View Full Version : Lejeune Marines share same company and family

08-17-04, 06:27 AM
Lejeune Marines share same company and family
Submitted by: 1st Marine Division
Story Identification #: 200481754853
Story by Cpl. Shawn C. Rhodes

CAMP MAHMUDIYAH, Iraq (Aug. 11, 2004) -- Lance Cpl. Andres F. Lasso-Hurtado has a lot on his mind when he comes back from a six-hour patrol.

Hurtado is with Combined Anti-Armor Platoon Blue, a quick reaction force with 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment. Often the team pushes through rifle and rocket fire only to encounter improvised explosive devices on the road. This leaves the Marines dealing with a lot of stress. Andres has someone better than a psychologist he can talk to when he gets back. He has his brother, Lance Cpl. Louis A. Lasso-Hurtado.

The two brothers joined the Marine Corps months apart and both are assigned to Weapons Company. Andres was the first to join, followed by Louis.

Andres was glad to have his brother by him when he was wounded by a roadside bomb recently. His brother was right there by his side from the moment he arrived at the medical facilities.

"All I was thinking was 'I want to kill the men who did this to him,'" Louis said. "I wanted to see if he was OK first and I was upset I couldn't do much to help except to be there for him."

There are few things more comforting than family after experiencing the chaos of a combat zone.

"Sometimes the phones and Internet don't work here, so I can't talk to the folks back home," said Andres, a 21-year old from Cali, Columbia. "I've always got my brother, Louis, to talk to here."

Both of the brothers attempted to join the military in their native country of Columbia but were turned away. They found a home instead with the U.S. Marines.

"One of our cousins was killed in the attacks on 9-11. That - combined with our dad wanting us out on our own - made it the best decision," said Louis, the older of the two at 23 and a mortarman with the unit. "We both liked weapons and no one else in our family had ever been in the Marine Corps."

In addition the two brothers share a cousin: Lance Cpl. Jamie Hurtado Correa, a rifleman with Company G, in the same battalion. Jamie hails from New York City.

"When we went to boot camp we would meet in the chapel every Sunday and talk to find out how things were going," Louis explained. "We graduated boot camp and the School of Infantry at different times but somehow we both ended up at 2/2."

The brothers found themselves in Weapons Company where they lived in adjoining barracks rooms. Both of them enjoyed spending weekends together, although they would see little of each other during the day.

"We'd never stay around Camp Lejeune. We'd go to Florida together a lot," Louis added. "Me and my brother have always been really close and that carries out here."

They still wish they could be closer.

"Our folks worry about us and we worry about each other too, hoping nothing happens while Andres is out on patrol," Louis said.

The brothers live right next to each other and pay visits between the patrols.

"It would be worse for them if they were both in theatre in different units," said Gunnery Sgt. Barry R. Bartasavich, a 37-year-old CAAT platoon sergeant. "They'd always be worried about each other."

Bartasavich noticed the brothers' strong family bond.

"I can count on them to do something when they're told," said Bartasavich, from Dubois, Pa. "I believe they came from a well-structured family to be that way."

Louis explained he's always worried something will happen to his brother. Still, being able to see him helps a lot.

"It's great that we're in the same company, but it'd be better if we were in the same platoon," Andres said. "That way we could keep an eye out for each other."

Their occupational specialties keep them separated during the day. Many would consider it a good breather for the family members, but these brothers don't get sick of each other.

"We used to fight a lot at home, but now we don't fight at all," Louis said. "We're really close now."


Lance Cpl. Louis A. Lasso-Hurtado (left), 23, and his younger brother, Lance Cpl. Andres F. Lasso-Hurtado, 21, share a lot more than their family name. They're both from Columbia, share the same blood and rely on each other for support here in Iraq under 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment in Mahmudiyah. When so many have to call home to hear the voice of family, these Marines have each other already here.
(USMC photo by Cpl. Shawn C. Rhodes) Photo by: Cpl. Shawn C. Rhodes



08-17-04, 06:28 AM
Somebody has got to do it: 1st FSSG Marines leave no one behind
Submitted by: 1st Force Service Support Group
Story Identification #: 2004816145819
Story by Lance Cpl. Samuel Bard Valliere

CAMP TAQADDUM, Iraq (Aug. 16, 2004) -- Amidst the chaos of combat, one small unit here quietly does a job no one else wants to do and ensures fallen troops are brought back to their families.

Service members who die in the eastern part of the Al Anbar province, including the cities of Ramadi, Fallujah and Najaf, are brought to the 1st Force Service Support Group's Mortuary Affairs detachment here before making the trip back to the states.

The 20-person unit is full of Marines who seem to have aged a great deal since they flew to the Middle East in February. They are the young men and women who care for their brothers' bodies right after their deaths.

The Corps thrives because of its warrior culture; like the Spartans of ancient Greece, its history is not just speckled, but rooted in its almost unwavering ability to win battles. Many Marines believe that anyone who falls in combat dies a hero.

Sgt. Don Johnson, 24, one of the detachment's specialists, sees the job not as an emotional burden, but as a privilege. To him, he is not simply processing and identifying the bodies of the dead, but helping a new generation of Marine Corps heroes get back to their families.

Angels, as the fallen have come to be known, reach the Marines two ways. They are either brought to the detachment after military doctors exhausted all means to save them and finally declared them deceased, or the mortuary affairs specialists convoy to the angels and gather the remains where they fell.

The Marines' job is to document the condition of the remains and any evidence of the service members' identities before angels and their possessions are shipped to Dover Air Force Base, Md., for DNA testing, and returned to their families.

The group laid sandbags on the sloping roof of the old bunker they work in to read "No One Left Behind," and "Honor, Respect, Reverence," testaments of the Marine Corps' tradition of taking care of its own.

The job is not easy, said Sgt. Daniel Cotnoir, 32, but the Marines have adjusted tremendously since they were thrust into the role eight months ago, and began training at Camp Pendleton, Calif., the 1st FSSG's home.

Chief Warrant Officer 3 Jim Patterson, 37, who runs the detachment, is also the 1st FSSG's nuclear, biological and chemical defense officer. Due to some similarities between his job and the mortuary affairs mission as well as the expected low demand for an NBC unit during the deployment, he volunteered his platoon for the job when he heard the I Marine Expeditionary Force needed Marines to fill the slot during this deployment.

In addition to his group, Patterson, a resident of Temecula, Calif., requested several augments from other units to boost the number of people working in the detachment.

When the team arrived in Iraq, Patterson told the Marines that if any felt it would be hard staying with the unit anytime after they sent the first angel home he would be able to find them another job within the 1st FSSG.

That first angel, said Cotnoir, is the one everyone remembers.

"That was when they made the mistake of calling him by his name," he said.

To prove it, Cotnoir yelled to a Marine working in the sprawling, dimly-lit bunker.

"Do you know who ... is?" he asked with an accent that immediately draws attention to his Massachusetts roots, shouting the name that is burned into all of their brains.

"Yeah," shouted the Marine. "He was the first."

Satisfied, the Lawrence, Mass., native continued.

"It was a slap in the face," said Cotnoir, who said the experience woke the Marines up to the grim realization they were really in a combat zone.

The detachment had been in Kuwait and Iraq for several weeks without having anything to do before the first angel flew in. After that, they never have gone more than a week without sending someone home. To date, 123 angels have been cared for by the Marines here.

Since the initial shock, though, the Marines' skin has thickened as they have adjusted to the mission.

"The atmosphere is much more relaxed, but I don't think they'll ever get totally comfortable," Cotnoir said.

The key, Johnson said, is to understand the significance of the duty while trying also to think of it as just a regular job. That means not dwelling on the negative while finding relaxing things to do after work.

"For the 20 minutes you're processing him, your purpose in life is to get him home," he said. "When he's gone though, you're done."

Johnson admits that it's not always that simple. What irks him the most about the angels is what they represent: people just like him who die in situations that fate seems to play a more prominent role in than anything else. It's easy to put yourself in their brown combat boots, he said.

He and many of the detachment's other Marines make a point to not look at the photos and letters usually found in the angels' pockets for too long. They document the personal effects and move on, he said.

"You'll see their family photos, but if you sit there and think about it too much, it'll mess you up," said Johnson, a native of Ventura, Calif.

The hardest part of the mission isn't taking in the angels, said Johnson, but talking with the people who knew them.

Conversations with friends of the angels tend to break down the emotional walls the Marines have built up in order to deal with the job, said Cotnoir.

When friends and commanders want to tell stories of the good times to gain closure, it is usually the detachment's Marines they initially find solace in, said Cotnoir, who is a reserve armorer for the Marines but was chosen for the job because he runs his own funeral home as a civilian.

One of the reasons the detachment exists is to provide relief to the troops who lose their friends and the commanders who lose their troops, said Patterson.

He told the story of a seasoned major who stood crying over his newly promoted first lieutenant's body while he clutched an ultrasound of the young Marines' unborn child in his hand.

"Putting my hand on that Marine's shoulder and telling him 'it's okay, we've got it now' was one of the most rewarding experiences in the world," said Patterson.

The mortuary affairs Marines are on call 24 hours a day to hop in their trucks and speed to the location of a catastrophic event so they can collect the angels while allowing commanders and friends from the unit to grieve.

In addition to making sure the angels reach their families, the detachment has also processed Iraqis who died while military surgeons and corpsman tried to save them, or on the trip to those doctors.

Whether the Iraqi was an enemy or a friend is not known by the Marines when the body lies before them in the bunker, said Johnson. All they know is that he or she was a human that deserves the same respect afforded to American troops.

"You never know who that Iraqi is," said Johnson. "I've personally taken three Iraqi contractors that worked for us to their families in Baghdad."

The crying parents, who otherwise may never have seen their children again, were thankful the Marines took the time to fly their angels home to them.

"They are good people," said Johnson. "They thanked me and told me they will pray for me for the rest of my life. What makes it worth it is you have a hand in making sure they get back to their families."

The detachment here isn't the only place for angels to go. A second unit, also with the 1st FSSG, that cares for angels in the western portion of the I MEF's operating area, is stationed at Camp Al Asad. The detachment there has cared for 72 angels.

The mortuary affairs field hasn't been around within the Marine Corps for very long, said Johnson.

The Gulf War saw very few Marines doing the job, said Johnson. Instead the Corps leaned on the soldiers in the Army's mortuary affairs field, an occupation Marines still have yet to make full time.

The detachment is pioneering a more systematic approach to mortuary affairs for the Corps to use in the future. Previously, the mission was approached differently for every conflict. This time around, Patterson and his Marines have laid the foundation for future operations.

Last year's push into Iraq was the first time the Marine Corps set up a mortuary affairs unit, said Patterson. However, the unique, fast-paced nature of the conflict required the Marines to adapt to different conditions, which prevented them from developing a set of operating procedures that could be easily adapted in other conflicts.

The 4th Supply Battalion, a reserve unit from Washington, D.C., is scheduled to relieve Patterson's detachments this fall, at which point his crew will return to its NBC duties and the augmentees will head back to their old units.

The gang isn't worried about the changeover, though. They know the new guys have been set up for success.

Rather than pass on a program with no structure, the detachment will turn over the keys to a house that has already been built on a solid foundation, one that the new group will hopefully build upon so every Marine will always find his or her way home.


Sandbags laid out to read "No one left behind" rest on the sloped roof of the 1st Force Service Support Group's Mortuary Affairs detachment's bunker at Camp Taqaddum, Iraq. Service members who die in the eastern part of the Al Anbar Province, including the cities of Ramadi, Fallujah and Najaf, are brought to the detachment before being returned to their families. The unit is one of two in the province, the other being at Camp Al Asad, which ensure every fallen warrior is treated with honor, respect and reverence. Photo by: Lance Cpl. Samuel Bard Valliere



08-17-04, 06:30 AM
MWSS-374 completes OIF mission, returning to Twentynine Palms
Submitted by: 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing
Story Identification #: 200481524248
Story by Capt. Justin L. McDonald

AL TAQADDUM, Iraq (Aug. 15, 2004) -- After months of building runways, refueling aircraft, detonating Improvised Explosive Devices, and convoying tens of thousands of miles in Iraq’s Al Anbar province, the Marines of Marine Wing Support Squadron 374, Marine Wing Support Group 37, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, are going home.

On Feb. 12, 2004 more than 500 Leathernecks from Marine Wing Support Squadron 374 loaded buses aboard Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif. to begin their support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

"You are now a target. Our group is a target whenever we’re in formation. We have our guardian angels around the perimeter," said Lt. Col. David Leppelmeier, commanding officer, Marine Wing Support Squadron 374, pointing to the armed Marines patrolling the parking lot outside the Noncommissioned Officers’ Club at Twentynine Palms.

With this admonition, the “Rhinos” would begin their trek to the Al Anbar province in Iraq to support Security and Stability Operations conducted by I Marine Expeditionary Force. The “Rhinos” have come a long way and accomplished much since that morning they waved goodbye to their friends and families.
Leppelmeier and Sgt. Maj. Doyle Braddy, squadron sergeant major, led this unit to phenomenal success. MWSS-374 started the deployment with a grueling road trip covering thousands of miles of desert between Southern Kuwait and Central Iraq. Mustering in Kuwait as part of a larger force, they prepared for what awaited them to the north. The Marines worked countless hours off-loading equipment and supplies from ships. Some of the items were things they had embarked back in Twentynine Palms, but other items were part of the Maritime Prepositioned Force.

Accounting for and moving the thousands of pieces of equipment happened relatively quickly. Even before they had arrived in country they were making a positive impact on operations.

The preparation for the deployment was intense and the operational tempo was high from the start. While on their initial convoy, the “Rhinos” encountered IEDs, and enemy small arms fire. Despite driving for more than 25 hours over a two-day period and having a Marine wounded in action, the Marines and Sailors pressed forward at a rigorous pace to achieve their initial goal of reaching their home base at Al Taqaddum, Iraq. Al Taqaddum was located in the epicenter of enemy activity situated in what is commonly referred to as the “Sunni Triangle,” an area between Ar Ramadi and Al Fallujah.

Coordinating the road trip from Kuwait to Al Taqaddum and preparing the air base for the arrival of the larger Marine force was a small band of MWSS-374 Marines sent ahead of the rest to ensure everything went smoothly. These Marines worked not only on behalf of the squadron, they also fulfilled needs and roles traditionally held by personnel at the Marine Aircraft Wing level. Frequently working 18-hour days, the Marines’ efforts and coordination with the Army was integral to the success of the initial stages of the operation. The hard work of both the advanced group and the main body contributed to the Marines arriving ahead of schedule and conducting a relief-in-place with elements of the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division.

Immediately after their arrival, the “Rhinos” began transforming Al Taqaddum into a fully operational expeditionary airfield.

"When we got here in February, one of the biggest things (3rd MAW) needed to get up and running was a runway that had a huge crater in it because of enemy fire," said Maj. Gen. James F. Amos, former commanding general, 3rd MAW. “The damaged taxiway was identified as a safer means of taking off and landing, which made its immediate repair critical.”

Tackling the task with the fervor and ability associated with all Marines, the runway repair crew of MWSS-374 started work. They braved sandstorms and enemy indirect fire, attaining the end result of a fully functional runway capable of supporting a KC-130 aircraft.

In addition to the vast amount of work on the airfield and normal operations required to support a Forward Operations Base, MWSS-374 supported two smaller operations bases. Although these two bases, identified by names like Mudaysis and Korean Village, were not equal in size and capability, they both played a large role in successfully supporting the execution of combat and security operations. The “Rhinos” tailored the cadres located at Korean Village and Mudaysis to meet the many and varied needs associated with supporting operations.

Despite the drive and accomplishments of the “Rhinos,” no one can accuse them of being all work and no play. As part of Operation 31 Flavors, the squadron flew mass quantities of ice cream supplied by 3rd MAW to the Marines at these remote bases.

"Operation 31 Flavors came about during a trip I took to Korean Village a little more than a month ago," explained Amos. “I was talking to the Marines and asking them how things were going, so I could get a read on if they were happy or if there was anything they needed. After talking with them, to be honest, I didn't get a single Marine who said anything negative."

Living a “work hard, play hard” lifestyle, the Marines of MWSS-374 did their part in keeping morale high and aircraft flying. Supplying the ever so needed commodity of fuel to the flying protectors and re-suppliers is a core function the squadron performed flawlessly.

Repairing runways, refueling aircraft, and supporting combat operations are all vital function of the squadron but another key function is the skill and strength brought into theater by the military police and explosive ordnance disposal personnel of MWSS-374. In many instances these Marines teamed up with other coalition forces or Iraqi police to secure the safety and well being of others. These missions, focused on properly disposing of IEDs and unexploded ordnance, both reducing the immediate threat to coalition forces, and made a safer living environment for Iraqi civilians.

Due to the efforts and accomplishments of this unit, the Marine Corps Aviation Association recognized the “Rhinos” as the Marine Wing Support Squadron of the Year for 2004. After more than seven months of triumph and success mixed with hardship and pain, the “Rhinos” will return home in September. These warriors will be afforded the chance to enjoy time with their friends and families, reflect on the fruits of their labor and then get right back to the business of supporting Combined Arms Exercises.



08-17-04, 06:31 AM
Marines and Iraqis work together to build new hospital
Submitted by: 1st Marine Division
Story Identification #: 200481651750
Story by Sgt. Jose L. Garcia and Cpl. Veronika Tuskowski

CAMP AL ASAD, Iraq (Aug. 13, 2004) -- Residents of Ar Rutbah are getting medical care they haven't had in more than a year.

Marines and sailors from Regimental Combat Team 7 are working together with local Iraqis to rebuild a hospital. Iraqi military took over the compound before meeting with U.S forces.

"It was the only building that was destroyed during the first war," said Navy Lt. James N. Vandenberg, 43, an architect and urban planner with the Civil Engineer Corps. "It was not looted so that's how important health care is to the people of Ar Rutbah."

Construction for the new Ar Rutbah Western Al Anbar Regional Hospital is scheduled to commence in early September.

Until then, the citizens of Ar Rutbah make due with a makeshift hospital for all their emergencies.

The temporary clinic sees more than 300 patients on a daily basis and is overstressed from the lack of supplies, medicine and bed space.

"The clinic can't treat severe injuries," said Navy Capt. John M. Williams, the public health officer with 1st Marine Division. "If the people need additional help, the closest hospital is in Ar Ramadi, which is a four-and-a-half-hour drive. It is a big priority to get this fixed."

The need for a functional hospital couldn't be ignored with more than 60,000 people living in the city and surrounding communities.

Representatives from the 1st Marine Division and the First Marine Expeditionary Force Engineering Group met with members of the Iraqi Ministry of Health and several sheiks in June to discuss a plan to get a new hospital up and running.

Vandenberg designed the modular, 46-room hospital on the ground of the former facility and presented the plan to the hospital administrator for approval.

"Out of all the work I've done in this country, this is the most important project because it impacts the Iraqi people," said Vandenberg, from Little Rock, Ark. "It is a non-political project and everyone agrees it is something needed. People have basic needs and the adequate health will help tremendously."

The project was funded $750,000 from RCT-7 and the 1st Marine Division's Commander's Emergency Response Program.

The funds will cover the building of a new hospital, roadway surrounding the hospital and provide temporary living quarters for up to nine doctors who rotate out of Baghdad and Ar Ramadi every few weeks.

The new hospital will be capable of treating trauma patients, performing general surgery, obstetrics and gynecology, pediatrics, X-ray and laboratory tests.

Each ward will have an outside courtyard for the patients to pray.

"The courtyards are real important to the healing process," said Vandenberg. "People who are sick and injured heal faster if they see birds, trees, and just nature."

In addition to the CERP funds, several non-government organizations donated supplies and medicine for the new hospital.

InMed Partnerships for Children, a non-profit organization from Virginia, donated $1.8 billion worth of medicine. Spirit of America, a charity from Los Angeles, organized the transportation of the goods and Global Operations and Development, also from California, donated durable medical equipment such as wheel chairs, braces and splints.

Ar Rutbah also boasts a large contingent of Iraqi Security Forces personnel and their families to include four Department of Border Enforcement battalions, three Iraqi National Guard battalions, the Iraqi Highway Patrol and Customs Police.

"Many of the Iraqis providing security are involved in gun fights and car accidents," Williams said. "This new hospital will be most beneficial to them."

The new hospital will not only help the citizens with medical care, but it will also help with employment in the area.

"This new hospital will employ around 100 people," Williams explained. "Plus, we want to hire local contractors to build the hospital, which will provide work for hundreds of more people."

Williams hopes the completion of the hospital will make the ties between Iraqis and Marines stronger.

"Ar Rutbah is not a friendly place right now, but the whole community supports this," Williams said. "By building this hospital, we hope to create some good will."

Some Marines and sailors look forward to a chance to help Iraqis gain the medical care they need.

"It's motivating to help build a new hospital," said Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Joseph P. Angelo, 35, from Tampa, Fla., and an engineer technician with RCT-7. "Before we left the states, we were told this is what we would be doing."


Navy Lt. James N. Vandenberg, 43, from Little Rock, Ark., an architect and urban planner with Civil Engineer Corps, helped design a 46-room modular hospital for Ar Rutbah, Iraq. The project was funded $750,000 from Regimental Combat Team 7 and the Division's Commander's Emergency Response Program.
(USMC photo by Sgt. Jose L. Garcia) Photo by: Sgt. Jose L. Garcia



08-17-04, 06:32 AM
KC-130R detachment wraps up mission with 22nd MEU (SOC)
Submitted by: 22nd MEU
Story Identification #: 200481520623
Story by Cpl. Jessica Kent (MCAS Cherry Point Public Affairs)

MCAS CHERRY POINT, N.C. (Aug. 15, 2004) -- After five months in the Middle East supporting the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable), 43 Marines and a Sailor from Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 252 returned to Cherry Point, Aug. 10.

The Marines departed Cherry Point March 3, for the Central Command theater in support of Operation ENDURING FREEDOM and the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable). There, the detachment flew 740 flight hours and 575 sorties. These flights created a challenge for the well-trained navigators; 378 sorties were flown by utilizing night vision goggles.

The assault landing zones were also challenging for navigators. Improved landing zones were actually stretches of flight line, whereas unimproved landing zones were simply stretches of desert dirt. However, the Marines of VMGR-252 were able to adapt and overcome and bring every Marine home safe.

While working out of an Air Force base, the Marines of VMGR-252 accomplished their vital mission by carrying almost 4,000 passengers and more than two and a half million pounds of cargo, including food, water and supplies for the MEU, which was operating from a forward operating base in south-central Afghanistan. The squadron's two KC-130Rs operating in the Middle East also transferred almost two million pounds of fuel in flight.

Members of the Key Volunteer Network were present along with family members to thank the homecoming Marines for their service and welcome them back home with bags of goodies. "We got them everything they would need to shower and shave without digging into their sea bags, and there are calling cards in the bags so they can call their families," said Toni Dickerson, the squadron's Key Volunteer advisor. "There's a goody bag for each Marine coming home today."

The Key Volunteer Network was not only active while the Marines were in route home; they were busy while the Marines were away.

"We're the connection link for the families while the Marines are deployed," said Judy A. Otero, whose husband, Capt. Andrew M. Otero, just returned from Afghanistan. The Oteros are expecting a baby boy to arrive in three weeks, and Judy is glad her husband made it home safe.

"The Key Volunteer Network is so proud of all the Marines in our squadron," said Judy. "We're proud of all their hard work over there."

Though the deployed Marines were just doing their jobs, their hard work accomplished a great mission.

"What we did out there was important," said Capt. Jason D. Kindred, the operations officer throughout the squadron's deployment. "The support we provided for the 22nd MEU allowed them to accomplish their mission."

Kindred concluded that he is glad every Marine made it home safe, then headed for his family, waiting for him with open arms on the flight line.

"We're glad to be back,” he said. “It has been a long deployment, but everybody worked very hard, and I'm glad to get everyone home safe and back to their families."


Sgt. John D. Chenoweth holds his son upon his return from a five-month deployment to the Central Command area of operations. Chenoweth is a navigator assigned to Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 252 and flew with his unit in support of the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable)'s combat operations in Afghanistan. Photo by: Cpl. Jessica Kent



08-17-04, 06:33 AM
I MEF Marines assess Al Anbar gravesites
Submitted by: I Marine Expeditionary Force
Story Identification #: 2004814959
Story by Lance Cpl. J.C. Guibord

AL ANBAR PROVINCE, Iraq -- To the naked eye, the stretches of open desert looked barren and deserted. But beneath the shifting sands was the suspected burial grounds of many of those killed under the tyranny of Saddam Hussein.

Marines of I Marine Expeditionary Force set off on a three-day convoy July 7, to gather information on mass graves in the Al Anbar Province.

Task Force Justice, originally formed by I MEF during its first deployment for Operation Iraqi Freedom to examine mass graves in southern Iraq, is designed to help provide background information that will hold members of the former regime accountable.

"(The process) basically consists of going to the site, getting a grid coordinate of the site, site photographs and doing a diagram of the reported site," said Maj. Al Schmidt, the I MEF deputy force protection officer. "Then we find and talk to the local people in the proximity of the site that verify that it is a site and get some general background on the site."

There are between 600,000 to one million Iraqis who have been categorized as "missing" in Iraq.

"It has also been suggested that the missing may be in up to 500 mass graves that some estimate may be in Iraq," said Schmidt.

The gravesites scattered across Iraq date back to the beginning of the former regime.

A mass grave is defined as three or more remains in one gravesite. Unfortunately, the estimated numbers of remains is much higher.

"Task Force Justice has been to graves that had less then ten remains and mass graves that supposedly had thousands of remains," said Schmidt.

Marines and Sailors providing security, medical care and transportation for the mission felt a strong sense of purpose, but were hesitant about standing atop the remains of thousands of presumed executed Iraqis.

"I was taken by a strong sense of apprehension," said Petty Officer 3rd Class Christopher S. Ackers, a corpsman with I MEF Headquarters Group and a native of Appomattox County, Va. "I had to remind myself of the good that would be done by giving these families their loved ones back, and by showing the world what the people of Iraq have been forced to see for generations."

Task Force Justice has been cataloging and assessing myriad mass grave sites since OIF-I. Eventually, the sites will be thoroughly excavated in an attempt to bring a measure of healing and closure to the countless families affected by these tragedies.

Native Iraqis working with the mission were few, but felt honored to be involved with the process.

"If we find the bodies... all of the people of Iraq will be sure that (Saddam Hussein) is a monster, a bastard," said Ansam S. Ahmad, a Baghdad native and interpreter working with Marines on the sites.


At a remote area in western Iraq, Maj. Al Schmidt, the I Marine Expeditionary Force deputy force protection officer and native of Hereford, Md., logs photographs of a potential mass grave site taken by Sgt. Chad R. Kiehl, a combat photographer with I MEF and a native of Richfield, Minn July 8, 2004. The site surveys were part of an initiative to catalogue mass graves in western Iraq called Task Force Justice. (Official USMC photo by Lance Cpl. J.C. Guibord) Photo by: Lance Cpl. J.C. Guibord



08-17-04, 07:18 AM
Marine Corps Fratricide Reduction Efforts

by Maj Bobby J. Cline, USMC(Ret)

As the column of Marines advanced north to secure a strategic Euphrates River bridge just south of the city of An Nasiriyah they observed Iraqi soldiers along the roadside who appeared to be surrendering. Upon approaching them, the Iraqis opened fire with assault rifles and rocket propelled grenades. The Marines took cover in and around their assault amphibious vehicles and began to return fire, and then, in an incident tragically reminiscent of an engagement that occurred 12 years earlier during Operation DESERT STORM (ODS), a U.S. Air Force (USAF) A–10 Thunderbolt strafed the column—destroying one of the vehicles and killing as many as nine Marines.1

Operation IRAQI FREEDOM (OIF) casualty rates, like those of earlier combined arms operations involving joint, allied, and coalition forces, have gained notoriety not only for the relatively small number of American and coalition personnel killed or wounded in action (KIA/WIA) but also because of the frequency and magnitude of fratricide casualties.

Though fratricide rates have remained fairly constant since World War II—with ground-to-ground incidents comprising about 60 percent and air-to-ground nearly 37 percent of all occurrences—air-to-ground engagements have recently become more prevalent and have resulted in greater losses.

Analysis of ODS American casualty figures reveals that 35 of 148 military personnel KIA and 72 of 467 WIA resulted from fratricide engagements. Sixteen ground-to-ground incidents resulted in 24 KIA, while 9 air-to-ground incidents resulted in 11 KIA—a total of 35 Marine casualties. The most deadly of these occurred when a USAF A–10 attacked a Task Force (TF) Ripper light armored vehicle (LAV–25) killing 7 Marines and when another A–10 engaged British armored personnel carriers of the 3d Battalion, Royal Regiment of Fusiliers killing 9 and wounding 12 soldiers.

In comparison, Operation ENDURING FREEDOM (OEF) combat casualties as of May 2003—excluding most Afghan figures—consisted of 27 KIA and 65 WIA. Of these, there were 8 KIA and 28 WIA resulting from 3 air-to-ground fratricide incidents and no reported ground-to-ground casualties. The most deadly of these incidents occurred when Canadian soldiers of the Princess Patricia’s Light Infantry battle group were attacked by U.S. Air National Guard F–16s—killing four and wounding eight soldiers.2

Though investigations have not been completed, preliminary evidence of OIF casualty figures suggests that about 20 percent of American and 36 percent of British combat deaths were the result of fratricide engagements.3 The most notable of these included:

• Marine Corps AH–1W engaged M1A1 with Hellfire missile (one WIA).
• USAF A–10 strafed Marine column (six to nine KIA/one WIA).
• U.S. Army Patriot missile downed Royal Air Force GR4 Tornado (two KIA).
• British tank-on-tank engagement (two KIA/two WIA).
• Marine Corps TF Tarawa light armored reconnaissance/dismounted engagement (31 WIA).
• USAF A–10 strafed two British Scimitar tanks (one KIA/three WIA).
• U.S. Army Patriot missile downed U.S. Navy F/A–18C (one KIA).
• USAF F–15E bombed U.S. Army artillery battalion column (three KIA/six WIA).
• USAF F–15E bombed special forces/Kurdish column (18 KIA/45 WIA).

Given the unique nature of this operation and relatively minimal combat casualties, these fratricide rates may not necessarily provide overwhelming statistical evidence of the need to address air-to-ground target identification (TI) issues. However, OIF fratricide rates not withstanding, it is alarming to note that all OEF, and over 57 percent of all ODS, fratricide casualties occurred as a result of air-to-ground fratricide engagements. It is even more alarming to note that Marine air-to-ground fratricide incidents and casualties accounted for nearly 56 percent and 82 percent, respectively, of ODS air-to-ground fratricide occurrences.4

TI Systems
According to a U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command report:

Lack of positive target identification (PTI) and the inability to maintain situational awareness (SA) in combat environments are the major contributors to fratricide.

PTI is defined as “the immediate, accurate, and dependable ability to discriminate through-sight between friend and foe.” This ability should extend to the maximum engagement and acquisition range of the weapons system, without increasing vulnerability or decreasing performance.

SA errors, such as inadequate control measures, direct fire control, and land navigation failures, often result in fratricide, as do weapons errors, such as failure to follow rules of engagement. Contributing factors, such as anxiety, confusion, bad weather, and inadequate preparation, may also significantly increase the likelihood of fratricide.

Short engagement windows and decision times, restricted terrain, and poor visibility also result in fratricide. These difficulties are compounded in coalition environments when allies and the enemy are similarly equipped or when the enemy employs U.S. equipment.

Nevertheless, according to a Joint Staff study, the principal cause of fratricide is TI errors. This finding coincides with an earlier Office of Technological Assessment that concluded that TI technology for avoiding ground-to-ground and air-to-ground fratricide “lags behind the technology” employed by aircraft and surface antiaircraft weapons systems to avoid fratricide in the air-to-air and ground-to-air mission areas that, in turn, has resulted in fratricide incident rates of less than 1 and 4 percent, respectively, since World War II.

TI errors result from an inability to distinguish friendly and enemy thermal and optical signatures near the maximum ranges of weapons systems. The sophistication and range of weapons has surpassed the capability of personnel to identify targets with sufficient assurance to prevent fratricide incidents. As The Journal of Electronic Defense article5 states, “Engagement ranges [have become] so extended that differentiation between friend and enemy [has] leapt beyond the capability of the ‘sensor-aided’ eyeball.”

TI systems, both cooperative and noncooperative, are employed at the individual combatant or shooter level to assist in making accurate “shoot/ don’t shoot” decisions by characterizing objects as friend, enemy, or neutral. Noncooperative systems rely upon an object’s unique physical characteristics for identification, while cooperative systems employ question and answer (Q&A) technology to identify friendly forces.

Multinational field trials were conducted to identify a standard technology solution for PTI in 1998. These trials resulted in the selection of encrypted, Q&A, digital, millimeter wave technology as the NATO standard for direct fire, ground-to-ground, and rotary-wing air-to-ground weapons systems. The design criteria and minimum performance requirements for an interoperable system were subsequently defined in Standardization Agreement 4579 (StanAg 4579).

The operational requirements document for the Marine Corps’ mounted cooperative target identification system (MCTIS) was approved in June 2003. It will be a small, ruggedized, StanAg 4579-compliant battlefield target identification device (BTID) that will provide ground, direct fire, mounted weapons systems (M1A1s, LAV–25s/antitank, etc.) with the capability to discriminate between friendly and potentially hostile targets at ranges to 7 kilometers (km), with 99 percent correct probability of identification (PID) in less than a second. Its integration with battlespace management systems will provide a redundant means of blue force tracking, and it will also provide auxiliary low-level digital communications. Although there is no reference to the employment of MCTIS on attack helicopters or by forward air controllers (FACs), it and other cooperative systems—such as digital radio frequency tags (DRaFT) and radio-based combat identification (RBCI)—could also be used to satisfy Marine Corps air-to-ground TI requirements.

Three StanAg 4579-compliant BTIDs are being developed for employment by participants in the coalition combat identification advanced concept technology demonstration (CCID ACTD): the BTID, produced by Raytheon Corporation for the U.S. Army; the battlefield identification friend or foe (BIFF), produced by Thales Communications (TC) for the French Army; and the BTID, produced by Thales Missile Electronics Ltd. (TME) for the British Army.6

In summary, the American and French Armies have successfully demonstrated noncompliant BTIDs aboard helicopters.7 In addition, there is an initiative to integrate TC’s BIFF into the fleet of “next-generation” French attack helicopters (PAH–2 Tiger) and an effort to develop portable interrogator systems for employment by FACs, forward observers (FOs), and antitank guided missiles (ATGMs). There is also a similar British initiative to demonstrate rotary-wing and unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) BTID employment during the CCID ACTD, and according to British officials, this effort may lead to the procurement and retrofitting of BTIDs into their fleet of Apache Longbow helicopters in fiscal year 2008–09. British efforts to further miniaturize system components will also result in the production of a TME system for employment by FACs, FOs, and ATGMs.


08-17-04, 07:19 AM
Other Cooperative Systems
DRaFT will be a programmable, radar transponder unit (tag) capable of communicating with multiple airborne radar platforms. It will provide aircraft equipped with X and Ku-band radars (joint surveillance target attack radar system, Global Hawk, F–15, F–16, F/A–18, AV–8) with the capability to interrogate ground targets and with low-cost, small, lightweight transponders to respond to those interrogations with information such as unit location, identification, and status. The application of DRaFT interrogator functionality into attack, fixed-wing aircraft will be accomplished solely by modifying the platform’s radar software. In addition to providing air-to-ground PTI, DRaFT will also provide enhanced blue force tracking and data extraction from unattended ground sensors.

RBCI will employ existing SINCGARS-compatible radios to provide PTI for attack helicopters, UAVs, and FACs. It will be comprised of interrogators (airborne or groundbased), responders (ground platforms and dismounted units), and range extension relays (RERs). Unlike BTIDs, no additional hardware will be required for the responders as long as the interrogator is equipped with a global positioning system (GPS) and all radios are SINCGARS compatible.

RBCI target interrogation will be similar to traditional Q&A systems; however, because RBCI is an area interrogator, all properly equipped friendlies within the designated area will respond when queried. Interrogators will be able to directly interrogate a responder, or an interrogator may employ RERs—UAVs—to interrogate a responder that is below the line of sight. Interrogation queries will consist of a set of GPS coordinates that are transmitted at fixed time intervals, separated by 1 second, with three transmitted frequency hops. Total time for the interrogation/response sequence will be less than 2.3 seconds. The threshold requirement PID is greater than 90 percent while the objective probability is greater than 95 percent.

Fratricide continues to pose a significant threat on the modern battlefield. It results in the needless loss of personnel and equipment; a general degradation of unit cohesion, aggressiveness, and morale; and causes unit hesitation to conduct limited visibility operations and employ supporting arms. It also threatens U.S. strategic interests by jeopardizing the participation of coalition partners in multinational operations.8

Since ODS the United States has expended enormous resources to mitigate fratricide; however, no systems have been fielded that adequately provide the capability for forces to positively identify each other. In fact, forces operating in Afghanistan and Iraq are equipped with the same types of systems that were used during ODS. As the former (ODS) commander of the 3d Battalion, Royal Regiment of Fusiliers lamented, “The same soldiers are now preparing to undertake operations in the same theater with nothing more to protect them from their allies than [before]. . . .”9

With the effort to field MCTIS we have begun a process that will ultimately lead to the employment of systems that will reduce fratricide and enhance operational effectiveness in the ground-to-ground mission area. However, affordable systems are being developed that will also effectively provide these capabilities in the air-to-ground mission area. There is an urgent need for us to consider their employment.

Accordingly, a universal need statement for cooperative TI in the air-to-ground mission area should be drafted and submitted to the Marine Corps Combat Development Command for consideration. The Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory should become more involved in the development, testing, and demonstration of these systems.

The most profound argument for doing so was made by LTC Ralph Hayles, USA(Ret), who recalls skimming across the dark Iraqi desert floor in his Apache helicopter in search of enemy targets, his thoughts before firing at vehicles that he mistakenly believed were Iraqi, and his horror upon learning he was responsible for the deaths of two soldiers. In reference to the utility of these systems, he said:

In three-thousandths of a second, I could have put a target in the middle of my sight, and if it was friendly vehicles, I’d have moved off that hotspot and gone on to look at other things. If there had been combat ID equipment, the chances of me shooting those guys was zero percent. Highly qualified people without combat ID equipment can make mistakes. It’s built into the system.10

1. Dodd, Scott, “Friendly Fire May Have Killed Lejeune Marines,” The Charlotte Observer, 29 March 2003 and “Injured Lorain Marine Describes Friendly Fire,” Associated Press, 17 April 2003. (This incident was still under investigation during the writing of this article and final casualty figures had not been assessed.)

2. “Killing Your Own: The Problem of Friendly Fire During the Afghan Campaign,” Center for Defense Information (CDI) Terrorism Project, 12 June 2002 and “U.S. and Allied Casualties: Operation Enduring Freedom and the Anti-Terrorist Campaign,” CDI Terrorism Project, 4 February 2003.

3. Infield, Tom, “Advances Fail to Solve Friendly Fire Problem,” Knight Ridder Newspapers, 21 April 2003.

4. Gellman, Barton, “Gulf War’s Friendly Fire Tally Triples: Pentagon: 35 Died in Accidental Attacks,” The Washington Post, 14 August 1991.

5. Demonte, V., “Avoiding Fratricide: Is the Endgame Solution the Answer?,” No. 15, 1992.

6. MCTIS will be a type of BTID. The Raytheon and Thales systems discussed here are the principal candidates being considered to satisfy the current MCTIS operational requirement.

7. These noncompliant systems varied from StanAg 4579 requirements only to the extent that they broadcast in a slightly different frequency range. For the U.S. Army the BTID was employed aboard an AH–64 Apache during an earlier CID ACTD. For the French Army it was employed on a light utility helicopter where it realized ranges in excess of 8km, with 99 percent PID.

8. Following the OEF fratricide incident involving Canadian soldiers there was a public outcry in Canada to withdraw their troops from the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan. Similarly, prior to the deployment of British forces to participate in OIF, the former commander of the 3d Battalion, Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, retired LTC Andrew Larpent, publicly argued that British troops should not be deployed to Iraq again unless a system was fielded to prevent accidental attacks by American aircraft and that the British Ministry of Defense should make the fitting of an effective identification friend or foe system to frontline army vehicles “a precondition of the commitment of British troops to close combat operations involving the U.S. air force.”

9. Smith, Michael, “Gulf War Veteran Fears US Friendly Fire Repeat,” The Age, 7 January 2003.

10. Gordon, Craig, “Friendly Fire Fears,” Long Island Newsday, 24 February 2003.

Maj Cline is employed by Anteon Corporation in support of the CID Project Office, Battlespace Management and Air Defense Systems, Marine Corps Systems Command.


08-17-04, 07:31 AM
Bagpipe-playing Marine returns home from Iraq duty

Associated Press

ROMULUS, Mich. - Bagpipes are seldom, if ever, heard at the L.C. Smith Terminal at Detroit Metropolitan Airport.

But the man playing them Monday, 1st Sgt. Dwayne Farr of the U.S. Marines, had just come home from a place where they were just as unlikely to be heard: Fallujah, Iraq.

Farr unpacked his bagpipes in the baggage claim area, assembled them and performed the "Marine Corps Hymn" and "Amazing Grace." The Marine Corps flag was mounted on a pipe as he played. Afterward, some people shook Farr's hand; one man said, "I'm proud of you."

Farr, 38, of Detroit, spent seven months in Iraq. He was reunited with his wife Roxanne, 35, and their sons, Marcos, 14, and Dwayne Jr., 15, who live in Oceanside, Calif., and with other relatives who live in Detroit.

"It doesn't feel real. It's like one of those dream things," Farr told the Detroit Free Press.

Constant battles marked his first few months in Iraq. "It seemed like it was going on in Fallujah with no end," Farr said.

His battalion lost nine Marines, including one from his company. Farr said his job was to keep the Marines in good fighting spirits.

Farr drew attention when news reports said he was searching for a kilt with a desert camouflage pattern. A Marine official later wanted to know his size because people were offering to make kilts for him. Farr eventually received six kilts and wore each one in Iraq - while off duty.

"The kilt is not to be worn in battle," Farr said with a chuckle. "It wasn't `Braveheart.' We weren't doing Hollywood out there."




08-17-04, 07:40 AM
August 16, 2004

Tanks enter Najaf, approach shrine

By Abdul Hussein Al-Obeidi
Associated Press

NAJAF, Iraq — U.S. tanks rolled into the Old City of Najaf Monday toward a holy Shiite shrine where militants were hiding. Meanwhile, participants at a national conference voted to send a delegation here to try to negotiate an end to the fighting.
The city, which had been quiet early Monday, was hit by series of explosions in the late morning that shook the vast cemetery, the scene of many battles between U.S. forces and militants. Witnesses also reported U.S. tanks had moved to within 500 yards of the revered Imam Ali shrine.

“We are proceeding with our operations. We are moving forward and we captured some positions inside the Old City from the south during the night and this morning,” Police Chief Brig. Ghalib al-Jazaari said.

Fighting resumed Sunday after negotiations and a cease-fire collapsed. Two soldiers were killed in Najaf fighting Sunday, and a Marine was killed in Iraq’s western, largely Sunni province of Anbar. At least 934 U.S. service members have been killed in Iraq since March 2003.

Also Monday, officials reported that a French-American journalist and his Iraqi translator have disappeared in the southern city of Nasiriyah.

The journalist, Micah Garen, and his translator, Amir Doushi, went missing while walking through a busy market in the city, said Adnan al-Shoraify, deputy governor of Dhi Qar province. He said the translator’s family had first reported the two missing.

The Arab television station Al-Jazeera said the journalist had been kidnapped and provided no other details. Al-Shoraify could not confirm whether Garen, 33, was abducted.

The fighting in Najaf has cast a pall over the National Conference in Baghdad, an unprecedented gathering of 1,300 religious, tribal and political leaders from across Iraq — meant to be a key first step toward democracy.

Some of the delegates threatened to walk out unless the crisis was resolved. On Monday, the conference voted to send a delegation to Najaf to ask radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr to tell his followers to drop their weapons and join the country’s political process.

“The door is very open to all Iraqis, regardless of their religion, ethnic background, to join the free political process,” Shiite cleric Hussein al-Sadr, a distant relative of Muqtada al-Sadr, told the conference.

Muqtada al-Sadr’s aides said they supported efforts to end the violence.

“We are ready to accept any mediation for a peaceful solution,” al-Sadr aide Ahmed al-Shaibany said.

At the same time, however, al-Shaibany called on tribal chiefs throughout Iraq to travel to Najaf to form human shields to protect al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army militant and the Imam Ali Shrine.

Fighting on Sunday apparently caused minor damage to the outer wall of the shrine compound, ripping off some tiles and leaving some holes.

With Sunday’s deaths, at least eight U.S. troops have been killed in Najaf, along with about 20 Iraqi officers, since fighting there began Aug. 5. The U.S. military estimates hundreds of insurgents have been killed, but the militants dispute the figure.

In other violence, two civilians were killed and four others injured in the city of Baqubah on Monday when a mortar hit their house, said Ali Hussein, a medic at the main hospital in Baqubah.

It was not known who fired the mortar, but insurgents frequently clash with U.S. troops and Iraqi security forces in the city, 35 miles northeast of Baghdad.

A roadside bomb in Baqubah also wounded three members of the Iraqi National Guard, said Zuhair Abdul-Kareem, one of the injured guardsmen.

In the volatile Sunni city of Fallujah, west of Baghdad, U.S. warplanes bombed three neighborhoods Sunday afternoon, killing five civilians and wounding six others, said, Dr. Adil Khamis, of Fallujah General Hospital.

The three-day conference, which started Sunday, aims to give a broad spectrum of Iraqis a voice in the political process and increase the legitimacy of interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi’s interim government, which is deeply dependent on American troops and money even after the end of the U.S. occupation.

Just hours after the heavily guarded meeting began, however, insurgents fired a mortar barrage that landed at a nearby commuter bus station, killing two people and wounding 17 others, according to the Health Ministry.

The mortars apparently were aimed at the fortified Green Zone enclave where the conference was taking place, police said.

The continued Najaf fighting has undermined Allawi’s attempts to show he is in control. The country’s Shiite majority has been angered by the sight of U.S. troops firing around some of their holiest sites — and many have blamed the Iraqi government.

Some conference delegates have staged loud protests and others have threatened to pull out if the violence does not end.

In an attempt to assuage the complaints, a working committee was formed to find a peaceful solution to the tension in Najaf.

Cabinet minister Waeil Abdel-Latif warned of a new major offensive in Najaf unless the militants drop their weapons, get out of the city and transform themselves into a political party.

“We shall give the peaceful way a chance ... and after that, we shall take another position,” he said Sunday.

He also said foreign fighters were among the militants captured in Najaf — a repeated government claim — and he played a video that showed interviews with Iranian, Egyptian and Jordanian fighters and boxes of weapons, reportedly from Iran.

Al-Sadr, a fiery young cleric, has drawn support among some with his denunciations of the continued U.S. domination of the country. He has depicted the fight by his followers as a campaign against occupation.



08-17-04, 08:36 AM
Marine Foreign Advisors <br />
Story by Joseph R. Chenelly <br />
<br />
It is common knowledge that Marines are on the ground making a great deal of difference in the war on terrorism and the building of a free...

08-17-04, 08:36 AM
The SCETC was just recently redesigned as such. It formerly was known as the Coalition and Special Warfare Center. Before the name change, a great deal of its efforts went into preparing MEU(SOCs)...

08-17-04, 09:51 AM
Issue Date: August 16, 2004

Firefights with insurgents break cease-fire in Najaf
2 Marines, soldier killed as troops fend off Sadr militia

By Laura Bailey
Times staff writer

Less than a week after assuming control of two restive Iraqi provinces, leathernecks with the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit were tested in clashes against insurgents that ignited throughout areas south of Baghdad.
At least two Marines and 300 enemy forces were killed as of Aug. 5, according to a MEU spokeswoman.

In Najaf, Iraqi forces loyal to anti-American cleric Moqtada Al-Sadr battled troops with the Camp Pendleton, Calif.-based 11th MEU in firefights that broke a two-month cease-fire between U.S. and Shiite forces.

Smoked billowed over parts of the city as roadside stalls burned. Many shops were closed and the streets were abandoned as mortar fire and gunshots rang out, the Associated Press reported.

“We estimate that we’ve killed 300 anti-Iraqi forces in the past two days of fighting,” 11th MEU spokeswoman Capt. Carrie C. Batson said Aug. 6.

As of that day, the 11th MEU Marines were sweeping the city’s cemetery located in the exclusion zone, established in the cease-fire agreement in June, Batson said. According to the Marine Corps, Sadr militiamen used the cemetery to launch attacks against Marines and Iraqi security forces. Batson said they built caves and underground rooms throughout the holy site to hide weapons and people, thus making the cemetery a legitimate military target.

“While the laws of war normally identify mosques and cemeteries as protected places, such sites forfeit that status if used for military purposes,” Batson said. She said U.S. “counter-attacks” on the cemetery were a matter of self defense.

The renewed fighting ended the cease-fire brokered after Shiite rebellions erupted throughout Fallujah and surrounding areas in April as Marines with I Marine Expeditionary Force assumed control of western Iraq.

This round of fighting began in Najaf and spread throughout neighboring areas Aug. 5, less than a week after the 11th MEU relieved Army units in the Najaf and Qadisiyah provinces July 31.

In Najaf city, Marines were called in by the town government after Sadr’s Madhi army forces attacked a police station in the early morning hours. During the attack, a Marine UH-1N Huey helicopter was hit by enemy fire and was forced to make an emergency landing. One crew member was wounded but is in stable condition, Batson said.

Later in the day, as fighting spread throughout the area, Madhi army forces launched attacks on Marines and Iraqi security forces, Batson said. Marines received more than 30 mortar attacks launched from the cemetery and responded by striking it with two guided bombs from an F-15 jet, she said.

Two Marines and a soldier were killed in Najaf province that day and 12 were wounded, but the Corps declined to release details of their deaths, saying that doing so could aid enemy forces in assessing the effectiveness of their tactics. The names of the Marines were not released pending notification of the families.

Najaf General Hospital officials said battles killed at least 13 civilians and wounded 58 others, according to the Associated Press.

Another spate of fighting occurred for the MEU three days earlier. While conducting a security patrol with Iraqi national guardsmen in Najaf on Aug. 2, the Marines clashed with militants after spotting rocket-propelled grenades in a lot near the Najaf Maternity Hospital, close to Sadr’s home, according to an Aug. 5 Marine Corps press release.

The MEU suffered no casualties and estimated that seven Iraqi militiamen were killed. It was unclear whether civilians in the hospital were hurt. Witnesses said a woman and three bystanders were killed. The Corps said only that its troops “returned well-aimed fire, taking caution to avoid all non-combatants.”

Marines and sailors of the 11th MEU deployed to Iraq this summer to help relieve extended Army troops. They could spend up to eight months deployed.

Elsewhere in Iraq, another Marine Expeditionary Unit is beginning a similar deployment.

24th MEU clashes

Leathernecks with the Camp Lejeune, N.C.-based 24th MEU replaced Army units in the highly populated northern Babil province, just south of Baghdad, in late July.

Members of the unit clashed with insurgents days after the change of command when a half-dozen mortar rounds landed near their position July 27. No injuries or damage resulted from the incident.

The attack came one week after a mortar round killed Lance Cpl. Vincent M. Sullivan, whose death was the first for the unit since it arrived in Iraq in mid-July, said an American Forces Press Service report.

One of the units that make up the 24th MEU for this deployment is 1st Battalion, 2nd Marines, which forms the core of the MEU’s battalion landing team. This marks 1/2’s second stint in Iraq; during the major combat phase in March 2003, the battalion lost 18 Marines during fierce fighting in Nasiriyah.



08-17-04, 12:13 PM
Iraqi delegation takes peace proposal to Najaf in bid to end standoff with al-Sadr

By Jamie Tarabay
7:43 a.m. August 17, 2004

BAGHDAD, Iraq – A U.S. warplane bombed Najaf's vast cemetery as fighting with Shiite militants intensified Tuesday. An Iraqi delegation brought a peace proposal aimed at ending the standoff in the holy city, which has marred a Baghdad conference meant to be a landmark step toward democracy.

At least one plane dropped bombs in the cemetery, where followers of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr have been battling U.S. troops since Aug. 5. Explosions and gunfire shook the streets throughout the day and U.S. troops entered the flashpoint Old City neighborhood, where al-Sadr's Mahdi Army was based.

The clashes Tuesday killed three people and wound 15 others, all of them civilians, according to rescue worker Sadiq al-Shaibany.

Two of the casualties were killed when gunfire hit the office of the Badr Brigades, the militant wing of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, which is not involved in the fighting, according to Ridha Taqi, a SCIRI official.

The Najaf fighting has overshadowed the National Conference, which was supposed to be a revolutionary moment in Iraq's democratic transformation, an unprecedented gathering of 1,300 Iraqis from all ethnic and religious groups for vigorous debate over their country's course.

It also was intended to increase the legitimacy of interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi's government, which is deeply dependent on American troops and money even after the official U.S. occupation ended.

But members of the conference decided to delay the gathering's main function – electing a form of national assembly – to give time for a peace mission to Najaf.

An eight-member team arrived in Najaf aboard U.S. military helicopters Tuesday afternoon. The peace proposal demands that al-Sadr's Mahdi Army militia put down its weapons, leave holy shrines where they have taken refuge during the fighting and join Iraq's political process in exchange for amnesty.

"This is not a negotiation. This is a friendly mission to convey the message of the National Conference," said delegation head Hussein al-Sadr, a distant relative of the cleric. "We want to change the Mahdi Army into a political organization and to evacuate the shrine of Ali with the promise not to legally pursue those taking shelter there. This is what the government and all Iraqis want."

The mission to Najaf was plagued by embarrassing holdups. A large delegation of 60 conference members had intended to go in a convoy on Tuesday to Najaf, 100 miles south of Bagdad. That trip was delayed as members waited seven hours for a security escort, then it was canceled when none emerged.

The conference then decided to send the smaller delegation.

Al-Sadr's followers have been battling U.S. troops from Najaf's vast cemetery and the revered Imam Ali Shrine since Aug. 5, when a two-month old ceasefire broke down.

Al-Sadr aides said they welcomed the mission, but not the peace proposal.

"The demands of the committee are impossible. The shrine compound must be in the hands of the religious authorities. They are asking us to leave Najaf while we are the sons of Najaf," said al-Sadr aide, Sheik Ali Smeisim.

If al-Sadr agrees to stand down, the conference will have succeeded in turning a crisis into a startling, symbolic victory showing the potential power of communal solutions in post-Saddam Iraq.

If he rejects the peace deal, the conflict will have distracted attention from other pressing issues and damage conference organizers' efforts to project an optimistic image of national unity.

The Najaf violence "has really affected progress" at the National Conference, said one delegate, Ahmad al-Hayali.

The conference was to vote Tuesday on members of a national council that will serve as a watchdog over the interim government before elections expected in January. But delegates decided not to hold the vote until the peace mission returned from Najaf.

An explosion, reportedly from a mortar, shook the area near the conference venue in central Baghdad on Tuesday. The gathering is under heavy security, seen as a possible major target for the 6-month-old insurgency.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan also has offered to play "a facilitating role" to help end the Najaf violence if all sides agree, U.N. Spokesman Fred Eckhard said Monday.

He said the decision came after Annan spoke to U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, Iran's Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi, and the new U.N. Iraq envoy Ashraf Jehangir Qazi.

Also, Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Angelo Sodano told Italian state radio on Monday that if official mediation were requested, the Vatican would "very willingly" provide it, adding that Pope John Paul II has never declined such requests.

U.S. troops have taken the lead in the Najaf fighting, while Iraqi security forces have played a minor role, mainly manning checkpoints. U.S. troops are training Iraqi national guard units for any possible raid on the shrine compound.

On Monday, Najaf's police chief, Maj. Gen. Ghalib al-Jazaari, said members of al-Sadr's Mahdi Army militia broke into his family's house in Basra, beat up his sisters and kidnapped his handicapped, 80-year-old father.

Iraq is scheduled to hold January elections to choose a transitional government. That government will convene a national convention to draft a constitution for consideration by voters in October 2005. A vote for a constitutionally based government will follow two months later.

Associated Press reporters Sameer N. Yacoub in Baghdad and Abdul Hussein al-Obeidi in Najaf contributed to this report.



08-17-04, 03:26 PM
Military move to head off insect-borne leishmaniasis in Iraq and Afghanistan

By Sandra Jontz, Stars and Stripes
European edition, Thursday, August 12, 2004

ARLINGTON, Va. — Peak leishmaniasis season in Iraq and Afghanistan is approaching, and military health officials are redoubling efforts to arm deployed troops with prevention measures.

Preventative medicine officials are deployed to those countries to brief troops about protections, hand out insecticides containing DEET and make sure troops have mosquito netting for their cots. They also hold pre- and postdeployment briefings.

And entomologists this year are spraying the ground of military bases and camps to kill the sand flies, said Dr. (Lt. Col.) Glenn Wortmann, program director of the infections disease fellowship at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington.

“With the initial [Iraq] invasion, that was not a top priority,” Wortmann said. “Not getting shot was a top priority. What’s new is now [health prevention specialists] are there making sure everyone has DEET, everyone has mosquito netting, and the entomologists are spraying insecticides.”

The disease, spread by the bite of a sand fly, has infected more than 600 troops since early 2003. Most broke out with minor skin lesions.

In Southwest and Central Asia, sand flies are active from March through October, peaking in September in some regions.

The disease is caused by parasites transmitted via sand fly saliva, and comes in three forms: cutaneous, affecting the skin; mucosal, affecting the mouth, nose and throat and which can disfigure; and visceral, affecting internal organs and can be fatal if untreated.

The incubation period is about three to six months, meaning symptoms don’t show themselves soon after being bit.

Three troops, two out of Afghanistan and one out of Iraq, have been treated for visceral leishmaniasis, Wortmann said.

“All three are doing very well. … They were not close to death at all.”

The three experienced “persistent fevers for weeks on end” and were diagnosed after getting medial treatment at U.S. military hospitals in the States.


Tips on avoiding sand flies ...

There’s only one way to prevent leishmaniasis: Keep sand flies from biting. Here are some tips:

¶ Try to limit outdoor activity at dusk and during the evening, when sand flies are most active.

¶ Wear protective clothing, with uniform sleeves turned down and buttoned, and pant legs properly bloused.

¶ Apply insect repellent with N, N-diethylmetatoluamide (DEET) to exposed skin and under the edges of clothing, such as under the ends of sleeves and pant legs. Reapply according to directions.

¶ Keep uniforms properly treated with permethrin. Make sure to apply after every five washings.

¶ Use permethrin-treated bed netting and screens on doors and windows. Fine-mesh netting (at least 18 holes to the linear inch) is required for an effective barrier against sand flies, which are about one-third the size of mosquitoes.

¶ In the field, try to get your sleeping bag off the ground. If you can’t do that, at least use a ground pad. If sleeping under cover, sweep all loose dust and dirt from floors. The cleaner your quarters, the fewer the flies.

¶ Do not wear flea collars designed for dogs and cats, even over boots, medical experts warn. The collars are designed to repel common house fleas and there is no evidence they work against sand flies. Meanwhile, the chemicals in the collars have not been tested for safety with humans, and can cause allergic reactions and sores that may become infected.

Sources: U.S. Army, Centers for Disease Control


Dr. Ed Rowtan / WRAIR
In this magnified photo, a sand fly delivers what could be a parasite-carrying bite that causes leishmaniasis, a disabling and sometimes deadly tropical illness.

For more information ...

People who deployed to Southwest and Central Asia who have questions about their general health or leishmaniasis can contact the Pentagon’s Deployment Health Clinical Center of the Department of Defense, telephone 866-559-1627 or at: www.pdhealth.mil.

For evaluation, treatment, and referral of military health-care beneficiaries with suspected or confirmed cases of leishmaniasis, clinicians should contact the Infectious Disease Service at either Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington at (202) 782-1663 or 6740, or Brooke Army Medical Center on San Antonio, Texas, at (210) 916-5554 or 1286.

The Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in Maryland also offers diagnostic support and can be reached at (301) 319-9956.



08-17-04, 05:39 PM
“Get Some!” A crack Marine force resumes the attack on al Sadr’s Mahdi army.

"Get some! is the unofficial Marine Corps cheer.... Get some! expresses, in two simple words, the excitement, the fear, the feelings of power and the erotic-tinged thrill that come from confronting the extreme physical and emotional challenges posed by death, which is, of course, what war is all about." — Evan Wright, Generation Kill There is perhaps "no better combined-arms raid force in the world" than a Marine Expeditionary Unit, Col. Jeffery Bearor told National Review Online Friday. Unfortunately for Shiite firebrand Moqtada al Sadr, that's just the force that has been brought to bear on his Mahdi-army militiamen in and around the holy city of Najaf.

On August 5, after months of allowing al Sadr's insurgency to go virtually unchecked, the newly arrived 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (11th MEU) — including attached U.S. Army cavalry elements and Iraqi National Guard troops — began battling the Mahdi army in force.

Last Thursday, the 11th MEU launched a major offensive toward Najaf's city center. On Friday, a tenuous ceasefire was called to allow for negotiations between Iraqi-government officials and al Sadr's chief lieutenants. The talks broke down on Saturday, and the U.S.-led force resumed the offensive early Sunday.

Perhaps al Sadr, reportedly slightly wounded, believes he can buy more time. Perhaps, he hopes Najaf will become another Fallujah: There, al Qaeda strongman Abu Musab al Zarqawi's guerilla forces were being systematically destroyed by U.S. Marines when — in a glaring political move — the Americans were called off to allow a somewhat impotent all-Iraqi brigade to move into the city in early May (Fallujah is still a dangerous battle-zone and Zarqawi is still at large).

Perhaps al Sadr believes his ranks will swell dramatically if the Americans continue pressing the attack, particularly if holy sites like Najaf's Imam Ali mosque are directly targeted, collaterally damaged, or destroyed. The mosque, which has been used as a battlefield sanctuary by Mahdi militiamen, is adjacent to a vast cemetery where much of the fighting has taken place.

Exhorting his followers to continue battling the Americans even if he is captured or killed, al Sadr may be beginning to accept that his days are numbered. Or he may be trying to infuse a fighting spirit in his militiamen.

Either way, he is clearly underestimating the determination of the fledgling Iraqi government and U.S. military commanders to ensure that Najaf will be no Fallujah.

Arrayed against al Sadr is the 11th MEU — a 2,200-man task force comprised of a Marine-infantry battalion reinforced with tanks, light armored vehicles, attack helicopters, and Navy and Marine Corps warplanes roaring in from ashore carriers.

MEU's like the 11th are particularly "well-suited for small-scale, point-of-the-spear operations," says Bearor, the chief of staff for the Marine Corps Training and Education Command at Quantico, Virginia.

The reasoning, Bearor states, is because as battle tough as every leatherneck is trained to be, Marines (and attached sailors) in the MEUs receive additional high-intensity training in both conventional and unconventional warfare not unlike that which they are facing in Najaf. All forward-deployed MEUs in the 21st century are designated MEU (SOC) — an acronym suggesting a hard-hitting force, which a MEU (SOC) is — but SOC actually stands for special operations capable.

"We expect MEUs to be able to flawlessly perform myriad special and specialized operations in nearly any environment," says Bearor. "The fully integrated nature of the MEU, which brings together the command element, ground and air-combat elements, and the service-support element early for an intense round of collective training activities means that the MEUs are the most highly trained air-ground-logistics combined-arms units in the world."

He adds, "Their command-and-control apparatus and ability to 'turn-on-a-dime' driven by a planning cycle measured in hours not days means they are hugely useful to the combatant commanders on the ground for a variety of missions."

Still, the success of the MEU lies within the ability of each Marine to draw on personal stamina, sharp eyes, quick reflexes, and plenty of motivation and heart on the mean streets of Najaf.

No problem.

Marines in the attack say they are going "get some," a leatherneck-battle cry "shouted when a brother Marine is struggling to beat his personal best in a fitness run," writes Rolling Stone contributing editor Evan Wright in his best-selling book, Generation Kill (about the Marines during the spring 2003 offensive phase of the Iraqi war). "['Get some'] is the cry of exhilaration after firing a burst from a .50-caliber machine gun." It is the cry shouted by fist-pumping Marines on the ground when a flight of Cobra helicopters thunders overhead. According to Wright, nearly every Marine he met in Iraq was hoping the war would be his chance to "get some."

Many in the 11th MEU have had the opportunity to "get some" over the past several days.

For instance, during the early hours of the Najaf offensive, Fox News reporter Tadek Markowski described how one Marine was knocked down by a grenade blast, shrapnel tearing into his face. Minutes later, the Marine was back on his feet, weapon in hand and fighting back.

Such performance is not unusual for Marines, says Lt. Col. Thomas V. Johnson of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force currently deployed in Iraq. According to Johnson, al Sadr's forces in Najaf — much like al Zarqawi's in Fallujah — are committed to fighting to the death. But American troops in the region are equally committed to killing them.

"The Marines respect the cunning and the not-afraid-to-die attitude of the sneaky bastards, but they [Marines] have dispatched their fair share [of enemy combatants]," Johnson told NRO just hours before the launching of the Najaf offensive. "So there is definitely no super-human mystique about these folks."

He adds, "Our morale is often at its highest when we are in the most inhospitable of places. We are being challenged daily and each day the Marines rise to meet those challenges with few complaints and lots of heart."

Still, Najaf is "a big scrap," says Lt. Col John L. Mayer, commanding officer, Battalion Landing Team, 1st Battalion, 4th Marines. "One of the toughest I've ever been in."

Marines aren't the only American combatants taking the fight to al Sadr. Attached to the MEU are elements totaling approximately 1,000 men of the U.S. Army's crack 1st Cavalry Division: A force that has proven to be equally adept at rooting out insurgents. Recognizable by their big yellow shoulder patches with the black horse-head silhouettes, 1st cavalry troopers retired their horses decades ago. Today they ride into battle much like other soldiers: in helicopters and armored personnel carriers.

Despite overwhelming combat support, American Marines and soldiers are often asked to perform with one hand tied behind their backs. 1st Lt Michael J. Borneo of the 11th MEU says his platoon tries to avoid shooting at or into religious shrines and hospitals, even when inhabited by the enemy. And the enemy knows that.

"We see guys who will drop their weapons, run into a hospital, come out in the street, see what we are doing, and run back into the hospital," he says "Then we see the same guy later pick up a weapon and shoot at us."

How bad is the fighting for the average citizen in Najaf? A great deal of print and broadcast reporting from that city has included much in the way of imagery showing kinetic, combat operations.

"The other portion of that picture is one of relative calm in about 80 percent of the city as residents carry out their usual routines," says Johnson. "The Mahdi Militia forces have been confined to a fairly small portion in the center of the city. They have attacked Iraqi police stations near there, but the Iraqi police have decisively repelled each attack. They [Iraqi police] are holding their own for sure."

Regarding rumors that thousands of Iraqi refugees are fleeing the city, Johnson adds, "some residents have left over the past seven days, but there has been no mass exodus of civilians. Families have even shown up at the cemetery to bury their dead. One family was pinned down by enemy forces and Marines intervened to get them out of the line of fire."

During the 2003 invasion of Iraq, while other Marines and soldiers were racing toward Baghdad, the 11th MEU played only supporting roles. The unit operated a temporary holding facility for captured enemy soldiers and participated in searches for weapons of mass destruction. Returning to Camp Pendleton, California in May of that year, the MEU redeployed to Iraq late last month replacing soldiers from the 1st Infantry Division, the Army's famous "Big Red One."