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thedrifter
01-11-07, 11:51 AM
Thursday, January 11, 2007
Stellar behavior from Camp Pendleton Marine
One of Rancho Santa Margarita's 'adopted' Marines won a Bronze Star for saving others.
By ERIKA I. RITCHIE
The Orange County Register

CAMP PENDLETON – Staff Sgt. Justin Harding is one of the 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment's best.

In 2006, Harding, 37, was awarded the Bronze Star for actions under fire. Harding received the medal for saving the lives of other Marines while engaged in a long firefight with insurgents in the Al Anbar province.

Harding is among 1,000 Marines formally adopted by the city of Rancho Santa Margarita on Wednesday.

The city joined San Juan Capistrano, Mission Viejo, Laguna Niguel, San Clemente, Huntington Beach and Newport Beach in adopting units.

The battalion, the most decorated infantry battalion in the Marine Corps, will redeploy to Iraq in March. The unit has served two previous tours of duty in Iraq, where its mission involves high-intensity conflict, providing security and restoring order.

Q. What is it like to be surrounded by danger 24/7?

A.At first it's very intense, but then you know what to expect. You get your mission, go through a mental and physical checklist, and execute.

Q. Are you scared?

A.I get scared when people are shooting at me, but I almost hit a deer on my way to work here at Camp Pendleton. If it's your time, it's your time. Anyone who goes into combat and says they're not afraid – there's the biggest liar. When people start shooting at me I do what I need to do, and afterwards I think about how crazy the scenario was.

Q. You've signed up for a third tour to Iraq. Why?

A.I believe what we're doing is good. I feel there's a big discrepancy in the press about what's going on there. Last time I was there, the hospitals were open, and kids were going to school. I feel like we're making a positive impact.

Q. What does it mean for you to have civilian support?

A.I was amazed and shocked. We receive packages from different organizations, but to have a whole city adopt us means we're kind of like their family.

Q. Why did you become a Marine?

A.I was a youth pastor and couldn't live the straight and narrow life. I decided to serve God in the Marine Corps.

Contact the writer: 949-454-7307 or eritchie@ocregister.com

Ellie