View Full Version : Marines in Fallujah Respond to Mortar Fire

08-03-04, 06:22 AM
Marines in Fallujah Respond to Mortar Fire
Submitted by: American Forces Press Service
Story Identification #: 2004730154051
Story by - American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON (July 30, 2004) -- U.S. Marines used tanks and artillery fire July 29 to respond to enemy attacks on their position near Fallujah, Iraq.

No Americans were killed or injured in the exchange near Fallujah, and officials had no information on enemy casualties.

According to a news release from Multinational Force Iraq, the Marines from I Marine Expeditionary Force had been repeatedly attacked with mortars, rocket- propelled grenades, machine guns and small arms before returning fire.

The return fire was directed at enemy mortarmen observed firing from several hundred yards away from the Marines' position. The mortarmen were seen fleeing the scene after the Marines returned fire, and, officials reported, enemy activity temporarily ceased.

Iraqi police and National Guard forces "provided support to the operations," the release said. The forces from I MEF also used artillery and close-air support on enemy fighters who fled to buildings near the eastern edge of Fallujah.

In a separate incident, a Polish soldier was killed and eight others injured in an improvised-explosive-device attack on their patrol northeast of Madlul July 29. The injured soldiers were evacuated to military medical facilities in Karbala and Baghdad, where they are listed in stable condition.

Elsewhere, Multinational Force Iraq troops and Iraqi National Guardsmen captured five men suspected of manufacturing car bombs. The coalition forces found four improvised explosive devices, identification cards and car bomb- making materials, according to a news release from military officials in Baghdad.

The incident took place during a cordon-and-search operation in Baghdad July 29. The suspects were taken to a Multinational Force base for questioning.



08-03-04, 06:23 AM
Marine civil affairs teams count scores off successes in rebuilding effort <br />
Submitted by: 1st Marine Division <br />
Story Identification #: 20048254722 <br />
Story by Cpl. Macario P. Mora Jr. <br />
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08-03-04, 06:25 AM
Marines deliver water, friendship to Iraqi residents
Submitted by: 24th MEU
Story Identification #: 200473153819
Story by Staff Sgt. Demetrio J. Espinosa

FORWARD OPERATING BASE KALSU, Iraq (July 30, 2004) -- For the Marines of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, who arrived in full this week, the first order of business in their new desert home was to get out and meet the neighbors and let them know the Marines are here to help.

To prove that, Marines here patrolled the area around FOB Kalsu delivering water to residents who needed it and seeing what else they could do for their new neighbors.

"We were trying to search for some way to have an immediate impact, to introduce ourselves to our Iraqi Neighbors," said Maj. Thomas O. Mayberry, force fires coordinator and information operations officer for the MEU. "That's where the idea of water came up. We slapped a [water tank] full of fresh water on the back of a 7-ton truck," said the Leawood, Kan., native.

The Marines, escorted by a Light Armored Vehicle from Alpha Company, 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, drove throughout the Marines' area of responsibility, stopping to offer residents water and to talk to them about their living conditions and how the Marines could help them.

"We essentially tried to pick places where there was at least a focused number of homes in one area," said Mayberry, a Marine of 16 years. "We would get out and introduce ourselves to the Iraqis living there and offer them water. Some would take it, others wouldn't."

One Marine believes this type of mission could improve the situation here for the Marines.

"I wish we could do this every week," said 2nd Lt. Peter Bergstrom, Motor Transport platoon commander, MEU Service Support Group-24 and Seneca Ill., native. "If we did, things would change."

Although the water was received with mixed reactions, the Marines did learn of ways they could help their neighbors. One resident mentioned an Iraqi howitzer a couple hundred yards from his home, close enough for his children to play on it. He asked the Marines to remove it and offered an insight into the needs of the local residents.

Speaking through a Marine translator, one resident declared that "all we want is water, power, and relaxation." At the offer of help from the Marines, he added, "[the Iraqi people] want us to help and then return home to our families."

According to Mayberry, the day's activities are an important part of the MEU's security and stabilization mission here.

"I think it is important to go out and meet the people you serve. We're not here just to try to combat insurgents, although that certainly is a primary task," Mayberry explained. "I think we are here to try to have a positive impact in the AOR that we have been assigned. That means getting out there and meeting the people who live there finding out how they live and their needs and how you can best fill those needs."

The Marines' short venture into the community reaped many rewards for the Marines and sailors assigned here.

"I think we got the most out of it in terms of just getting to meet people and finding out what their needs were, what their concerns were, and what they thought of Americans in general," said Mayberry. He added, "I think we just keep trying...by working with the Iraqi interim government and doing the best we can to try to improve the situation here in the area."


2nd Lt. Peter Bergstrom, Motor Transport Platoon commander, Marine Expeditionary Unit Service Support Group 24, and Seneca Ill., native, shows an Iraqi boy a digital photo he took.
The MEU is in Iraq to relieve Army units and continue the ongoing security and stability mission.
Photo by: Staff Sgt. Demetrio J. Espinosa


08-03-04, 06:26 AM
Marines prepare for handoff in Iraq <br />
Submitted by: 1st Force Service Support Group <br />
Story Identification #: 20048164544 <br />
Story by Sgt. Matt Epright <br />
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CAMP TAQADDUM, Iraq (Aug. 1, 2004) -- Tents...

08-03-04, 06:27 AM
Marines train up elite group within Iraqi police forces
Submitted by: 1st Marine Division
Story Identification #: 200473152759
Story by Cpl. Shawn C. Rhodes

CAMP MAHMUDIYAH, Iraq (07/27/2004) -- Iraqi police took a leap forward in gaining control of their own streets with the help of Marines.

A group of Iraqi policemen formed a new elite team called Task Force Cobra, designed to take down anti-Iraqi forces near the city southwest of Fallujah. The team is being trained by Marine reservists who are policemen in their daily lives back in the United States. They are assigned to the 1st Marine Division as part of the Iraqi Police Liaison Team.

"You're all making history today. Ten years from now your children will read in their history books about what you're doing here today," said Maj. Mark P. DeVito, the civil affairs team leaders for 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment from San Diego. "They'll learn how the people of Mahmudiyah were afraid. They'll learn how you changed that."

The Iraqi men are roughly equivalent to the American version of a Special Weapons and Tactics Team, or SWAT. The Cobras gathered together at the Iraqi National Guard compound here for four days of advance police training classes.

"These men are the leaders of their police stations. We're trying to instill this training in them so they can pass it on to their fellow policemen," said Cpl. William P. Schultz, a 26-year-old former police officer from Richmond, Ill. "We can't teach everything in four days but we hope we can teach the basics. It's up to them to keep practicing what we teach and keep it fresh."

A different aspect of the skills a policeman possesses was taught each day. The IPLT used five-hour instructional periods to pass on their knowledge.

"The first day we go over ethics. It's pretty dry material but is important for the men here to know," Schultz said.

The Iraqi group was shown a slide show that outlined all the morals and ethics a police officer must carry to do their job. Topics such as not accepting gifts for services and not putting one's tribe above one's duty were covered.

The second day brought the Cobra Team a few more classes. These were on police survival in a tactical environment. The third and fourth days gave the policemen the opportunity to try their hand at room clearing and handcuffing techniques.

"We hope these men leave with more pride for what they do," Schultz explained. "It should make them a lot more proactive on the job."

The policemen enjoyed the practical application sections of the training.

"We find that people have the most fun when they can get hands-on with the training," he added. "Getting out of the classroom environment makes them more receptive."

The four-day classes are offered in lieu of being able to attend the police academy in Ramadi. Because of the distance from Mahmudiyah, the IPLT travels to different police districts to pass on the training.

"I've noticed Iraqis learn differently when we teach these classes. In Ramadi you find a lot of educated men," Schulz said. "In the south they're not so well educated but they have more discipline. So you have to keep that in mind when teaching."

Schultz also said motivation among the different groups also lends to the course. The more willing they are to learn the more in depth the instructors can go into the subject.

Whether the class is motivated or not doesn't affect the quality of training they receive or its results, however.

"Any time they receive training it builds confidence in the job they do. They just have to be sure it is continued and reinforced," said Sgt. Jim L. Marble, a 36-year-old from Kansas City, Kan., who has served on his city's SWAT team. "Overall this class helps to identify all these men as leaders and men who will go the extra step. These are the guys who will be the role models for their departments."


Local policemen from Task Force Cobra recently participated in a four-day advanced police tactics training package. Part of the training involved room-clearing techniques. Supervising was Sgt. Jim L. Marble, a 36-year-old Kansas City, Kan., Marine who served on his hometown's SWAT team and is now part of the police liaison team conducting the class.
(USMC photo by Cpl. Shawn C. Rhodes) Photo by: Cpl. Shawn C. Rhodes


08-03-04, 06:28 AM
Marines, soldiers team up for artillery exercise in Iraq
Submitted by: 1st Marine Division
Story Identification #: 20048165249
Story by Cpl. Veronika Tuskowski

CAMP RAMADI, Iraq (July 29, 2004) -- Marines and soldiers came together to light the skies and shake the ground with an artillery exercise July 29.

Marines and Army forward observers teamed up to get the steel to rain down on targets fired on by Army artillery at Camp Ramadi.

"This training was designed for platoon certification," said Army Lt. Col. Mike Cabrey, the field artillery battalion commander. "This is the fourth one we have conducted, and it allows us to train with observers, guns and the fire direction center. We have also incorporated the Marines with us here, this provides good training for them."

The two units, Marines from 3rd Battalion, 11th Marine Regiment and soldiers from 1st Battalion, 5th Field Artillery Regiment, perform different missions in Iraq. The Marines left their howitzers behind and took on the role of a traditional rifle battalion. The soldiers are tasked with providing artillery support to Marines and soldiers around Ar Ramadi.

"This training is to keep up our skills," explained Sgt. Mario E. Villasenor, a forward observer with the Marine battalion. "It feels good to do our job, and most of our radio operators are getting to call it in for fire. It gives them a chance to train. It has been six months since we shot anything."

During the training, the Marines and soldiers conducted a variety of different missions; shooting quick smoke, immediate smoke, laser-guided and high-explosive, ground burst illumination along with a close-air support battle drill. They did it while aiming in to six different targets.

"I think they have done very well for having a variety of missions," Cabrey said. "All elements are getting great training out of this."

The soldiers get to apply these skills almost on a daily basis as part of counter-battery attacks against mortar fire launched by anti-Iraqi fighters against area camps.

"The main missions we fire over here are counter fire and high explosives to support the troops in contact," Cabrey said. "Our guns are the response unit to any rockets or mortars that come onto any of the base camps."

Cabrey explained that the latest radar technologies and discipline of the gun crews enables the soldiers to launch rounds against attackers quickly. Still, speed on the gun line is the essence of the mission. Soldiers work to get the targeting information to the gun crews quickly to ensure that when the howitzers belch out rounds, the enemy is still in the impact area.

It's a race against time.

"The radar gives us a very close grid," Cabrey explained. "The enemy expects us to shoot back, so they get out of the area as soon as possible."


Lance Cpl. David Shelton, radio operator, with 3rd Battalion, 11th Marine Regiment, calls for fire during a live-fire artillery exercise July 29. Soldiers from 1st Battalion 5th Field Artillery Battalion, provide artillery support and counterfire to the U.S. forces operating in the city of Ar Ramadi.
(USMC photo by Cpl. Veronika R. Tuskowski) Photo by: Cpl. Veronika Tuskowski



08-03-04, 07:30 AM
Dayton Daily News <br />
August 2, 2004 <br />
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Hero Maintains Humility <br />
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Marine's home, but he expects to be redeployed <br />
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By James Cummings

08-03-04, 08:24 AM

Report From A Rifle Platoon Leader In Iraq

Today, I escorted three Marine Majors and four ING (Iraqi National Guard) officers to Mumadiyah (FOB St. Michael). When I arrived at the Iraqi National Guard Compound the three Marine Majors split to go to a conference at MEK (Outside Fallujah) and I stayed with some Iraqi Generals who thought I was the ING Rep. I spent the rest of my time having Chai and Pita bread with them while discussing politics using my translator. Some of these men were Generals in Saddam's former Regime and came across as very good men and leaders. They complained that the Fallujah Brigade's General was going to take over their former Battalions and that the Iraqi National Guard leaders in Fallujah are corrupt murderers and thieves. They were worried that their men were not going to be properly taken care of. I shared my Fallujah experiences with them and we agreed. I left feeling that the Marines and the US Army probably need to go back into Fallujah and finish what we should have completed back in April.

I fully support the hand-over to the Iraqi's because I know that there is no other way to do this. I also know that most Iraqi Police and Nat'l Guard personnel desperately side with America against the terrorism here. However one thing makes me mad. I see all the money the US has spent on the ING. All their soldiers are getting new interceptor vests with plates while our men came into this country without this good equipment. All the Iraqi’s are getting brand new uniforms and supplies while my men have struggled to get uniforms to replace the four sets they were issued a year ago. I have only been here since March and all my uniforms are trashed.

Our government is supplying the police and ING brand new AK-47s and RPGs from Russia and China. What police force uses RPGs? I wish they had spent that money on healthy American made firearms that are only 5.56 caliber like we use instead of the 7.62 caliber AK-47s. This is important so if these weapons were to fall into the hands of the enemy or if we had to come back to fight them again we would not be "out-callipered" like we are now. As a result we have to wear 40lbs of armor.

After matching the serial numbers of most of the weapons we end up picking off terrorists we find that the weapons were stolen, then sold to the terrorist’s to begin with. The Cops here drive new Dodge Rams, wear ski masks (for identity protection reasons), and wave RPGs, RPKs, AK47s out of the bed of the trucks. Why do we give everyone the brand new German Glock pistols, when the only U.S. soldiers that have side arms are Captains and up? We have caught them selling brand new Ford Expeditions that we provided them days earlier. This is hard for my soldier when my soldiers don't make enough to make payments on their used Dodge Strata. Whoever is outfitting these guys is doing a better job than whoever outfits us. And I fear that the worst part of this is that one-day U.S. soldiers might be at the other end of their new muzzles. But enough of this.

After visiting the INGs we went to the Marine FOB. Nothing exciting except for one of the buildings housing all the MRE's (Meals Ready To Eat) caught on fire. The Marines there have it tough and have to wear their IBA vest and helmets everywhere in the camp due to mortar attacks, including during chow. I bet when they've reached their 10th month in Iraq they’ll probably be a little less excited from mortar attacks. The men in my Battalion have gotten so used to the attacks that nobody even flinches anymore when they hear incoming rockets and Mortars hit our FOB. They share a common belief that you can't run from fate. We take a lot for granted including the fact that God has blessed us, despite weekly near misses, with no dead due to these attacks.

One of my good friends caught something like 30 pieces of shrapnel to his face and body. Although he limps around, has spent several days in the hospital, he is back on the job running our supply trains from Baghdad to our FOB...

Later today, I ran into a Marine LTC in Mumadiyah who recognized me from a prior mission off FOB Tampa. It’s always a good feeling when a senior officer notices you. It also feels good to know, and feel good about, the community of men you serve with in Iraq. He is a good leader who I respect and I am happy for his men.

PS - I don't think I'll be home until late Sept. That will make 13 months for my men. We leave for Fallujah in a week where we will hopefully finish out our deployment. I feel it is safer there, although I heard they were just mortared with CS gas, but that is a huge rarity.



08-03-04, 09:31 AM
U.S., Iraqis Crack Down on Porous Syrian Border

BAGHDAD — The U.S. military launched an operation Monday to stem the flow of arms, money and militants crossing into Iraq from Syria.

The operation is the first large-scale attempt by the military to crack down on illegal traffic from Syria.

Officials say stanching the flow of insurgents into Iraq will help weaken a guerrilla campaign they believe is still being directed by members of Saddam Hussein's former regime.

"Our first priority will be on the Syrian border, because we think that's where the former regime leadership and money went, in that direction, and it's coming back in from that direction," said Army Lt. Gen. Thomas F. Metz, who runs the operations of the 135,000 U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq.

The operation, dubbed Phantom Linebacker, involves thousands of soldiers, Marines, military police, special operations forces and aviation units.

It is being carried out with the nascent Iraqi Border Police and Iraqi National Guard, which have largely been unable to detect and capture Iraqi insurgent leaders and foreign fighters, military officials say. The Iraqi units are susceptible to bribes by those eager to get into the country, the officials say.

Early today, the U.S. military reported that a Marine had died of wounds received in action in Al Anbar province, which adjoins Syria, while "conducting security and stability operations." No further details were given, and it was unclear whether the Marine was taking part in the border operation.

The U.S. military says it is conducting Operation Phantom Linebacker at the behest of the interim Iraqi government, which has blamed the insurgency on foreign fighters crossing into the country from Syria, Jordan and Iran. U.S. military officials say the insurgency is a predominantly home-grown effort confined to mostly Sunni Muslim areas of central Iraq.

U.S. commanders said they believed that insurgents in towns such as Ramadi, Fallouja and Samarra received direction and funding from former Baath Party leaders and their couriers who were able to cross the Syria-Iraq border.

"There are hundreds of them in Syria who are important and are facilitating the insurgency here," a senior U.S. military official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

U.S. officials say they believe that former regime leaders occasionally cross the border between Iraq and Syria.

The senior official said there was no direct evidence that the highest levels of the Syrian government were arming and financing Iraqi insurgents.

"We have no smoking gun to say that the top officials of the [Syrian] government are helping them support violence here in Iraq," the official said.

Syrian officials have denied aiding anyone sending money or weapons into Iraq to help the insurgency.

U.S. officials said the operation was necessary even though Iraq and Syria had established a joint committee last month to monitor their border.

The U.S. levied sanctions against Damascus this year, accusing the government of not doing enough to stem the flow of illegal traffic into Iraq.

"The Syrian government has people in it promising [the insurgents] passports, documents and money," the official said. "It's incredibly corrupt."

In addition to military units deploying to the border, the U.S. is using spy satellites in the region. The military is also increasing the number of unmanned aerial vehicles patrolling the 375 miles of hilly borderland.

U.S. officials plan to focus on well-established crossing points where officials believe most of the illegal traffic is entering the country before proceeding down long stretches of desert highway into the cities of central Iraq — what military officials call "rat lines."

"They're just coming right down the highways," Metz said. "We know the rat lines, we know the ones they're coming down, and we've got to start there."

U.S. commanders say they hope the Iraqi forces will have the most visible presence in the operation, with most of the U.S. troops establishing positions farther east of the border.

Because it will be harder to cross the border at the checkpoints, the insurgents and couriers will be forced to use more remote points in the desert, where American ground patrols will be able to spot them, U.S. officials say.

Despite the territorial boundaries, the strong alliances among the tribal populations of western Iraq and eastern Syria allow an easy flow of people, money and ammunition across the border.

"The tribal affiliations go across that border," said a second senior military official in Iraq, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

Despite the perceived threat from Syria, military commanders said they had neither the desire nor the troops to scour every inch of the Syrian border indefinitely.

"You're not going to take coalition forces and go arm in arm and go up and down the border to seal it off," Metz said. "You can't do it, it wouldn't be smart."

U.S. generals hope the new operation will be a deterrent.

A significant military "show of force" could dissuade senior Baathists and their emissaries from risking the overland journey into Iraq, they said.



08-03-04, 10:51 AM
Network helping Marines readjust <br />
Job placement aids in transition to civilian life <br />
By DALE LEZON <br />
Copyright 2004 Houston Chronicle <br />
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Last year, U.S. Marine Sgt. Cory Getsinger was in the Iraqi...

08-03-04, 12:27 PM
Fallen Marine's wife gets fund help
Donation account is set up for widow of a man who died in Iraq in May. Their first child's due in October.

Deirdre Newman, Daily Pilot

COSTA MESA — Dinora Reynosa and her husband, Rafael, were looking forward to the birth of their first child when Rafael, a Marine, was killed by a car bomb explosion in Iraq on May 29.

Dinora, general manager of Rubio's in the Costa Mesa Courtyards at the time, is now enduring the rollercoaster of pregnancy on her own, without the emotional or financial support of her husband.

Some of her customers are working to help her fill part of that void. Tamara Rather and her family were frequent customers of Dinora, out on leave since her husband died.

The Rathers started a fund for people to donate to Dinora and her baby — a girl due in October. Dinora was thrilled when she found out about the Rathers' compassion.

"It was just as everything gave me light," Dinora said. "[Rafael] always wanted to be an example for kids. He was always into education, and when she told me that, it was like, 'Wow.' It answered a lot of my questions. They didn't even know him."

Rather, 20, was inspired to create the fund based on two parts of her life that motivated her to think about giving to others. She is the philanthropy chair of her sorority at UCLA, and her church had recently done a series on financial planning, where church leaders gave congregation members up to $100 and told them to do something positive with it. Tamara and her family started the fund with the $60 they received.

"I didn't know her but knew my parents did, and they were really affected by it," Tamara said.

Dinora was married to Rafael for 3 1/2 years, and they dated for eight years before that, she said. He was a family man who loved to host get-togethers at their house in Riverside.

"He was always really outgoing, always liked to barbecue at home and have friends over and was very spiritual as well," Dinora said. "Every time he tried to do something, he wanted my family and his family together. Or if he knew he was going to make a decision, he always wanted the family involved."

While her family and his have supported her in her time of crisis, the past few months have been extremely difficult, she said.

"I've been going to a doctor a lot, because I've been losing weight instead of gaining, especially in the seventh month, but the baby is really healthy and pretty big — that's what's keeping me holding on," she said. "And going to the cemetery three to four times a week and talking to him in a way that lets me get out what I feel."

Tamara's mother, Shelly, said it's inconceivable to her what Dinora is going through.

"Dinora is so sweet, and to think of her for the rest of her life … ," she said, her voice trailing off.

• DEIRDRE NEWMAN covers Costa Mesa. She may be reached at (949) 574-4221 or by e-mail at deirdre.newman@latimes.com.



08-03-04, 03:25 PM
Marines live with and train ING soldiers <br />
Submitted by: 1st Marine Division <br />
Story Identification #: 20048255844 <br />
Story by Sgt. Jose E. Guillen <br />
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AL KHARMA, Iraq (Aug. 1, 2004) -- Marines from...

08-03-04, 06:58 PM
Local Marines return to Camp Pendleton

By: ANNE RILEY-KATZ - Staff Writer

CAMP PENDLETON ---- When Julie Rodriguez checked her e-mail last week and found out that her husband, Lance Cpl. Luis Rodriguez, was returning from Iraq on Monday, she was ecstatic.

"I was so happy, I was screaming," Julie said. "When I told my family and friends, I kept hitting them because I was so excited. It was the best e-mail I've ever had."

"And I have the bruises to prove it," laughed her sister Lisa Garcia.

Both women were among the throngs of anxious family members waiting at Camp Pendleton's air field for their loved ones to return ---- a return that was delayed for several hours over a holdup at U.S. Customs.

About 60 Marines from the Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 775 , both active duty and reservists, returned Monday in advance of the rest of their 225-member squadron, which is due back within the next month.

Luis, a reservist who deployed to Iraq in March, was greeted by more than 30 family members and friends from his hometown of Zacatecas, Mexico, and the Los Angeles area.

"It feels so good to see everybody and be home safe," Rodriguez said of his return.

His first move? Hugs, kisses and tears from family and friends, then a trip to McDonald's for a Number One combo meal, supersized.

"He kept asking me, 'can we stop at McDonald's?'" Julie laughed. "He said he doesn't want any more dry chicken, and he won't be going camping for a while."

Some of those returning on Monday were among the 14,000 Camp Pendleton troops deployed to Iraq, though about one-third of the squadron is based in Johnstown, Pa.

For 22-year-old Jessica Johnson, her husband Evan's return came in the nick of time. Evan, a corporal, left in January, just two days after Jessica discovered she was pregnant. Her baby boy, the couple's first child, is due Sept. 5.

"He's going to be named Aidan," Jessica said. "My husband picked the name before he left because we really didn't think he'd be home in time. I've been alone my whole pregnancy. It's going to be totally different now. We'll both have to adjust."

Some families expressed relief at the tangible evidence of troops' well-being.

"It's one thing to read a letter saying that he's OK, but it's another to see him with your own eyes and know he's fine," said Heidi Russell, whose husband, Maj. Rob Russell, returned Monday.

This homecoming was particularly comforting for squadron families after the death last week of one of the unit's helicopter pilots. Lt. Col. David Greene was killed in Iraq last Wednesday when shots fired from the ground hit him while he was on a mission.

"We're very upset and saddened by his death, particularly because he was so close to coming home," said Lt. Col. Sheila Bryant-Tucker, a reservist now serving on-base. "The majority made it home safely."

Bryant-Tucker said the squadron is likely to deploy again, possibly next spring, though base officials said the timetable may change.

In addition to the Camp Pendleton advance unit return, another 100 Marines from the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing also returned to Marine Corps Air Station Miramar on Monday.

Contact Anne Riley-Katz at (760) 731-5799 or ariley-katz@nctimes.com.



08-03-04, 07:22 PM
An American in Sparta
By Pamela Hess
Pentagon correspondent
Published 8/1/2004 5:06 PM

RAMADI, Iraq, Aug. 1 (UPI) -- Living on a Marine base on the edge of restive Ramadi is a shock to a civilian's senses. It's endlessly dusty and loud; the latrines smell; it's beastly hot. There is no color other than brown, and everyone is armed.

But mostly you marvel at how they go about their days: run with M-16s flapping against their backs for miles at high noon when it's topping 115 degrees just for the exercise; how they wear long sleeves, pants, suede desert boots, 30 pounds of armor and man a gun on top of a Humvee, faces encrusted with dust; how they work at least 12 hours a day, every day, with no days off, under a constant threat of mortars and rockets.

You wonder where they find the energy to play basketball at midnight (the military police do, reliably, every night, sometimes listening to rap, sometimes heavy metal and once Michael Jackson's greatest hits.) How they detach themselves sufficiently from the danger to teach fellow Marines to salsa after dinner. How in the dark of night they practice martial arts to a hypnotic drum beat, lit only by pale green chemlights broken at their feet.

It probably has something to do with the fact most of them seem to be around 20 years old, and many are in a combat zone for the first time - something they actually relish.

"Marines run toward gun fire, not away from it," a senior commander told me.

And the worse conditions are, the better Marines seem to like it. Marines at a dusty outpost on the Syrian border take great pride they are not serving instead at "Camp Chocolate Cake," as they refer to Al Asad, home of the 7th Regimental Combat Team. Everything here is relative. To an American eye it is downright bleak. But inside row upon row of plywood buildings it is cool. A Marine doesn't care how hot he gets as long as he knows he has a cool place to sleep, I'm told.

An air conditioned place to sleep is one of the things 1st Marine Division Commander Maj. Gen. Jim Mattis requires for his troops.

It's a change from some previous practices in the military. In Afghanistan in the blistering hot summer of 2002, Army soldiers were chided for complaining to me about their rudimentary tents. Once the sun came over the mountains, they heated up quickly and it was impossible to sleep - a bad situation for soldiers mostly carrying out night missions.

Mattis has also introduced the notion of making the regimental command headquarters a psychological safe haven for battle-weary Marines. If they get jittery at the front, they can fall back on the RCT headquarters where they can get cleaned up, a shower, sleep, counseling from other Marines, and medical attention.

"The regiment is safe in his mind. It allows him to catch his breath. When he's ready to go (he returns to his unit) and he regains his manhood, right there with his buddies," Mattis explained, over breakfast at Camp Chocolate Cake, where he has come by helicopter to welcome a new set of Marines to the front.

"We never want to evacuate a combat stress (Marine) behind the regiment," Mattis said.

The approach is paying dividends, according to Mattis' statistics.

"We've only had one guy leave in a division of 20,000 (in the last six months) and that was a preexisting psychiatric disorder," he said proudly.

Last year only three left of the 25,000 in the 1st Marine Division in Iraq, a testament to what Mattis calls a humanistic approach to keeping military personnel healthy in both mind and body.

The 1st Marine Division has had a remarkable record by anther grim measure: suicide. Only two Marines have committed suicide in the entire expeditionary force.

"We just do not understand what happened. He was doing good," Mattis said of one case. He has clearly reviewed the details.

Some of his success in maintaining morale so far may be attributable to Mattis' policy of assigning every Marine a "combat buddy" - someone they trained with at home and with whom they are deployed, so a Marine is never alone in a unit as the new guy.

"People fight better then they know each other," he said. "The more stability we give them, the more anchors they have the better. (At this age) they don't have the emotional shock absorbers that you and I do."

He derides the experience in Vietnam when the newest guy - FNG, in profane military parlance -- - was sent out his first night to stand point to see if he'd get shot.

"You don't do that with human beings. You bring them in and let them be part of a team," he said.

A recent report on military mental health showed an alarming number of combat veterans from Iraq are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, something Mattis believes can be mitigated, albeit not wiped out, by hands-on commanders who watch for signs of stress and help troops deal with it.

"I don't have any use for the strong silent type," he said.

Mattis commands a powerful loyalty and respect from his troops.

"He leads from the front," one Marine noted in the cool and noisy morale, welfare and recreation tent at Camp Blue Diamond. It has a pool table, a ping pong table, foosball, Nintendo, a large-screen TV, 20 Internet monitors, a library filled with cast off magazines and paperbacks, and a seemingly perpetual dominos game that somehow the Marines have turned into a full contact sport.

When Mattis' "jump platoon" goes out in a convoy - it is regularly attacked and has been hit by improvised explosive devices at least twice - it is not uncommon for the general to have his head out the turret, assuming the same risk as the gunners, say Marines.

A lieutenant colonel gave a more specific example of leading from the front: when the Iraqi-led Fallujah Brigade was created, Mattis decided it needed a test run to see if the native force could actually keep order in the city after weeks of fighting. He sent a Marine convoy through town to see if it would be shot at. He was in the convoy.

For all his tenderness to his Marines - whom he usually addresses as "gents" - he clearly enjoys a battle.

"The first time you blow someone away is not an insignificant event," he tells about 200 Marines, sitting on the ground under a metal windbreak against a cliff in Al Asad.

"That said, there are some a--holes in the world that just need to be shot. But you go on and find your next victim or he's gonna kill you or your buddy. It's kill or be killed," he said.

"There are hunters and there are victims. By your discipline, cunning, obedience and alertness, you will decide if you are a hunter or a victim. ... It's really a hell of a lot of fun. You're gonna have a blast out here!" he said, with marked glee. "I feel sorry for every son of a ***** that doesn't get to serve with you."

He is also icily clear with what he expects of the new Marines in the theater, who are much needed reinforcements and relief for departing troops.

"You must know the commander's intent: (Our motto) is 'no better friend, no worse enemy.' But I have added: 'First do no harm.' No harm to the innocent. No harm to a prisoner, ever. This is the Marine Corps, not the National Guard," he barked, referring to the prison abuse at Abu Ghraib by an Army National Guard unit.

"They were undisciplined, sorry-ass excuses for soldiers. We will not cost America one ounce of its moral authority," he said.

"How you treat people is very, very important. We're not gonna become racists. They (the enemy force) want you to hate every Iraqi out here. ...You treat those women and children the way you do your own. You make certain you don't do anything that would smear the Marine Corps.

"It is absolutely essential you know what I won't f--ing tolerate," he said, and related the details of a recent case in which a Marine administered an electric shock to a detainee he had in jail. He was swiftly court-martialed.

"He thought it was funny. It is, if you like five years in Leavenworth (prison)," Mattis said.

"You are free men. No one forced you into the Marine Corps. You are going to prove the enemy wrong out here," he said.

Mattis is as likely to mention a battle in ancient Rome as he is in Vietnam when making a point to his troops. Every conversation with his Marines seems an opportunity for some history and criticism, usually so subtly the Marine doesn't realize he has been corrected. He feels like he is changing his path on his own. Mattis is thoughtful without being calculating, and includes his team - which includes me by sheer proximity from time to time - in on his leadership decisions.

While in Asad after a brief stop on the Syrian border, he learned of a coordinated and deadly mortar attack on his headquarters base at Blue Diamond. It seriously injured five. At least one - a well-loved sergeant -- died from his wounds.

Mattis sat on the information for the duration of a solemn helicopter ride. When we landed he gathered us together and broke the news.

"Now we're going to go in there like nothing is wrong. Cool and calm. Cool and calm," he said, imbuing everyone in the circle with responsibility for maintaining morale.

There are plenty of Marines who have concerns about the original case for the war. They are certainly a minority, and one that no doubt singled me out to discuss their views because of my fairly unusual uniform on base (straw hat, long skirts, braids). But none who question the case for war doubt what will happen if they are pulled out before the job is done: this place will devolve into murderous anarchy, and quickly. There is a mental separation here. The debate about the war is one thing. The commitment to fighting it is quite another. They mourn every loss of a comrade, but they accept it as part of the job. There is an obscene bumper sticker Marines are fond of. It says "U.S. Marine Corps: Because a Natural Death is for P--."

Late one night, a female officer was leaving the command operations center when she said pleasantly to a corporal standing guard: "How are you, Marine?"

The corporal was completely alone in the pitch-black loggia of one of Saddam's former palaces, and would be there for hours more before he was relieved.

"Motivated!" he thundered back, cheerily, from the dark.