View Full Version : Marines Seek Retirees For AD

07-25-04, 07:29 AM
Marines Seek Retirees For AD

The Commandant of the Marine Corps recently authorized the expanded use of the retired Marine population to help fill the more than 2,500 existing global war on terrorism-related billets, according to lieutenant Colonel Linda McGowan, deputy section head, Mobilization, Plans and Policy Branch, Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps.

Retirees with experience in the intelligence, communications, public affairs, civil affairs, linguistics, logistics and administration fields are among the prime candidates, McGowan said.

While Reserve Marines remain valuable assets to the Marine Corps, retirees typically have the higher levels of rank, security clearances and relevant experience required to fill many of the GWOT billets, added McGowan.

Activating retirees is also more costeffective. When a retiree is mobilized, retirement benefits stop for the duration of the mobilization, and the individual receives regular pay and allowances according to grade and time in service. Compared to the cost of mobilizing a Reserve Marine of the same grade, the Marine Corps saves money equal to the amount of the retired Marine's benefits, according to an approved secretary of the Navy memorandum.

To be qualified to serve, retirees must not have a medical disability rating or have been retired more than five years.

Retirees interested in volunteering should submit their information via Reserve Duty OnLine at https://rdol.mol .usmc.mil. A user ID and password can be obtained by registering on Marine OnLine at https://www.mol.usmc.mil.

Retirees or commands seeking retirees should contact LtCoI Jeffrey Riehl at (703) 432-9177/78, riehlja@manpower .usmc.mil, or Master Sergeant Vincent Tate at (703) 784-9317, tatevp@man power.usmc.mil.


07-25-04, 07:29 AM
U.S. Forces Kill 13 Insurgents Near Baghdad

BAGHDAD, Iraq - American and Iraqi forces clashed with insurgents north of Baghdad early Sunday, killing 13 Iraqi militants, the U.S. military said.

There were no reports of U.S. casualties from the fighting in Buhriz, 35 miles northeast of Baghdad. Formerly a Saddam stronghold, it has often been scene of clashes.

U.S. and Iraqi National Guard forces entered Buhriz about 3:30 a.m. to search an area of palm groves and destroyed an apparent staging ground for attacks on coalition forces, said Maj. Neal O'Brien, spokesman for the 1st Infantry Division.

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During the raid, insurgents attacked Iraqi National Guard forces with small arms before the fight spilled over to the southern side of Buhriz, O'Brien told The Associated Press.

Six hours later, the Iraqi fighters began firing mortars indiscriminately, and the U.S. responded with mortar fire of its own, he said.

The clashes Saturday killed 13 insurgents, and the U.S. military confiscated an array of weapons, including a large artillery round and three rocket-propelled grenade launchers, O'Brien said.

Elsewhere in Iraq, a suspected car bomb blew up in western Baghdad today. The explosion happened on a major east-west highway but the military says nobody was hurt.

Iraqi police say a former regional official in the Saddam regime was killed in a drive-by shooting in Baghdad.

Brig. Khaled Dawoud, former head of the city's Nahyia district, was driving with his son in the southern Baghdad suburb of al-Dora when insurgents pulled up in another car and opened fire, said Lt. Mustafa Abdullah al-Dulaimi, a police officer in the neighborhood. Dawoud's son also was killed.



07-25-04, 07:32 AM
No Shortage of Fighters in Iraq's Wild West <br />
Marines in the key city of Ramadi dig in and wait anxiously for the battle to come to them. The goal isn't victory; it's to stave...

07-25-04, 07:32 AM
Most insurgents here, the Marines say, are natives of the Ramadi area, where the insular tribal culture and tradition of cross-border smuggling have fostered an undercurrent of violence and suspicion...

07-25-04, 07:33 AM
Marines remember fallen engineer
Submitted by: 1st Marine Division
Story Identification #: 20047215559
Story by Cpl. Shawn C. Rhodes

CAMP MAHMUDIYAH, Iraq (July 19, 2004) -- Marines from 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, based out of Camp Lejeune, N.C., came together July 19 to remember one of their own here.

Marines gathered around a memorial for Lance Cpl. Bryan P. Kelly, a 21-year-old combat engineer from Klamath Falls, Ore. He was killed in action July 16.

Kelly was killed by an improvised explosive device while manning the machine gun in the turret of a humvee.

"No matter what kind of heat or pain he felt here, it's all gone now. He'll always be remembered here," said Cpl. Donovan Benally, a 25-year-old combat engineer from Chinle, Ariz. "He's in a place where he feels no pain now."

Marines who knew Kelly best spoke of him with smiles on their faces. They remembered all the funny things the young lance corporal would do to bring their spirits up.

"It's hard to translate the friendship I had with Kelly. He used to be the 'GQ' of the platoon, always dressing up, even to go to Wal-Mart," said Sgt. Thomas M. Esquivel, a 24-year-old from Dallas. "Kelly was also a volunteer firefighter. I asked him once why he joined the Marines when he had that in front of him. He told me 'I want to serve my country while I have the chance and then be a firefighter.'"

Marines shared stories of Kelly's love for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. He was known to have two at every meal. Kelly also had a love for country music when shopping at a base or post exchange.

"Every time we would go to the PX, Kelly would buy a male country singer's CD. I asked him if he realized he only owned CDs of guys singing country," Esquivel said.

He said Kelly asked him to buy a CD for him once. When Esquivel asked Kelly what he wanted, he replied, "A female country singer. It doesn't matter who."

The fallen Marine's friends laughed as the stories were told, remembering their individual experiences with Kelly.

He loved his parents and his fiancιe, Kate, according to Lt. Col. Giles Kyser, the battalion commander from Dumfries, Va. He added Kelly loved his fellow Marines and sacrificed his life for us to keep them safe.

His comrades took solace in the fact that Kelly was a Christian and was destined for good things after this life.

"If you know God like Kelly did, then you don't need to fear death," Esquivel said.


1st Lt. Eric J. Martindale, a 26-year-old platoon commander for the combat engineer detachment assinged to 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, spoke of Lance Cpl. Bryan P. Kelly, a 21-year-old combat engineer from Klamath Falls, Ore., was killed July 16 from a roadside bomb. Martindale, from Kintnersville, Pa. participated in the ceremony which allowed the Marines who knew Kelly to honor the Marine.
(USMC photo by Cpl. Shawn C. Rhodes) Photo by: Cpl. Shawn C. Rhodes



07-25-04, 07:34 AM
Marine struggles with loss of 3 comrades

Lance Cpl. Luke Huisenga, a 1999 City High graduate in Iowa City, earned his undergraduate degree at Boston University and enlisted in the Marine Corps. Last February, he and his unit, Kilo Company, Third Battalion, Seventh Marines, were assigned to western Iraq. Here is Huisenga's latest dispatch home.

On the morning of July 5, three Marines from Kilo Company were killed in a rocket attack. In the weeks following, I've found myself writing a lot. It has been both therapeutic and frustrating. I can write about nothing else. Despite my best efforts, conclusions remain elusive. It seems as if death in a combat zone requires contradiction: We must remember, but we also must forget.

Lance Cpl. John Van Gyzen, Cpl. Dallas Kearns and Lance Cpl. Michael Torres. Three Marines from our company were dead and all we knew were their names. We waited for the patrol to come in, waited for answers and details. When 3rd Platoon finally did return to base, the rest of Kilo Company formed up to receive them. Inside an empty chow hall, we formed a human alleyway, two single-file lines facing each other. Some already were very emotional, but some were not. Maybe you weren't particularly close to the dead, maybe the news didn't hit you as hard as others. Most of us were safe back in the rear. We didn't have to watch our friends torn apart before our eyes. It was not our trauma. Maybe the morning had been too easy. That changed as Kilo-3 filed through our alleyway and into the chow hall. We had to face each man as he passed, had to look him in the eye. The pain had come home. The pain was shared.

Regardless of who you were or where you were that morning, you looked at them and felt a little bit of what it was like to be there. We all must remember.

At the same time, I morbidly remember wondering, "Where is the blood?" It turns out that the guys had changed before coming to see us. Similarly, the trucks were hidden away until they could be cleaned. I'm not saying it was wrong to do so. It just struck me how my experience had been sanitized. It struck me the next day as I watched a Marine sit out back and scrub his boots. I thought to myself, "Wow, he's really a thorough and motivated Marine to worry about dirt on his boots when we're in the middle of the desert." I sat there and I watched him and it took quite a while before I realized that it wasn't dirt he was trying to get off. We all must forget.

We cling and we let go. A part of us needs to know that if we die, it will be important; we will be remembered. Another part of us just knows that we've got another patrol to go on, we have other friends whose lives still depend on us. We have to be sharp. Our minds must be clear. We can't dwell on the possibilities. A part of us needs to forget.

I keep coming back to a conversation I had on the 5th. I wasn't really close to the Marines we lost, but my friend, Jeremy Dillon, was. Michael Torres was one of his best friends. We tried to talk that morning but it was hard. "What can you do?" he kept asking. Back home in Maine, he'd lost friends suddenly and tragically before. "It's always the same," he sounded disgusted. "There's nothing you can do and life just goes on."

Maybe he felt it coming because he'd felt it before, how frustrating it can be to have to let go, to have to feel better, to have to find your way back to normal, even when it feels like a betrayal. Not that it had been nearly as hard on me. I'm just a guy in the middle trying to make it through, figure out what's right.

Dillon's words are not the only ones that keep coming back to me. The day before, I'd celebrated the Fourth of July with a call home to my parents. I remember telling them, "I can't even remember the battalion's last KIA." I was trying to ease their worries, comfort them and me both. It seemed like a nice thing to say. The next day, I got news that three of my fellow Marines were dead, and suddenly my words seemed horrid. These young men packed up their lives and left their homes for a faraway place they couldn't always understand. They died here, and I bragged about how a little time makes it easy to forget their deaths entirely.

I haven't found an answer. But the questions, the contradictions, the struggle - it's all much clearer to me now. There are things I have to see and things I may have to forget. I'll never again give a memory up lightly. I'll cling to the pain that is mine to handle, and I'll remember as much as I can.



07-25-04, 08:35 AM
Erie mother battles Marines over daughter's benefits - 07/25/2004 <br />
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At 2 months old, Mia Carey is too young to grieve. <br />
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She doesn't yet understand that her father, Pfc....

07-25-04, 09:12 AM
Ammunition replenishes confidence
July 22,2004

EDITOR'S NOTE: The following is part of an ongoing series by Daily News reporter Eric Steinkopff who spent time with Camp Lejeune's 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit in Kuwait.

CAMP VIRGINIA, KUWAIT - Members of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit trudged through the sand toward a lone tractor-trailer where they'd obtain their final issue of ammunition for a future mission in Iraq.

More than a week ago troops were given their "security rounds," enough ammunition to reasonably protect themselves in a defensive position should they be challenged.

But after live fire practice at the ranges, they were ready and confident to get enough firepower for an offensive.

"Along with ammunition, you need to ensure that they have chow and water - all the basic things," said 24-year-old 1st Lt. Cyrus Revand from Portland, Ore., the assistant operations officer with MEU Service Support Group 24.

"We heard of some firefights that lasted four, five or six hours, but hopefully it won't come to that. We'll be able to call in air support."

Rows of green-tipped 5.56-mm rifle rounds destined for M-16s or M-249 automatic weapons known as SAWs lined the flatbed trailer along with 7.62-mm and .50-caliber rounds for heavier machine guns.

"This makes it real and brings it home for us," Revand said. "This is the final preparation that you make. The extra ammunition is carried by each individual Marine on the vehicle."

Revand was picking up rounds to fill all of his 9-mm pistol magazines. Everyone was getting more than 300 M-16 rounds, enough ammunition to fill all their magazines twice.

Those with M-203 grenade launchers picked up individually wrapped 40-mm grenades along with smoke, illumination and "star cluster" signal flares.

Lance Cpl. Kurtis Sprayberry, 20, a truck driver from Henderson, Texas assigned to MSSG-24, struggled to carry three large ammunition cans loaded with 40-mm grenades. He and his gunner will use them in their 7-ton truck mounted MK-19 automatic grenade launcher.

Baseball-sized fragmentation grenades, which replaced the World War II-era "pineapple" explosives, were stored nearby.

When confronted by the enemy, Revand said, deciding to give chase or return fire will depend on the individual situation.

"If you receive a couple of pot shots in an urban area, it might not be feasible," Revand said. "But if you're going through the countryside, there's an ambush, and you know where they are, it only makes sense to take the fight to them."

Contact Eric Steinkopff at esteinkopff@jdnews.com.



07-25-04, 09:52 AM
Operation Armor All focusing on troop safety
July 24,2004

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is part of an ongoing series of stories by Daily News reporter Eric Steinkopff who is with the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit in Kuwait.

CAMP VIRGINIA, KUWAIT - On a lonesome dusty road in the Kuwaiti desert, there is an obscure warehouse. It's nothing special to look at.

But inside, the sound of compressed-air-driven impact wrenches fill the air, a symbol that the latest in Operation Armor All is working to keep members of Camp Lejeune's 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit safer when they eventually head into Iraq.

Drivers quickly shuttle vehicles back and forth from a line in the parking lot to an assembly line inside the warehouse. When they came out, the vehicles - about 15 7-ton trucks and 40 Humvees belonging to the 24th MEU - were fully armored. Doors and undercarriages were given priority.

"We coordinated with the Marine Corps and Marine Forces Atlantic to improve troop protection in the 7-ton trucks, reinforcing the sides, tailgate, turret and gunner's mounts," said 24th MEU assistant logistics officer Capt. Peter Forsythe, 32, of Jacksonville. "It's almost like a light armored tank when they're done with it."

The armor was installed as soon as the parts arrived at the warehouse. At least 18 vehicles were ready that morning.

The work is part of a Corps-wide project to bolster vehicle armor and, with luck, keep troops safer. Beyond the addition of bulletproof glass, tailgates are being fortified to better protect rear passengers. Protective front and back shields now adorn turrets.

"Headquarters Marine Corps asked Logistics Command to come up with a design, prototype it, produce it, fit it and get it in (Iraq)," said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Eric Gilmer, 38, a vehicle maintenance officer from Columbus, Ohio. Gilmer is a team leader for the armor installation coordinated by Viacom Logistics Command in Albany, Ga.

They knew they had to move fast.

"We found a steel mill in Cleveland, Ohio with armor and sent them drawings," Gilmer said. "They sent it to us, and we had local machine shops produce the hardware. It took us 28 days to prototype and produce it and get it in country."

This is all part of what Gilmer called Operation Armor All. Nearly 5,000 armor kits have been installed on Marine vehicles since February.

"In February we armored the 1st Marine Division and finished in June," Gilmer said. "We also sent a team to Afghanistan and refitted the 22nd MEU in May and June."

Gilmer said the full complement of upgraded armor adds about 2,000 pounds to a 7-ton truck and about 1,100 pounds to the average Humvee.

"(The truck) can handle it," Gilmer said. "It won't even be breathing hard. It's a monster of a truck."

On "the line," a pair of former military mechanics who worked together more than a decade ago during operations Desert Storm and Desert Shield were busy adding a gunner shield to the turret of a Humvee. First they took out the old corroded nuts, bolts and fasteners before lining up the new armor plating.

Enduring the 120-degree heat is always a problem for former Marine Jim Hatzinger of Blossvale, N.Y. and former sailor Todd Arnold of Lewiston, Maine. Working with hot metal parts makes it more difficult.

"You could cook an egg on them if you wanted," Hatzinger said.

Added Arnold: "We're trying to remove the rusted and corroded parts. We already sprayed them (with WD-40), but it baked off."

Between lulls in the banter, it's evident they take a lot of pride helping this next generation of warriors - many of whom were still in school when the two were previously in the Persian Gulf, Arnold noted.

"If we save one of them, it was worth it," Hatzinger said.

The two Americans joined a pool of international workers from Great Britain, Germany, India, Belgium and Bosnia.

"You name it - they're here," Gilmer said. "They're working two 12-hour shifts, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The biggest challenge was Β… training everybody. There was a language barrier, but once they took a look at the drawings and figured it out, it ran real smoothly."

Gilmer explained what motivates him to work long hours and travel thousands of miles to ensure that trucks and Humvees have some of the same protection as the Corps' Light Armored Vehicle.

"We're in one of those rear units that's not in the fight with the Marines, so you figure what you can do to help them out," Gilmer said. "It's a privilege to be here. We hope to God it never gets tested, but it will pass the test. They can feel a little bit more confident going north, and their families can feel a little bit more comfortable (knowing) the Marine Corps has provided armor for them."

Contact Eric Steinkopff at esteinkopff@jdnews.com or 353-1171, Ext. 236.



07-25-04, 11:14 AM
How big a problem in Iraq?

By Karl Zinsmeister

A recent, widely circulated Associated Press story noted that military intelligence estimates of guerrillas operating in Iraq today have been raised to as many as 20,000 men. Under the headline "Iraq insurgency larger than thought," this information was presented in alarmed tones.
Having spent three months embedded with Coalition troops on combat patrol in Iraq, let me acknowledge the insurgents are nasty and not to be taken lightly.

But if one observes with the eye of a dispassionate historian rather than an alarmed journalist, the most significant conclusion to be drawn from the latest estimates of guerrilla numbers is that our fight in Iraq is militarily manageable, not a bottomless hole. In a nation of 25 million, 20,000 insurgents represents eight-hundredths of 1 percent of the population — or 1 in every 1,270 Iraqis.
To better understand that number, put it in some everyday U.S. perspective:
c Hindus are 4 times as prevalent in the U.S. as guerrillas are in Iraq (1 in every 305 Americans is a Hindu).
c Millionaires are a whopping 91 times more common in the U.S. than guerrillas in Iraq (1 in 14 American households has a net worth of $1 million or more).
c The odds your neighbor will be arrested for a crime (1 in 31 Americans in a given year) are 41 times higher than the chances an Iraqi's neighbor will be a terrorist.
c One in every 310 Americans is infected with HIV, so insurgents in Iraq are 4 times rarer than carriers of the AIDS virus in the United States.
The U.S. faces a tough and serious guerrilla fight in Iraq. It is, however, not a popular revolt, a mass insurgency. The huge, central fact missing from most of the reporting from Iraq this year is that the Shi'ite middle — the comparatively sensible silent majority left out of most news stories — has so far stuck with us through many travails.
This was demonstrated again when the radical Shi'ite cleric Sheik Moktada Sadr went on the warpath during the spring. Scads of reporters and newsroom analysts declared a general uprising, the loss of majority Shi'ite support, the beginning of the end for the U.S. in Iraq. "United States forces are confronting a broad-based Shi'ite uprising," announced the lead sentence of an April 7 New York Times story written from Washington. A Newsweek headline on April 10 screamed: "The Iraqi intifada: Suddenly the insurgency is much broader and much more dangerous than anyone had imagined it could become."
These reports were wrong. Ordinary Shi'ites and Shiite leaders alike subsequently made it clear the mad cleric does not speak for the majority of them. They quietly plotted among themselves and with the Coalition to neutralize Sheik al-Sadr. His uprising petered out.
Certainly there are too many dangerous, well-armed fanatics carrying out violence in Iraq today. And much of the rest of the population remains too cowed to cross them: 70 percent of Iraqis say they believe their families will be in peril if they are perceived to be cooperating with the new government. Our failure to convince more good Iraqis it is safe to stand up and be counted is a serious problem that needs concerted attention. But fear and support are two different things, and the clear evidence of polling, interviews and behavior on the streets of Iraq is most ordinary Iraqis do not back the terrorists.
The most serious armed resistance in Iraq today is coming from Zarqawi's foreign jihadis. If you read the Zarqawi letter to Osama bin Laden that was intercepted by the Kurds this spring you will see why this man has no chance of becoming a popular figure in Iraq. His only allies are the Sunnis; he does not even consider the majority Shi'ites (60 percent of Iraq's population) or the Kurds (20 percent more) to be true Muslims. He calls them scorpions, polytheists and "the enemy," and acknowledges that if they assume governance of Iraq he and his band will have lost.
With the encouraging events of the last two months — where strong, responsible Iraqis (most of them from the Shi'ite and Kurdish majority) have finally stepped up to the obligations of stabilizing their own society, Zarqawi's nightmare is well on its way to becoming a reality. ("By God, this is suffocation," he cries in his letter.)
There is nothing automatic about future success, but my conclusion is that America is slogging its way — two steps forward, one step back, two steps forward — toward a historic accomplishment in Iraq: successful prosecution of a difficult guerrilla war.
The U.S. has a serious fight on its hands in Iraq. But we're not in the middle of a mass uprising. Can we at least agree on that?

Karl Zinsmeister, editor in chief of the American Enterprise (TAEmag.com) has just published "Dawn Over Baghdad: How the U.S. Military is Using Bullets and Ballots to Remake Iraq," which chronicles Iraq's guerrilla war and reconstruction. His earlier book about the 2003 hot war is "Boots on the Ground: A Month with the 82nd Airborne in the Battle for Iraq."



07-25-04, 02:05 PM
Outpost takes a pounding

Marines dig in, keep watch outside forbidding Fallujah
By Rick Rogers
July 24, 2004 \

FALLUJAH, Iraq – On a pockmarked half-acre alongside a major road into this city sits what is arguably the most dangerous outpost of the forbidding, insurgent-filled town.

Designated as a place for Iraqis to lodge complaints against the U.S.-led occupation or to ask for help building schools or water projects, the Joint Coalition Center has instead become a seemingly irresistible target.

Those who visit call it "The Alamo" or "The Iraqi Mortar Range." But don't let Staff Sgt. Robert Talley hear that.

"Hey, hey, we don't call it that here," said Talley, letting his Bronx attitude momentarily but good-naturedly override his military bearing while speaking to an officer. "Do you remember what happened at the Alamo? This isn't the Alamo, OK?"

This sand flea-and mosquito-infested compound is his home away from home for another month before his tour in Iraq ends and the Camp Pendleton-based Marine can return to his wife and son in Temecula.

The sun was broiling, but there was a slight breeze and things were quiet. At least for the moment.

"Really, this place isn't that bad," Talley said, puffing on a big cigar. He had seemingly forgotten a two-hour firefight the week before when insurgents were close enough for Marines to see the color of their shirts.

"It was the first time the mujahedeen has ever done something like that. But we spanked them," the platoon sergeant for Weapons Company, 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, said of the "holy warriors."

The center has been the site of some of the hardest – and most dangerous – duty that Camp Pendleton Marines from the 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment can pull in Fallujah.

Marines live in a veritable hole in the ground, sleeping on cots in a place where daytime temperatures soar to 130 degrees.

NELVIN CEPEDA / Union-Tribune
Staff Sgt. Chad McKee (left) used the radio in the command bunker of the Joint Coalition Center as Lance Cpl. Matthew Crane monitored the transmission.

The accommodations aren't much, but when mortar rounds started landing a few days ago, none of the Marines seemed to notice their dingy, depressing surroundings – surely not Talley's patrol, which was just returning from Saqlawiyah, a suburb of Fallujah.

As the patrol approached the compound, it suddenly came under fire.

No Marines were hurt, and after a tense five minutes, Talley was back to his cigar and a paperback book.

"We get mortared every day or every other day," he said. "We've had them hit in the compound. Sometimes they get lucky. But no one has been killed. The mortars suck because we can't shoot back." (The enemy weapons are out of sight behind distant trees.)

Although there have been no deaths, several Marines have been wounded here, including four in one day this month.

On that recent day, the insurgents fired four mortar rounds that missed, and that was all that mattered. However, the blasts were close enough to cover a returning patrol in dust.

"You get used to it, but it still doesn't make it fun," said Cpl. Ryan Gibson, 21, from Sonora.

It's not fun but it does change you, the Marines say.

Their ears are attuned to the low, concussive thump that can signal an incoming round. Unfortunately, the bunker's freezer – one of their few amenities here – makes a similar noise when its lid is dropped, startling the Marines.

"I'm a lot more jumpy than I used to be," said Gibson, who wants to be the governor of California some day. "Even back at the base (camp), when I hear a door shut I am looking around."

The troops are understandably a little on edge.

"Every time we hear something that sounds remotely like a distant explosion, we all stop and look up," said Lance Cpl. Skye Leman, 24, from Alsea, Ore. "You have to stay alert here."

The Marines pull 48-hour shifts, and patrols are constantly coming and going. Some patrols stop vehicles and search for weapons, while others talk to the local people and Iraqi security forces in search of insurgents.

Nearly every Marine has at least one harrowing story of a near-miss.

Sgt. Nick Williams' close call came a few weeks ago: An improvised explosive device went off while he on foot patrol in the countryside east of Saqlawiyah.

"An IED went off between two of us," said Williams, 25, from St. Johns, Ariz. "And to this day, I don't know how we made it out. The concussion from the blast knocked us both down. Vehicles 75 yards away were damaged, but we didn't get a scratch."

For all that the Marines who man the center have endured, they are, at least on the outside, incredibly positive.

"The Marines take care of their own morale," said Lt. Ben Wagner, 27, an Echo Company platoon leader from Chula Vista. "They'll always find a way to laugh. They'll always find a way to keep upbeat, even here. They are great men."

The Marines were amused recently when Freddy the Iraqi translator pulled out his water pipe and a few of the troops took long drags of cherry tobacco.

"Keep that stuff away from me, I don't want to pop positive on a drug test," one Marine said, half-kidding.

"No, no, I would never do that to you," said Freddy, who pulled out a DVD player and sat with Gibson to watch a celebrated belly dancer.

"I love Rose," Gibson said, staring at the small screen.

"Me, too," said Freddy.

Union-Tribune staff writer Rick Rogers and staff photographer Nelvin Cepeda are accompanying Camp Pendleton-based Marines in Iraq.