View Full Version : Commandant: II MEF slated for spring in Iraq, Corps adapts for terror war

07-24-04, 06:52 AM
Commandant: II MEF slated for spring in Iraq, Corps adapts for terror war
Submitted by: 1st Force Service Support Group
Story Identification #: 2004723133554
Story by Staff Sgt. Bill Lisbon

CAMP TAQADDUM, Iraq (July 23, 2004) -- The Corps' top general recently confirmed that the II Marine Expeditionary Force will take over command of Marine operations in Iraq next spring and that reservists will play a greater role this fall.

During a visit here July 19, 2004, Commandant Gen. Michael W. Hagee told Marines and sailors that the Camp Lejeune, N.C.,-based force will relieve the I MEF, based in Camp Pendleton, Calif., which currently holds the reigns of Marine operations in western Iraq.

Though the other subordinate headquarters such as the 2nd Marine Division and the 2nd Force Service Support Group will also come from the East Coast, various battalions and squadrons will be drawn from those available across the globe.

"To us, an infantry battalion is an infantry battalion is an infantry battalion. It doesn't matter whether it comes from the East Coast or West Coast," said Hagee.

Several Lejeune-based units are already deployed to Iraq under the command of the I MEF, such as the 2nd Military Police Battalion, guarding convoys for the 1st FSSG, or 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, operating south of Baghdad.

The news indicates that Marines can expect to spend another year in Iraq.

"No. 1 priority, without a doubt, is this mission right here. And it is going to continue to be," Hagee said.

During several talks with Marines of the 1st FSSG and the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing here, the commandant discussed how the Marine Corps would adapt for its continued role in Iraq, and in the fight against terrorism abroad.

"We're looking at capabilities that do not directly support the global war on terrorism ... and we're going to do away with them," Hagee said.

One the commandant specifically cited was fabric repair, a field with Marines who patch holes in tents, humvee seats and flak jackets.

"We have over 200 Marines in the Marine Corps who have been trained to repair fabric. We don't need that anymore," he said.

By eliminating antiquated jobs, the Corps will have more people available to fill the ranks of fields with shortfalls, like explosive ordnance disposal. The constant threat of improvised explosives along Iraqi highways has the bomb squad Marines in especially high demand.

In the recent past, stateside bases began leaning heavily on civilians to maintain permanent facilities, such as mess halls and warehouses -- jobs that used to be done by Marines. This frees up more of the Corps' approximately 175,000 troops to deploy to foreign lands, while keeping posts running back home.

Even in Iraq, the Corps employs civilian contractors. Marines pay them to cook and dish out chow, drive civilian cargo trucks, clean sinks and showers, and even fill sand bags.

"We are using more and more contractors to do various things, and I can tell you that's not necessarily bad," the commandant said.

Operating this way works better for the Corps, Hagee said. He opposes adding more Marines to the ranks; he'd rather reconfigure the current force to handle the mission at hand. Lawmakers in Washington, D.C., are pushing legislation to increase the number of Marines by as many as 9,000 and the size of the Army by 30,000 over three years. However, the costs would be too high, and when the need for increased strength has passed, the Corps would have to be drawn down again.

Already, the Corps has added 3 percent to its maximum troop strength -- a provision afforded the Marines during wartime.

Upwards of 35,000 are currently deployed in combat operations worldwide, with just as many training to replace them in the future.

Approximately 25,000 I MEF Marines and sailors shipped out to Iraq early this year to begin the first of two back-to-back, seven-month deployments. The second wave of troops should be in place this fall. Among those will be as many as 5,000 reservists, an increase of 2,000 from the current crew.

"We can't do it without the reserves," Hagee said.

Of the nine Marine infantry battalions presently in Iraq, one -- 3rd Battalion, 24th Marine Regiment, based throughout the Midwest -- is from the reserves. Other supporting units, as well as individual reservists, augment the active-duty force.

Using reservists is unavoidable, said Hagee. About half of the Marine Corps' 24 infantry battalions, in addition to many supporting units, are deployed in Iraq, Afghanistan, and, until recently, Haiti. Furthermore, the Marine Corps has turned an artillery battalion in Iraq into provisional infantry battalion which guards convoys and supply routes, since the need for artillery is low.

Whether the same number of Marines will be needed next spring to support what is being dubbed as "Operating Iraqi Freedom III" is still unclear.

"We're hoping for the best case. In other words we'll be able to bring down the forces," Hagee said.

On June 28, the Iraqi interim government took power, ushering in a new phase in U.S. military operations where Marines would hopefully fade into the background while Iraqi national guardsmen and police kept the peace.

"We want to put an Iraqi face on this particular operation. We don't want to be out front. We want to train the Iraqi security forces, their army, their national guard, and their police," the commandant said.

"The better we can do that, the faster we can do that, the quicker we will be out of here," he said.


Gen. Michael W. Hagee, commandant of the Marine Corps, talks to Marines and sailors at Camp Taqaddum, Iraq, on July 19, 2004. The Corps' top general visited troops throughout western Iraq July 18-20 in order hear how things were going in Iraq from Marines deployed there. "There's nothing like getting out and seeing what's actually going on," Hagee said. During his trip, Hagee told troops that the Marine Corps would adapt to fight the global war on terrorism and that Marines would likely be serving in Iraq for at least the next year and a half. Photo by: Staff Sgt. Bill Lisbon


Gen. Michael W. Hagee, commandant of the Marine Corps, talks to Marines and sailors of the 1st Force Service Support Group at Camp Taqaddum, Iraq, on July 19, 2004. The Corps' top general visited troops throughout western Iraq July 18-20 in order hear how things were going in Iraq from Marines deployed there. "There's nothing like getting out and seeing what's actually going on," Hagee said. During his trip, Hagee told troops that the Marine Corps would adapt to fight the global war on terrorism and that Marines would likely be serving in Iraq for at least the next year and a half. Photo by: Staff Sgt. Bill Lisbon



07-24-04, 06:52 AM
Iraq Insurgents Issue Brash New Challenge


BAGHDAD, Iraq - Iraqi insurgents issued a brash new challenge to the country's interim government, capturing an Egyptian diplomat as he walked out of a mosque and making new demands for the release of seven hostages that will almost certainly go unmet.

The separate developments Friday suggested the insurgents are growing bolder, particularly since terrorists scored a stunning victory by getting the Philippines to withdraw its 51-member peacekeeping contingent to save the life of a hostage. Angelo dela Cruz returned home Thursday.

On Saturday, the U.S. military announced that an American Marine died following wounds sustained Friday during clashes in the Al-Anbar province, a volatile area west of Baghdad.

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Militants kidnapped Mohammed Mamdouh Helmi Qutb outside a mosque and demanded his country abandon any plans to send security experts to support Iraq's new government, according to a video broadcast on the Al-Jazeera television station. He was believed to be the first foreign diplomat kidnapped in Iraq.

Only days earlier, Qutb had embraced freed Egyptian truck driver Alsayeid Mohammed Alsayeid Algarabawi, who was released by militants Monday.

The abduction threatened to undermine efforts of Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, who met with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on Thursday, to persuade Arab and Muslim countries to provide troops to protect the U.N. mission here.

The black-clad militants, calling themselves "The Lions of Allah Brigade," claimed they abducted Qutb because Egypt said it was prepared to deploy security experts to help Iraq's interim government, according to Al-Jazeera. No specific threat against Qutb was mentioned.

Egypt has offered to train Iraqi police and security personnel in Egypt but declined to deploy military forces in Iraq.

An Egyptian official told The Associated Press on Saturday that his country's mission to Egypt has not yet been contacted by the militants.

"Iraqi authorities have contacted the Egyptian mission and offered help, but as yet there have been no negotiations or mediations with the kidnappers," said Badr el-din de-Souki.

In the video _ narrated by a news reader _ Qutb was seated in front of six masked men, some holding rifles. He said he was being treated well, adding that the Egyptian mission in Baghdad was not cooperating with the U.S.-led multinational force but only trying to aid Iraq's reconstruction.

While Egyptians have shown sympathy for countrymen who went to Iraq to work and ended up held hostage, the kidnapping of a diplomat was likely to focus public attention on their government's policies here. Many Egyptians and other Arabs extoll Iraqis fighting Allawi's U.S.-backed government as freedom fighters and accuse their own governments of siding with hated America against Arabs.

A different militant group holding seven foreign truck drivers, including one Egyptian, announced new demands in a video Friday, insisting that their Kuwaiti employer pay compensation for those killed by U.S. forces in the city of Fallujah. They have threatened to begin beheading the hostages starting Saturday.

In the new video, broadcast on Al-Jazeera, the group called for the release of all Iraqi detainees in Kuwaiti and U.S. prisons, and calling on the drivers' Kuwaiti employer to compensate relatives of people killed in Fallujah.

The new demands were almost certain to go unmet, but the tape Friday _ also narrated by the news reader _ did not appear to repeat the beheading threat and bore no other specified ultimatum. The militants gave the company a 48-hour deadline, but it was unclear that meant the initial deadline was extended until Sunday.

The men's employer, Kuwait and Gulf Link Transport, Co., told The Associated Press it was working to secure their release. "Negotiations are ongoing with the kidnappers ... and we are optimistic the kidnappers will release them soon," Rana Abu-Zaineh, the company's manpower planning manager, told AP by telephone.

She declined to say how the company was conducting negotiations or disclose what it was prepared to do to secure the hostages' release. Earlier in the week, the company said it would do whatever was necessary.

A group calling itself "The Holders of the Black Banners" released videos Wednesday and Thursday saying it was holding three Kenyans, three Indians and an Egyptian and would behead one every 72 hours starting Saturday night if the Kuwaiti trucking company they work for did not stop doing business in Iraq and their countries did not withdraw their citizens.

The beheading of hostages has stirred opposition in Iraq, with radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who led a two-month uprising against U.S. forces beginning in April, joining the criticism.

"We condemn what some people are doing regarding the beheading of prisoners, and it is illegal according to Islamic law," al-Sadr said at the Kufa mosque south of Baghdad, where he led Friday prayers. "Anybody doing this is a criminal, and we will punish him according to Islamic law."

Al-Sadr's word carries weight with many in the country's Shiite majority but is essentially meaningless to the Sunni Muslims believed responsible for many of the kidnappings and killings.

Militants in recent months have kidnapped roughly 70 foreigners in their campaign to force countries to withdraw troops and to scare away contractors working on reconstruction projects. At least three hostages have been beheaded.

The military did not release the identity of the Marine who died of wounds sustained in Al-Anbar province on Friday.

The Marine's death raised the U.S. toll in Iraq since the beginning of the war to 903, according to an AP count that includes the military's announcement of two soldiers dying in a Thursday roadside bomb attack in Samarra, 90 kilometers (60 miles) north of Baghdad.

Tensions have been high in the Al-Anbar town of Ramadi since daylong clashes Wednesday between U.S. Marines and suspected insurgents. The military said 25 suspected anti-U.S. fighters were killed and 14 Marines sustained non life-threatening injuries.



07-24-04, 06:53 AM
U.S. forces attack suspected militants in Fallujah; two American soldiers killed in Samarra

By: PAUL GARWOOD - Associated Press

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- U.S. forces launched a "precision attack" Friday against a suspected gathering of insurgents outside a house in the volatile city of Fallujah, wounding five civilians, while a roadside bomb killed two American soldiers near Samarra, the U.S. military said.

Also Friday, firebrand Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who led an uprising against U.S. forces, condemned militants who have beheaded foreigners in recent months -- two days after a decapitated body was found on the banks of the Tigris, accompanied by a severed head in a bag.

The military also said a van carrying Iraqi civilians collided with a U.S. tank Thursday night near Baghdad, killing nine people and injuring 10 -- all civilians. Iraqis said 18 people were injured and all the dead, including one child, were from the same family, which was returning to Baghdad from a wedding party in Tarmiyah, 30 miles to the north.

Another crash Friday between an armored vehicle and a car in Baqouba injured two Iraqis, who received medical treatment at a nearby coalition base, U.S. 1st Infantry Division spokesman Maj. Neal O'Brien said.

Baqouba police Lt. Ahmed Sadiq said the crash killed two people and wounded three. The discrepancy could not immediately be resolved.

A roadside bomb Friday wounded a bus driver and eight passengers -- including a pregnant woman and two children -- in Baghdad's northern suburb of Toubechi, police Lt. Rajab Saleh said. The bus driver ignored police warnings not to enter the area, he said.

Gunmen also assassinated retired Iraqi Maj. Gen. Salim Majeed Blesh, who had worked for the former U.S. occupation government, police Capt. Ahmed Subhi said. Blesh, 59, was slain with his neighbor as they headed to a mosque in the northern city of Mosul.

Three children were among the five civilians wounded in Fallujah attack, said Dr. Kamal Al-Ani, a hospital official. Witnesses denied the house was harboring militants.

The attack, like several other recent strikes in Fallujah, was conducted in coordination with the Iraqi government, and it targeted 10-12 terrorists linked to Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the military said.

Al-Zarqawi has claimed responsibility for a series of car bombings and beheadings of foreigners in Iraq in recent months.

"The anti-Iraqi forces were struck while in the courtyard of a house; the house was left intact," the statement said.

Al-Ani said a U.S. warplane fired a missile that landed in the garden of a house in the Jubail neighborhood in southern Fallujah. Associated Press Television News video showed a huge crater beside the house.

"We were sleeping in the morning when a U.S. missile hit our house," Saddam Jassim said as he and his brother cleared debris. "We have nothing to do with the resistance or al-Zarqawi. These are pretexts used by the U.S. military to terrorize the people in Fallujah because U.S. soldiers are unable to face the insurgents."

Marines pulled back from Fallujah -- a focal point of resistance -- after besieging it for three weeks in April. Since then, the military has used missile attacks and airstrikes against potential targets, and Friday's strike was the seventh in about a month.

The roadside bombing south of Samarra that killed the two Americans also wounded one soldier, a military official said on condition of anonymity. The city 60 miles north of Baghdad was the scene of battles this week that killed four Iraqis and wounded five.

The American deaths raised the U.S. toll in Iraq since the beginning of the war to 902, according to an Associated Press count. Iraq has been wracked by a 15-month-long insurgency that has used car bombings, sabotage, kidnappings and other violence to try to drive out coalition forces and hamper reconstruction efforts.

Leading prayers at the Kufa mosque south of Baghdad for the first time in two months, al-Sadr criticized the insurgents who have beheaded at least three foreigners since April. The killings of citizens from the United States, South Korea and Bulgaria were mostly claimed by Sunni Muslims -- rivals of al-Sadr's Shiite faction.

"We condemn what some people are doing regarding the beheading of prisoners and it is illegal according to Islamic law," al-Sadr said. "Anybody doing this is a criminal and we will punish him according to Islamic law."

Al-Sadr led a roughly two-month uprising against U.S. forces in Shiite-dominated areas across Iraq beginning in April. On-and-off battles between U.S. troops and al-Sadr's al-Mahdi militia left hundreds of people dead before a cease-fire in June.

On Thursday, Beiji police official Taha Abdullah said police found a decapitated body in an orange jumpsuit and a head in a bag on the banks of the Tigris River the day before, raising fears that a second Bulgarian hostage had been killed.

U.S. military spokesman Maj. Neal O'Brien confirmed the discovery, saying police had discovered the decapitated body and that its "head had been placed in a backpack-type bag and tied off to the back of the body." Police took the body to a Tikrit hospital, he added.

Bulgarian officials were investigating whether the remains were those of Ivaylo Kepov, 32, one of two Bulgarians kidnapped June 29 near the northern city of Mosul. The Bulgarian Foreign Ministry said another headless body found in the Tigris on July 14 was the other hostage, Bulgarian truck driver Georgi Lazov, 30.

A group affiliated with al-Zarqawi said it kidnapped the Bulgarians and demanded Iraqi detainees be released. The group later sent a tape to Al-Jazeera television that reportedly showed Lazov being killed.

On Wednesday, militants said they had taken seven more foreigners hostage this week -- three Kenyans, three Indians and an Egyptian -- all truck drivers for the Kuwait & Gulf Link Transport Co. The group, calling itself "The Holders of the Black Banners," said it would behead a captive every 72 hours beginning Saturday night if the company did not agree to stop doing business here and the countries did not withdraw troops and citizens. India, Kenya and Egypt have no troops in Iraq.

KGL said it would take "all necessary measures" to save the lives of the hostages, but it stopped short of saying it would cease operating in Iraq.

Kenya urged its citizens to get out of Iraq. On Friday, Kenyan government spokesman Alfred Mutua said it has appealed to KGL to leave immediately to meet the demands of the captors.

"We don't have troops in Iraq, we don't have companies there, so all we can do is urge the company to leave the country," Mutua told the AP. "The life of any Kenyan is worth a lot to us."

The owner of the company "has assured us that he is cooperating," Mutua said. "No amount of money in business is worth the life of a single person."

Many of the nearly 70 people taken hostage in Iraq in recent months were truck drivers, easy kidnap targets who haul cargo for private companies -- work vital to normalizing Iraq's postwar economy.



07-24-04, 06:55 AM
Civil War In Iraq? <br />
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Observers continue to ask, &quot;Will Iraq descend into civil war?&quot; The answer is that civil war is already underway in Iraq. Most people do not see it, because it is not following...

07-24-04, 06:56 AM
Honolulu Advertiser
July 23, 2004
Marines recall their time in Iraq
By William Cole
Just back from about two of the worst places to be in Iraq - Fallujah and
Ramadi - three 3rd Radio Battalion Marines said yesterday that progress is
being made but security remains tenuous.
Gunnery Sgt. Richard Taylor, Staff Sgt. Charles Willson and Sgt. Gary
Cisneros are among 22 of the Hawai'i-based Marines who have returned to
Another 140 of the Marines, who specialize in electronic warfare, are
expected home in September. Last year, 250 of the radio battalion Marines
deployed to Kuwait and Iraq.
"I think, obviously, we still have some security issues," said Taylor, 31,
who spent most of his five months at Camp Blue Diamond in Ramadi, and the
last week and a half in Fallujah before arriving in Hawai'i on July 11.
"(Iraq) is a very young nation, so to speak, and I think every step forward
means some of the lateral steps that we're being forced to take."
At both Blue Diamond and Camp Fallujah rocket and mortar attacks were
Both cities are west of Baghdad in the so-called "Sunni Triangle" of
greatest resistance to the U.S. presence. Radio battalion Marines also are
at smaller "forward operating bases" in the region.
Several thousand Marines fought Iraqis in the streets of Fallujah in April
after four American contractors were ambushed, killed and their bodies
dragged through the streets.
A large portion of American deaths since June 28 have occurred in Anbar
province, which includes Ramadi and Fallujah. At least 17 Marines and four
soldiers have died there.
News accounts for months focused on the fighting in Fallujah - to the
exclusion of progress elsewhere, some complained.
Taylor, who was stationed in Hawai'i with 3rd Radio Battalion for 2 1/2
years, went to California with the unit, and returned here to deploy, said
Fallujah's reputation for insurgency is a deserved one.
"For years it had been a stronghold for the bad guys. Sometimes Saddam
wouldn't send his own forces in there," he said. "It was bad. It's hard to
get a big overhead view because it wasn't just Fallujah, it was happening in
Ramadi and Najaf and some of the outlying areas."
The focus was on that one area "because that was probably where the most
intense fighting was going on," said Taylor, who worked as a logistics
Despite the opposition, Taylor said "we made positive steps forward there
constantly, not only in the combat aspects, but also the rebuilding aspects,
where we're going out there and talking to the normal people and the people
who are running the government of Iraq. I think we're making great inroads
into letting them know - we're not the bad guys."
The California man, who is married and has 4- and 5-year- old sons, spent
most of his time in camp, but went out to see what other 3rd Radio Marines
were experiencing. The radio battalion Marines are told not to discuss the
missions they go on.
Staff Sgt. Willson, 27, who was at Camp Fallujah for six months, had close
calls: a roadside bomb blew up less than 300 feet from his convoy and a 120
mm rocket exploded about 150 feet away. He was not injured.
The only radio battalion Marine to be injured to date is Lance Cpl. Daniel
Powell, 22, who received a Purple Heart in June for shrapnel wounds received
in a mortar attack in May.
Rocket and mortar attacks on Camp Fallujah are sporadic, said Willson, who
was a motor transport maintenance chief. A stalemate of sorts has existed in
Fallujah since May when U.S. forces decided to pull back from the city.
Willson said he doesn't speculate on whether Fallujah, a city of 300,000,
will see more violence. "We don't see that level of stuff," he said. "We
just saw what was right in front of us. We didn't have time to think about
the politics. They'd tell us to go here, we'd go here. We didn't care why we
were doing it. It just had to be done."
Cisneros, 32, who works in signals analysis and communication support, now
has done two tours of Iraq. He deployed last year and traveled up to
The Tucson, Ariz., man said this time, it was more difficult to tell who the
enemies were.
Last year, "a lot of times, (the enemies) were too busy running away." This
time, "the people helping you during the day were the same people shooting
at you at night," he said. "It was more deadly this time than it was the
first time ... not knowing who the actual enemy is is more stressful."
The view of some Iraqis is "they don't want us occupying their country,"
Cisneros said. "But they can't do it by themselves. If we leave then other
countries will take advantage of them because they have nothing to defend
themselves with."
On the home front, Taylor's wife, Ingrid, said having two boys to take care
of and a full-time job in California helped time go by.
Around March and April, it got really scary when fighting in Ramadi was in
the news, she said.
"I e-mailed him to make sure everything was OK. We'd continue to get word
from the command saying that all of radio battalion was fine," she said. "I
did have the Web site that gave the fatalities and all the coalition
casualties and I checked it. We know a lot of Marines."
Her husband is glad to be past that - at least for the time being.
"It's surreal at times (being in Hawai'i)," Richard Taylor said. "My wife
and children and I are staying down at the Hale Koa (hotel) and it's on the
beach and it's so incredible to be back. You just stand there with a big
grin on your face."
Willson said it will take time to readjust.
"Once you get used to a place like Iraq and you come back, normal life ...
it takes some time," said the eight-year Marine. "Cars backfire or balloons
popping ... it takes me right back to Iraq."
He's not even thinking about the possibility of having to go back some day.
"If I have to go back, I have to go back. But in the meantime, that's in the
past, and I'm going to focus on taking care of my family and what I have to
do for the Marine Corps now."


07-24-04, 06:56 AM
Sacramento Bee
July 22, 2004
Iraq duty hazardous, fulfilling for Marine
By David Richie
Marine Cpl. Tom Kuster is home in Citrus Heights this week after surviving
two tours of duty in Iraq and wounds that earned him three Purple Hearts.
Kuster suffered wounds to his hand, knee and back in three separate attacks
between April 2003 and April 2004. But the 28-year-old Marine remains
gung-ho and ready to serve, although military officials have advised him to
slow down and take time to recover from his injuries.
"I have always thought of it as a career," Kuster said. "I come up for
re-enlistment next year. I think I want to do recruiting duty."
A situation where a Marine picks up three Purple Hearts fighting in Iraq is
"definitely not unusual," said Capt. Jeff Landis, a spokesman for the Marine
Corps Manpower and Reserve Affairs Office in Quantico, Va.
"Units are finding themselves rotating back into the same areas, and the
fighting is still intense," he said.
The odds of surviving are increased by the high quality of medical care
available near the fighting and the Marine commitment to "take care of their
own," Landis added.
Kuster, an avid hunter and fisherman, was already several years older than
most recruits when he joined the Marines three years ago.
"I was 25," he said. "I just had the feeling that something big was about to
happen in the world, and I wanted to be part of it."
Three weeks later, terrorists attacked America on Sept. 11, 2001 - and
Marines everywhere got ready to go to war. Because he was older than many
recruits, Kuster quickly assumed a leadership role.
In April 2003, his Company C, 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment pushed into
Baghdad amid fierce street fighting. His unit was investigating a hot tip
about the whereabouts of Saddam Hussein when Iraqi fighters began shooting
from rooftops.
Kuster was wounded in the hand by bullet fragments ricocheting up off the
pavement. He kept all his fingers, and there was no permanent damage. After
four months in Iraq, his unit rotated home to Camp Pendleton.
In March, Kuster's group returned to Iraq for another five months, operating
checkpoints and patrols in and around the city of Fallujah. Kuster, now a
squad leader, manned a machine gun on an armored vehicle.
In April, his unit was ambushed while scouting a suspicious area near the
Marine base. A bullet hit Kuster in the side of his knee, missing his
kneecap by about an inch. Although the pain was intense, Kuster kept firing
his gun until his armored vehicle sped away.
Doctors removed the bullet and told him he had a fractured tibia. This was
bad news for Kuster, who wanted to return to his unit. Going home never
crossed his mind.
"I did not want to be sent away from my company," he said.
A few days later, Kuster was resting in a supposedly safe compound known as
Camp Mercury. He was sitting on a bunk, talking on the telephone with Kalene
Varnado, the mother of his 2-year-old son, Mica.
"I was still on the phone with her when three to five rockets landed in the
camp," he said.
Kuster was hit in the back by shrapnel that tore through the tent. "With all
the things that had happened, I had never lost my bearings - but that one
rattled me," he said.
With their son out of the war zone, Aggie and Greg Kuster are breathing a
little easier these days. So are Kuster's grandparents, who have kept
candles burning for him and festooned the trees in their front yard with
yellow ribbons.
"Not knowing - that is probably the hardest thing for a parent," Greg Kuster
They described an emotional tightrope walked by all parents who have
children in combat. News reports about the fighting in Iraq often are vague,
leaving anxious parents to wonder if their child is one of the service
people described as killed or wounded.
If news reports would specify that Marine or Army units were involved in the
action, that would do a lot to ease many parents' minds, Greg Kuster said.
The Marines try to notify parents when their son or daughter has been
wounded in action, but sometimes the process is slow.
"The main thing is that you do not want to see a black sedan pull up outside
the house," Greg Kuster said.
Tom Kuster said the two tours in Iraq gave him a sense that real progress is
being made and infrastructure is being re-established. He said intelligence
reports indicate many of the fighters opposing U.S. forces are not Iraqi
Based on what he saw during the past four months, Kuster said the Iraqi
people should eventually be able to establish a fully functioning new
"I think they will. I hope they will, so I don't have to go back there
again," Kuster said.


07-24-04, 06:57 AM
New Brunswick (N.J.) Home News Tribune
July 22, 2004
Marines embark in fine company

RED BANK -- When 160 Marines left from their 6th Motor Battalion
headquarters in January of 2003, they boarded buses before dawn with thick
snowflakes falling and a handful of family and friends to wave goodbye.
Yesterday, 30 Marines left for duty at 9:50 a.m. in bright sunshine with
well wishes from family and friends and then some.
There were nine members of the Leathernecks Motorcycle Club, about two dozen
members of other groups of former Marines and Richard Gilbert, president of
the state chapter of the Chosin Few, a group of Marines who served in the
Korean War. Terry Terrific of Keansburg, whose 226-square-foot crocheted
American flag earned a mention in the list of Guinness World Records, handed
out needlecraft flags about the size of a business card.
"There's a war going on," said the Rev. Guy W. Opie, the Leathernecks'
chaplain. "Now it's a little blurb in the paper. People forget it."
"We're here to say 'Bon voyage and kick butt,' " said Victor Hando of
Milltown, a member of the Phillip K. Dorn Marine Detachment League.
"These are our brothers, our family," said Mel Meszaros of South Amboy, a
member of the motorcycle club that helped provide an escort for the bus,
which headed north on the Garden State Parkway to Newark Liberty
International Airport for a flight to California, where the Marines will
spend about one month training before being deployed to Iraq.
The Leathernecks posed with the 30 Marines, and led them in the singing of
the Marine Corps Hymn -- including the seldom-sung second and third verses.
While one Marine considers another Marine family, yesterday's departure was
hardest on immediate family, including Sgt. Richard Lucas of Old Bridge, who
was seen off by his wife Lori and their 11-month-old daughter Faith, whose
going-away gift to her father Tuesday night was taking her first solo steps.

In January of 2003, Lori Lucas recalled, "When Rich left the focus was on
me. Now it's on leaving me and Faith and this is definitely harder. Last
time, I left him in the dark in the parking lot, went home and went back to
When Lucas learned last month he was being deployed to Iraq a second time,
he thought of it as one more assignment in his tenure as a Marines' Reserve.

"It didn't hit me until last night, when I was making a video for Faith. I
don't want to go," confessed Lucas, who is not expected to return home until
April -- during which time he will miss his wife, his baby daughter and the
New York Giants' football season.
Unlike Lucas, who already spent six months in Kuwait and Iraq, for several
Marines this overseas deployment will be their first.
While Paul Kolterjahn of Westfield was attending high school he had decided
to join the military. He committed to the Marines' reserves in December of
2002. Why Marines? "They called first," he said.
His parents, Paul and Linda, were here to see him off. "Anxious and uneasy,"
is how his father described his mood.
Andrew Exposito of Gutenberg, who has had to take a leave of absence from
Montclair State University, had planned to marry next summer. Instead, he
and his wife Nicole were married June 3. "It would have been too hard to be
planning a wedding when he was away," said Nicole. Their honeymoon has been
delayed until his return.
Jesus Perez of Elizabeth, one of four members of the battalion who received
a fresh Marines' tattoo this week, will be returning to Iraq, driving a
7-ton vehicle for an outfit he calls "Semper Fidelis Trucking."
During the 2003 deployment, Perez said, "The enemy was hiding. This time
we'll be fighting an enemy with confidence, who's accomplished a few
Yesterday the U.S. Department of Defense announced the death of the 900th
American to die since combat began in March of 2003.
"Our brothers are going into harm's way," said Meszaros. "They're going from
New Jersey to defend our country, and that's why we're here."


07-24-04, 06:57 AM
(Tuolumne County, Ca.) Union Democrat
July 22, 2004
A lost Marine is memorialized
Today, on the anniversary of John Berger's death, his brothers are packing
26 miles into the Emigrant Wilderness to spend five days at Twin Lakes, for
years a favorite family destination.
"We're going to hike the highest peak we can find," Dave Berger said.
"Being able to see the world through John's eyes, it'll be nice," Jeff
Berger added.
Their younger brother John, 27, died one year ago today in a night bombing
training exercise near Palm Springs.
Also in their brother's honor, Dave and Jeff are packing only military meals
ready to eat - or MREs - and plan to supplement the light-weight food with
The MREs are what John ate in Iraq. When John's commanding officer asked if
there was anything he could do after their brother died in a jet accident,
Jeff asked for the military meals. Before long, he found boxes of them
stacked by his front door.
John and his brothers grew up hunting, fishing and building model airplanes,
all activities that John loved and folded into his career.
"He had a passion for everything he did," Jeff said. "He would do it at 100
Berger was a 1994 Sonora High School graduate and U.S. Marine Corps pilot
who fought in Iraq. He was promoted to captain just a year before the
accident that took his life. He died when the F/A-18 C Hornet he was flying
crashed at the Twentynine Palms Marine Base in San Bernardino County.
The family isn't interested in the details of the accident.
"It's something I don't care to know completely," Dave said.
Whatever information is released, Dave and Jeff, both Sonora-area dentists,
know that their brother was not to blame.
"He became a captain at 26 which is absolutely unheard of," Dave said. "He
was the best, he really was. No matter what is said, we know it was an
equipment failure."
John's wife, Jill, agrees.
"It's not only because he's my husband that I'm going to say he's the best
pilot, he had the medals and the awards," said Jill, who now lives in San
Diego County. "He's got all these things to prove how good he was."
Jill met John through her older sister, who later married Jeff. They were
together six months during high school, but split when both went to college.

Seven years later, they reconnected and dated for three years before they
married - five months before John died.
"The time line from December to July was just insane," Jill said. "We were
engaged Dec. 15. On Dec. 30 we closed escrow on a new house. We went to Las
Vegas and got married Jan. 12. On Jan. 23 John went to the war in Iraq. He
came back May 10 and his accident was July 22.
"At 26 years old, I experienced things that other people experience over a
But Jill said she doesn't regret her time with John. Despite or perhaps
because of her fears that John would die young, she enjoyed every minute
with him, making sure to kiss him goodbye whenever he flew.
"I only told a few people this," Jill said. "I saw this happening to me. I
pictured myself where I am right now. I did not see myself growing old with
John, as much as I wanted to be with him."
Every day, Jill was aware of how dangerous her husband's job was.
John graduated from Embry Riddle Aeronautical University in 1998 with a
degree in aeronautical science and a second lieutenant's commission in the
United States Marine Corps. Two years later, he was promoted to first
lieutenant, and two years after that, he was a captain, with more
responsibilities and duties.
Along the way, he graduated from several difficult training programs, made
the Commodore's List in Primary Flight Training, was designated as Training
Squadron Nine Student of the Month and received the Top Drop Award and the
Top Gun Award twice.
He was also at the top of his class for pistol and rifle marksmanship.
But his passion was always for flying.
John learned he was qualified to fly jets while in officer training at
Quantico, Virginia. Sixteen miles into a 20-mile hump, John's commanding
officer trotted up to him and said, "By the way, Berger, you've got jets."
The next four miles, John told his brothers, were cake.
"He's always known he wanted to fly," Jeff said. "He built model planes. We
all did somewhat, but he took it to another level."
To commemorate her husband's love of flying, Jill wanted to schedule a ride
in a jet today. She was told no, so she asked if she could lie on a runway
while a jet took off above her. Again, she was rejected.
In a last ditch effort to honor her husband, she planned to drink at the O
Club, a bar where officers blow off steam. But to her dismay, she learned
the club would be closed tonight.
"The whole military thing is just not leaning my way," Jill said.
Instead, she plans to spend the day at a spa, go shopping and have dinner
and drinks with her family and friends.
"I'm going to pamper myself because I can't get a ride in a jet," she said.
A jet, Jill said, is where John felt his best and it was his excitement and
confidence that got them both through his time in Iraq.
As a captain, John flew 11 hours in a single-seat F-18 to France where he
rendezvoused with his squadron and then flew to Iraq at the end of February,
two months before the war began.
John spent about three months stationed on the Kuwait border, from where he
ran a number of bombing missions.
"He was heavily involved in bombing runs," Jeff said. "He'd been through
that many times before."
"He was there in the thick of things, really in the thick of things," Dave
Which is why his death - a month after he returned safely from Iraq - was
such a shock.
"When he got back from the war, I thought 'OK, he's safe' and I started
seeing us starting a family," Jill said. "Not growing old together yet, but
starting a family.
"I don't say those things because I was constantly scared and worried and
paranoid, it's just that I didn't take anything for granted," Jill said.
For everyone who loved and lost John, taking time to appreciate loved ones
and enjoy every moment - the way John did - have become priorities.
"You've got to live life to the fullest," Dave and Jeff said. "Even if
you're the best of the best, you could be gone tomorrow."
Jill, who says she is doing amazingly well under the circumstances, said she
finds comfort in memories of John.
"Sometimes I'll be driving on the freeway and there will be like six jets
all around me, jets Johnny flew, then I think that must be Johnny saying
'Hey, baby.'
"I remember we'd be driving and I'd ask John about flying in the clouds, and
which ones were safe and not safe to fly in. He would point out the safe and
OK clouds, and the not-so-safe ones," Jill said. "So now, on a cloudy day, I
find those safe and not-so-safe clouds."


07-24-04, 06:57 AM
The Daily Yomiuri (Japan) <br />
July 21, 2004 <br />
U.S. marines' exercises may be moved to Australia <br />
Toshiyuki Ito <br />
A senior official at the U.S. National Security Council said Tuesday that <br />
U.S. marines...

07-24-04, 07:31 AM
July 21, 2004 <br />
<br />
Trial begins for Americans accused of running private jail in Afghanistan <br />
<br />
By Stephen Graham <br />
Associated Press <br />
<br />
<br />
KABUL, Afghanistan Three Americans accused of torturing...

07-24-04, 10:52 AM
Fallujah parallels in Ramadi <br />
<br />
A major battle this week in the Sunni Triangle city make it harder for US forces to handover security to Iraqis. <br />
<br />
By Ann Scott Tyson | Correspondent of The Christian...

07-24-04, 12:16 PM
Daylong Fighting Leaves 25 Iraqis Dead, U.S. Says
One soldier and 13 Marines are injured in a series of clashes in the city of Ramadi.

By Megan K. Stack, Times Staff Writer

BAGHDAD A day of fighting between U.S. troops and insurgents in the turbulent city of Ramadi left 25 Iraqis dead and 17 wounded, the military said Thursday.

A fresh wave of fighting erupted Wednesday afternoon in the predominantly Sunni Muslim city about 60 miles west of Baghdad after a homemade bomb exploded alongside a Marine convoy. Guerrillas then attacked with small-arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades, starting a series of clashes that ground on throughout the day. U.S. troops backed by warplanes battled dozens of insurgents.

Helicopters thumped overhead Thursday, searching the city, and the military announced that more than 25 suspected guerrillas had been arrested.

By nightfall, Ramadi had grown calm; U.S. troops, tanks and transport vehicles ringed the city, concentrating on the eastern and western roads into town.

One soldier and 13 Marines were injured in the fighting, but none of their wounds were life-threatening.

Meanwhile, a decapitated corpse turned up along the Tigris River in the northern town of Baiji. A severed head was discovered nearby. Bulgarian officials were trying to determine whether the remains were those of 32-year-old Ivailo Kepov, a truck driver missing since late June.

This was the second headless corpse to turn up along the same stretch of the Tigris. A body found July 14 has been identified as that of another Bulgarian truck driver, Georgi Lazov, 30, who went missing near Mosul along with Kepov. After their disappearance, the Arabic-language Al Jazeera satellite TV channel showed a video in which Lazov was kneeling in front of masked guerrillas.

The hostage-taking drama intensified Thursday, as the number of truck drivers known to be held by a group calling itself the "Holders of the Black Banners" grew to seven.

On Wednesday, militants released a videotape showing six men and threatened to behead one of them every 72 hours, beginning Saturday night.

A video released Thursday, however, showed three Kenyans, three Indians and an Egyptian.

The men, who work for a Kuwaiti company, were shown pleading for their lives. The Egyptian hostage tried to comfort his mother and children, insisting that Iraqis are "the best people" and promising to come home again.

"But if we die," he said, "then I say thank God."

Their captors have demanded that India, Kenya and Egypt pull all their citizens from the country, and the Kenyan government urged its citizens to leave Iraq immediately.

None of the three nations has sent soldiers to Iraq, but all are poor countries whose people are often forced to look for work overseas.

Many of their citizens are willing to accept the dangers of Iraq in exchange for a steady paycheck.

"If they carry out their threat it would be a serious development. We condemn this incident," Indian Foreign Minister Natwar Singh said.

Violence flared throughout the day. A young boy was scavenging for cans near a mosque in the Adhamiya neighborhood of Baghdad when a homemade bomb exploded, killing him.

"I can say he is gone with the wind," said Mohammed Hussein Abbass, 35, who was headed into a nearby restaurant for lunch when the explosion shook the street. "I do not know why they put such a bomb in this area. It is a stupid work."

A second bomb went off on a crowded corner in southern Baghdad, killing two children and wounding two people, witnesses said.

Staff at a nearby hospital said a woman died of wounds suffered in the blast.



07-24-04, 06:11 PM
Marine officer with local ties sees progress in Iraq effort

By Jeff Pikulsky
Saturday, July 24, 2004

Maj. Chuck Rose says values he developed growing up in the Mon Valley and playing high school sports have helped him become a successful Marine.
Rose, 35, a Monongahela native who now resides in Temecula, Calif., enlisted in the Marines in 1989.

He has served two tours in Iraq, flying an armed evacuation helicopter that retrieves ground troops.

"We evacuated Marines throughout the area in what we would consider hostile areas or contested areas," he said. "We went into some heavy situations ... several times my aircraft was hit with gunfire."

Rose first served in Iraq from February to August in 2003.

He returned home, shipped out again in February and came back for a little more than a week this month.

Rose said his unit was called for the second time when the need for more support in Iraq arose.

"It was very unexpected," he said. "When things started heating up there, they sent us back. My unit was the most experienced unit, so they took us."

Rose said he will return to Iraq later this month with his Marine expeditionary unit to serve a third tour, which should last from six to nine months.

Rose said he works with experienced and reliable equipment.

"All of our helicopters were in Vietnam," he said.

To fulfill his secondary obligation as a field-grade officer, Rose serves as an aviation maintenance officer.

Despite the danger of his role in the war and the uncertainty of how many times he might return and leave from home, Rose said he holds great pride in being a Marine.

"To me, it's an honor to serve in those conditions," he said. "It's hard not going because you have friends there. If it's trying on anyone, it's the family, my parents my kids and my wife.

"Kids never get accustomed to it. They just learn to adjust.

"I've been in almost 14 years and, basically, it's your family that keeps you going and helps you in all regards and the support of your friends, loved ones and those in your hometown that you don't know."

Rose has been married to his wife, Lynn, for 12 years.

The couple has two daughters, Sarah, 2 and Emily, 4.

Rose said his military involvement did not interfere with seeing his daughters' births, and he is able to keep in touch with them while he is overseas.

The Ringgold High School graduate said he gained an appreciation for discipline and commitment while playing defensive positions for his alma mater's ice hockey and football teams.

He said the values he learned through academics and as an athlete have helped him defend his country.

"The biggest thing is the emphasis on sports and academics as a combination," he said of the benefits of his high school career. "Playing sports and having that exposure to the discipline required to be successful because of how good the competition is, I think that is an extremely positive trait as well as in the academics."

Rose said he and his family visit the Mon Valley each year and spend time with his parents, Charles and Donna, who live in Monongahela.

He said he moved closer to his hometown from 1998 to 2001, while he served as a recruiting officer and lived in Finleyville.

Otherwise, Rose prefers living on the warm California coast but misses the people of the Mon Valley.

"We miss our friends and our family very much," he said. "We come back for Christmas just about every year, and whenever we get the opportunity to come back, we do."

Rose said he found inspiration to join the military from his father.

"My father was a Marine ... and being exposed to some of the other Marines and retired guys ... that, and I wanted to fly," he said of why he joined the military.

Rose said he holds being a part of the Marine Corps legacy in high regard.

"It's an army of one. That says it all," he said.

In reference to the military effort in Iraq, Rose said the outlook is promising.

"The morale is fantastic with the Marines over there," he said. "They are doing an incredible job. It is improving daily over there, and life for the people in Iraq is 100 times better than what I saw in the beginning.

"In my personal opinion, I think things will continue to improve."

Jeff Pikulsky can be reached at jpikulsky@tribweb.com.



Jersey Joe
07-24-04, 11:26 PM
Couldn't disagree more with the Commandant. We don't need
more active duty Marines because it would "cost too much"? Yet,
at the same time, we don't have enough troops without calling
up the reservists! "Lawmakers" want 9000 Marines over 3 years
(3,000 per year) but we don't need them---just call up another
group of reserves!
I know, I know--we all signed up for X number of years and sometimes we must answer the call. IMHO, we're depending upon the reserves too much. If I were being sent out with a MEF today, I'd like to see some young faces around me (my 20 year old son's Guard unit got called up and, I must confess, it's a little scary to see all the old guys out there).
Finally, I'm old enough to realize the "politics" involved with many
statements. I'm sure the Commandant doesn't want to become
another General Shinseki and have Rumsfeld or his pals demand his resignation, but 3000 more Marines per year doesn't seem
like a lot of troops. We want all the troops home safely, just
think some "young blood" would help a little more.

Semper Fi