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thedrifter
01-04-07, 10:58 AM
Home for the holidays
Thursday, January 4, 2007

By COLIN McEVOY
Herald Staff Writer

BRANCHVILLE — Two years ago, Jason Vaughan spent Christmas in boot camp on a military base in South Carolina.

Last year, he spent it in Iraq.

This year, the 21-year-old Branchville Marine was able to spend it at home with his mother, three brothers and sister — and he enjoyed every possible moment of it.

"We're a very tight family, so on holidays, it's hard being away," Vaughan said. "A satellite phone call on Christmas night is just not enough."

But this afternoon, his family will have to say goodbye once again — Vaughan will be leaving for Camp Pendleton, the southern California Marine Corps base, where he is sure to be redeployed to Iraq almost immediately.

"It's hard for me, for all of us when he has to leave," said his mother, Susan. "When he's not there, you're not whole. We're not whole."

But as hard as it will be to say goodbye, Vaughan is proud of the role he has played, and the job he has before him.

"We're doing good stuff out there that people are thanking us for, even if CNN may not be showing it," Vaughan said. "There will be a good outcome one day."

Vaughan joined the Marines within a few months of graduating from High Point Regional High School in 2004. Upon completing boot camp in February of 2005, he went to Maryland for speciality training in artillery maintenance.

From there, he went to Camp Pendleton, where he was told he would be moving again: this time, to Iraq.

"That was my welcome aboard to Camp Pendleton," Vaughan said. "'Hey there, how you doing? Hope you're ready for Iraq.' That's it."

Vaughan spent from August 2005 to March 2006 in Fallujah, where he worked his way to the rank of Lance Corporal with the Bravo Battery of the First Batallian, 11th Marines.

His primary job in the Iraqi city was maintaining the artillery cannons — sometimes, even as mortar shells flew whizzed overhead and exploded around him.

But Vaughan is able to remain calm during what sounds like a truly terrifying situation thanks to his comprehensive training — which has included such varied categories as non-lethal training, artillery shooting and urban terrain combat training.

"I get asked all the time, 'Aren't you scared over there?" Vaughan said. "I can honestly say no because I've trained so much, it makes you a strong-minded person and you're ready for that situation."

Nevertheless, when it comes to Iraq, Vaughan said one cannot help getting startled occasionally. He described improvised explosive devices as the single biggest threat he faces, and recalled when one went off very close by while he was outside a Fallujah base.

"It was just like, 'Oh, good lord,'" Vaughan said. "That was scary, but for the most part, I was always hearing gunfire, hearing explosions, and not thinking anything of it."

While Vaughan said he encountered many Iraqi citizens who were grateful for the American military presence, he also met many who were opposed to it — for every Iraqi child waving an American flag as he passed through, Vaughan said, there was another throwing a rock or giving him the middle finger.

Vaughan said his reaction from home has been equally mixed — he has had strangers give him hugs and handshakes and thank him for his sacrifices, and he has had others who have yelled at him or flipped him off.

Following an overwhelming Democratic victory in the mid-term elections, seen widely as a mandate against the war — followed soonafter by the 3,000th American soldier killed and the late President Gerald Ford's posthumous condemnation of the war — Vaughan said he can understand that not everybody supports the cause he is fighting for.

But he said he does not understand anyone who could look down on him or his fellow men simply for being Marines.

"Everybody has their opinion, but I don't feel anybody in America should not support a Marine or a soldier," Vaughan said. "They may not support this war, but we didn't choose to be there."

Jennifer Post, Vaughan's 28-year-old sister from Andover Township, said she was shocked when he first decided to join the Marines, but has stood behind him.

"When he first enlisted, I was scared and I remember asking him, 'Jason, are you crazy?'" Post said. "But when he came home, he was still Jason. His personality hasn't changed, he's a happy person, and I'm very proud of him."

Vaughan said he did not know exactly when he would be going back to Iraq, but he only knew he would be, and that it would be soon.

"It's not a question of if, it's a question of when and where," he said. "But that's for the big wigs with the shiny collars to decide, not us."

Ellie