MWSS-273 welders cut, burn, melt their way to mission accomplishment
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  1. #1

    Cool MWSS-273 welders cut, burn, melt their way to mission accomplishment

    MWSS-273 welders cut, burn, melt their way to mission accomplishment
    Submitted by: 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing
    Story Identification #: 200452862244
    Story by Sgt. J.L. Zimmer III

    AL ASAD, Iraq (May 28, 2004) -- The Marines of Marine Wing Support Squadron 273, Marine Wing Support Group 37, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, arrived here in February with one thing in mind, supporting the Marines and Sailors of 3rd MAW with anything they need.

    The metalworkers of MWSS-273 maintenance are here not only to assist, they are here to design and build anything a unit needs that requires heat, sweat and several hundred volts of electricity to make.

    The metalworkers have been busier than almost any other group of Marines here, despite the fact that there are only two of them.

    Sgt. Philip J. Thornton, a 24-year-old Deltona, Fla., native and Lance Cpl. Jeremy A. Gray, a 19-year-old Gretna, Va., native, both metalworkers with MWSS-273, are a two-man team with creative ideas and the technical proficiency of men far beyond their age.

    "We have a trade that does not require a technical manual to tell you how to do something," said Gray. "But that means we have to know our job well enough to not need the manuals. We have to be creative enough to make something out of nothing."

    Constantly busy, the two Marines have completed more than 150 tasks since arriving in theater and still have a laundry list of assignments to complete.

    "These Marines have done everything from gates to door latches and plumbing work," said Gunnery Sgt. Brett C. Scheuer, maintenance chief, MWSS-273 and 35-year-old Buffalo, N.Y., native. "They have everyone from around the base coming to them for projects."

    According to Thornton, the job is something he loves to do and having a younger Marine to teach makes it especially meaningful.

    "I have been teaching Gray field-expedient ways to do things and the ins-and-outs of the (military occupational specialty)," said Thornton. "He is coming along pretty well and learning a lot since we have been here."

    Gray, a young warrior with motivation to spare, said he enjoys his job and would not trade it for anything else.

    "This is the best MOS in the Marine Corps," he said. "The Marine Corps has taught me a trade that I can carry with me a long way. I can always progress and get better."

    Thornton, an experienced and talented metalworker, has been welding for the Marine Corps for more than six years and is encountering obstacles here he is not used to at his home base of Marine Corps Air Station, Beaufort, S.C.

    "The biggest difference between here and there is the amount of adapting and overcoming we have to do here," he said. "Different obstacles, like not having the right tool for the right job happens but we work our way around them."

    Although Gray's experience does not extend as far as Thornton's, Scheuer believes the two make an excellent team.

    "If I had to pick my 'A' team, they would be on it," he said. "They are truly the best at what they do. They are the most proficient and technically sound duty experts at what they do."

    Lance Cpl. Jeremy A. Gray, metalworker with the maintenance section for Marine Wing Support Squadron 273, Marine Wing Support Group 37, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, welds a makeshift boiling pot to test a thermostat in Al Asad, Iraq, May 20. Gray, a 19-year-old Gretna, Va., native, has been a metalworker for the Marine Corps for more than one year. Photo by: Sgt. J.L. Zimmer III


  2. #2
    Coalition Halts Najaf Military Operations


    NAJAF, Iraq - The U.S.-led coalition agreed Thursday to suspend offensive military operations in Najaf after Shiite leaders struck a deal with a radical cleric to end fighting that killed more than 350 Iraqis and 21 coalition troops.

    On Friday, the U.S. military released Iraqi prisoners from the Abu Ghraib facility, the center of a scandal involving abuse of detainees by American soldiers.

    Hundreds of relatives watched as a convoy of at least 13 buses left the prison on the western outskirts of Baghdad. For security reasons, the U.S. military did not reveal where the prisoners were going. It did not say exactly how many prisoners were let go.

    Meanwhile in Najaf for the first time in weeks, the day passed in this southern Iraqi city without the thud of explosions or the crash of automatic weapons fire. U.S. forces remained in their positions but were not seen in Najaf's center.

    An Associated Press reporter spotted only a handful of militiamen carrying rifles on the streets. One militia official said fighters were instructed to maintain a low profile.

    It was unclear whether any of them who came to Najaf from other Shiite towns and cities had left as called for in the deal. Most of the fighters were believed to be Najaf residents and simply returned to their homes.

    The agreement provides the Americans a way out of a standoff that threatened to alienate Iraq's largest religious community. But U.S. demands for Muqtada al-Sadr's arrest and disbanding his militia were unmet _ and the deal opens the door for a political role for a figure that President Bush had branded a "thug."

    The deal also allows for discussions of al-Sadr's future _ talks that will certainly stretch past the June 30 handover. The arrest warrant for al-Sadr, however, has not officially been suspended.

    Despite the moves to calm violence in the south, Iraq remains in crisis. Gunmen ambushed a convoy carrying a member of the Iraqi Governing Council, Salama al-Khafaji, as she was returning to Baghdad from Najaf, where she had helping with negotiations.

    Al-Khafaji survived but one of her guards was killed and her 18-year-old son was missing, aide Fateh Kashef al-Ghataa said. Al-Khafaji is one of three women on the council and replaced another Shiite woman, Aquila al-Hashimi, who was assassinated in September.

    Elsewhere, gunmen attacked a car carrying two Japanese journalists just south of Baghdad, setting the vehicle on fire, Japan's Foreign Ministry said Friday. The fate of the two men remained unclear. Also, three mortar shells were fired at coalition headquarters in the Shiite town of Samawah, causing no damage or casualties, Japan's Kyodo News service reported. Japanese and Dutch troops are stationed in Samawah.

    The Najaf agreement was struck early Thursday between al-Sadr and the Shiite political and religious leadership after nearly two months of clashes around this center of Shiite learning and theology.

    During fighting this week, Shia Islam's holiest site, the Imam Ali shrine, was damaged for the second time in a month. The damage was minor, and U.S. officials accused al-Sadr's followers of causing it.

    Still, it prompted protests by Shiites in several nations, highlighting the danger that the United States' determination to catch al-Sadr could inflame Shiite outrage in Iraq and around the world.

    In largely Shiite Iran, lawmakers convened Thursday and chanted "Death to America," condemning the U.S. occupation of Iraq in a display of anti-U.S. anger not seen in parliament for years.

    Al-Sadr's followers sought to portray the deal as a victory similar to that of Sunni Muslim fighters in Fallujah, who held out against a three-week siege by the Marines until an agreement was forged turning the city over to a new Iraqi force commanded by Saddam Hussein's former officers.

    "The fact that we stood up for a period of about two months against the most powerful force in the world is a victory to us," Qais al-Khazali, al-Sadr's spokesman. "We hope that the American initiative to suspend operations is real."

    Coalition spokesman Dan Senor said occupation authorities were not a party to the negotiations with al-Sadr, but he welcomed the deal as a "positive first step" in easing tensions. Violence exploded in April throughout the Shiite heartland south of Baghdad when al-Sadr launched his rebellion in response to a U.S. crackdown.

    Senor said U.S. troops would leave most of Najaf once Iraqi security forces return to re-establish law and order.

    "Until that time, coalition forces will suspend offensive operations," Senor said in Baghdad.

    "It's important to recognize that we are not doing this at the behest of Muqtada," said Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, coalition deputy chief of operations. "The Iraqis are coming to us and saying this would be helpful."

    Since early April, 352 Shiite insurgents and 21 coalition troops have been killed in al-Sadr's uprising, according to figures compiled by the AP.

    American commanders have been eager to quell the violence in the Shiite areas before they transfer sovereignty to a new Iraqi government on June 30.

    Under the deal, fighters from outside Najaf would leave the city and return to the provinces. In exchange, occupation forces would withdraw to their headquarters, the city hall, and government buildings, with local police taking over security duties elsewhere, said al-Sadr's spokesman, Qais al-Khazali.

    Al-Sadr's forces earlier abandoned another Shiite holy city, Karbala, after weeks of intense pounding by U.S. and allied troops. The militiamen remain active in Baghdad's Sadr City.

    The key issues of the future of al-Sadr's al-Mahdi Army and the criminal charges against al-Sadr will be discussed in a forthcoming "dialogue" between the militia leadership and a committee of Shiite religious and political figures.

    Iraq's national security adviser, Mouwafak al-Rubaie, said he could not say whether the negotiations would lead to the scrapping of the warrant or the disbanding of the al-Mahdi Army.

    Asked if al-Sadr might have a political role eventually, al-Rubaie said: "I do not see any reason that prevents any political movement that uses democratic means ... from participating in the building of Iraq."

    It seemed unlikely that the issues of dissolving the militia and arresting al-Sadr will be resolved before the United States and its coalition partners transfer sovereignty to the Iraqis.

    Iraqi officials appeared unenthusiastic about pursuing the case against al-Sadr, who comes from a distinguished Shiite family.

    A Shiite member of the Governing Council, Abdul-Karim Mahmoud al-Mohammedawi, warned that arresting the 30-year-old al-Sadr would lead to "an unending revolution."

    That contrasts sharply with the American view of al-Sadr, whose sermons are filled with anti-American rhetoric.

    Last October, coalition officials were preparing to crack down on al-Sadr but were dissuaded by Iraqi advisers who said it would only enhance his stature.

    Al-Sadr quietly spread his al-Mahdi Army throughout the south from the slums of Baghdad to Shiite cities such as Basra, Nasiriyah and Amarah _ all of which saw violence.

    The cleric launched his uprising after the coalition moved against him, closing his newspaper, arresting an aide and announcing an arrest warrant in the 2003 assassination of cleric Abdul Majid al-Khoei.


  3. #3
    1st FSSG combat engineers sweep for mines in western Iraq
    Submitted by: 1st Force Service Support Group
    Story Identification #: 200452713547
    Story by Sgt. Matt Epright

    CAMP AL ASAD, Iraq(May 27, 2004) -- In response to mine blasts that have injured Marines and disabled vehicles along a highway near here, 1st Force Service Support Group combat engineers swept the area for mines May 16, 2004.

    At least five vehicles have been damaged by mines in western Iraq in the last two months. The most recent two were hit within a week of each other in the same area not far from the base.

    Marines of Engineer Company, Combat Service Support Battalion 7, had swept this particular area before, but believed that anti-coalition forces had gone back and laid more mines. None were discovered.

    After the manual sweep failed to locate any anti-personnel mines, the Marines brought in an armored D-7 bulldozer to find anti-tank mines, which are often buried farther down in the ground.

    The company decided to start using the bulldozer as backup after one of its Marines was injured in a mine blast a week earlier, while doing road work at a dam near here.

    Pfc. Donny L. Schwab suffered a burst eardrum and was medically evacuated to the United States after the gravel-filled dump truck he was driving hit a deeply buried, anti-tank mine.

    Another dump truck hit a second mine a few minutes later. Both trucks had to be towed back to the camp, said 1st Lt. Michael L. Robinson, who was in charge of the latest operation.

    The engineers had already swept the area and discovered several mines from what appeared to be a decade-old mine field, said Robinson, a 29-year-old native of Montgomery, Texas.

    Such latent minefields are a problem all over the world, though Iraq ranks as one of the most affected countries, according to the Electronic Mine Information Network's Web site.

    A six-week study done in mid-2003 and covering seven governorates of Iraq -- approximately 40 percent of the country -- identified 394 victims of landmines and unexploded ordinance, according to the network.

    After finishing their sweep, the Marines turned the area over to Iraqi construction workers, who leveled and paved the intersection in hopes of preventing insurgents from placing more mines.

    In the long run, it's better for the Iraqis to do the work themselves, Robinson said.

    "We're not going to be here forever. It's going to be their road. It helps us to help them help themselves," he said.

    Gunnery Sgt. Robin K. Johnson, a combat engineer with Combat Service Support Battalion 7, directs the driver of an armored bulldozer in the search of mines near Camp Al Asad, Iraq, on May 16, 2004. Several vehicles have hit mines in the region in the past months. After a manual sweep turned up nothing, an armored bulldozer was brought to help clear the area. When the bulldozer finished, Iraqi construction workers paved the intersection to help prevent the placement of more mines. Johnson, 38, is from Olathe, Kan. Photo by: Sgt. Matt Epright


  4. #4
    More Camp Pendleton Marines depart

    By: EDWARD GRAHAM - For the North County Times

    SAN DIEGO ---- For her 21st birthday two weeks ago, Anne Puccinelli and Sgt. Aaron Kwiatkowski got engaged. Under a gray sky Thursday morning, she wept in the shadow of the departing USS Belleau Wood while holding aloft a sign, "Aaron I Love U, Come Home Soon, God Bless America."

    Kwiatkowski, stationed at Miramar Marine Air Corps Station, is one of 2,200 Marines of the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit. The Camp Pendleton-based unit left San Diego Naval Station as part of the Belleau Wood Expeditionary Strike Group.

    The 11th MEU will be part of a force replacing 30,000 soldiers who were kept in Iraq for an extra three months. Many families said they thought the 11th MEU might also be gone for more than the specified nine-month tour.

    More that 5,000 sailors and Marines sailed with the strike group on three ships: the USS Belleau Wood, USS Denver and USS Comstock. The force is unique in that it is the first of its kind to be commanded by a Marine Corps general, Brig. Gen. Joseph V. Medina.

    "I do plan to bring them all back safely," Medina said. "That is my ultimate goal." He then turned aside to say goodbye to his own family before embarking.

    Puccinelli said she could only hope the general's goal was achievable as she watched her fiance board the ship.

    "I am so proud of Aaron for volunteering and always being willing to make that extra effort," she said. "He will never back out of anything, but that is what scares me: he will volunteer for anything."

    The Belleau Wood Strike Group will be part of the Navy's new operational construct known as the Fleet Response Plan, designed by the Navy to increase the effectiveness of its amphibious fighting capabilities by merging leadership between Marine and Navy commanders.

    Due to the nature of the force, the Navy has not stated its final destination, but almost every family on hand was sure it was Iraq.

    All over the dock, farewells both composed and mournful were taking place with that destination in mind.

    The wife of Staff Sgt. Jeff Vaughn, also part of the 11th MEU, was present with her 15-month-old son, Bradley Vaughn.

    "This is our fifth deployment, but the first with the baby, so it is so much harder," said Alena Vaughn. "I think it is worse for him, though, since he has to leave his son for nine months."

    She said she is the volunteer coordinator for her husband's squadron, and that Marine wives solve their problems together so their husbands in Iraq don't have to worry about domestic issues. She said the unit functioned like one big family and was invaluable in providing support.

    Her mother, Shandie Howard, while also optimistic, had some real fears for Sgt. Vaughn.

    "They are evidently relieving an Army squadron, so they will be land based, and that is really what worries me," she said. "It is just the fear of the unknown."

    A large part of that unknown is when the Marines will return. Most families have resigned themselves to a situation they acknowledge is beyond their control.

    "They are saying look for them around next March, but that they could be delayed," Howard said. "What can you do? He belongs to them and not to us when he is on duty."

    A group of Marines were on hand to see their colleagues off. At the crucial moment, as the boat was pulling away, they took up a loud and raucous chorus of, "U.S.A., U.S.A.," while waving to friends on the boat.

    The marines and sailors on board stood stoically at attention, occasionally waving or smiling at their families, as the USS Belleau Wood headed out to sea.

    Puccinelli had her sign rolled up now, and waved and cried as the ship carrying her fiance set off. She followed it all the way down the dock and then up into a tower at the end to get the best vantage point.

    Blowing kisses, she stared hard at the stern of the ship, one of hundreds of anxious faces, watching their loved ones go off to war.


  5. #5
    War stories sought from Iraq veterans
    Submitted by: MCAS Miramar
    Story Identification #: 2004527162841
    Story by Cpl. Paul Leicht

    MARINE CORPS AIR STATION MIRAMAR, Calif.(May 27, 2004) -- Many of the world's authors of fiction and non-fiction-from Sophocles to Hemingway to Michael Durant, recent author of "In the Company of Heroes"-were once soldiers in military service. Their sometimes personalized reminisces and stories based on wartime experiences are crucial ingredients in shaping culture.

    Even in this complex, technological age of easily deleted or lost e-mails, Marines and their fellow servicemembers are taking the time to reflect on their recent experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan to help tell the uniquely American story.

    But unfortunately, not enough are picking up the pen or sitting down in front of the keyboard to tell their tales.

    In response, a new government program under the auspices of the National Endowment for the Arts, Operation Homecoming, is underway to help troops returning home and their immediate families to write about wartime experiences in places like Iraq and Afghanistan.

    "Operation Homecoming will preserve personal accounts of the wartime experiences of our troops and their loved ones," said Dana Gioia, chairman, NEA, in a recent press release. "Some of these writings will focus on a singularly challenging moment in life, while others may provide vivid accounts of historical events that rise to the occasion of literature. American letters will be richer for their addition."

    The program will provide writing workshops led by veterans and many distinguished authors such as military writer Tom Clancy, Jeff Shaara, author of "Gods and Generals," and Mark Bowden, author of "Blackhawk Down," for servicemembers at various military installations across the country and overseas, including Marine Corps Bases Camp Pendleton and Camp Lejeune, according to the NEA release.

    The NEA is opening the call for submissions in a variety of forms, including fiction, verse, and letters to essay, memoir and personal journals related to recent military service, said Ann Puderbaugh, communications officer, NEA.

    All program entries will be reviewed by the literary experts working with the program and the best examples will be published next year in an anthology that will be given to military installations, schools, libraries and sold in retail bookstores, the proceeds of which will go to various military charities, added Puderbaugh.

    "As a part of Operation Homecoming our (servicemembers) will have the opportunity to write about some of their wartime experiences in a manner that will be both therapeutic and creative," said Charles S. Abell, Principal Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, in the release. "By reflecting on and documenting their recent experiences, participants will gain new insights by working with a number of renowned authors, and in the process will be writing works of genuine historical value."

    For more information on Operation Homecoming visit, or


  6. #6
    1st FSSG surgeon helps ailing Iraqi children take first steps toward healing hands in states
    Submitted by: 1st Force Service Support Group
    Story Identification #: 2004527112112
    Story by Lance Cpl. Samuel Bard Valliere

    CAMP TAQADDUM, Iraq(May 27, 2004) -- A reserve Navy doctor here is working with a children's charity to help young Iraqis with serious health problems receive treatment in America that is not available in Iraq.

    Cmdr. Joel Hardin, a pediatric cardiologist in Chicago moonlighting as a surgeon with 3rd Battalion, 24th Marine Regiment, has seen three girls from villages in the Al Anbar province to assess their conditions and determine if they should leave Iraq for care in the United States.

    Hardin gave each child an examination and reviewed their medical history before recommending their cases to the Palestine Children's Relief Fund, a non-profit group based in the United States dedicated to trying to save the lives of ailing Middle Eastern children by providing them with free care.

    One 7-year-old girl has a neurological disorder that causes fluid to collect in her brain. The other two girls, 10-year-olds Hardin saw at Camp Al Asad, have congenital heart disease.

    The Marine Corps doesn't normally deploy with doctors to care specifically for children, so word of Hardin's expertise has spread beyond the 1st Force Service Support Group, under which two companies of the reserve infantry battalion fall. It was top leaders from the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing who brought all three girls' plights to his attention.

    Children here lack many medical resources because the Iraqi health care system, once the hub of the Middle Eastern medical community, has slowly deteriorated over the last decade, said Hardin.

    The Gulf War, he said, left numerous facilities demolished and the surgeons ten years behind the rest of the modern world.

    He expects that humanitarian missions led by coalition forces, coupled with medical training and supplies donated by charities, will help return the system to its former glory within three to four years.

    "It's poor now, but it has great promise, and it had a great history," he said.

    With no pediatric hospitals in Iraq, the ailing trio makes up only a small percentage of children in need of overseas medical attention, said Steve Sosebee, the head of the charity.

    "Consider the fact that Iraq has over 20 million people, and there are over 2,000 babies born a year there with congenital heart disease, if not more," said Sosebee in an e-mail interview. "There is not a single center there to treat them. So they are all dying, eventually, from a disease which in the United States or Europe is treated without too much trouble."

    The organization has helped more than 400 Middle Eastern children since it was formed in 1991.

    Hardin's referral of a case to the charity, though only the beginning of the process, is where the military usually steps aside.

    Even after treatment has been arranged in America, family concerns can halt the process.

    Current rules prevent fathers from accompanying their children to the states. According to Hardin, this stems from fears that they will take up illegal residency when treatment is done. Mothers are encouraged to go, but none of the three children's fathers have yet blessed a trip to America without their attendance.

    Although working with children is a far cry from his military job as a combat surgeon with an infantry unit, it is what he feels more comfortable doing, said Hardin, who joined the Navy on a whim five years ago "for the experience."

    Children here have the same innocence as the ones he treats at his clinic in Chicago, he said.

    "There is nothing different about them; that is why I like them," he said. "They remind me of the kids back home. They smile despite some very difficult situations."

    He noted how one girl he examined remained calm and cheerful while Marine artillery fired from a nearby position. Meanwhile, doctors and Marines were jumping with every burst.

    "That's just the way she grew up," he said. "When all of the military personnel are flinching and this child isn't fazed, it kind of puts things into perspective. She was treating it like it was thunder."

    Hardin, 42, said his experiences meeting Iraqi villagers with the Marines during some of their civil affairs visits have helped him see more of the population's similarities to Americans.

    "Unless you go to the villages and talk to the people, you haven't seen Iraq," he said. "I've found out that Iraqi fathers remind me a whole hell of a lot of any father I've met in Chicago."

    He claims the Iraqi people have won his heart and mind by demonstrating how similar they are to Americans, and he hopes word of such positive military involvement will spread through the villages as family members talk about it.

    "We're willing to help in a way they didn't think we would," he said about the cooperation between the Iraqis and the military. "It makes this one world again."

    Cmdr. Joel Hardin, surgeon for 3rd Battalion, 24th Marine Regiment, speaks with an Iraqi man during a visit to a village near Camp Taqaddum on May 15, 2004. Marines and Navy medical personnel from the battalion, as well as other 1st Force Service Support Group units, visited the village in order to deliver fresh water, assess the people's medical needs and speak with the community's leadership about their concerns. A firefight a few kilometers away forced the Marines to cut their visit short to prevent any harm coming to the village. Two days prior, Marines on a routine patrol outside the village stumbled upon what they believe to be the largest weapons cache unearthed in the Al Anbar Province this year. The reserve infantry battalion, based in Bridgeton, Mo., provides security to the camp. Hardin is a 42-year-old resident of Chicago, where he works as a pediatric cardiologist. Photo by: Staff Sgt. Bill Lisbon


  7. #7
    Issue Date: May 31, 2004

    Iraq orders force cuts in training
    MEU heads home early to pack

    By Laura Bailey
    Times staff writer

    MORGANTOWN, W. Va. — Marines training here for an August deployment with the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit made an early end to a three-week urban-combat exercise after receiving orders to deploy to Iraq to relieve fatigued Army units and bolster troop strength there.
    And the Training in an Urban Environment Exercise will not be the only pre-deployment training that will be cut as the MEU prepares for an earlier-than-planned departure.

    Members of the Camp Lejeune, N.C.-based unit began their TRUEX here and in two nearby towns the first weekend of May, patrolling the streets as West Virginians went about their daily business, some staring or complaining about helicopter noise, though most were smiling, waving or nodding respectfully.

    But on May 4, only days after arriving, the unit drew orders to head to Iraq beginning in June, part of a larger Pentagon effort to relieve Army units serving extended tours. As a result, the Marines began leaving West Virginia on May 15 for Lejeune, to start packing.

    The early deployment also forces the MEU to scratch its Expeditionary Strike Group Exercise and its Special Operations Capable Exercise, meaning the unit will deploy without the SOC certification normally required before heading to sea.

    Still, “the MEU will be combat capable,” said Col. Ronald J. Johnson, the 24th MEU commander.

    “We just don’t have the time to do either one of those two exercises in order to get us certified,” he said. “Not that we haven’t trained to all of them, we just haven’t had an opportunity to get certified.”

    Knowing his Marines could be ordered to towns and cities in hot spots such as Afghanistan, Haiti or Iraq, Johnson made urban-operations training a priority since the MEU came together for its pre-deployment training in February.

    For the TRUEX, Johnson broke tradition by bringing the majority of the unit’s Marines to West Virginia. Typically, logistical challenges limit the number of Marines who can take part in TRUEX to just a few hundred.

    This year, the 24th brought about 1,600 of its 2,200 Marines to Morgantown, Johnson said.

    Some of the Marines in the unit have seen action in Iraq.

    Many in the MEU’s battalion landing team, built around 1st Battalion, 2nd Marines, served in the major combat phase of the Iraq war last spring as part of Task Force Tarawa. While fighting in Nasiriyah on March 23, the battalion suffered 18 combat deaths in what was one of the bloodiest days of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

    Meanwhile, the challenges the battalion will face in Iraq are different than they were a year ago.

    Back then, distinguishing the enemy was easier because anyone on the street was presumed to be an enemy fighter, said 1st Lt. Brian Stewart, 25, who served with Bravo Company during the war. Stewart was among the Marines taking part in the West Virginia exercise.

    “This time, people are afraid of getting killed by a sniper or something like that, and you don’t even have a chance to fight back,” Stewart said while on patrol in Terra Alta, a small town west of Morgantown.

    During the Morgantown exercise, the MEU placed heavy emphasis on security and stability operations, including convoy operations, reacting to ambushes, operating vehicle checkpoints, handling improvised explosives and, perhaps most important, Johnson said, interacting with civilians.

    Such interaction included daily vehicle checkpoints on Terra Alta’s main street, where Marines stopped vehicles at random and surprised residents by occasionally asking permission to search civilian cars.

    “The interaction that they’ll have … in Fairmont, Morgantown and Terra Alta is the same type of interaction that they’re going to have with the civilian populace in towns like Nasiriyah, Kut or Diwaniyah,” Johnson said.

    “That in itself is probably the most significant lesson-learned that you can take away from going into any country,” he said.

    Now at Lejeune, the 24th MEU is packing its gear and making final preparations for deployment. In mid-June, the unit will perform a final field exercise at the base before heading off to Iraq.


  8. #8
    Cashiered Over Cache in Baghdad
    When GIs stumbled on multimillion-dollar stash, Matt Novak dived in. He then 'tried to make it right,' but thinks he got a raw deal.

    By David Zucchino, Times Staff Writer

    HINESVILLE, Ga. — He took the money. Sgt. Matt Novak admits that much. He and several fellow soldiers could not resist after discovering nearly $200 million in $100 bills sealed inside a gardener's cottage in a Baghdad palace complex last spring.

    "Millions of dollars makes a lot of things go through your mind," Novak told a military review board in Georgia in December after confessing that he and the others had stolen about $12 million.

    A year after American soldiers discovered about $760 million of ousted Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's cash hidden in several cottages, the case still raises questions. U.S. Treasury Department officials are trying to determine whether Hussein got the money from illegal oil sales and kickbacks, even as the cash is being spent on the U.S. occupation and rebuilding effort.

    For Novak, one of six soldiers accused of stealing seven-inch-thick bundles of $100 bills, the affair has been a bitter lesson in military justice. He confessed, named higher-ups and led investigators to millions he and others had tried to hide. He has since been kicked out of the Army and banned from nearby Ft. Stewart, while the five others implicated received administrative punishments — and two were promoted, Novak's lawyer said.

    "I really thought everything would work out if I just did the right thing and told the truth," Novak said in the living room of his brick home. "I'm not asking anybody to feel sorry for me — I did something wrong. But I tried to make it right, and the Army got me good."

    Novak, a trim, energetic man of 34, spends his days holed up in his house, the blinds drawn and the door locked. He chain-smokes, gulps coffee and cares for his young son and daughter while his wife works and attends night classes. He fears he is sinking into depression, in part because he is barred from civilian jobs at Ft. Stewart, where he feels his 12 years as a medic and supply sergeant could be put to good use.

    There is one more thing troubling Novak: He says other soldiers have told him that several soldiers got away with stealing millions. According to these soldiers, Novak said, the money was buried at Baghdad University and in the desert outside the city. He said the soldiers noted the global positioning system coordinates and planned to return to recover the money.

    Other soldiers scooped up cash hurriedly discarded by Novak and his confederates, he said, later spending $100 bills in stores in Hinesville. Novak said soldiers took photos of one another waving wads of cash.

    While he was under investigation, Novak said, he twice took his allegations to Ft. Stewart's inspector general's office and was told to tell the Army's Criminal Investigation Division. He said he opted not to say anything more to the CID, which had investigated him.

    A CID spokesman in Ft. Belvoir, Va., referred questions to Ft. Stewart. A base spokesman, citing privacy issues, said he could not discuss the case.

    For Novak's old unit, the 3rd Infantry Division (Mechanized), the theft was a troubling coda to the division's dramatic capture of Baghdad in April 2003. The first cash was discovered April 18, just nine days after the division toppled the Hussein regime. In all, soldiers found about $760 million sealed inside five bricked-up gardeners' cottages in a neighborhood of mansions and manicured gardens.

    After Novak implicated two higher-ranking soldiers, the division's commanders offered amnesty against criminal prosecution to soldiers who confessed and cooperated. The commanders "decided that they did not want a black eye for the Army," a division captain testified at Novak's administrative separation hearing in December. "Instead of focusing on prosecuting the soldiers for the crime, they decided to get the money back."

    Novak's attorney, Capt. Bernard A. Quarterman Jr., said he "argued to the [administrative separation] board that the Army went after Sgt. Novak because he named names."

    "The only person who really told the truth was Sgt. Novak," Quarterman said, "and he is the only one who was chaptered out" — drummed out of the Army.

    Pentagon and U.S. Treasury officials said some cash probably came from Iraq's Central Bank, which was looted of $1 billion by Hussein's sons, Uday and Qusay, three days before the regime collapsed. (The sons were killed in July in a firefight with U.S. forces.) And the money almost certainly was raised, the officials said, through Iraqi oil sales in defiance of United Nations sanctions and through kickbacks from oil suppliers.

    Officials speculate that the cash was hidden by Baath Party and Republican Guard leaders as they fled ahead of the U.S. invasion. The fact that so much was left behind suggested Iraqi officials had also hauled away staggering amounts of money, which now could be funding the anti-American insurgency.

    Green plastic seals on the galvanized aluminum cash boxes were stamped "Jordan National Bank." Each contained $4 million. Tape strips on locks on some of the bricked-up cottages were signed by a Republican Guard commander, Lt. Gen. Mohammed Ibrahim. They were dated March 20, 2003, the day the U.S. invasion began.

    Whatever the source of the money, more than 99% of the $100 bills — most of them uncirculated currency with sequential serial numbers — were genuine.

    The Pentagon comptroller's office said the cash and other "seized assets" were being spent to rebuild Iraq. So far, $348 million has been spent on reconstruction and humanitarian assistance; $308 million on Iraqi ministry operations; $180 million on emergency response programs; and $90 million on gasoline and liquid propane.Novak said he went looking for the money only because a fellow soldier wanted to "get on TV" for his family back home. He said he and two other soldiers took a Humvee gun truck to the gardener's cottages where two sergeants had found and turned in $320 million that day.

    They spotted a similar cottage nearby. Novak said he, Spc. Jamal Mann and Pfc. Jeffrey Moyer used a tanker's crowbar to collapse the wall. Novak smashed a locked door with a brick, cutting his hand on window glass and splattering the cottage floor with blood.

    Inside, the soldiers found dozens of sealed aluminum boxes. Novak said he pried one open and pulled out bundles of $100 bills wrapped in rubber bands. The soldiers all stared at one another, he said.

    "Up to this point, it was all fun and games," Novak said. "Now it suddenly got serious."

    In his statement to investigators, Novak wrote: "Many things went through my mind — my three children, my wife, my future not in the Army. When that first box was opened, I felt like everything was out of control."

    Mann wrote in his CID statement: "The first thing I was thinking when I saw the money was maybe I could pay for school, help my family out and pay some bills."

    In an instant, Novak said, the soldiers were grabbing stacks of cash and stuffing it into their uniforms. It was an impulse, he said — an opportunity seized reflexively, without regard to the consequences.

    "To see all that money in one place put us in awe," Novak told his separation hearing board.

    Mann wrote: "To me, it was like free money."

    At one point, Novak said, two higher-ranking men entered the cottage: 1st Lt. Charles Greenley and 1st Sgt. Eric Wilson. Novak said he shouted to Wilson, "Aren't you retiring soon, first sergeant?" and tossed him a bundle of cash. Novak said he remarked to Greenley, "Hey, LT, you're senior," and tossed him a bundle.

    After a second box was opened, Novak said, he panicked and decided to hide the cash. He said he, Mann and Moyer dropped two boxes into a nearby canal. They scooped up loose cash off the cottage floor and hid it in a tree, near a drain and in shrubbery along a narrow roadway.

    Lt. Greenley's driver, Spc. Darnell Emanuel, told investigators that he, Mann and Greenley took another box and buried it near where their unit was based.

    Commanders summoned to the cottage realized money was missing. Just as the commanders arrived, Novak said, he realized he still had a $100 bill in his pocket and he stuffed it into the grill of a parked truck.

    The commanders searched the area and found $600,000 in the tree. Another $300,000 was found later in a cooler inside the truck that transported the cash for safekeeping.

    Lt. Col. Philip deCamp, commander of the armored task force to which Novak's engineer company was attached, confronted Novak, Mann and Moyer and advised them of their rights.

    Confined to barracks over the next few days, Novak said he was overcome by guilt and shame. "I was torn up, just distraught," he said. "If it wasn't for my wife and kids, I'd have blown my brains out."

    He decided to write a statement, confessing to the thefts and naming Greenley and Wilson, the two higher-ranking soldiers.

    Novak said he led CID investigators to the canal, where agents found the two boxes containing $8 million. They recovered another $178,000 in bundles and loose cash along the roadway.

    Meanwhile, Mann confessed to mailing 12 envelopes, each stuffed with $600 to $700, to his mother and four other relatives in Newark, N.J. Postal agents in New Jersey intercepted the money and notes reading "I LOVE U."

    On April 22, Emanuel led agents to a hole where he said he and Greenley earlier that day had reburied the box they had taken four days before, according to a CID report. About $3.8 million was recovered.

    After the commanders' amnesty offer, a plastic Meal Ready To Eat spaghetti bag containing about $275,000 in $100 bills was found on the desk of the task force executive officer. With the cash was a note that read: "Rest went down sewer."


  9. #9
    A CID report said Wilson told investigators: "That money was turned in during the amnesty period. Nobody was supposed to get in trouble." An analysis of Wilson's handwriting compared to the note was inconclusive.

    Authorities at Ft. Stewart declined to specify punishments given to the five soldiers besides Novak, citing privacy issues. Because of the amnesty offer, none of the six was criminally prosecuted.

    Quarterman said that except for Novak, the soldiers received nothing more serious than letters of reprimand and/or poor fitness reports. Moyer testified that he was promoted despite what he called "the incident." Novak and Mann said Emanuel also was promoted.

    DeCamp said Greenley was stripped of his command and given a poor fitness report. He said Wilson was given a poor fitness report and assigned to lesser duties with no chance of promotion. "Justice was served" in the case, deCamp said.

    He noted that all other soldiers who found cash turned it in, along with $6.1 million his soldiers recovered when they foiled a bank robbery in Baghdad the same week.

    At the separation hearing, Novak — a Gulf War veteran — was praised as an outstanding supply sergeant.

    One officer said of Novak: "I would personally like him to be my supply sergeant because he knows all the answers…. I would go to war with him without a doubt." A month before the money was found, Novak's battalion commander had awarded him the Army Achievement Medal, citing his "exceptional performance" during the war.

    James C. Mead, a CID agent, testified that while Greenley and Wilson gave him false statements, "Sgt. Novak came and said the truth…. His confession was accurate. The information that he gave us did identify additional subjects."

    The board — two commissioned officers and one noncommissioned officer — found Novak's actions warranted separation from the Army. However, the board recommended he be given a six-month probationary period to "show successful rehabilitation." They called him "a deserving soldier whose service should not be ended."

    But a month later, Maj. Gen. William G. Webster, the division commander, ordered Novak discharged. "Conduct such as yours is prejudicial to good order and discipline…. It demonstrates a lack of respect for law and order," Webster wrote.

    Mann, who said he was allowed to leave the Army with an honorable discharge when his enlistment was up, said: "They treated Matt unfairly…. He couldn't tell the first sergeant and the lieutenant what to do. We all did what we did on our own."

    He added: "Any soldier — any human being — who came across that much money would have done the same thing. It was just too tempting, trust me."

    Authorities at Ft. Stewart responded to a request for an interview with Webster by providing written responses from Maj. Robert F. Resnick of the base legal office. Resnick said Webster decided that "Sgt. Novak's actions were far too serious" for him to remain in the Army. He said Novak "was very much the ringleader of this theft and he duped subordinates into joining him."

    To Novak, the ultimate irony lies in what he says his commanders asked him to do before and after the money was found.

    He said he was ordered or encouraged to grab computers, printers, office supplies and electrical equipment from abandoned Iraqi offices and homes. An Iraqi truck used to deliver the found millions for safekeeping had been taken by Novak off the streets of Baghdad for use by his unit, he said.

    Even after he was accused of trying to steal the $12 million, Novak said, his commanders asked him to tear out electrical supplies and toilet fixtures from Hussein's palaces to supply his unit after it was transferred from Baghdad to Fallouja.

    "Nobody had any problem with telling me to take stuff. They all said I was their go-to guy," Novak said.

    All he asks now, Novak said, is that the same treatment be given other soldiers who took money. "I lost my pride," he said. "I have nothing else to lose."

    A few days before Hussein's cash was discovered, several Americans in the elite neighborhood noticed that a cinderblock wall around a cottage had been smashed and the door broken. No one thought much of it until the $760 million was discovered. Only then did people speculate about the significance of several broken green Jordan National Bank seals on the cottage floor.

    Had millions in cash been stored there? If so, was it taken by Iraqis or by the first Americans to arrive?

    For Novak, a man who tried to get away with a fortune and now regrets his actions, it only suggests that millions of dollars are still missing.

    "I guess you could call this a real life 'Who Wants to Be a Millionaire' story," he said.


  10. #10
    May 27, 2004

    11th MEU departs San Diego for Persian Gulf

    By Gidget Fuentes
    Times staff writer

    SAN DIEGO NAVAL STATION, Calif. — Under a cloudy sky, three amphibious ships carrying 2,200 Marines and 1,800 sailors headed west Thursday, destined for duty in the Persian Gulf and, for the Marines, likely combat missions in Iraq. The amphibious assault ship Belleau Wood led the dock landing ship Comstock and transport dock Denver from Naval Station San Diego; the amphibs carried members of the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit.
    The ships, which are part of Expeditionary Strike Group 3, were ordered to deploy nearly a month early to carry the force of Marines to Iraq. Brig. Gen. Joseph V. Medina, a 1976 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and former regimental commander, is leading the strike group, a first for a Marine.

    The early departure, and possible extension of the expected six-month deployment, drew tight hugs and running tears from many families gathered at 32nd Street for the morning departures.

    Some sailors and Marines who spent the spring training as 25,000 Marines fought insurgents in Iraq are eager to get into the fight.

    “This is the first [deployment] I’ve been looking forward to, in some sense,” Aircrew Survival Equipmentman 2nd Class (AW/SW) Timothy Mooney said before Belleau Wood pulled away from Pier 6.

    Mooney, 25, from Fallon, Nev., said his first deployment on the assault ship Peleliu was uneventful. During his second deployment in 2002, Belleau Wood spent most of the time off the coast of Yemen.

    “The last two, it didn’t feel like we did anything,” he said, “but this one, well, I have a feeling we’re going to do something big. I think we’re going to feel like we’re part of history.”

    “To be part of it is going to be nice,” he added.

    Military commanders had accelerated the pre-deployment training when the orders came in early April, two days before the strike group headed to see for Composite Training Unit Exercise.

    Col. Anthony Haslam, who commands 11th MEU based at Camp Pendleton, Calif., said he knew the orders meant a likely early departure. Several days later, he said, the command staffs and battle planners had expanded COMPTUEX to include the MEU’s training phase to become special operations capable, which helped train and evaluate them in the variety of missions his Marines could be ordered to do.

    “As a MEU, you can do many things and in many places,” said Haslam, a New York native who deployed with his staff to Iraq last year.

    More than half of the deploying Marines are veterans of last year’s war, including five of six jet pilots and all of his light-attack helicopter pilots. “That’s one of the big pluses for us,” said Haslam. “We’re coming back. We’re returning varsity.”

    The rest of ESG-3, which includes the cruiser Mobile Bay, guided-missile destroyers Preble and Hopper and the fast-attack submarine Charlotte, will deploy sometime next month.


  11. #11
    Cleric Offers to Pull Fighters From Najaf

    By Daryl Strickland, Times Staff Writer

    The U.S.-led coalition today has suspended fighting against a militia loyal to Muqtada Sadr in Najaf after the radical Shiite cleric sent a signed letter to Iraqi leaders agreeing to withdraw his forces from the city.

    The breakthrough in negotiations, which also extends to the nearby town of Kufa, came one day after U.S. forces captured one of Sadr's key lieutenants. The fighting also has damaged one of Islam's holiest sites, the Imam Ali shrine in Najaf.

    The written terms reached between Sadr and prominent Shiite leaders of the Iraqi Governing Council without direct involvement from coalition members is expected to end the violence that has occurred since Sadr's standoff began in March.

    "This is an Iraqi-to-Iraqi proposal to bring this to resolution, and we view that as a positive sign, but we also recognize that it is only an early sign," U.S. coalition spokesman Dan Senor said of today's announcement. "It is a first sign. It is a first step."

    But today's announcement brought little relief in violence to other parts of Iraq. A member of the Iraqi Governing Council survived an attack today as she rode in a three-vehicle convoy, but at least one bodyguard died and her son reportedly was missing, according to the Associated Press.

    Salama Khafaji's convoy, returning to Baghdad from Najaf, came under attack in the town of Yusufiyah. Another bodyguard was critically wounded in the ambush, and a vehicle carrying Khafaji's 18-year-old son, Ahmed Fadel, crashed into an irrigation canal.

    Chief aide Fateh Kashef Ghataa said Fadel was seen swimming away, but the teenager remained missing.

    The withdrawal of coalition forces in Najaf is expected to be implemented as soon as Iraqi security forces assume control. At that point, coalition forces only will maintain control of key government buildings in Najaf, as hundreds of troops will be returned to their bases near Najaf, Senor said in Baghdad today.

    In the initial step announced this morning, Sadr, who faces an arrest warrant for his suspected involvement in the death of a Shiite cleric last year, will not be forced to turn himself in.

    Instead, more negotiations between Sadr and the Shiite leaders were expected to resolve disarming his militia and complying with his arrest warrant, Senor said. While remaining vague about a timeline for those talks to occur, Senor said those issues were expected to be resolved "as soon as possible."

    "We have not changed our positions one iota on whether or not he must meet the requirements in his arrest warrant; he must. We haven't changed our position one iota on the dissolution and disarming on Muqtada's militia; that stands. So our conditions remain the same.

    "What you're seeing here is a withdrawal from the city or a statement to other Iraqis that he intends to withdraw. And we view that as a positive sign as we continue to pursue these other issues."

    The Associated Press quoted Abdul-Karim Mahoud al-Mohammedawi, a Shiite member of the Governing Council, as saying that coalition forces would be risking "an unending revolution" if they arrested the cleric now.


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