View Full Version : Deploying to Iraq brings brothers together

03-04-05, 07:19 AM
Deploying to Iraq brings brothers together
Submitted by: 2nd Force Service Support Group
Story Identification #: 2005337519
Story by Cpl. C.J. Yard

CAMP TAQADDUM, Iraq (March 2, 2005) -- Playful fighting, taking care of each other and the warrior spirit run deep in the Becker family, according to the eldest and youngest of three brothers.

The trio of boys joined the Marine Corps, following in the footsteps of their grandfather, a retired colonel.

Gunnery Sgt. Mathew C. Becker, the 35-year-old company gunnery sergeant for A Co., 2d Military Police Battalion, augmenting 1st Force Service Support Group (Forward) and his youngest brother, Lance Cpl. Kyle Becker, a heavy equipment operator with 8th Engineer Support Battalion, 2d Force Service Support Group (Fwd.), met up in the barren desert landscape of Iraq after two years of not seeing each other.

Kyle is just beginning a career in the Marine Corps while his oldest brother has been in the ranks for 15 years. Kyle said that he always looked up to his brothers for guidance when he was growing up. Joining the Marine Corps as they did seemed like a natural decision for him.

Their other brother, Cpl. Andy Becker, who was recently deployed to Afghanistan with 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, for Operation Enduring Freedom, is part of the Security and Stability Operations training staff at March Air Reserve Base in California.

Even though Kyle and Mathew’s home base is Camp Lejeune, N.C., they have missed each other due to deployments and various duty assignments. However, Mathew’s absence has given Kyle the opportunity to assist his brother’s family.

Kyle, who claims McCurdysville, W. Va., for a hometown, spent time with Mathew’s wife, Kim, their boys, Seth and Shane, and daughter, Olivia, before his recent deployment.

Right now, it’s Mathew’s turn to take care of his little brother for the short time they’ll be together here. Kyle has just arrived for duty in Iraq, while his brother is packing up to go home and be reunited with his family. Military policemen from B Co., 2d MP Bn., will replace the elder Becker’s unit as the Camp Pendleton, Calif.-based I Marine Expeditionary Force turns over command and control of western Iraq to the Camp Lejeune-based II MEF as part of the scheduled rotation of troops.

Today, they are together. Standing outside the older Becker brother’s building, they reminisce of years past, growing up together, serving in Iraq and of their family.
Kyle said they have always had a strong relationship, but he did catch a lot of grief from his older brother.

“Yeah, it was more like he was picking on me and beating me up when I was younger,” said Kyle.

“He was a punk when he was younger, but he’s turned into a great Marine and an even better brother. Besides, we’re happy when we’re punching and beating each other,” commented Mathew with a playful jab to Kyle’s ribs.

The two were engaged in some brotherly hand-to-hand combat, much like what would occur even if they had not been separated for two years, when one was injured.

“He split my eye open here the other day in front of my Marines. I was bleeding all over the place,” said Mathew, as he explained the warrior spirit of his little brother.

Mathew said he felt no apprehension about his brother being deployed to a combat zone.

“He’s a warrior; it runs in the family,” said Mathew, a native of Portland, Ore. “I’ve been here three times now and Andy was in Afghanistan; now it’s [Kyle’s] turn to step up to the plate.”

Becker’s Military Police Company has spent the past seven months providing security for military supply convoys on Iraq’s dangerous roads. His unit also supported last November’s combat operations in Fallujah, helping reclaim the city from heavy insurgency during Operation Al Fajr.

“I’ve been giving him advice about how to be successful out here,” said Mathew. “I told him to keep his eyes open for [Improvised Explosive Devices] and take care of his Marines. He’s a good Marine and I know that he will do awesome things out here. He can think outside of the box and attack a problem from the side, top, bottom or go right through it.”

Mathew’s time here has come to an end and he is returning to Camp Lejeune soon. He said he is looking forward to seeing his family again.

“I heard those guys had a family reunion while I was out here,” said Mathew, who works on the opposite end of Camp Taqaddum, a former Iraqi military airbase now occupied by U.S. forces, from his brother.

“We did get together, but we were thinking of you the entire time,” said Kyle to his brother in a reassuring tone about the reunion he missed.

According to Mathew, Kyle did a good job helping his wife take care of his kids. “He was out there turning wrenches with my boys who race motocross; they’re already asking about him. They miss him.”

With Mathew’s deployment knowledge being passed to Kyle, they said they are thankful for their time together and their commands have been very helpful, allowing the brothers to be together as much as possible before they go their separate directions again.

“I’m just happy that I can pass on the knowledge that I have about being out here to my brother before I go home,” said Mathew.


CAMP TAQADDUM, Iraq (March 2, 2005) – Lance Cpl. Kyle Becker puts his older brother, Gunnery Sgt. Mathew C. Becker in a headlock as the two wrestle. The brothers have not seen each other in two years due to different duty assignments and deployments until they crossed paths here recently. Their time spent together in Iraq will be short - Mathew prepares to return to Camp Lejeune, N.C., with A Company, 2d Military Police Battalion, which augmented the 1st Force Service Support Group for the past seven months in Iraq. The Camp Lejeune-based II Marine Expeditionary Force is replacing the Camp Pendleton, Calif.-based I MEF during the scheduled rotation of troops during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Photo by: Cpl. C.J. Yard


03-04-05, 07:20 AM
Marines honor colors properly
Submitted by: MCB Quantico
Story Identification #: 20053375836
Story by Cpl. J. Agg

MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, Va. (March 3, 2005) -- The Marine Corps has addressed a major oversight in the way it trains recruits to render honors to colors while in civilian attire.

For years, drill instructors at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, S.C., and MCRD San Diego, guided by an errant drill manual, have taught new recruits to stand at the position of attention during the national anthem and morning and evening colors when not in uniform. Both U.S. Navy and Marine Corps regulations require service members in civilian attire to stand at attention with the right hand placed over the heart. Gentlemen who are covered must also remove their headdress and hold it at the left shoulder so that the right hand is over the heart.

Sergeant Maj. Ralph H. Drake, Training and Education Command sergeant major, said the Corps is moving quickly to correct its mistake with an amended drill manual.
"For years our method of rendering honors to colors while in civilian attire has not been in accordance with the U.S. Code, Title 36, the U.S. Navy Regulations or our Marine Corps Flag Manual," said Drake. "These all called for placing the right hand over the heart vice just standing at attention. Our new Drill and Ceremonies Order P5060.1 is now in compliance. (Marine Corps Recruit Depot) Parris Island has already modified their lesson plans on this and [MCRD] San Diego is following suit. (Drill Instructor) schools will also make the appropriate change."

Additionally, U.S. Navy Regulations 1990, paragraph 1207.3, provides guidance for sea service members in civilian attire when passing colors.
"Each person in the naval service in uniform, upon being passed by or passing a military formation carrying the national ensign uncased shall render a hand salute. A member not in uniform being passed by or passing such a formation shall face the flag and stand at attention with the right hand over the heart. If covered, men shall remove the headdress and hold it at the left shoulder, the hand being over the heart."


Lance Cpl. Colin Johnston, Officer Candidates School Headquarters and Service Company personnel clerk, properly renders honors in civilian attire during evening colors Tuesday at OCS as Lance Cpl. Brandon Lewis, Charlie Company clerk, salutes in uniform. Although for years Marine recruits have been taught to stand at attention while rendering honors to colors while in civilian attire, Navy and Marine Corps regulations call for service members to place the right hand over the heart when not in uniform. Photo by: Cpl. J. Agg


03-04-05, 07:21 AM
Iraq Deaths Expected To Fall
Associated Press
March 4, 2005

FORT STEWART, Ga. - With U.S. deaths in Iraq topping 1,500, the commanding General of allied troops in Baghdad said Thursday he expects casualties will soon decline because of bomb-detecting technology and emboldened Iraqi informants.

"My expectation, not just a hope, is that over the coming months we'll see the number of casualties go down," Maj. Gen. William G. Webster said in a teleconference from Baghdad. "Now, I'm knocking on wood at the same time, because the enemy gets a vote in this."

As commander of the Army's 3rd Infantry Division at Fort Stewart, Webster took command Sunday of Task Force Baghdad - the allied military force of 30,000 troops responsible for securing Iraq's capital city.

As of Thursday, at least 1,502 U.S. soldiers have died in Iraq since the March 2003 invasion.

The greatest threat has been homemade bombs detonated from roadsides, in cars and by suicide attackers. Webster said a main focus for his troops will be untangling and hunting down complex networks of insurgents - financiers, suppliers and attackers - behind the bombings.

U.S. soldiers are also studying how insurgent bombs are built - using alarm clocks, washing machine timers, cell phones and garage-door openers - to devise ways of finding the explosives before they kill.

"We're training our soldiers every night on what are the latest trends and techniques being used by the enemy so they can find these devices," Webster said. "We're finding 30 to 45 percent of them on a given day."

In some cases, troops use electronic gadgets that can jam remote detonation signals or explode bombs harmlessly from a distance.

They're also beginning to use armored vehicles that can scan roads for potential bombs and inspect them with mechanical arms. Webster said the vehicles can inspect 500 miles of road each day, and have discovered more than 60 insurgent bombs in the past month.

U.S. forces also have established hot lines where Iraqis can phone in anonymous tips about hidden bombs or plotting attackers. Webster said the success of the Jan. 30 elections in Iraq has also emboldened many Iraqis who may have been previously wary of sharing information. "The confidence of the Iraqi people has increased and it has caused our tips to increase," he said.


03-04-05, 07:21 AM
Navy To Sink Retired Carrier USS America <br />
Associated Press <br />
March 4, 2005 <br />
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WASHINGTON - The Navy plans to send the retired carrier USS America to the bottom of the Atlantic in explosive tests...

03-04-05, 07:22 AM
Bombs Kill 6 Iraqi Policemen, Wound 15
Associated Press
March 4, 2005

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Car bombs killed six policemen and wounded 15 in new attacks on Iraq's security services Thursday as political factions wrangled over putting together a government.

The Shiite Muslim-dominated United Iraqi Alliance and a Kurdish coalition, which emerged from the Jan. 30 elections with the two biggest blocks of seats in the National Assembly, made little headway in their talks on combining forces to select the leaders of the new government.

Meanwhile, interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, whose party finished third, denied rumors he had given up his effort to stitch together support from other groups, including the Kurds, that would allow him to remain prime minister.

Forming Iraq's first democratically elected government is a key step in the U.S. plan for stabilizing the country, and insurgents have been striking at Iraqi police and military forces seeking to undermine the effort.

Two suicide car bombs exploded outside the Interior Ministry in eastern Baghdad and killed at least five policemen and wounded nine, the defense ministry reported.

Another car bomb targeted a police convoy in Baqouba, 35 miles northeast of the capital, and killed one Iraqi policeman and a civilian, the U.S. military said. Six officers and 10 civilians were injured.

In the north, insurgents blew up a natural gas pipeline between Kirkuk and Dibis, about 20 miles away. Officials said the blast would reduce gas production, but could not immediately say by how much.

Violence that has killed hundreds of people the past three weeks led Allawi to extend a state of emergency until the end of March. First announced nearly four months ago, the order affects all of Iraq except Kurdish-run areas in the north.

The emergency decree includes a nighttime curfew and gives the government extra powers to make arrests without warrants and launch police and military operations when it deems necessary.

The U.S. military reported that three American soldiers were killed in action Wednesday, pushing the number of U.S. military deaths since the invasion of Iraq in March 2003 to 1,502, according to an Associated Press count.

The military said two soldiers were mortally wounded when a roadside bomb struck their vehicle in Baghdad. Another soldier was killed in Babil province.

At least 1,140 Americans, including four civilians working for the military, have died from hostile action, according to the Defense Department. The other deaths are from non-combat causes.

More than a month after the elections, negotiations between the cleric-supported United Iraqi Alliance and the coalition of Kurdish parties are struggling and plans for convening the 275-member National Assembly this week have been suspended.

The United Iraqi Alliance won 140-seats and wants the leader of its Islamic Dawa party, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, to be the next prime minister. But it needs the support of 42 other deputies to elect a president - the first step in selecting a prime minister.

"Everyone's bewildered. It's hard to reach a solution. There should be compromises for a solution to be reached," said Ali Faisal of the Shiite Political Council, a member of the alliance.

The Kurdish coalition, an alliance between Jalal Talabani's Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and Masoud Barzani's Kurdish Democratic Party, has 75 seats and thus is a key player in negotiations over potential governing coalitions.

Talabani and Barzani told reporters in Irbil on Thursday that they will ally with whichever groups support their demands to expand the autonomous Kurdish region and to retain control over their Peshmerga militias, which they do not want to disband.

Barzani said talks were continuing with other parties but refused to comment on their substance, describing the task of forming a government as a "laborious operation that takes time and effort."

"We deal with a program, not with people. We support having a national coalition government. If this is not possible, we will agree with the list that will fulfill our demands," Barzani said.

Allawi, whose party won 40 seats, also has been courting the Kurds as well as other political parties, including the communists, in an effort to remain head of the government.

There were rumors Thursday that Allawi was dropping his bid, but his spokesman, Thaer al-Naqib, denied that. He said Allawi was "still a strong candidate" for the premiership.


03-04-05, 07:22 AM
Video Game Used To Lure New Recruits
Charlotte Observer
March 4, 2005

This is scary and maddening. Unable to get the necessary recruits for the military the old-fashioned way, the U.S. Army has sunk $16 million into a government-sponsored video game that blurs the line between fantasy and the reality of war.

The taxpayer-financed "America's Army" is so clever a mind game that even the military folks behind it get a little confused when talking it up. Time magazine said Major Chris Chambers, deputy director of the video's development team, had to stop and correct himself when he called the violence, combat and "death animation" in the game "real." "It's not real; it's simulated. But we're simulating reality," he said.

Got that?

The computer-based video game was rolled out as a recruitment and training tool -- primarily recruitment -- on July 4, 2002. And players can click a button in the game menu and go directly to an Army recruiting Web site, Time reports.

The military thinks there's nothing wrong with this. After all, Chambers says, "We treat it openly and honestly ... we don't sugarcoat it." But is it really "honest" when the game focuses on the adrenaline rush of the fight, and doesn't or can't convey the true human costs of war?

Sure, the game shows soldiers die in war -- thus the "death animation." But it doesn't show the thousands more who live forever maimed, with one arm, one leg or no limbs. It doesn't show the agonizing rehabilitation that often follows. It doesn't show the mental anguish of seeing a buddy killed in front of you, or having to shoot the enemy when you can look into his eyes. It doesn't show the hundreds of soldiers who battle post traumatic stress, or as a recent PBS documentary showed, the pressure to hide such injuries from the military superiors and comrades who call you a wimp for asking for help. "Suck it up," one soldier said he was told.

Military officials say the game is designed so these possible recruits understand the Army doesn't want them to be Rambos. There are game penalties for players who hurt noncombatants. And if you're wounded or killed, the game's over for you. But it sounded real Rambo-like when one military official said -- perhaps jokingly -- to a Time reporter playing the game, "isn't killing Afghans fun?"

Video games are supposed to be fun. There's no denying that. But war is not. "America's Army" is only helping confuse the issue for the young men and women who must fight these wars.

It doesn't take much to confuse some in the 13-to-24-year-old demographic that's the prime audience for the video. Many are consumed with playing video games -- the more violent, the better. They equate the virtual thrill they get from the video game to real-life situations. Some tragically play them out in real life. For too many, the game gives an illusion of competence and control over their circumstances that kids who lack self-esteem or live in challenging situations badly need.

"America's Army" preys on such vulnerabilities. The game is a hit on the Army's Web site, with up to 4.6 million registered players and 100,000 new ones signing up each month. According to Time, this summer the Army will roll out the game to gaming consoles such as Xbox or PlayStation 2 to reach a broader audience.

All's fair in love and war, right? Military recruiters are having problems. Most have failed to meet their monthly recruiting quotas. Even the Marines, accustomed to rejecting prospects because they got so many, recently missed their monthly goals. So it comes as no surprise recruiters are looking for innovative ways to catch recruits' eyes.

But this kind of "innovation" is troubling and borders on trickery. Critics already call the military deceptive in some recruiting practices. Posters and recruiters play up the positives and over-promise benefits, including the amount of money available for college tuition. They egg on recruits to sign up with provocative claims like this: "Where else can you get paid to jump out of airplanes, shoot cool guns, blow stuff up and travel, seeing all kinds of different countries?"

I'm not anti-military. The military is an admirable endeavor and joining has many legitimate benefits. Army officials are right to promote it as such.

But they are wrong to use video games to hoodwink naive youngsters into thinking of soldiering as a game. When the adrenaline rush is over from the video battles, you can put the game aside. In real life, the scars of war stay with soldiers forever.


03-04-05, 07:23 AM
VMGR-452 "Yankees" return home from Iraq
Submitted by: New York City Public Affairs
Story Identification #: 200532133947
Story by Sgt. Beth Zimmerman

NEW YORK (March 2, 2005) -- When Lance Cpl. Joel Pasqualino, Marine Aeriel Refueler Squadron 452, Newburgh, left for Iraq last year, his family waved him farewell under the hot sun on a steamy morning in August. When he returned, his family welcomed him home in the midst of hugs, kisses, and a snow flurry.

The Marines of VMGR-452 returned from Iraq Feb. 25. For many of them, it was their second homecoming during the war on terror.

"Now that the day is here and we're looking back, it doesn't seem like that long," said Elise Pasqualino on her son's return from war. "But a couple of months ago, looking forward, [his return date] seemed like forever."

"For about seventy percent of [the Marines who returned], this was their second time deploying," said Sgt. Maj. Jeffrey Dixon, Marine Aircraft Group 49, B Detachment sergeant major. "They were more focused," he said. "Things were more intense this go-round."

VMGR-452 maintains and flies KC-130T Hercules aircraft, which the Corps uses for aerial refueling and transportation. In addition to refueling, the Marines also played a role in Iraqi history.

"During the Iraqi elections, we ferried [more than 3,000] Iraqi nationals back and forth to vote," said Sgt. John Sabarese, a powerlines and flight mechanic with VMGR-452 who returned from his second deployment. "You heard about the blue ink on the finger," he said. "Well, we saw all of that. They were so happy to be voting," said Sabarese. "We hung a sign inside the aircraft that said 'congratulations to the world's newest democracy' in Arabic."

Because the Marines kept busy, the deployment was over before they knew it.

"It went by really fast," said Cpl. Thomas Dorozynski, a reservist from Frankfort and an electrician for the squadron. "...Especially after New Year's. We knew we were going home soon."

Friends and families traveled from all over New York to welcome the Marines home.

"We were the first ones in the hangar at like 9 o'clock this morning," said Dorozynski's father, Stan Dorozynski. "They told us we were a bit early," he said with a chuckle. "We said, 'we know,' we were just excited."

The excitement increased throughout the day as the families waited for the Marines' highly anticipated arrival. As the four KC-130s landed and taxied down the runway, emotions ran high for returning Marines and their families.

"It was a very emotional moment," said Peter Pasqualino. "There was such a real feeling of pride," said his wife Elise.

"As soon as I came around the plane, I could see my wife and daughter," said Sabarese. "It was great," he said. Sabarese's 3-year-old daughter, Faith, ran to him with outstretched arms as he walked from the plane to the hangar.

"Last time, she was two, and she kind of huddled around her mother," said Sabarese. "This time she knew who I was and ran straight toward me."

"They've done such a great job," said Elise. "We're all part of these historic events."

New York Governor George Pataki welcomed the squadron home with a letter. "The people of New York salute the Marines of [VMGR-452]," Pataki wrote. "Your courage and sacrifice not only helped secure this historic triumph of freedom, but helped make the world a safer place."


03-04-05, 07:23 AM
Recruiting Command launches offensive <br />
Submitted by: Marine Corps Recruiting Command <br />
Story Identification #: 200531161949 <br />
Story by Sgt. Jimmie Perkins <br />
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03-04-05, 07:25 AM
The last call - Marine honors fallen warriors
Submitted by: 2nd Marine Division
Story Identification #: 2005339198
Story by Cpl. Shawn C. Rhodes

MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP JOHNSON, N.C. (March 2, 2004) -- It’s a dreary day at the veteran’s cemetery on Camp Johnson. Water drips from the trees as the sound of a lone bugle playing Taps cuts through the humid air. The tune ceases and the ceremony in progress continues. The bugler, unseen by the crowd gathered around a casket, sharply folds his instrument under his arm and marches away.

“There’s one thing I’ll say about this weather,” Lance Cpl. Jason A. Martin, the bugler, said as he wiped raindrops away from his glasses. “It’s a perfect day for a funeral.”

Martin has a job many would not envy but one he perceives a great honor. Whenever 2d Marine Division needs a bugler to play at a funeral or memorial ceremony, he’s the man they call.

“I grew up with music all around me. My father was a music teacher at a public school and some of my earliest memories are of him playing his trumpet,” the Moline, Ill. native said. He held his military-issued trumpet in his hands and added, “One of my childhood dreams was to play professionally in an orchestra.”

Martin started playing in his school band when he was nine years old. He graduated from Moline High School in 2000 when he realized that the life of an orchestra musician was not an easy one.

“I found out I’d have to go to school for eight years to be considered for an orchestra. People are at each other’s throats even for a third chair position. I knew I didn’t want that.”

He found his compromise in the Marine Corps band. Because of his past musical experience, he could perform in the marching band during ceremonies and on his own during memorials.

“The military gave me the opportunity to play professionally and I’ve always liked to play with guns so it was a good match,” the 5-feet-8-inch Marine said with a smile. “Now that I’m the only trumpet player left in 2d Marine Division I’m the guy that gets called to all these events.”

Most of Martin’s comrades in the 2d Marine Division band deployed recently in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. This leaves him with the responsibility of playing the 143-year-old tune for the fallen warriors who are laid to rest with military honors in the area.

The 22-year old stands out of view during the funeral or memorial ceremony while words are spoken and the flag draping over the casket is folded. He plays the bars of the song with one thing in mind:

“I’ve done this over a hundred times and it never gets monotonous. I always remember I’m paying my last respects to someone who’s earned it,” Martin said.

Because he is a needed commodity in an area populated by retired service members, Martin rarely gets much rest.

“I can’t remember the last time I had two days off in a row. It’s not hard work but the days get long sometimes when you’re traveling and then waiting for the ceremony to happen.”

Even though he spends all day preparing for a thirty-second performance, Martin finds inspiration in the people who hear him play.

“My main goal is to play this song and not have people cry. If Taps made them happy, it’d be great, but I know it’s a sad song,” he said.

Martin looks back on the times when families have gone out of their way to thank him for lending his talent to their loved ones’ funerals.

“There was a time when a whole family came up to me after a ceremony and said ‘You played that so well’.” Martin said. He added, “It was kind of uncomfortable but it meant they heard it the way I wanted to play it.”

Attending funerals for Marines and sailors killed in their prime is something no one likes to do and fortunately for Martin, doesn’t occur that often.

“When I play it’s mostly for older people who lived a long time and then passed away,” Martin said. He looked down as he added, “I like to imagine it’s an old retired salty sergeant major in the casket, and I’m sending him off the way he’d want to go.”

Martin plans on attending Southern Illinios University when he leaves the Marine Corps later this year for their flight program.

“I got my single-engine pilot’s license when I was 21,” he said. Adding he hopes to someday further his flight career, he said, “I’m hoping to fly brush planes into places like Alaska, maybe help the National Forest Service in their work.”

Until he leaves the Corps, though, he’ll be playing for families and friends of fallen warriors. Until he can get in a plane and fly professionally, his notes will be cutting through the air at cemeteries here.


Lance Cpl. Jason A. Martin, the sole bugler for Camp Lejeune's 2d Marine Division, plays Taps during a military ceremony recently. The 22-year-old Moline, Ill. native plays the ceremonial tune during military honors here to honor fallen warriors. Photo by: Cpl. Shawn C. Rhodes


03-04-05, 07:40 AM
Soldier Survives 19 Bombs, Mortar Attacks in Iraq
By Spc. Erin Robicheaux, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service

BAGHDAD, Iraq, March 2, 2005 – Thirteen improvised explosive devices, five mortar attacks, and one car bomb -- that’s the scorecard of Army Sgt. 1st Class Patrick Sandel’s tour in Iraq.

This DeRidder, La., native has faced those kinds of encounters more times than any other soldier in the 256th Brigade Combat Team. He counts his blessings every day that he is still here.

Sandel said his inaugural mission “outside the wire” was a prophetic vision into what lay ahead for him and his soldiers, when they were met with a mortar attack. A few days later, he said, he hit the first IED, and only now has it begun to slow down.

“November and December were busy for us,” said the 3rd Battalion, 156th Infantry Regiment, now serving in Iraq with the combat team’s 1st Battalion, 156th Regiment. “Right now, it’s been three weeks since I’ve been hit, and that’s the longest I’ve gone without (being hit) in a while.”

According to Sandel, his platoon’s reaction to an attack has improved with each incident, and actually has become second nature. If something happens, they immediately begin sweeping the area for threats. Along with incorporating the training they received at Fort Hood, Texas, he said, they have a strategy that works best for them, and within two seconds of getting hit the platoon members are out and scanning their sector.

“It’s just like brushing your teeth now,” he said. “We have this process down to an art.”

The platoon recently lost Sgt. Seth Trahan, from Crowley, La., to an IED attack. Sandel said that until this happened, getting hit seemed normal -- just part of the job. The soldiers were clearing an intersection, and as Trahan rounded the corner, the device went off, instantly killing him and wounding two others.

“We weren’t complacent on the patrols, by any means,” said Sandel, “but until it killed somebody, getting hit was a routine thing.”

Command Sgt. Maj. Steven Stuckey from Shreveport, La., is the command sergeant major for 1st Battalion, 156th Armor Regiment. He said Sandel’s spirit and enthusiasm for his job have not diminished over time, even in the face of such adversity.

“A lot of the guys who get hit by IEDs get scared and start to wear down, but Sandel has not,” said Stuckey. The leadership that Sandel has shown is exemplary and shines through in his own attitude for his job, and also in the attitude of his soldiers toward him.

“He never stops, and he’s always high-spirited,” said Stuckey, “his soldiers like to go out with Sandel, and I think they’d do anything for him.”

(Army Spc. Erin Robicheaux is assigned to 256th Brigade Combat Team public affairs.)


03-04-05, 07:42 AM
Vets Centers Offer Grief Counseling to Military Families

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 2, 2005 – In an unprecedented expansion of its traditional client base, the Department of Veterans Affairs is offering grief counseling to families of servicemembers who die while on active duty.

VA’s Office of Readjustment Counseling offers the counseling services at its 206 community-based Vet Centers throughout the United States, including Guam, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

Greg Harms, program analyst for the counseling program, said 412 military family members — from spouses to children to siblings, parents and even grandparents — have taken advantage of the program as they struggle to cope with the loss of their 276 servicemembers. Most were killed during deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Expanding its services to serve veterans’ families represents “quite a leap and a real innovation” for VA, acknowledged Charles Flora, associate program director. But he calls the offering of bereavement counseling to family members “a natural extension of what we already do for veterans.”

Who, Flora asked, is more deserving of VA assistance than families who have sacrificed their husbands, wives, children, brothers, sisters or grandchildren in support of their country?

The program also serves families of reservists and National Guardsmen who die while activated for federal duty.

Some families seek the VA’s counseling services immediately after learning of their loved ones’ loss, while others wait until later, often after an important milestone such as a birthday, holiday or the one-year anniversary of the death has passed, Harms said.

“Everyone grieves differently. It runs the full gamut,” he said. “There are no standard operating procedures for grief.”

As a result, services offered run the full range, from one- or two-time visits to weekly sessions, depending on the family member’s needs.

Regardless of the level of help needed, the VA service offers all its clients a common variable: a safe, caring environment where a professional bereavement counselor helps them work through the emotional and psychological issues associated with their loss.

“They’re looking for support, looking for someone they can talk to who will listen and understand,” Harms said. “A lot of what people need,” added Flora, “is a place where they can sit down, take a breath and tell their story in a calm place where they can put things into perspective.”

While all grief counselors are able to provide that service, the Vet Centers provide something many clients call a big plus: More than half the staff at the Vet Centers are veterans themselves who understand the military lifestyle as well as the tremendous sacrifice the families have made.

Counselors go out of their way to respond to families’ needs, often meeting with them the same day they’re contacted. They keep clinics open late to accommodate families’ schedules and network with other service organizations to reach families in need. And in some cases, they even make home visits for families who might otherwise not be able to tap into their services.

“We’ve made a science of overcoming every obstacle to care,” Flora said.

No medical diagnosis is required to seek help, and services are completely confidential. The only way a counselor can share information on a case is with written permission of the family member. “There’s guaranteed clinical confidentiality,” Harms said.

Flora said he considers the services the Vet Centers provides grieving military families “a sacred trust” that reflects the VA’s commitment to veterans and their families. “We’re meeting these families at one of the most traumatic points in their lives and helping to assist the family as it rebuilds itself,” he said. “This is sacred business.”

Referrals for grief counseling come through military casualty assistance offices, the VA and veterans service organizations. The largest number of referrals comes from TAPS, the nonprofit Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, which offers what Harms calls “incredible peer-to-peer support” but no professional bereavement counseling services.

Families requesting more information or services can also contact the VA’s Readjustment Counseling Service directly at (202) 273-9116 or by email at vet.center@hq.med.va.gov.


03-04-05, 08:48 AM
Posted: 03.04.2005 <br />
Daniel Underwood <br />
From the North Carolina State University Website, TechnicianOnline.com <br />
<br />
Imagine yourself as a U.S. Marine in the insurgent-infested city of Fallujah or in the...

03-04-05, 09:16 AM
This Month in Marine Corps History
Selected March Dates of Marine Corps Historical Significance

2 March 1867: Jacob Zeilin, Colonel Commandant of the Marine Corps from 30 June 1864, was this date promoted to the rank of Brigadier General Commandant, the first time Congress authorized this rank for the Marine Corps. The statute, however, was repealed in June 1874 so that the rank of Commandant would again revert to colonel upon Zeilin's retirement.

8 March 1965: The 9th Marine Expeditionary Brigade landed at DaNang, Republic of Vietnam as the first U.S. ground combat troops to be committed to that conflict. The 3,500 men arrived both across the beach with Battalion Landing Team 3/9, and at DaNang Airfield with Battalion Landing Team 1/3.

11 March 1778: Marines participated the action when the Continental Navy frigate BOSTON, enroute to France, sighted, engaged, and captured the British merchant ship MARTHA. As the drum of the BOSTON beat to arms, John Adams seized a musket and joined the Marines on deck until the frigate's captain, Samuel Tucker, sent him below for safety.

13 March 1943: The first group of71 Women Marine officer candidates arrived at the U.S. Midshipmen School (Women's Reserve) at Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Massachusetts. The Navy's willingness to share training facilities enabled the Marine Corps to begin training Marine Corps Women's Reserve officers just one month after the creation of the MCWR was announced.

17 March 1967: The first woman Marine to report to Vietnam for duty, Master Sergeant Barbara J. Dulinsky, began her 18-hour flight to Bien Hoa, 30 miles north of Saigon. MSgt Dulinsky and the other officer and enlisted Women Marines that followed were assigned to the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV) based in Saigon. Most worked with the Marine Corps Personnel Section providing administrative support to Marines assigned as far north as the DMZ, but two Lieutenant Colonels, Ruth Reinholz and Ruth O'Holleran, served as historians with the Military History Branch, Secretary Joint Staff, MACV.

25 March 1945: After 35 days of bitter fighting, the amphibious assault on the rocky fortress of Iwo Jima finally appeared over. On the night of 25 March, however, a 300-man Japanese force launched a vicious final counterattack in the vicinity of Airfield Number 2. Army pilots, Seabees and Marines of the 5th Pioneer Battalion and 28th Marines fought the fanatical Japanese force till morning but suffered heavy casualties --more than l00 killed and another 200 American wounded. Nearly all of the Japanese force was killed in the battle.

27 March 1953: The 5th Marines, supported by the 2d Battalion, 7th Marines, in the first full day of fighting after the Chinese assault the previous evening of Outpost Vegas on Korea's western front, counterattacked to regain enemy-held positions. Companies E and F of 2/7 , down to only three platoons between them, managed to regain partial control of Outpost Vegas that day.

31 March 1801: On this date, LtCol Commandant William W. Burrows rode with president Thomas Jefferson to look for "a proper place to fix the Marine Barracks on." President Jefferson was a personal friend of the Commandant, and deeply interested in the welfare of the Corps and accompanied Burrows on horseback on the morning of 31 March. They chose a square in Southeast Washington, bounded by 8th and 9th streets, and a & I streets, because it lay near the Navy Yard and was within easy marching distance of the Capitol.


03-04-05, 09:18 AM
Chow down, military-style
of the Peoria Journal Star
March, 4, 2005

PEORIA - Connie Caterbury is the mother of a Marine, but Thursday was the first time she had sampled the food military men and women eat while in the field.

She was one of about 600 people who gathered at the Hotel Pere Marquette for a $50-a-plate fund-raiser in support of Company C, 6th Engineering Support Battalion based in Peoria County.

While she thought the food wasn't too bad, and there were a few leftover Meals Ready to Eat on the table, Caterbury joked there's no way she would bring one home for her son, Lance Cpl. Jeff Courtright, who's coming home today after a 7-month tour in Iraq with the Marine Corps Reserve unit.

"Those are the last things he wants," the Washington woman said laughing. "I told him that we were going (Thursday) to eat MREs and he says, 'don't go.'"

A local group called Friends of the Marine Corps sponsored the luncheon to pay tribute to Charlie Company and provide funding for some of the families with financial needs. About $70,000 was raised, even though the original goal was less than $25,000, said Amy Bearce, who helped coordinate the lunch.

The money will go to the families and for other events, though for most of the people in attendance with loved ones in Iraq, the best gift arrives today.

About 120 Marines are expected to land about 2 p.m. at the Greater Peoria Regional Airport.

"I'm so excited I just can't sit still," said Caterbury, adding that she plans to fix her son's favorite meal and desert, shepherd's pie and a triple-layer chocolate cake.

Gunnery Sgt. James Howard said there are about 22 different varieties of MREs served up to military personnel in the field, ranging from beef stew to burritos to chicken or roast beef, all of which were on the tables for Peorians to try.

"Normally, in the Marine Corps, we don't get a choice. We get what they bring us," Howard explained to the crowd. "But, since I'm a nice guy, I'm going to give you about 30 seconds to trade with your partner if you want."

The group was then given a lesson on how to warm the food with the included heat pack that is activated by water, and chow down military-style.

Bill Whalen, 86, said it was better than the C-rations he was given while serving in the South Pacific with the Marines during World War II.

"But you'll eat any damn thing if you're hungry; snakes, whatever you can find," he said.

Before the lunch, the group watched a slide show of the unit on the large screens in the room, and an American flag that had been flown in Iraq was auctioned off for $1,600. Also, Liz Carey, a junior at Washington Community High School, read a paper she had written for school about the war.

Her brother, Cpl. Peter Carey, was injured by a car bomb on Dec. 22 and is now home. Her other brother, Lance Cpl. Aaron Carey, arrives home today.

"Even though the negative side of this war has touched my family particularly close, I still have the opinion that we should remain in Iraq," she read. "Between the pain that the Iraqis are going through, the obligation we now have to finish a course of action we began and the financial security that hopefully will result from our efforts is more than enough reason to stay in Iraq."

Mother Sharon Carey said she's happy her family will be back in the states.

"It's going to be a great day," she said.


03-04-05, 09:20 AM
Home from Iraq, Life's Luxuries Rule
By Lindsey Jones
Angelo State University Web Site
March 04, 2005

Jessica Stroud said her boyfriend, Austin Cammack, is always on a mission.

"He's always got something to do or somewhere to go, and he can't rest until it's done," the junior said.

In a way, Cammack said, it's true.

For more than six months, the freshman marketing major was stationed in Iraq as an antitank demolitionist for the United States Marines.

"We were constantly taking orders, going on missions and trying to find out what was going on," Cammack said. "So now, I'm just used to thinking that way. I'm constantly thinking of what needs to get done and the best way to do it."

Cammack, along with freshmen Ryan Elliott and Aaron Woods, enlisted with the Marines shortly after graduating from Lake View High School in 1999.

During their four years in the military, all three served in Iraq as some of the first units to cross into and secure Baghdad.

"When we got there, it was a mess," Cammack said. "Now things are much more stable and I'm proud to think I was a part of that."

During his time there, Cammack said he had to do without many of the luxuries Americans take for granted on a daily basis.

"I wasn't able to shower for the first 26 days," he said. "We had to just use baby wipes because the water wasn't clean enough."

Today, Cammack said, he drinks a Dr Pepper every day to make sure he still remembers how it tastes and vowed never again to touch a bag of Skittles.

"All we had to drink was water … day in and day out," he said. "It was amazing how a package of Kool-Aid or some Gatorade could make your day seem so much more bearable. Plus, the only hard candy we got was Skittles. All I ate was Skittles. Now I won't touch them."

Elliott said the luxury he missed the most while in Iraq was time alone.

"We were constantly around people ... I missed not being able to sit by myself and think."

Cammack said he, Elliott and Woods have known each other since their freshman year in high school. Woods and Cammack, now a 24-year-old, were even stationed in the same unit.

"It's weird to walk around now and see them in T-shirts and jeans," he said.

"I'm so used to us being Marines, giving and taking orders. I half expect (Woods) to start yelling at his Marines, telling them to go run or something."

The three friends signed four-year contracts when they enlisted together and were initially stationed in California. They went to Iraq in 2003 and all returned home within a month of each other.

"The reason I got out is it was the end of my contract and I wanted to go to school," Cammack said. "We knew how to be Marines, but didn't have any real job skills so we wanted to make this opportunity for ourselves."

But the decision didn't come easily to Cammack.

"I had to leave my boys over there," he said. "You really develop a bond like brothers. When you're half way around the world, they're your family. You are without a doubt willing to lay your life down for the man standing next to you and you know he's willing to do the same. That's a tough emotion."

Once back in San Angelo, however, Cammack said he had a difficult time adjusting to a normal schedule.

"It was real hard to relax," he said. "I had trouble sleeping. I was constantly waking up to check that all the doors were locked and everything was turned off. That's what I did in Iraq - I had to make sure my boys were OK no matter what time it was."

Elliott said the biggest lesson he learned from the Marines was to not sweat the small stuff.

"People take life in general for granted," he said. "Meals, clean water, showers ... it's hard not to take them for granted when you're so used to having them, but I try to keep it in the back of my mind and never to forget completely."

Cammack said he has never looked at his time in the military as anything but a positive experience in the long run.

"The Marines made me the man I am today," he said. "I look at the little things that I have problems with and tell myself not to worry. There are worse things out there than whether or not my rent is going to be late and I think it's important to remind people of that every now and then.

"I gave a part of myself to my country. A lot of people can't do that or don't have the ability to do that or are not willing to do that. I'm extremely proud I was able and that I did do it."


03-04-05, 09:35 AM
Iraqi TV Targets Insurgents
By Patrick J. McDonnell
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
March 2, 2005

BAGHDAD - A distraught mother, dressed in black, stares into a TV camera and declares, "I smashed the terrorist" with a shoe. "He killed my son."

The camera then focuses on the alleged murderer, Mohammed Adnan, who is facing both the grieving woman and her sobbing grandson.

The teenage boy says that Adnan, whose left eye appears swollen, was dressed as a police officer when he came to their home last fall and took away his father, who was never seen again.

The professional-looking videotape, which began airing recently on the government-owned Al Iraqiya television network, is among the more dramatic in an ongoing series of insurgent "confession" videos that have galvanized Baghdad.

The one-hour tapes constitute a sort of reality TV whose aim is to win the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people. Aired twice a day, they serve as a counterpoint to the now-familiar images shot by insurgents of cowering hostages and beheadings. They are also a centerpiece of an intense government campaign designed to convince an edgy population that the fledgling government and its hard-hit security forces are making Iraq safer.

"Terrorism in the Grip of Justice" is the title of the series, which began airing shortly before Iraq's national election Jan. 30. While it's not clear just how truthful the videos are, the provocative images seem to bolster skeptical Iraqis' confidence in a government often assailed as ineffective against lawlessness and violence.

"It's a good thing because it makes me feel there is a working government developing day by day and that the security situation is improving," said Fadwa Khalifa, a 22-year-old college student in Baghdad. "But I also fear that it all may be a lie."

The video clips are a big hit in entertainment-starved Iraq, where safe pastimes are few. Venturing out to a park can expose one to car bombs, kidnappings, drive-by shootings or other perils. There's not even the need for an expensive satellite TV to catch the videos, which air on the workaday government-run channel, accessible to anyone with a television set and a cheap antenna.

The program's popularity has not been lost on the insurgents, who have launched a public relations counteroffensive denouncing the tapes as a hoax and threatening in pamphlets to impose "God's justice" on employees of the government-funded network.

Raeda Wazan, a reporter for a sister station of Al Iraqiya in the northern city of Mosul, was kidnapped Feb. 20 and later killed. It is unclear if her abduction was related to the airing of the tapes, but her husband said a note denouncing her as a "traitor" was found pinned to her body.

Despite the killing, Al Iraqiya officials have pledged that they will not succumb to intimidation. "Showing these terrorist videotapes is a moral commitment for us to the Iraqi people," said Karim Humadi, news director for Al Iraqiya.

There is no immediate way to verify the information broadcast or determine how much of the "confessions" are coerced or invented. U.S. officials say they have nothing to do with the tapes, generally shown in Baghdad at midday and repeated in the evening. In Washington, an intelligence official said that analysts couldn't "rule in or rule out" the claims on such tapes but that they didn't view them as a major windfall.

Martial music and images of mosques and other holy sites are interspersed with scenes of violence at the beginning of each broadcast. The Shiite Muslim call to prayer accompanies the opening of the daytime showing; the slightly different Sunni version of the prayer plays at night.

Most episodes have been shot in violence-plagued Mosul, where an enterprising commander of an Iraqi Interior Ministry force known as the "Wolf Brigade" serves as host.

"The Wolf Brigade found the terrorists in their den," the commander, sporting three stars on his epaulets and identified only by his nickname, Abul Waleed, proclaimed proudly during a recent show.

"We caught these terrorists without firing a bullet," Waleed says at one point. "We didn't destroy the city like the Americans did in Fallouja…. This is purely an Iraqi operation."

The Wolf Brigade is one of several Iraqi counterinsurgency units hurriedly dispatched to Mosul late last year as rebels made a bid to overrun the city. Mosul's roadways and lots were littered in November with the corpses of insurgents' victims, usually Iraqi security men, translators and others deemed to be collaborators with U.S. forces and the American-backed interim government. Most of the city's 4,000-member police force walked off the job.

Rules of evidence and warnings against self-incrimination don't appear to be much of an issue, as Iraqis remain glued to their screens while emotionless insurgents speak of serial beheadings and other atrocities. The program occasionally switches from confessions to insurgents' tapes of the same beheading or other form of killing.

"They should hang these criminals in the Baghdad city center," said Karim Zubeidi, 47, a government employee in the capital and an aficionado of the TV series.

Though many view the episodes in stunned fascination, some watch specifically to seek information on loved ones who have joined the growing ranks of the disappeared.

The banality of the cold-blooded murder has also struck a chord with many Iraqis fearful that their country has gone terribly astray.

As one suspect speaks calmly of beheadings, confederates sometimes sit in the background listening with interest, like businessmen taking in sales techniques.

In one video, purported insurgents say one after another that they were paid by Syrian intelligence and trained in Syria and Pakistan. The Syrian government has denied any involvement.

In the same tape, a man identified as an insurgent explains matter-of-factly how he and his colleagues slaughtered animals as practice for their grisly tasks. Another says his group kidnapped and raped women in Mosul as a form of intimidation.

Yet another prisoner speaks about the need to perform a certain number of beheadings before being considered by insurgent chiefs as an emir, or prince, the equivalent of a cell leader. It was a steady job, he says, and paid as much as $30,000 a month to the top operatives. Others received a paltry $200 for a hit, he adds.

Those confessing often say they didn't know the true identities of many of their confederates and superiors. Cells were divided into teams - kidnap specialists, execution squads, bomb makers and even media-savvy associates responsible for photographing the insurgents' handiwork and producing images for Web postings.

Many on the tapes say they were engaging in religiously acceptable jihad. Interrogators react with indignation, as do the relatives of the dead.

To demonstrate the authenticity of the programs, authorities in Mosul gathered a motley lineup of suspects against a cinder block wall in a video aired Tuesday. Civilians described as family members of the dead were brought to confront the detainees.

"This is the killer of my son," a sobbing mother in black announces, tapping a bearded man on his left shoulder.

"You are an animal!" continues the mother, clutching a black and white photo of her son, identified only as "the hero Bashar," in her left hand. "You are the dregs of society! You have burned my heart! May God burn your heart! What kind of religion do you have?"

Soon, the alleged insurgent is himself sobbing, evidently shamed by the mother's indictment.

Later, the mother explains that the family had been watching the series for possible news of her son's slaying. When a man admitted the killing of a "Bashar," the family, she said, contacted authorities.

Several other black-clad mothers clutching snapshots of their sons likewise curse the bearded men identified as insurgents. The camera finally shifts to a panorama of people described as relatives of the dead, gathered in a group, all bearing snapshots of slain men and women. Some display their loved ones' tattered identity cards.

The scene was reminiscent of those involving the mothers of the disappeared from the so-called dirty wars of Latin America in the 1970s and '80s.

In another video, officials bring a "terrorist" to face the family of Samir Mohammed Haider, a father of seven who authorities said was slain last fall.

Adnan, the alleged killer, was a former second lieutenant in the Mosul police, authorities said. The Mosul force, like many here, experienced sizable insurgent infiltration.

Adnan had made his own purported confession some days earlier; the victim's son, watching the scenes on TV like so many Iraqis, was stunned to recognize the suspect as the policeman who had come to his home one day in October.

"This is the man who came to our door and asked for my father," the son tells the camera, before breaking into tears.

The victim's mother explains the welt above Adnan's left eye, making clear that it was not the authorities who beat the accused.

"Just for the record," she says, "it was I who hit him."

On Tuesday, the commander of the Wolf Brigade said all suspects would be turned over to Iraqi judges. On camera, some have asked to be put to death for their crimes. It is a wish that may soon be granted.

"These terrorists committed horrible crimes on a scale you will see nowhere else in the world," Waleed assured viewers. "The law will not be merciful with them."


03-04-05, 11:10 AM
Originally posted by thedrifter
Video Game Used To Lure New Recruits
Charlotte Observer
March 4, 2005

This is scary and maddening. Unable to get the necessary recruits for the military the old-fashioned way, the U.S. Army has sunk $16 million into a government-sponsored video game that blurs the line between fantasy and the reality of war.

The taxpayer-financed "America's Army" is so clever a mind game that even the military folks behind it get a little confused when talking it up. Time magazine said Major Chris Chambers, deputy director of the video's development team, had to stop and correct himself when he called the violence, combat and "death animation" in the game "real." "It's not real; it's simulated. But we're simulating reality," he said.

Got that?


Hmmm, I wonder who enlisted in the Marines after seeing FMJ, or a John Wayne Movie?

03-04-05, 12:36 PM
P.C. comes to the Marines <br />
By Mona Charen <br />
<br />
Second Lt. Ilario Pantano was making a six-figure income as an energy trader with Goldman Sachs in New York when the World Trade Center was attacked....

03-04-05, 05:26 PM
VMGR-252 soars high in Iraqi skies
Submitted by: 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing
Story Identification #: 200522835631
Story by Cpl. Rocco DeFilippis

AL ASAD, Iraq (Feb. 28, 2005) -- America's military has the reputation of being the most technologically advanced fighting force in the world. The Marine Corps' ability to stay at the forefront of innovations in aircraft, weaponry and fighting vehicles has allowed it to dominate the field of battle.

Keeping with that tradition are the Marines and sailors of Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 252, who are employing one of the Corps' newest aircraft, the KC-130J, in support of combat operations during Operation Iraqi Freedom 04-06.

Since the arrival of the main body of VMGR-252 here on Feb. 10, the squadron has been conducting air-to-air refueling and assault support missions in support of coalition objectives in the area of operations.

"We have only been operating here for a brief amount of time, but we are meeting our mission requirements," said 1st Lt. Ben Grant, KC-130J co-pilot and Cincinnati native. "The Marines, even though they have little experience with the 'J,' are adapting to this technology and applying it extremely well."

Although this squadron received the first KC-130J in 2002, this is the first time the "J" has operated forward deployed, in a combat zone.

"Other Marine Corps aircraft have been operating for years and deployed multiple times, so there is an immense amount of collective knowledge in those communities on every aspect of their operations. However, the 'J' is relatively new, so the squadron is learning as we go, and doing a great job."

Having to adapt the most to the vast technological differences between the older aircraft and the new "J Model" are the VMGR-252 maintainers and avionics technicians, who are working day and night to keep the high-tech birds flying.

According to the squadron maintenance officer the work is less physical, but very technical. With less time spent turning wrenches, and more time spent tweaking computer systems, maintenance is down from up to 40 hours per flight hour with the "F" and "R" models, to 10 hours with the "J."

"The biggest issue we are facing is a lot more computer based technology, which is susceptible to the affects of weather and dust," said Cpl. David W. Booth, KC-130J, communications navigation technician, and native of D'Lo, Miss. "This is a new aircraft to a lot of the Marines, and it's all advanced technology. Instead of getting your hands around a bolt, you have to get your hands around a data bit."

To overcome the challenge of working with a new, high-tech aircraft, the Marines of '252 are relying on reading many publications and manuals, talking with tech representatives, and good old fashion hard work.

"If it weren't for the civilian 'tech-reps' we work with and the systems they provide our job would be a lot harder than it is," Booth said. "Some of our Marines have only been with the squadron a few months, and are already doing great things. They are well trained and picking up knowledge very quick."

Serving as the only VMGR squadron in country, the VMGR-252 Marines and sailors have taken the mission and are off to a flying start, logging in more than 200 flight hours in just two weeks.

"The last time we had this many aircraft forward deployed was Operation Desert Storm," said Maj. Jeff Moses, VMGR-252 operations officer, and native of Birmingham, Ala. "With a brand new aircraft that has seen zero deployment time, the crew and maintainers are doing awesome."

"Real world operations have allowed our junior Marines to stand out and shine among their peers," Booth said. "As a noncommissioned officer, I am extremely proud to have these Marines working with me."


03-04-05, 05:29 PM
Those who read together, stay together: UTR great for military families
Submitted by: 2nd Marine Division
Story Identification #: 200532134425
Story by Cpl. Mike Escobar

MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. (Feb. 24, 2005) -- One top reason America’s men and women leave the armed services is because of the frequency of deployments and subsequent effect on time spent with family.

The Marines and sailors of 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment are implementing a program for their deployment to Iraq in March that may help combat this problem.

“We did the United Through Reading program last year before we got to Afghanistan (Feb. through Sept.) on ship, and it was a great success,” stated Petty Officer 2nd Class Colin Gardape, the unit’s religious program specialist. “This is one family readiness program that I really like to take an active role in because it’s so good for both the deployed parents and their kids back home.”

UTR helps keep children and parents connected via reading aloud on videotape. Unit personnel record fellow servicemembers reading children’s stories, then hand them the videotape to mail home or leave with their spouse before deployment. The child then watches the tape while mom and dad are overseas and can read along.

“If a little girl comes up to her mom saying ‘I miss daddy,’ all mom has to do is throw in the tape,” Gardape said. “The program is especially good for younger children to help them recognize daddy when he comes home, because they’ve seen him on TV and heard his voice even while he’s been away.”

To get additional benefit from the program, a caretaker can record children as they watch mom or dad read to them, then mail that tape or photographs to the servicemember. The child’s reaction encourages troops to continue participating in the program if possible, establishing back and forth communication while apart from each other.

Gardape said UTR is particularly beneficial for infants.

“Newborns aren’t as afraid of retuning parents, because to them, it’ll be like you never left,” he added.

Statistics agree with Gardape’s assessment. According to the Family Literacy Foundation’s website, www.read2kids.org/uniting.htm, “reading aloud with children has been shown to be the single best predictor of a child’s future academic success, and also strengthens the bond between adult and child and provides a bridge for communication and sharing.”

The foundation further stated that children exhibit less fear regarding their parent’s absence, and spouses at home also enjoy the deployed loved one’s support.

“This is just a great opportunity to say hi to my kids, and for them to see what dad still looks like,” stated Gunnery Sgt. Joseph Poe, Weapons Platoon, Company B, 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment platoon sergeant. “I think my kids (Madison, 6, and Nicholas, 2,) will enjoy it, because I was really animated while I was taping the whole thing. This is definitely a great program for everyone deploying to get involved with.”

For more information and to become involved with this program, contact your unit family readiness office.


03-04-05, 05:38 PM
America Supports You: Concern for Troops Spurs Involvement

By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 3, 2005 – Anne Galvan said she clearly remembers watching the compelling news coverage of U.S. troops moving up to Baghdad during the early days of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

“I remember sitting on my couch and watching these brave troops serving our country and answering the call to duty, leaving their families,” Galvan said during a telephone interview with American Forces Press Service. “And I thought, ‘You know, I need to do something. I want to show my support.’”

Over the past two years, that “need to do something” has morphed into a nonprofit organization called “4 The Troops.” Volunteers with the group send letters, cards and care packages to servicemembers serving overseas in the war on terror. Galvan estimated the group’s 200 volunteers have reached more than 5,000 troops with their packages and letter.

Galvan said her main goal is raising the morale of deployed troops. “A lot of them are just happy to receive a letter,” she said. “And when they get a care package, that’s an extra surprise to them.

“It’s a connection to home,” she said. “It shows them that America really cares during these difficult times.”

Galvan said she’s been deeply touched by some of the letters she’s received from servicemembers. “I look before me and see a gathering of my boys enjoying your boxes as if it were Christmas morning,” Galvan read from a letter she received from a Marine in Kuwait during the early days of Operation Iraq Freedom.

“It humbles me to near the point of tears, because you have given them a piece of happiness in a place where that is hard to come by,” the Marine continued in his letter.

Galvan said she reads it often. “It’s the best letter I have ever received,” she said.

Galvan said she feels her efforts contribute to the overall war on terror. By raising soldiers’ morale, she said, she believes she’s making it easier for them to do their jobs, which, in turn, makes them more efficient in accomplishing their missions.

“They come back to their barracks or wherever they’re located and they see a box waiting for them and they open it. It’s a connection to home that someone cares,” she said. “It motivates them to complete their mission.”

This Los Angeles resident also has a message for the rest of America: “I want America to not forget about the wounded troops, to thank a veteran for their freedom, to support the troops,” she said.

“Regardless of politics,” Galvan said, “(the troops) are doing their jobs and they really need support. We really need to be there for them.”


03-04-05, 06:01 PM
U.S. Forces Wound Freed Hostage in Iraq <br />
<br />
By PATRICK QUINN, Associated Press Writer <br />
<br />
BAGHDAD, Iraq - American troops fired on a car rushing Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena to freedom on...

03-04-05, 07:19 PM
March 4, 2005
HH bids farewell to one of its own
Master Sgt. Turner retires after 23 years of loyal service to Corps

by Sgt. Melvin Lopez Jr.
Henderson Hall News

A retirement ceremony was held for one of Henderson Hall's own Monday at the Smith Gym here.

Master Sgt. Tracy N. Turner, Food & Hospitality, takes a much-deserved rest after serving over 23 years in the Marine Corps.

Headquarters & Service Company Commander Maj. Billy B. Brown described her as a Marine who did good deeds.

"When you do good things, people will remember," said Brown, "and they will take care of you."

Later, he went on to explain that all of it started when she first decided to take that airplane on her way to Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, S.C.

Turner, a Philadelphia native, joined the Corps in 1981. After completing recruit training, and her Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) school, she transferred to Communications Company, Headquarters Battalion, 2nd Marine Division, Camp Lejeune, N.C., to serve as a field radio operator. While there, she earned the ranks of lance corporal and corporal.

After reenlisting in 1985, Turner decided to change her MOS and work in the audiovisual field. She served in Camp Lejeune as an audiovisual librarian and a graphics illustrator, and was later reassigned to the 2nd Force Service Support Group for duty as a training non-commissioned officer. She was promoted meritoriously to sergeant at this assignment.

After being promoted, Turner was transferred to Non-Commissioned Officer's School at the 2nd FSSG, and completed one year as an instructor, and later, requested orders to Drill Instructor School. She got her orders in 1991, and after completing school, she successfully completed her tour of duty at Parris Island in 1993.

After her tour, Turner transferred to San Diego, and after hearing her MOS would be phased out, she decided to change it again, this time working in the business realm. She served in Okinawa for 3 years, and later relocated to Henderson Hall where she held numerous billets to include Services Manager for Marine Corps Community Services, the Head of Food & Hospitality, and Manager of the Military Clothing Sales Store. She later obtained the rank of master sergeant in 2002.

Monday, she finished her tenure as a United States Marine, but not without first molding the units she was assigned to.

According to Brown, "she's left nothing but outstanding units, and outstanding examples," for other Marines to follow.

During her brief speech to the Marines, friends and family members in the audience, Turner stressed how she always put God first and that, if it were not for him, she would not have gone as far as she did.

"He is all good, all the time, always great," said Turner. "The Marine Corps will always put God first, just like I put God first."

She added that she not only served God, but her country and Corps as well, and she did it proudly.

"I'm proud to be an American. I'm proud to be a United States citizen, and I'm very proud to be a United States Marine," said Turner.


03-04-05, 07:46 PM
Local Marines Return Home From Iraq

By Tony Perkins

Indianapolis families are celebrating another happy homecoming from Iraq. A group of Marines returned to a tearful reunion Friday after almost a year away.

With heartfelt messages on a home-made banner, Marine Corporal Don Ellis' family prepared to welcome him back to Indianapolis.

Other families also awaited the arrival of nineteen local reserve Marines home from service in Iraq and Kuwait.

The members of the detachment communications company, 4th Marine division, left ten months ago for training and deployment.

Sergeant Nick Bennett came back in January after being wounded in combat. He didn't want to miss his fellow Marines' return. "This is the same kind of homecoming I got. It's just wonderful being a Marine. It's just wonderful being here today,” said Sgt. Bennett, USMC.

"Words cannot - there's just no words to describe it. It's just a great feeling,” said Shelly Ellis, Don’s wife.

"I know that feeling, being in the Vietnam conflict. I was in Thailand for a year and it was great to come home then, too,” said Robert Addison, Don’s father-in-law.

Corporal Ellis finished his second tour in Iraq. He says US troops can see the scene slowly changing.

"The people seem to be respecting us a lot more, just as we respect them. Just to see that they could have an election that basically went off without a hitch, that's the best thing that we could possible have given them,” he said.

The best thing for Ellis himself? A reunion with his daughter, now 18 months old.


03-04-05, 10:46 PM
from the March 03, 2005 edition

After temporary gains, Marines leave Iraqi cities

As a week-long US operation ends, residents and some troops worry that insurgents will soon return.

By Dan Murphy | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

HIT, IRAQ – Walking in from the desert before dawn, the marines entering the ancient city of Hit bristled with armaments.
Flak jackets bulged with extra ammo clips. Packs were heavy with spare mortar rounds and grenades. Many of the men recalled the last time they entered the city in October, calling it a miracle that none was killed in a determined insurgent ambush.

Yet pulling out of the city five days later, every one of those mortars and grenades remained intact. The 250 marines, most from Bravo Company of the 1st Marine Division's 23rd Regiment out of Houston, had fired fewer than 100 rifle rounds. There were few signs of the fighters that made Forward Operating Base Hit one of the most mortared US positions in Iraq.

It was much the same story in a recent Marine offensive across Anbar Province, the center of Iraq's insurgency. As part of "River Blitz," Marines took over trouble-spots like Hit, Haditha, Baghdadi, and Ramadi with hardly any shots being fired.

But from the upper ranks to the most junior boots on the ground, few believe the relative ease of this operation means the insurgency in Anbar is over. Instead, the militants are fleeing before the marines arrive, only to return when the marines withdraw. The temporary nature of the Marine takeovers is hampering US efforts to get local cooperation on security.

"They called it River Blitz, but it's been more like operation River Dance,'' says Sgt. Bob Grandfield, from Boston. "This is what insurgents are supposed to do. Run away when we come in. If they fight, they know we'll just kill them."

"They're very perceptive, not stupid at all, and they probably saw tanks were moved here. So they left,'' says Lt. Col Stephen Dinauer from Verona, Wisc, commander of the 3rd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, which headed up operations in Hit. "It's frustrating, because we can't be everywhere at once."

While acknowledging that most top insurgents probably fled prior to the assault, Colonel Dinauer still rates operations in Hit (pronounced Heat) a success. About 40 men were detained, and a number of weapons caches were uncovered. He also believes that insurgents in the area have been "knocked back on their heels," preventing them from planning more attacks and making it easier to move troops around the province.

But while Marines conducted their offensive in Anbar, insurgents struck elsewhere. A suicide car bomb in Hilla, south of Baghdad, killed 125 people - the deadliest single attack since the toppling of Saddam Hussein. Wednesday, unknown gunmen in Baghdad shot and killed a judge involved in the trial of Mr. Hussein.

As the Marines involved in "River Blitz" pull out Anbar Province, a smaller US force is replacing them. One senior marine said he feels "guilty about leaving" Hit because he worries that insurgents will seek reprisals on residents in the absence of local police.

These sentiments echo the scaled-back expectations among troops on the ground. Gone is the talk about breaking the back of the insurgency that was floated before the November battle for Fallujah, where hundreds of militants were dug in and ready to fight.

Instead, the troops speak about a long, painstaking process of intelligence gathering, slowly constricting the corridor along the Euphrates river that has helped foreign militants move into Iraq from Syria and helped domestic militants move men and money.

And they speak about slowly finding a way to train and motivate Iraqi troops to replace the largely failed experiment with the Iraqi National Guard, which has been plagued by desertions, insurgent infiltration, and a refusal to fight because of fears of reprisals against their family members.

Patrolling Hit, a city of 100,000 people, the marines encountered no open hostility. Little boys fascinated by their guns chased after them and young men peppered them with questions in broken English. In five days in the city, one sniper was killed by the marines, and another man was killed after a drive by shooting. In Anbar Province, that's about as quiet as it gets.

But there is also little open or obvious cooperation. Just about an hour before the drive-by shooting, the owner of a house occupied by a team of marines was asked about insurgent activity in the area. "There is no resistance in the entire city of Hit,'' he said. "They left a long time ago."

In a brief meeting with marines to arrange the recovery of two insurgent bodies, a local sheikh told Maj. Derek Horst, "99.9 percent of our people are peaceful people. We don't want problems here."

Such reticence either masks sympathies with the insurgency, or more commonly fear of reprisals. Last October, insurgents moved into the city, reduced the police station to rubble, and beheaded a few locals they deemed too close to US forces. The city's police remain inactive.

Yet as marines left the meeting, another with long experience in the Hit area could hardly detain his disgust. "This guy is one of our biggest problems here. In the past, he's been whipping people up to fight."

In some cities in Anbar, civilians have been killed for simply talking to Marines, and more than a few citizens of Hit on this trip told marine officers that they should either come into the city and stay, or don't come at all, because there are no guarantees of their safety when the troops leave.

The marines say they appreciate civilian fears, but are frustrated that locals don't secure their towns on their own. "It's hard to understand sometimes why people don't stand up for themselves,'' says Sergeant Shawn Hudman of Austin, Texas.


03-05-05, 07:43 AM
Four U.S. Soldiers Killed Near Baghdad
Associated Press
March 5, 2005

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Four U.S. soldiers were killed Friday west of the capital in a province where American troops launched a massive sweep two weeks ago to root out insurgents, the military said.

The soldiers, assigned to the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, were killed "while conducting security and stability operations" in the sprawling Anbar province. The reference to "soldiers" was to highlight that they were not members of the Marine Corps.

The Marines did not say where in Anbar the soldiers were killed. The region - which borders Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia - has been a hotbed of insurgent activity.


03-05-05, 07:43 AM
3rd Infantry Returns To Iraq <br />
Associated Press <br />
March 5, 2005 <br />
<br />
BAGHDAD, Iraq - Their enemy has changed, from Iraqi soldiers in uniform to insurgents in civilian clothes. But for the soldiers of...

03-05-05, 07:44 AM
Army Releases Prison Abuse Documents <br />
Associated Press <br />
March 5, 2005 <br />
<br />
WASHINGTON - The unidentified Florida National Guardsman called it &quot;Ramadi Madness&quot; - a compilation of videos depicting his...

03-05-05, 07:45 AM
Friday March 4, 04:26 PM <br />
Northrop Grumman's LITENING Targeting System Nears 10,000 Combat Flight Hours on Marine F/A-18s <br />
ROLLING MEADOWS, Ill., March 4, 2005 (PRIMEZONE) -- The U.S. Marine Corps'...

03-05-05, 07:46 AM
1st MarDiv Sgt. Maj. renews enlistment at Fallujah’s “Blackwater Bridge”
Submitted by: 1st Marine Division
Story Identification #: 2005227101147
Story by Cpl. Randy L. Bernard

FALLUJAH, Iraq (Feb. 23, 2005) -- The 1st Marine Division sergeant major reenlisted for another two years with the Marine Corps at the green “Blackwater Bridge,” the site where last year, insurgents hung the bodies of two American contractors.

The site was not only a reminder of the insurgency to Sgt. Maj. Wayne R. Bell, but a symbol of hope.

Bell, 48, a native of Boston, Mass., wanted his reenlistment to take place on the bridge because the Marines came back in Fallujah to uproot the insurgency there in November. The bridge now stands free to the people of the city as a result of his Marines’ actions.

“Today was something I thought about for the last six months,” said Bell. “In the last six months, a lot of events happened that persuaded me to stay Marine for another two years. The amazing leadership we have within the division right now convinced me to stay.”

Bell, who has now been in the Marine Corps for 28 years, never knew he would be in the position he is in today, as the top-enlisted Marine for the Camp Pendleton, Calif. based 1st Marine Division. He didn’t even see himself in the military until he found himself looking to make ends meet.

“At a very young age, I dropped out of high school, and went from job to job to support my new son.” said Bell. “I actually tried joining the Navy, but the Navy recruiter wouldn’t have me, but the Marine recruiter was in his dress blue (uniform) showing me some pictures, and in 1977, I was off to boot camp in Parris Island.”

Bell recounted his first experiences at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, S.C., with a grin wide across his face, “When I first got there I was thinking, ‘what the hell am I doing here,’ and I didn’t know what I got myself into. I was trying to figure a way out of there, but all of the stories of alligators in the swamps around P.I. eating recruits trying to escape scared me straight.”

Once Bell had left the initial phase of training and administrative paperwork, he finally got to meet his drill instructors, and these examples of Marine Corps leadership motivated him to give the Marine Corps his all.

Upon graduation of boot camp, Bell started his career as an amtracker at Camp Lejeune, N.C., working with the hulking, diesel chugging Assault Amphibian Vehicles. His experiences at Camp Lejeune made him doubt that he would stay in the Marine Corps, until a transfer to Hawaii made an impact on his career.

“I was at Lejeune for my first year, and if I hadn’t left there I wouldn’t be here today,” said Bell. “When I went to Hawaii, that was the turning point for me where I decided that I wanted to be a career Marine. I knew I wanted to do 20 years but I had no idea that I’d still be here today.”

After a three-year tour in Hawaii, Bell transferred to Camp Pendleton in 1981, teaching at the AAV schoolhouse. And after his three years in California, Bell hopped around the world to Okinawa, back to Camp Pendleton, and then Gunnery Sgt. Bell left for Marine Security Force duty in 1990.

“I was stationed at Diego Garcia, a naval supply base, as the guard chief,” said Bell. “The Gulf War was going on and we were loading B-52 bombers around the clock in support of the war.”

After his tour with MCSF, Bell returned to Pendleton as a Gunnery Sgt., and deployed with the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit. It was his time as a “gunny” that Bell credits the majority of his leadership ability.

“I was a young gunny, and I had a battalion commander who gave me the opportunity to excel by putting me in a billet reserved for senior ranks, and that actually led to my selection for first sergeant,” said Bell.

According to Bell, not only was his time as a gunny good for his leadership development, he also enjoyed the rank the most out of any other enlisted rank. “Gunny is god,” said Bell with a grin on his face, “A gunny can make things happen. There is no more satisfying job than a company gunny. And there is no rank today that you can say like gunny. You can’t say ‘sarge’ for sergeant. You can’t say ‘staff’ for staff sergeant. It’s just ‘hey gunny,” and people know what you are talking about.”

But unfortunately, Bell couldn’t stay a ‘gunny’ forever, and he was promoted to first sergeant in 1994. Bell went to 1st Combat Engineer Battalion, and then to Marine Barracks 8th and I. From there, Bell was assigned as the Naval Academy first sergeant, where he was selected for sergeant major in 1997.

Bell rounded out his Marine Corps career over the next few years as the battalion sergeant major for AAV schools in Pendleton. He also worked with the air wing, and in 2002 returned back to 1st Marine Division as the 11th Marine Regiment sergeant major where he deployed to Operation Iraqi Freedom in January of 2003.

It was in May of 2003, Bell found himself appointed as the sergeant major for the 1st Marine Division, where he has served through the remainder of OIF-I and into OIF-II. Now, having completed another successful tour in Iraq, Bell can only hope for a few comforts of home.

“I just hope the Marine Corps can leave me in one place for the next two years,” Bell laughed. “I have the ultimate job there is, and there is no other job in the Marine Corps that I would rather have. I am truly honored to have the opportunity to serve with such great Marines. All the way from the private to the general, we are truly a team.”

Bell credits his family and wife of 25 years as the reasons he has gotten so far in the Marine Corps. “I wouldn’t have been able to do it without my wife,” said Bell “She’s not only my wife but she’s my best friend, and she understands the Marine Corps and more importantly she understands me. She works with the key volunteers network to mentor young spouses of deployed Marines.”

“I am looking forward to take a (pause in operations) because I’ve missed some critical years with my son,” said Bell, who is a father to three sons, and a grandfather of four. “That and I want to just get in my vehicle and go on a long ride without worrying about (improvised explosive devices) and to be able to wake up in the morning without having to put on a helmet and a flak jacket. Oh! And being able to take a long shower.”


Maj. Gen. Richard F. Natonski, the commanding general for 1st Marine Division shakes the hand of the division sergeant major, Sgt. Maj. Wayne R. Bell during his reenlistment ceremony on the "Blackwater Bridge" in the city of Fallujah. Photo by: Cpl. Randy L. Bernard


03-05-05, 07:47 AM
USS Lincoln Back From Tsunami Trip
Associated Press
March 5, 2005

EVERETT, Wash. - The aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln returned to its home port Friday after a five-month voyage that included serving as the hub of a relief operation to help victims of the tsunami.

Hundreds of family members and friends of the crew turned out to watch as the Lincoln sailed into port, bringing with it more than 3,000 sailors.

"I'm excited. I haven't been able to sleep in days," said Fran Caruthers, a teacher from El Dorado, Ark., awaiting her son, Trey, a seaman apprentice. He was in Hong Kong with the ship when the Dec. 26 tsunami struck in south Asia.

Caruthers kept in touch through e-mail, learning that he went ashore when the carrier arrived in January in Indonesia.

"He did go on the beach. He said it was a sobering experience, seeing all the bodies, but he didn't dwell on it," she said.

The carrier left in mid-October for a four-month deployment in the western Pacific. In December, the Navy diverted the vessel to south Asia, where the Lincoln and its air wing were the hub of a relief operation to help tsunami victims.

Helicopters from the Lincoln flew hundreds of missions to deliver food, water and other aid along the devastated west coast of the Indonesian island of Sumatra.

Machinist's mate Chad Gorski said he worked with the ship's engineering department making fresh water to bottle and give to victims. "A lot of us are very proud to have contributed in any way we could," he said.

Medical corpsman Karran Harvey went ashore and visited many of the devastated villages. On Friday, he cradled his 4-month-old son, a somber expression crossing his face as he described seeing villagers living in mud and sewage.

"It was very moving. You don't know how good you have it here," he said.


03-05-05, 09:05 AM
Joe Galloway: A Note of Optimism from Gen. Abizaid <br />
<br />
WASHINGTON - Is the glass in Iraq half empty, or half full? Is that light at the end of the tunnel sunshine, or an oncoming locomotive? <br />
<br />

03-05-05, 09:28 AM
Afghanistan and Iraq: the road ahead
By Susan M. Collins
Saturday, March 05, 2005 - Bangor Daily News

As a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, I recently participated in a trip to Afghanistan and Iraq with my colleagues Sens. John McCain, Lindsey Graham, Russ Feingold and Hillary Clinton. The trip illustrated the sharp contrast between an emerging democracy in Afghanistan and a still determined and violent insurgency in Iraq, and provided a telling comparison with my previous journeys to both countries.

I last visited Afghanistan three years ago, in January 2002. At that time, it was so dangerous that our delegation could only visit Bagram Air Base under cover of darkness, and our plane had to make a stomach-turning "spiral landing," an evasive technique designed to avoid any incoming fire. The country's charismatic leader, then-interim president Hamid Karzai, met with us in an Army tent near an aircraft hangar with huge holes in its roof.

What a difference three years' time has made. This time our military aircraft made a conventional landing at the international airport in Kabul, and it was safe enough to drive into the capital city, albeit in armored SUVs. The streets were lined with Afghans going about their daily lives. Fruit stands were everywhere, and merchandise was piled high in front of tiny shops. And we had lunch with recently elected President Karzai at his residence.

I do not mean to paint a picture of prosperity, as Afghanistan is an extremely poor country. Kabul, a city of untold millions, does not have a sewer system, and the small homes terraced in the mountains that ring the city look like they would be washed away in a heavy rain. But there is a feeling of normalcy and optimism in the country, and everywhere we went, the Afghans expressed their gratitude for America's sacrifice in liberating their country from the Taliban and al-Qaida. President Karzai echoed that heartfelt sentiment. "Your help has made everything possible for us," he told us. President Karzai was ebullient about the strong voter turnout in the recent elections - a sign that the Afghan people are committed to establishing a peaceful democracy.

Perhaps most striking was the change in the status of girls and women. When I visited three years ago, girls were still not in school, a remnant of the cruel and repressive Taliban rule. Today, girls are attending schools all over the country. In Kabul, older girls prohibited from attending school during the Taliban years are going to special classes designed to accelerate their learning.

Females now make up 20 percent of university students. Women also have returned to the work force after being barred from working outside of the home during the Taliban years. A woman named Habiba Sarabi is the governor of Barmiyan Province, and women have been elected to the new Afghan assembly. No longer are women beaten if they are not wearing burqas. No longer is it a crime to possess a toothbrush, rather than a wooden implement modeled on what Mohammed used in the 7th century. No longer is the sports stadium used for public executions; it is now the site of spirited soccer matches.

To be sure, the Afghans still face extraordinary challenges such as extreme poverty, too few teachers, physicians, and nurses, poor health care, an ancient infrastructure, and warlords resistant to control by a central government. The country's biggest challenge is the drug trade, but its leaders are determined to convert farmers who are growing the poppies that supply much of the world's opium to other crops such as almonds, pomegranates and other fruit.

The Afghan people seem eager to embrace democracy, peace, and freedom. I left Afghanistan feeling that the country has turned the corner despite the many challenges it continues to face. Our involvement in Afghanistan has not only eliminated a safe haven for al-Qaida but also liberated a proud people yearning to be free.

Compared with my last journey to Iraq in the summer of 2003, this time security was far tighter. In contrast to Kabul where we traveled relatively freely, our Senate delegation could not drive along the streets of Baghdad. We were transported in armed Black Hawk helicopters to the heavily fortified "Green Zone," where American and British headquarters as well as the Iraqi government offices are located. We wore 45-pound armored vests and heavy helmets much of the time and had to return to Kuwait each night. That increased security, the absence of Iraqis along the streets and the tense atmosphere demonstrate the difficult challenges we face.

Our first meeting was with U.S. Gen. David Petraeus, who is overseeing the recruitment and training Iraqi security forces. The ability of Iraqi forces to take over responsibility for the security of their county is the key to the future stability of Iraq - and to the ultimate phased withdrawal of our troops. It has been difficult to recruit and retain Iraqis because they and their families are immediately targeted by insurgents. Moreover, absenteeism and corruption are endemic problems. Nevertheless, there are encouraging signs.

Gen. Petraeous told us that Iraqi forces provided the front line of security during the elections, and their success in preventing the insurgents from disrupting the elections as well as the heroism of some Iraqi guards in sacrificing their lives to prevent suicide bombers from killing voters have generated a new sense of pride among the Iraqi forces.

The elections in Iraq represent a tipping point that will determine whether Iraq is ready to embrace a tolerant, multi-party and multi-ethnic democratic government. A lot depends on the willingness of the long-oppressed majority Shiites to share some power with the minority Sunnis and Kurds. We heard some Sunni leaders express regret at their decision to boycott an election that saw a huge turnout by Shiite and Kurdish Iraqis. The Iraqi leaders with whom we met, among them current Prime Minister Allawi, Deputy Prime Minister Saleh, and Finance Minister Mahdi, appear committed to an inclusive government. Sen. Clinton and I also participated in a meeting with Iraqi women who were optimistic about the future of their country, the prospects of writing a moderate constitution, and their opportunities for full participation.

The most encouraging part of my visit to Iraq was our trip to Fallujah, a city once synonymous with danger and firmly in the insurgents' control. Once a sanctuary for insurgents, Fallujah is now what one Marine described as the "safest city in Iraq" due to a fierce battle in which the Marines rooted out the insurgents and destroyed scores of weapons caches. This success has also encouraged more than a thousand Iraqis in the Fallujah area to have the confidence to come forward to fill police and army positions.

Hearing the Marines describe the battle of Fallujah and the bravery of American and Iraqi forces made me so proud of our troops. It was an honor to be able to thank our Marines, soldiers, sailors, and airmen and women for their sacrifice and to have lunch with four members of our armed forces from Maine: Marine Lance Cpl. Nate McKim of Bowdoinham, Navy Petty Officer Bruce Davis of Gardiner, Marine 1st Lt, Tony King of Cape Elizabeth, and Navy Chief Warrant Officer Bill Bailey of Calais. Also joining us was Marine Maj. Dirk Maurer, a member of my staff who was called to active duty last summer and looks forward to rejoining my Washington office late this spring.

Ultimately, with the quality of our troops, the training of the Iraqi security forces, and the courage of the Iraqi people, I believe the outcome in Iraq can be a positive one - a free, peaceful, and democratic nation. But the insurgents' goals are exactly the opposite of that, and it is going to be a long, hard struggle. Defeating a determined, ruthless, and tough enemy is going to require courage and commitment by the Iraqi people themselves as well as our determination to stay the course and learn from our mistakes.

No matter where I went during this trip, I met Mainers - both military and civilian - proudly serving our country. We owe them all a debt of gratitude for their service and their sacrifice.

>Sen. Susan M. Collins is chairman of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs and a member of the Armed Services Committee.


03-05-05, 12:11 PM
3/4 H&S Co. keeps infantry on track
Submitted by: 1st Marine Division
Story Identification #: 20052279593
Story by Lance Cpl. Paul Robbins Jr.

CAMP ABU GHURAYB, Iraq (Feb. 17, 2005) -- The efforts of infantry Marines are easily recognized through their constant patrols, checkpoints and presence within the city of Fallujah; but the vital support for operations in the city provided by the Marines of Headquarters and Service Company, 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 1, are hidden to the eyes of the people.

The mission of 3/4's H&S Co. is to provide the line companies of their infantry battalion with the means to up the good fight.

“All of what we do is behind the scenes,” said Capt.Patryck J. Durham, 36, the commanding officer of H&S Co., 3/4, “We’re not the ones putting rounds on target, we’re the ones providing the rounds.”

This mission requires the more than 200 Marines of the company to provide the infantrymen inside the city with everything from transportation to hot food.

“We keep the battalion ready to fight,” said Staff Sgt. Michael N. Tellis, 31, the logistics chief for 3/4.

The company is responsible for the battalion’s food, water, electricity, fuel, ammunition, communication, maintenance, pay, mail, entitlements, transportation, accountability and many other crucial assets for efficiency and morale, according to Tellis, a native of Pensacola, Fla.

In addition to this, the company also provides its infantry Marines with an edge on the battlefield.

“We provide the enemy situation and vulnerabilities to the battalion,” said Staff Sgt. George A. Rogers, 28, the intelligence chief for 3/4.

Scout Snipers attached to the company provide valuable information on activities within the city, which the company uses to keep their Marines a step ahead of the enemy.

“We try and eliminate the fog of war on the battlefield to take away any uncertainty,” said Rogers, a native of Zebulon, N.C.

During any battle involving 3/4's Marines, the company provides another valuable tool to the fight; the command operations center.

The COC tracks the location of all units in the battalion, passes information, coordinates fire support, and keeps records of all radio traffic.

“During a firefight we are command and control,” said Master Gunnery Sgt. Karl W. Nugent, 43, the battalion operations chief, “We coordinate the battle on a larger scale.”

With a bird’s eye view of the battlefield, the COC coordinates artillery support, air support and leads nearby units into the fight.

The efforts of the company, although unseen by the people of Fallujah, do not go un-noticed by the infantry Marines they support.

“It’s nothing for us to go out and do what we do, knowing the support we have from the Marines of this company,” said 1st Sgt. Veney Cochran, 37, a native of Queens, N.Y., who serves as the company first sergeant of Company L.


03-05-05, 03:32 PM
Marines dismissed!
Saturday, March 5, 2005

Chandra McIntyre jumped up and down with excitement Wednesday afternoon as she waited to see her boyfriend.

Lance Cpl. Michael Uzelac, 22, of Germantown Hills dropped his bag and ran to McIntyre, who wrapped her arms and legs around him in their first embrace in six months.

Flags waved, banners shook and the crowd screamed a deafening cheer as the 110 Marine reserves marched to stand in attention in front of the Byerly Aviation hanger at the Greater Peoria Regional Airport on Friday afternoon.

The Charlie Company of the 6th Engineering

Support Battalion, based out of Peoria, has been in Iraq since August 2004 as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Speaking briefly before dismissing the Marines, Major John Quehl, the battalion's commander, said to the crowd of more than 500 people: "The Marines have done a great job out there . . . I'd like to thank you for your support. It definitely made a big difference."

As soon as the Marines were dismissed, they ran to embrace teary-eyed family and friends.

McIntyre, 20, of East Peoria said she has been dating Uzelac since Valentine's Day 2004, and it has been tough to be apart.

Pam Harness, the mother of Cpl. Christopher Harness of Bloomington, said she still has the family Christmas tree up.

His sister, Kim Folks, said it's been a little annoying to have all the decorations up, but they wanted him to have Christmas - albeit a late one - with his family.

"We didn't have him standing up saying, 'Who's got underwear,'" Folks said. "(The) traditions are kind of broken." The family is planning to eat a big turkey dinner and unwrap presents in the next few days.

But Christmas also was bitter for the unit, which suffered serious casualties during a Dec. 22 suicide bombing attack.

No one was killed, but six Marines were injured. They include: Lance Cpl. Jesse Schertz, 21, of Lowpoint; Lance Cpl. Jeremy Janssen, 22, of Ransom; Lance Cpl. Tyler Ziegel, 22, of Metamora; and Cpl. Matthew Dickson, 23, of Springfield.

"Christmas was horrible, because his best friend is Tyler Ziegel," said Cheryl Robison, the mother of Cpl. Ronald Robison, 22, of Metamora.

They went to school together from kindergarten through high school, she said. The pair also went to boot camp and left for Iraq together.

"We just can't wait to hug him again," Cheryl Robison said before the Marines were released to their families.

"I was worried about him. You have your good days and your bad days," said his younger brother, Zach Robison, 20, who was looking forward to playing cards and hanging out with him.

Family of Lance Cpl. John Dooley, 21, of East Peoria were clad in shirts that read: "We are proud of you" on the front and "Dooley is back" on the back.

"(It) feels great. There's no other way to answer," the returning Marine said to describe his emotions.


03-05-05, 03:34 PM
After combat, a return to 'normal' can be a struggle <br />
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------- <br />
The Salinas Californian ...

03-05-05, 03:44 PM
New combat badge excludes their specialty from recognition
By Charlie Coon, Stars and Stripes
European edition, Saturday, March 5, 2005

KIRKUK, Iraq - It's a matter of respect, according to Spc. Manny Hornedo.

"When you walk around, it says 'This is what I did, this is what I earned,'" said Hornedo, a New Jersey Army National Guardsman with the 50th Main Support Battalion at Forward Operating Base Speicher.

The new Close Combat Badge is a good idea that would be made better if more soldiers were eligible for it, according to some who just finished a 60-mile convoy to deliver fuel, water and other supplies to FOB Warrior in Kirkuk.

The Army announced the creation of the new badge in February to recognize soldiers with combat arms specialties. It will be available to those soldiers later this year.

But a lot of soldiers are upset that they would not be eligible for the new badge because their specialty doesn't qualify. Among the specialties that don't qualify are: transportation, military police or others not performing infantry work.

"I definitely think more than a few MOSs should get it," said 1st Lt. Julie Nagle of the 642nd Military Intelligence Battalion, who said her troops have engaged in combat.

"A lot of the National Guard don't do their MOSs when they get over here," said Hornedo, a transportation specialist. "When you're walking around in your [camouflage uniforms], nothing is going to be there to show what you've done."

To others, getting a combat badge didn't matter.

"I don't really care; I'm here to do a job," said Spc. Darrin Greeno a mechanic and truck driver with the 50th MSB and the Minnesota Army National Guard. "If I get attacked and nothing happens to me, it's a good day.

"Some people need [a badge] to prove a point. As long as I come home, that's all I need to prove to people."

Another soldier added that he liked the way the Marine Corps does it - no badges.

"They're all riflemen," the soldier said.

The Close Combat Badge, or CCB, is supposed to be the equivalent of the Combat Infantryman Badge, which was established during World War II to recognize infantrymen and Special Forces soldiers whose specialties would likely put them in harm's way.

But in Iraq, there are no front lines, where infantry would normally be placed. Instead, while infantry units work in many places, anyone heading out the front gate faces the prospect of combat.

The proposed new badge is already creating a stir among the military ranks. Some letters this week to Stars and Stripes from readers downrange say the badge's criteria is too limited and slights MPs, mechanics and others who often find themselves in battle, but would not be eligible to earn the new badge.

One letter writer said, "If the brass in Washington think that 12 (combat engineer and bridge crew member), 13 (field artillery) and 19 (armor) series soldiers are the only ones out there risking their lives, they need to come to Iraq and open their eyes. ... I hope the criteria is changed from what has been suggested. Everyone who went outside the wire to engage the enemy deserves the same recognition, regardless of their MOS."

Army officials late last month said troops' service is commendable, but the badge is designed to recognize those with an infantry mission.

Others downrange echo the letter writer.

Riding with Greeno in their Hemett wrecker and recovery truck was Spc. Rex Buchanan, also with the 50th MSB. Like Greeno, he drives the truck, can repair it and tow vehicles.

Buchanan was happy to get his combat patch, a rainbow on his right shoulder that signifies his service in theater for the 42nd Infantry Division, also known as the Rainbow Division. It is Buchanan's 20th year in the military but his first time overseas and first time in combat.

A badge to wear over the left breast pocket would be appropriate for anyone who earned it, he said.

"I hear about these guys going out and drawing small-arms fire and getting [attacked by roadside bombs]," Buchanan said. "They should have a patch or something that says, 'Thanks for doing what you're doing.'"

All soldiers are trained on their weapons and have to follow the rules of engagement like anyone else, noted Sgt. Hermino Medina of the 16th Quartermaster Company.

The insurgents don't aim at just infantrymen, said Medina, a laundry specialist who also rides, locked and loaded, in convoys. "They're going to harm you no matter what."

Even soldiers who are normally confined on a base, such as Spc. Edward Haskins, a mechanic with the 16th Quartermaster Company, could face combat. The 500-mile convoy that took him from Kuwait into Iraq could have turn into battle.

Said Haskins of the trip: "You were in harm's way every day."


03-05-05, 04:22 PM
Smith earns Purple Heart; trains Iraqi police, national guardsmen


Too many times we look to Hollywood, sports, or our nation's great past for our heroes. It's easy to forget that communities across the country are producing a new generation of heroes every day. One such neighborhood hero our area can certainly be proud of is Middlesboro native Todd Smith.

Lance Cpl. Smith was awarded the Purple Heart in November after being wounded in Iraq.

A member of the 2nd Marines Expeditionary Unit, Smith and his detachment found themselves in a firefight with insurgents over a bridge 45 minutes south of Baghdad.

He suffered a shrapnel injury - seven pieces of metal "about the size of BBs" hit him in the face.

"I was knocked unconscious for about ten seconds," Smith said. "One of the pieces was lodged in my eye socket, and for a while I couldn't see."

He was treated by a medic at he scene and was soon back in action. He continued to serve in the area now know as the "Triangle of Death," helping to train the Iraqi national guardsmen (INGs) and police forces that helped make sure that country could have an election in January.

Smith was able to make a quick visit home earlier this month. The 22-year-old said he doesn't consider himself a hero.

"I just feel like we were doing our job over there," he said. "I am proud that they were able to have an election over there because we did our job.

"We made a pretty good difference. When we first got there the base was getting hit every day, but it was only attacked once in the last two-and-a-half months."

He said his toughest day in Iraq wasn't the day he was wounded, but the day his squad leader died.

Cpl. Jonathan Beatty, 22, from Illinois, was only a week away from finishing his second tour of duty in Iraq when he was killed by mortar fire at a Marine base in the Babil province.

"He had always been there for us," Smith said of his squad leader.

"We were on a crazy mission - we could hear where the mortar was being fired from, but we couldn't do anything about it," Smith said. "The tent they were in had been hit and caught on fire. [Beatty] was pushing everybody out - he saved five marines. But we couldn't get to him and the next mortar hit him right in the head."

- - -

A 2000 graduate of Middlesboro High School, Todd Smith hadn't planned on being a soldier even though his father, Tommy R. Smith, is a former Marine. A standout basketball player for the Jackets, he was going to play for the University of Central Florida, but a broken ankle sidelined his sports career.

When his best friend went into the Marines, Todd decided to join with him. This was in late 2003 and U.S. forces were facing insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"We knew when we signed up that we would either be going to Iraq or Afghanistan," Smith said. "You feel kind of nervous, but excited at the same time - you know the entire Marine Corps has got your back."

He was stationed at Camp Lejeune, N.C., and his unit arrived in Baghdad on July 22 of last year.

In addition to training Iraqis, Smith took part in regular patrols of the oil pipelines and surrounding area, helped man checkpoints on bridges and made "housecalls" on suspected insurgents.

He said U.S. soldiers get a mixed bag of responses from the Iraqis.

"It really depends on what part of the country we're in," Smith said. "In a lot of places some of them bow down and say, 'Thank you,' a lot of kids come up wanting candy.

"But if you're in a town where there was a military base that we've occupied they turn their backs when U.S. soldiers pass by. The kids there turn away from you or they are punished by their parents."

In all, Smith said about 80 percent of the Iraqis are glad the U.S. forces are there.

"Our motto over there is to win their hearts and minds," he said. "If you win over the young kids, 30 or 40 years from now you won't have the problems you have now."

He said the problems in the country are worse than they appear on national news shows.

"Things there are terrible. . . they might show something from Fallujah or Baghdad where it's not that bad, but in other places it doesn't look like it's getting any better," Smith said. "People are coming across the boarder to attack Americans because they hate us. As long as the U.S. is in the area they're not going to stop."

- - -

Most days Smith would spend six to eight hours on patrol "to see what we could get into." Then come back to the base and pull duty at a bridge checkpoint.

"That was the most nerve-wracking thing," he said. "You could never be sure who it was that was coming up to the checkpoint."

Bedding down was another time of apprehension.

"We lost a guy to a mortar attack the first night there," Smith said. "The thought goes through your head every night that it might be your last, but you do what you've got to do."

He said the soldiers would play football under the bridge to keep their minds off the dangers that go along with being in insurgent territory. A lot of the soldiers bought portable DVD players and would watch movies to pass the time.

"You just try to relax as much as you can," Smith said.

Aside from the dangers, there were other hardships that made the going tough at times. For Smith's first two months there, there were no letters or any contact with home. Finally in October they were able to patrol to a base every four days where AT&T provided phones for them to call home.

In spite of the injuries, deaths and dangers he experienced, Smith says he doesn't regret his decision.

"Yeah, I'm glad I went over there," he said. "It's been rough, especially being away from family, but I'm glad we did it."

The reward is knowing he served his country seeing the Iraqis develop the same sense of national pride.

"The best part is seeing the look on some of the people's faces - to see them smiling and know the difference we've made in their country," he said. "And also seeing the day the INGs do most of the raids, to be able to watch them learn to take care of their own country."

Todd is the son of Tommy R. Smith of Middlesboro and Brenda C. Baker of Pineville. He again left Middlesboro on Feb. 13 for Camp Lejeune. His unit will begin training in April and will either return to Iraq or report to a ship in the Mediterranean Sea in the fall.

He is considering a career in the Marine Corps. He still has three years left to serve in the infantry- "It gets hard being a grunt" - and might try to become a recruiter after that.


03-05-05, 05:11 PM
March 4, 2005
HQBn. Marines sweat to aerobics

by Sgt. Melvin Lopez Jr.
Henderson Hall News

Headquarters Battalion Marines got a taste of intense aerobics training Feb. 18 at the Smith Gym here during a session of battalion PT.

It was a different approach to the usually intense physical training Marines are accustomed to: "daily-seven" exercises, pull-ups, and formation runs of three miles or more. They seemed to enjoy the workout, conducted by Sgt. Angela Ross, corrections data supervisor, Plans, Policies & Operations, Headquarters Marine Corps.

"I thought it was a lot of fun," said Cpl. April Valdez, operator / dispatcher, Motor Transport, HQBn., Headquarters Marine Corps. "I would recommend this again."

The class consisted of numerous exercises, but the 26-year-old Hollidaysburg, Pa. native kept it simple due to the fact that most of the Marines had never attended such a class.

"I did a routine that didn't have a lot of choreography and didn't require a lot of movement due to space restrictions," said Ross.

There are some who have taken her class in the past though. Lance Cpl. Librada Garza, company clerk, Headquarters & Service Company, HQBn., HQMC, said her classes are no joke.

"Sgt. Ross' class will kick your butt the first time, but it is fun," Garza said.

According to Garza, she doesn't feel as motivated during regular PT as she does with Ross' aerobics class.

"Positive motivation, like she implements in her class, is crucial to successful PT for young Marines," she said.

The 7-year Marine is certified with the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America in personal training and pre-/postnatal fitness. She is also certified with the National Dance and Exercise Instructors Training Association in group exercise.

She also has received her Bachelor of Science degree in health and sports science. Now, she uses what she has learned and teaches aerobics part-time at the Smith Gym, and has been for about a year.

As for conducting another battalion PT session, she said she would usually always be available.

When the new addition to the Smith Gym opens, Ross will be conducting regular classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 11:45 a.m.

For more information, please contact Sgt. Angela Ross at 703-614-1480.


03-05-05, 05:43 PM
3/4 trades candy for weapons
Submitted by: 1st Marine Division
Story Identification #: 20053223138
Story by Lance Cpl. Paul Robbins Jr.

FALLUJAH, Iraq (Feb. 24, 2005) -- Terrorists pay large amounts of money for the mortars, rockets and other explosives used against coalition forces, but the going rate for Marines to find these items in Fallujah, Iraq, is as little as a piece of chocolate.

As soon as 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 1, arrived in Fallujah in January, Iraqi children began guiding patrols to unexploded ordnance and weapons caches within their neighborhoods, expecting only chocolate in return.

“Our first patrols were swarmed by kids looking for chocolate,” said Cpl. Miles J. Smith, 21, a squad leader for I Company. “We just handed it out for a while, then we started asking them to show us the ‘boom.’”

The children of Fallujah were more than compliant, showing patrols to a variety of UXO and weapons caches, said Smith, a native of Paul’s Valley, Okla.

In exchange for food, candy, water, or the occasional American dollar, the children have helped Marines confiscate grenades, mortars, heat-seeking rockets, plastic explosives, weapons and ammunition, according to Smith.

“It has been one of our best sources of intelligence,” said Maj. Matt O. Watt, 33, the operations officer for 3/4.

The residents have an intimate knowledge of the area, and can direct Marines to UXO and weapons without disturbing their homes or way of life, Watt said.

The removal of these dangerous items benefits all parties involved, helping remove the fear of attack from improvised explosive devices.

“When we get the UXO out of their neighborhoods, it keeps it out of enemy hands and safer for (the people),” said Watt. “It’s a win-win situation.”

The combination of humanitarian aid and the disposal of dangerous items from the homes and streets of Fallujah’s residents have provided a valuable connection between Iraqis and Marines.

“Working with the residents to remove these threats has helped build goodwill between us,” said Watt, “and we’ll foster that whenever possible.”

With the full support of the battalion, the Marines of 3/4 will continue to work side-by-side with the residents of Fallujah in removing these threats to their city.

“A lot of us are stocking our pockets for our next patrol into the city,” Allen said.


03-05-05, 06:36 PM
Marine returns to Iraq, shares knowledge, experience
Submitted by: 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing
Story Identification #: 200534104042
Story by Sgt. Juan Vara

AL ASAD, Iraq (March 4, 2005) -- Thousands of Marines have kissed their families’ good-bye and traveled across the world to support the Global War on Terrorism. Some, who’ve answered the call of duty multiple times, remain away from their loved ones for months at a time and endure the sacrifice because of the firm belief that their involvement is necessary to accomplish the mission.

One of these war fighters is Sgt. Michael C. Steele. In the last three years, Steele has deployed once in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and twice in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Each time he’s left behind in eastern North Carolina his wife, the former Maria Rodriguez from Floresville, Texas, and their 4-year-old son, Isaac.

He’s missed the second and fourth birthdays of his son and will miss the fifth one while he’s here serving with the “Patriots” of Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 26 (Reinforced) from Marine Corps Air Station, New River, N.C.

A dynamic components mechanic trained to work on helicopter blades, rotor heads and belt cranks, Steele joined the Marine Corps in 1998. The 1994 graduate of Poteet High left San Antonio’s Palo Alto College after three-and-a-half years and continued a family tradition.

“I was close to graduating and got bored with it,” said Steele, whose father is a retired CH-53E Super Stallion crew chief. “I decided to come in.”

At the time of his enlistment, Steele’s brother was serving with the 1st Tank Battalion and his sister served with the 1st Force Service Support Group. “I guess it was inevitable.”

His first stop was Marine Corps Recruit Depot, San Diego, Calif., where out of a series of three platoons with an average of 70 recruits per platoon, Steele was named the series honor graduate and was meritoriously promoted to the rank of lance corporal.

He then attended Marine Combat Training at Camp Pendleton, Calif., and after graduation reported to the Naval Air Maintenance Training Marine Unit, New River, where he attended dynamic components mechanic school.

The “Patriots” welcomed him in 1999, and less than three years later he departed with the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) for Jordan; Djibouti, Africa; and Afghanistan, where he took part in Operation Enduring Freedom and earned air crew wings, a breast insignia that recognizes the job done by enlisted air crews, flying as an aerial observer with the “Raging Bulls” of Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron-261 (Reinforced).

In January 2004, Steele temporarily joined the ranks of MALS-16, based at MCAS Miramar, Calif., and deployed to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom II. He spent eight months working with a small detachment of Marines in Al Taqaddum, an air base in central Iraq, and returned to MCAS New River where he passed on the newly acquired knowledge to his Marines.

“I tried to prepare them mentally and let them know what was going to happen over here,” he said. “Everything that we do in the rear is just training for whenever we’re deployed.”

After five months of being back with his loved ones, Steele began another journey that would bring him back to Iraq. This time, he’s scheduled to be here for 14 months in support of OIF 04-06.

“I miss my wife and my son and I miss seeing him grow,” he said. “But I have a job to do and that’s to train these young Marines. Eventually I’ll be able to stay home for a while.”

His Marines, “the best bunch of Marines we’ve ever had,” are known within the unit for having “their heads screwed on right” and are focused on their individual mission and that of their work section, he stressed.

“Our ultimate goal is to support the squadrons,” said Steele. “When we support the squadrons, the squadrons support the ‘grunts’ and the mission gets accomplished.”


03-05-05, 08:35 PM
Quantico war dogs head to Iraq <br />
Submitted by: MCB Quantico <br />
Story Identification #: 2005338821 <br />
Story by Cpl. J. Agg <br />
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MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, Va. (March 3, 2005) -- Marine Corps Base...

03-05-05, 09:36 PM
March 07, 2005

Dive tank therapy helps heal Marine

By Laura Bailey
Times staff writer

CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. — Ever since Sgt. Charles J. Rhinehart was wounded in a mine explosion in Iraq last summer, the 26-year-old has fought to recover from his injuries and get his career back on track.
However, one of his many wounds, an open chunk of tissue in his foot more than an inch wide, has stubbornly defied even the most aggressive therapy, putting him at risk of losing his foot to amputation.

After months of failed treatment, Navy doctors have begun a unique therapy that they say will jump-start the foot’s healing.

Rhinehart, with 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, is spending several hours a week, not at the hospital, but in the confines of a tank normally used to treat decompression illness in divers.

The intent is to get oxygen flowing into his wound, and so far, medical officials are ecstatic with the results.

“At first, I was a little nervous. I didn’t know what was going to happen or what it was going to be like, but I was willing to try,” said Rhinehart, who allowed reporters to watch him enter the tank, also known as a hyperbaric chamber, for treatment Feb. 11.

At that point, just one week into the new treatment, doctors were already reporting that the wound was showing tremendous improvement and beginning to close up. Rhinehart also was feeling the change.

“I noticed a lot of difference,” he said. “My swelling’s gone down. Now, there’s no pain at all.”

Doctors opted for the the dive tank therapy because such hyperbaric chambers have been used in civilian hospitals to treat an array of conditions associated with diabetes and heart surgery, said Navy Capt. James M. Chimiak, the head of anesthesia at Naval Hospital Camp Lejuene.

Hyperbaric chambers normally are used to treat decompression illness, a dangerous condition that afflicts divers who ascend from high-pressure depths too quickly, cheating their bodies of time needed to slowly expel excess gases absorbed from the dive. The buildup of those gases, such as nitrogen, can result in dizziness, tremors and serious medical conditions.

The pressurized chamber works by pumping pure oxygen into the body, a technique known to improve healing of damaged tissue.

Doctors say it is the influx of oxygen to Rhinehart’s body that will ultimately help his wound to close. The pure oxygen enters Rhinehart’s damaged tissue at a rate of 10 times the amount normally flowing through his blood. That extra oxygen works like a drug, boosting the bacteria-killing power of white blood cells and decreasing swelling, Chimiak said.

The chambers are known to be excellent tools for speeding the healing of wounds, Chimiak said, but they are too large and heavy to be easily transported for use in front-line field hospitals. But, he said, with the success of this case, he can foresee the treatment becoming a more frequent option for future combat wounds.

Inside the tight chamber, Rhinehart looks like an astronaut on a break. The Marine spends 90 minutes lying inside the chamber, reading a book to kill time. His choice of reading material, appropriately, is a book about Pearl Harbor divers.

A crew of Navy divers and tank technicians runs the treatment, slowly taking the pressure in the tank down to the equivalent of a depth of 45 feet and monitoring him from windows and outside the tank. A Navy corpsman also enters the chamber with Rhinehart, monitoring respiration and temperature.

In all, Rhinehart could be looking at about 30 sessions in the tank. If the treatment continues to yield positive results and his wound fully heals, Rhinehart will be able to stay in the Corps, which he said is his ultimate goal.

“The whole family is grateful that they’re doing this,” said his wife, Sgt. Elizabeth Rhinehart, a weather observer at nearby Marine Corps Air Station New River.


03-05-05, 11:48 PM
140 Twentynine Palms Marines and sailors return home from Iraq

After more than seven months in Iraq, 140 Twentynine Palms Marines and sailors are almost home tonight. People on the base and all around town have been waiting a long time for this day.

Dozens of signs welcoming the Marines and sailors back home were posted along the fence just outside the Marine base. The two units returning are the Marine Unmanned Aerial Squadron One and Combat Service Battalion Seven.

“I’m proud of them, sailors, Marines,” said Luz Lewis, who works on the Marine Base. “My daughter’s in the Army, so whatever service it is, I’m proud of them."

This was the scene back in august last year. A hot summer day, with 140 Marines and sailors packing up, saying their goodbyes, not knowing when or if they'd be back. Sailor Gerald Russell’s girlfriend told us back then she couldn't wait for him to come home.

“this is the first time I’ve had some in my life deployed, so it's nerve-wracking.”

Marine Private First Class Marcos Garcia hasn't been deployed yet, but he says he knows how these signs can make a homecoming that much better.

"Them coming home, seeing the support, what they're fighting for, makes all the time they spent over have more purpose."

But support for returning Marines wasn't just seen on base. People around town were also putting up signs right in the middle of Twentynine Palms.

Hours before the Marines arrived, people around town were already saying thank you.

"I’m proud of them."

"The very right for us to stand here on the sidewalk and be filmed, that's been won by blood sweat and tears and death by our fighting men and women since the 1700's. Regardless of how you feel about politics, you need to support the troops and soldiers out there giving it there all."

And with bad news coming in seemingly everyday about the more than 1,500 hundred servicemen and women who've lost their lives in Iraq, on this day, good news.

These 140 Marines and sailors are coming home, safe and sound.


03-06-05, 10:10 AM

Users give NMCI passing grade

By Dawn S. Onley
GCN Staff

Nearly three-quarters of a random group of Navy-Marine Corps Intranet users say overall they are satisfied with the performance of the portal and lead contractor professionalism, according to the latest customer satisfaction survey results released today by the NMCI office.

The office announced the results of the fourth quarter 2004 survey, which found that 72.2 percent of users were satisfied with the system. The previous quarter’s survey, unveiled in August 2004, found 71.9 percent satisfied.

NMCI, an $8.8 billion program, is a single network designed to connect more than 400,000 sailors and Marines at more than 300 bases in the United States and abroad. EDS Corp. is the lead contractor.

“We are on our way to gaining a deeper understanding of the needs and issues of our NMCI customers. The data collected by this survey is invaluable to our team in providing a clear path forward for resolution,” said Rear Adm. James B Godwin III, NMCI director. “I am confident we will progress in customer satisfaction as we deliver a world-class intranet, ready for the pace of today’s Navy-Marine Corps team.”

Roughly one-quarter of the 44,601 users who received the online survey responded. NMCI officials say the survey targets all users and asks users to rate their satisfaction with hardware, software, network performance, help desk and problem resolution, training, and service delivery, as well as overall satisfaction.

Many users have raised questions about the need for an unbiased organization to conduct future surveys. Some users stated that with the Navy and EDS running the project, they would be reluctant to give their true opinions.

Backing up that claim are the consistent e-mails and letters still received by Government Computer News on challenges with the NMCI program.

The NMCI Program Office acknowledges that significant increases in customer satisfaction are unlikely until several important issues are resolved. Those issues include network performance, e-mail services, and Web and Internet access, according to a news release.

“We’re focused on improving the NMCI user experience,” said Mike Koehler, enterprise client executive for EDS. “Together we are building on an established common, stable and secure computing environment to achieve a better balance between customer usability and network security.”

This year, some new services will be delivered to the NMCI network, including a Broadband Remote Access Solution, Windows XP and a new online catalog.


03-06-05, 10:13 AM
Wounded Reporter Recalls Ordeal
Associated Press
March 6, 2005

ROME - The freed Italian hostage wounded by American troops at a checkpoint in Baghdad shortly after her release said in an article Sunday that her Iraqi captors had warned her U.S. forces "might intervene."

Giuliana Sgrena, who writes for the communist newspaper Il Manifesto, described how she was wounded and Italian intelligence officer Nicola Calipari was killed as she was celebrating her freedom on the way to the airport. The shooting Friday has fueled anti-American sentiment in a country where people are deeply opposed to U.S. policy in Iraq.

"I remember only fire," she said in her article. "At that point a rain of fire and bullets came at us, forever silencing the happy voices from a few minutes earlier."

Sgrena said the driver began shouting that they were Italian, then "Nicola Calipari dove on top of me to protect me and immediately, and I mean immediately, I felt his last breath as he died on me."

Suddenly, she said, she remembered her captors' warning her "to be careful because the Americans don't want you to return."

The U.S. military said the Americans used hand and arm signals, flashing white lights and fired warning shots to get the car to stop. But in an interview Saturday with Italian La 7 TV, Sgrena said "there was no bright light, no signal." She said the car was traveling at "regular speed."

Italian military officials said two other agents were wounded, but U.S. officials said it was only one. The agent who was killed, Calipari, had led negotiations for the journalist's release.

Sgrena returned to Rome on Saturday morning, looking haggard and with a blanket wrapped around her shoulders. She walked unsteadily and was hooked up to an intravenous drip following surgery to remove shrapnel from her shoulder.

She was taken to a Rome military hospital, where she later met with Calipari's wife, the Italian news agency Apcom said.

In her article, Sgrena wrote that her captors warned her as she was about to be released not to signal her presence to anyone, because "the Americans might intervene."

It was the happiest and also the most dangerous moment," Sgrena wrote. "If we had run into someone, meaning American troops, there would have been an exchange of fire, and my captors were ready and they would have responded."

Sgrena said her captors then blindfolded her and drove her to a location, where they made her get out of the car.

That's when she first heard Calipari's voice, she said.

"Don't worry, you're free," he told her.

Neither Italian nor U.S. officials gave details about how Sgrena managed to gain her freedom after a month in the hands of Iraqi insurgents.

An Iraqi lawmaker, Youdaam Youssef Kanna, told Belgian state TV Saturday evening that he had "nonofficial" information a $1 million ransom was paid for Sgrena's release, Apcom reported from Brussels.

The shooting came as a new blow to the center-right government of Premier Silvio Berlusconi, a strong ally of President Bush, who has assured him the shooting would be investigated. Tens of thousands of Italians regularly demonstrated against the Iraq war, and the Italian left - including Sgrena's newspaper - vigorously opposed the conflict.

Berlusconi, President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi and Il Manifesto director Gabriele Polo joined Calipari's family at Rome's Ciampino Airport late Saturday before the agent's body was flown in shortly before midnight.

The coffin with Calipari's body was carried out of the military plane wrapped in an Italian flag and blessed by a military priest and the agent's brother, a priest who serves on a Vatican advisory body. Calipari's wife, mother and two children were also present.

The coffin was loaded onto a hearse and taken to the coroner's office in Rome. An autopsy began on Sunday, according to news reports. The body was expected to lie in state at Rome's Vittoriano monument, and a state funeral was planned for Monday.

Ciampi said he would award Calipari with the gold medal of valor for his heroism.

"What happened yesterday in Baghdad was a homicide," Polo told Apcom.

"The Americans must be firmly reminded to respect human and civil rules," the ANSA news agency quoted Mirko Tremaglia, minister for Italians abroad, as saying.

Sgrena was abducted Feb. 4 by gunmen who blocked her car outside Baghdad University.


03-06-05, 10:14 AM
Hundreds greet Peoria-area Marines after second tour of Iraq
March 5, 2005 — Tears blended with cheers again today as a Peoria-based Marine reserve unit that has lost three members to war returned from its second tour of duty in Iraq.
A Marine reserve spokesman says the 120 returning members of "C" Company's Sixth Engineering Support Battalion is among only a handful of Marine reserve units and detachments that have served two stints in Iraq.

None has been called back three times. But some of the unit's members think another tour is likely.

That prospect didn't dampen an emotional homecoming that drew more than five-hundred relatives and friends to Peoria's airport.

Three of the unit's members were killed. They are: 24-year-old Joshua Palmer of Blandinsville, 20-year-old Corporal Evan James of LaHarpe and 29-year-old Sergeant Bradley Korthaus of Davenport, Iowa.

(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


03-06-05, 10:48 AM
30 area Marines to fly into Huntsville today

By Martin Burkey
DAILY Staff Writer
mburkey@decaturdaily.com · 340-2441

HUNTSVILLE — About 30 area U.S. Marines are flying into Huntsville today after a seven-month tour of duty in Iraq.

About 70 more members of the same unit are returning March 21.

Troops returning today are members of Kilo Company, Detachment B, 4th Battalion of the 14th Marines. They include several members from the Decatur area.

They protected about 350 tons of munitions at Al Asad, about 80 miles northwest of Baghdad, Staff Sgt. James Wittkop said.

A chartered plane is bringing them into Huntsville International Airport about 3 p.m., and a bus is taking them to the Marine Corps Reserve Center on South Memorial Parkway about 4 to reunite them with their families.

They arrived at Camp Pendleton, Calif., on Feb. 24. They get a four-day leave with their families before finishing their post-deployment duties, Wittkop said.

The remaining troops from the deployment are members of Kilo Company, Detachment A. They were assigned to Fallujah and saw combat there, Wittkop said. None was killed or wounded, he added.

"Everybody's happy," he said. "Everybody did a great job. We have a professional group of Marines."

The group left Huntsville about July 4, 2004, and arrived in Iraq in August before they split into two units. Their orders assigned them to duty for up to a year, but actual plans limited their deployment to seven or eight months to keep them fresh in case they have to be deployed again, Wittkop said.


03-06-05, 10:49 AM
30 Marines glad to hear 'dismissed'
Rest of Kilo set to return from Iraq in three weeks
Saturday, March 05, 2005
Times Staff Writer, patriciacm@htimes.com
With an exuberant "dismissed," Maj. Mike Ledbetter relieved 30 U.S. Marines from duty Friday afternoon and let them hug the wives, parents and children they left eight months ago for the Iraqi desert.

In a corner of the Marine Reserve Center's back parking lot on South Memorial Parkway, two women stood back and cried harder than anyone else there.

They didn't rush into the crowd of camouflage uniforms. The uniform they're waiting for won't be back until March 25.

"I'm so jealous," said Johanna Haddock, hugging her mother.

Cpl. James Haddock - Johanna's brother and Terry Haddock's son - will come home in three weeks, which feels like forever when you're watching everyone else reunite.

"I'm very happy for them," Terry Haddock said. "I'll be even happier when another few weeks go by."

With the return of the remainder of the 4th Battalion, 14th Marine Regiment, Kilo Battery, almost all Huntsville-based National Guardsmen and reservists will be home. For some, going on active duty has meant a year away.

Kilo Company guarded an Iraqi ammunition supply point from insurgents. Before they left, all 2,000 tons of munitions were destroyed, Ledbetter said. The company frequently took indirect fire, but the worst injuries in his 30-member group were a broken finger and a sprained ankle.

"We patrolled, manned towers, interacted with the locals to find out who were the bad guys and who were the good guys," the major said. "We were stationed at the most remote base, with the harshest conditions anywhere over there.

"It wasn't an established base at all. There wasn't a chow hall, showers or somebody there providing electricity. Whatever we needed, we had to take care of it ourselves. We drew the short straw by having the harshest base, but we did get to come home first."

As Ledbetter said before he dismissed his group, two Marines became new fathers while the group was gone, guarding and destroying Iraqi munitions.

For Cpl. Larry Gordon, it meant missing most of his year as a newlywed. He and Shakella, who dated for four years, got married earlier than they'd planned so they'd be man and wife before he shipped out.

As they hugged and kissed in the parking lot, they had the same glow as a couple who'd just spoken their "I do's." Her glittery lip gloss rubbed off all over his mouth, cheeks and chin. While holding him tightly, she sang him a love song.

They briefly disengaged when a woman carrying a small flag walked over to them, her hand extended.

"I just want to thank you for what you did over there," the woman said, shaking his hand. "Welcome home."

Then she walked away.

"I have no idea," the Marine said when asked who the well-wisher was.

He went back to kissing his bride.


03-06-05, 10:56 AM
Sent to me by Mark(Fontman)

Former Marine was voice of 'Bambi'


For a quarter of a century, Donald Roan Dunagan worked his way up through the ranks in the U.S. Marine Corps. During that time, the Texas native carefully hid his historic role as the model and voice for one of Walt Disney's most beloved animated characters.

"This may sound corny to any reasonably intelligent person," Dunagan said. "I would not have made it as a very young first sergeant, a CWO gunner, a regular line lieutenant, company commander or field-grade officer with the nickname 'Bambi.'

"I would have been history. I told myself back then, 'Dunagan, that's long ago. Nobody knows. Nobody needs to know. Nobody probably even cares - so just keep it to yourself.' "

Long retired from the military, the 70-year-old Dunagan has ended 63 years of silence. Embracing his screen heritage, the former child actor now freely discusses his memories of "Bambi," "Son of Frankenstein" and other vintage films.

He is featured in "The Making of 'Bambi': A Prince is Born," one of many bonus features on last week's Platinum Edition DVD release of the classic 1942 film.

"I was hired at first by Mr. Disney to be a model of Bambi, not the voice," recalled Dunagan, who was 7 when the film was released. "Newspaper clippings that we have say Mr. Disney picked me out of a lineup as the model for the eyes and head and expression for the animation. That evolved into the voice work as Bambi for the first three-quarters of the movie - they brought in an older kid to do the voice for the scenes where Bambi is older."

During his long service in the military, only a few close friends were privy to Dunagan's past life as a Hollywood player.

"There was this wonderful General, Kenneth J. Houghton, who was a tough dude and smart as the ****ens," Dunagan said in an October interview from his home in San Angelo, Texas. "He called me in one day and said, 'Dunagan, I had some background work done on you, and I want to ask you some questions.' Well, this general had found out about 'Bambi' - and he just beat me up with this whole thing."

Dunagan - who has been sought by fans and film scholars for decades - kept his cinematic career shrouded in secrecy until last May, when he presented an after-dinner speech for a charity organization in San Angelo.

With his childhood identity revealed, Dunagan relented to requests for a KLS-TV interview. One of the viewers of that segment contacted her son, a Burbank-based film engineer who works on preservation projects. Eventually, the word got back to the Disney studios.

Dunagan was born in San Antonio, but his family moved to Memphis, Tenn., in 1937. When he was 3, Dunagan competed in a talent contest at Memphis' Orpheum Theater.

"It was any age young up to 12 or 13, and the prize money was $100 - that was a fortune," Dunagan noted. "A little homemade band played 'A-Tisket, A-Tasket,' and I danced. I won the darn thing, and my parents went bananas. In the audience was a talent scout who had some RKO relationship. Within two weeks, we were on this long train ride to Los Angeles."

Dunagan made his screen debut playing one of "Mother Carey's Chickens" in a 1939 family drama inspired by the story of a Memphis woman who took in teenage orphans. The movie was directed by Rowland V. Lee, who then cast Dunagan opposite Basil Rathbone, Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi in the horror hit "Son of Frankenstein."

"That all came to an end after 'Bambi,' " Dunagan recalled. "I caught pneumonia somewhere after I left Disney, and a lot of my hair fell out. Then my family broke up, and I was banged around with aunts and uncles."

When he turned 18, Dunagan received a draft notice while working as an assistant golf pro at Wilshire Country Club.

"I went into the Marines, and it was wonderful for me," Dunagan said.

Since his retirement, Dunagan has worked in business and education and suffered devastating losses during the downfall of Enron. His first retrospective interview, with author Tom Weaver, was published last fall in Video Watchdog magazine. Dunagan is now busy promoting "Bambi" and his new Web site www.donniedunagan.com, and he hopes to make personal appearances at film conventions across the country.


03-06-05, 11:04 AM
One of the Marine's Bravest and Luckiest
Mar 6, 2005, 9:54 AM

(Jamestown, NY, March 6, 2005) - - He could be called one of the military's bravest and luckiest members. News 4's Mylous Harriston has the story of a young Jamestown Marine who narrowly escaped an ambush in Iraq.

A tattered helmet is a constant reminder of the constant danger for U.S. troops in Iraq. U.S. Marine Cpl. John Stanz was wearing this helmet when his platoon was ambushed in the Babel Province last November. Cpl. John Stanz of the U.S. Marines: "I got shot in the helmet during an ambush and it grazed through."

A picture from iraq shows the wounds which included a cracked eardrum. Cpl. Stanz remembers the fighting was intense. Cpl. Stanz: "I didn't know what had happened. 'cause we were returning fire and all of a sudden it just got real loud. I got dizzy and blacked out for a second."

He got up and continued to fight. Now he's back home for 20 days with his family and friends. Mother Sandy Stanz: "Close call. It could've been over an inch and we could've lost hime. We were very fortunate."

Parents never stop worrying and Cpl. Stanz parents realize defending freedom is what their son wants to do. It makes every day more intense. Sandy Stanz: "I kept my cell phone on 24 hours a day just so he call call and I would never miss it."

The coporal wears a constant reminder of the machine gun attack on his wrist. Cpl. Stanz: "I have one of the ronds my buddy found at the ambush site and he gave it to me."

Inches from death and healed from his injuries, Stanz is ready to rejoin the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit Reconnaissance Platoon in the fight for freedom. Cpl. Stanz: "Just realize that because we're lucky enough to be born in America doesn't mean we're the only ones who deserve freedom."


03-06-05, 11:13 AM
Marine visits students who 'adopted' him
for the Missoulian

Better than a history lesson, better than photographs, better even than a videotape is having a Marine fresh from the war in Iraq to talk, in person, about what it's really like over there.

Especially if you're the Marine's mother.

Tracy Stahl knew all her son's stories and didn't want his audience at Woodman School in Lolo to miss a single one.

"Tell them about the spiders!" she'd say. Or, "Tell them about the airplanes!"

And Cpl. Justin Stahl, 22, would laugh and regale the children with stories of rocket explosions, sand storms and camel spiders as big as your hand with the fingers stretched wide.

Stahl returned to the United States just over a week ago after a six-month stint in Iraq. On Friday, he was given a welcome home party - complete with pizza, root beer and a red, white and blue cake - at Woodman School, where his mom has been a bus driver for six years.

The school's 32 K-8 students hid behind a curtain and yelled "Surprise!" when Stahl entered the room, in all the excitement forgetting that they'd planned to say, "Welcome home, Justin!"

But the ants in their pants gradually stopped tickling as the students asked Stahl about his experiences in Iraq and saw the items he'd brought to show them: lots of pictures, a helmet and flak jacket, and a wad of Iraqi money.

He told the attentive students that he was part of the "reaction force" at the Al Asad air base in Al Anbar province, near Baghdad.

"I was kind of like a firefighter," he said. "Say there was a problem inside the base. We'd respond to that ... we also went outside the base and protected against any bad guys coming back."

Was it very dangerous?

"Pretty much when we got there everything was all set up there and pretty safe," Stahl answered.

However, he said, the base did sometimes come under attack, mostly by rocket fire.

"The insurgents would get rockets and shoot them about 15 miles, so we never were able to catch them," Stahl said.

A rocket leveled one empty building, but otherwise left the base unscathed, he said.

"There were a couple of close calls with the rockets ... it's pretty scary because when the rockets come in they make a whistling sound," Stahl said. "That's how you know they're pretty close."

Fortunately, all 132 soldiers in Stahl's battalion safely returned to the United States.

"Oh, I'm very happy to be back," Stahl said with a big smile.

In some ways, Iraq isn't too different from Montana. For instance, Stahl got to celebrate Christmas, he said, passing around a picture of a straggly Christmas tree. Some people kept cats and dogs as pets. Soldiers played soccer, rugby and ping-pong in their free time.

"I was learning how to play the guitar while I was over there, just for recreational purposes, to pass the time," Stahl said.

But in many ways, Iraq is very different. Soldiers have to wear heat-resistant gloves because surface sand can get as hot as 165 degrees, Stahl said.

And there were sand storms. The children oohed and aahed at a picture of one, in which the sky appeared to glow red.

"It kind of looked like we were on Mars," Stahl said.

Although he wasn't allowed to leave the base on his own, Stahl did get to explore the surrounding territory as part of official business, he said. He helped secure Iraqi polling places during the country's recent, historic election.

"They were very, very happy to be able to vote," he said, noting that some Iraqis were singing and climbing on vehicles on election day.

To demonstrate their joy at having him home safe, the Woodman students did some singing of their own. They sang "America the Beautiful" and part of "Montana," the state song.

Then one student surprised Stahl's mother with a bouquet of red roses on behalf of the students and staff at Woodman.

"I know mothers worry a lot, because I have one," 13-year-old Sunny Adrian said to the soldier's mother.

Larry Bauer, 13, demonstrated his support for Stahl by donning fatigues - some borrowed from his father, a former military man, and some bought. He said he plans to join the Army or Air Force someday, just as his father and grandfather did.

Louise Rhode, who teaches at the school, said everyone at Woodman knows Tracy Stahl, and has been eagerly awaiting her son's return.

"One of the nice things about a small school is you have such an extended family," Rhode said.

Students and staff at Woodman have sent Stahl pages and pages of e-mails and letters, and three large boxes of supplies, like toothpaste and shampoo, which he passed around to other soldiers.

They also sent boxes of Wet Wipes, which the soldiers use as a quick and easy way of cleaning their faces - and wiping down their rifles.

"There's sand everywhere," Stahl said. "You get it all over everything."

Rhode said that the supplies and the party were just simple ways to support a local soldier and to thank him for everything he'd done for his country.

"I hope we're able to give to him what he's been giving to us," Rhode said.

Stahl will report back to the Marines in Spokane on Sunday. He'll stay on another few months so he can earn some extra money for school. Then he plans to go to the University of Montana for a year or so, then transfer to a school in Washington so he can learn to be a chiropractor.

The students and staff of Woodman are grateful that he spent part of his short time home with them.

"It's cool, you know, that he's coming to a small school like Woodman to tell us about his experience in Iraq," Adrian said.

Rhode agreed.

"This is so much better than pictures and reading it in history books years from now," she said.

>Tyler Christensen is a journalism student at the University of Montana and an intern at the Missoulian.


03-06-05, 02:50 PM
22nd MEU welcomes new sergeant major
Submitted by: 22nd MEU
Story Identification #: 200534115613
Story by - 22nd MEU Public Affairs

CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. (March 4, 2005) -- Sergeant Major George H. Mason relinquished his post as the sergeant major of the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) to Sgt. Maj. Steven R. Head during a relief and appointment ceremony here March 4.

Mason, who has served as the MEU's senior enlisted Marine since November 2002, will move on to become the sergeant major of 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C.

Mason leaves the 22nd MEU appreciative of the experiences he will take with him.

"Personally, the last deployment couldn't have been more comprehensive -- from shipboard life to winding up at [Forward Operating Base] Ripley," said Mason, commenting on the MEU's recent deployment to Afghanistan. "The MAGTF is a premier fighting force, and knowing that is the big thing I'll take with me."

Head comes to the MEU from 8th Communication Battalion where he has served since 2003.

A machine gunner by trade who has served most of his career with Camp Lejeune infantry units, Head's resume also includes time as a drill instructor and with Marine Corps Recruiting Command. His operational experience includes repeated deployments to Okinawa, Japan with the Unit Deployment Program (UDP), two deployments with the 24th MEU, and service in Southwest Asia, Cuba, and Somalia.

Head is under no illusions of the difficult road ahead for him.

"It's going to be a challenge," said Head. "We're bringing in several different entities into one cohesive unit, and leadership is key at all levels to succeed. I look forward to the opportunity of taking care of enlisted Marines and their welfare."

For more information on the 22nd MEU, visit the unit's web site at http://www.22meu.usmc.mil.


03-06-05, 03:00 PM
Man in uniform falsely tells wife her husband died in Iraq
By The Associated Press

SAVANNAH, GA -- Military police are investigating a cruel hoax in which a man wearing an Army dress uniform falsely told the wife of a soldier that her husband had been killed in Iraq.

Investigators are trying to determine why the man delivered the false death notice and whether he was a soldier or a civilian wearing a military uniform.

"We're taking it extremely seriously. Whatever motivation was behind it, it was a sick thing to do," said Fort Stewart spokesman Lt. Col. Robert Whetstone.

Last month, 19,000 soldiers from the Fort Stewart-based 3rd Infantry Division deployed for their second tour of duty in Iraq. At least eight division soldiers have been killed since then. Fort Stewart officials would not identify the Army wife who reported to military police that a man posing as a casualty assistance officer came to her door Feb. 10.

"Right off the bat, she noticed some things were not right," Whetstone said. "The individual's uniform wasn't correct -- there were no markings or name tags. Plus, the person was alone, and she knew one person does not make (death) notifications."

Whetstone said no similar hoaxes have been reported.

When the 3rd Infantry first deployed to Iraq for the 2003 invasion, some Fort Stewart families reported receiving phone calls from pranksters saying their soldiers had been killed.

This time around, troops and their spouses got pre-deployment briefings that included detailed explanations of how death notices work. Two soldiers, including a chaplain, in dress uniform always arrive to tell the family in person. The Army never makes notifications over the telephone.

Fort Stewart spouses have been spreading news of the latest hoax, said Army wife Michelle Dombrowski, who received an e-mail more than a week ago reporting the incident.

"I can't believe that someone would do that," said Dombrowski, whose husband, Staff Sgt. Joe Dombrowski, is deployed with the 3rd Infantry. "I know the protocol, though."

Military police described the suspected hoaxer as being 6-feet, 1-inch tall and about 180 pounds with black or brown hair and a pale complexion. He was reported to be driving a blue or green pickup truck with chrome wheels, oversized tires and a Georgia license plate.


03-06-05, 04:21 PM
Cool, calm DI 'thrived on playing hard'
Submitted by: MCRD San Diego
Story Identification #: 200534103318
Story by Cpl. Derrick A. Small

MARINE CORPS RECRUIT DEPOT SAN DIEGO, Calif. (Mar. 4, 2005) -- Training men into America's most elite fighting force in seven 13-week cycles, Staff Sgt. Brian D. Bland, 26, made quite an impression on Company I drill instructors before he returned to the infantry. Today, those DIs lament his loss.

A mortarman with Company C, Battalion Landing Team 1st Bn., 3rd Marines, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, Bland, from Westion, Wyo., died Jan. 26 alongside 30 other Marines who lost their lives in a helicopter accident near Ar Rutbah, Iraq. He is survived by his wife and mother.

MEU officials said the Marines who died were veterans of numerous firefights and had fought valiantly during the multi-national force's battle for the hostile city of Fallujah.

Reports of such gallantry did not surprise Bland's DI comrades in San Diego. They said "Super" Bland, as they called him, was a far superior Marine among his band of brothers. He was also a humble overachiever.

"I knew him as the 'go-to Marine,'" said Capt. Peter Dahl, a former series commander with Company I. "At the time, he was only a sergeant, but he was just as good, if not better than most of his peers."

Third Bn. routing chief Gunnery Sgt. Dwight Maloy said the Marine Corps hates to lose Marines like Bland, one of superb conduct.

"He basically set the tempo for his company and the battalion," Maloy said.

A good performer, Bland earned a spot as an Officer Candidate School DI, an opportunity only outstanding leaders in excellent physical condition earn, said Maloy.

According to Staff Sgt. Joseph W. Sonsini, senior drill instructor at the receiving barracks and formerly with Co. I, Bland was respected because he cared more about the overall outcome, rather than his own personal achievement.

"He was always thinking of ways to make his platoon better. But it didn't stop there," Sonsini said. "He wanted to make the company and the battalion better too because he was proud to be a part Co. I."

In a contrasting manner, fellow Marines viewed Bland in different ways, but results were always similar. "He was very energetic and always on the move," said 1st Sgt. Dathan Edwards, Co. I first sergeant. "He was very eager to lead and always lead from the front."

"He wasn't as intense as some of the other DIs," Sonsini said. "He was cool, calm and collected. He was relaxed. To him everything had to be smooth. Being calm made him accomplish everything he did. Though he was calm, recruits and Marines alike still listened and did what he said."

Bland was also referred to as "the Green Belt Champion," because he was a difficult wrestling opponent.

"He thrived on playing hard and being tough," Sonsini said. "I never saw signs of weakness. I never saw him sweat, but then again, we didn't drink much water," he laughed.

Bland was also known for his sharp and well tailored uniform, which seemed almost perfect at times, Sonsini said.

"One time we had to be in Service 'A' uniform immediately, but Bland wasn't worried," Sonsini recalled. "All the rest of us had our Alphas in the little plastic that you get from the cleaner, but Bland simply pulled his Alphas out of a sea bag and shook them out. What was surprising is that all his ribbons were in place and the uniform looked like it came out of the cleaners."

To Marines, Bland exemplified perseverance by continuously setting high standards for himself and those he led, Sonsini said.

"Bland's life represents never settling for less because he always wanted to take things to the next level," he said.

Co. I leaders said they are planning to honor Bland with a memorial inside 3rd Battalion headquarters.


Training men into America’s most elite fighting force in seven 13-week cycles, Staff Sgt. Brian D. Bland, 26, made quite an impression on Company I drill instructors before he returned to the infantry. Today, those DIs lament his loss. Bland, a mortarman with Company C, Battalion Landing Team 1st Bn., 3rd Marines, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, from Westion, Wyo., died Jan. 26 alongside 30 other Marines who lost their lives in a helicopter accident near Ar Rutbah, Iraq. Photo by: Courtesy of 1st Sgt. Dathen C. Edwards


03-06-05, 06:25 PM
A little real-world experience goes a long way
March 4, 2005

By Jennifer Flowers


Few aspiring filmmakers join the marines to study their craft.

But Phillip Brooks' four-year post gave him an entire world of sights, sounds and feelings to glean from.

Brooks, a senior film major at Centenary College, is a strong believer in using real-life experiences to inform his art. The 26-year-old Shreveport native, who's wanted to be a filmmaker for as long as he can remember, joined the Marines for four years before moving back to Shreveport in 2001 to study film.

Now he's acting in and directing a film with friends Nick Babb and William Conway centered around themes of death and survival among paramilitary men. They plan to shoot the 20-minute, 16-mm film in July.

Also cast in several of the college's Marjorie Lyons Playhouse productions, Brooks used his military background to develop his aggressive, ex-military characters in the theater department's most recent shows, "When You Comin' Back, Red Ryder?" and "The Distance From Here."

But he's not looking to pigeonhole himself in military films. Storytelling is what really drives Brooks' sharp craving for the entertainment industry, which he hopes to tackle in New York when he graduates in December.

QUESTION: Do you consider yourself a director or an actor first?

ANSWER: I think I'm only what I'm doing. Right now I'm acting in a show, so I'm technically more of an actor. And I'm also writing, so I'm a writer. And I'm also working in pre-production on this film I'm doing this summer, which makes me a filmmaker, I guess.

Q: How do you develop your on-stage roles?

A: Once you memorize all your words, you know where you're supposed to be at any given moment because the director's given you your blocking based on a visual composition. Once you know those things and you don't have to think about them, they become normal patterns of movement and you have a reason to move places. And you have a reason to say what you say. "» Every time you do the show, it'll never be the same because you are living in the moment, and when you live in that reality, you'll never be able to re-create it.

Q: What's the draw of filmmaking?

A: I believe I'm destined to do the whole storytelling thing. I just believe that that's what I'm going to do. I can't say exactly if I'm going to be a director or this or that, but I know I'm going to be in the entertainment industry.

Q: Tell me about your film.

A: The tentative title is "Slow and Deliberate." These (paramilitary) guys all wake up, their eardrums are blown out, they survey the mess around them and then they try to figure out, are they going to leave ... and make sure that, No. 1 , all of the enemy are killed; and, No. 2, are some people still alive?

Q: What's the message of your film?

A: It's a story about survival and how to face mortality and imminent death. But these guys are all survivors for the most part. There's no affiliation. I'm sure people will automatically try and associate these people with a certain country, and we're trying to costume it to where it's timeless, and it goes beyond countries and nationalities. The characters don't have any names.

Q: What is your filmmaking style?

A: As far as technique, as far as a director, I don't think I have very much style yet. I'm still trying to work that out. Now writing, though, I think I've developed somewhat of a style. I think I like dealing with issues of belief, dealing with issues of death. I think those are things that I will probably work with my entire career. But you never know.

Q: What makes it worth getting into a tough-break business like entertainment?

A: I think it's just a matter of doing what you love for the rest of your life. I don't want to sell cell phones. I'm not going to wake up every morning of my life and say, ooh, that's fun. No. I want to be able to tell these stories to as many people at one time as possible, which films do.


03-06-05, 08:01 PM
A speeding sedan and a close call for one Marine unit

By Dan Murphy
The Christian Science Monitor

HIT, IRAQ - Sgt. Jim Beere of the 23rd Marine Regiment Bravo Company knows something about protecting people.

Back home he's an undercover cop in Oakland, Calif., where he works on a special-victims unit tracking rapists and child molesters. He's usually responsible just for himself and, at most, the safety of a partner.

But early on Feb. 22, he saved his own life and quite possibly the lives of a dozen other Marines from Bravo Company who were taking a well-deserved catnap after an all-night operation in the city of Hit.

The split-second decisions by Marines like Sergeant Beere are often made in the fog of war. During the same operation, his platoon accidentally killed two unarmed Iraqis who failed to obey orders to stop. Each situation reveals just how much pressure and how little time troops have to determine whether approaching cars mean them harm.

At about 5 a.m., the streets of the city were all but deserted when a sedan turned onto the road leading to the Marines' temporary headquarters in a schoolhouse. The driver began to speed up toward the Abrams tank guarding the road, so the machine gunner opened fire with two long bursts that sent the car careening into a sewage canal in the middle of the road.

The driver, who was hit three times but still alive, rolled out of the car, and Marines ran over to investigate. He was a Syrian who claimed in perfect, almost unaccented, English that he'd been forced to drive the car. (He later died on the way to the hospital.)

Beere then went over with another Marine to check out the car.

As the Marine in front of him leaned in the passenger-side front door to take out an AK-47 propped against the steering wheel, a man lunged out of the muck in the canal on the driver's side and went for a rocket-propelled grenade launcher in the back of the car. Beere quickly pulled his buddy back and to the side, swiped his pistol from his holster, and shot the man five times. The man fell back into the canal.

Beere took a few steps away to catch his breath and, turning back, saw the man coming out of the canal again, this time hitting a "clacker" in his hand - a detonating unit for mines and improvised bombs. Beere shot the man four more times, and he fell dead.

"I thought that was it for me, I really did," Beere said a few minutes later. He says he expected the whole car to go up in a ball of flames. "The best I can figure is that he had a mine down there with him and was trying to blow up all the explosives in the car. I think the wet ruined the detonator," he says.

In this case Beere was right: the trunk was loaded with explosives. But troops don't always make the correct decisions. The Marines of Bravo Company, who are finishing a six-month tour in Iraq, have fired on and killed unarmed Iraqis in cars on more than one occasion. In each case, they say, confused drivers either ignored or didn't notice warning shots and shouts to slow down as their cars sped toward Marine positions.

But with the suicide car bomb a favored insurgent weapon at checkpoints - in December, 9 Iraqis were killed and 13 were wounded by a suicide bomber at a checkpoint south of Baghdad, while in October, 16 people were killed and 40 were wounded by a car bomber at a Baghdad checkpoint - the troops aren't inclined to take chances. And their rules of engagement let them open fire if they feel threatened.

Such confusion, and the civilian casualties they create, are part of the tactic of using suicide bombers since it serves to drive a greater wedge between US troops and ordinary Iraqis.

"You feel awful when it happens," says one Bravo Marine, who remembers treating an Iraqi who probably lost his arm after being shot by this Marine's unit. "But I don't doubt the decision to shoot."

Marines interviewed for this story said they were willing to risk civilian casualties if it meant potentially saving the lives of their comrades.


03-06-05, 09:06 PM
Soldier leaves son at home to serve his country

By James Roberts, Staff Writer
Iraq isn't the same the second time around for Spec. Chris Brunelle. A quick scan of the streets would easily tell you that, he says. Look in any direction and you'll see people.

"I did not see many people [during the Gulf War]. Just a few of them," Brunelle says in an e-mail from Iraq. "This time we have got to meet a lot of the people and to me it seems like they are a lot better off. I would say it is different now with Hussein gone. The people I have talked to said it is like a totally new country."

A member of the National Guard's Company C, 2/138th Field Artillery from Bardstown, Brunelle volunteered to go to Iraq with the Tompkinsville unit - one of four batteries that make up the 1st Battalion of the 623rd Field Artillery along with Campbellsville's Battery B.

The batteries, which also include Monticello and Glasgow, are serving a security mission in Iraq as Task Force Bluegrass, providing route, convoy, base and supply route security in Iraq, according to Col. Lonnie Culver. Culver said the soldiers will be scattered north and south of Baghdad.

Brunelle and the other soldiers of the Tompkinsville unit arrived in Iraq in January. This is Brunelle's second tour in Iraq. The first, during the Gulf War, was with the U.S. Marines.

Any argument that Iraq is like a new country likely gained steam on Jan. 30, when elections were held in the country for the first time in more than 50 years.

With a ballot brimming with 111 candidates, about 8 million people cast their votes despite scattered attacks.

"As far as I could tell, the elections went fine," Brunelle said. "I have asked a couple of the locals what they thought and they were excited and kind of scared at the same time. First time voting."

Although he can't go into details about what he's doing in Iraq, Brunelle said so far things haven't been "too bad."

"Some days are busy and some are not," he said.

Thanks to advances in communication technology, Brunelle is able to keep in close contact with his 11-year-old son, Alex, back home in Campbellsville. Brunelle's father, Carl Brunelle, is taking care of Alex.

"I try to talk to them as much as possible, but with the time difference, it is hard because of school," Brunelle said.

Carl Brunelle said his son either calls or e-mails every other day, something that simply wasn't possible when he was in Iraq a decade ago.

"Back then, there was no communications really," he said. "The military has come a long way since then."

Because Alex gets to communicate with his father frequently, the fact that his father is overseas has had little ill effect.

"Maybe just a little," Mr. Brunelle said. "He knows what is going on, but it's not really affecting him, it's not affecting his school work."

Brunelle said his father and son are all the blood relations he has here, but several people are worth noting.

"I would not have been able to do this without some very important people," he wrote. "Phylliss Coppage has been like a mom to me since my mother died. Her daughter, Tonya Craig, has helped out a lot and Terra Jeffries and Tina Mershon. Tina took care of Alex when I was deployed last year. I have a couple of real good friends that check on them all of the time - Todd Coppage, Shanna Judd and Mike Bartly."

Brunelle said he is aware of criticisms about the U.S. presence in Iraq but said he is proud of the work the military is doing.

"I am not sure what the American people are thinking," he said. "I know I enjoy my job. The kids are out playing and the people are out enjoying life the best they can, stuff I guess they could not do before.

"A lot of people say this is wrong, but everyone here knew when they joined that something like this was possible. No one can complain."

- Staff Writer James Roberts can be reached at 465-8111 Ext. 226 or by e-mail at writer@cknj.com.