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07-18-03, 06:26 AM
July 17, 2003

Marine rescuer gets hero’s welcome

Associated Press

ODESSA, Texas — A West Texas Marine officer who helped rescue seven prisoners of war in Iraq has returned home.
Sgt. Michael Castaneda of Sheffield was greeted July 15 by about 50 of his family members and relatives at Midland International Airport.

Some younger relatives held a banner that read, “Welcome Michael,” with a photo of Castaneda in his dress uniform.

“I’m excited and just so blessed to have him home,” said his mother, Betty Sue Gonzales of Odessa. Gonzales said she heard from her son earlier, but “not as much as we wanted to.”

Castaneda was assigned to the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, 3rd Light Armored Reconnaissance, which led the POW rescue operation after members of a convoy from the Army’s 507th Maintenance Company, based at Fort Bliss near El Paso, Texas, were ambushed March 23 near Nasiriya.

The POWs were Spc. Joseph Hudson of Alamogordo, N.M., Sgt. James Riley, Spc. Shoshana Johnson, Spc. Edgar Hernandez and Pfc. Patrick Miller, members of the convoy from the 507th Maintenance Company, and chief warrant officers Ronald Young Jr. and David S. Williams.

Castaneda said the troops thought they might be headed into an ambush because the Marines didn’t know there were any Americans that far north. The Marines used global positioning equipment to find the prisoners. Castaneda’s scout team made a building-to-building room clearing to find their fellow troops. They were in and out in 10 minutes, taking very light enemy fire, he said.

The former POWs were put in a safe area and a med-evac was called. A section of highway was secured and the troops were transported to Kuwait.

“They were happy. They had never been so happy in their lives,” Castaneda said, adding that the rescue was a turning point for him. “There’s a deep feeling of accomplishment you can’t top. It’s one of the greatest feelings in the world. It’s like being a parent for the first time or getting married.”

He said he had been trained for a rescue like the one in Iraq but had never done it before.

Castaneda, 24, was deployed to Iraq in January. He has been in the Marines for five years. His family had not seen him since January, when a group drove from Texas to Twentynine Palms, Calif., to see him off.

After visiting with family here, Castaneda plans to return to California and pick up orders to become a drill instructor. Castaneda planned to spend time with his family.

“I’m ecstatic. I’m really ecstatic,” his aunt, Sylvia Robertson-Baldwin, said of having Castaneda back. “I’m so proud. I feel every young man or woman in the military should be recognized for their sacrifice.”

Copyright 2003 The Associated Press.