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08-04-04, 06:18 AM
Marines honor slain gunnery sergeant
Submitted by: 1st Marine Division
Story Identification #: 2004839220
Story by Gunnery Sgt. Mark Oliva

CAMP BLUE DIAMOND, Iraq (Aug. 3, 2004) -- The crowd stood stoically, arms rigid by their sides. Heels were together and eyes welled with tears, staring straight ahead as Gunnery Sgt. Yaphet K. Jones bellowed out the mournful, longing tones of "Taps."

It was a final salute for Gunnery Sgt. Shawn A. Lane.

Lane, 33, was killed here July 28 by a mortar attack. He was assigned to Communications Company, Headquarters Battalion. Marines from across the 1st Marine Division's headquarters honored his life and sacrifice in a memorial service here, July 31.

Staff Sgt. Charles D. Lepome spoke of Lane, whom he had come to know at the beginning of this year's deployment to Iraq. He described Lane with words such as "respectable, intelligent and hilarious."

"He was a highly respected man," Lepome told the crowd, packed so tightly it spilled from the chapel's doors. "Not only did I lose a fellow Marine, I lost a brother."

Lepome said he and Lane were mirror images of each other. Both were competitive, proud Marines. They trained with each other in the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program, the reason Lepome said he stood before the gathering in a uniform without name tapes.

"Gunny Lane ripped every single button and pocket off my blouse," he explained. "I had to got to supply to get a new uniform."

Despite the short time Lepome knew Lane, he said the two were inseparable. They attended chapel services together, ate meals with one another and even shared some exercise routines.

"It seems like it's gone by so fast, and the time I've known him so short," Lepome said, "I feel I've known him my whole life.

"It's only been three days," he added. "But it seems like a lifetime already. I love that man like a brother. I'll miss him."

Gunnery Sgt. Ford A. Jacobs first met Lane during the war last year. Lane had coffee, but no way to heat it. Jacobs had a stove, but no coffee.

They struck up a friendship over hot coffee and a conversation.

"For the rest of my life, I'm going to remember those conversations on the battlefield with my buddies"

A moment over coffee was also one of the last they shared.

"The last day I saw him, we had coffee," Jacobs said. "God just gave me the chance to say goodbye and I thank Him for that."

Navy Lt. Hussein Shaikh, chaplain for Headquarters Battalion, spoke to the gathering of Marines and sailors to offer comfort. He spoke of Lane's commitment to God, his wife and his four-year-old son. He reflected on his faith in God and his fellow Marines.

"For Gunny Lane, death and eternal life are no longer a mystery," Shaikh said. "He will experience eternal life with Almighty God."

"He's gone, but not forgotten," said Maj. Antonio J. Morabito, commanding officer for Communications Company. "I really believe ... he would not want us to dwell on his death. Gunny Lane loved life.

"I know he would have wanted us to see this task done," Morabito said of the mission in Iraq. " That way, our successes are a lasting tribute to him."

Lane is survived by his wife Jennifer and his son, Jonathan.


Staff Sgt. Charles D. Lepome bows at the foot of a memorial for Gunnery Sgt. Shawn A. Lane during a memorial service at Camp Blue Diamond, July 31. Lane was killed in a mortar attack July 28.
(USMC photo by Gunnery Sgt. Mark Oliva) Photo by: Gunnery Sgt. Mark Oliva


Gunnery Sgt. Yaphet K. Jones of the 1st Marine Division Band renders "Taps" in a final salute to Gunnery Sgt. Shawn A. Lane during a memorial service at Camp Blue Diamond, July 31. Lane was killed July 28 in a mortar attack.
(USMC photo by Gunnery Sgt. Mark Oliva) Photo by: Gunnery Sgt. Mark Oliva


1st Sgt. Patrick R. Hughley bows his head in silent prayer at a memorial for Gunnery Sgt. Shawn A. Lane, July 31. Lane, 33, was killed July 28 in a mortar attack. Marines from across the 1st Marine Division headquarters filled the chapel to honor Lane's life and sacrifice.
(USMC photo by Gunnery Sgt. Mark Oliva) Photo by: Gunnery Sgt. Mark Oliva



08-04-04, 06:19 AM
Marines bite off more in Iraq


Thousands more troops from Camp Pendleton and East Coast bases have resumed responsibility for three dangerous southern Iraqi provinces that the Marines relinquished nearly a year ago.

Over the weekend, more than 2,000 Marines from Camp Pendleton's 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit replaced soldiers of the Army's 1st Infantry Division in the provinces of Najaf and Qadisiyah, south of Baghdad. And more than 2,000 troops from the North Carolina-based 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit took over Babil province, also just south of Baghdad, from the Army's 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment, military officials said.

The Marines will shore up what was once a 9,000-strong, 23-nation force that was recently diminished when troops from Spain, Honduras and the Philippines pulled out.

According to a statement issued Monday by the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit, the Marines will operate from the Army's former bases just outside Najaf and Diwaniyah, the capital of Qadisiyah.

"The MEU's aim will be to support Iraq's sovereignty, enable the Iraqis to take the lead in their own defense, and set the stage for national elections," the statement said, adding that the Marines will remain in Iraq for their entire deployment.

The nearly 5,000 newly arrived Marines were in addition to more than 25,000 Marines ---- nearly 20,000 of them from Camp Pendleton and other Southern California bases ---- who arrived in March and continue to patrol the massive Al Anbar province to the north. Al Anbar includes the volatile cities of Ramadi and Fallujah, where more than 60 Marines have been killed.

Two Marines were killed in the region this week.

Military officials have not said how long the troops beginning their tours in Najaf, Qadisiyah and Babil will remain, but recent Marine expeditionary unit deployments have lasted about seven months. The 11th MEU left Camp Pendleton in late May.

Marine force nears 30,000

The takeover of Najaf and Qadisiyah added more dangerous territory to the zones now under the Marines' watch.

In Najaf, dozens of Army soldiers were killed in April and May fighting militants loyal to radical Shiite Muslim cleric Moqtada Al-Sadr. The Associated Press reported Tuesday that Marines had already clashed with Sadr's forces Monday in Najaf. Witnesses said a woman and three other bystanders were killed, but military officials said only two militiamen died, according to the report.

The newly acquired territories should be familiar to the Marines.

Soon after Baghdad fell to American forces in April 2003, Marines withdrew from the capital to occupy five provinces in southern Iraq, including Najaf, Qadisiyah and Babil.

After a five-month occupation mostly marked by apparent calm and order, the Marines officially turned the area over to the Polish-led multinational force in September.

Marine commanders took credit for pacifying the region. Some assured reporters that the region was friendly to U.S. forces and played down the threat of the anti-American cleric, Al-Sadr.

"Sadr is impotent," 1st Marine Division commander Maj. Gen. James Mattis told PBS anchor Margaret Warner during an interview televised Sept. 26. "Sadr has no following. He gets more of a following in the international press than he gets inside Najaf."

But within five months of the Marines' departure, Sadr's militia had grown strong enough to launch a massive uprising against the Army in late March. Sporadic fighting that ignited in the Sadr City section of Baghdad soon spread to Karbala, Kut, Nasiriyah and several other southern cities and towns, eventually culminating in an American siege on Najaf.

The violence in Najaf finally abated with a truce in June by which U.S. Army soldiers and Sadr's Mahdi Army agreed to pull out and away from the Shiite holy sites around which many of the fierce battles were fought.

Recent news reports indicate that U.S. and coalition troops now mostly remain outside the city of 550,000, especially the zones around the Imam Ali Mosque and the adjacent cemetery, two of the holiest sites for Shiite Muslims.

Monday's clash between Sadr's forces and Marines belied the fragility of the peace.

A recent report from the Christian Science Monitor said that Sadr's forces were regrouping in Najaf.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Contact staff writer Darrin Mortenson at (760) 740-5442 or dmortenson@nctimes.com.



08-04-04, 06:20 AM
Army medical unit is in the business of saving Marines in Ar Ramadi <br />
Submitted by: 1st Marine Division <br />
Story Identification #: 20048462330 <br />
Story by Cpl. Veronika R. Tuskowski <br />
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08-04-04, 06:21 AM
24th MEU Military Police offer convoy protection
Submitted by: 24th MEU
Story Identification #: 2004845137
Story by Lance Cpl. Sarah A. Beavers

FORWARD OPERATING BASE KALSU, Iraq (Aug. 4, 2004) -- As the fight for a free and peaceful Iraq continues, key security responsibilities for the newly arrived 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit have fallen to an often-overlooked detachment of MEU Service Support Group 24 -- the Military Police.

Operating out of this forward operating base south of Baghdad, they're never here for very long before being called upon to provide safe passage for Marines and military personnel involved in bringing Iraq a safer tomorrow.

"One of the [good things] about our job is that we're always going to see different places in Iraq," said Cpl. Brandon Sullivan, 22, of Cincinnati.

It may seem with all their traveling that the MPs are able to see all of the danger and excitement Iraq has to offer. While true some extent, the MPs have not encountered hostile fire since they've been here, making many wonder what it is they're doing right.

"So far we haven't been attacked during any of our convoys. All we've seen here so far is tracer rounds," said Cpl. Jared Riske, 23, a military policeman from Concord, Mich. "Some people think it's because we [can drive faster than other military vehicles]. Others say [it's] because the [humvee mounted] weapons intimidate the insurgents. I think it's because before we go out I pray for everyone to come back safely. And as long as I do that, I think we'll come home [unharmed] every time."

Of course, the Marines prefer to keep divine intervention in reserve, relying on continuous training, heavy firepower, and constant reminders that, in this component, complacency kills.

For the MEU's military police, gratification cannot be found in medals or citations, but in the knowledge that they have completed their mission to protect their fellow Marines and provide the groundwork for a safe, sovereign Iraq.

"At least when I get out [of the military]," says Cpl. Matt Leer, 22, an MP and Pennsylvania Furnace, Pa., native with less than a year left on his Marine Corps contract, "no one can say that I didn't do anything for my country."


Cpl. Craig Miller with the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, manning an M-2 .50 caliber machine gun, watches for possible signs of hostility as he provides convoy security for Marines traveling to different areas of Iraq.
Miller, 22, is a military policeman from Berlin, Conn., assigned to the military police detachment, MEU Service Support Group 24.
The military police recently began playing a large role in providing security for the 24th MEU since arriving in Iraq in July.
Photo by: Lance Cpl. Sarah A. Beavers



08-04-04, 06:22 AM
Marines battle al-Sadr militia for 4-5 hours
Muqtada al-Sadr

By Tom Lasseter

BAGHDAD - U.S. forces battled supporters of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr in Najaf in southern Iraq Monday and may have surrounded a house where al-Sadr was staying.

Accounts of the fighting conflicted. Al-Sadr spokesman Ahmed al Shabani, reached by phone, said the fighting began in the early evening and lasted for four to five hours. Shabani said members of al-Sadr's Mahdi Army militia thought the U.S. troops had come to arrest al-Sadr and opened fire.

Capt. Carrie C. Batson, a spokeswoman for the 11th Marine Expeditionary Force, said in an e-mail that the Marines "simply responded to the fire they were receiving - in self-defense."

Batson stressed that "the Marines DID NOT search al-Sadr's home, nor did they surround his house."

A press release from the 11th MEF said that a routine patrol in Najaf got into a firefight after being attacked by AK-47 fire, rocket-propelled grenades and mortars. It was not immediately clear whether the patrol unwittingly passed by a house that al-Sadr was visiting, thus sparking a confrontation.

Al Shabani put the Iraqi casualties at one dead and six wounded. The Marines said they'd killed two Iraqi insurgents.

The 11th MEF took over responsibility for Najaf only two days ago. Al-Sadr lives in nearby Kufa but reportedly was at the Najaf home of his late father - one of the nation's most revered Shiite clerics who was executed by Saddam Hussein - when the battle broke out.

Whatever the cause of the confrontation, it highlights the delicacy of U.S. patrols in areas such as Najaf and Sadr City in Baghdad where al-Sadr's men have effectively taken control.

Controlling al-Sadr, and navigating the space between his forces and the Americans, may well be one of the interim Iraqi government's toughest tasks.

As news circulated of the confrontation in Najaf, pro-al-Sadr demonstrations broke out in at least two Baghdad neighborhoods.

An Iraqi court issued an arrest warrant for al-Sadr in connection with the murder of a rival cleric last year, but the current Iraqi administration, which took over from the American-led Coalition Provisional Authority just over a month ago, has shown little interest in pursuing al-Sadr.

News of the Najaf situation was read over loudspeakers in the Baghdad Shiite neighborhood of Kadhamiya, where a pro-al-Sadr protest broke out, witnesses said.

Later in the evening, the streets of Sadr City, an al-Sadr stronghold in Baghdad, were filled with cars and trucks carrying Mahdi members who brandished AK-47s, RPGs and even swords.

The men said they were awaiting orders to drive south to Najaf, but at about 11:30 p.m., the word began to pass around that the fighters should go home, because it was not clear whether al-Sadr was still surrounded.

Al-Sadr's Mahdi Army rebelled against the American presence in Iraq in April after the coalition authority ordered an al-Sadr newspaper closed and a key aide arrested. Hundreds of Iraqis were killed in the ensuing fighting.

At the time, U.S. officials said that they would arrest or kill al-Sadr - a threat that seems to have faded in the weeks since the coalition surrendered authority to an interim Iraqi government amid suggestions that al-Sadr was welcome to join the political process.

But al-Sadr complained to worshippers at Friday prayers in Kufa that several of his movement's leaders remain in jail, and he called for their release "or we are free to act."

Turk hostage shot

In another development Monday, masked gunmen shot a blindfolded Turkish hostage three times in the head on a gruesome Internet video meant to warn Muslim workers to stay out of Iraq.

Soon after the video was discovered Monday, Turkish truckers announced they would stop hauling goods for U.S. forces in hopes of saving two other Turkish captives.

The truckers' decision was the latest concession to militants who have taken more than 70 foreigners hostage as leverage to drive coalition forces and anyone supporting them out of the country.

Between 200 and 300 trucks cross Turkey's southern border into Iraq every day to bring fuel, food and other supplies to U.S. forces.

Also Monday, Iraqi government and religious leaders lashed out at a coordinated series of car bombings on Iraqi churches during Sunday evening services that killed at least seven people and wounded 37.

The death toll was lowered from 11 on Sunday.

"We condemn and reproach these hideous crimes," said Iraq's most senior Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani, who added that the attacks "targeted Iraq's unity, stability and independence."

U.S. toll in Iraq

œ Killed: 912

œ Wounded: 5,804

Source: Department of Defense. Deaths as of Monday. Wounded as of July 27.



08-04-04, 06:23 AM
Pendleton Marine is killed, six wounded

By Rick Rogers
August 3, 2004

FALLUJAH, Iraq – A Marine was killed and six others were wounded yesterday in two attacks by insurgents outside the city.

All of the casualties belong to 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment from Camp Pendleton.

There was no word on the severity of the injuries or details of the assaults. It wasn't known whether enemy troops were killed or wounded.

Four Marines were wounded and another was killed when mortars struck their bunkered position just north of Fallujah about 8 p.m. Two of those Marines were in surgery late yesterday.

A few hours earlier, a roadside bomb wounded two Marines while they were on patrol near Saqlawiyah, a town just outside Fallujah. Those injuries were described as "moderate" by a Marine spokesman.

The battalion is part of the 1st Marine Division, 1st Marine Expeditionary Force that arrived in Anbar province in March to relieve the Army's 82nd Airborne Division.

The Marines are expected to complete their seven-month rotation and return home in October. They are among 25,000 Marines – 19,000 from bases in San Diego County – in Iraq.

The death is the first battalion Marine killed in action in more than a month and the 11th since the deployment began.

After engaging in intense fighting inside Fallujah in April, Marines have set up positions outside the city while insurgents remain holed up within the city of about 250,000 people.

Marines have frequently been attacked by rockets and mortar rounds fired into base camps and at a checkpoint on a main road leading into the city.



08-04-04, 07:06 AM
1st FSSG's roving dentists ready homecoming smiles in Iraq
Submitted by: 1st Force Service Support Group
Story Identification #: 20048282627
Story by Lance Cpl. Stephen Driscoll

CAMP TAQADDUM, Iraq (Aug. 2, 2004) -- Taking leave and liberty will be a little easier for Marines returning from Iraq this year thanks to front-line care provided by the 1st Force Service Support Group's mobile dental teams.

Since the Marines were constantly on the march, many serving in Iraq last year didn't receive any form of dental care, and when care was rendered, it was seldom documented. As a result, returning veterans were called in for checkups, disrupting homecoming vacation plans and flooding stateside clinics.

Four teams were organized for this year's deployment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom as a response to the limited dental care available last year, said Senior Chief Petty Officer Carl Fritts, 46, the 1st FSSG's dental chief, originally from Denton, N.C.

Normally, the Marine Corps maintains a 98-percent readiness rate of Marines who have received their yearly required dental care, but this number dropped to as low as 86 percent on some bases because of the war, said Petty Officer 1st Class Brian Benedict, 38, a dental technician from Helena, Mont.

More care provided in the field and better record keeping should prevent this sort of lapse from happening again, said Benedict.

The teams hope to complete many of the mandatory yearly checkups that Marines now in Iraq will need done by Dec. 31.

Since starting mobile operations in late March, the teams have performed more than 7,500 procedures in Iraq, said Fritts.

Consisting of one dental officer and one or two enlisted dental technicians, each team is equipped and trained to bring the highest level of care available to the field, said Fritts. The teams offer a variety of services ranging from cleanings -- the most common procedure carried out -- to adding fillings, root canals and oral surgery.

Based at Camp Taqaddum, the teams travel to the camps in western Iraq that lack dental facilities. With the exception of Camps Fallujah and Al Asad, which each have surgical companies to perform dentistry, the four teams are the sole providers of care to many bases. Everywhere from nearby Camp Habbaniyah to more distant Korean Village and Al Qaim is visited, said Fritts.

"We'll all benefit from this when we get home. The whole operation is definitely well worth it," said Petty Officer 3rd Class Joseph Cerrillo, 24, a dental technician from Brownsville, Texas.


Cmdr. Robert D. Rupprecht, 43, the senior dental advisor for the 1st Force Service Support Group in Iraq, probes Lance Cpl. Patrick A. Tanella’s mouth during a checkup at Camp Taqaddum, Iraq, on Aug. 2, 2004. Since the Marines were constantly on the march, many serving in Iraq last year didn’t receive any form of dental care, and when care was rendered, it was seldom documented. Four mobile dental teams were organized for this year’s deployment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom as a response to the limited dental care available last year. Rupprecht is a resident of Vista, Calif. Tanella, 20, is a native of New York City. Photo by: Lance Cpl. Samuel Bard Valliere



08-04-04, 07:52 AM
Philadelphia Inquirer
August 4, 2004

Marines Stumble Into A Clash With Militia

New to the area, the unit didn't realize it was near the home of Muqtada al-Sadr, the Shiite cleric.

By Tom Lasseter and Dogen Hannah, Inquirer Foreign Staff

NAJAF, Iraq - U.S. Marines accidentally strayed down a road near the house of Muqtada al-Sadr and were not trying to arrest the radical cleric when they got into an hours-long firefight with his supporters Monday, a Marine officer said yesterday.

"Until we learn the side streets, we won't know where Sadr lives. And until we do, we'll run into things," said First Lt. Mike Wyrsch of the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit. The unit took command of the area only last weekend.

Najaf was calm yesterday, with Sadr's Mahdi Army militia members toting AK-47 assault rifles as they walked the streets, but with no sign of conflict between them and the Marines. Neither side seemed willing to break the fragile truce that stopped fighting that had raged in April through much of southern Iraq and parts of Baghdad.

Police at checkpoints outside Najaf were tense, thoroughly checking cars for weapons after reports that 18 policemen were abducted in Najaf during the last several days, possibly as bargaining chips for the release of Sadr followers.

Raad al-Kadhami, a Sadr spokesman in Baghdad, said that while Mahdi members "arrested" Iraqi police and national guard members in June, they let them go within a day and "there's no such thing happening in Najaf now."

Concerning Monday's events, Ahmed Sheybani, Sadr's spokesman in Najaf, said that while the Shiite Muslim cleric issued an order forbidding his men to retaliate, he did not believe that the presence of U.S. troops at his doorstep Monday was a mistake.

"They passed the barriers, surrounded the house and tried to enter," Sheybani said. "The occupation forces do not want to keep the truce."

The Marines have steadfastly denied that the incident was linked to any sort of raid.

There is a warrant for Sadr's arrest in connection with the killing of a rival cleric last year, but the interim Iraqi government has shown little enthusiasm for executing it.

The incident points to continuing danger caused by Sadr's militia operating openly in Najaf and other cities and effectively controlling much of the area.

A wounded Mahdi Army member said yesterday that neighbors quickly came to Sadr's defense when the Marines showed up Monday.

"The neighbors began to support us and shoot down from the rooftops," said Ahmed Monsour as he lay with shrapnel in his leg and back in a makeshift bed in the library of an Islamic college. "The American soldiers were surrounded.."

U.S. officials were not immediately available for comment.


08-04-04, 08:38 AM
Marines mourn fallen from 2nd LAR
Submitted by: 1st Marine Division
Story Identification #: 2004827716
Story by Sgt. Jose E. Guillen

CAMP FALLUJAH, Iraq (July 18, 2004) -- A memorial service was held July 18 to honor four fallen Marines from 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion's Company D, attached to Regimental Combat Team 1 in the Al Anbar Province, Iraq.

The four were killed by an improvised explosive device during a vehicle-mounted patrol July 6. The four were Cpl. Jeffrey D. Lawrence, Lance Cpls. Scott E. Dougherty and Justin T. Hunt and Pfc. Rodricka A. Youmans.

Dougherty was quoted in a memorial-service leaflet in a letter to his father before the deployment. He said simply, "If the opportunity arises again, I'd sign up again - in a heartbeat."

He was 20, from Bradenton, Fla., and is survived by his parents Keith and Debrah Dougherty and his sister, Nicole.

Lawrence's daughter was born just days after his death - July 10. The 22-year-old from Tuscon, Ariz., is survived by his wife, Celeste L. Lawrence and his daughter, Cadence Freedom Lawrence.

Hunt was a 22-year-old from Tuscon. He is survived by his wife, Regina Schussler, his parents, Thomas and Debra, and two brothers. One of those brothers is serving as a Navy hospital corpsman with the 1st Marine Division in Iraq and accompanied Hunt's body back to the United States.

Youmans' father was quoted speaking of his son's dedication to the Corps.

"My son died doing something he loved," said Youmans' father Johnnie, according to the memorial-service leaflet.

Youmans is survived by his parents, Johnnie and Manderlene and his two children A'Miyah and Mekhi, who live with their mother, Stephanie Cuthbetson.

Capt. Ladd W. Shepard, commanding officer for Company D, offered his words to the Marines gathered to honor the four. He closed his remarks with a simple line.

"We will truly miss them," he said.


Marines of 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion's Company D, listen on to speakers at the podium during a memorial service at the Camp Fallujah Chapel, July 18. Four light armored vehicle crewmen were killed by an improvised explosive device on July 6, 2004.
(USMC photo by Sgt. Jose E. Guillen) Photo by: Sgt. Jose E. Guillen


Marines of 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion's Company D, pay respects to their fallen brothers during a memorial service at the Camp Fallujah Chapel, July 18.
(USMC photo by Sgt. Jose E. Guillen) Photo by: Sgt. Jose E. Guillen


Marines of 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion's Company D, pay respects to their fallen brothers during a memorial service at the Camp Fallujah Chapel, July 18.
(USMC photo by Sgt. Jose E. Guillen) Photo by: Sgt. Jose E. Guillen



08-04-04, 10:53 AM
Marine back home on Maui after Iraq tour

By MELISSA TANJI, Staff Writer

KAHULUI -Two days before he was to leave Iraq, Marine Lance Cpl. Melvin Pigao lost everything in a fire that burned 11 tents at his camp.

"I felt pretty bad," Pigao said. "I lost everything, pictures I took of Iraq. I got nothing to show now."
Pigao, who returned to Maui on Saturday, said he was not sure of the cause of the fires and said he had nothing left but the uniform he was wearing.

Nevertheless, the 21-year-old Kahului resident brought joy and happiness home to his family Saturday afternoon after finishing his seven-month tour of duty in Iraq doing stability and security operations.

He was greeted at the airport and given an official "welcome home" as 120 family members and close friends gathered for a party Saturday night.

"The party was nice. I was glad to see all my family and friends. And I ate poke for the first time" in 10 months, he said on Sunday.

"That was one of the things I missed the most, local food like poke," he said.

Pigao, a 2001 Maui High School graduate, is based in Twentynine Palms, Calif., and is with the 3rd Battalion, 4th Marines, 1st Marine Division.

His mother, Estrelita Pigao, couldn't have been happier that her oldest son was finally home.

She ordered a medley of foods for the party from a handful of places so her son could have a feast.

The steak came from Bentos & Banquets by Bernard. The beef broccoli was from Wei Wei Bar-B-Q & Noodle House. Mel's Catering supplied the Filipino food of pinakbet, and the orange chicken came from Panda Express.

All so her son could be happy.

Estrelita Pigao said she cried when she saw him on Saturday.

"The night before that, I couldn't sleep. I was so excited waiting for him to come home," she said.

All through Melvin's tour in Iraq his mother worried.

"What breaks my heart is he's so young to go to war. It's really unbearable for me, being a mom. It's a nightmare every night," she said. "My friends and family advise me not to read the newspaper or watch the news, especially CNN, but I have to know what's going on."

But Mrs. Pigao said she thanks God for bringing her son home safely.

Estrelita Pigao said she was surprised when her son decided to join the Marines because, prior to joining the military, he was attending Kapiolani Community College on Oahu, taking culinary and pastry courses.

"But he decided to join the military, which I was not expecting at all. So maybe it was God's plan," she said.

But even as she accepts that fate brought him into the military, she struggles with the anxiety of a parent having a child in a war zone.

"I would rather die in place of my son, if I had the choice," she said. "I would choose to be dead rather than my son, because he's too young."

Estrelita Pigao and Mel Pigao have two other sons, Ervin, 20, and Mark, 18.

She said she hid her feelings from her two younger sons.

"I tried to hide as much as I can," she said, adding her sons already knew she was worried about their older bother. "They always give me comfort."

She said she also got support and well wishes from her family as well as staff and teachers at Melvin's old schools, which include Maui High and Kahului Elementary schools.

Teachers sent letters to Melvin and informed the school community that he was in Iraq.

He said he knew the ordeal that his mother was going through when he was gone.

"I think she had it harder than me. . . She worries a lot," he said.

But mom really did have a lot to worry about.

He said soldiers in his unit were bombed periodically as well as having their tents torched by the enemy.

There were four casualties in his battalion during their tour, he said.

He said the strangest thing was that the Iraqis would bomb American soldiers right before or after Muslim prayers.

"They would bomb us, and they would pray right after that," he said.

Melvin Pigao said he is glad to come home "in one piece."

While at home, he'll spend time with his family and his girlfriend, Janilee Munar, 21.

He also will be working as a recruiter's assistant before he heads back to California in about a month.

Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com.



08-04-04, 11:54 AM
Muslims and Their Leaders Denounce Church Attacks
Some Christians may flee Iraq. A Lebanese hostage is rescued, and Marines battle in Najaf.

BAGHDAD — Shiite and Sunni Muslim leaders on Monday roundly condemned the bombing of five Christian churches — here and in the northern city of Mosul — that killed at least 11 people and prompted some Christians to consider fleeing the country.

If Sunday's attacks were intended to divide the country, they appeared to be having the opposite effect. Ordinary Iraqis and religious leaders, including the most senior Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, urged national unity.

Meanwhile, a Lebanese hostage was rescued after Iraqi police raided his kidnappers' hide-out in the town of Abu Ghraib, west of Baghdad. Talks continued Monday to secure the release of Jordanian, Indian and other hostages.

In the Shiite holy city of Najaf, followers of anti-American cleric Muqtada Sadr fired on U.S. troops, according to the U.S. military and Iraqi government sources. The incident occurred during a routine patrol in an area where the U.S. military says it is permitted to travel.

As the patrol drove past the Najaf Maternity Hospital, it came under attack from militants firing small arms, mortar rounds and rocket-propelled grenades. The Marines returned fire and killed two insurgents, the military said.

Local hospital officials said the firefight killed a woman and injured several civilians.

Sadr's militia battled U.S.-led forces for two months this spring in Najaf, Kufa and Karbala. Najaf, where the worst of the fighting occurred, has been calm since an agreement restricting U.S. patrols to areas of the city away from its shrine.

As Christians throughout Iraq wrestled with Sunday's church attacks, an unknown group claimed responsibility for the bombings and warned that more would follow. The statement, by an organization calling itself the Committee of Planning and Follow-up in Iraq, was posted on an Islamic website.

Mainstream Muslim groups were dismayed by the bombings. Sistani denounced the attacks as "outrageous" and "flagrant crimes."

"It is necessary that the efforts of everyone — the people and the government — focus on being unified and cooperating … to put an end to the aggressions on the Iraqis and to defeat the aggressors," said a statement from Sistani's office in Najaf.

"We emphasize the respect of the rights of the Christian citizens and other religious minorities … to live peacefully in their country, Iraq," the statement said.

The Assn. of Sunni Muslim Scholars, one of the most prominent Sunni bodies in the country, said the bombings were "totally remote from any religious or humanitarian norms."

The group said it was completely out of character for Iraqis to commit such a crime, and it blamed "foreign" agitators.

U.S. military investigators said they were examining the forensic evidence and had not reached a conclusion about who carried out the attacks. They said the bombings carried the "signature" of extremists — not Baathists, who would be unlikely to attack religious sites.

The investigators said they doubted that the attacks were the work of Abu Musab Zarqawi, the Al Qaeda-trained fugitive who has claimed responsibility for several recent suicide bombings. His attacks generally are more devastating, the investigators said.

At St. Peter's Seminary, a Chaldean church, where the death toll rose to seven after the burned bodies of two people were found in their cars, Christian and Muslim neighbors said they were still dazed by the blast.

"We felt very sad when this incident happened as it is unprecedented. We have not witnessed such things even during the war," said Haider Yousif, 20, who lives across from the church's main gate. "I felt happy when I heard the statements given by the Christians in which they ruled out the idea that Muslims were responsible for such a deed."

In a gesture of support, a local glass merchant offered to sell replacement windowpanes at wholesale prices to anyone whose house or business had suffered damage.

As some Christians discussed their options for leaving the country, others insisted they would stay because Iraq is their home. "My family would not think of leaving Iraq because of these attacks … but we will pray in our houses instead of coming to the churches," said Roni Muneer, a Christian student.

It is difficult for Iraqis to leave the country. They must secure visas and enough money to support themselves until they find work. A number of Christians have fled to Syria in recent months, hoping it would be easier to obtain visas to Australia and Canada from there.

On Monday, senior Sunni clerics protested the detention of a colleague, Muthanna Dhari, by U.S.-led forces. Dhari is from one of the most influential Sunni families in Iraq.

U.S. military sources said the sheik was believed to be connected to an attack Sunday on American troops. They said his fingers had tested positive for explosives.

However, the Sunni clerics association insisted that immediately before his arrest, he was recording a program on the Lebanese Broadcasting Corp.'s satellite channel and could not have been involved in an attack.


Times staff writer Mark Mazzetti, who is with the U.S. military command at Camp Victory in Baghdad, and special correspondents Raheem Salman, Suhail Hussain and Saif Rasheed contributed to this report. Times wire services also were used.


08-04-04, 12:50 PM
11th MEU (SOC) assumes control of Iraqi provinces <br />
Submitted by: 11th MEU <br />
Story Identification #: 20048324330 <br />
Story by Cpl. Matthew S. Richards <br />
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08-04-04, 02:26 PM
24th MEU CO, tribal sheik break ice in the desert <br />
Submitted by: 24th MEU <br />
Story Identification #: 20048362518 <br />
Story by Capt. David E. Nevers <br />
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08-04-04, 05:25 PM
Fallujah Raid Frees 4 Jordanian Hostages

By RAVI NESSMAN, Associated Press Writer

BAGHDAD, Iraq - In an extraordinary assault, gunmen in the city of Fallujah stormed a kidnappers' lair and forced the overmatched militants inside to flee, freeing four Jordanian truck drivers held captive, local officials said Wednesday.

The raid, in a city that has long been hostile to the U.S. military and supportive of Saddam Hussein (news - web sites), marked the first time local gunmen had broken foreign hostages out of captivity. They called the kidnappers "terrorists" and outsiders.

Farther north, a series of battles between Iraqi authorities and insurgents in the city of Mosul killed 14 civilians and eight insurgents, the U.S. military said. Iraqi authorities clamped a curfew on the area and sealed off bridges into the city to restore order. The fighting was the fiercest in Mosul in months, and local authorities said insurgents appeared to be testing the police. No Iraqi or coalition forces were killed in the violence, the U.S. military said.

Some militant groups — which commonly attack U.S. and Iraqi forces with bombings and shootings — have turned to kidnapping in recent weeks, snatching poorly protected truckers driving the dangerous route near Fallujah, a hub of the insurgency 40 miles west of Baghdad.

U.S. Marines had pulled back from Fallujah after besieging the city for three weeks in April, leaving it in the hands of the Fallujah Brigade, made up of local residents and insurgents who fought the Marines and are commanded by officers from Saddam's former army.

The four Jordanian truck drivers were seized last week along a highway near Fallujah, said Ahmad Abu-Jaafar, one of the freed drivers.

Sheik Haj Ibrahim Jassam, a tribal leader, said he received word late Tuesday that the men were being held in a house on the edge of the city. Local leaders gathered together armed residents, who raided the house, freeing the hostages and chasing out the kidnappers, he said.

Jassam called the kidnappers "terrorists, who are not from Fallujah."

The Jordanians insisted their captors were not those who had battled the Marines.

"The kidnappers have nothing to do with the resistance," Abu-Jaafar told The Associated Press by telephone.

The four men were taken back to Jassam's house and handed over to Jordanian officials Wednesday, Jordanian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ali al-Ayed said.

"They are now in a safe place, which we will not disclose," al-Ayed told reporters in Amman, Jordan. He said the four were in "good health" and would arrive home on Thursday.

The kidnappers made several demands, he said. "We haven't met any of them."

The men, who had been abducted by a group calling itself "Mujahedeen of Iraq (news - web sites), the Group of Death," were blindfolded and moved to a different house every two days during their ordeal, Mohammed Khleifat, a freed hostage, told The Associated Press.

"We couldn't eat the food they gave us. The four of us got sick from the food and the water," he said.

The hostages heard that a man from the United Arab Emirates had been willing to pay the kidnappers $500,000 ransom, but the raid put an end to that, Khleifat said.

Insurgents have kidnapped scores of foreign hostages to force foreign companies and coalition troops from Iraq. In an effort to save the hostages, several companies have said they would stop their work here, and last month the Philippines withdrew its 51-member troop contingent to secure the freedom of a Filipino truck driver.

In a move to show kidnappers that none of the 31 other countries in the coalition would follow suit, the United States issued a statement Wednesday vowing not to make concessions to hostage-takers. Many of the other coalition members were expected to issue similar statements in the coming days, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said.

"We are united in our resolve to make no concessions to terrorists," read the statement. "We understand that conceding to terrorists will only endanger all members of the multinational force, as well as other countries who are contributing to Iraqi reconstruction and humanitarian assistance," it said.

In another hostage crisis, Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's Tawhid and Jihad group freed two Turkish truck drivers, Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul said Wednesday. In a video broadcast on the Al-Jazeera television station Wednesday, the militants said they were freeing the men because their company had promised not to haul any more goods to the U.S. military in Iraq.

The violence in Mosul, which the U.S. military called a coordinated wave of assaults, began about 11:30 a.m. with a drive-by shooting at the Karama police station. Soon after, an Iraqi police patrol was attacked in southern Mosul, the military said.

Later, dozens of masked men with assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenade launchers moved through the streets in the Bab al-Toub section of the city. Police headed to the area and a gunbattle, punctuated by explosions, broke out, witnesses said.

Other violence in the city included a bomb attack on a U.S. convoy and attacks against the power plant and al-Jumhouri Hospital, the military said in a statement.

Militants also tried to loot a local bank, said Hazem Jalawi, spokesman for the provincial government. The fighting damaged shops and cars and left debris and rubble strewn throughout the streets.

Two U.S. bases in Mosul also came under attack, said Capt. Angela Bowman, a U.S. military spokeswoman.

"What has happened today, destruction by burglars and criminals, this proves that they are not real Iraqis," chief of police, Mohammed Khairy Barhawie, said in a statement distributed by the U.S. military.

Meanwhile, an Iraqi civilian was killed when a roadside bomb detonated near an Iraqi National Guard patrol in Baqouba, 35 miles northeast of Baghdad Wednesday morning. The guards were unharmed, said Ali Hussein, from Baqouba's General Hospital.



08-04-04, 08:13 PM
San Quentin Inmates Join 'Operation Mom' to Support Troops <br />
By Donna Miles <br />
American Forces Press Service <br />
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WASHINGTON, Aug. 2, 2004 — About 50 military veterans in California's San Quentin State...

08-04-04, 09:57 PM
Iraq Veterans, Other Troops Take Citizenship Oath <br />
By Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample, USA <br />
American Forces Press Service <br />
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WASHINGTON, Aug. 4, 2004 – Four servicemembers were among 34 immigrants who...