an absolute bastion of Radical Islamists and Terrorists, who had brutalized the citizens in unspeakable terms. Well, the WARRIORS of Fox Company have put an end to that. And, for the terrorists, many of whom are believed to have been the leaders of the insurgency in Fallujah, have been attempting to come home. Sad fact for them, Fox Company now owns their permanent zip code. So, on the day of Cpl Prenning's unfortunate death, the enemy, for the first time, chose to actually stand and fight. They did, and at the end of the day, over forty of them lie dead on the battlefield. And, over the course of the last week, throughout our zone, but especially in Fox's, we have rounded up and arrested over 120 of them. That said, and for all the fantastic work of the Battalion elements, this day was no cause for celebration, it was our time to mourn our honored dead. As the leadership of the Company, the Battalion and the Marines of Cpl Prening's platoon gathered for the memorial, the atmosphere was sheer solemnity. The Marines of Fox were layered with the Iraqi dust that they have called home for 60 days plus. The smell of sweat that eminates from them can only be described as the smell of freedom. That combination of sweat, dirt and emotion that combines to create an aroma that is not repugnant in the least, but serves to stimulate the Warrior gene that you are among "special knights of the warriored breed."

    The ceremony began with the placing of the rifle, helmet boots and dog tags of the fallen Marine, and was followed by Scripture readings, Company Commander memorial and teammate remembrances. The Marines that knew Cpl Prening best, memorialized him, through their tears and emotions, in a manner that I know would have made his family swell with pride. They were eloquent beyond imagination, and their words were a lance to the soul in their beauty and truth.

    Then came his Plt Cmdr, 1stLt Mayne. Now, before I continue, I must describe 1stLt Mayne. I have been in a few scraps in my day, and truth be known, kind of enjoy that. But, 1stLt Mayne is one of those physical figures that you see and immediately think, if I can avoid a scrap with this lad, that would most probably be the preferred course of action. Additionally, since the day we arrived, 1stLt Mayne's combat accomplishments have been EXTRAORDINARY! His actions have been right in the face of the enemy, and he has stared death squarely in the eye on several occassions, and has done nothing but lead his Marines is a calm and professional manner that has absolutely confounded the enemy each and every time, and more often than not, lead to many of the enemy achieving their goal of martrydom!

    But, on this day, the Lt Mayne that I saw was not the Warrior. No, the Lt Mayne I saw on this day was the Man. And, it embarasses me not one bit to say I only hope to be one tenth the Man I saw in Lt Mayne on that day. He spoke of his admiration for Cpl Prening and Cpl Prening's actions in a manner that crushed your soul and made you want to scream that you were not worthy of sharing the same room as these Warriors. He spoke of the need to channel and contain the rage and always honor Cpl Prening by only killing in righteousness and in accordance with the rules. He spoke of the "decent people of Iraq" who we are here to liberate. He spoke of all these things in a manner and among those who must do it in a way that should shame every person who has ever ascribed any attribute to our Marines, other than hero. Having done that, he then finished with a prayer. A prayer that he stated he prays every night, and in knowing this man and the quality of his character, I suspect he prays it one hundred times a day. As he prayed the prayer of St. Ignatius aloud, I can tell you, I have never felt such overwhelming pain and peace, all at the same time. I have never been so destroyed and fullfilled, all at the same time. I have never been so torn, and so complete, all at the same time. Upon relfection, I understood how I could have such dichotomous feelings all at once. Because in that thirty second prayer, prayed aloud by a man and Marine Officer who will forever have my undying respect and admiration, I realized in the prayer of St. Ignatius, the eternal reality of our temporal struggle: GOOD VS. EVIL. And, I was standing, humbled to the bone, among the agents of GOOD.

    Maybe I am wrong, but I believe in my heart and soul that everything has a time and a purpose under God. And at that time and for this purpose, God used Cpl Prening and Lt Mayne, that we would know our struggle is right, and that our will be not shaken, and that for our children and the future of our Great Nation, we will see this through until there is nothing but peace for our future generations. And, that for that struggle, there is a price paid in death, in visible scars and in invisible ones.

    So, for LCpl Daniel R. Wyatt, Cpl Nathaniel T. Hammond, LCpl Shane K. O'Donnell, LCpl Branden P. Ramey, Cpl Robert P. Warns II, Cpl Peter J.
    Giannopoulos, Cpl Brian R. Prening, the next time you see a US Veteran, you shake his hand and say thank you. You shake his hand with the ferocity of firmness that says I love you, and I thank you for my freedom. If you get the chance, you go to a US Veterans hospital and you gently stroke the head of our wounded and broken from all wars, in a manner that says, do not be afraid, for I am here with you friend, I love you and I thank you. You do all this if you can, because everything we have, everything we are, we have and are because of their unbelievable sacrifice! And for that my friends, you and I should be eternally grateful and eternally humbled, for we have walked with the Saints!

    St Ignatius' Prayer

    Lord give me the strength to serve you as you deserve;
    To give, and not to count the cost;
    To fight, and not to heed the wounds;
    To toil, and not to seek for rest;
    To labor, and not to seek reward, save that of knowing that I do your will.

    May God continue to bless you and bless you abundantly, as he does me everyday that I share this earth with your beloved. And may he grant strength, peace and serenity to the families of our fallen heroes.

    Mark A. Smith
    LtCol, USMCR
    Commanding Officer
    TF 2/24

    Posted by Deb at 10:15 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    A message from the Commanding General of 1MARDIV

    As we continue to transition Operation Al Fajr from offensive operations to humanitarian operations, I wanted to let everyone know how incredibly proud I am of the Marines, Soldiers, Sailors, and Airmen of the Division. Urban operations against a entrenched enemy who is willing to use every dirty trick in the book is one of the toughest missions that any military organization will ever face, and the men and women of the Division executed it with professionalism, courage, and toughness. We were able to bring in forces from all of our services, plus our Iraqi allies and recapture the city of Fallujah in less time than we expected. It was truly a remarkable accomplishment.

    Recently 2-7 CAV and 2-2 INF returned to their parent units. I want to publicly thank the Officers and Soldiers of these outstanding Battalions. They added the Sunday Punch to our assault forces and will always be a part of our proud legacy.

    We want to wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving! All members of the Division will be able to enjoy a special Thanksgiving meal that will include the traditional favorites. Our logistics planners have gone to great lengths to ensure that every Marine and Soldier will have an opportunity to partake in this great American holiday. We have many things to give thanks for; the unwavering support and love of our families will be foremost in our minds.

    We continue to remember and honor those whose sacrifice was the greatest. Our thoughts and prayers are with their loved ones during this holiday period.

    Enjoy the holiday and may God bless the First Marine Division and its friends and families.


    Posted by Deb at 10:04 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    December 03, 2004

    "Tell your kids, your grandkids, what Sgt. Peralta did for you and the other Marines today"

    Lance Cpl. Travis J. Kaemmerer, a combat correspondent assigned to the 1st FSSG is currently deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom in Iraq. He recently spent time as a combat correspondent during the Battle of Fallujah where his charge was to share with the rest of world the reality of the battlefield and heroism under fire. Here is one story of epic bravery.

    On this day, I found myself without my camera. With the batteries dead, I decided to leave the camera behind and live up to the ethos "every Marine a rifleman," by volunteering to help clear the fateful buildings that lined streets.

    After seven days of intense fighting in Fallujah, the Marines of 1/3 embraced a new day with a faceless enemy.

    We awoke November 15, 2004, around day-break in the abandoned, battle-worn house we had made our home for the night. We shaved, ate breakfast from a Meal, Ready-to-Eat pouch and waited for the word to move.

    The word came, and we started what we had done since the operation began clear the city of insurgents, building by building.

    As an attachment to the unit, I had been placed as the third man in a six-man group, or what Marines call a 'stack.' Two stacks of Marines were used to clear a house. Moving quickly from the third house to the fourth, our order in the stack changed. I found Sgt. Rafael Peralta in my spot, so I fell in behind him as we moved toward the house.

    A Mexican-American who lived in San Diego, Peralta earned his citizenship after he joined the Marine Corps. He was a platoon scout, which meant he could have stayed back in safety while the squads of 1st Platoon went into the danger filled streets, but he was constantly asking to help out by giving them an extra Marine. I learned by speaking with him and other Marines the night before that he frequently put his safety, reputation and career on the line for the needs and morale of the junior Marines around him.

    When we reached the fourth house, we breached the gate and swiftly approached the building. The first Marine in the stack kicked in the front door, revealing a locked door to their front and another at the right.

    Kicking in the doors simultaneously, one stack filed swiftly into the room to the front as the other group of Marines darted off to the right.

    "Clear!" screamed the Marines in one of the rooms followed only seconds later by another shout of "clear!" from the second room. One word told us all we wanted to know about the rooms: there was no one in there to shoot at us.

    We found that the two rooms were adjoined and we had another closed door in front of us. We spread ourselves throughout the rooms to avoid a cluster going through the next door.

    Two Marines stacked to the left of the door as Peralta, rifle in hand, tested the handle. I watched from the middle, slightly off to the right of the room as the handle turned with ease.

    Ready to rush into the rear part of the house, Peralta threw open the door.

    POP! POP! POP! Multiple bursts of cap-gun-like sounding AK-47 fire rang throughout the house.

    Three insurgents with AK-47s were waiting for us behind the door.

    Peralta was hit several times in his upper torso and face at point-blank range by the fully-automatic 7.62mm weapons employed by three terrorists.

    Mortally wounded, he jumped into the already cleared, adjoining room, giving the rest of us a clear line of fire through the doorway to the rear of the house.

    We opened fire, adding the bangs of M-16A2 service rifles, and the deafening, rolling cracks of a Squad Automatic Weapon, or SAW, to the already nerve-racking sound of the AKs. One Marine was shot through the forearm and continued to fire at the enemy.

    I fired until Marines closer to the door began to maneuver into better firing positions, blocking my line of fire. Not being an infantryman, I watched to see what those with more extensive training were doing.

    I saw four Marines firing from the adjoining room when a yellow, foreign-made, oval-shaped grenade bounced into the room, rolling to a stop close to Peraltas nearly lifeless body.

    In an act living up to the heroes of the Marine Corps past, such as Medal of Honor recipients Pfc. James LaBelle and Lance Cpl. Richard Anderson, Peralta in his last fleeting moments of consciousness- reached out and pulled the grenade into his body. LaBelle fought on Iwo Jima and Anderson in Vietnam, both died saving their fellow Marines by smothering the blast of enemy grenades.

    Peralta did the same for all of us in those rooms.

    I watched in fear and horror as the other four Marines scrambled to the corners of the room and the majority of the blast was absorbed by Peraltas now lifeless body. His selflessness left four other Marines with only minor injuries from smaller fragments of the grenade.

    During the fight, a fire was sparked in the rear of the house. The flames were becoming visible through the door.

    The decision was made by the Marine in charge of the squad to evacuate the injured Marines from the house, regroup and return to finish the fight and retrieve Peraltas body.

    We quickly ran for shelter, three or four houses up the street, in a house that had already been cleared and was occupied by the squads platoon.

    As Staff Sgt. Jacob M. Murdock took a count of the Marines coming back, he found it to be one man short, and demanded to know the whereabouts of the missing Marine.

    "Sergeant Peralta! Hes dead! Hes f------ dead," screamed Lance Cpl. Adam Morrison, a machine gunner with the squad, as he came around a corner. "Hes still in there. We have to go back."

    The ingrained code Marines have of never leaving a man behind drove the next few moments. Within seconds, we headed back to the house unknown what we may encounter yet ready for another round.

    I don't remember walking back down the street or through the gate in front of the house, but walking through the door the second time, I prayed that we wouldn't lose another brother.

    We entered the house and met no resistance. We couldn't clear the rest of the house because the fire had grown immensely and the danger of the enemys weapons cache exploding in the house was increasing by the second.

    Most of us provided security while Peralta's body was removed from the house.

    We carried him back to our rally point and upon returning were told that the other Marines who went to support us encountered and killed the three insurgents from inside the house.

    Later that night, while I was thinking about the days somber events, Cpl. Richard A. Mason, an infantryman with Headquarters Platoon, who, in the short time I was with the company became a good friend, told me, "Youre still here, dont forget that. Tell your kids, your grandkids, what Sgt. Peralta did for you and the other Marines today."

    As a combat correspondent, this is not only my job, but an honor.

    Throughout Operation Al Fajr, we were constantly being told that we were making history, but if the books never mention this battle in the future, Im sure that the day and the sacrifice that was made, will never be forgotten by the Marines who were there.


    Posted by Deb at 10:24 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

    December 01, 2004

    After Fallujah - Update from MSSG 31


    MSSG 31 Marines filled this seven-ton Truck with explosives by hand. Every destroyed weapon translates into lives saved.

    A message from LtCol James A. Vohr

    Dear families of MSSG 31,

    Well, a lot has gone on in the short space between now and my last update. The battle for Fallujah has been fought and as I write, operations continue to secure the city to allow for the rebuilding effort to begin. Your Marines and Sailors played a large part and continue to support the success the Marine Corps has experienced, and you should be proud of them. Each and every one of them is a brave young man or woman who want only to go out and get the job done. There professional determination is awesome to watch.

    Everyone contributed during the fight. The communications section stayed on top of our command and control infrastructure, making sure we could talk with everyone who was out from the MSSG as well as higher and adjacent units. The communications officers always tells me communications is the key to success on the battlefield and his Marines worked hard to ensure we could talk. Motor transport and military police worked hand in hand to make sustainment convoys happen, sometimes on short fuse, and always ready to go in either the day or the night. The engineers have been digging in units to enhance survivability, building whatever the supported units called for in the construction shop, pumping fuel and water, and working with engineer ordnance disposal to destroy captured arms and ammunition. Our corpsmen provided medical coverage for the MSSG as expected, but then went two steps further in pushing critical medical supplies out to forward aid stations and working to provide dressing changes to wounded Marines, Soldiers, and Soldiers of the new Iraqi Army.

    Marines in the headquarters detachment accomplished all the planning up front to set the unit up for success during the fight and then kept track of requirements as it all unfolded. Headquarters Marines also worked areas such as ammunition supply, certainly a critical asset. Supply build stockpiles of items critical to the support of the fight and they were readily available when they were needed for the attack. In short, there was not a Marine or Sailor who did not do their share.

    As I wrap up this update, I?d be at fault if I didn?t mention the support the MSSG gets from the families back home. Letter mail, e-mails, and care packages are guaranteed to bring a smile to a Marine or Sailors face. I?d also be remiss if I did not mention how much everyone appreciates the huge effort the key volunteers mustered to put together cookies and snacks for the single Marines and Sailors, box them up and send them out to us. The first part of this shipment has just arrived and trust me, the Marines devoured them! Thanks so much!

    As always, I?m proud and you should be proud of the Marines and Sailors of MSSG 31. It is an honor to serve with them.

    Thanks for all your support

    Sincerely,

    J. Alex Vohr


    Posted by Deb at 11:08 PM

    11th MEU update

    Photo by Cpl. Dick Kotecki
    The Honorable Gordon R. England, Secretary of the Navy, sits with Marines, sailors, and soldiers during Thanksgiving dinner at the dining facility here, Nov. 25. England visited FOB Duke to thank service members for their hard work and dedication during their deployment this holiday season.

    The command element for 11th MEU provides this end-of-November update:

    We've been working hard to help the Iraqi people in An Najaf and Al Qadisiyah provinces and the results are showing. So far, more than 250 projects have been completed or are currently underway, totaling nearly 10 million dollars in both provinces combined.

    In addition to these projects, we are busy making solatia, or condolence payments, to citizens of Najaf who experienced property damage of their home or business, injury, or death of a family member during August's fighting. We have paid more than 5,800 Iraqis approximately 3.7 million dollars. These payments are creating goodwill and building trust between us and the locals.

    Citizens of both provinces are also currently registering for the January elections. So far, everything is running smoothly and we are happy to see the Iraqi people moving one step closer to taking charge of their country and their future. We also recently celebrated the Marine Corps' 229th birthday with the traditional ceremony and birthday meal of steak and lobster.


    And, the 11th MEU is making plans to return home. This is good news indeed for the family members and friends who look forward to that day.

    Posted by Deb at 08:20 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    November 29, 2004

    Doc's Thanksgiving Message

    It's inelegant but comes straight from the heart.

    Thank God for the fucking Marines.

    I mean it. Thank God that we have a corps of warriors who can storm a city like Fallujah, and completely conquer it. Thank God we have men such as these. MOUT, or urban fighting is historically some of the most bloodiest. Urban warfare is like fighting just by headbutting. It's repetitively very sudden, and twice as violent. You toss a grenade in, and follow the blast into the room. You storm in to what may be nothing or what may be a squad of bad guys. You just run in, and hope to kill them in that frenzied second before they kill you. Then you do it again. And again. And again. You keep doing it until you run out of rooms, or run out of luck.

    Thank God we still have Marines who can do this. Growing up in America these days, we are constantly told about how our grandparents did such a smashing job. They weathered a depression, and then saved the world for an encore. They fought all across the globe. As a young Marine, when you wallk across that grinder for the last time, they call out over loudspeakers where other Marines who had marched that grinder had marched into next; Tarawa. Okinawa. Lebanon. Iwo Jima. Khe Sahn. The Chosin reservoir. It is easy when you recall such battles, such examples of fortitude and courage on earth made Hell, that maybe oure best days are behind us. Maybe we will just have to accept that we and our children, and our children's children will be condemned to living in the shadow of their forefathers. Maybe, that was as good as it got.

    And then the Marines go in. They go in and they fight. They fight and they bleed. They fight and they tire. they fight and they die. And yet, still...they keep fighting. Through the hail of automatic weapons, the rain of mortars, and the thunder of RPG's they fight an enemy entirely prepared for and committed to killing as many as they can before they are killed themselves. But no matter how determined and how zealous the enemy, the Marines prevailed. Against all of this, they prevailed magnificently.

    The Marines went in and a flagging cause was resurrected. The Marines went in and while saving a city, they reaffirmed their standing as the warrior sentries of civilization. Maybe some day, Americans will have to live in the shadow of days long gone past. Maybe one day they will think that the Hall of heroes is full, and there is none left to enter. Maybe some day this will happen.....but not today.

    Today they are standing tall; bloodied but unbowed. Today they have proven themselves as good as their title. Today the battle of fallujah is added to the list of battles that will be called out as new Marines march across the old grinder. Today.

    Today, I thank god for those fucking Marines.


    Oohrah. Read the rest.

    Posted by Deb at 04:03 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    November 27, 2004

    " . . . war is the highest of highs and the lowest of lows . . ."

    Another 2nd LAR update from the front. It's an awesome retelling of bravery and brotherhood.

    24 November 2004

    I have started this letter 100 times in my mind. Inadequacy on my own part is the best answer I can come up with to express my emotions about our experiences here. They say war is the highest of highs and lowest of lows and it happens in a moments notice. I can say without question it is true.

    We departed Camp Baharia about a month ago now to do our part in the fight for Fallujah. People said this would be our Hue City, our Guadalcanal, or compared it to numerous other epic battles that the Marine Corps has endured. Was it? I don't know. Who am I to make that statement? I think all of us want to believe that our time is historic and that our life has meaning. Ronald Reagan once said that many of us want to know if we made a difference in this world but the US Marines don't have that problem. I can not say how this battle will be defined in the history books but I can tell you besides the birth of my children and my marriage, it will probably be the most meaningful event of my life. How do you adequately define heroism, espirit de corps, patriotism? Words almost belittle their true definition.

    As many of you saw on the news, Apache Company was definitely involved in the fight. We took our share of licks, delivered a disproportional amount more on the enemy, but more importantly we are all still here to talk about it and in the true Marine way of dealing with it - we laugh about it. A Purple Heart is not a medal anyone really wants to earn but it sure is a special person who wears that badge of honor.

    All the Marines and Sailors of this company are heroes. They always have been even before we arrived. But now without question, for one shining moment in all of our lives, my Marines were heroes in the truest sense of the word.

    They fought like brothers fighting to protect and defend their families. While I believe wholeheartedly in the mission, I do not preach about fighting for the greater glory of God, country or Corps because in the end, we fight for one another. And that is what they did. I have been blessed with the greatest collection of men ever assembled and I knew it from day one. I knew this company had a destiny and we would write our own chapter. It is indescribable to visit a Marine at the field hospital who was just wounded and he doesn't even talk about himself. To the man the first three questions were always about the status of the other Marines, did we beat the enemy and can I stay in the country with the company. I stand by their side and wonder why I do I deserve to be surrounded by such men. To the parents, guardians, grandparents who raised these kids, my hat is off to you. If you ever wondered if you made a difference in this world, I can tell you if your son is over here, the world is a better place because of you.

    I have talked to some Iraqis throughout my time here and it is sad because many do not believe that life will get better. Some even say it was better under Saddam. Now that may be a tough pill to swallow for many Americans because of the sacrifices so many families have endured but I would argue just the opposite. I think that statement should make you even prouder to be an American. We are over here fighting for the success of this mission. My Marines are selflessly fighting for people they will never know. They are fighting for some who don't even appreciate the sacrifices they endure. I can not think of a more honorable act. We believe in the mission, even while some here don't because we live the miracle that is the United States of America. It is an awesome sight to see.

    The support from our families and sponsors has been overwhelming. Overwhelming in two ways - one, physically and two, emotionally. We got back to Camp Baharia today and it looked like the Post Office went on strike. We had stacks of boxes and bags of letters. More than one person has told me (to which I completely empathize) that we feel guilty that we cannot respond in a timely manner, if at all. It is hard for us to know that some great American spent their time and their money to send us a package or a letter, or a newspaper and we can not get enough down time to write a thank you. It feels almost shameful. So I offer on behalf of the company, once, an offer of appreciation. Please do not feel that since we are unable to respond that we do not appreciate what you are doing for us. To go down a long laundry list of people, we would inevitably fail to mention one person or company and that would be worse than not mentioning anyone specifically at all. It is humbling to see the outpouring of support from our families and sponsors. We are indebted to you.

    We are off again tomorrow on a new mission. Well, same mission, new place. As it has been for the past few weeks, we will not have internet or phone access. In fact we will not have electricity or running water. We thought Baharia was austere. You should have seen the camp we lived in for two weeks or see this next place we are going to tomorrow. Camp Baharia is a thriving metropolis with all the comforts of home compared to the new place. It looks like we will be occupying this place for some time. But in a few short days, the new digs will be home and we will be fine. I will try to cycle Marines back to Camp Baharia but please understand that those basic services that are available back home are almost privileged services here. I say this not out of some request for pity but again out of a sense of responsibility to all of you who support us. I see two Marines in a fighting position at night in the cold, frying up one slice of spam at a time in a canteen cup, with an MRE sleeve to block the wind, alternating piece for piece and offering a hot slice to any Marine in the area, and my only thought is - this is what makes our country great. Here are these two Marines, 8000 miles from home, sitting in a filthy hole, taking care of each other with a can of food that some great citizen back home sent them. It doesn't get any better than that.

    I will leave it to the platoon commanders to write updates about the individual Marines. But I will offer this one story before I sign off about a Marine named Brooks. Ol' Brooksy was one of the first wounded in action we had in the company. It happened on the night of 30 September. He has been making tremendous gains and we hope to have him back on full duty within a week or so. Since the night of his attack, he has been doing his part manning the command operations center in Baharia, but more importantly healing from his wounds. His story is one to be told because he exemplifies what makes this company great. He never once complained about his lot in life and he never once complained about the job he now fulfills. He is doing his part and that is honorable. He is generally a quiet Marine but always very pleasant and enjoyable to talk with. As other guys were wounded, he would in his own way, let them know that he was there for them if they wanted to talk about it. For those of us who have not been wounded, we really do not know what it is like. But instead of feeling sorry for himself, he does his job and looks out for his brothers. It was not until 3 November that his Purple Heart award had come in and we invited the regimental commander to award him, and the other Marines their badge of honor. I will never forget watching Brooksy get his award. I think I was prouder that day to be a Marine and to serve along side another Marine than ever before. Brooksy was still walking tenderly. But when it came time for the ceremony, he marched completely erect, made all his facing movements as we were trained in boot camp and basically on shear physical courage alone, muscled his way through the whole ceremony to march and execute the drill movements precisely. I could see it on his face that he was in pain but he didn't yield to it. In that one moment in time, it hit home to me how special being a Marine really is. There was young PFC Brooks ensuring he lived up to the standards that others have set before him, standards that have been beat into us from day one, to ensure he did not let the Corps down and to represent himself well. As if the weight of the whole Corps' reputation was on his shoulders that day, he ensured he did not fail. Would anyone have blamed him if he didn't execute his about face properly? Not at all. But Brooksy wouldn't give them that chance. These are the men I serve with. Be proud. These are the men who serve in your defense.

    Until next time, Semper Fidelis and pray for peace.

    Apache 6 - out.

    Semper Fidelis,

    Capt John F. Griffin
    Apache Company
    2d LAR Bn RCT-1
    Fallujah, Iraq

    "Everybody fights. No one quits."

    I'm posting this with tears in my eyes. These guys are heroes all, from young PFC Brooks up through senior leadership. I am so proud of them all and there are no words to adequately express that.

    Posted by Deb at 09:05 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    November 25, 2004

    Precious Cargo

    JHD shares this letter from Maj. Zarnik, USAFR as printed on the American Thinker website. Thank God for Major Zarnik and others like him.

    Fallen Marines November 25th, 2004


    I want to share with you my most recent Air Force Reserve trip. I had decided to go back into the Air Force Reserves as a part time reservist and after 6 months of training, I have recently been promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and have been fully mission qualified as an Aircraft Commander of a KC-135R strato tanker aircraft.

    On Friday of last week, my crew and I were tasked with a mission to provide air refueling support in order to tanker 6 F-16's over to Incirlik Air Base in Turkey. We were then to tanker back to the states, 6 more F-16's that were due maintenance. It started out as a fairly standard mission - one that I have done many times as an active duty Captain in my former jet - the KC10a extender.

    We dragged the F-16's to Moron Air Base in Spain where we spent the night and then finished the first part of our mission the next day by successfully delivering them to Incirlik. When I got on the ground in Turkey, I received a message to call the Tanker Airlift Control Center that my mission would change. Instead of tankering the F-16's that were due maintenance, I was cut new orders to fly to Kuwait City and pick up 22 "HR's" and return them to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware.

    It had been a while since I had heard of the term "HR" used, and as I pondered what the acronym could possibly stand for, when it dawned on me that it stood for human remains. There were 22 fallen comrades who had just been killed in the most recent attacks in Fallujah and Baghdad, Iraq over the last week.

    I immediately alerted the crew of the mission change and although they were exhausted due to an ocean crossing, the time change and minimum ground time in Spain for crew rest, we all agreed that it was more important to get these men back to their families as soon as possible.

    We were scheduled to crew rest in Incirlik, Turkey for the evening and start the mission the next day. Instead, we decided to extend/continue our day and fly to Kuwait in order to pick up our precious cargo. While on the flight over to Kuwait, I knew that there were protocol procedures for accepting and caring for human remains, however, in my 13 years of active duty service, I never once had to refer to this regulation. As I read the regulation on the flight over, I felt prepared and ready to do the mission. My game plan was to pick up the HR's and turn around to fly to Mildenhal Air Base in England, spend the night, and then fly back the next day. This was the quickest way to get them home, considering the maximum crew duty day that I could subject my crew to legally and physically. I really pushed them to the limits but no one complained at all.

    I thought that I was prepared for the acceptance of these men until we landed at Kuwait International. I taxied the jet over to a staging area where the honor guard was waiting to load our soldiers. I stopped the jet and the entire crew was required to stay on board. We opened the cargo door, and according to procedure, I had the crew line up in the back of the aircraft in formation and stand at attention. As the cargo loader brought up the first pallet of caskets, I ordered the crew to "Present Arms." Normally, we would snap a salute at this command, however, when you are dealing with a fallen soldier, the salute is a slow 3 second pace to position. As I stood there and finally saw the first four of twenty-two caskets draped with the American Flags, the reality had hit me. As the Marine Corps honor guard delivered the first pallet on board, I then ordered the crew to "Order Arms" - where they rendered an equally slow 3 second return to the attention position. I then commanded the crew to assume an at ease position and directed them to properly place the pallet. The protocol requires that the caskets are to be loaded so when it comes time to exit the aircraft - they will go head first. We did this same procedure for each and every pallet until we could not fit any more.

    I felt a deep pit in my stomach when there were more caskets to be brought home and that they would have to wait for the next jet to come through. I tried to do everything in my power to bring more home but I had no more space on board. When we were finally loaded, with our precious cargo and fueled for the trip back to England, a Marine Corps Colonel from first battalion came on board our jet in order to talk to us. I gathered the crew to listen to him and his words of wisdom.

    He introduced himself and said that it is the motto of the Marines to leave no man behind and it makes their job easier knowing that there were men like us to help them complete this task. He was very grateful for our help and the strings that we were pulling in order to get this mission done in the most expeditious manner possible. He then said -" Major Zarnik - these are MY MARINES and I am giving them to you. Please take great care of them as I know you will." I responded with telling him that they are my highest priority and that although this was one of the saddest days of my life, we are all up for the challenge and will go above and beyond to take care of your Marines - "Semper Fi Sir" A smile came on his face and he responded with a loud and thunderous, "Ooo Rah". He then asked me to please pass along to the families that these men were extremely brave and had made the ultimate sacrifice for their country and that we appreciate and empathize with what they are going through at this time of their grievance. With that, he departed the jet and we were on our way to England.

    I had a lot of time to think about the men that I had the privilege to carry. I had a chance to read the manifest on each and every one of them. I read about their religious preferences, their marital status, the injuries that were their cause of death. All of them were under age 27 with most in the 18-24 range. Most of them had wives and children. They had all been killed by an "IED" which I can only deduce as an [improvised] explosive devices. Mostly fatal head injuries and injuries to the chest area. I could not even imagine the bravery that they must have displayed and the agony suffered in this God Forsaken War. My respect and admiration for these men and what they are doing to help others in a foreign land is beyond calculation. I know that they are all with God now and in a better place.

    The stop in Mildenhal was uneventful and then we pressed on to Dover where we would meet the receiving Marine Corps honor guard. When we arrived, we applied the same procedures in reverse. The head of each casket was to come out first. This was a sign of respect rather than defeat. As the honor guard carried each and every American flag covered casket off of the jet, they delivered them to awaiting families with military hearses. I was extremely impressed with how diligent the Honor Guard had performed the seemingly endless task of delivering each of the caskets to the families without fail and with precision. There was not a dry eye on our crew or in the crowd. The Chaplain then said a prayer followed by a speech from Lt. Col. Klaus of the second Battalion. In his speech, he also reiterated similar condolences to the families as the Colonel from First Battalion back in Kuwait.

    I then went out to speak with the families as I felt it was my duty to help console them in this difficult time. Although I would probably be one of the last military contacts that they would have for a while - the military tends to take care of it's own. I wanted to make sure that they did not feel abandoned and more than that appreciated for their ultimate sacrifice. It was the most difficult thing that I have ever done in my life. I listened to the stories of each and every one that I had come in contact with and they all displayed a sense of pride during an obviously difficult time. The Marine Corps had obviously prepared their families well for this potential outcome.

    So, why do I write this story to you all? I just wanted to put a little personal attention to the numbers that you hear about and see in the media. It is almost like we are desensitized by the "numbers" of our fallen comrades coming out of Iraq. I heard one commentator say that "it is just a number". Are you kidding me? These are our American Soldiers not numbers! It is truly a sad situation that I hope will end soon. Please hug and embrace your loved ones a little closer and know that there are men out there that are defending you and trying to make this a better world. Please pray for their families and when you hear the latest statistic's and numbers of our soldiers killed in combat, please remember this story. It is the only way that I know to more personalize these figures and have them truly mean something to us all.

    Thanks for all of your support for me and my family as I take on this new role in completing my Air Force Career and supporting our country. I greatly appreciate all of your comments, gestures and prayers.

    May God Bless America, us all, and especially the United States Marine Corps.

    Semper Fi

    Maj. Zarnik, USAFR


    Posted by Deb at 02:10 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

    November 24, 2004

    1/11 Marines on Jay Leno tonight

    Drink coffee and stay up . . . or set your VCRs and watch it tomorrow.

    Posted by Deb at 03:55 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    2/10 visits Al Majjarh

    Major Timothy M. Parker, Executive Officer for 2/10 Marines writes:

    Friends and Families of 2/10, We have completed our first two months in Iraq. I have had the opportunity to visit every site, and the high level of motivation and esprit de corps consistently inspires me. It almost seems like the places where things are hardest the morale is best. The weather has begun to cool, which was a welcome relief, although Im sure youll soon hear complaints about how cold it is here (Marines are only happy when complaining).
    Like many, I find it distressing that so many people back in America dont understand why we are here. Id like to relate to you a story that will hopefully bring all of it into perspective. Most of you will note the story of Huda, the young girl whose picture has graced our webpage for the past month.
    On 3 November, we returned Huda and her father to their village, Al Majjarh. It was a great homecoming. The entire town came out to welcome them back. Huda mom wanted us to stay for lunch, but we try not to stay too long for security reasons. After talking with the family for a little while, CWO Torres went to talk to the village sheik (yes, they really have those here), and I walked back to my vehicle.
    After I got back to the vehicle, two little girls walked up to me, and began to talk to me. I couldn't really understand what they wanted, and then they ran back to their house. They returned to me with a baby girl, who couldn't have been more than six months old. I could tell she was a girl because she had pierced ears, which I thought odd for a village so poor. She was a sweet little girl and they let me hold her, and I finally found out that what they wanted was water.
    The village has problems with getting clean water, it's one of the projects we're working on in the village. I gave them three bottles of water, and they took the water and the baby back home. They returned to talk to me, which is a relative term since I don't speak any Arabic. So, I took out my wallet and showed them a picture of my family, and pointed out my own family (my wife and eight children). They took my pictures and ran back to their house.
    I could see their mother in the backyard, so walked over there. One of the little girls had handed my pictures to the mother. She began speaking very rapidly, then began to cry. I wasn't quite sure what to make of it, so I called one of our translators over. She (the translator) said that the mother was sad because I had to be away from my family.
    I asked where she was from, and she told me she was a refugee from Fallujah. She was frightened of all the terrorists, and the bombs that were being dropped. They were living in a tent in Al Majjarh. I told her that I hoped soon we would drive out all the terrorists, so that she could return home. I told her that I was sad to be away from my family, and my family was sad I was away from them, but my family and I felt the sacrifice was worth it, so the people of Iraq could have the same freedom as we do. She seemed very touched, and genuinely appreciative of our efforts.
    We are changing this country for the better, one person at a time. President Theodore Roosevelt once said:
    "It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat."
    The Marines and Sailors of 2d Battalion are men in the arena, they are making a difference for our great nation and for Iraq. I truly hope you are all as proud of them as am I.

    Posted by Deb at 03:00 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    ". . . the world is full of good people"

    Capt John F. Griffin from 2d LAR Bn sends this update from Fallujah, Iraq

    Pain and suffering is how character is defined. If life was easy and all that we have was provided and not earned, nothing would be appreciated. Life would be without value. I believe that the world is good again. The evil empire has been defeated and righteousness has returned as our hero. Congratulations to the Boston Red Sox - World Series Champions.

    Life around the camp has definitely settled into a rhythm. All the unknowns are gone, all the questions we had before we departed have been answered and now, more than ever, the team is focused and ready.

    We celebrated Halloween yesterday thanks to the generous support of the families, friends and sponsors. As I toured the tents yesterday, I saw no fewer than 20 Halloween masks out and in use. I think this speaks so highly of the men committed to the cause. They are warriors at heart, strong in their resolve to accomplish the mission, but remain America's jovial, spirited youth. We also enjoyed a barbeque of hamburgers, chicken and steak fajitas and BBQ pork ribs. LCpl Kempher has turned out to be a magician with some frozen government chow and some burning logs.

    As you know, we now have CBS embedded with us to cover the unit. They will be with us for an undetermined length of time. It has been great. During the first three days, Marines from this company made the CBS news every night. While most people are slightly intimidated by the press and some have tainted opinions, I will tell you the crew we have are righteous, committed professionals. I have no hesitancy having them embedded in the company. Their presence has been a force multiplier.

    Having a crew from CBS is a positive experience for all us on many different levels. First, I firmly believe that it makes the Marines feel more appreciated. Our families, friends and sponsors have been phenomenal in their support and CBS merely adds to that momentum. These young kids who are 8000 miles from home, without question, now know that America cares enough about what they are doing to embed a crew from the one of the largest media organizations in America. And they are with our company alone. Second, it enforces the feeling that we are part of something larger than ourselves. We are writing a chapter of our nation's history that our future generations will read about and respect those that answered the call and committed themselves selflessly to the fight for what is right and good. Third, it reinforces what I tell the Marines all the time - they are heroes. They know the impact of seeing Marines on TV, full of confidence, their resolve forged and honed like steel, individually self-admitting focus on the mission at hand. They know the impact this has on America, on fellow Marines and on our adversaries. We all have sat on the sidelines and watched Marines go into harms way and wonder if we had what it takes. We all wondered if we would live up to the legendary prowess of the Marines that went before us.

    We all wondered if we could be as inspiring to future generations of Marines and produce the envy of fellow of Marines who were not in the fight feel just as we all felt when it was not our time. The presence of CBS embedded with this company, answers all those minute feelings of self-doubt that we may have. My (our) Marines are heroes and CBS will help us tell their story. That was the Ying - this is the Yang. My opinion remains the same - please do not get tied to the nightly news. Remember they are marketing a story. Marines sitting around playing Madden football on their play station, taking long afternoon naps, doing daily maintenance on their vehicles, playing soccer, walking to the internet and phone center, reading mail and opening packages is not a story you will see on the nightly news - but that is the situation on the ground. Remember - we had a bar-b-cue yesterday and the talk of the crowd was the annoying motion sensing scarecrow I posted in front of the COC that yelled at everyone who walked by. Our favorite webmaster has created a link to the CBS news and every time Kim Dozier (CBS correspondent) reports and is televised, Caressa will post a link. So watch the story from there but focus on seeing our Marines.

    One lesson I will definitely take away from this experience is that the world is full of good people. It is too bad all the bad and evildoers get all the press. I equate it to the good cop-bad cop paradigm. All you ever hear about are the bad cops but you rarely hear about the miracle workers our policemen are on a daily basis (except for a brief few months after 9/11 when they received the recognition they deserved). But all of America is like that in every profession and every walk of life. The media may get a bad rap at times but I personally am impressed with the integrity and commitment of the reporters who are imbedded with us. But more importantly, I am impressed with all of you and all of the citizens of our great nation. The outpouring of support has been overwhelming and humbling. This war has been going for a few years now. Far longer than I ever believed America's attention span to be. But America is without question still out there supporting us. It is amazing to receive the voluminous, random letters and packages from people all across the country, from all sectors of life that just want to do their part.

    We have built (what we call) the Apache General Store. We have received so much material support that we are unable to keep it in our personal spaces. In the spirit of taking care of one another, whatever excess each of us receives, instead of hording it, it is provided to the Apache General Store. Now our Marines have an opportunity to go the "store" first before they go to the PX. Of course, everything in our store is free. But the bottom line is we could not have done this without you. My hat is off to you. Great events do not make great people. Great people make great events. We have a great country and it is not because of us, it is because of you. Without question, our families and friends have a harder job then we do. We chose this profession and accepted the consequences. All of our loved ones have to deal with a greater hardship and sacrifice than we do. We chose to do this and we are surrounded by people who made the same decision and there is a great deal of comfort in those circles. Whatever connection you have to your Marine, you have to get through this because of decisions we made. You are my heroes and you are extremely appreciated.

    God Bless America and Pray for Peace. Apache 6

    Semper Fidelis,

    Capt John F. Griffin


    Posted by Deb at 12:24 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    November 23, 2004

    First Team - between Iraq and a hard place

    1/7 Marines continue to excel as they battle insurgents along the Syrian border. Here are exerpts from two reports from the front.

    As Marines everywhere celebrated the 229th birthday of the Marine Corps on November 10th, 1/7 Suicide Charlie did what Marines do best - they kicked ass in their little part of the world. Here's an account by Cpl Matthew Jones on how Marines from the 3rd platoon uncovered weapons caches in two Al Qaim houses, freed three captured Iraqis who had been held as hostages for almost a month, and took six suspected terrorists off the streets and into custody.

    As the Marines approached the house they observed a man sitting on the stoop, who matched the description of a wanted man. The man, who did not visible have a weapon, fit the description of a known high value target, according to Sgt. Tobey J. Owens, squad leader, 1st Squad, 3rd Platoon.

    Owens then ran after and tackled the man. The man struggled with the Marines while he was being detained. The Marines found a Glock 9-mm pistol on the man, said Owens.

    The Marines continued towards the second house. The Marines quickly cleared the house of insurgents, said Cpl. Brandon L. Soetaert, team leader, 1st Sqd., 3rd Plt.

    Once the house was originally cleared, the Marines began a more detailed search of the house. The Marines found a metal door in the rear of the house that was locked. The Marines breached entrance into the room and discovered a large weapons cache, said Lance Cpl. Adam Wiedler, assaultman with 1st Sqd., 3rd Plt.

    The Marines breeched the doorway and entered the room. Once inside of the room the Marines discovered a weapons cache that was large enough to outfit a small militia, according to Wiedler.

    The room was lined with every type of weapons from pistols to anti-air craft rockets. The weapons were well maintained and some of them were loaded, said Weidler.

    In addition to the weapons systems, the Marines found anti-coalition propaganda, videotapes showing the insurgents beating Iraqi hostages and falsified identification papers, according to Leonhart.

    Once we realized what we had discovered, we decided to conduct a more detailed search of the property, said Owens, 29, a native of East Liverpool, Ohio.

    Upon further search coalition gear and U. S. currency were found inside the house. On the property surrounding the house Marines found a locked concrete shed. After cracking the door they realized that there were people in the room, said Soetaert, 20, a native of Kansas City, Mo.

    I didnt realize what they were at first. We had been banging on the door for a few minutes and they were asleep, said Weidler. Once I realized what that they were hostages, I was extremely happy to be able to help this people.

    The hostages were civilian contractors that had been working with coalition forces toward bettering the future of Iraq.

    During a more detailed search of the property multiple weapons caches were found among three vehicles. Not wanting these weapons to fall back into the hands of insurgents Multi-National Forces placed charges on the vehicles destroying them in place according to, Lance Cpl. Russell D. Antonuccio, assault man, 3rd Plt.

    In total MNF to took six insurgents into custody, found multiple weapons caches and recovered three hostages without firing a single shot or taking any casualties.

    I felt that we truly helped the Iraqi people today, said Wielder. It was a great birthday present for the Marines' birthday.

    Cpl Jones describes another night's work for 1st platoon:

    Assembling in the dead of night, the Marines of Suicide Charlie prepare to provide the wake up call of a lifetime for a handful of known insurgents. They mount their vehicles and head towards the small town on the banks of the Euphrates River and as the sun rises the Marines knock on the insurgents door in a way that only Marines can.

    With a bang on the door, the Marines entered houses with such speed that the insurgents didnt have time to react to the early morning visitors. At the completion of this early morning visit, the Marines leave with five insurgents detained and weapons that could have been used to kill coalition forces or innocent Iraqi civilians.

    The Marines of 1st Platoon, C Company, 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, conducted simultaneous cordon and knocks on three houses to capture insurgents.

    They entered through the front door of the first house and began clearing the each room, said Sgt. Tobey J. Owens, squad leader, 1st Squad.

    The Marines had cleared most of the house when they entered a small room in the rear. They discovered a man crouching along the wall with a loaded weapon pointed at them, stated Cpl. Travis M. Ball, team leader, 1st Squad.

    We were on top of the man so quickly he did not have time to react, said Owens. I kicked him as Ball tackled him to the floor so he would not have the opportunity to shoot at us.

    The squad captured the armed insurgent, Kais Atal Mutatharer, who had worked with the U.S. Army as a translator in the Al Qaim area.

    The quick actions of the Marines enabled us to gather intelligence out of him, said Capt. Chris DeAntoni, company commander. They had every justification to shoot this guy, but they had the discipline not to and well be able to use this guy to get bigger fish.

    Then they entered the house next door and discovered four insurgents along with three women and a baby. The Marines quickly separated the males and moved the females outside of the house, according to Cpl. Brandon L. Soetaert, team leader, 1st Squad.

    The Marines also provided medical care to a known terrorist facilitator after entering the house. The man had gone into shock as the Marines entered the house, stated Soetaert, 20, from Kansas City, Mo.

    Inside the two houses the Marines found loaded weapons, ammunition, anti-coalition propaganda, falsified documents, identification papers and tools for making vehicle borne improvised explosive devices, Owens added.

    The Marines also visited an insurgent house in the northern section of the town. Scaling the wall they surrounded the perimeter of the house and gained entry only to discover that the informant and given the Marines incorrect information, but the insurgents house was actually across the street, according to Cpl. Timothy A. Collier, team leader, 1st Squad.

    The head of the household showed the Marines which house the insurgent lived in and the Marines searched the house. According to an Iraqi woman inside of the house the insurgent had left earlier that morning, said Collier, a 24 year-old native of Akron, Ohio.

    As the sun rose across the Iraqi sky, the Marines left the small town on the riverbank of the Euphrates and returned to their base with five terrorists captured.


    Posted by Deb at 09:24 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    November 21, 2004

    LtCol Bellon reports on the future greatest generation

    Praise for the Marines of RCT-1 and RCT-7, as well as the Army Blackjack Brigade, from LtCol Bellon:

    There is an image burned into my brain that I hope I never forget. We came up behind 3/5 one day as the lead squads were working down the Byzantine streets of the Jolan area. An assault team of two Marines ran out from behind cover and put a rocket into a wall of an enemy strongpoint. Before the smoke cleared the squad behind them was up and moving through the hole and clearing the house. Just down the block another squad was doing the same thing. The house was cleared quickly and the Marines were running down the street to the next contact. Even in the midst of that mayhem, it was an awesome site.

    The fighting has been incredibly close inside the city. The enemy is willing to die and is literally waiting until they see the whites of the eyes of the Marines before they open up. Just two days ago, as a firefight raged in close quarters, one of the interpreters yelled for the enemy in the house to surrender. The enemy yelled back that it was better to die and go to heaven than to surrender to infidels. This exchange is a graphic window into the world that the Marines and Soldiers have been fighting in these last 10 days.

    There are many heroes among our troops. LtCol Bellon focuses on two exceptional Marines:

    I will end with a couple of stories of individual heroism that you may not have heard yet. I was told about both of these incidents shortly after they occurred. No doubt some of the facts will change slightly but I am confident that the meat is correct.

    The first is a Marine from 3/5. His name is Corporal Yeager (Chuck Yeager's grandson). As the Marines cleared and apartment building, they got to the top floor and the point man kicked in the door. As he did so, an enemy grenade and a burst of gunfire came out. The explosion and enemy fire took off the point man's leg. He was then immediately shot in the arm as he lay in the doorway. Corporal Yeager tossed a grenade in the room and ran into the doorway and into the enemy fire in order to pull his buddy back to cover. As he was dragging the wounded Marine to cover, his own grenade came back through the doorway. Without pausing, he reached down and threw the grenade back through the door while he heaved his buddy to safety. The grenade went off inside the room and Cpl Yeager threw another in. He immediately entered the room following the second explosion. He gunned down three enemy all within three feet of where he stood and then let fly a third grenade as he backed out of the room to complete the evacuation of the wounded Marine. You have to understand that a grenade goes off within 5 seconds of having the pin pulled. Marines usually let them "cook off" for a second or two before tossing them in. Therefore, this entire episode took place in less than 30 seconds.

    The second example comes from 3/1. Cpl Mitchell is a squad leader. He was wounded as his squad was clearing a house when some enemy threw pineapple grenades down on top of them. As he was getting triaged, the doctor told him that he had been shot through the arm. Cpl Mitchell told the doctor that he had actually been shot "a couple of days ago" and had given himself self aide on the wound. When the doctor got on him about not coming off the line, he firmly told the doctor that he was a squad leader and did not have time to get treated as his men were still fighting. There are a number of Marines who have been wounded multiple times but refuse to leave their fellow Marines.

    It is incredibly humbling to walk among such men. They fought as hard as any Marines in history and deserve to be remembered as such. The enemy they fought burrowed into houses and fired through mouse holes cut in walls, lured them into houses rigged with explosives and detonated the houses on pursuing Marines, and actually hid behind surrender flags only to engage the Marines with small arms fire once they perceived that the Marines had let their guard down. I know of several instances where near dead enemy rolled grenades out on Marines who were preparing to render them aid. It was a fight to the finish in every sense and the Marines delivered.

    I have called the enemy cowards many times in the past because they have never really held their ground and fought but these guys in the city did. We can call them many things but they were not cowards.

    My whole life I have read about the greatest generation and sat in wonder at their accomplishments. For the first time, as I watch these Marines and Soldiers, I am eager for the future as this is just the beginning for them. Perhaps the most amazing characteristic of all is that the morale of the men is sky high. They hurt for the wounded and the dead but they are eager to continue to attack. Further, not one of them would be comfortable with being called a hero even though they clearly are.

    By now the Marines and Soldiers have killed well over a thousand enemy. These were not peasants or rabble. They were reasonably well trained and entirely fanatical. Most of the enemy we have seen have chest rigs full of ammunition and are well armed are willing to fight to the death. The Marines and Soldiers are eager to close with them and the fighting at the end is inevitably close.

    There's more.

    Posted by Deb at 11:33 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    November 18, 2004

    A Marine writes home

    Via Powerline, this letter is a must-read for those incensed by Kevin Sites' video.

    This is one story of many that people normally don't hear, and one that everyone does.

    This is one most don't hear:
    A young Marine and his cover man cautiously enter a room just recently filled with insurgents armed with Ak-47's and RPG's. There are three dead, another wailing in pain. The insurgent can be heard saying, "Mister, mister! Diktoor, diktoor(doctor)!" He is badly wounded, lying in a pool of his own blood. The Marine and his cover man slowly walk toward the injured man, scanning to make sure no enemies come from behind. In a split second, the pressure in the room greatly exceeds that of the outside, and the concussion seems to be felt before the blast is heard. Marines outside rush to the room, and look in horror as the dust gradually settles. The result is a room filled with the barely recognizable remains of the deceased, caused by an insurgent setting off several pounds of explosives.

    The Marines' remains are gathered by teary eyed comrades, brothers in arms, and shipped home in a box. The families can only mourn over a casket and a picture of their loved one, a life cut short by someone who hid behind a white flag.

    But no one hears these stories, except those who have lived to carry remains of a friend, and the families who loved the dead. No one hears this, so no one cares.

    This is the story everyone hears:

    A young Marine and his fire team cautiously enter a room just recently filled with insurgents armed with AK-47's and RPG's. There are three dead, another wailing in pain. The insugent can be heard saying, "Mister, mister! Diktoor, diktoor(doctor)!" He is badly wounded. Suddenly, he pulls from under his bloody clothes a grenade, without the pin. The explosion rocks the room, killing one Marine, wounding the others. The young Marine catches shrapnel in the face.

    The next day, same Marine, same type of situation, a different story. The young Marine and his cover man enter a room with two wounded insurgents. One lies on the floor in puddle of blood, another against the wall. A reporter and his camera survey the wreckage inside, and in the background can be heard the voice of a Marine, "He's moving, he's moving!"

    The pop of a rifle is heard, and the insurgent against the wall is now dead. Minutes, hours later, the scene is aired on national television, and the Marine is being held for commiting a war crime. Unlawful killing.

    And now, another Marine has the possibility of being burned at the stake for protecting the life of his brethren. His family now wrings their hands in grief, tears streaming down their face. Brother, should I have been in your boots, i too would have done the same.

    For those of you who don't know, we Marines, Band of Brothers, Jarheads, Leathernecks, etc., do not fight because we think it is right, or think it is wrong. We are here for the man to our left, and the man to our right. We choose to give our lives so that the man or woman next to us can go home and see their husbands, wives, children, friends and families.

    For those of you who sit on your couches in front of your television, and choose to condemn this man's actions, I have but one thing to say to you. Get out of your recliner, lace up my boots, pick up a rifle, leave your family behind and join me. See what I've seen, walk where I have walked. To those of you who support us, my sincerest gratitude. You keep us alive.

    I am a Marine currently doing his second tour in Iraq. These are my opinions and mine alone. They do not represent those of the Marine Corps or of the US military, or any other.

    Oohrah. And thanks for the perspective.

    Steve from Hog On Ice asks a follow-up question:

    . . . what ever happened to "WE SUPPORT OUR TROOPS!"?

    Hmm...here we have a grunt in the field. Not Donald Rumsfeld. Not Paul Wolfowitz. Not George Bush. And he made a split-second decision to kill an enemy combatant, in an environment where terrorists have been pretending to be dead so they could ambush and kill coalition soldiers. Isn't he...part of our "TROOPS"?

    No, I guess not. I guess he's a BABY-KILLER! Come on, say it, liberals! You know you want to! BABY-KILLER! I mean, granted, the guy he killed was a dirty old terrorist, but "DIRTY-OLD-TERRORIST-KILLER" just doesn't roll off the tongue, especially after a few dozen puffs of the herb.

    People, the left does not support our troops. They don't really see the troops as helpless, uneducated dupes who can't see through George Bush's magical screen of smoke and mirrors. They know perfectly well that soldiers and sailors are overwhelmingly conservative, and the smarter leftists also know that without military votes, George Bush would never have been elected President. That's why Bill Clinton and Al Gore worked so hard to prevent military personnel from voting and from having their cast votes counted.

    I have to tell you--and I am truly sorry I didn't write about this earlier, because I wanted to, and I have no excuse--I am floored by the selflessness and courage of our troops in Fallujah and Mosul. I'm always awed by the courage of our soldiers at war, but in my mind, these troops are even more impressive. We are taking dozens of casualties, and we expected that beforehand, and by all accounts, our fighting men and women were not just willing but eager to get in there and get started.

    God bless every one of them. Quite simply, they are better people than I am.

    How do you thank people with hearts like that? The thought of it actually brings tears to my eyes. How do you thank someone who accepts low pay and unbearable working conditions in exchange for marching into hell's very mouth?

    The very idea that spoiled liberal brats are condemning this brave soldier before they know the facts--it makes me wish we could flog them.

    In the video of the incident, it's clear the Marine feared for his life. He shouted that the terrorist was faking death. To any sane, reasonable person, that is prima facie evidence that the shooting was justified. If you love our troops so much, why won't you let this man make his case before you air the video and condemn him? You'd do that for the Fedayeen Saddam, you America-hating morons. Implicitly, you're doing it for the dead terrorist in this story. Why can't you do that for for a man who is risking his life so you can have the right to sit here on your fat, comfortable asses and criticize him?


    Posted by Deb at 06:10 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

    Why We Are Here

    LtCol Michael S. McGurk, presents this compelling explanation from Baghdad:

    8 November 2004

    One must ask with the daily reports of death and destruction in Iraq why are we here? Why? What for? What are we doing? Is it making a difference?

    It is a difficult question and one I will make an attempt to answer, although I doubt I will satisfy everyone's ideals. The best explanation I can give is to provide you with two stories. Two stories separated by years but still relevant to today.

    In 1998 I was fortunate to visit the beaches of Normandy, France. I was on a tour of the invasion beaches with a group of gentlemen from Virginia. They were all veterans of the Second World War. Not all served in France, some in Africa, Italy or the Pacific. However, one of the gentlemen was a veteran of D-Day. He had come ashore that terrible day, 6 June, 1944.

    We stood at the end of Omaha beach, in the narrow defile the 29th Infantry had cleared. The beach of "Saving Private Ryan." The 29th Infantry from Virginia, lead by the 116th Infantry Regiment, assaulted that draw at Omaha Beach. They won the battle, but at a heavy cost. The 116th Infantry took over 800 casualties that day. Alpha Company, took 90% casualties and the town of Bedford Virginia, lost 19 of the 35 sons they sent to fight.

    The gentlemen who had been on the beach that day turned and looked at the rest of us. He said, "This is not how I remember the beach, it didn't look at all like this..." Then he pointed to the beach, devoid of obstacles, with now fresh, clean sand, and two children playing in the surf, and he continued "... but I guess this is why we fought here, so children COULD play on the beach again." And then he fell silent.

    Was Hitler a direct threat to the US? Did we have to storm the beaches of Normandy that day? Could we have waited months or years for a political solution? I certainly don't know. But I have traveled across Normandy and spoken to the people of the small towns and farms. They are grateful for what the World did that day. They desired to be liberated from a brutal dictator, and they desired to be free.

    The second story is more recent, here in Baghdad. Baghdad is a dangerous place. Travel is risky and infrequent compared to other parts of the world. So if you get a chance to travel, you try to make all your errands on one trip. One of the chaplains from Baghdad had been out on mission, visiting the soldiers. On the way back in, the chaplain asked the soldiers if they wanted to stop by the small Post Exchange for supplies. The soldiers jumped at the chance.

    While walking to the Post Exchange the soldiers, and the Chaplain, were approached by several small children. You have seen these children. I have seen these children. In the streets of Vietnam, Korea, Somalia and Haiti. Large eyes and a shy smile. They speak the English patois of the street "You want gum G.I.?" "Give me candy?" There is an unwritten law that Chaplains always have candy.

    One of the children approached the Chaplain, and looked at the Cross on the Chaplain's helmet, where the rank is found on other officers. In a quiet voice the child asked "Christian?" The Chaplain answered "Yes," and the child asked again "Messiah?" and the Chaplain said "Yes, I believe in the Messiah." The child then reached under the thin t-shirt and pulled out a cross, showed it to the Chaplain, then quickly kissed it and put it away, making the sign to be quiet to the Chaplain. The Chaplain smiled and nodded in understanding. The child wanted us to know they were Christian too, but in Baghdad, such a proclamation invites death or a beating a the hands of the mob.

    Why are we here? It is NOT to bring Christianity to Iraq. But it is to bring Freedom. Freedom to follow whatever religion you practice, or none at all. Freedom to walk the streets of Baghdad and to live in Peace.

    Why are we here? I think of the men who died on the Beaches of Omaha, and the children of Baghdad, and I can't answer why others are here. But I know why I am.

    MICHAEL S. McGURK
    Lieutenant Colonel
    Baghdad, Iraq

    Posted by Deb at 01:37 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

    1/7 November Update from Al Qaim

    LtCol Woodbridge sends this update on my favorite battalion:


    Greetings from Al Qa'im. It's the 16th of November, and it is hard to believe that the deployment is almost half over! Time is flying and the battalion remains very busy here. I hope time is flying for everyone back home as well.

    I'm sure the fighting in Fallujah is all over the news right now. The Marines, soldiers, and sailors of the Division who are involved in that fight are doing very well. US casualties remain very low while over 1000 insurgents have been killed or captured. Many of you are probably wondering if any of the First Team is involved in the fight, and whether the operation is Fallujah is causing more violence in our part of the country. Several of our attachments (AAVs, and EOD) we reassigned to units in RCT-7 in Fallujah, and D Co LAR was reassigned to support the battalion to our east. As for the effects of the fight in Fallujah, we have not experienced any significant change in enemy activity in our area. The Al Qa'im region is still a very hazardous place, but no more so now than it was before.

    In fact the last few weeks have been very positive. The battalion has conducted many very successful missions against the insurgents in our area. We have come through two of the events that we expected to cause us the most trouble: the Islamic holiday Ramadan and the US presidential election. We have had no one killed in action or seriously wounded recently, and on the 10th of Nov we all celebrated the 229th Marine Corps Birthday. Believe it or not, in the middle of the desert we had a seafood dinner and birthday cake.

    The hard work both in Fallujah and here in Al Qa'im continues. It is very important for everyone--us here and you all back home to understand that there is not going to be one decisive battle to end this fight. This is not how a counterinsurgency or stability and support operation works. Think of it like a boxing match. This fight will not be won with a dramatic "knockout." This fight will go the distance--hard fought in every round, and it will ultimately be won "by decision." The next "rounds" will see us continuing to go after the insurgents in our area, and preparing for the upcoming Iraqi election. This will be the first free election ever held in this country--truly historic.

    Let me take a minute to thank all of the First Team's key volunteers--especially Mrs Lori Rogers. You are all doing a wonderful job supporting our families, and we are all very grateful for your hard work and commitment. Keep up the great work.

    Lets talk briefly about the future. I will not pass you any dates just now because as we all learned during OIF-I last year--all dates are subject to change. The battalion is still planning to be home in March. This time we will wait until the next calendar month to take out post-deployment combat leave in order to give us another month tax-exempt. After the leave block we are planning a "welcome home ball" in Las Vegas since we missed this year's birthday ball. So there is plenty to look forward to.

    As I write this our Segovia "Internet Cafe" here at Al Qa'im is still not working. We lost this e-mail and phone service on the 4th of Nov, so if you haven't heard from your sailor or Marine in a few weeks--this is the reason. We still have satellite phones, so if there is any kind of emergency rest assured I will make sure your loved one can make a call home.

    I know I speak for us all when I say that the thing we look forward to the most is our reunion with you. The support from home has been incredible and your thoughts and prayers are really paying off. Stay strong and God bless you.

    Semper Fidelis

    LtCol Woodbridge

    Posted by Deb at 01:13 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    November 17, 2004

    Happy Thanksgiving from the 24th MEU in Fallujah

    From Col. Johnson:

    Dear Families and Friends of the 24th MEU,

    The eyes of the world are now on Fallujah, where Iraqi and U.S. forces are dropping the hammer on terrorists. Less visibly but just as relentlessly, the 24th MEU and its Iraqi allies are pressing the attack south of Baghdad.

    In three months of operations, we've rounded up roughly 600 insurgents and seized hundreds of weapons and ammunition stockpiles. More important perhaps than the numbers is our demonstration - to those we're here to hunt and those we're here to help - of unwavering resolve to see our mission through.

    Even as we maintain the offensive, we pause this month to celebrate the birth of the Marine Corps, to honor our nation's veterans, and to give thanks for our many blessings.

    Foremost among these are your love and support, which continue to strengthen us. High atop the list, too, is the land of the pilgrims' pride, our magnificent nation.

    If service in Iraq, as in most of the world's hotspots, reveals anything to us, it is how fortunate we Americans are. We consider seven months here a hardship tour. For the people who call this beautiful but tortured country home, theirs has been a hardship life. Millions of long-suffering Iraqis have known little but deprivation and despair, the byproducts of three decades of tyranny. My prayers go out to those Marines and their families whose sacrifices have won for the Iraqi people unprecedented freedom and the prospect of security that will permit them to pursue happiness in peace.

    This month we set aside a special day to express gratitude. There's nothing we're more thankful for than to have you waiting for us. I know the months drag by, and it seems we'll never get there. But of course it will pass, and we'll soon be home.

    Some among us have less to be thankful for than others. The people of Iraq want peace and prosperity, just as we enjoy in the United States. Our contribution to that noble endeavor is enormous, and despite the difficulties, I can assure you this is no lost cause. The sacrifices we have made and the blood we have shed are not in vain. We're making a difference, and we see it on the faces of children in school yards across our area of operations. I thank all of you who sent so much to help us help them.

    It is my wish that when you sit at the dinner table this Thanksgiving, you add a prayer for them. For long after we are gone, they will still be here, bravely building on what we have begun.

    We miss you, and we love you all.

    Semper Fidelis,
    R.J. JOHNSON
    Colonel, U.S. Marines


    Posted by Deb at 10:48 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    November 15, 2004

    Guarding the streets of Heaven

    Memorial Table presented by the SgtMaj of 6 fallen 2/24 Marines since activation. Happy Birthday Marines.

    Marine Mom Linda shares this tribute from Lt Col Mark A Smith, commander of 2/24 Marines:

    It is my most unfortunate duty to report to you the deaths of:

    Corporal Nathaniel T. Hammond, USMC (Weapons Company)

    Corporal Robert P. Warns II, USMC (Company G)

    LCpl Branden P. Ramey, USMC (Company G)

    LCpl Shane K. O'Donnell, USMC (Company G)

    These magnificent Marines, one and all, passed from this earthly existence into the hands of the Lord on Monday, 08 November 2004. Without a doubt, the darkest day in the history of this Battalion since World War II.

    Cpl Hammond was struck by a command detonated improvised explosive device, while establishing security for the remainder of his Mobile Strike Team
    during patrolling operations in the vicinity of Yusufiyah, Iraq.

    Cpl Warns, LCpl Ramey and LCpl O'Donnell were struck by a buried improvised explosive device while conducting a motorized patrol during patrolling operations in the vicinity of Lutafiyah, Iraq.

    ALL Marines were killed instantly, suffered no pain and were recovered by their fellow Marines.

    I cannot even begin to express the depth of sorrow and pain I feel for these losses. All of these Marines were exceptional Marines and outstanding human beings, for without whom the world will be a darker place. The most painful and difficult event in the loss of our Marines is knowing it has occurred, and then imagining the reaction of the families who love them dearly upon notification. I take some solace in knowing that as Marines we take care of our own, and the notification will be as professionally done as is humanly possible under the circumstances, but it is truly of little comfort knowing the gut-wrenching pain and soul shattering feeling of hearing the words, "I regret to inform you...killed in action."

    But, it is the "killed in action" where the dim light of lossed life can be overcome by the bright shining light of sacrifice and love. These Marines, the living and the perished, live an existence that almost defies description, and I am far to incapable of truly putting it into words.

    But if you picture the most physically demanding day you ever had in your life, multiply it by (2), and then imagine doing it every single day for TWENTY to TWENTY TWO HOURS a day, you would almost capture what these Marines do. Then, you have to add in the reality of violent death being around every corner, the reality of being ready to destroy and do extreme violence in less time than it takes to blink an eye, do it all while being ever mindful of not harming innocents or non-combatants, accounting for the 50lbs of armor and gear you are carrying, and trying to not let thoughts of home and loved ones distract you from the duty at hand...and you would have about a 50% visualization of what these UNBELIEVABLE AMERICANS we call Marines do every SINGLE day.

    You then ask "why? You ask why because you are not here. I ask why because I am. And, by being here, I ask why because I cannot believe that there are such men! Men that will bear any burden, overcome any challenge, tackle any foe, face any fear, that others might live in freedom and peace. There are no William Shakespeare's in this Battalion and no Albert Einsteins. Quite frankly, many of these Marines you would shutter to present in mixed company, myself included. But you see, at their core of existence, beneath the veneer we all put on for the rest of the world to see, these Marines are pure of heart and soul! They are the Angels that we all long to see in the flesh. For all the bluster and machismo, all they want to do is make a difference in a world gone mad! They want to destroy EVIL that GOOD shall abound, and abound aplenty. They want children to be bounced on their father's knee, without the fear of masked men kidnapping and beheading "daddy" in the middle of the night. They want to be part of bringing about an existence where even if they vehemently disagree with another's belief in a God, or in no god, that it is that, a disagreement among men, not an entitlement to torture, maim or slaughter those with whom you disagree.

    Inside the core of these Marines is love! Love of everything that is decent and proper. Love of their fellow man. Love of their home and country. Love of their family. Love of their Corps and fellow Marines. And, this love keeps them always moving forward.

    It is this love that will lead us to shed a thousand tears as we memorialize our fallen Angels on Friday. It is this love that will lead us to continue our mission of hunting the terrorists and ERADICATING them from the face of the earth. It is this love that will forever have the families of our fallen angels in our thoughts and prayers. It is this love that will have the names of our fallen brethren forever etched in our minds.

    I for one know that I will never again hear the National Anthem or the Marine's Hymn without tears in my eyes, a pain in my soul, and the names and faces of ALL 2/24 fallen HEROES on my mind.

    IT HAS BEEN MY DISTINCT PLEASURE TO KNOW AND SERVE WITH: CPL NATHANIEL T HAMMOND, CPL ROBERT P. WARNS II, LCPL BRANDEN P. RAMEY, AND LCPL SHANE K. O'DONNELL.

    It will forever be my responsibility that I could not bring them home living. But in knowing them in life and in death, I have known Jesus. Because I saw in them the "carrying of the Cross" for love of a friend!

    It is my deepest prayer that immediately after being welcomed to heaven by the Savior, they were reunited with passed family and friends, and then met by LCpl Daniel Wyatt, issued their orders, and took their post "guarding the streets of heaven."

    And, I also pray that the families know our Marines and their precious loved one never dies alone, they die among their friends, their BROTHERS!

    God Bless You, You Magnificent Warriors in your final journey home and may you rest among the Angels where you rightly belong!

    In profound sadness,

    Mark A. Smith
    LtCol, USMCR
    Commanding Officer, 2nd Bn, 24th Marines

    PS: SSgt Simon, Co G and LCpl Kruchten Co G, were seriously injured in the detonation that took the lives of Cpl Warns, LCpl Ramey and LCpl O'Donnell. Please pray for them and their families, and please reach out to them in there time of challenge and need.

    "I am the Lord, your God,
    who takes hold of your right hand
    and says to you,
    Do not fear; I will help you."

    Isaiah 41:13


    Posted by Deb at 08:15 AM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

    November 13, 2004

    Block by block, street by street

    Photo by Kevin Sites

    Kevin Sites is a reporter embedded with 3/1 Marines in Fallujah:

    Almost to a man -- the 3.1 Marines I'm embedded with have all lost friends in this protracted war of attrition. They are eager "to get some," to pay "haji" back for the car bombs and IED's (improvised explosive devices) that have killed or maimed so many of their brother "Devil Dogs."

    They are extremely likeable -- these young Marines -- full of bravado and easygoing about the danger that surrounds them. Some thumb through Maxim Magazine, others the Bible while the wait patiently to reign down death and destruction on their enemies.

    "We're going to let loose the dogs of war," says Staff Sgt. Mortimer, "before the Falluja offensive begins. "It will be hell," he says, smiling after.

    This levity continues until the Marines turn the corner onto a main street they've tactically dubbed, "Elizabeth."

    Despite the constant weapons fire and explosion that have accompanied our advance -- this one is different -- it's directed at the Marines. As a squad from India Company passes by a way with a spray painted rocket propelled grenade launcher -- a real RPG round explodes against it. One Marines' face is burned by the powder and hot gas -- another has caught shrapnel in the leg, a third has been shot in the finger by the small arms fire that followed. The Marines are outraged. They turn their M-16's on the building to the west where they believe the shooter is hiding. But that's just an appetizer.

    A gunner sitting in the armored turret of a humvee fires 40-millimeter grenades non-stop into the building -- until the gun jams.

    Staff Sgt. Terry Mcelwain of Burden, Kansas is pissed. He grabs the bazooka-like AT-4 rocket launcher from the back of another humvee. It's fire trail zips into the now smoking building. Mcelwain wants Weapons Company to fire a tow missile into it as well, but low hanging electrical wires make it impossible -- so he calls up the tanks instead.

    Two Abrams lumber toward the target. They stop and fire their main guns in unison. The explosion shakes the street. But the Marines aren't done yet.
    They pour in more rounds from 50 caliber machine guns and their M16's.

    But as the unit moves past the building, going from east to west, another RPG explodes behind them, then a third. More casualties. A Navy Corpsman cut the pants leg off one of the injured and wraps a guaze dressing around the bleeding wound while another Marine covers with a 249-SAW (squad Assault Weapon). But regardless of how much firepower the Marines bring to bear -- they can't seem to silence this phantom enemy, which continues to fire on them from the rear.

    Then insurgent snipers begin firing in front of the Marines as well. One round pierces the Kevlar helmet a twenty-year old Mark 19 gunner -- in my vehicle. He is badly wounded. He's put in a canvas stretcher and six Marines run through the streets carrying him to a waiting military ambulance.

    Shortly after -- another RPG round hits a humvee, but doesn't explode. The Marines are rattled but uninjured. A Marine who has caught shrapnel in the face is led to the safety of an empty storefront -- his eyes bandaged shut -- his hands outstretched -- probing the air in front of him.
    The Marines know they are being hunted. Boxed from the east and the west in a treacherous kill zone by an enemy they can feel -- but can't see. Their superior firepower is checked by the insurgent's knowledge of the city -- their cunning in using blind alleyways and the crooks and crannies of buildings to pick off the Marines.

    The gun battle continues late into the night -- eventually an AC-130 gunship is called in and strafes Elizabeth Street with its mini guns. With eight of their men wounded--it is a bloody and disappointing start for the Marines -- and a reminder that to win the battle for Falluja -- they will likely have to fight as they did today block by block, street by street.

    There's more story and additional pictures at his website.

    Posted by Deb at 04:37 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    November 09, 2004

    Two Parents, Two Messages

    My son has always been protective and careful not to cause worry. When he deployed last year, there was much he didn't tell me. I took comfort in knowing that he was deployed in the relatively safe regions of Najaf and al Hillah. I found out when he redeployed in October that he was also providing convoy security for currency runs up through Tikrit, coming back with millions of dollars. I found out that sleepless nights can be retroactive.

    This year, I was reminded of this when his dad shared a recent e-mail. Here's what my son sent to me, not corrected for spelling/grammar:

    Things here are umm yeah. theyve defenetly taken it up a notch. well anyways I gotta go just wanted to let you know I love you and thanks for everything your doing.

    and here is his communication to his dad.

    Its been an interesting couple days here 2 days ago we were in a house and we got ambushed from 3 sides But before they started shooting They shot a rocket into the house first then about 6 shooters opened up on our position. Its pritty crazy laying on your stomach with rounds impacting all around you, but finally we gained fire superiority and started knocken them down. So that was pritty crazy.

    Crazy indeed. Back to sleeping in 15 minute increments

    Posted by Deb at 02:54 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

    November 04, 2004

    Update from Fallujah

    The recent spate of beheadings of foreign visitors to Iraq have drawn headlines and much media attention. It's a way of life for Iraqi citizens who have lived under tyranny and oppression for years, and who want it to stop. It sounds like the end is in sight - here, LtCol Dave Bellon analyzes the current situation in Fallujah.

    As you have no doubt been watching, we have had our hands full around Fallujah. It would seem as if the final reckoning is coming. The city has been on a consistent down hill spiral since we were ordered out in April. It's siren call for extremists and criminals has only increased steadily and the instability and violence that radiates out of the town has expanded exponentially. If there is another city in the world that contains more terrorists, I would be surprised. From the last two years, I just don't see a way that we can succeed in Iraq without reducing this threat. The cost of continuing on without taking decisive action is too high to dwell on.

    The enemy inside the town have come to fight and kill Americans. Nothing will sate their bloodlust and hatred other than to kill everyone of us or at least die trying. It is hard to fathom as a Westerner as rational thought would dictate that we will only be here for a relatively short blip in their history and while we are here, billions of dollars in investments will pour in and opportunity that is beyond comprehension will open up for anyone willing to work. This is not Kansas and this enemy does not think like that.

    Read the rest.

    Posted by Deb at 12:43 AM | Comments (1) |