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02-07-05, 05:59 AM #1
Lejeune Marines return home from deployment in Iraq
Lejeune Marines return home from deployment in Iraq
Submitted by: 2nd Marine Division
Story Identification #: 200523155542
Story by Cpl. Adam C. Schnell
MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. (Jan. 30, 2005) -- After seven months battling insurgents in Iraq, approximately 850 Marines with 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment returned to a cheering crowd of family and friends here Jan. 28-30.
The Marines arrived at the elaborately decorated Area One Gymnasium in three waves, beginning Friday night. Music and refreshments were provided by the battalion’s Key Volunteer network for the weary travelers.
“The Key Wives and (family readiness officer) did a great job setting up the homecoming,” said Maj. Mark E. Winn, the battalion’s executive officer. “It goes to show why 1/8’s Key Volunteer program is one of the best in the MEF (Marine Expeditionary Force).”
The newly arrived Marines looked tired after their long journey from the war zones of Iraq. But as they were surrounded by their loved ones, their eyes lit up with happiness at the simple pleasure of seeing their families for the first time in seven months.
“It’s hard for me to explain how I feel right now,” said Lance Cpl. Kendrick Smith, 20, a supply clerk and Ahoskie, N.C. native. “I guess I feel a lot like a little kid at Christmas.”
But with happiness comes a little sadness for their fellow Marines who gave their lives in battles supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom.
“Even though all the Marines are excited to be home, we’re all sad for the loss of our brothers out there,” Winn said.
Twenty-one brothers lost their lives and approximately 135 were wounded during the many difficult missions they endured in the seven months they spent in the Al Anbar Province of Iraq. These missions included attacks on insurgent strongholds in the cities of Hit, Rawah and Fallujah.
“The Marines had to participate in three or four different scenes,” Winn commented. “They did an outstanding job.”
The battles in Fallujah were the biggest engagement the battalion faced in the deployment. These battles helped to clear the city of insurgents and allowed the capture of large amounts of weapons and ammunition.
“I was in the first Gulf War and that was nothing compared to the battles in Fallujah,” commented Winn.
The attacks the Marines participated in against the insurgents were not the only operations within the city. They also supported the city with humanitarian assistance helping the citizens in the city during the bloody battles.
“We distributed food, water and blankets to the people who were stranded in the city,” Winn added.
These humanitarian operations were also conducted in other cities within their area of operation. They helped distribute school supplies, build multimedia-learning centers and worked to improve agricultural irrigation with projects in the area.
Working to not only fight for the freedom of Iraqi people but to also improve their way of life can be an exhausting task. So the battalion will soon take time off to spend time with loved ones and come back rested and rejuvenated for upcoming training operations to continue the fight in the Global War on Terrorism.
02-07-05, 06:00 AM #2
Rumsfeld: No Iraq Timetable
February 7, 2005
WASHINGTON - Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Sunday he does not know when the United States will have trained enough Iraqis so they can adequately secure the country and begin replacing American troops now helping provide protection.
"It's interesting to me that some people think they know that because it's not knowable," Rumsfeld said.
Discussing the two resignation letters he wrote President Bush at the height of the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal last year, Rumsfeld said he believed he still could be an effective Pentagon chief but wanted the president to make that call.
"I told him I really thought he ought to carefully consider it. But he made a conscious decision, and life goes on, and here we are," Rumsfeld told ABC's "This Week."
With speculation heating up about a possible U.S. attack against Iran to derail its nuclear capability, Rumsfeld was asked if there were U.S. military operations going on in the country now. "Not to my knowledge," he replied.
The training of Iraqi security forces is one of the factors influencing the continued presence of American troops, which grew by 15,000 to 150,000 ahead of the Jan. 30 elections in Iraq.
Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has told Congress that only about one-third of Iraq's 136,000 trained security forces are capable of engaging combat with insurgents across the country.
Rumsfeld said Sunday that are too many unknown factors to be able to say when Iraqis will be able to handle internal security.
Citing two of Iraq's neighbors, Iran and Syria, Rumsfeld said, "We don't know the extent to which they're going to be unhelpful or helpful" to enabling Iraq to overcome the insurgency.
Also uncertain, Rumsfeld said, is the extent to which "the political process is going to tip people away from supporting insurgency or being on the fence to supporting the government."
Further necessary to undermining the insurgency is cutting off its financial support, which comes from Saddam Hussein's loyalists and others, the secretary said.
"What you need to do is have the economic progress, the political progress which is going forward in such good style. And that will determine the level of the insurgency," Rumsfeld said. "And the level of the insurgency will determine the speed at which Iraqi security forces will be capable of managing that level of insurgency."
He acknowledged there were are lot of "ifs," but added, "That's life."
On the abuse scandal at the prison near Baghdad, Rumsfeld said that as the Defense Department's leader, he took responsibility.
"My goodness, it happened on my watch," he said. But, he added, "On the other hand, if secretaries of defense resigned every time someone did something they shouldn't do, out of the millions of people involved in the defense establishment - or a mayor or a governor, something happened in their country, you wouldn't have anyone in public office.
"So it's a tough calculation," he said, explaining the offer to resign.
The release of photographs depicting American soldiers abusing Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib generated worldwide outrage, particularly in the Arab world. Rumsfeld told lawmakers at the time that he would quit if he felt he could no longer serve effectively, but he also said then that he would not resign simply to please his critics and political opponents.
Rumsfeld said he had no idea whether a limited military strike could lead to the overthrow of Iran's religious leadership. He hoped for change from inside the country.
"I was amazed at how rapidly the shah of Iran fell and the ayatollahs took over that country. It happened just seemingly like that, looking at it from outside. ... So we can't predict these things. We don't have intelligence that good. I just don't know," Rumsfeld said.
During her current trip to Europe and the Middle East, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice would not say whether the United States supports a change of government in Iran, although U.S. officials have previously said there is no such goal.
She has used strong language in condemning the religious leadership in Iran for alleged human rights abuses and deceit about its nuclear program. But she said she hopes "diplomacy can work" and that an attack "is simply not on the agenda at this point."
02-07-05, 06:00 AM #3
Rumsfeld: Troop Recruiting To Increase
February 7, 2005
WASHINGTON - Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Sunday there is no question the U.S. military is being stretched due to fighting a long, hard war in Iraq, but insisted that a heavy emphasis on recruiting and retention should eventually ease the problem.
"It's clearly stressed, but they're performing brilliantly, they're doing a fabulous job," he said on CNN's "Late Edition" - one of several talk shows he appeared on Sunday.
Concerns over stretching the Army National Guard, Army Reserve and Marine Corps Reserve are being addressed with full force, Rumsfeld said, adding that the military is adjusting the incentives and the number of recruiters.
The issue is that the regular Army isn't organized for the 21st century as well as it should be, he said on CBS' "Face the Nation." The problem is being dealt with swiftly, he said, by increasing the size of the Army, increasing the number of combat brigades from 33 to 43 and rebalancing the active force with the reserve components so that the military has the skill sets it needs on active duty.
Of the 150,000 U.S. troops in Iraq now, between 40 and 50 percent are from the Guard and Reserve. The figure is set to drop to 30 percent for the next rotation, beginning this summer, because combat-ready Guard units have been tapped out.
Rumsfeld said over and over again on the various talk shows, he didn't know when troops would start coming home.
"The president and I, and anyone would dearly love to be smart enough and wise enough to know precisely when our troops could leave," he said on NBC's "Meet the Press." "It would be such a relief for people to know that. It's not knowable."
When U.S. troops can pull out of Iraq is dependent upon the conditions on the ground and whether the Iraqis are capable of managing the security situation. "We're working very hard to see that they can," he said.
When asked why the United States doesn't give Iraqis benchmarks for when it will withdraw, Rumsfeld replied: "Because our country's invested a lot of lives, a lot of heartbreak. The courage of our troops and the sacrifice of those that have fallen and were wounded is important.
"And the idea that you should just arbitrarily say, this is going to happen on that date - think of it. The last administration did that in Bosnia. They said we'd be out by Christmas. Six, eight, 10 years later, not out.
"It is misleading people to think that you know something you don't know. And we know we don't know."
02-07-05, 06:01 AM #4
Attacks Kill 3 U.S. Troops, 33 Iraqis
February 7, 2005
BAGHDAD, Iraq - Facing the prospect of a Shiite Muslim landslide, Sunni politicians offered on Saturday to participate in mapping the nation's political future. But Sunni rebels showed no sign of compromise, killing three U.S. troops and at least 33 Iraqis in a string of attacks.
Officials of the Shiite-led coalition that has rolled up a big lead in last weekend's elections said it wants the prime minister post in the upcoming government - casting doubt on chances that U.S.-backed Prime Minister Ayad Allawi can keep his job.
Meanwhile, police questioned the driver and translator of Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena, who was seized by gunmen Friday near Baghdad University - the first reported kidnapping of a foreigner since the Jan. 30 vote. But police said the two were not suspects in her abduction.
Allawi, whose ticket is running a distant second in election returns so far, had been seen as a possible compromise candidate if the Shiites and their allies don't win the two-thirds of the 275 National Assembly seats needed to pick the government.
But the United Iraqi Alliance - a Shiite-led group whose leaders have ties to Iran - appeared confident it would have to be given the top spot.
"The Alliance would like to get either the position of the president or the prime minister and it prefers that it be that of the prime minister," Redha Taqi, a top official in one of the coalition factions, told The Associated Press.
The presidency is a largely ceremonial post, currently held by a Sunni Arab, Ghazi al-Yawer. Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani has announced his candidacy for president, and the Kurds are likely to end up as one of the top three blocs in the assembly. Shiites and Kurds suffered under Saddam Hussein's regime and are expected to work together in the assembly.
The Iraqi election commission released no new election returns Saturday, but predicted it would announce final vote totals by Thursday. The National Assembly must elect a president and two vice presidents by a two-thirds majority. The three in turn select a prime minister subject to assembly approval.
Partial returns from about 35 percent of the 5,200 polling centers showed the Alliance, which was endorsed by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, with about two-thirds of the votes to 18 percent for Allawi, a secular Shiite. Shiites are believed to make up two-thirds of Iraq's 26 million people.
Most of those returns were from Shiite provinces where the Alliance, whose leaders have links to Iran, had been expected to run strong. No returns have been announced from much of Baghdad and from heavily Sunni Arab or Kurdish provinces.
But many Sunnis apparently stayed at home on election day, heeding boycott calls by hard-line clerics or fearing insurgent attacks. That has raised fears that the Sunni Arab minority, estimated at 20 percent of the population, may not accept a new Shiite-dominated government, fueling the Sunni-led insurgency.
In a bid to avoid marginalization, a group of Sunni Arab parties that refused to participate in the election said Saturday they want to take part in the drafting of a permanent constitution - a chief task of the new National Assembly.
"The representatives of these political bodies that did not participate in the elections have decided in principle to take part in the writing of the permanent constitution in a suitable way," a statement from the group said.
The groups were mainly small movements and it was not clear whether they represent a major portion of the Sunni Arab community. The initiative was spearheaded by Sunni elder statesman Adnan Pachachi, who ran for a National Assembly seat.
Pachachi told CNN he had talked with Shiite and Kurdish leaders about a role for the Sunnis in drafting a new constitution "and they all welcomed this idea."
"So I think this will help to perhaps lessen the tensions and help in satisfying the country to some extent," Pachachi said.
Nevertheless, armed Sunni groups - including nationalists, Saddam supporters and Islamic zealots - showed little sign they were ready to join in any national reconciliation.
Strong detonations rumbled through Baghdad at sunset, and police said insurgents had fired mortar shells near Baghdad's international airport.
A U.S. Marine was killed Saturday during "security and stability operations" in Bail province south of Baghdad, the U.S. command said. Two American soldiers were killed in a roadside bombing Friday night near the town of Beiji, about 155 miles north of Baghdad, the U.S. military said Saturday.
A roadside bomb killed four Iraqi national guardsmen early Saturday in Basra, Iraq's second-largest city. Gunmen stormed a police station in the northern city of Mosul, killing five officers, police said.
The brother of Mosul's police chief was kidnapped Saturday, police said, three days after the official, Gen. Mohammed Ahmed al-Jubouri, threatened to destroy rebel sanctuaries if insurgents did not surrender their weapons within two weeks. Al-Jubouri said late Saturday that his brother was freed in a raid that netted nine of the kidnappers.
Elsewhere, insurgents assassinated a member of the Baghdad city council, Abbas Hasan Waheed, and a member of Iraq's intelligence service in two separate drive-by shootings.
Bombs and clashes killed seven Iraqis in Samarra and Tal Afar, north of Baghdad, and in Ramadi, to the west.
Eight bodies were found Saturday in Anbar province - five in Ramadi and three in the town of Baghdadi - and residents said they were believed to be Iraqis who worked for the Americans or Iraqi security services.
The extremist Ansar al-Sunnah Army posted a video on an Islamist Web site Saturday showing seven people being shot. The group said the seven were Iraqi National Guardsmen captured two days ago in an ambush west of Baghdad.
Police interrogated the driver and translator of the Italian journalist, Sgrena, 56, who was kidnapped Friday near Baghdad University compound. Officials said the two have not been charged.
A Web site posting in the name of the Islamic Jihad Organization claimed responsibility for the kidnapping, but Italian officials said they were not convinced the statement was genuine.
02-07-05, 06:01 AM #5
Iraq Suicide Bombings Kill 25 People
February 7, 2005
MOSUL, Iraq - A suicide bomber blew himself up inside a hospital compound in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul on Monday, killing 12 policemen and injuring four others, hospital officials said.
Also Monday, a car bomb exploded outside the gates of a provincial police headquarters in the city of Baqouba, killing 13 people and wounding 18, police Col. Mudhahar al-Jubouri said. Many of the victims were there to seek jobs as policemen, al-Jubouri said.
In the attack at Mosul's Jumhouri Teaching Hospital, a suicide bomber set off explosives outside the hospital building among a group of Iraqi policemen, hospital Director Tahseen Ali Mahmoud al-Obeidi said. Witnesses said the bomber called the police officers over to him and then blew up among the crowd.
"I heard an explosion. When I went to check, I saw bodies everywhere," al-Obeidi said.
Also Monday, insurgents shelled a police station in Mosul with more than a dozen mortar rounds, killing three civilians, a police official said.
The city of Mosul, Iraq's third largest, has seen daily insurgent attacks and rebel clashes with U.S. troops and Iraqi security forces. Violence has surged since a guerrilla uprising in November drove out nearly all of the city's police force.
02-07-05, 06:01 AM #6
Reporters Not Told What To Write
February 7, 2005
WASHINGTON - Journalists were not told what to write when they were assigned articles about Europe for Pentagon-run Web sites, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Sunday. The practice is now under review by the military's chief investigator.
"I'm told that in this case, people were just asked to prepare anything," Rumsfeld said on CNN's "Late Edition."
"They weren't told what to write, it had nothing to do with an agenda. They were asked to take a subject, and if they wanted to, write something on it, which people do all the time," Rumsfeld said.
Inspector General Joseph Schmitz is reviewing the military's practice of paying journalists to provide articles and commentary for a Web site aimed at influencing public opinion in the Balkans, Larry Di Rita, Rumsfeld's chief spokesman, said Friday.
The investigation followed a CNN report on the Pentagon's role in two Web sites: Southeast European Times, aimed at audiences in the Balkans; and Magharebia, aimed at the Maghreb region of North Africa that encompasses Algeria, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia.
Columnists have come under criticism for writing articles and providing other material to promote Bush administration policies. After the agreements between the columnists and federal departments became known, President Bush said the administration must not pay commentators "to advance our agenda."
In a light moment on ABC's "This Week," moderator George Stephanopoulos told Rumsfeld he was among journalists invited to meet with Bush the day of the State of the Union address.
"You didn't get paid, did you?" Rumsfeld asked, smiling.
"Not for that, no, sir," Stephanopoulos said.
"I just wanted to check," Rumsfeld said and laughed. "I wanted to make sure everything's all right here."
02-07-05, 07:33 AM #7
YMCA throws party for Marines on way to war
By Rick Rogers
February 7, 2005
CAMP PENDLETON – Matt Ingwerson, Niko Thomas and Kolden Daffer know they're probably headed for Iraq, but yesterday they and more than 2,000 fellow Marines from the School of Infantry forgot the war for a few precious hours and were merely very young men watching the Super Bowl.
Over hamburgers and hot dogs, the Marines cheered the Philadelphia Eagles and New England Patriots – and the commercials – in two huge classrooms normally used to teach them how to survive on the battlefield.
"All these Marines here are either going to Iraq, or they are going to go," said Major. Gen. Tim Donovan, Camp Pendleton's commander.
This is the third, and biggest, Super Bowl party thrown for the School of Infantry, said George Brown, executive director of the Armed Services YMCA at Camp Pendleton, which sponsored the event.
About 2,100 Marines shuffled through serving lines, downing 100 pounds of chips, 1,800 hamburgers, 2,100 hot dogs and 2,500 sodas.
Besides of gastronomic delights, Sgt. Verice Bennett, 27, an instructor at the infantry school, said the Super Bowl party serves another purpose.
"Within six months, 80 percent of these guys will be over there," Bennett said. "Here they are allowed to talk on their cell phones and smoke or dip (tobacco) or just relax. They get a break from us. I think this is really important for morale."
"It will be back to work for them tomorrow. It's good to see them relax now," said Sgt. Jason Sperry, 25, from Ankeny, Iowa.
Pfc. Daffer, 19, from Las Vegas, relaxed on the floor eating a hamburger.
"I think that everyone enjoys this," said Daffer, between mouthfuls. "I think they just enjoy the commercials the most."
Commercials proved so popular that one Marine jokingly complained he was missing them while standing in the food line.
Yet not everyone was interested in the game or the commercials.
For Pvt. Ingwerson, 20, from Nampa, Idaho, who arrived here Tuesday from Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, it was the fellowship he most appreciated.
"You come here and you miss home a little, but you get to watch the Super Bowl with your Marine Corps buddies," said Ingwerson.
Camaraderie was also something Pfc. Thomas, 19, mentioned.
"I think this is great to get a bunch of Marines together," Thomas said. "This is a lot better than I thought. We are all just having a grand old time."
Pfc. William Porter, 19, a reserve Marine from Wylie, Texas, summed up the Super Bowl party this way.
"The best part is the funny commercials and the camaraderie. It's like we are one big family. All these people are my brothers, and nothing is better than watching the Super Bowl with your family."
Rick Rogers: (760) 476-8212; email@example.com
02-07-05, 08:30 AM #8
MarForRes aviation community tackles mishaps
Submitted by: Marine Forces Reserve
Story Identification #: 200521111626
Story by Cpl. Matthew J. Apprendi
NAVAL AIR STATION, Joint Reserve Base, Fort Worth, Texas (Jan. 29, 2005) -- More than 150 members of the Marine Forces Reserve aviation community gathered here to take part in a program dubbed the 'Global War on Error' Jan. 29.
The program is designed to bring awareness and education to Marine aviators concerning the number one factor in aviation mishaps – individual error. The bulk of the participants were members of 4th Marine Aircraft Wing, Marine Aircraft Group 41.
“Perfectly good aviators go out with good planes and never come back,” said Dr. Tony Kern, the lead instructor for the course and a senior partner with Convergent Knowledge Solutions, LLC, a company designed to improve human performance in high-risk endeavors. “What we’re trying to unravel is why some and not others make it back."
Historically, U.S. forces have lost the bulk of their battle assets to mishap, vice enemy action, according to the Naval Safety Center website at http://www.safetycenter.navy.mil/mishapreduction.
In World War II alone, 56 percent of battle assets were lost due to mishaps between 1942 and 1945. Likewise, Desert Storm continued the pattern in the early nineties with a 75 percent mishap rate.
Currently, the Navy and Marine Corps are engaged in a campaign to decrease mishaps throughout their forces. The Secretary of Defense challenged the Department of Defense to reduce mishaps by 50 percent by the end of the 2005 fiscal year.
4th MAW is considered the pathfinder for this education, according to Col. Mark A. Schulte, the 4th MAW Director of Safety and Standardization. 1st, 2nd and 3rd MAWs will follow suit because of 4th MAWs initiatives.
“Each one of the (Reserve) MAGs has seen the video,” Schulte said to the class. “You guys are lucky to get the live Tony Kern.”
Marine aviators are taking on the challenge set forth by the Secretary of Defense by adopting a personal error prevention program, which was derived from a five-year study completed by Kern. Kern’s study of historical attributes of successful aviators culminated into the books “Redefining Airmanship and “Flight Discipline.”
The first segment is entitled “Flight Discipline: Waging and winning the battle within.”
“It was great and very insightful,” said Maj. Byron Duke, the assistant operations officer for MAG-41 from Granbury, Texas. “I’ll also be able to apply applications learned today to my civilian expertise.”
Duke, a commercial airline pilot in his civilian life, added it would have been very beneficial for pilots to take this type of training years ago – many lives could have been saved.
The Jan. 29 seminar is just the beginning for Marine Corps aviators. The proposed program, which encompasses computer-based programs and professionally facilitated workshops, will be given to aviators in six different segments for the next two years. After the segments are completed, pilots will have reinforcing training throughout their aviation careers.
02-07-05, 08:44 AM #9yellowwingGuest Free Member
Gone from Top Gun to Top Dumb? Well at least our fine Aviators didn't accidently straff a New Jersey school house!
02-07-05, 09:19 AM #10
Posted on Mon, Feb. 07, 2005
Son's death didn't sway his father's patriotism
Marine died in '83 Beirut bombing
BY RICHARD HYATT
To his father, Cpl. Mark Prevatt is forever 20, a United States Marine proud of his uniform and proud of his service. He'd be 42 now -- probably a husband and maybe a father -- making kitchen cabinets in the shop his grandfather opened in 1950.
A Sunday morning in Beirut swept away Prevatt's future and the future of 240 other Marines who were sleeping in their barracks on Oct. 23, 1983. The scene is all too familiar in today's world. A truck loaded with explosives brazenly drove into the U.S. compound. The young Americans never woke up.
Sixteen days later, on the tarmac at the Columbus Municipal Airport, Victor Prevatt welcomed home his son. He arrived on a Delta flight in a cardboard carrier. On the side of the box, in large green letters, was a warning: "Handle with extreme care."
Grief squeezed Prevatt like a fist and wouldn't let go. It was he, after all, who signed the enlistment papers for his son, then a student at Shaw High School. He wondered if the torment of losing his son would ever go away.
"It was one year to the day before my mind began to ease. I was OK if I was busy. Otherwise, I couldn't stop thinking of Mark," he says. "This is the only time in life that time is your friend."
Victor Prevatt is 22 years older. His curly hair has gone gray. He still turns out cabinets, though the materials he uses now come from China and Russia. The year his son died is almost a daydream.
Other fathers and mothers grieved with the Prevatts. Bill and Peggy Stelpflug of Auburn, Ala., lost their son, Lance Cpl. Bill Stelpflug, that morning, too.
In a world that is forever changing, one thing is the same: young Americans still are being killed on foreign soil. Prevatt has reached out to some parents that lost a child to an accident or a disease. He hasn't done so in a military situation, but that doesn't keep him from cringing when he hears a news report about a young soldier dying in Iraq.
His message to those grieving fathers and mothers is that their son or daughter died for a very honorable cause.
"I still feel patriotic toward America," Prevatt says. "It was born with the shedding of blood, and it will be sustained by blood."
His son was buried on a hillside in the woods of Talbot County on land where he used to hunt. A Baptist preacher said the young man "stood for America's finest who go and defend our peace on far-flung fronts."
The ritual was both spiritual and military. Taps was played by a bugler. Seven M-1 rifles fired a salute. Reverent Marines, their cadence slow and deliberate, folded the American flag that covered the corporal's coffin and gave it to his mother, Sandra Fay Prevatt. A deer, curious about what was going on, joined the mourners.
A few days after the government notified them of their son's death, the Prevatts got a letter from Mark that was written the day before he died. He talked about being 30 days shy of coming home and he talked about his confusion.
"He didn't know why he was there and the people in Lebanon didn't know why he was there. But he was proud," Prevatt noted in an interview a year after his son's death.
Some of the young people facing death today may also be confused, but Prevatt says the soldiers and the families ought to cling to the pride his son described. "I was proud of Mark being a United States Marine, and he was proud to be one. That was a wonderful thing, though him dying was a terrible thing."
Just about every day, Victor Prevatt walks the peaceful land near Juniper where his son is buried. Railroad tracks wind through the area, tracks that go to and from Fort Benning. Prevatt knows when the Army is deploying. He sees flatbeds loaded with heavy equipment rolling past him on its way to the Georgia coast.
Time has also rolled along. His daughter, Vicki, was 8 years old when she held her father's hand and walked toward the jet that brought her big brother home. She also was there in the rain when he was buried in a grave family and friends had dug.
She recently turned 30. She's married. Her husband is in Afghanistan. He's a Marine.
02-07-05, 09:55 AM #11
2/2 Marines earn combat awards for Iraq duty
By C. Mark Brinkley
Times staff writer
CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. — The son of a Marine lieutenant general was among three leathernecks with 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marines, who received Bronze Stars on Jan. 26 for combat valor in the area of Fallujah, Iraq, during fighting there last spring.
In fact, Capt. James B. Conway was honored for actions that came as his father, Lt. Gen. James T. Conway, was at the helm of I Marine Expeditionary Force in Iraq. And they weren’t the only Conways in the fight.
“My brother was there, too,” the younger Conway said after the ceremony. “More than anything, you’re worried. With all three of us over there at once — well, my mother is the one you should be talking to.”
Marines from his battalion said the younger Conway is no fortunate son riding the coattails of his three-star father, who now serves as operations director for the Joint Staff in Washington. Instead, they describe him as a courageous and dedicated leader of Golf Company.
His award citation echoes the same, commending Conway for “spirited and sustained leadership, personal example of courage, committed professionalism and extraordinary ability to outmaneuver the enemy.” His actions made it possible for Golf Company to achieve superior results and severely disrupt the enemy, according to the citation.
Conway agreed that the Marines performed remarkably, but says it wasn’t because of him.
“This award is all about the Marines,” he said. “I was just lucky to be their commander.”
But Golf Company wasn’t the only success story. The leathernecks of Fox Company were recognized as well, through awards for two of their own leaders.
Staff Sgt. Thomas L. Reynolds, 28, platoon sergeant for 3rd Platoon, and 2nd Lt. Anthony C. Triviso, platoon commander for Weapons Platoon, were awarded the Bronze Star with combat “V” for their heroic actions in the Fallujah area. Both took control in key moments of hostile engagements, coordinating attacks and counterattacks while repeatedly exposing themselves to hostile fire.
In one instance, with most of the company leadership pinned down by enemy fire during a reconnaissance mission near Fallujah and unable to return fire, Reynolds worked with the only officer present to take control of more than two platoons of Marines and direct attacks to defend themselves and suppress enemy fire against the recon group. His actions “ultimately secured the assembly area and enabled the safe return of the company leadership,” according to his citation.
Triviso also stood out during multiple engagements, often exposing himself to enemy fire while coordinating his platoon’s attacks. During one engagement, a wounded Triviso disregarded his own safety and directed a Humvee into a firing position to bring the vehicle’s grenade launcher to bear against enemy troops and force them to cease fire, according to his citation.
A fourth Marine, logistics officer Capt David A. Nasse, 28, was awarded a Bronze Star for outstanding logistical support of operations in and around Fallujah. His distinguishing service “allowed the Task Force to focus on combat operations against the enemy and significantly disrupt the activity of a complex and lethal insurgency,” according to his citation.
“We had an outstanding [Headquarters and Service] Company that [is] unsung,” Nasse said after the ceremony. He credited the efforts of his Marines, saying “They did amazing things over there. I got the glory this particular day, but they do all the hard work.”
Along with the Bronze Star presentations, two junior Marines with Easy Company were awarded Purple Hearts for wounds sustained while fighting in Iraq.
Lance Cpl. Richard W. Cortes, 25, of Kiowa, Colo., suffered burns and shrapnel wounds after his Humvee was struck by an improvised explosive.
Lance Cpl. David L. Brenneman, 20, of Montpelier, Ohio, had shrapnel pierce his helmet and skull during a separate attack.
Brenneman, who lifted his cover to reveal a large scar on the side of his head, said the day was a time to honor a friend who died in the attack, Cpl. Christopher Belchik.
“If I could, I’d change places with my squad leader in a second,” Brenneman said.
C. Mark Brinkley is the Jacksonville, N.C., bureau chief for Marine Corps Times. He can be reached at (910) 455-8354 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
02-07-05, 10:56 AM #12
Returning Marines Celebrate Christmas Late
Christmas Celebrations Put on Hold to Begin for Marines Returning Home to Their Families
By SETH HETTENA Associated Press Writer
The Associated Press
CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. Feb 7, 2005 — Even if it is February, it's Christmas time in the home of Marine Lance Cpl. Victor Oseto.
The 21-year-old returned home Sunday, and the celebrations that were put on hold can finally begin. His stocking and the stocking of his twin brother, also a Marine, have been waiting over the fireplace.
Nancy Oseto will be cooking up her traditional, if belated, Christmas prime rib dinner later this month. First, though, she plans to serve her son some Thanksgiving turkey.
Nearly 180 Marines with the 11th Marine Expeditionary Force's battalion landing team returned Sunday from an eight-month deployment to Iraq. Seven Marines with the battalion were killed.
The survivors, marching three abreast in their desert cammies, were quickly engulfed by screaming and cheering loved ones.
Marine Lance Cpl. Gabriel Aponte will be having Christmas on Feb. 20, said his mother, Regina Aponte. The Apontes bought a fake tree for the first time this year so they could celebrate Christmas in their home when the 23-year-old radio operator returned from Iraq.
"You find special ways to make them a part of Christmas," she said.
The tree is still up in the home of Navy Hospital Corpsman Ben Powers, who turned 23 on Christmas Day a double celebration the family will make up.
There was catching-up of another sort to do, as well. Boys were coming home as men.
"I'm anxious to see how he's changed," Nancy Oseto said as she waited for her son in a gymnasium. "I know he's seen a lot since he left. … He's an adult now. I can't call him my baby anymore."
Gary Joslin, who served in the Navy during Vietnam, saw something different in the eyes of his 22-year-old son in a photo taken after a long, fierce battle in Najaf. Navy Hospital Corpsman Garrisson Joslin had spent three days without sleep and lost comrades to battle.
"When I saw it, I knew his whole life had changed," Joslin said.
Garrisson Joslin plans a different celebration with his father. He wants to have a beer, a cigar and talk.
02-07-05, 11:52 AM #13
Anti-war generation watches its children go to war
BY MEG KISSINGER
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
MILWAUKEE - (KRT) - John Treslley shakes his head in awe when he thinks about his 20-year-old son driving a Hummer through the minefields of Iraq.
"I wish I had half the guts he has," Treslley, 47, says in a whisper.
Back in 1977, when Treslley was that age, the notion of military duty never crossed his mind. The draft ended in 1973, and two years later, so did the Vietnam War.
"I was busy in those days playing football, drinking lots of beer and chasing women," says Treslley, a pilot and former game farm operator in Hayward, Wis.
All across America, thousands of parents like Treslley, baby boomers with no military experience of their own, are watching anxiously as their children head off to war. Most are proud. Some are angry, either at their children for taking on such a potentially dangerous mission or at the military for recruiting their sons and daughters. Nearly all say they are scared. For many, frankly, they just don't get it.
"You see a lot of fathers at these ceremonies who look pretty confused," says Terry Bellis, an instructor with the U.S. Marine's Fox Company with headquarters in Milwaukee. "They have this look in their eyes, like, `Wow. My kid is going to do that? Why would he want to do that?'''
When the parents of many of today's soldiers were that age, America was losing or had lost in Vietnam, an unpopular war. Protesters held huge rallies on college campuses, and thousands fled to Canada to avoid the draft. The military was largely scorned, says Lt. Col. Tim Donovan, 53, of the Wisconsin National Guard.
"People would flip us the bird when we'd walk down the street in our uniforms," he says. "You knew that they didn't respect you or what you did."
In Donovan's early years in the National Guard, in the 1960s, the classic generation gap was defined as fathers, many of whom had served in World War II, disgusted at the insolence of youth. Today, military recruiters say, the 18- and 19-year-olds who are signing up are much more trusting of the establishment, much more willing to be part of a team. The gap now, they say, tends to be the parents' lack of understanding of their children's more bellicose leanings.
While their parents may have shunned the status quo and thumbed their noses at the military when they were young, plenty of young men and women today seem eager to join the armed forces. Enlistments soared after the attack on America on Sept. 11, 2001, though the numbers are starting to slow down.
Jeramy Ringwolski, 18, joined the Marines in his senior year in high school, wanting to serve his country and see the world. He says his parents were skeptical at first.
"They didn't know if I knew what I was getting myself into," he says. Now in basic training in Mississippi, Ringwolski says he is excited about the possibility of being shipped out to Iraq.
"That's what I'm here for," he says.
He says his father, Darrin, who did not serve in the military, tells him all the time how proud he is.
"I think he's a little jealous of me," says the younger Ringwolski.
Occasionally, someone will sneer or make a snide comment about how stupid the military is, he says. "Usually, that's from old people in their 40s and 50s," he says.
Last year, the Army exceeded its goal in recruiting more than 77,000. The Marines beat their goal of 36,773 by 21. But National Guard numbers were down 30 percent in the last few months of last year, a trend that is expected to continue and spread to other branches of the armed forces. Military recruiters say that's largely because of the war and worried parents.
"We're seeing a lot of objections by the parents," says Lt. Col. Tim Lawson, commander of recruiting and retention for the Wisconsin National Guard, which fell short of its goal of 1,300 by about 6 percent last year. "There is a war going on, and no one wants to sign a paper that makes them responsible for what can happen over there."
Jittery parents are making recruiting efforts much more difficult, says Lawson. They tend to hover over their children, peppering the recruiters with questions. Recruiters say they used to tailor their appeal to the recruits. But that has changed.
"Not only do we have to sell the kid, now we have to sell his parents, too," Lawson says. "That's two or three for the price of one."
The new federal law known as the No Child Left Behind Act requires public schools to turn the names and addresses of high school juniors and seniors over to military recruiters. This bothers some people, especially some parents who don't like the idea of recruiters encouraging their 16- and 17-year-olds to join the military. Groups such as the Quakers are sponsoring seminars on how to offer alternatives to military duty, such as joining faith-based volunteer corps.
"We want to make sure kids know all of their options," says Mark Helpsmeet of the Eau Claire Friends.
Michelle Ringwolski, 38, of Milwaukee, Jeramy's mother, had just gotten used to the idea of her son in the Marines when her daughter, Tiffany, a high school junior, announced that she plans to sign up for the U.S. Air Force's delayed entry program when she turns 17 in June.
"I'm proud as hell of her, but it is tough to take," Michelle Ringwolski said. "There is a war on. So, of course I'm freaking out."
The anxieties of the families have spiraled with last week's helicopter crash that killed 31 Marines and the recent increase in deadly attacks by insurgents as today's elections drew near.
"We can't hardly bear to watch the news," said John Treslley. They learned late Thursday that their son, John IV, better known as Fridge, was not one of the Marines who had been killed.
His wife, Cindy, 46, says she has been on edge since Fridge came home one summer day in 2002 to announce that he had signed up for eight years of service in the U.S. Marine Corps. Two weeks after his high school graduation in June 2003, Fridge went off to boot camp.
At first, Cindy Treslley says, she was angry at her son for joining the military and at her husband for signing the papers allowing him to do so.
"I couldn't even talk for several days," she says. "I was the mom who had the post-prom party at my house so I could watch and make sure that these guys were all safe."
In time, her anger would abate, and she grew proud of her son.
On the night Fridge came home from boot camp, he and his mother stayed up and ironed clothes and made breakfast for the rest of the family.
"Believe me, he had never done those things before," she said.
After infantry school and working for nearly a year as a recruiter in northern Wisconsin, Fridge was deployed to Iraq on Sept. 14, 2004.
"I remember everything about that day, the way he looked, the way he smelled," says Cindy Treslley. "I remember staring at the shape of his head as we were driving to the airport and memorizing every little detail. I didn't want to forget, you know?"
He is an infantryman in southwest Iraq, the area known as "the Triangle of Death."
Now the Treslleys hold a nervous vigil in their home as candles flicker next to Fridge's picture, the stuffed clown that he got from his grandparents on the day he was born and a picture book of the World Trade Center attack on Sept. 11.
"I hold my breath every time I turn into the driveway down there," says John Treslley. "I honestly don't know what I'd do if I came home one day and found two Marines parked up here. That's how they tell you, you know. You don't get a call. They show up at your door."
Fridge lives in temporary quarters where there is no easy access to e-mail. He gets to call home on a satellite phone about every 10 days.
Cindy Treslley says she dreams about her son two or three times a week.
"I dream that I'm hugging him, and then I wake up, and he's not there," she says.
She doesn't have the heart to make his bed.
"It's just like the day he left," she says, smoothing down the comforter. "I'm waiting for him to come home."
Even parents who are familiar with military tradition say they find it hard to watch their sons and daughters prepare for war.
Meghan Phillips, 19, of Hustisford, Wis., says her father, Pat, a 30-year veteran of the Army Reserves, had a hard time when she enlisted in the Army National Guard. Phillips said she signed up when she was 17 years old after she was recruited by a friend who let her drive the Humvee around the school parking lot.
Meghan is well-versed in the ways of the military. Both of her parents were in the Army. Her oldest brother, Austin, was in the Air Force, and her other brother, Matt, is in the Army National Guard.
"Still, my dad wasn't too happy about it when I signed up," says Meghan, a film student at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee who tends bar at nights and on the weekends. "I'm Daddy's little girl, you know? He doesn't want me to get sent over to Iraq."
Pat Phillips, 48, says he trusts his daughter and respects her right to make choices as an adult.
"My only concern is that she is making the choice for the right reason, because she wants to go, not because I went and her brothers."
Pat Phillips, who returned from Afghanistan last year at this time, says it has been fascinating to see soldiers his children's ages and compare them with the men and women he served with at the beginning of his military career in 1974.
"We went in for something to do," he said. "These kids today, they are on a mission. I think they're more like their grandparents than their parents. They remind me of soldiers who went in right after Pearl Harbor. They are very directed, very clear in their focus and what their obligation is to their country. We had peace and love and all of that. These kids have Sept. 11. It did something to them."
02-07-05, 11:56 AM #14
Distinctions of War - General Mattis's mistake
By Mackubin Thomas Owens
National Review Online
There is an old adage that says "never miss an opportunity to shut up." I'm guessing that Marine Lieutenant General James Mattis wishes he'd taken this advice last week. As everyone knows by now Gen. Mattis, speaking on February 1 in San Diego as a panel member at a meeting of Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association, said:
Actually, it's a lot of fun to fight. You know, it's a hell of a hoot. ... It's fun to shoot some people. I'll be right upfront with you, I like brawling...You go into Afghanistan, you got guys who slap women around for five years because they didn't wear a veil. You know, guys like that ain't got no manhood left anyway. So it's a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them.
According to a report in the Washington Times, "his comments evoked laughter and applause from the audience."
Of course his, comments also evoked criticism from many of the usual suspects. For instance the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) called on the Pentagon to discipline Gen. Mattis for the remarks. CAIR's council's executive director, Nihad Awad said, "We do not need generals who treat the grim business of war as a sporting event. These disturbing remarks are indicative of an apparent indifference to the value of human life."
Knowing Gen. Mattis's record, I disagree with such characterizations - but that's because I know his record. Unfortunately, the thrust of the criticism by CAIR and others is, alas, correct. The context of the comments makes clear that Gen. Mattis was having some fun and playing to his audience. My criticism of Gen. Mattis is that he forgot that he wasn't trying to inspire his Marines but was instead addressing a civilian group with press present. We wouldn't want the ladies of the press getting a case of the vapors, now, would we? In addition, anyone who doesn't know Gen. Mattis's record, or who doesn't care about it, can use his comments to paint the Marines as, in the infamous characterization of an assistant secretary of the Army during the Clinton administration, "extremists" out of step with liberal society.
But those who would use Gen. Mattis's words to defame him or - most especially - the Marine Corps owe it to themselves to examine his record as a combat leader in Afghanistan, where he served as a commander of the Naval Task Force that seized an advanced airbase at the opening of that campaign; and Iraq, where he commanded the storied 1st Marine Division during the march up to Baghdad. The fact is that Gen. Mattis is probably the finest Marine combat leader since the legendary Chesty Puller. I have never met a Marine who served with Gen. Mattis who had anything less than the highest regard for him. Anyone who has seen him knows he doesn't "look" like a Marine but he sure knows how to act like one. And acting like a Marine makes room for such principles of restraint in war as chivalry (defend the weak and the innocent) and proportionality (use only the force necessary to achieve the objective). For the most part, observers agree that the Marines of Gen. Mattis's division treated surrendering Iraqi humanely - the way they are supposed to be treated.
Here is the "message to all hands" that then-Major General Mattis issued to his troops as they prepared to enter Iraq in March 2003:
For decades, Saddam Hussein has tortured, imprisoned, raped and murdered the Iraqi people; invaded neighboring countries without provocation; and threatened the world with weapons of mass destruction. The time has come to end his reign of terror. On your young shoulders rest the hopes of mankind.
When I give you the word, together we will cross the Line of Departure, close with those forces that choose to fight, and destroy them. Our fight is not with the Iraqi people, nor is it with members of the Iraqi army who choose to surrender. While we will move swiftly and aggressively against those who resist, we will treat all others with decency, demonstrating chivalry and soldierly compassion for people who have endured a lifetime under Saddam's oppression. Chemical attacks, treachery, and the use of the innocent as human shields can be expected, as can unethical tactics. Take it all in stride. Be the hunter, not the hunted: never allow your unit to be caught with its guard down. Use good judgment and act in the best interest of our Nation. "You are part of the world's most feared and trusted force. Engage your brain before you engage your weapon. Share your courage with each other as we enter the uncertain terrain north of the Line of Departure. Keep faith with your comrades on your left and right and Marine Air overhead. Fight with a happy heart and strong spirit.
For the mission's sake, our country's sake, and the sake of the men who carried the Division's colors in past battles - who fought for life and never lost their nerve - carry out you mission and keep your honor clean. Demonstrate to the world that there is 'No Better Friend, No Worse Enemy' than a U.S. Marine.
Major General, US Marines
Note the admonition to "engage your brain before you engage your weapon." This is not the instruction of a man who looks forward to indiscriminate killing. For the most part, his young Marines responded admirably, despite the likelihood that the enemy would take advantage of the Marines' restraint.
But what does one make of his charge to "fight with a happy heart?" Doesn't this suggest, as CAIR claims, that Gen. Mattis and his Marines see the "grim business of war as a sporting event?" In fact, Gen. Mattis was seeking to stir the martial soul of his Marines by invoking the spirit of the St. Crispin's Day speech that Shakespeare's King Henry delivers to his soldiers before the battle of Agincourt:
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now-a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs'd they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.
And like Henry V, Gen. Mattis always led from the front. During the march up to Baghdad, Mattis had prepared his command well and it responded to his style of leadership.
There is something about Gen. Mattis's remarks that most commentators have missed. He was not saying it is "a hoot" to kill everyone, but those kinds of people who, as they say in Texas, "needed killin'." Ask yourself this question: If you came face to face with Osama bin Laden or Abu Musab al- Zarqawi, you might smile as you put a round though his head? Be honest. I would.
The Marines that Gen. Mattis led on the road to Baghdad made the sort of distinctions that their commanding general directed them to make. They encountered Iraqi soldiers of all kinds: soldiers of regular units, some of whom fought and some of whom didn't; militia, who preferred not to fight but sometimes did because they were intimidated by Saddam's fedayeen; and foreign jihadis.
The jihadis asked no quarter and the Marines gave them none. According to The March Up: Taking Baghdad with the 1st Marine Division by "Bing" West and Major General Ray "E-tool" Smith, USMC (ret), The Marines knew the difference between these jihad fighters and the militia. Consequently the Marines shot them in the ditches and in the field. They threw grenades into the bulrushes and shot the fighters when they ran out. They threw grenades into the drainage pipes running under the road... A few of the foreign fighters surrendered, but most did not - they had come to Iraq to die, and die they would. As one Marine put it, this was the perfect war. "They want to die, and we want to kill them."
This is a distinction we once made without compunction: between those who are entitled to the rights of legitimate combatants and those who are not. This distinction was first made by the Romans and subsequently incorporated into international law by way of medieval European jurisprudence. As the eminent military historian, Sir Michael Howard, wrote in right after 9/11, the Romans distinguished between bellum, war against legitimus hostis, a legitimate enemy, and guerra, war against latrunculi - pirates, robbers, brigands, and outlaws - "the common enemies of mankind."
The former, bellum, became the standard for interstate conflict. It is here for instance that the Geneva Conventions were meant to apply. They do not apply to the latter, Guerra - indeed, punishment for latrunculi traditionally has been summary execution. While not employing the term, many legal experts agree that al Qaeda fighters are latrunculi - hardly distinguishable by their actions from pirates and the like. Who knows what some silly judge might rule in the future, but at least so far, no terrorist organization has been deemed a combatant under the laws of armed conflict.
In retrospect, Gen. Mattis's publicized comments were imprudent. But in his soldier's way, he was making a necessary distinction that many in the press or the courts are not, e.g. those who hold that terrorist detainees are entitled to prisoner-of-war status and the rights put forth in the Geneva Conventions. Nonetheless, we must acknowledge that Gen. Mattis committed a "gaffe" - he blurted out something of the truth.
- Mackubin Thomas Owens is an associate dean of academics and professor of national-security affairs at the Naval War College in Newport, R.I. He led a Marine rifle platoon in Vietnam in 1968-69.
02-07-05, 12:39 PM #15
January 24, 2005
Tales from the sandbox, II
Military Times staff writer Gina Cavallaro and photographer Rick Kozak will spend the next two months in Iraq and the Middle East, covering U.S. military operations after the Iraqi national elections.
Gina is filing occasional updates to this Web log.
Please feel free to e-mail her with your thoughts.
No beverage service on this flight
The Green Zone, Baghdad — Jan. 18
We are in The Green Zone after a memorable landing at Baghdad International Airport in Iraq. I have flown into this airport several times and experienced the mix of jarring, evasive maneuvers the pilots perform to avoid getting hit by enemy fire as they approach the runway.
I thought I had experienced what they call a corkscrew landing.
I was wrong.
I will never forget this, my first real corkscrew landing. Just imagine approaching a runway that is directly underneath you, diving down from 10,000 feet. Incredible. Even the passengers who had taken these flights umpteen times were talking about it.
Flying at 13,000 feet about 38 miles from the airport, a voice from the control tower instructed the pilot to descend to 12,000 feet. The pilot works for a private security company and he and his co-pilot fly to Baghdad from their headquarters in Amman almost every day, ferrying the company’s employees to the war zone.
“There it is,” the pilot said, pointing to the airport.
I was sitting in the jump seat in the cockpit and I saw the two long runways through the brown Iraqi haze, way down there, like you see in a satellite photo.
As we descended to about 10,000 feet, we cruised right over the airport and I assumed we would descend farther when we looped back from a distance away, like the commercial airliners do. Instead, the pilot slowed the plane down until it seemed to come to a stop and I had this ominous feeling, a sick, silent, slow panic. He and his co-pilot looked at me when I naively suggested “we’re going to loop around and come back, right?”
The co-pilot laughed.
“Yeah, we’re gonna loop around. Ha, ha.”
“Don’t scare me,” I begged them, and even though the pilot looked directly at me and said sincerely, “I won’t scare you,” I knew I was in for the most terrifying ride of my life.
Before I could take another breath, the pilot had plunged the aircraft into a deeply vertical left bank, an outrageous swirl of a turn in which the sky disappeared and the ground spun wildly before my eyes.
The brain told me all was under control. The body didn’t get the message.
My arms stretched stiffly toward the pilots’ armchair rests and my fingers clutched them tightly in some pathetic reaction to falling out of the sky. My heart sprinted through my rib cage and my eyes opened so widely I felt as if they were pushing my hair back on my head. I stopped breathing, too. I felt like I was inside someone else’s life. Good thing the pilots were too busy to see the look on my face. I can only imagine what that was.
With no time to recover from the rush of the first turn, the pilot made another gigantic swirl and the earthly landscape spun ever closer as if in one of those old cartoons where the bulldog is strapped to a rocket that’s plunging to the ground. My body was now in a full tremor of total exhilaration, but the pilot was barely breaking a sweat.
On the third and final sweep we were suddenly and shockingly close to the ground. I was stunned, but at this level it felt more familiar, like the maneuvers I had seen other pilots perform. Now we were just sideways, not vertical and sideways. I laughed and howled uncontrollably as I knew the landing was only seconds away.
Safely on the ground, I couldn’t stop shaking or smiling. We had all survived and it had been spectacular. I had never considered approaching a runway from straight overhead, although I know helicopters do it all the time.
I can’t imagine having that pilot’s job. I only hope I’m half as skilled.
Forward Operating Base Paliwoda, Balad, Iraq — Jan. 26
Iraq is a pretty dangerous place to be by anyone’s standards, and it can be quite uncomfortable at times.
What a day of rain can do to an otherwise rock-hard dirt landscape is dramatic. Giant lakes the color of chocolate milk emerge quickly and the heavy vehicles driven by the soldiers, especially the tanks, make deep undulations in a rich, rocky, wet, dark-brown mud that everyone has to walk through to get where they’re going. The air smells like earth, boots get caked with plastered mud, which eventually dries, drops off and leaves trails of clumped dirt everywhere, and the windy, low, oyster-colored sky blows the rain horizontally.
Gunners who ride the Humvees’ turrets are especially vulnerable to the sporadic mischief of otherwise kind and caring drivers who can’t seem to help occasionally plowing through the middle of one of those chocolate lakes to deliberately soak the gunner.
Those same gunners are open to more than just mud baths, however. A lot of attention is paid to how far above the protective steel barrier a soldier is sitting. They didn’t used to have that shield and even though they have it now, it’s no guarantee that a roadside bomb isn’t going to harm or kill that gunner.
The gunners are supposed to sit at name-tag defilade, or chest level, but they sit much lower. “That name-tag defilade is overrated,” I heard one soldier say recently when the truck commander ordered him to get low. He readily complied, hunching down below the barrier. “I just don’t want to get my head blown off,” the gunner said.
But there are these little pockets of happiness everywhere, too. Like when it’s turkey potpie night at the dining facility. When the locally run convenience market gets a new video game in. Or when a patrol rolls back through the front gates with every soldier in one piece.
As soldiers from the 3rd Infantry Division trickle in to begin their one-year rotation in the sandbox here in Balad, the smiles on the faces of the 1st Infantry Division soldiers who have been eagerly awaiting their arrival get wider, and their behavior giddier.
“I am so ready to get out of this place,” is a standard mantra among 1st ID soldiers. In July, the same soldiers might have said something like “yeah, a year’s a long time, but we’ll manage.” They no doubt meant it at the time, but now they’ve learned what a year feels like and it is a long time. They also realize there are no guarantees.
They remember what happened last April to the 1st Armored Division, which got orders to extend its rotation in Iraq by four months, even though some elements were already home in Germany. Still, plans are being made for the homecoming.
“It’ll probably be the first time in history Germany’s out of beer,” said one young soldier, a scout who predicts massive beer consumption by returning soldiers. He also hopes to be home by Valentine’s Day. Just in case he’s not, he’s going to order flowers for his wife through the Internet.
Vacations are being planned, too, but many soldiers are just stoked at the prospect of the most basic comforts of home — standing in the shower with bare feet, walking to the bathroom in the middle of the night without body armor or a helmet, and casting their eyes upon the lush, green landscape of home.
The process of mentoring the 3rd ID guys can be seen and heard every day as the seasoned guys teach them everything they think they’ll need to know. I’ve seen their eyes glaze over sometimes at the magnitude of the task and the enormous amount of information they have to absorb.
It’s hard to forget that the 3rd ID was one of the divisions at the tip of the spear when this whole operation began almost two years ago. But things were different back then and that was a completely different mission. The tip of the spear is a relative term now and the enemy could bite back at any time in any place. Now there is a lot of work to be done that they don’t teach you in basic training.
“I have zero training. I’ll just learn from these guys. It’s like trial by fire,” said a 3rd ID captain who will assume the S-5 duties in Balad when his unit takes over around mid-February.
This armor battalion took over from an infantry battalion of the 4th Infantry Division and has worked hard to improve on the work of the previous soldiers. Even though there is still violence and the town of Balad looks nothing like what Americans enjoy back home, the rank and file soldiers, who can be cynical about practically anything, seem to have noticed changes.
Driving back to the base after a city council meeting in town, this was the conversation between the driver and the truck commander.
“At least they’re starting to clean up some of the trash. The place is starting to look a little better,” the TC said.
“All they need now is a McDonalds, a Wal-Mart and a 7-11,” the driver said. “I haven’t seen one Slurpee since I’ve been here.”
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