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Sparrowhawk
11-08-03, 09:29 AM
Inland Valley Daily Bulletin


Marines enjoy warm welcome
Sen. Nell Soto hosts ceremony honoring warriors from Iraq

By BRENDA GAZZAR
STAFF WRITER


Friday, November 07, 2003 -

ONTARIO - The letters and packages they received from family, friends and strangers meant a lot to them.

But it was the gratitude and support they saw in the faces of the Iraqi people after the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime that were particularly memorable. Six men of the 2nd Battalion 23rd Marine Regiment were honored by Senator Nell Soto's office in front of the YMCA of Ontario Friday, sharing stories and answering questions to a crowd that gave them a standing ovation.

"Even though you see the news today, what's happening over there, that's a small percentile of what's going on," said Master Sgt. Scott Russell of Riverside at the Ontario YMCA event. "We had just a ton of support from those people too; they were literally starving for liberation."

Russell, who returned from Iraq with his men at the end of May, spoke of Iraqis releasing several doves in front of them as their convoys drove through Baghdad. Iraqi children gave flowers to soldiers and marines.

"That was phenomenal," Russell told the audience. "It was an experience that will be life-long in my heart and in my mind."

As the war in Iraq intensifies and as the death toll rises, many soldiers are offering personal glimpses of war and their other lives to their families and the community. Many who have returned are grateful to be home but do not know whether they will have to return.

Despite the dangers, many also say they would happily do so to help their country.

"If duty calls, I will be honored to" return, said Sgt. Stan Jenkins of Ontario after he was honored. "At home, you have television, a sofa, but there isn't anything I wouldn't do for my country. I think it's one of the greatest feelings to be able to give your life to something."

Many admit, too, that their stint in Iraq was emotionally challenging. Many saw their comrades get injured or die, whether by accident or rocket-propelled grenades.

"It is sad," said Corporal Guarav Taneja of Riverside, now a student at UCR. "Before we were stationed, I was gung-ho about the war. After somebody gets hurt or dies, your gung-hoedness goes away. It's all about survival and looking out for the buddy next to you, and him looking out for you."

The Marines' effort in Iraq was complicated by language difficulties, and those marines of Arab descent were particularly helpful in communicating with the people, they said.

The Marines were given translation cards, with the Arabic words for "stop" and "go away." Sometimes, they said they just pointed to the word on the card, rather than trying to pronounce it.

Some spoke of their surpise at the popularity of American teen idol and singer Brittney Spears, whose poster could be seen "everywhere," and actor Jean-Claude van Damme.

Their mission often included teaching the Iraqi people about their purpose for being there, Russell said.

Iraqis were told, he said, that in order to become a Marine, one must first kill a family member.

"It was propaganda made up by the Iraqi government," Russell said. "A lot of times we are having to educate people that everyone is not ruthless, baby-killing rapists."

Gunnery Sgt. David Jacobs of Rancho Cucamonga agreed, and added: "We're just trying to do our job, get rid of the (Hussein) regime and give them a better life."


Brenda Gazzar can be reached by e-mail at brenda.gazzar@dailybulletin.com or by phone at (909) 483-9355.