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thedrifter
10-04-05, 09:42 AM
Meeting every challenge
October 04,2005
BY CHRIS MAZZOLINI View stories by reporter
DAILY NEWS STAFF

Guns boomed in the distance, and a crowd of Marines stood at attention, waiting for a thank you from the vice president.

The artillery was part of a 19-gun salute, a unique honor granted to Vice President Dick Cheney during his Monday visit to Camp Lejeune, a quick trip to thank Marine units that have recently returned from the war in Iraq.

"It's a real pleasure to be with the men and women of the II Marine Expeditionary Force," he said. "It sounds like you're glad to be home."

That was greeted by a loud and hearty "ooh-rah!" from the roughly 4,000 Marines and sailors gathered at II MEF headquarters to hear Cheney speak.

The theme of Cheney's speech, which lasted about 15 minutes, was appreciation. In doing so, Cheney stressed the resolve of both the nation and the military to accomplish the mission in Iraq.

"In recent months your country has asked you to carry out some extremely difficult and perilous work," he said. "You've met every challenge with focus, great effectiveness and - above all - honor. You've brought credit to yourselves and to the nation, and I want to thank you for a job well done and say welcome home for all of us.

"As a Marine, each of you defends this country and represents the best that is in us. By your achievements, you made one thing very clear: the day you decided to become a Marine was a great day for the United States of America."

While the Marines present for Cheney's speech had recently returned from Iraq, the reserve 3rd Battalion, 25th Marines from Brook Park, Ohio, sat center stage. The unit has garnered much attention and sympathy for the 48 Marines from their ranks who were killed in Iraq during their seven-month deployment, including 14 in one roadside bomb explosion in early August.

The battalion's Lima Company sat on the grass right in front of the vice president as he delivered his remarks, and the members of the battalion had lunch with Cheney following the rally.

In all, the Marines were thankful for the White House's support.

"It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see the vice president," said Sgt. Reggie Ganzhorn, 41, from Plymouth, Ohio. "It was very rewarding. I'm grateful our country appreciates our sacrifices and keeps the fallen in their prayers."

"That was outstanding to have him come out," said Lt. Richard Malmstrom, 38, the battalion's Navy chaplain. "It certainly doesn't happen to every battalion. It showed our sacrifices were appreciated."

And those who sacrificed their limbs and lives did not do so in vain, Cheney said.

"We care about those who have returned with injuries and we have a responsibility to help them on the hard road ahead," he said. "And our nation grieves for the brave men and women whose lives have ended in freedom's cause.

"The loss to our country is irreplaceable. We can only say with complete certainty that these Americans served in a noble and a necessary cause and their sacrifice has made our nation and the world more secure. We will honor their memory forever, and we will honor their sacrifice by completing the mission."

Before attending the rally, Cheney arrived at New River Air Station and spoke briefly to Marines from Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 461, who had just returned Thursday from the Gulf Coast.

"I know you guys did a lot of great work down there," Cheney said in a news release from the air station. "On behalf of the president and the country, thanks very much for what you did for all of us."

During his remarks at Camp Lejeune, Cheney also discussed the years before 9/11, when "the terrorists came to believe that they could strike America without paying any price." He talked about the will of the Iraqi people, and next week's upcoming constitutional referendum, a crucial step for the fledgling democratic government, and the hard road ahead for Americans and Iraqis alike.

But Cheney said victory is inevitable because of the determination of each individual service member.

"Our enemies will fail, because the movement of history is toward justice and human freedom," he said. "The terrorists will fail because the resolve of America and our allies will not be shaken. And, Marines and sailors of Camp Lejeune, the terrorists will fail because men and women like you are standing in their way and saying, 'Not on our watch.' "

But right now, home is on the minds of the Marines from 3/25. Malmstrom said he is looking forward to returning to work as a pastor and seeing his wife and three boys.

But while family is important, he said it's also important for Marines to stay connected to their comrades-in-arms.

"It's really important for these guys to kick back, have some beers and relax," Malmstrom said. "They can reminisce on war stories, because as the years go on, they get bigger and bigger."

Contact staff writer Chris Mazzolini at cmazzolini@freedomenc.com or at 353-1171, Ext. 229.

Ellie