24th MEU, 3rd CAG Marines visit Jurf as Sakhr
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  1. #1

    Cool 24th MEU, 3rd CAG Marines visit Jurf as Sakhr

    24th MEU, 3rd CAG Marines visit Jurf as Sakhr
    Submitted by: 24th MEU
    Story Identification #: 200481922759
    Story by Sgt. Zachary A. Bathon

    FORWARD OPERATING BASE ISKANDARIYAH, Iraq (Aug. 15, 2004) -- Following the gentler half of the 1st Marine Division’s motto, “no better friend, no worse enemy,” Marines from the 3rd Civil Affairs Group and the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit went to the town of Jurf as Sakhr, Iraq, Aug. 15 to check on a dormant civil affairs project and make contact with people in the community.

    The Army had begun building a birthing center at the local medical clinic but suspended it due to security concerns. The Marines, who began operating in the area late last month, went to see about getting the project finished. They also took a look at the town’s destroyed police station and the city council building, stopping along the way to talk to shop owners and assess the overall environment in the town.

    Initial construction at the clinic was stopped because convoys heading to the town were repeatedly hit with improvised explosive devices or small-arms fire.

    “This was the first time my team had been to that town in awhile and the first time the battalion has been there,” said Maj. Thomas West, 37, an Anaheim Hills, Calif., native and team leader, Team Four, 3rd Civil Affairs Group. “You could tell that most of the people were not happy to see us there, but want our help.”

    West said he spoke to the manager of the clinic and offered to assist him in getting the birthing center finished, and then asked for his help as a community leader to get the word out to stop attacking the American and coalition forces.

    “We basically told him, if they support the enemy they will get nothing but death and destruction. If they support us, we will work hard to improve their standard of living,” said West

    After visiting the medical clinic, West and Marines from Battalion Landing Team 1st Bn., 2nd Marines, headed downtown and scouted out the city council building believed to be defaced with anti-American graffiti.

    Using an interpreter, West took note of the graffiti and snapped pictures of it before moving farther into town.

    “The graffiti said ‘death to Americans,’ ‘Jihad,’ and ‘death to betrayers,’” said West. “That is something you don’t want to see on city council buildings.”

    After walking down the town’s main street and stopping to talk to local shop owners, West and the BLT Marines turned around and headed back.

    “The trip went pretty much as expected. We had no contact and no IEDs,” said West. “About 80 percent of the convoys out here are hit by IEDs or mortars, so no contact was good.”

    West said they were just trying to get the message out to build support for the new Iraqi government. Other towns in the area are cooperating and getting help through civil affairs projects. The lack of cooperation from the residents of Jurf as Sakhr has hindered help from coalition forces in the area, but the Marines hold out hope that the reluctant Iraqis will seize the moment.

    “You can free people,” said West. “But you can’t give them freedom. That is something they must grasp for themselves.”

    Maj. Thomas West (right) of the 3rd Civil Affairs Group, working with the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, explains where he plans to visit in the town of Jurf as Sakhr to a Marine from Battalion Landing Team 1st Bn., 2nd Marines, Aug., 15.
    West, 37, is a native of Anaheim Hills, Calif., and is the team leader for Team Four, 3rd Civil Affairs Group.
    The 24th MEU is currently conducting security and stability operations in the Northern Babil province of Iraq.
    Photo by: Sgt. Zachary A. Bathon



  2. #2
    Clashes Erupt in Najaf Despite Peace Plan


    NAJAF, Iraq - Sporadic gunfire and explosions boomed through Najaf on Thursday despite a peace deal in which radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr agreed to disarm his militiamen and pull them out of a revered Shiite shrine they've been taking refuge in.

    As clashes in Najaf continued, Arab television station Al-Jazeera aired a video Thursday showing a militant group that called itself the Martyrs Brigade vowing to kill a missing Western journalist if U.S. forces do not leave the holy city within 48 hours. The authenticity of the tape could not be determined.

    The deal announced Wednesday aimed to end two weeks of fighting between al-Sadr's forces and U.S. and Iraqi troops in this holy city.

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    Al-Sadr has made contradictory statements in the past, and aides to the cleric said he still wanted to negotiate details of the peace deal _ including brokering a cease-fire prior to any disarmament.

    In Washington, the Bush administration said al-Sadr needed to match words with deeds. "We have seen many, many times al-Sadr assume or say he is going to accept certain terms and then it turns out not to be the case," said National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice.

    The cease-fire agreement was announced at the National Conference in Baghdad, which had sent a delegation to negotiate with al-Sadr.

    The conference, a gathering of more than 1,000 prominent Iraqis that was seen as an important milestone on the country's path to democracy, spilled into an unscheduled fourth day Wednesday so it could choose members of an interim National Council. The council is to act as a watchdog over the interim government until elections in January.

    Disputes persisted at the conference throughout the day over how to choose 81 elected members of the council, with small parties complaining they were being strong-armed by the large factions into accepting their slate of candidates.

    A planned vote to affirm a slate of 81 candidates was called off at the last minute, and the conference organizers simply affirmed the group _ to the dismay of many of those who were not included in the council. The final 19 members of the 100-member council will be members of the former U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council who were left out of the interim government.

    The video aired by Al-Jazeera depicted a man, who resembled missing journalist Micah Garen, kneeling in front of five masked militants, who were armed with rifles and rocket-propelled grenade launchers.

    The hostage, who had a mustache, looked down at the ground throughout the video. The sound was not audible, but the announcer said the kidnappers threatened to kill Garen within two days if U.S. forces did not leave Najaf. Garen's father and his fiancee were unavailable for comment.

    According to witnesses, Garen and his Iraqi translator, Amir Doushi, were walking through a market in the southern city of Nasiriyah on Friday when they were seized by two armed men, police said.

    At the time of his abduction, Garen, 36, was working on a story about the looting of archaeological sites in Iraq, his fiance, Marie-Helene Carleton said.

    Garen worked for New York-based Four Corners media, identified on its Web site as a "documentary organization working in still photography, video and print media." He has taken photographs as a stringer for The Associated Press and had a story published in The New York Times.

    Neither U.S. nor Iraqi forces had any word on Garen's fate Wednesday.

    In Najaf, al-Sadr's loyalists and a combined U.S.-Iraqi force have been fighting for nearly two weeks throughout Najaf, battling in the vast graveyard and in the streets of its Old City. A wall surrounding the Imam Ali Shrine, where the militants have holed up, was reportedly chipped in the fighting, and any damage to the gold-domed mosque itself would infuriate the world's 120 million Shiite Muslims.

    The drawn-out fighting, which had spread to other Shiite areas, has already burnished al-Sadr's reputation among poor, grassroots Shiites at the expense of more senior _ and more moderate _ clerics and hampered the government's efforts to quell a separate Sunni insurgency.

    Fresh gunfire and explosions were heard early Thursday despite the peace deal.

    On Wednesday afternoon, Iraqi Defense Minister Hazem Shaalan said the government could send Iraqi forces to raid the shrine by the end of the day. Prime Minister Ayad Allawi issued a statement accusing the militants of mining the area around the shrine.

    Hours later, al-Sadr's office sent a message to the conference, saying he would accept the gathering's peace proposal, which demands his militia drop its arms, withdraw from the shrine and transform itself into a political party in exchange for amnesty.

    Sheik Hassan al-Athari, an official at al-Sadr's Baghdad office, said the cleric wanted to negotiate how the plan would be implemented and to ensure his militants would not be arrested. He said al-Sadr had other minor conditions, but did not elaborate.

    Al-Sadr aide Ahmed al-Shaibany said U.S. forces must first stop attacking.

    "They cannot ask us to disarm while ... they're using warplanes to fight us. There should be a cease-fire first and then they ask us to disarm," he said.

    The U.S. military says the clashes have killed hundreds of militants, though the militants deny that. Eight U.S. soldiers and at least 40 Iraqi police have been killed as well.

    At the Abu Ghraib prison, which was the center of a scandal over allegations that American prison guards abused Iraqi detainees, U.S. military police shot and killed two of the detainees and wounded five others during a massive brawl Wednesday, the military said.

    Several detainees attacked an inmate with rocks and tent poles in a fight that soon encompassed 200 people, said Lt. Col. Barry Johnson, the U.S. military's spokesman for detention operations in Iraq. Abu Ghraib is west of Baghdad.

    On Thursday, an Army spokesman said that attackers fired on a U.S. patrol in east Baghdad, killing one soldier. The American soldier died Wednesday in Baghdad's Sadr City neighborhood, scene of ongoing firefights between U.S. forces and al-Sadr's supporters, said Maj. Philip Smith.

    The soldier was the second to die in Baghdad on Wednesday. The military had already announced the death of another American soldier who was shot dead while patrolling the same area hours earlier, Smith said.

    In the central city of Hillah, two Polish troops were killed and five were injured early Thursday in a car crash that followed an ambush by insurgents, said Col. Zdzislaw Gnatowski, spokesman for the Polish army chief of staff.

    Associated Press writers Sameer N. Yacoub and Jamie Tarabay in Baghdad contributed to this report.



  3. #3
    Ambush in Ramadi
    The enemy lay in wait for the proud young Marines of Echo Company

    • Caught in the crossfire

    By David Swanson and Joseph L. Galloway
    Knight Ridder Newspapers

    RAMADI, Iraq - The Marines of Echo Company jumped from their trucks into Ramadi's narrow streets and alleys and ran toward the sound of the guns. They followed their commander, Capt. Kelly D. Royer, through palm trees and warrens of cinder-block buildings.

    One of Echo's sniper teams had come under fire, and Royer's "quick reaction force" was going to reinforce the pinned-down Marines.

    Before they'd gone far, headquarters at Combat Outpost, a Marine base in the Iraqi city of 500,000 on the Euphrates River, called on the radio. The snipers had repulsed the attackers, but now Echo Company's 1st Platoon, which had been sent out earlier to clear the main supply route through Ramadi, was taking fire and needed help.

    Amid the dust and noise, Royer radioed 2nd Lt. John Wroblewski. While Royer's team moved on foot, "Lieutenant Ski," as his men called him, was leading a second Echo quick-reaction force in Humvees through the chaotic streets of Ramadi. Pick us up at the intersection at the marketplace, Royer told Wroblewski.

    Wroblewski had told his men the day before to be alert. Something's not right, he said. In this neighborhood, the residents didn't wave and the children didn't flock to the Marines, the way they did in other parts of the city. They only stared.

    Although neither Royer nor Wroblewski knew it, earlier that morning, April 6, Iraqi and foreign fighters had slipped through the marketplace, telling shopkeepers to close their stores and kiosks and warning: "Today, we are going to kill Americans."

    If the Iraqi insurgency has a center of gravity, Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province and a bastion of Saddam Hussein's military and intelligence services, probably is it. The city sits astride the main road from Baghdad to Jordan, and the insurgents in Ramadi were far better organized and far better schooled in guerrilla warfare than the Marines originally realized.

    Gunfire rattled to the east, where Royer's force had been moments earlier. Marines seemed to be under attack everywhere. Royer and his men started running to reinforce their comrades in the 1st Platoon.

    Two Marines from the 1st Platoon, Pfc. Benjamin Carman, 20, of Jefferson, Iowa, and Lance Cpl. Marcus Cherry, 18, of Imperial, Calif., already were dead.

    Carman's high school coach said he was "one of the hardest-working football players I've ever had."

    There are five large tires in a field near Jefferson-Scranton High School. Four of them are for tractors; the fifth and largest is for a combine. It's 5 feet tall, and it weighs 80 pounds. As part of their daily workout, the football players had to flip each tire 10 times.

    Medium-sized Ben Carman ran straight to the big tire every day, and he didn't flip it 10 times. He flipped it 12.

    Like Ben, Marcus Cherry had wanted to be a Marine. But he had to practice that Marine Corps stare. He would stand in front of a mirror at home, jaw forward, eyes hard, and hold it as long as he could before his trademark grin gave him away.

    In a letter home from boot camp, Marcus wrote: "I knew, Mom, the Marine Corps was the best decision for my life at the time I joined. It's a fast way to grow up, but I was made for it."

    As Royer and his men hustled toward the 1st Platoon, Wroblewski rolled past with his convoy. Royer radioed Wroblewski again: Stop and pick us up.

    "Roger, Six," Wroblewski responded, using the military term for "commanding officer."

    Royer and his men heard Wroblewski's Humvees and trucks slow as they approached the marketplace.

    Then Royer's Marines heard the staccato sound of AK-47 rifle fire, the deeper growl of a machine gun and the thuds of rocket-propelled grenades.

    Like Cherry, Wroblewski was where he'd always wanted to be: leading Marines in combat. He'd even named his Alaskan malamute pup Semper, after the Marine Corps motto, "Semper fidelis" ("Always faithful").

    Six feet two, with piercing blue eyes and a linebacker's build, Wroblewski, 25, was a natural leader, popular with his men and respected by other officers. Royer called him "one of my best."

    The day before the firefight, "J.T." had talked about home as he led a 10-mile foot patrol through Ramadi. He talked about fishing, about the Marines, about his wife, Joanna.

    He grew up in Morris County, in northern New Jersey, where he was a high school football and baseball standout, and he graduated from Rutgers before he joined the Marines in 2002.

    Wroblewski had caught Joanna's eye at the County College of Morris in Randolph, N.J. "Wow, that guy's hot," she thought. He also was shy. "I had to ask him out," she said. They were married in July 2003.

    He had been at home with Joanna in Oceanside, Calif., on Valentine's Day when he got his orders to Iraq. She was making waffles with strawberries for breakfast when the call came. He had to leave the next day.

    His last phone conversation with her had been three days earlier. Instead of signing off as usual by saying, "I'll see you soon," he'd told her: "I'll always be with you."

    On all sides of the intersection that marked the Ramadi marketplace, Iraqi fighters with AK-47's and rocket-propelled grenade launchers had taken positions on the roofs of the one-story buildings. A heavy .50-caliber Russian-made machine gun was on one corner rooftop, where the gunner could sweep the street. Other fighters were hidden behind trees just beyond the market stalls.

    About 50 well-armed insurgents were waiting for Wroblewski and his Marines.


  4. #4
    Caught in the crossfire
    Swanson struggled to keep up and take photographs. Then he was shot.
    • Ambush in Ramadi

    By David Swanson
    Philadelphia Inquirer

    RAMADI, Iraq - On April 10, four days after the firefight at the Ramadi market, the Marines of Echo Company were out again in predawn darkness, to cordon off an area of Ramadi and search every house in it.

    I struggled to keep up with the Marines and take photographs at the same time. For a week and a half, I had been with Echo Company as an "embedded" journalist.

    As illumination flares popped overhead, the two dozen Marines went house to house, interrogating and detaining men.

    We heard a distant burst of gunfire and knelt against a wall surrounding a house. I raised my camera and photographed Echo Company's Iraqi translator, nicknamed "007," who was behind me.

    There was another distant burst and something yanked at my right arm. I looked around to see why 007 had tugged at me, but he was too far away. I rolled up my sleeve and with my left hand felt a divot in the underside of my biceps, near my elbow, where blood was seeping out. I realized I'd been shot. Grazed, really.

    Before I could say anything, rapid fire burst out, and everybody dived into a nearby drainage ditch, filled with black mud, cow dung and water.

    We were caught in a crossfire, drawing fire from front and rear. I thought how mad my wife would be if I died on this trip. I thought of my daughter, Ingrid, who wouldn't have a father to dance with on her wedding day.

    The Marine next to me yelped and grabbed his thigh, as a ricocheting bullet sprayed him with metal and stone. He spun around and climbed on my back, using my backpack as a rest for his M-16 while he fired over 007's head. He was heavy, but I was thankful for the protection.

    I looked up to my left and saw where the shots were coming from: a field ablaze with hundreds of red tracer rounds stinging through the blue morning mist. I was scared to death.

    "Aaaaaaah ... I'm hit in the head," screamed Capt. Kelly D. Royer, Echo's commanding officer. A medic, "Doc" Clayton, came running.

    "Wait, there's no hole; I'm not bleeding," Royer said. "I'm OK." The bullet had hit his helmet, but hadn't penetrated.

    We crawled on our elbows toward the relative safety of a house, then ran 50 yards to duck behind a truck. Then up to the roof of another house. Gunfire was coming from everywhere, and in the field, black and white cows were grazing.

    In another house, Lance Cpl. John T. Sims, 21, of Alexander City, Ala., was shot in the torso. Marines carried him by stretcher to a nearby Bradley armored vehicle for evacuation, but he died en route.

    At last, helicopter gunships arrived overhead, and in three passes, spewing machine-gun fire, they ended the fight.

    Contact David Swanson at dswanson@phillynews.com


  5. #5
    The first of 2nd Lt. John T. Wroblewski's three Humvees slowed as it entered the Ramadi marketplace where the insurgents were waiting.

    At the wheel was Lance Cpl. Kyle Crowley, 18, of San Ramon, Calif. With him in the unarmored green Humvee were radio operator Lance Cpl. Travis Layfield, 19, of Fremont, Calif.; Pfc. Christopher R. Cobb, 19, of Bradenton, Fla.; Lance Cpl. Anthony Roberts, 18, of Bear, Del.; Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Fernando A. Mendez-Aceves, 27, of San Diego, a medic; Staff Sgt. Allan K. Walker, 28, of Lancaster, Calif., and Lance Cpl. Deshon E. Otey, 24, of Louisville, Ky. In the back, manning the machine gun, was Pfc. Ryan Jerabek, 18, of Oneida, Wis.

    Most of them were following in their family's footsteps. Crowley's great-grandfather had been a World War II Marine. Layfield's maternal grandfather was a Seabee in World War II. Cobb's stepfather had served, and so had Roberts' dad. Mendez-Aceves had listened to his great-grandmother rocking him to sleep humming soldiers' marches. Men in Walker's family had served in virtually all of America's wars. Jerabek's father, Ken, had served in the Army during Vietnam.

    Ryan Jerabek had pre-enlisted in the Marines with his friend Mike Andrews when he turned 17. "He had the sweetest smile," said Faye Girardi, one of his teachers at Pulaski High School, who thought Ryan was "too gentle" to become a Marine.

    Ryan's sense of humor survived boot camp: He laughingly called his military-issue glasses "BC glasses" - birth control glasses - because they were so effective at keeping girls away.

    When Travis Layfield was about 9, his family visited an air show at Moffett Field in Mountain View, Calif. "He saw kids in uniform and he said, ‘I want to sign up,' " said his sister, Tiffany Bolton. "That's where it started."

    Cobb's minister, John Marlow, an Army veteran, had taught 8-year-old Chris what it meant to be a soldier.

    "We were talking and I said, "Chris, I was in the U.S. Army and I tried to be a good soldier," remembered Marlow, now 70. "Chris looked me in the eye and said, 'Well, I will be a good soldier.' "

    Roberts had stood over his father's casket, a boy of 13 staring silently at the man he had adored. Tony went on to star in Family photograph
    William E. Roberts Jr. with his son, Anthony Roberts, in an undated family photograph. William's death in 1998 profoundly affected Tony, then just 13.

    handsome and, said his ROTC teacher, Maj. Daniel Alvarez, "he had the ladies after him all the time."

    The driver of the Humvee, Kyle Crowley, had been something of a troubled kid who drove around San Ramon in the San Francisco Bay area in a 1980s Cadillac he'd inherited from his grandmother. He signed up in a pre-enlistment program when he turned 16, over the objections of his father, Mark, a sheet-metal worker who'd raised Kyle by himself from age 4.

    Kyle slapped a Marine Corps sticker on the back of his car. He hung American and Marine Corps flags in his room, and he wore Marine T-shirts to school.

    When Cobb came home from boot camp to Bradenton, Fla., he wore his uniform back to Bayshore High School, where his teachers remembered "a quiet kid in the back of the class."

    "He was so proud," said Richard Jorgensen, who taught Chris' orchestra class. "He had just finished basic. He seemed more relaxed. I think the Marines gave him a sense of identity. A sense of pride that he didn't seem to have before."

    Navy medic Fernando Mendez-Aceves had been a scrawny boy, but boot camp had changed him, too. His biceps grew so big that he had to wear oversize shirts. At the Naval Medical Center in San Diego they called him Rocky, the Muscle Man or Hulk. He volunteered for duty with the Marines in Iraq because he didn't want his combat training to go to waste.

    They called Staff Sgt. Allan Walker, at 28 one of Echo Company's senior noncommissioned officers, the Beast. Six feet 2 and 230 pounds, he'd played high school football and flipped burgers in the Mojave Desert town of Palmdale, Calif.

    But Walker "had all these little twists and turns," said Jim Root, his old football coach and friend. Walker was a high school jock who also hung with the drama kids, and a rebellious teenager who wore punk rock T-shirts and spiked hair but loved poetry.

    "The Marine Corps was his intervention program," said his father, Kenneth Walker.

    When the war came, Allan Walker, too, volunteered to go. "How can I teach a corporal how to take a hill if he's been there and I have never?" he asked his father. "How can I teach men to fight if I've never been to battle?"

    As the green Humvee neared the T-intersection at the Ramadi marketplace, the insurgents hidden on the rooftops opened fire. Bullets plowed through the windshield and the metal doors. Crowley, the driver, was killed, and the truck canted sideways. Jerabek opened up with his machine gun, but he, too, was quickly cut down.

    Deshon Otey leapt out of the Humvee and began firing from behind a low wall. The others stayed in the truck and were quickly gunned down.

    "We all took cover," Otey said. "There was firing coming from all directions. They were shooting AK-47's, RPK machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades."

    Mendez-Aceves, the Navy medic, was killed next to Walker, apparently working to save the sergeant's life.

    Wroblewski was behind them in the second Humvee. He was hit in the face by a bullet that smashed through the radio handset he was holding.

    As soon as Royer's reinforcements moved toward the firefight in the marketplace, they came under fire, too.

    Running toward the cover of nearby houses, Royer yelled at his radio operator to keep up with him: "Suck it up, find it . . . find it, son, your Marines are being shot at!"

    Royer's Iraqi translator, a man everyone called "007," was smiling as he ran, in tan sandals, a sleeveless jogging outfit and a navy blue T-shirt that said "Operation Iraqi Freedom" across the front. Wearing neither a helmet nor a protective vest, he was blithely fatalistic: "Inshallah," he said. God willing.

    Royer and his men reached the relative safety of a house. Other Marines were already there, and so was an Iraqi family, huddled in the living room. Bullets smacked into the side of the house as Royer led his Marines up the stairs to the rooftop to begin returning fire.

    Royer got on the radio and called for air support, but the helicopters were in action elsewhere, circling over firefights in the center of the city.

    Royer sent a team to silence the insurgents' Russian-made machine gun on the corner rooftop but by the time the Marines got there, the Iraqi machine gunners had vanished, leaving only a pile of spent shell casings.

    Five Iraqi men walked along the intersection. "Do they have weapons? Do they have weapons?" Royer yelled. Marines opened fire, and the men scattered out of sight. The Marines saw cars and vans approaching the area, then slowing down and turning back, picking up walking men. Were they retreating fighters? The Marines couldn't tell.

    Other Marines entered the marketplace and began removing the bodies of the dead Americans from the green Humvee. Royer and his men joined them.

    Remnants of cotton and paper trauma supplies littered the ground. The bed of the truck was littered with empty water bottles and exploded green packages of meals-ready-to-eat, mixed among brass shell casings. The rectangular top handle of an M-16 was sheared off in a pile of debris. Blood and water and diesel oil drained into the ground.

    A Marine passed by slowly, carrying the body of a fallen brother on his shoulder. He gently placed the heavy, dark green bag in the back of a Humvee.

    A pair of military-issue eyeglasses lay smashed on the ground by the lead Humvee, blood drying on the right lens. They were machine gunner Jerabek's birth control glasses.

    "I talk with some of the other guys in the platoon about what happened, but it still hurts," Otey, the lone survivor in the green Humvee, said later. "Every time I walk into our living space I see the empty racks (bunks). Those were guys I used to talk to about my problems. Now I don't hear their voices anymore."

    Otey, 24, was killed two months later on a rooftop in Ramadi with three other Echo Company Marines.

    Taking the rooftops of nearby houses that April day, the Marines gained control of the intersection, and the sound of gunfire died down.

    A sergeant from Combat Outpost arrived and said he'd seen Wroblewski and that Lt. Ski would be OK.

    He was wrong. Wroblewski died while a helicopter was evacuating him. An enemy bullet had severed an artery, and the medics couldn't control the bleeding.

    The bodies of four Iraqis lay in the street, one beside a red-and-white taxi. Royer stood over one of the dead men for a few seconds, then stepped over the body. The translator everyone called "007," trailing Royer, kicked the body hard and muttered, "Bastard."


  6. #6
    The evening light was growing softer, cooler.

    Pfc. Eric Ayon, 26, of Arleta, Calif., climbed behind the wheel of the green Humvee and tried the ignition. Nothing. A rocket-propelled grenade had pierced the engine compartment. Photographer David Swanson of The Philadelphia Inquirer, who was traveling with Echo Company, took pictures of Ayon sitting behind the Humvee's shattered windshield.

    Ayon had wanted to join the military since the days when he ambushed his sister's Barbie doll with his G.I. Joe. He told everyone he was going to be a Marine. He told his co-workers at Mid-Valley Community Day School in the Los Angeles suburb of Van Nuys, where he counseled gang-hardened teenagers.

    And when he thought that his son Joshua, at 7, was old enough to grasp what it meant to be a Marine and why his father would have to go away now and then, he told him, too.

    Afterward, Joshua told his friends, his teachers and anyone else who would listen: "My dad's a Marine."

    Three days later, on April 9, Good Friday, Eric Ayon was killed at that same intersection. The word is that a homemade bomb - what the military calls an improvised explosive device - exploded. Ayon left the driver's seat for cover and was hit when a second IED blew up.

    David Swanson/Philadelphia Inquirer
    Pfc. Eric Ayon attempts to start a Humvee that had been ambushed, killing seven Marines. Ayon would die three days later at the same intersection.


  7. #7
    More than 129 U.S. servicemen have died in Anbar province since President Bush declared the end of major combat operations in Iraq on May 1, 2003.

    The Marine force in Ramadi, the 2nd Battalion of the 4th Marines, nicknamed "The Magnificent Bastards," has had the highest casualties of any U.S. battalion since the war in Iraq began: at least 29 killed and 175 wounded, roughly 20 percent of the battalion's 1,000-man strength. Echo Company has lost 23 of its 185 men, more than any other Marine or Army company. It's had more than 40 wounded.

    U.S. soldiers and Marines have stopped patrolling large swaths of Anbar. After losing dozens of men to a "voiceless, faceless mass of people" with no clear leadership or political aim other than killing Americans, the U.S. military had to re-evaluate the situation in and around Ramadi, said Maj. Thomas Neemeyer, the head intelligence officer for the 1st Brigade of the Army's 1st Infantry Division, the main military force in the area.

    "They cannot militarily overwhelm us, but we cannot deliver a knockout blow, either," he said.

    Joanna Lynn Wroblewski said farewell to her husband, 2nd Lt. John T. Wroblewski, in a letter she read at his funeral. It began:

    "Hey babe,

    "I saw you today. We were taking one of our usual strolls with the dog and the sun was shining all around you. You looked at me again the way you always did with that handsome cool smile. That look that told me how much you love me, and how everything was going to be OK. 'We're OK,' that was what we kept saying the day you left for Iraq. You were always right. My brave warrior."

    Fernando Mendez-Aceves' mother, Sandra, got a letter from his platoon leader after Doc Mendez was killed: "He never complained at all, even if he went on missions that lasted day and night. . . . I could tell he was a good man, and whoever raised him did a good job."

    In the family's small apartment, a candle burns on a memorial. Fernando watches over them from half a dozen photographs. There's a bottle of Corona beer, a deck of playing cards, a last letter from a girlfriend, unopened, and a plain blue sack with a box that contains Fernando's ashes.

    "Fernando believed that all things happen for a reason, and that it is not our place to question God's plan," his mother said.

    His younger brother, Kenneth, 15, wears Doc's old oversize T-shirt and baseball cap when he runs and lifts weights. "I'm so proud of him," Kenneth said.

    Staff Sgt. Allan Walker's mother, Nancy, got in her son's little red Chevy pickup and drove from her home in Lancaster, Calif., in the Antelope Valley 60 miles north of Los Angeles, to Texas and Iowa and Minnesota, visiting mothers and fathers of Echo Company Marines she'd contacted by mail and e-mail since Allan's death.

    She's angry. She hates the war in Iraq, and disagreed with it from the start. She's fiercely proud of her son and has no trouble speaking out against the war and President Bush because, she says, doing so honors the values her son fought and died for.

    Her ex-husband, Kenneth Walker, who supports the war, has begun a journey inward to a respite from his pain: the Hindu teachings he's embraced for decades.

    "There is no such thing as death," he said one afternoon at his home in Palmdale, where Allan had played football and flipped burgers. "So if you really believe that, I mean really believe that in your gut, then it makes the death of someone you care about and love easier to deal with."

    Kyle Crowley and his dad had parted ways before he left for boot camp. He spent some nights at friends' homes, others in his old Cadillac, but he found refuge at his girlfriend Trisha Johnson's home. Her parents, Steve and Gail Johnson, welcomed Kyle. "He told us: ‘I want to go fight to protect families like yours,' " Steve said.

    "He wanted family most of all, and the Marines are like family," Gail said.

    Nelson Carman goes by himself to his son Ben's grave in Jefferson, Iowa. He tries not to grieve in front of his family. He finds comfort there, where tiny American flags have sprouted and someone has stuck a fishing pole in the ground. Some days, he finds a glass of brandy and a cigar butt.

    Ben's favorite spot was an overlook on the Carman farm, on a bluff 60 feet above the river. Eagles soar there, and deer roam. Ben and his siblings and friends camped there summer and fall, fished the river, hunted the woods and looked for arrowheads. It's sacred ground for all of them now.

    Ben's mother, Marie, said: "What he could have been. . . . You just don't know."

    A month after Ryan Jerabek was killed, a package arrived at the Jerabek home. It was a late Christmas present that Ryan, who was fascinated with his Irish ancestry, had ordered from Ireland before he left for Iraq. Inside the box was a curved white shield with the family crest painted on the face, and a silver and gold sword for Ryan's younger brother Nick.

    His mother, Rita, said simply: "He was a gift."

    Sometimes the Ayon family goes out to the driveway and gets in the silver Toyota Solara that Eric Ayon had said would belong to his baby sister, Jazmine, if anything happened to him in Iraq. They sit in his car, start the engine and roll down the windows, but they don't go anywhere.

    They remain suspended somewhere between a past in which Eric cracks jokes, dances goofily and lectures Jazmine on the virtue-less nature of boys and the April day when two somber Marines arrived at the door to tell them that Eric was dead, blown up by a homemade bomb.

    Eric's sister Cynthia, 23, tells herself that he's just away on vacation. His father, Henry, tries not to talk about it. His mother, Maria, visits his grave every day. As she bustles around the house she talks aloud to Eric, who peers out from a life-size photo over the mantle.

    Before he left for Iraq, Eric had said goodbye to one of the kids he'd counseled, 17-year-old Ashley Mendez, whose tangles with gangs and drugs had landed her in juvenile hall repeatedly since she was 12.

    "He was a really good friend," Ashley said. "I thought he was going to come back. But he never did."

    Two weeks after they buried Chris Cobb, his mother received his last letter home: "I am coming home alive and in one piece," he wrote. "I promise you that mom."

    His cousin Kaylee Morris, 18, said she screamed when she heard of his death. "Why would God take such a young person from us?" she asked.

    A few days after Chris' funeral, Kaylee got back a package that she'd sent to Chris with a four-page letter and a bundle of beef jerky. "I just saw it there on my doorstep and started crying," she said. "It's the little things like that that make it hard."

    On April 3, Marcus Cherry and his older brother, Andre, both Marines, had met at division base camp in Iraq and had a final few hours together.

    After Marcus was killed three days later, Andre escorted his casket home.

    Marcus and Andre were running backs for the Imperial High Tigers in Imperial, Calif. Marcus was No. 34. The school has retired his jersey. Next season, the players will wear the initials "M.C." on their helmets.

    Diane Layfield remembers a slow dance with her son Travis under the stars at a Brooks & Dunn concert last year. She remembers thinking how lucky she was that her son would dance with her in public. She spends her free time filling boxes in her Fremont, Calif., home with photos, letters, articles, anything she can find that has a connection to her "Travi."

    Travis' dad, John Layfield, 47, a forklift operator, has restored Travis' most prized possession, a sky-blue 1962 Ford Galaxy, to keep his memory alive.

    He carries Travis' last letter home with him. It arrived the day they buried Travis.

    Neither of the Layfields has ever voted. Both now question what their country is doing in Iraq. John says "babies" are dying in Iraq, and he thinks about running for president just to get Bush out of office.

    Some mornings, Diane wakes up thinking how her lovely son will never marry or give her grandbabies. And how there will never be another mother-son dance under the stars.

    In April, when there was a knock at the door at her home in Middletown, Del., Emma Roberts peeked out the window and got a glimpse of a Marine officer's hat. "I tried to run away. I ran into the family room, and they rang again."

    Tony Roberts, at 17, had needed his mother's consent to enlist. "I definitely feel responsible," Emma Roberts said. "But he was just so enthused with becoming a Marine."

    After Tony died, his family found a poem he'd written about his father's death years earlier:

    "I thought my father was invincible

    I didn't think he could or would die

    All I can do is cry

    One thing I really hate

    Is I never got to say goodbye."

    Contact David Swanson at dswanson@phillynews.com or Joe Galloway at jgalloway@krwashington.com

    Handout photograph
    The 2nd Battalion of the 4th Marines, nicknamed "The Magnificent Bastards," has had the highest casualties of any U.S. battalion since the war in Iraq began.



  8. #8
    Rebel cleric rebuffs Iraqis' peace overture

    By Rajiv Chandrasekaran
    The Washington Post

    NAJAF, Iraq — Rebellious cleric Muqtada al-Sadr yesterday rebuffed Iraqi political leaders seeking a meeting to persuade him to disband his militia and leave a large Shiite shrine. His decision increased chances of intensified U.S. and Iraqi military action to evict him and his followers.
    The eight-member delegation, led by a senior cleric who is a relative of al-Sadr, crossed a U.S. military cordon and braved nearby gunbattles to reach the gold-domed Imam Ali shrine, one of Shiite Islam's holiest sites. The group wanted al-Sadr to end a potentially destabilizing confrontation and convert his militia into a political organization that would take part in elections.

    The delegates, who waited for al-Sadr for three hours, never saw him.

    Al-Sadr's aides indicated the cleric is not in fact staying at the mosque, as had previously been assumed, but at an undisclosed location which he was unable to leave because of the fighting.

    His aides said he failed to show because of continued aggression by U.S. forces, which have engaged in intense offensive operations against al-Sadr's militiamen in Najaf's old city, which surrounds the shrine.

    Before and after the delegation's visit, U.S. Army units staged assaults to expand their zone of control in the old city, and U.S. Marines lobbed 155-mm artillery shells into the massive cemetery north of the shrine. But a senior American commander in Najaf insisted that operations paused during the attempted peace talks. "We sat still for the entire time," said Maj. David Holahan of the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit, which commands U.S. forces in Najaf.

    As the delegation arrived in the afternoon, the distinct, repetitive thud of a Bradley's 25-mm main cannon echoed through the labyrinthine alleys leading to the shrine, answered occasionally by the explosion of a rocket-propelled grenade, likely fired by al-Sadr's al-Mahdi Army militiamen. But as the evening wore on, the sound of American armaments ceased and were replaced with more than a dozen bone-rattling booms of al-Mahdi Army mortars being fired from next to the shrine.

    Although the al-Mahdi Army has been described by some U.S. military officials as a hobbled outfit that has taken hundreds of casualties in the past week, al-Sadr's militia appeared to be everywhere in the neighborhood near the shrine. Scores of armed young men walked along the streets.

    When the delegation entered the walled-off, white marble courtyard of the shrine, about 1,000 of his supporters converged on the group, stamping their feet, raising their fists and shouting, "Long live Muqtada!"

    To al-Sadr's followers, the United States' June 28 transfer of political authority to an interim Iraqi government was meaningless. In their view, the 140,000 U.S. troops on Iraqi soil means their nation is still under occupation.

    The members of the delegation are all participants in a national conference that was convened Sunday in Baghdad to select an interim national assembly. Although the assembly was to have been elected by yesterday, the proceedings have been dominated by efforts to resolve the crisis in Najaf, where U.S. forces have been in combat with the al-Mahdi Army for weeks. The conference is scheduled to meet today to hear from the delegation and to choose members of the new assembly.

    Political leaders spent much of yesterday in closed-door meetings trying to persuade leaders of Shiite religious parties to back down from a demand that their members receive at least 51 of the 100 seats. While Shiites constitute a majority of Iraqis, conference organizers and leaders of parties representing Sunni Muslims and ethnic Kurds do not want all the Shiite members to be chosen by religious parties.

    The delegation to Najaf was led by Hussein Mohammed Hadi Sadr, an elderly Shiite cleric and distant relative of Muqtada al-Sadr. It also included a woman who is a cousin of Muqtada al-Sadr, a leader of a Shiite religious party, a member of the former U.S.-appointed Governing Council, and the brother-in-law of interim President Ghazi Yawar.

    As soon as they entered the shrine, they got signals that they would not meet with al-Sadr. "If you have connections with the U.S. leader, you should call him and ask him to withdraw his forces a little bit so that we can bring Sayed Muqtada Sadr safely here," said Ali Smeisim, al-Sadr's deputy, using a religious honorific for the cleric.

    Rajaa Khozai, one of the delegates, said she hoped the group would be able to return today or tomorrow to meet al-Sadr. But there were no immediate plans to do so.

    One of the eight members, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the meeting "was not as successful" as the group had hoped it would be. "Muqtada needs to make a dramatic move for peace," the member said. "We had hoped to convey that to him directly."

    Washington Post correspondent Karl Vick and special correspondent Omar Fekeiki in Najaf contributed to this report.

    Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company



  9. #9
    Victor Marine recounts Iraqi firefights -- and progress
    By Jennifer Snyder
    News-Sentinel Features Editor

    Andres Lopez, of Victor, had a range of experiences as a Marine in Iraq for the past five months. Fear of roadside bombs when driving down the road. The curiosity of Iraqi children who were practicing English. Trained Iraqis who turned against them. Occasional barbecued steak on a makeshift grill.

    The lance corporal, who turned 21 on June 29 while he was in Iraq, returned home for this month. He is able to cool down, after being in heat that hovered around 120 degrees while he wore all his gear. Now, the slender young man, clad in a T-shirt and shorts, is spending time with his family and girlfriend and working on his Camaro. Then, he will return to Camp Pendleton in San Diego, where he hopes to spend the next eight months playing soccer on the camp's team.

    Deployment and heat

    Lopez was deployed to Japan for two months before being sent to Kuwait for two weeks in March. He and the other Marines had a chance to try to get used to the weather. He said it was cold at first, being the end of winter, but it gradually got hotter and hotter -- over 100 degrees. Average temperatures in Iraq and Kuwait are over 100 degrees from May through September and over 110 degrees in July and August. The Marines had to wear their long-sleeved jackets and long pants to ward off mosquitos, and they had to wear their military gear on top of that, so they had to bear additional heat. Lopez said he weighed 189 pounds when he went to Iraq and lost more than 20 pounds with a diet of sweating, exercise and military rations.

    After time in Kuwait, he was in a three-day convoy to Abu Ghraib prison, where the platoon waited until they were sent to Nasiriyah (which they called Nasir, for short) to train Iraqis for the civil defense corps. They trained men for one-and-a-half months before going to Fallujah, where they surrounded the city until they were told to go in. Lopez said he was in the only platoon with Iraqi men fighting with them, at least at first.

    "They would leave and turn their backs against us," he said. Some of the men that they trained ended up fighting against them.

    His platoon stayed in Fallujah for a month and waited. There was sporadic fire. The platoon returned to Nasir and Kandari to train Iraqis -- but this time, they did background checks and gave classes on why they were fighting for their country.

    Before Fallujah, Lopez said, "We took any Iraqis at the gate who wanted to be in it (civil defense corps), but some of them were in it just for the paycheck."

    The platoon then went to a police station in Garma, a town the size of Lockeford. It was one of the towns where there were members of the Sunni tribe, who are generally loyal to Saddam Hussein. Uprisings began, so the platoon did joint patrols throughout the day with Iraqis they had trained. Fewer firefights -- or exchanges of gunfire -- occurred there than in Fallujah, Lopez said.

    But the platoon lost four Marines who were in a Humvee and were killed by a roadside bomb.

    Marine Lance Cpl. Andres Lopez of Victor poses in a photo taken during his tour of duty in Iraq. (Courtesy photo)

    "That was the biggest fear for all of us," Lopez said.

    The Iraqi insurgents would put the bombs out at night. In the day, they would connect wires to the bombs, take cover, wait for vehicles to pass by and blow them up.

    He was in charge of three Marines he called brothers. They were to follow him wherever he went, and it was his job to bring them all home, which he did.

    Lopez's platoon didn't have a place to stay in Iraq. They stayed in houses but also had to camp out in bunkers to avoid the firefights, which usually happened at night. Lopez said Iraqis did not attack them during the day; just at night, even though the Marines had night-vision goggles.

    He said getting through firefights was not too difficult.

    "We were all there for each other," he said. "All the training we've done kicks in, and everyone knows where to go and when."

    When someone got hurt, the Marines couldn't show emotion because it would be a sign of weakness to the Saddam loyalists, Lopez said.

    "When we went, we knew there would be some casualties," he added.

    One of the hardest things about being in Iraq was being away from home and talking about what they were going to do when they got home, Lopez said. They talked about being with family and friends and getting back to their hobbies. But talking about home was also a morale booster, as was goofing around with friends and opening mail. He said the Iraqis enjoy soccer, so they set up scrimmage games with the Iraqis. Another good thing was every time they returned to the Abu Ghraib prison site to wait for instruction (they did not guard prisoners there), they were able to eat in a chow hall and had more phone and Internet access.

    Progress being made

    "There was a lot of progress," Lopez said, adding that when they first arrived in Iraq, many of the cities were rundown.

    Lopez's platoon worked with leaders in neighboring cities and built schools if needed and handed out school supplies. Some people wouldn't accept the supplies, and many were too scared at first to talk to the Marines because the insurgents threatened them with death if they spoke to Americans.

    "We were there to win the hearts and minds of the people," he said. "We showed them that we were there to help them, not take over their country."

    And eventually, the Iraqis came to them and offered them information. They helped take down roadside bombs. The Iraqi police did checkpoints on their own.

    "They were doing good after a while," Lopez said.

    When the Marines were on the streets of towns like Nasir, there were groups of children everywhere, Lopez said, adding that he thought this was a good thing. The children would come out to practice their English, and the most common things they said were: "Mister, give me chocolate"; "Mister, give me pencil"; "Mister, give me anything"; and "Good Bush."

    The Marines sometimes had candy in their pockets if they received it in packages from home. The children disliked the flavor of the cinnamon hard candy, Lopez said.

    Though there wasn't much down time in Iraq, Lopez said the Marines were able to get a table and chairs and had a barbecue a few times. They made a barbecue out of an old telephone booth and grills from vehicles. Most of the time, they ate MREs, or "meals ready to eat."

    When the Marines had spare time, they did "deck PT." They did not have formal physical training every day, so they played a sort of game where they chose a card from a deck of cards, which would tell them how many push-ups or sit-ups to do. A 10 of spades meant 10 push-ups. Lopez said it was like a competition among the Marines to see who could last the longest.

    Home again

    Lopez is home for one month -- until the end of August. He will then return to Camp Pendleton for the next eight months. He plans to try out for the Camp Pendleton soccer team. His platoon is set to go to Iraq again next March, and he isn't sure whether he will be deployed.

    After finishing his duty with the Marines, Lopez plans to work in public safety. He has applications in for the California Highway Patrol, California Corrections Academy and the Sacramento Sheriff's Department.

    Lopez attended Lodi High School and Liberty High School and graduated in 2001. He joined the Marines soon after graduation. Before joining the Marines, he worked at Payless Market in Lockeford.

    He has two brothers and one sister. In his spare time, he enjoys working on his 1994 Camaro and hanging out with his girlfriend. Two of Lopez's friends became Marines soon after he did. One is stationed in Japan right now, and the other is still in Iraq. Lopez saw the latter while in Iraq.

    "It feels great to be home," he said. "Awesome. It's weird some times, but good to be home."

    Mina Lopez is proud of her son and glad he is home.

    "I'm happy, excited," she said. "I've waited for this day. I'm just praying he doesn't have to go back. ... What kept me going is working."

    She and her husband Alejandro work for a farmer in the vineyards surrounding their home.

    She said she doesn't want to hear much about what her son did in Iraq -- at least, not yet.

    "The less you know, the better," she said. "He's telling me little by little. ... When he's comfortable, he tells me something."

    Mina Lopez didn't pay much attention to the news because the media tends to just report on who died, she said. Shortly after Andres Lopez left, his sister saw a picture on TV of someone who died that they recognized. It was someone Andres Lopez had introduced to his family at boot camp.

    Andres Lopez's mother prayed every day for all the military in Iraq and kept a candle lit at night for the safety of Lopez's friends.
    Contact Panorama editor Jennifer Snyder at jennifers@lodinews.com.



  10. #10
    American Red Cross workers deploy too
    Submitted by: MCAGCC
    Story Identification #: 2004813161821
    Story by Lance Cpl. Heidi E. Loredo

    MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. (Aug. 13, 2004) -- She recently returned to the Combat Center after a six-month deployment to Iraq. She didn't win any medals for bravery but enjoyed her experience. She isn't in the military; however, she wore desert camouflage utilities and found the tan boots to be comfortable-after they've been broken in.

    Noreen L. Watts, station manager, American Red Cross, prides herself on being a dedicated American Red Cross employee committed to her occupation. Watts was welcomed home June 22, after completing a tour of duty in Baghdad, Iraq. A 20-year veteran of the Red Cross, Watts has been stationed in several places including Panama and Kuwait.

    "Prior to my departure I was ambivalent," said Watts, a Sidney, Ohio, native. "I was apprehensive because of what CNN and Fox News were reporting. Then I thought, 'I've been deployed with the military before, and I had a wonderful time.' I enjoyed being in that environment. Still, you don't know what to expect until you get there."

    In August 2003, the 35-year-old received the call to deploy. Just like the military, Watts underwent briefs, medical physicals and dental examinations to make sure she was up to speed. Shortly after, she found herself in Baghdad for two-and-a-half months during the transfer of government authority and then moved to Camp Victory.

    During her deployment Watts, along with three other Red Cross employees, performed emergency communications work. Their duty consisted of notifying service members if problems arose from their families on the home front or if a service member became a parent.

    "Our primary duties were emergency communications, and it was busy," said Watts. "We had almost as many messages in one shift as we do in a month here. There were a lot of messages-between 60 to 70 in a 12-hour shift. We didn't have time to be homesick; we were that busy. I was lucky if I could check my e-mail once every couple of weeks. During prior deployments like Kuwait, when we had the staff and the time, we would do morale functions. In Kuwait we worked with the dining facility to throw parties. In Iraq all we were able to do were communications."

    Watts' job to relay messages to the troops consisted of the daily task of informing them there was a death in the family, new additions to the family or tending to phone calls from families who had not heard from their son or daughter for a long period of time.

    "The fun part was telling the service member, 'congratulations' you just had a baby,'" said Watts. "Although, some families would worry because the troops would pack up their belongings and mail them home so they wouldn't have to carry it. The families would receive these personal belongings without hearing from their service member, and they'd get worried."

    Despite being in harm's way in the chaotic aftermath of the war, Watts understood she had a job to carry out.

    "It was getting more and more hazardous because of the situation over there," said Watts. "There were a couple of times I was scared. There were many mortar attacks. We used to hear gunfire daily. There were a few times when I was really scared like when a mortar landed a few tents away from us-the tent that we slept in. We also had one that landed so close that the impact opened up the door of the tent we were in."

    "Needless to say I got into my body armor real fast. You never think about what could happen. You go in and you look at what you have to do as a news port. I think having the Red Cross nearby lifts the morale there because the military knows they weren't going to let us in where it's not safe for us to be."

    Red Cross workers etched their legacy in the history of combat during the Spanish American War in 1898.

    "Between the end of the Vietnam War until 1990 the Red Cross did not deploy because the military was not deploying," said Watts. "Since Operation Desert Storm, the American Red Cross deployed 158 staff members. Since Dec. 25, 1992, we've had staff support the military every day. In fiscal year 2004 we had 54 staff deploy."

    According to the American Red Cross, 508 Red Cross staff members have died in conflict or combat areas while deployed with the American Red Cross. Most of those deaths occurred during World War I and World War II.

    Having a close family, Watts said there were mixed emotions about her deployment.

    "My family was very happy to have me home safe and sound. They understand that it's a job assignment and that it's something I've chosen to do."

    Watts returned from her deployment and went back to work at the Red Cross aboard the Combat Center but hopes she will receive orders to Germany in the upcoming months.

    Noreen Watts, station manager, American Red Cross, and another team member pose for a photograph during a deployment to Kuwait. Watts recently returned to the Combat Center after a six-month deployment to Iraq where her duties consisted of emergency communications, a link from the families on the homefront to the troops overseas. Photo by: Courtesy of Noreen Watts



  11. #11
    Marines probe soldier's story
    Thursday, August 19, 2004

    NORTHAMPTON - A U.S. Marine Corps spokesman said yesterday the military has found no evidence that Jeffrey M. Lucey, a lance corporal who took his life after returning from Iraq, was ordered to shoot two unarmed prisoners.

    According to Capt. Patrick B. Kerr, speaking from his office in New Orleans, the Marines began investigating the matter after Lucey's family publicly disclosed details of his service in Iraq following Lucey's suicide in June.

    As the family has related the story, Lucey, 23, began exhibiting signs of posttraumatic stress disorder after returning home to Belchertown in July 2003. One of the main sources of his distress, Lucey told his family, was that he shot and killed two unarmed Iraqi solders after being ordered to do so.

    Kerr said yesterday that investigators have interviewed Marines who served with Lucey and have been unable to corroborate the incident.

    "At this point we have been unable to substantiate any claims made by the family of Lance Corporal Lucey," Kerr said.

    Shooting an unarmed prisoner is a war crime, Kerr said, even under orders. A superior officer could be charged with that crime if there is evidence the officer gave that order.

    "It's something we take very seriously," Kerr said. "That's why we're looking into it."

    According to Kerr, Marines who exchange fire in combat are awarded a combat action ribbon. The Marines have no record that Jeffrey Lucey received such a ribbon, he said. Kerr stressed that the investigation is ongoing.

    "We're going to probe deeper," he said. "It will be a very thorough look into Lance Corporal Lucey's experience in Iraq. It's not easy to piece together because it was something that happened a year or a year-and-a-half ago."

    Lucey's parents, Kevin and Joyce, and his sisters, Debra Ann and Kelly Ann, took part in an Aug. 3 event on Amherst Town Common called "Eyes Wide Open" that featured a "graveyard" of boots and shoes representing the U.S. soldiers and Iraq civilians who have died in the conflict. Kevin Lucey said his son fell apart emotionally in the months after he returned from Iraq. Before he died, Lucey described the horrors he experienced during the battle of Nasriyah, including his dash to retrieve the body of an Iraqi child.

    Kevin Lucey said his son told him he was also ordered to shoot two unarmed prisoners at point blank range. He wore the men's dog tags around his neck as a tribute to their lives until he hanged himself, the elder Lucey said.

    Kevin Lucey said yesterday he is puzzled by the tenor of the Marines' response.

    "We never accused anyone of war crimes," he said. "We were just reporting what Jeff was saying."

    Lucey said someone from the Marines spoke with the family on Monday about the probe.

    "I thanked him because we wanted to find out everything we could," he said.

    Kerr said the Marines also have no record that Lucey, a member of the 6th Motor Transport out of New Haven, was involved with a special operations unit, as reported by his family. Kevin Lucey said yesterday that his son was trained as a clerical worker, then assigned a job as a driver in a convoy.

    Jeffrey Lucey told the family that he and seven other people in his unit were pulled out at some point and assigned to special operations in Iraq.

    Kevin Lucey said that he and his family stand behind his son's version of events and questioned whether it was appropriate for the Marines to investigate the incident.

    "He mentioned that he doubted there would be records because it was chaotic," Lucey said. "They're investigating themselves, and that raises a concern. The investigation should be done by an independent body."

    Lucey said that he and his family also stand behind all the U.S. soldiers who are still in Iraq and had no illusions about Jeffrey's service there.

    "We know war is atrocious and that he was going to be exposed to things he wasn't going to be exposed to on the streets of Belchertown," he said.

    Lucey said the family initially hesitated to go public for fear that Jeff's story would become political fodder.

    "All we wanted to do was speak out as parents and let other parents know the pitfalls we fell into, and the mistakes," he said. "I can understand why so few people come forward to help others."



  12. #12
    Three US soldiers die in Iraq as Rice says Sadr can't be trusted
    19-08-2004, 12:05

    A US marine was killed in the area around Najaf, the military said on Thursday. The marine was killed on Wednesday in Al-Najaf while "conducting security and stability operations," a statement said.

    Another marine died in a road accident in the western province of Al-Anbar, it added, according to AFP.

    Another US soldier was killed in the Baghdad. The US military dsclosed Thursday that the soldier was killed by small arms fire at around 6:00 pm (1400 GMT) on Wednesday.

    Meanwhile, there were mixed reactions to Wednesday's announcement by Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr that he agreed to disarm his Mehdi Army and leave one of the country's holiest Islamic shrines after warnings of an assaultby government forces.

    "Muqtada al-Sadr has accepted the initiative and we are waiting for its implementation," Hameed al-Kafaei, a government spokesman, told Al-Arabiya television.

    The US, however, reacted cautiously. "I don't think we can trust al-Sadr," said Condoleezza Rice, President George W. Bush's national security adviser. "We have seen many, many times al-Sadr assume or say he is going to accept certain terms and then it turns out not to be the case."

    "The important thing is that the Iraqi government has to run its country," Rice said on the Fox News Channel. "And they understand the threat from Sadr." (albawaba.com)



  13. #13
    August 19, 2004

    Insurgents bomb Najaf police station; offensive imminent

    By Abdul Hussein Al-Obeidi
    Associated Press

    NAJAF, Iraq — Insurgents loyal to a radical Shiite cleric bombarded a Najaf police station with mortars Thursday, killing seven policemen and wounding 31 people after a Cabinet minister issued an ultimatum to the fighters to disarm immediately or face a massive offensive by Iraqi forces.
    The cleric Muqtada al-Sadr rejected the demands, according to an official in the cleric’s office who said he received a text message to that effect. “Either martyrdom or victory,” the message said, according to the official, Haidar al-Tourfi.

    The violent clashes that have wracked the Shiite holy city of Najaf for weeks persisted Thursday, with explosions and gunfire ringing through the streets and black smoke rising over the city center.

    The threat by Minister of State Qassim Dawoud came a day after al-Sadr agreed to a peace deal to end the standoff pitting U.S. and Iraqi troops against his al-Mahdi militia forces, who are holed up in the revered Imam Ali shrine in Najaf.

    The police station hit by the mortar attack Thursday is not near the shrine but has been a frequent target of militants loyal to al-Sadr.

    At a hospital overflowing with casualties, an official said the attack killed at least seven policemen and wounded 31 others. Some of the wounded were forced to sit on the hospital floor as others lined the halls. Blood pooled on the floor and moans of pain echoed in the corridors.

    After the attack, Iraqi police raided a local hotel where foreign journalists were staying, claiming they suspected some of the reporters helped the attackers locate the police station.

    Women and children were among the hundreds of al-Sadr supporters inside the mosque complex, some of them “dancing and cheering,” a CNN journalist reported from inside the shrine where she was among journalists escorted there with help from the Iraqi government, the U.S. military and al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army.

    “They are all very proud to be in here and seem to be very adamant about staying in here,” CNN reporter Kianne Sadeq said. “They aren’t going anywhere until the fighting is over.”

    Explosions and gunfire also could be heard elsewhere in the streets of Najaf, 100 miles south of Baghdad. Three U.S. tanks and two Humvees were parked about 400 yards from the shrine, about as close as U.S. forces have come to the holy site during the fighting. Any American role in fighting at the shrine would most certainly enrage Iraq’s Shiite majority, and U.S. forces have been careful to keep their distance.

    Fighters from the Mahdi Army militia could be seen manning positions in narrow alleys of the Old City and outside the shrine compound. A clock on the compound’s outer wall, reportedly hit by shrapnel, was smoldering.

    In addition to disarmament, the Iraqi government demanded that al-Sadr sign a statement saying he will refrain from future violence and release all civilians and Iraqi security forces his militants have kidnapped. In addition, al-Sadr must hold a news conference to announce he is disbanding his Mahdi Army, Dawoud, the minister of state, added.

    “The military action has become imminent,” Dawoud told reporters. “If these conditions are not met, then the military solution will prevail.”

    The cease-fire agreement had been announced Wednesday at the National Conference in Baghdad, which sent a delegation to negotiate with al-Sadr. The cleric said in a letter to the gathering that he would accept its peace plan to put down arms, withdraw from the shrine and turn to politics in exchange for amnesty for his fighters. But he said he wanted fighting to stop first, and to negotiate how the plan would be implemented, his aides said.

    The government on Thursday demanded he comply without any conditions, and Dawoud said he had already toured Najaf’s hospitals to ensure they were properly supplied to handle the casualties expected from a final offensive.

    “We will take the military action to ... end this abnormal phenomenon so that this phenomenon would be a lesson for all the outlaws” in Iraq, Dawoud told Al-Arabiya.

    After hearing Dawoud’s threat, Sheik Abdul Hadi al-Daraji, a spokesman for al-Sadr in Baghdad, called for talks to quickly “stop the bloodbaths in the holy city of Najaf.”

    “What we want is for the parties to sit down and cooperate. To ask a side, or the Sadrist movement, to disarm, I think is not logical and not right. They should rather sit around a negotiating table and determine what’s right and wrong,” he told Al-Arabiya television.

    While some aides appealed for more negotiations, Sheik Aws al-Khafaji, the head of al-Sadr’s office in the southern city of Nasiriyah, said the ultimatum proved the government “wants only war,” according to the pan-Arab television station Al-Jazeera.

    Al-Khafaji, who did not appear to be speaking on al-Sadr’s behalf, also said that al-Sadr did not have the authority to disband his militia or to force followers to lay down arms. He called on the government to force all other factions in the country to disarm.

    Fearful of the violence, few civilians in Najaf ventured out, and most stores, some damaged from the fighting, were closed. The U.S. military says the clashes have killed hundreds of militants, though the militants deny that. Nine U.S. troops and at least 40 Iraqi police have been killed as well.

    Dawoud also demanded al-Sadr disband several Mahdi Army courts he had set up to mete out punishments, including the death penalty and amputations.

    In Washington, the Bush administration also said al-Sadr needed to match words with deeds. “We have seen many, many times al-Sadr assume or say he is going to accept certain terms and then it turns out not to be the case,” said National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice.

    The four-day national conference, a gathering of more than 1,000 prominent Iraqis, was seen as an important milestone on the country’s path to democracy.

    It ended Wednesday with the selection of 81 members of a new National Council, which will act as a watchdog over the interim government until January elections. The remaining 19 will be drawn from members of the former U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council who were left out of the interim government.

    Also, Al-Jazeera aired a video Thursday showing a militant group that called itself the Martyrs Brigade vowing to kill a missing Western journalist if U.S. forces do not leave Najaf within 48 hours. The authenticity of the tape could not be determined.

    The video showed a man resembling missing journalist Micah Garen, 36, kneeling in front of five masked militants armed with rifles and rocket-propelled grenade launchers. Garen’s father and fiancée were unavailable for comment. Witnesses told police that armed men seized Garen and his Iraqi translator on Friday in a market in the southern city of Nasiriyah.

    In other developments Thursday:

    • Two mortar rounds exploded inside Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone, home to Iraqi government offices and the U.S. Embassy, injuring two people, the U.S. military said.

    • An Army spokesman said one soldier died when attackers fired on a U.S. patrol Wednesday in the east Baghdad neighborhood of Sadr City. The area has been the scene of ongoing firefights between U.S. forces and al-Sadr’s supporters, said Maj. Philip Smith. Another soldier was killed while patrolling the same area hours earlier, Smith said.

    • Two Marines assigned to the 1st Expeditionary Force were also killed Wednesday, in “security and stability” operations in Najaf, and in a vehicle accident in Anbar province, the military said.

    As of Wednesday, 946 U.S. service members have died since the beginning of military operations in Iraq in March 2003, according to the U.S. Defense Department.

    • In the central city of Hillah, two Polish troops were killed and six injured in a car crash that followed an ambush by insurgents, said a spokesman for the Polish army chief of staff.

    • An Iraqi security officer working for the state-run Northern Oil Co. was killed and two other security officers were injured in an attack near the northern city of Kirkuk, police said.



  14. #14
    Photo Essay - Corps' newest skydivers make GPS-guided touchdown
    Submitted by: 1st Force Service Support Group
    Story Identification #: 2004816115134
    Story by Staff Sgt. Bill Lisbon

    CAMP KOREAN VILLAGE, Iraq (Aug. 9, 2004) -- Two Sherpa units, the Marine Corps' two newest skydivers, made their first combat zone landing Aug. 9, 2004, from nearly two miles high to within less than 200 meters of their target

    The Sherpa units--programmed with the drop zone's coordinates, guided by the Global Positioning System, and maneuvered by motor-tugged lines--each rode a pallet of rations to the drop zone.

    The Sherpas belong to the 1st Air Delivery Platoon, part of Combat Service Support Battalion 7, 1st Force Service Support Group, which delivers supplies to Marine units throughout the vast western portion of Iraq's Al Anbar Province.

    GPS-guided parachutes like the Sherpa eliminate numerous disadvantages of air dropping supplies to far-flung troops, said Army Capt. Art Pack, 37, combat developer with the Army's Combined Arms Support Command in Fort Lee, Va.

    The Sherpa uses a rectangular, 900-square-foot parachute, which can be steered, vice a classic round chute. It also incorporates a small drogue parachute to help stabilize the cargo pallet, keeping it facing upward so the main chute opens properly after freefalling.

    For more about this story, visit the link below:


    Marine parachute riggers from the 1st Air Delivery Platoon, Cpl. Amanda J. Ruhsam, left, and Sgt. Brian W. Trafton, repack the canopy of a Sherpa precision cargo parachute system at Camp Al Asad, Iraq, on Aug. 10, 2004, in order to prepare it for its next mission. Two Sherpa systems made their debut combat-zone flights and precision landings near Camp Korean Village Aug. 9. The Sherpa is a commercially produced system guided by the Global Positioning System that can steer itself from nearly five miles high to within 200 meters of a targeted drop point. The platoon, which is part of Combat Service Support Battalion 7, received the Sherpas from Multinational Corps - Iraq, in Baghdad. The platoon rigs loads of supplies for troops in far-flung locations. CSSB-7, part of the Corps' 1st Force Service Support Group, provides logistical support to I Marine Expeditionary Force troops throughout the western part of Iraq's Al Anbar Province. Ruhsam is a 20-year-old native of Palm Desert, Calif., and Trafton, 23, is from Albuquerque, N.M. Photo by: Staff Sgt. Bill Lisbon

    Marines from the 1st Air Delivery Platoon watch bundles of rations float to the desert floor outside Camp Korean Village, Iraq, during an aerial resupply mission on Aug. 9, 2004. Using standard military parachutes, cargo planes must fly at lower altitudes to ensure accurate drops, but are more susceptible to enemy fire. With the Sherpa, a commercially produced parachute system guided by the Global Positioning System that can steer itself from nearly five miles high to within 200 meters of a targeted drop point, military aircraft can drop supplies from safer altitudes. Two Sherpa systems made their debut flights and precision landings in a combat zone Aug. 9 following the low-altitude drop. The platoon, which is part of Combat Service Support Battalion 7, received the Sherpas from Multinational Corps - Iraq, in Baghdad. CSSB-7, part of the Corps' 1st Force Service Support Group, provides logistical support to I Marine Expeditionary Force troops throughout the western part of Iraq's Al Anbar Province. Photo by: Staff Sgt. Bill Lisbon

    Cpl. Amanda J. Ruhsam, a parachute rigger from the 1st Air Delivery Platoon, spreads out the canopy of a Sherpa precision cargo parachute system at Camp Al Asad, Iraq, on Aug. 10, 2004, in order to repack it for its next mission. Two Sherpa systems made their debut combat-zone flights and precision landings near Camp Korean Village Aug. 9. The Sherpa is a commercially produced system guided by the Global Positioning System that can steer itself from nearly five miles high to within 200 meters of a targeted drop point. The platoon, which is part of Combat Service Support Battalion 7, received the Sherpas from Multinational Corps - Iraq, in Baghdad. The platoon rigs loads of supplies for troops in far-flung locations. CSSB-7, part of the Corps' 1st Force Service Support Group, provides logistical support to I Marine Expeditionary Force troops throughout the western part of Iraq's Al Anbar Province. Ruhsam is a 20-year-old native of Palm Desert, Calif. Photo by: Staff Sgt. Bill Lisbon



  15. #15
    Gov't Gives Najaf Militants 'Final Call'

    By ABDUL HUSSEIN AL-OBEIDI, Associated Press Writer

    NAJAF, Iraq - Prime Minister Ayad Allawi issued a "final call" Thursday to Shiite insurgents to disarm and withdraw from a revered shrine after his government threatened a massive onslaught by Iraqi forces. As the peace deal for Najaf unraveled, militants bombarded a police station with mortar rounds, killing seven police and injuring 31 others.

    Allawi's last-ditch warning came shortly after the militants' leader, radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, rejected the government's ultimatum with a vow to seek "martyrdom or victory."

    Explosions and gunbattles persisted Thursday through the streets of the holy city of Najaf, wracked by violence since the Shiite militant uprising began two weeks ago. Witnesses said a U.S. warplane fired missiles at a hotel in a neighborhood where Mahdi Army militants were known to take up fighting positions.

    Just a day earlier, al-Sadr — in a letter to a national conference in Baghdad — had accepted a peace plan to disarm his fighters, withdraw from the Imam Ali Shrine and turn to politics in exchange for amnesty. But the cleric also insisted he be allowed to negotiate the terms of the plan's implementation, a demand the government dismissed.

    Reiterating the refusal to negotiate with the armed militants, Allawi called on al-Sadr to accept the government demands to end the Najaf fighting personally — not through aides or letters as he has been communicating so far.

    "When we hear from him and that he is committed to execute these conditions we will ... give him and his group protection," the prime minister said in a Baghdad news conference.

    Allawi's demand that al-Sadr personally accept the peace deal appeared to be a step back from Minister of State Qassim Dawoud's earlier ultimatum, demanding that al-Sadr's militia immediately evacuate the shrine and drop its weapons to stave off a government offensive.

    While government ministers had threatened a possible offensive in Najaf in the coming hours, Allawi set no deadline, saying only "we need to have a solution soon."

    Any threatened raid on the Imam Ali Shrine — where the militants are holed up as they battle U.S. and Iraqi forces — could inflame the country's majority Shiite population against the government, especially if the holy site was damaged. Other Muslim countries, including Shiite Iran, have appealed to the Iraqi government to seek a peaceful solution to the crisis.

    The Arab League chief on Thursday called for an immediate end to military operations in Najaf and said Iraqi civilians must be spared. Secretary-General Amr Moussa received news of artillery "shelling and renewed clashes with great uneasiness," Arab League spokesman Hossam Zaki said in a statement faxed to The Associated Press.

    An al-Sadr representative in Baghdad, Abdel-Hadi al-Darraji, warned that fighting in Najaf could "ignite a revolution all over Iraq (news - web sites)."

    "We welcome any initiative to stop the bloodbath in Najaf," he told Al-Arabiya television. "Otherwise the battle will move to Baghdad, Amarah, Basra and anywhere in Iraq."

    Government accusations that the militants had mined the shrine compound and reports that women and children were among those inside could further complicate a raid.

    U.S. troop action against the shrine also would increase outrage in the Shiite world, but Iraqi officials have said a crack squad of Iraqi troops would lead an assault on the poorly trained militants, and U.S. forces would not go inside the compound.

    The crisis in Najaf poses the greatest challenge yet to the authority Allawi's fledgling government, which is seeking to gain support from skeptical Iraqis and bring stability to the violence-plagued country.

    The Najaf violence has spread to other Shiite communities, including Baghdad's Sadr City slum, where U.S. forces and al-Sadr loyalists have been fighting for weeks. Eight people have been killed and 40 injured in the fighting since Wednesday, said Yasser Abed Ali, a hospital official. A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Wednesday that 50 militants were killed in recent fighting.

    Several loud explosions rattled central Baghdad on Thursday afternoon, sending at least one plume of black smoke into the sky. The cause of the blasts was not immediately clear.

    As part of the government's ultimatum to disarm or risk attack, al-Sadr must also sign a statement saying he will refrain from future violence and release all civilians and Iraqi security forces his militants have kidnapped. In addition, al-Sadr must hold a news conference to announce he is disbanding the Mahdi Army.

    "The military action has become imminent," the minister of state, Dawoud, told reporters. "If these conditions are not met, then the military solution will prevail."

    Al-Sadr quickly rejected the demands, according to Haidar al-Tourfi, an official at al-Sadr office's office in Najaf. "Either martyrdom or victory," was the cleric's response, sent in a text message presumably from his hideout inside the holy city, al-Tourfi said.

    Government ministers have said they hoped a devastating offensive against the Mahdi Army would send a message to other insurgents waging a 16-month-old uprising against the government across Iraq.

    "We will take the military action to ... end this abnormal phenomenon so that this phenomenon would be a lesson for all the outlaws" in Iraq, Dawoud told Al-Arabiya.

    Three U.S. tanks and two Humvees were parked about 400 yards from the Imam Ali shrine, about as close as U.S. forces have come to the holy site during the fighting.

    The military said an American base in Najaf came under mortar attack early Thursday, but no casualties were reported.

    U.S. Marines also conducted raids in three parts of Kufa, just east of Najaf. The military said "close air support" was called in, but gave no details.

    Mahdi Army militants could be seen manning positions in narrow alleys of the Old City and outside the shrine compound. A clock on the compound's outer wall, reportedly hit by shrapnel, was smoldering and huge plumes of black smoke billowed above the skyline.

    Fearful of the violence, few civilians ventured out and most stores, some damaged during the fighting, were closed.

    After the mortar attack on the police station, a Najaf hospital was overflowing with the causalities, which a hospital official put at least seven dead and 31 wounded. Some of the wounded were forced to sit on the hospital floor as others lined the halls. Blood pooled on the floor and moans of pain echoed in the corridors

    The U.S. military says the Najaf clashes have killed hundreds of militants, though the militants deny that. Nine U.S. troops and at least 47 Iraqi police have been killed as well.

    In Washington, the Bush administration said al-Sadr needed to match words with deeds. "We have seen many, many times al-Sadr assume or say he is going to accept certain terms and then it turns out not to be the case," said National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice (news - web sites).

    Meanwhile, the Arab television station Al-Jazeera aired a video Thursday showing a militant group calling itself the Martyrs Brigade vowing to kill a missing Western journalist if U.S. forces don't leave Najaf within 48 hours. The authenticity of the tape could not be determined.

    The video showed a man resembling missing 36-year-old journalist Micah Garen kneeling in front of five masked militants armed with rifles and rocket-propelled grenade launchers. Garen's father and his fiancee were unavailable for comment.



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