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January 29, 2005

Marine Corps Families

When tragedy strikes, families pull together and the Marine Corps family is no different. On discussion boards and through e-mail, via phone calls and knocks on the door, with tears and smiles and hugs, emotional support is offered and burdens shared.

Here's a note of condolence sent by Earl Hinz, Corporal, USMCR, Mag-21, EWA, Dec. 7, 1941:

My condolences to the families of the Marines and the Sailor lost in the January 27th helicopter crash in Iraq. I feel like it was only yesterday that I was a Gyrene but it is 63 years. I grieve with you.

And, Cassandra writes of the incredible bond that extends the motto, Once a Marine, Always a Marine to Once a Marine Family, Always a Marine Family. It's true for the newest Marine families and as Mr. Hinz's post demonstrates, those bonds do not diminish over time.

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.

That is why I continue to believe in the United States Marine Corps. I wish every American could have heard some of the stories he told. As long as our Marines and their families have spirit like that, there is no army on this earth that can beat us. They haven't given up yet. And stories like this are not unique to the Marine Corps - we are a team, working side by side to make this happen.

Right now, the families of the fallen need our support and other Marine families - and Navy families, Army families, civilian families, and others - are reaching out. Their bravery and commitment to this country, and to those struggling for democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan, deserves our utmost respect, honor and gratitude. They are heroes to all us us and as Mr. Hinz stated above, we send our sincerest condolences to their families - both the family they were born into and the family that was brought together by military oath. And we will continue to pray together during this difficult time.

Posted by Deb at 03:57 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

A Marine needs help

From the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in 29 Palms:

A Marine veteran recently returned in September from a successful combat tour in Iraq only to begin a battle for his own life in the United States.

Lance Cpl. Christopher R. LeBleu, a native of Lake Charles, La., is currently in very critical condition in Loma Linda University Hospital, Calif., for an unexplained complete liver failure.

The Marine came back Sept. 9, 2004, from Iraq where he conducted support and stabilization operations as a rifleman with 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment. The month after his return to the United States, he married his hometown sweetheart, Melany.

The 22-year-old is not expected to last past than the next 48 hours. He may recover if a complete, not partial, liver donor is found. A complete liver donation has to come from a deceased donor.

A liver donor is desperately needed to save LeBleu. Julie Smith, LLUH public affairs, said that the donor must have a matching blood type. LeBleu is O –positive.

If you believe you know of someone who could be a donor, we urge you to contact the transplant donor network immediately at 1-800-338-6112 or via the Web site http://www.llu.edu/llumc.

Please help spread the word.

Posted by Deb at 03:21 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

January 28, 2005

More prayers, more tears, and blessed assurance

Yesterday's helicopter crash that claimed the lives of 30 Marines and one Navy Corpsman marked the largest loss of Marines in a single incident since the Oct. 23, 1983 bombing of the Marine Barracks in Beirut, Lebanon when 241 U.S. Marines were killed when a explosives-laden truck driven by terrorists crashed through a checkpoint and into the barracks where they slept. Reports from Iraq have said the Marine helicopter was flying in a sandstorm - an unavoidable condition in a war zone.

I have heard from so many anxious parents who are waiting for word of their child's safety. Here are words of wisdom from a proud Marine dad, Tony M. who has endured his share of sleepless nights:

Folks, let me give you a good word ...


In those unspeakably dark moments, when a car pulling up in the drive causes your throat to constrict and your heart to race ... when the nights are unusually long ... when you read headlines such as "Eight Marines killed in Al-Anbar province," and you know your son is right in the middle of it ...

it's STILL gonna be OK.

You CAN take it. You HAVE to. And you will, and you'll grow from it, and your faith will be strengthened.

It's not much fun, I assure you.

During Cpl Jeremy's last deployment, when we knew he was taking part in the largest single Marine offensive since the Korean War, we asked ourselves as a family: "What is the very worst thing that could happen?"

The answer, of course, was easy. We knew he could lose his life.

As shattering as that would be, and as much as we would grieve, we would not grieve as those who have no hope. We've all made arrangements to meet again, and my hope is built on nothing less than that old blessed assurance.

Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of these Marines who were all veterans of the successful Battle of Fallujah in November 2004 - they will forever be remembered as the heroes they were. Information on each fallen hero can be found here.

Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 361, Marine Aircraft Group 16, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Calif

  • Capt. Paul C. Alaniz, 32, of Corpus Christi, Texas
  • Capt. Lyle L. Gordon, 30, of Midlothian, Texas
    Staff Sgt. Dexter S. Kimble, 30, of Houston
    Lance Cpl. Tony L. Hernandez, 22, of Canyon Lake, Texas.

1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division, 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force, Marine Corps Base Hawaii

  • 1st Lt. Travis J. Fuller, 26, of Granville, Mass.
  • 1st Lt. Dustin M. Shumney, 30, of Vallejo, Calif.
  • Staff Sgt. Brian D. Bland, 26, of Weston, Wyo.
  • Sgt. Michael W. Finke Jr., 28, of Huron, Ohio
  • Cpl. Timothy M. Gibson, 23, of Hillsborough, N.H.
  • Cpl. Richard A. Gilbert Jr., 26, of Montgomery, Ohio
  • Cpl. Kyle J. Grimes, 21, of Northhampton, Pa.
  • Cpl. Nathaniel K. Moore, 22, of Champaign, Ill.
  • Cpl. Nathan A. Schubert, 22, of Cherokee, Iowa
  • Cpl. Matthew R. Smith, 24, of West Valley, Utah
  • Cpl. James L. Moore, 24, of Roseburg, Ore.
  • Cpl. Sean P. Kelly, 23, of Gloucester, N.J.
  • Lance Cpl. Gael Saintvil, 24, of Orange, Fla.
  • Lance Cpl. Michael L. Starr Jr., 21, of Baltimore
  • Lance Cpl. Joseph B. Spence, 24, of Scotts Valley, Calif.
  • Lance Cpl. Darrell J. Schumann, 25, of Hampton, Va.
  • Lance Cpl. Hector Ramos, 20, of Aurora, Ill.
  • Lance Cpl. Rhonald D. Rairdan, 20, of San Antonio
  • Lance Cpl. Mourad Ragimov, 20, of San Diego
  • Lance Cpl. Saeed Jafarkhani-Torshizi Jr., 24, of Fort Worth, Texas
  • Lance Cpl. Brian C. Hopper, 21, of Wynne, Ark.
  • Lance Cpl. Jonathan E. Etterling, 22, of Wheelersburg, Ohio.

Naval Medical Clinic Hawaii, Marine Corps Units Detachment, Pearl Harbor

  • Petty Officer 3rd Class John D. House, 28, of Ventura, Calif.

Petty Officer House had been a father for less than a month and had seen his son only through pictures - James was born to his wife Melanie on Christmas Eve. In an interview with the Ventura County Star, his parents described his relationship with the Marines he served with>

"In one of the letters he wrote, 'I know all of them ... even in the dark, by their mannerisms,'" Susan House of Simi Valley, Calif., read, choking back tears. "'I don't know how I am going to deal with losing any of them. It is my job to take care of them and keep them safe.'"

Petty Officer House extended his deployment because of a shortage of Navy corpsmen. There will be a special place in heaven for him - for all our heroes.

Posted by Deb at 04:54 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

January 27, 2005

A day of prayers and tears

Yesterday, Marine families all over the world held their collective breath as they heard of the tragic helicopter crash which claimed the lives of thirty Marines and one Sailor who may have been a corpsman assigned to save their lives in case of injury. Thirtyone families are forever altered and our hearts and prayers reach out to them.

Twenty-seven of the Marines are from Marine Corps Base Hawaii in Kaneohe Bay. Marine brother Liam sends along this request:

I just wanted to ask if y'all could pray for my brother James and his marine brothers from Hawaii. They just lost 27 of their men and prayers are needed now more than ever. If you could pray for them that would mean the world to us.

The Oursler family sends along their condolences to the larger community of Marine families:

I can't find another website with which to send both my and my families condolences on the horrific crash which claimed twenty nine marines and one naval seaman. I am an army wife whose husband is serving his third tour. I have cried on and off all day and cannot imagine the sorrow your community must be feeling. God Bless you and your community: the wives, children, mothers and brothers, fathers and sisters and granparents who are greiving. It is beyond words and we are praying for you.

I know just how she feels - it's the same way Marine families felt when the Mosul dining tent was bombed. We all grieve together.

And, Major General Natonski, CG for 1MARDIV sent this message to the families of the troops under his command yesterday (thanks, Carrie):

The 26th of January 2005 was a tragic day for the Marines, Soldiers, Sailors, and Airmen of the 1st Marine Division. Thirty-one of our brothers in arms perished in a helicopter crash while conducting security and stabilization operations in the Al Anbar province. Although our mission is dangerous and we understand the risk associated with our task, losses of this magnitude remind us all of how fragile life is. Our Division has reflected on the sacrifice of these brave warriors and said a prayer for their families and friends. Although our hearts are burdened by this loss, we continue to march toward our goal of a free and democratic Iraq. We will honor their sacrifice with our deeds. The first free election in Iraqi history will occur in no small part due to the efforts of the members of the 1st Marine Division who have sacrificed for this historic day.

We also send our condolences to the families and friends who lost loved ones from the 3d Marine Aircraft Wing. We often talk about the Marine Corps being a family. Whenever a family loses one of its’ own, it comes together to find the strength and courage to persevere. Today we are not separated by unit, occupational specialty, or rank; but rather joined by the bonds forged of 229 years of brotherhood. Together we will carry on. We honor all those who have made the ultimate sacrifice in the service of our nation.

May God bless all those who we have lost and the Marines, Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and families of the 1st Marine Division.

Posted by Deb at 12:47 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Don't mess with Texas Marines

Lorraine Gonzales, proud Marine supporter passed along this picture of currently deployed 2/14 Marines, a reserve unit out of Grand Prairie, Texas, who replaced their traditional desert covers with something a bit more festive for this picture taken last month.

LtCol John M. M. Caldwell, Sr., Commanding Officer of 2/14 Marines, sends this update:

Marines and Families:

Together we are successfully meeting the demands of today’s Total Force with fierce resolve and unity of purpose. Our nation, our Corps and the 2/14 family has been challenged in many ways in recent months.

With no time to bask in the light of increasing accomplishments or dwell on harsh realities, we remain focused to meet new challenges. The War on Terrorism continues on all fronts. While engaged in conflict we squarely face both the task at hand, and some future but unforeseeable conflict. The fight for freedom didn’t end at Valley Forge, Tripoli, Belleau Wood, Saipan, Inchon, Hue City, or Kabul, and it won’t end in Fallujah. As long as there is evil, there will be a need for those of us who believe in all that is good and right to make a stand. We will.

As of this writing we (2/14) have Marines in Iraq, Marines who have returned from Iraq, Marines on active duty preparing for Iraq, and Marines in reserve preparing for activation later this year. We also have Marines on the forefront of our nation’s effort to modernize and strengthen the military by fielding the first rocket artillery battery in the Marine Corps. All of our missions are vital ones. I am personally and professionally proud of the entire battalion’s individual and collective effort, while also appreciating the consistently outstanding results of those endeavors.

Delta, Echo, Fox and Headquarters Batteries boast Marines, Sailors and families from all walks of life from Mississippi to Texas to Oklahoma and beyond. The geography that separates us during times of peace only increases in time of war, but our differences diminish, and the ties that bind us get stronger.

Now is a time for the motto that we speak, Semper Fidelis, to more readily become a condition in which we live – Always Faithful.

Posted by Deb at 12:19 PM | Comments (4) | 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 see…great. If that information comes from the Marines…great. And if that information comes from parents…great! 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 not…they 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, etc…but 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 (3) | TrackBack

January 25, 2005

Academic freedom . . . from common sense

Yes, I'm from Oregon and I fully recognize that not every Oregon resident is a barking moonbat. Whoever directed a University of Oregon employee to remove the Support the Troops yellow ribbon from his work vehicle meets that definition however. Here's the scoop, via Michelle Malkin who credits Kevin McCollough.

A yellow ribbon sticker that says "Support The Troops" has created a big stir at the University of Oregon.

A day after a campus employee was told to remove the sticker from his maintenance vehicle -- people on campus are reacting.

It all started after a university employee complained.

Some think the university may have gone too far. . .

Well, yes. Supporting troops has nothing to do with politics. It's something we all should do. However, the University responded with this statement by President Dave Frohnmeyer regarding decals on state-owned vehicles. :

The University has many alumni, students and staff serving in the military in Iraq and other places. Of course, we support them and have great concern for their well being, as we do for all U.S. troops.

Some of you may have followed media coverage over the weekend regarding removal of a decal from a state vehicle at the University of Oregon. Decisions about whether employees may or may not put stickers or magnets on state-owned vehicles have nothing to do with the messages. The fact is state vehicles may not have any personal messages affixed to them.

This distinction between a state vehicle and a personal vehicle is very important. Government vehicles in this state have never been allowed to exhibit items of personal expression. State employees are free to use their personal vehicles for statements of all types on university campuses and elsewhere.

Because the university is a state agency, I cannot make distinctions or allowances on this matter, regardless of the cause or the breadth of its support. Whether the message is "Support Our Troops," "Fund Cancer Research" or "Support Tsunami Relief," employees may not place personal stickers or magnets on state-owned vehicles.

So should this decision also be interpreted to mean that the University should not allow any personal stickers, magnets, or any other persuasive material on any state-owned property? I think so. This would include bulletin boards, office doors, or other state property and I look forward to my next trip to Eugene when I'll wander through a few halls of higher learning making sure that President Frohnmeyer's logic is carried through to the appropriate conclusion. I'll be back. And if anyone has pictures in the meantime, feel free to send them along to me. I'll be happy to post 'em.

In the meantime, I've sent this note to the University of Oregon President and Provost. I'll post any response I receive - form letter or not.

Dear President Frohnmeyer and Provost Mosely; I am the mother of a United States Marine who is currently serving in Iraq. My son, Lance Corporal Shane Conrad, spent his 21st birthday last Friday near the Syrian border, protecting innocent Iraqi citizens who want nothing more than to live without fear - rights that we enjoy in a democratic society. He could have gone to any college or university in the state of Oregon and I would have happily paid his tuition. He chose instead to delay his formal college education so that he could help ensure, as generations of Marines have, the freedom of your students to study as they choose and the freedom of college employees to complain about a non-partisan message of troop support affixed to a state vehicle. How do you think most of your students spend their 21st birthdays? I imagine that their goals for reaching that magical age of majority are a bit different than my son and his fellow Marines - to simply stay alive and continue protecting the lives of the innocents living in that Syrian border town. My son would lay down his life to protect you and your students. I'm sorry that you feel that a simple expression of support for his dedication is proscribed by Oregon Department of Administrative Services, Fleet Administration Operating Policies Section 107103-5. And, it's a damn good thing that my son's mother (me) does not get to choose who he protects and defends. University of Oregon employees would rank fairly low on my list. Does this prohibition against personal opinions on state vehicles extend to other state property? For example, are employees and faculty allowed to post statements of personal belief on bulletin boards, office doors, or other areas paid for with public funds? I will be very interested in your reply.

Deb Conrad
Proud Marine Mom

Posted by Deb at 12:05 AM | Comments (15) | TrackBack

January 24, 2005

So You Say You Support The Troops?

Russ Vaughn has a way with words . . . and here are some worth reading.

It's so easy to say you support the troops, regardless of which side you come down on in the issue of the War in Iraq itself. Yeah, you can send care packages and put yellow ribbon magnets on your car to make you feel all warm and fuzzy that you're doing your own small part. You can do as I do and use forums such as this one to expound the viewpoint of the folks we send in harm's way, hoping that someway, somehow, someone who can make a difference may read your rant and actually do that something that makes a difference.

But right now, folks, we have a rare opportunity, a seldom-held power for ordinary citizens, to actually do something for the troops that will bring them more comfort than any supportive letters or boxes of cookies and candy ever possibly could. You see, right now we have the ability to provide them with comfort of mind, to lift a mental and emotional burden that they all carry with them when they enter any theater of combat. We hold in our collective hands the ability to grant them assurance that should the worst befall them, we, their grateful nation, will provide for their loved ones in a manner that will approximate what they would have provided in the normal course of their lives.

Under current law, Uncle Sam is a rather parsimonious patron when it comes to providing for the families of fallen warriors. For example, when an American is killed in combat, the surviving spouse receives a one-time death gratuity of $12,400. Service Member's Group Life Insurance coverage (SGLI) up to $250,000 is available for those service members who can afford to pay the premiums. If the fallen trooper has been in service for an extended period of time, the surviving family may also qualify for the Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP), which is paid up to age 62 or until the spouse remarries. This SBP benefit is limited to 55 percent of the soldier's retirement pay, in the pay grade at the time of death. With so many combat deaths occurring among the youngest service members, we must keep in mind that this is frequently a pay grade that actually qualifies the family for food stamps and aid for dependent children.

The annual base pay of a sergeant E-5, with six years of service is less than $30,000. With twenty years service his retirement benefit is half of that. Think for a moment what 55 percent of less than $15,000 amounts to. Think about being a young widow trying to raise small children on less than $700 a month. And for lower pay grades, which constitute the majority of combat deaths, the situation is even grimmer because most of them will not have served long enough for their families to qualify for even this miserly benefit. Even if the service member is insured to the maximum amount, an unlikelihood for younger troops, think about how little $250,000 amounts to over the twenty-plus years required to raise and educate children in today's world.

Now think about the benefits conferred by our government on the survivors of 9/11. Yes, think about it long and hard: millions awarded to families because their loved one happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Millions handed to them not because their loved one had volunteered for the hard service of fighting in combat, but had simply shown up for work. Tell me, America: where's the justice in this situation?

Fortunately, there are some in government who have taken notice of this gross injustice and are preparing to attempt a legislative correction long overdue. Senator Joe Lieberman, D-CT, and Senator Jeff Sessions, R-AL, are scheduled to introduce the Honoring Every Requirement of Exemplary Service (HEROES) Act on January 24th. This legislation will increase the benefit paid to the survivors of military personnel killed in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, and future conflicts, from $12,400 to $100,000, retroactive to October 2001. The benefit for non-combat deaths will remain at $12,400. The Act will raise SGLI Insurance coverage from $250,000 to $400,000, with the government paying the premiums for the first $150,000 for military personnel serving in a combat zone, also retroactive to October 2001.

So you say you support the troops? Then as soon as you finish reading this, start hammering that keyboard and let your two senators and your congressman know that you expect no less than their full support for early passage of the HEROES Act. To a person, they all swear they support the troops, regardless of party affiliation or individual positions on the war. Let them know, their future electoral efforts will, in your mind, be dependent upon their actions on behalf of those troops and those families who have given that "last full measure of devotion," to their nation.

Want a place to start? For a list of sites with congressional contacts, go here.

Get off your butts, America and show you really do support the troops.

Russ Vaughn
2d Bn, 327th Parachute Infantry Regiment
101st Airborne Division
Vietnam 65-66

Posted by Deb at 04:55 PM | Comments (390) | TrackBack

January 23, 2005

". . . they will have to kill me to keep me from voting"

Ronald Wassom, a retired AF Colonel is in Iraq working with the U.S. Army Corps Engineers. Here's a column he recently sent to his hometown newspaper from his current base at Al Ramadi.:

The construction of border forts along the Syrian, Jordanian and Saudi Arabian borders was a failure three months ago. The forts were built but there were no Iraqi National Guards or border police to protect them. As a result, they were looted, the air conditioners, hot water heaters, light fixtures, even the copper wire were stolen and then they were vandalized. One was booby-trapped so that the next group of looters who haplessly wandered in stumbled over the detonator to a 105 MM improvised explosive device and they and the newly constructed fort were blown to kingdom come.

Much of this is not the work of terrorists, per se, but of criminals whose numbers have exploded since the fall of Saddam. But at the status briefing this morning there was a subtle change. So subtle that the new U.S. Army Corps of Engineers program managers here did not even realize that it happened A border fort was completed and was turned over to Iraqi forces who will man it and protect it at the border. These forts will help to check the flow of insurgents from Syria. Progress is slow, but it is happening in this timeless desert!

A light rain fell during the night, enough to turn the sand around Camp Blue Diamond into a sticky mud. The ruts made by Humvees and Bradley fighting vehicles have little pockets of water in them. Water is a precious commodity in the Middle East. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is working to solve many of the water problems for Iraqis.

After the hostilities in Fallujah, the corps sent teams with emergency water for the people left behind. Then contractors were hired by the corps to set up emergency water distribution points. These were water tanks filled with clean water where people came to fill their jerry cans and buckets; can you imagine doing that in Battle Creek? Now there is a major effort to install new water systems and to rehabilitate the old. These projects are being done for the Iraqi people largely by Iraqi contractors with corps assistance.

An interesting historical note is that Saddam Hussein not only diverted water from the Tigris to build the lakes for his hunting and fishing resort south of Baghdad, but he also used water from the Euphrates to irrigate the soccer fields and parade grounds at Al Asad. Hundreds of thousands of gallons of water went to keep the grass green for Saddam and his thug-buddies to see a soccer match and walk on the nice grass. The people got what was left over. This is not a philosophy we Americans would buy into and after we're finished here, neither will the Iraqis ever again. A little thing we Michiganders take for granted, like water, may change the course of history in the Middle East!

When it rains, it washes the dust off of the tree leaves and releases the eucalyptus oil into the air. Camp Blue Diamond momentarily turns into a fragrant spot filled with fresh looking trees: mimosas, orange and lemon, iron wood and acacias. The birds fly across the street from tree to tree. There are crows and magpies, each very distinct. But then there are crow and magpie mixes. Birds with white bellies and black wings and with white wings and black bellies but groups of all three intermixed can be seen sitting on telephone wires and walls seemingly discussing the day's events. They seem to share the good times and bad with each other and squawk at each other from time to time but never actually get in a fight. After this fragrant rain, they seem to just be enjoying the clear skies and fresh smell of eucalyptus.

Perhaps something even more important to human beings than water is also happening here in Iraq. The time is quickly approaching when Iraqis can decide whether to go to the polls and vote for the first time in countless decades.

Many of the Iraqis I speak with every day bring voting up during our talks that are supposed to be about public works projects. Mustafa Ahmed is one such contractor who caught me off-guard when he asked me, "Mr. Ron, how did you vote in your last election when you were in Iraq and the voting booths are in America?" I told him that I went to my township and got an absentee ballot and voted before I left home. "How you know they count your vote, Mr. Ron?" I told Mustafa that I didn't know for absolute sure that my vote was counted, but that I trust the system in my hometown and that I feel certain that my voted counted.

"I'm not so sure about voting in Iraq, Mr. Ron. Maybe, how you say 'absentee' voting would be the way to do it here. Many people may die trying to vote here, Mr. Ron. Maybe it would be better for me to go to Paris or Rome and vote from there, it would be safer for me," he said chuckling.

I agreed it might be safer and then asked Mustafa if he planned to vote any way. "Mr. Ron, I have lived many years in Iraq. I can remember before there was a Saddam Hussein in Iraq. I have never been free to vote here, Mr. Ron. Iraqis don't know about voting. If I don't get killed going to vote or at the voting place, my vote may not even count anyway. So what have we gained? But I will tell you something, Mr. Ron; they will have to kill me to keep me from voting. And many of my tribesmen feel the same. We have suffered too much and been denied too long to not go this last step. Mr. Ron, it may be just a trickle at first, but when Iraqis see the results of their votes it will be like a flood over all Iraq. Iraqi people, Mr. Ron, want to be free more than anything else."

Posted by Deb at 04:36 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

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 (1) | TrackBack