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thedrifter
04-04-03, 08:42 AM
Thursday, April 3, 2003

Marine refuses to be left out of the fight

By GORDON DILLOW
The Orange County Register

WITH ALPHA COMPANY, 1ST BATTALION, 5TH MARINES, IN IRAQ Throughout the history of warfare, millions of soldiers have gone AWOL from the front lines. But Alpha Company's Cpl. Matthew Salazar is a Marine who went AWOL to the front lines.

"I couldn't leave my buddies up there without me," Salazar says.

Salazar, 26, of San Antonio, is a fire team leader with Alpha Company.

Like the other Marines in the 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, Salazar went to Kuwait in early February in preparation for a possible war with Iraq. In early March, though, he got sad news from home: His father, Joe D. Salazar, 53, a former Marine who served in Vietnam, had died of liver cancer.

It was a hard blow; Salazar and his father were close. Salazar got an emergency leave and flew home to attend his father's funeral.

But while he was gone, the war started, and Alpha Company was in the thick of it, the first large ground combat unit to cross into Iraq.

"I was watching the war on TV," Salazar recalls, "and it was choking me up. Maybe it's hard for some people to understand, but next to my real family, these guys (in Alpha Company) are my family. I was worried about them. Me being gone was one less trigger-puller to be there to help protect them."

So what did Salazar do? He cut his leave short to fly back to Kuwait as fast as he could.

"I talked to my mom about it, and she didn't want me to go," Salazar says. "But she was in the Army when she was younger (as a medic), so I think she understood that I had to.''

Problem was, after Salazar flew back to Kuwait on a military aircraft, he got stuck at Camp Commando, a rear-echelon Marine logistics base that is far from the front. By this time, Alpha Company and the 1/5 had penetrated past the Euphrates River, deep into Iraq.

"They told me at Camp Commando that (the 1/5) was too far forward to get me there," Salazar says. "They were going to keep me there. But that wasn't the place for me."

So with the help of some sympathetic Marines, Salazar started making his way north, riding along the endless train of trucks and Humvees and other military vehicles that connect the rear to the front. Whether he's officially AWOL from Camp Commando is open to interpretation "I just kind of eased my way out of there," is the way Salazar looks at it but it's also irrelevant. Four days later he finally caught up with Alpha Company, to the cheers of his buddies.

Now he's here, in a dusty field near the Tigris River, living the hard, dirty, dangerous grunt's life: Sleeping in a hole in the ground, eating MREs for every meal, going without showers, standing guard in the eerie night.

But for Matthew Salazar, that doesn't matter. Finally, he's back with his buddies.

He's home.


http://www.ocregister.com/newsimages/breaking_news/2003/04/040303iraq1.jpg

Cpl. Matthew Salazar of San Antonio, Texas explains how he jumped onto a supply convoy to get back to his unit, Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, Regimental Combat Team 5, after missing the start of the war in Iraq while on leave for his father's funeral.

MARK AVERY, THE REGISTER

Sempers,

Roger

greybeard
04-04-03, 10:10 AM
I stupidly asked here once-"How does the New Breed stack up against the Corp of the past?". In the last couple of weeks, I've had that question answered hundreds of times over. Never again will the thought enter this old brain. The Corp is the Corp, as it always has been, as it always will be. This Cpl brings to mind the Major (Sellers) who had to choose between staying with his son awaiting a heart transplant or go with his men into battle. Proves to me that this kind of dedication & courage is prevalant from enlisted ranks up thru officer in the Corps.

firstsgtmike
04-04-03, 01:53 PM
I'm one up on graybeard, I've always maintained that I left my Corps in good hands.

But it IS satisfying to note that the word is getting out to the civilian population that they have a Corps of Marines they can truly be proud of.
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Story Time.

I remember in Nam. a rear echelon "pogue" took ten days leave to visit his Army brother in the Saigon area. One month later, he was listed as AWOL. Three months later, he returned to his Marine unit in Danang.

It was a tossup, whether to court martial him for desertion or AWOL. The question was resolved when paperwork arrived from the Army unit he was staying with in the Saigon area.

They were recommendations for medals. It seems that he couldn't get enough of being a chopper gunner. He'd come back from one mission out, and sweet talk his way on the next one leaving. He flew as many as four missions a day, every day.

The Marine Corps wanted to court martial him. The Army wanted him BACK.