View Full Version : Marines find Ramadi more welcoming than Berkeley

03-08-08, 06:11 AM
Marines find Ramadi more welcoming than Berkeley
California city officials would banish them
Posted: March 07, 2008
9:30 pm Eastern

Matt Sanchez

Editor's note: Reporter Matt Sanchez, who has been embedding with military units throughout both Iraq and Afghanistan, is providing WND readers with a glimpse into the war on terror most Americans have never seen.

BERKELEY – "The Marines are unwelcome here." These weren't the comments of a banana republic dictator or the rantings of a religious radical. These were the words of Tom Bates, the elected mayor of Berkeley.

It's difficult to match up the animosity of the residents of Berkeley, Calif., USA, with the residents of Ramadi, Anbar, Iraq. I met Ramadis who were so happy to have the Marines among them that they literally hugged and kissed them on the streets. Children made high-five signs when they saw Marines of the 3rd battalion 7th Marines on patrol and residents insisted they come in to drink chai and eat goats the hosts were willing to kill in their honor.

One resident grumbled the Marines of the 2nd battalion 5th Marines never stayed long enough after dinner. Iraqis are very hospitable and dinner can last several hours and long into the night.

Of course, Ramadi was no cakewalk. In 2005, the Marines told of having to run during the entire patrol. A moving, erratic target made it harder for an eager sniper to pick off a Marine. That was a tough time for the 3rd battalion 7th Marines Kilo Company, as told by Cpl. Tar Po.

Po was born in Burma. His family fled that Southeast Asian nation because of the political situation. Thanks to an aunt, the corporal's parents moved the family to California when he was just five years old. Po sailed through the school system until he hit a few bumps in his teenage years.

"I was hanging out with the wrong crowd," said the corporal, in his early 20s. He participated in the JROTC to join the Navy, but decided to join the Marine Corps after meeting a gunnery sergeant who impressed him.

"He kept me out of big trouble," said Po, who later confessed that he wanted to join the Corps to "blow things up." His teenage years were turbulent and the corporal still regrets putting his parents through so much grief. He joined the Marine Corps on an "open contract" and eventually became a 0311, "a grunt", a rifleman.

Like many young men and women recruited during a time of war, Po had no illusions. Most of the people I spoke to in Iraq and Afghanistan had joined after the start of hostilities. They signed up during a time of war.

We were standing in Ramadi, the sun was beating down hot and we were in full battle rattle. After loading up the vehicle for a convoy we headed for the chow hall, a makeshift building where Marines served meals out of robust Mermite containers. It was going to be a long day.

"I wanted to come to Iraq," said Po in a quiet voice that made him seem younger.

Choosing to come to a war zone is difficult enough for war protesters back in Berkeley to understand, but it makes sense to any military recruiter. To Po's generation, the generation whose parents posted "Baby on Board" signs in their rear window, the idea of risk and danger are not only appealing, for the few, there is a yearning to rise to a challenge so as not to fall to mediocrity.

Po got his share of danger when on Oct. 11, 2005, while rolling down Michigan Avenue, his convoy was hit by a pressure plate IED. .

After such a severe injury, Po could have left the Marine Corps. He could have gotten out and no one would have blamed him. His scar was an impressive gash across his arm, there were marks from the needle surgeons had pushed in and out of his skin. But Po chose to go back.

After only a couple of weeks in country, Po was injured again during a patrol. His arm was split open. Within hours, he was out of the country, on a military flight to Germany, at least that is what he was told. He actually doesn't remember much until he got back home to California.

It's one thing to go into the "unknown" to test one's limits, this is the motive for many who seek adventure or just want to see what they can stand. It's quite another to be wounded seriously and head back to a war zone.

At home, Po spent much time recuperating, but rest wasn't always on his mind.

"I really felt that I had let the other Marines down, like I wasn't doing my job."

The events that changed the corporal's life weren't strictly limited to his wounds.

"I respect my parents more than ever, they were there for me the whole time. I'm sorry I put them through so much."

After surgeries, therapy and much pain, the next question was obvious.

"No, I've never regretted becoming a Marine. It's one of the best experiences of my life."

Down the Bay from Berkeley, the Fremont Marine recruiting station is next to a shopping center, and just a stone's throw away from the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) Station. This is an affluent area nestled near a chain of hills that run along the San Francisco Bay. If you visit the recruiting station, you'll see a few Marines hanging out with a couple of "poolees", young men and women who are about to join the Marine Corps. These are the ones who have passed the battery of tests that the majority of applicants will fail.

"Of every 10 people who are interested, only about three are qualified," said Staff Sgt. Felton C. Williams, the U.S. Marine Corps recruiter for the Fremont area. After completing the first part of the process, the screening, the poolees will become recruits at Marine basic training. Anywhere from 10 to 30 percent of those recruits will not finish the initial training.

Groups like Code Pink and The World Can't Wait shouted for a ban against the Marines and yet young men and women will seek out the Corps, looking for something they can't find elsewhere.

"It's business as usual. We aren't planning to move that office," Gunnery Sgt. Pauline Franklin said Monday. "We've been recruiting qualified men and women for 232 years. That's not going to stop now."

"We failed our city," said Gordon Wozniak, who was one of three council members who voted against the original declaration. "We embarrassed our city."

"It hurts to see what some of the people back home, saying the war is pointless," said Po wincing, the gash on his bare arm impossible to hide. It was a bright sunny day in Ramadi and we were about to convoy to a meeting at the city council. In fact, we were going near the road where Po was wounded.

"They just don't know," said the corporal. If anyone had the right to complain about the presence of Marines in a city, surely it was this young Marine who was on his second tour.

Who will defend the citizens of Berkeley should they come to some danger? The answer is those same Marines who are willing to be wounded and still return to duty. After a couple of days and a bit of pressure, the mayor of Berkeley and most of his city council members have capitulated in defeat. Fortunately, as "intruders" the Marines are made of much tougher stuff. If the Marines were able to tame Ramadi, a city that was proclaimed the religious capital of al-Qaida in Iraq by members of that organization, the Marines won't be swayed by a couple of people protesting.

Despite all the commotion about Berkeley, there was an upside to this story.

"More people inquired about becoming a Marine officer," said Officer Selection Officer Captain Richard Lund with some hesitation. Not everyone who wants to become a Marine can, but those who do, like Cpl. Tar Po, truly are the few.