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03-19-03, 07:04 AM
Norfolk Virginian-Pilot

March 18, 2003

Plain-Spoken Gunnery Sergeant Keeps His Marines Sharp

By Dennis O'Brien, The Virginian-Pilot

CAMP SHOUP, KUWAIT -- Gunnery Sgt. Russell Strack loves to talk -- when he
isn't yelling. Comes with the job, he says.

"I yell at people," Strack said. "But I play nice with others most of the
time -- which might be a surprise to some people, who think I'm a jerk."

It is not uncommon for Strack to launch into a 30-second screed, pausing
only to spit. But truth be known, most of the men in Task Force Tarawa get
along with "Gunny" Strack just fine.

As the company "gunny," Strack is the unit's top enlisted disciplinarian.
First Sgt. Michael Sprague outranks Strack, but the first sergeant's role is
more good cop to the gunny's bad cop.

Aside from helping instill discipline, Strack's main job in this desert camp
in northern Kuwait is to ensure that this light armored reconnaissance
company has adequate supplies -- "Beans, bullets and Band-Aids," he said.
Strack is responsible for everything from MREs -- meals ready to eat -- to
high explosives to helmet-mounted flashlights. If and when the shooting
starts, it will be Strack's job to shuttle ammunition, fuel and other
supplies through "Indian Country" -- enemy territory not yet occupied by
American troops.

Strack is a character, seemingly straight out of central casting. The
skinny, 6-foot-2 Baltimore native carries a dented can of Old Bay -- which
he puts on everything, even bread and butter. He talks fast enough when he's
relaxed, but when excited, or competing for air time to tell a story, the
words fly like machine gun rounds.

Even by Marine Corps standards, Strack is pretty hardcore. That scar on his
chin? It's from a gash he stitched up with his sewing kit. That cute
daughter of his, who turns 4 on Wednesday? When she was born at the Camp
Pendleton Naval Hospital, he had special shirts made up that say "Property
of the U.S. Marine Corps," because he didn't want his newborn wearing
anything that said "Property of the U.S. Navy," which were the
standard-issue newborn jammies.

And he wanted to name her Marie Cora -- say it fast, and what does it sound
like? Strack lost that battle, sort of. His daughter's full name is Hannah
Marie Cora Strack.

"I came in the Marine Corps and found something to believe in," Strack said.

"Some people think of it as a job, but I think of it like it's a calling."

Now, in his 18th year as a Marine and with retirement not too far away,
Gunny wants to become a teacher.

"I don't want to teach them what to think, but how to look at the facts and
form their own opinions," he said.

But teachers get to do a lot of talking, and does Strack love to talk.

His favorite conversation topics are military history to politics, but his
knowledge -- and opinions -- know no boundaries. A recent care package from
his wife, Megan, included a slew of political journals, from which Gunny
will draw fuel for conversations in the weeks to come.

Gunny is a conservative, like many Marines, and discussions often are more a
chorus than a debate. He grew up having regular arguments with his dad, a
Marine Corps veteran of Vietnam.

"My dad made me a Republican. He taught me all the values I have, which are
conservative, and still every time he votes Democratic," Strack said. "It
drives me crazy."

Ask him about cigars, and Strack will wax at length about the keys to
successful tobacco crops in certain years. It depends on the soil and the
weather, he says, although a fire in Honduras once left the subsequent
year's crop with a wonderful "smokey" taste. Cuba, of course, makes the best
cigars, he says. And if you're looking for a relatively good, cheap cigar,
try the Padron 2000s -- a box of 25 costs about $80.

Unfortunately, on this morning, Strack has a bad cigar in his hands.
Included in a care package from home, it sat too long in the heat somewhere.

"Look at this, the leaf's so dry you can't even smoke it!" Strack said,
spitting out a piece that was stuck to his lip. Still, he smokes it anyway.
Strack is a walking reference book on U.S. and Iraqi weaponry. He can recite
the effective ranges of enemy guns, and where on enemy armored vehicles the
company's gunners should target their 25mm rounds. During the monthlong
voyage to Kuwait, he led classes on the identification, strengths and
weaknesses of enemy and allied vehicles each night aboard the amphibious
assault ship Kearsarge.

"Oh, don't get me started on armor," Strack said. "It's not just my job,
it's my hobby. Studying that stuff is how I spend my time off."

He can rattle off details about the Iraqi forces, types and characteristics
of Iraqi tanks, who built Iraqi armored scout vehicles -- this scout
company's arch enemy -- and the availability of enemy repair parts.
If a war starts, Strack might wind up having to dodge those Iraqi scouts in
his own lightly armored reconnaissance vehicle. It's dangerous work, but
then again, so is every other job out here, he says.

"If people just focus on doing their jobs and accomplishing their mission,
then we'll all get back home fine," Strack said. "And my job is to get my
Marines what they need to do their jobs and to bring all my Marines home."
Staff writer Dennis O'Brien is with Task Force Tarawa in northern Kuwait. He
has been with the Camp Lejeune, N.C.-based Marines since they left the coast
of North Carolina in mid-January.

Semper Fidelis
R.W. "Dick" Gaines
GySgt USMC (Ret.)
Gunny G's Old Salt Marines Tavern
Sites & Forums!

03-19-03, 08:24 PM
(Pic-GySgt Strack)


Semper Fidelis
R.W. "Dick" Gaines
GySgt USMC (Ret.)
Gunny G's Old Salt Marines Tavern
Sites & Forums!