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03-14-05, 05:25 AM #1
Little brother, big loss: Marine died in Iraq while brother pressed on in recruit tra
Little brother, big loss: Marine died in Iraq while brother pressed on in recruit training
Submitted by: MCRD San Diego
Story Identification #: 2005311104217
Story by Lance Cpl. Dorian Gardner
MARINE CORPS RECRUIT DEPOT SAN DIEGO, Calif. (Mar. 11, 2005) -- Pfc. Noah Ramos was smack-dab in the middle of boot camp when they told him his younger brother died in a crash. Lance Cpl. Hector Ramos was one of 31 service members killed in a helicopter crash Jan. 26 in Iraq.
Noah, a 21-year-old recruit in his second phase of training with Company K, was laying in a prone firing position on the rifle range waiting to practice when a Marine squawked his name over a loud speaker and ordered him off the firing line. As ordered, Noah stood aside and waited. His senior drill instructor walked him back to the barracks.
"On the way to the (senior's office) I was getting feelings that something was wrong with my family," said Noah.
After a long wait in the barracks, the drill instructor opened the door and told Noah to come inside the office. That's when Noah saw the chaplain and the company commander, and the chaplain broke the news.
"All I could do was just cry," said Noah. "I was thinking about what happened, how did he die ... so many questions."
After the sad news, Noah's drill instructor gave him time alone.
"All those things you hear about soldiers, you never really think about until it happens to somebody you know," said Noah. "You just wish it never happened."
With his brother being a part of an infantry unit, Noah knew Hector placed himself in harm's way, but losing him was unexpected, according to Noah.
Before the Marine Corps, the brothers grew up in Aurora, Ill., a small town outside Chicago. They lived with both parents and an 11-year-old brother. Between the two, it was always more reasonable to believe that Noah would join the military and Hector would go to college.
"(Hector) always talked about art school, but when 9/11 came, he got angry. (He) went and saw the recruiters the same day," said Noah.
In his teens, Noah had a growing interest in the military - specifically the Army because interaction with soldiers in his area and around the high school was common. "I was eating and sleeping Army."
Like many children who are too young to be soldiers, Noah and his brothers, along with neighborhood friends, used to play war games in the back yard.
In school, Noah grew more interested in the Army while Hector got better at his artwork. A year older than Hector, Noah graduated high school and decided to pursue his college education. Hector on the other hand, decided that he had seen enough books, and he wanted to try something that was a little bit more hands-on.
Shortly after Noah finished college, his brother graduated boot camp.
Noah said Hector ended up recruiting him into the Marine Corps. When Noah would talk about joining the National Guard, Hector would ask him why.
By the time Noah left for boot camp, Hector was in Iraq with 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division.
According to Department of Defense reports, Hector and 29 other Marines, along with a Navy corpsman, were on a mission in support of the Jan. 31 Iraq elections. Sandstorms throughout Iraq had caused many helicopter flight systems to fail. The CH-53 Super Stallion helicopter carrying Hector went down Jan. 26, about 220 miles west of Baghdad.
Noah said Hector would write him letters daily. The last letter Noah received was in the middle of February. The postmark was dated Jan. 21, just days before the crash.
Noah said Hector wrote the letter when he was leaving Fallujah.
"I still read them," said Noah. "He never wrote about serious stuff. He (wrote) about things that he (wanted) us to do when he (got) back."
It was never the letters or talking about his brother that made Noah long to see Hector again. It was hearing "Taps" play for fallen warriors every night while he lay in bed that made Noah think about Hector the most.
Noah found a new way to view the tragedy of his brother's death: "He had accomplished more at the age of 20 than most people. I was proud. I didn't want to lose a brother, but I know that he was (proud) the way he went."
After attending Hector's funeral, Noah said he had to finish training. Some recruits, as well as drill instructors, noticed a change in Noah.
"He was quieter, but he stepped it up with his actions... physically," said Staff Sgt. Walter F. Layton, Platoon 3053 senior drill instructor, Company K.
Noah also said he aspires to be like Hector: "It motivated me knowing that my brother died serving his country and not in the streets."
Noah, who graduates recruit training today and joins a vast band of brothers, said Hector was his guide to becoming a Marine, and he will serve proudly.
Pfc. Noah Ramos stands in formation by the recruit post exchange. Noah left training for a week to attend his brother Hector's funeral. Photo by: Lance Cpl. Dorin Gardner
03-14-05, 05:26 AM #2
Number Of Recruits Still Lagging
Akron Beacon Journal
March 14, 2005
It was easy getting Clark Oberlin into the Army.
He wanted to follow his father's example and join the military ever since he was a little boy.
These days, Army and Ohio National Guard recruiters can only wish they had hundreds of Clark Oberlins.
In recent months, persuading young men and women to join the Army has become more difficult and the goals of signing up new soldiers have not been met.
When Oberlin, 19, was ready to leave for the Army on a cold night last week, the Barberton man hugged his father, George, who has nearly 20 years of military service -- 14 years in the Navy, the rest in the Army Reserve -- and told him: "Don't cry."
Oberlin, who six months earlier joined his father's Army Reserve unit -- the 447th Military Police Company of Akron -- and had been training with it since, was leaving for six months of active duty and basic training at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo.
When he gets back this fall, he plans to study nursing at the University of Akron.
But while he was an easy catch for the Army, in recent months, recruiting new soldiers to serve in the Army, Army Reserve and Ohio Army National Guard has become problematic.
Spokesmen from the military say the war in Iraq is partially to blame.
And with 40 percent of the troops on the ground there coming from the Reserve or National Guard, recruitment these days is essential.
In the last two months, for the first time since May 2000, the Army failed to meet its national goal for shipping out recruits to basic training within the ranks of active duty and reserve soldiers.
For fiscal year 2004, the Ohio Army National Guard was 439 soldiers short of its enlistment goals.
"The main reason why recruiting is off is because those students who typically would have joined in the past are taking a wait-and-see approach because of the war and the increased operational tempo of the Ohio National Guard," said James Sims, a Guard spokesman.
At the same time, though, Sims said the war on terror is attracting soldiers to the Guard.
"It used to be the 100 percent tuition assistance and scholarship money" that was the major enticement for recruits, he said.
"Now they are saying, `I want to serve my country, I want to be part of helping,' " and they are interested in the tuition assistance, he said.
To step up the effort, the Guard has nearly tripled its recruiter ranks to 150 who now work around the state, Sims said.
But so far in fiscal year 2005, the Guard is about 280 soldiers short of its goal nearly halfway through the year, according to Lt. Col. Jerry Rees, the state's recruiting commander.
Sims said more than 4,000 Ohio Guard troops have served stateside and overseas since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and many of those have served two tours of duty.
Recruitment, he said, "has been tough across the board."
In February, the regular Army signed up 5,114 active duty soldiers (1,936 short of its goal), and 990 Army reservists (340 short of its goal), according to Army statistics.
S. Douglas Smith, a public affairs officer for the U.S. Army Recruiting Command, said he can't say specifically why the goal was not met this year.
But he said the primary factors are the "improving economy and ongoing military action overseas."
Other factors, he said, may be high college enrollment rates among high school graduates and fewer adults in the community who have Army or military service background.
"It's been a tough year since the start of the fiscal year," Smith said.
The war, he said, is "playing a big part" in the recent shortfall on recruiting goals.
But, over the long haul, the Army has made its recruiting goals every year since 2000.
"So overall, we have been successful," he said.
In fiscal year 2005, in Ohio, the Army has enlisted 1,074 active duty soldiers and 319 reserve soldiers.
The Navy has made its recruiting goals for more than 40 months in a row.
The Air Force has not had a problem finding new recruits. In fact, the Air Force has recently been downsizing because so many within the service are re-enlisting, said Edgar Castillo, chief of media for the Air Force Recruiting Command.
Likewise, the Marine Corps has exceeded its goal for shipping new recruits to basic training, but is at 99.1 percent of its goal for the year to date in contracting recruits, said Maj. Dave Griesmer of the Marine Corps Recruiting Command.
Incentives to join
New recruits to the Army Reserve and National Guard receive full tuition reimbursement at state colleges as an incentive to join. And recently, more incentives were added.
In December, the Army set Reserve enlistment bonuses at the highest level in history.
Enlistment bonuses for people with no prior service were increased from $8,000 to $10,000 and bonuses for applicants with previous military service who enlist for six years are eligible for a bonus of $15,000, up from a previous level of $8,000. Those who sign up for three years are eligible for a $7,500 bonus, up from $4,000.
Earlier this year, the Army Recruiting Command announced an expansion of its bonuses for applicants with more than 30 college semester hours to all of its military specialties.
Qualified applicants holding bachelor's degrees can earn $8,000 for enlisting. Associate or two-year degree holders can earn $7,000. Qualified high school graduates with 60 or more college semester hours can qualify for a $6,000 bonus and those with 30 to 59 college semester hours can earn $3,000 for joining the army. There are also other cash enlistment incentives.
The maximum combination of cash bonuses for an enlistment of four or more years is $20,000 and the maximum for a three-year enlistment is $10,000 for most jobs and $15,000 for some high-priority jobs, the Army said.
Clark Oberlin said once he finishes his six months and enrolls in college, he may get involved in an ROTC program at the University of Akron so he can become a commissioned officer.
His father, a 46-year-old staff sergeant in the Reserve unit, was apprehensive about his son leaving for active duty in the Army.
Still, "I'm proud of him," he said.
The unit his son is joining served two tours of duty since Sept. 11, 2001. After providing nearly a year of base protection at Fort Leonard Wood, they went home and in a few months were called back, serving nearly a year in Iraq, before returning home in December 2003.
And for the Oberlins, it may not be their only farewells.
Sixteen-year-old Samantha Oberlin, a Barberton High School sophomore, plans to join the unit as soon as she can.
Last week, outside the recruiter's office on Wooster Road North in Barberton, the Oberlins said their goodbyes to Clark.
He dashed off quickly in the dark, jumping into a recruiter's car.
"I love you, sweetie," his mother, Vanessa, called after him as the car pulled out of the driveway, heading for Cleveland and Clark Oberlin's new life in the Army Reserve.
03-14-05, 05:26 AM #3
Afghan Prison Abuse Began In 2002
March 14, 2005
NEW YORK - Unreleased U.S. Army reports detailing the deaths of two Afghan men who were beaten to death by American soldiers show that military prison abuses began in Afghanistan in 2002, and were part of a systematic pattern of mistreatment, a human rights representative said Saturday.
More than two dozen American soldiers face possible criminal prosecution - and one already is charged with manslaughter - in the deaths at the main U.S. detention facility in Bagram, just north of the Afghan capital of Kabul.
As documented by the Army's Criminal Investigation Command, the men died a year before the photographed horrors at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, according to John Sifton, the Afghanistan researcher for the New York-based Human Rights Watch.
In a phone interview, Sifton said his group had obtained 20 pages of electronically scanned Army reports.
The American Civil Liberties Union sued to obtain the case files under the Freedom of Information Act, but the Army withheld portions of the records because of an ongoing investigation and possible charges.
On Saturday, a Pentagon spokesman, Lt. Col. Jeremy Martin, would say only that the cases from 2002 "were thoroughly investigated and people were punished appropriately."
"The Bush Administration and the Pentagon describe the abuse problems as isolated incidents, not systematic, not part of a plan. The evidence shows otherwise," Sifton said. "Far from being isolated incidents, these beatings were part of a pattern of abuse."
Members of the 519th Military Intelligence Battalion who set up intelligence operations at the Bagram facility did the same at the Abu Ghraib prison.
The two Afghan detainees died in December 2002 - a week apart - as reported in Army memos, with updates detailing their fate after they were captured by Afghan forces and handed to the U.S. military.
There were several other deaths of Afghans in American custody before December 2002, Sifton said, "and we want more information."
"It's amazing," he said. "Nobody has been punished for this. The command has recommended that 28 people be prosecuted for this, but only two have been charged so far."
The unreleased Army documents detail U.S. military investigations of the deaths of a man named Mullah Habibullah, about 30, and another identified only as Dilawar, a 22-year-old taxi driver with a 2-year-old daughter, according to Sifton.
Under U.S. detention, the two men were chained to the ceiling in standing positions, one at the waist and one by the wrists, while their feet remained on the ground, according to the Army reports. One of them was maimed over a five-day period, dying with his leg muscle tissue destroyed from blows to his knees and lower body.
The Army has publicly acknowledged the two deaths and announced in October that up to 28 U.S. soldiers face possible charges in connection with what were ruled homicides.
Sifton said the Army documents show that U.S. military investigators are accusing intelligence officers and police guards of using severe, unapproved tactics on many prisoners at Bagram, not only the two men.
Last month in a closed hearing at Fort Bliss, Texas, Pfc. Willie V. Brand of the 377th Military Police Company was charged with involuntary manslaughter in connection with Dilawar's death. Brand is accused of beating him to death over five days.
An autopsy performed by a medical examiner and cited by the Army showed that Dilawar's legs were so damaged by blows that amputation would have been necessary.
Dilawar died from "blunt force trauma to the lower extremities complicating coronary artery disease," according to an Army report dated July 6, 2004.
Habibullah died of a pulmonary embolism apparently caused by blood clots formed in his legs from the beatings, according to a June 1, 2004, military report.
Another member of the Cincinnati-based 377th Company, Sgt. James P. Boland, was charged with assault, maltreatment and dereliction of duty in Dilawar's death, and dereliction of duty in Habibullah's death.
03-14-05, 05:27 AM #4
Transfer Of Gitmo Detainees Blocked
March 14, 2005
WASHINGTON - A federal judge has blocked the government from transferring 13 Yemenis from the U.S. detention center for terrorism suspects at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, until a hearing is held on concerns the detainees may be mistreated in another country.
The judge's ruling temporarily blocks any plans by the government to transfer the detainees to prisons in other countries.
Lawyers for the Yemenis are worried the government will try to move them from the Guantanamo Bay facility to another country in order to "warehouse them in a prison, provide them with no legal process and, in effect, avoid the American court process altogether," Marc Falkoff, an attorney for the detainees, said Sunday.
U.S. District Judge Rosemary Collyer's ruling Saturday on an emergency petition blocks any attempt to move the Yemenis until a hearing is held on their lawyers' request for at least 30 days notice if their clients are to be transferred.
"All we want is an opportunity to ask the court to review whether the U.S. government is acting properly to move our clients out of Guantanamo," Falkoff said. "We are not asking for a veto power over any transfer. All we want is notice so we can ask a judge to review the legality of the transfer. We don't want our clients to be tortured. We don't want them to be deprived of due process of law."
Barbara Olshansky, deputy director for litigation at the Center for Constitutional Rights, which is coordinating the detainees' legal representation, said she expects lawyers for hundreds of detainees to file for similar action soon.
"We know that where they are sending them is where horrible things happen to the detainees," she said.
Lawyers for Guantanamo detainees filed the petition in U.S. District Court on Friday night, following a New York Times report that the government is trying to transfer at least half of the roughly 550 detainees at the facility to prisons in their home countries.
A senior defense official said earlier that Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld wants the State Department to put more pressure on countries to take custody of some of their people who are held at Guantanamo Bay.
About 550 people from roughly 40 countries are being held there, many of them prisoners from the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Already, the military has released 211 detainees from Guantanamo, including 146 who were freed outright. The military has transferred 65 prisoners from the prison in Cuba to their home countries.
Falkoff, who has visited his clients on two weeklong visits to the detention facility, says he believes they are not terrorists.
"The government's evidence against them is the lowest quality, absolutely untrustworthy," he said. "My clients were in the wrong place at the wrong time."
Falkoff said one of his clients was threatened with being moved to either Egypt or Jordan, where he was told he would be tortured.
03-14-05, 05:27 AM #5
Al-Qaida Ability Diminishing
March 14, 2005
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - Senior Bush administration officials have warned in recent weeks that al-Qaida is regrouping for another massive attack, its agents bent on acquiring nuclear, chemical or biological weapons in a nightmare scenario that could dwarf the horror of Sept. 11.
But in Pakistan and Afghanistan - where Osama bin Laden and his chief deputy are believed to be hiding - intelligence agents, politicians and a top U.S. general paint a different picture.
They say a relentless military crackdown, the arrests last summer of several men allegedly involved in plans to launch attacks on U.S. financial institutions, and the killing in September of a top Pakistani al-Qaida suspect wanted in a number of attacks - including the 2002 killing of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl and two failed assassination attempts against President Gen. Pervez Musharraf - have effectively decapitated al-Qaida.
Because of the secretive and underground nature of cells that operate throughout the world, it cannot be known for certain what effect the damage done to al-Qaida in its home territory has had on operations elsewhere.
Pakistani intelligence agents told The Associated Press that it has been months since they picked up any "chatter" from suspected al-Qaida men, and longer still since they received any specific intelligence on the whereabouts of bin Laden or any plans to launch a specific attack.
They say the trail of the world's most wanted man - long-since gone cold - has turned icier than the frigid winter snows that blanket the mountains between Pakistan and Afghanistan, where the terror mastermind is considered most likely to be hiding.
Pakistani officials have been quick to hail the long silence as a signal that it has already dismantled bin Laden's network, at least in this part of the world.
"We have broken the back of al-Qaida," Interior Minister Aftab Khan Sherpao said last month in a speech in Peshawar, the capital of the frontier province on the border with Afghanistan. Musharraf added last week that his government had "eliminated the terrorist centers" in the Waziristan tribal region and elsewhere.
"We have broken their communication system. We have destroyed their sanctuaries," the president told reporters. "They are not in a position to move in vehicles. They are unable to contact their people. They are on the run."
A senior official in Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence spy agency told AP he couldn't remember the last time the agency got a strong lead on top-level al-Qaida fighters.
"Last year, we frequently heard Arabs on radios talking about their hatred for (Afghan President Hamid) Karzai and Musharraf for supporting Americans, and we were able to trace al-Qaida hideouts in South Waziristan," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "Lately, such conversations have decreased."
Pakistan's optimism seems to be backed by senior U.S. military officials in the region.
Maj. Gen. Eric Olson, the No. 2 American commander in Afghanistan, said he had seen nothing to indicate that al-Qaida was attempting to get its hands on nuclear or biological weapons.
There is "no evidence that they're trying to acquire a terrorist weapon of that type and, frankly, I don't believe that they are regrouping," he told AP in a Feb. 25 interview.
"I think the pressure on them here, the pressure on them in Pakistan, the pressure on them in Iraq, is pretty great and it makes very difficult for them to operate," Olson added.
The skeptical assessments from officials here fly in the face of warnings out of Washington, where President Bush is pushing Congress to approve a $419 billion defense budget for 2006.
The Homeland Security Department late last month issued a classified bulletin to officials that bin Laden was enlisting his top operative in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, to plan potential attacks on the United States.
There have also long been fears - though no evidence to date - that rogue Pakistani nuclear scientists might have provided bin Laden's men with the know-how to build a crude atomic device or dirty bomb.
Newly installed CIA director Porter Goss and other senior American intelligence and military officials warned last month that terrorists are preparing for new strikes.
"It may be only a matter of time before al-Qaida or other groups attempt to use chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear weapons," Goss said at the Senate Intelligence Committee's annual hearing on threats, urging approval of the defense budget.
But Sherpao scoffed at such warnings.
"That is simply out of the question," he said of al-Qaida's ability to acquire weapons of mass destruction, adding that any al-Qaida leader who has escaped arrest was "more worried about their own safety."
"How can such people launch attacks with nuclear or chemical weapons?" he asked.
Maj. Gen. Olson, who leaves Afghanistan next month to return to the 25th Infantry Division back in Hawaii, said al-Qaida leaders were unable to use modern communications for fear of detection and were reduced to "16th century" techniques such as couriers. He said he wasn't discouraged by the success bin Laden and his deputy have had in releasing audio and videotapes filled with threats during the past few months.
"They can deliver all the videotapes they want, as long as they're not delivering weapons that can kill large numbers of people and I am convinced that their ability to coordinate large attacks like that is severely disrupted right now because of the pressure we have on them," he said.
03-14-05, 05:28 AM #6
Half A Dozen Lawmakers Have Kids At War
March 14, 2005
WASHINGTON - For about half a dozen members of Congress who have had kids serving in Iraq, the war is far more than a matter of public policy. They debate it and often defend it - with eyes on public opinion, like almost any elected official. But they also live the war through those most dear to them.
Therein lies a lesson about the limits of power.
For more than a year, Rep. Joe Wilson's desk at the House Armed Services Committee was the intersection of his personal and political interest in the Iraq war.
On the table were bills about how to pay for and supply the conflict. Underneath, a handheld computer buzzed with real-time reports from his son Alan, an intelligence officer in southern Iraq.
"I would get a 'Hey Dad' message almost every day," the South Carolina Republican recalls. "I felt like I was voting on legislation, but I was living it simultaneously."
Lawmakers may be able to shift billions of dollars to pet projects or get seats at a state dinner. But none has the muscle to keep a child safe in a war zone, half a world away.
So at 6 a.m. on Feb. 25, when his radio delivered the not-uncommon news that three Marines were killed in Iraq, Sen. Kit Bond felt it in his gut.
"Tightness in my stomach," Bond, R-Mo. recalled, a jaw muscle flexing at the memory. "An involuntary reaction."
Bond's only child, Samuel, 24, had left for Iraq just three days earlier to serve as an intelligence officer in the Marines. Samuel was safe that day.
The senator does what he can to keep it that way.
"I pray for him every night," Bond said.
Rep. Todd Akin, R-Mo., whose son, Perry, is a Marine combat engineer in Iraq, said what might be happening to the 23-year-old is a constant concern. "Every time you hear that another Marine got killed, it makes you wonder, is that my kid this time?" the congressman said.
One January day, it might have been. Akin said Perry, who was trained to find hidden bombs, walked up to a puddle in a road and decided with his fellow engineers that it did not pose a threat.
They were wrong. An hour later a bomb in the puddle was exploded by remote control as an American Humvee rolled over it. Akin said the blast "ripped the armor all to shreds" but did not hurt the driver.
"Somebody with a cell phone was sitting in some window somewhere looking at him as he stood by the puddle," Akin said, meaning an insurgent. "That obviously gets a parent's attention."
So did the mortar fire Wilson could hear over his son's voice during one satellite phone call. Now that Alan is home, safe, Wilson says sometimes there is such a thing as too much information.
"It was good and it was bad," Wilson, a retired Army National Guard lawyer, said of his heightened sense of what was happening both in Iraq and Washington.
Often, Alan sent notes about his day while his dad was in committee hearings - 10 a.m. in Washington is dinner time in Iraq. Alan would talk about supplies needed by Iraqis - a village water tank, paint for schools.
His father would pass the Blackberry around for others to see. He forwarded some of the e-mails to the Pentagon's liaisons with Congress. He thinks that helped get items delivered more quickly.
These lawmakers are not the first leaders to grapple with the personal stakes of war. After his presidency, Teddy Roosevelt had four sons in action in World War I - two were wounded and his youngest, Quentin, was killed.
"To feel that one has inspired a boy to conduct that has resulted in his death has a pretty serious side for a father," Roosevelt said. But "brave and fearless men must die when a great cause calls."
At least four Republicans and one Democrat in Congress have had children serving in Iraq.
Brooks Johnson, 32, son of Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson of South Dakota, is a staff sergeant with the Army's 101st Airborne Division and recently returned from fighting there.
His dad voted to authorize the use of force in Iraq with a heavy heart; Brooks, he knew, was likely to go to Iraq.
"I talked to Brooks prior to this vote and his response was, 'Dad, you do what is right for the country and I'll do what is right as a soldier,'" Johnson recalled. "I said on the (Senate) floor that it's very likely I would be sending my own son into combat."
Not all lawmakers with children serving in the armed forces were willing to discuss the overseas deployments.
Johnson and the four Republicans voted for the war and are likely to support President Bush's request for more money to pay for it. That does not mean Bush can count on them for everything about Iraq and the war against terrorism.
The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, GOP Rep. Duncan Hunter of California, vexed the White House and Republican leaders last year when he rallied GOP colleagues against Bush's overhaul of the intelligence system.
He said he was trying to protect the lives of soldiers, including his 27-year-old son, 1st Lt. Duncan Duane Hunter, who had served two tours in Iraq and has since returned. Negotiators reworked the bill to address his concerns - giving battlefield commanders first priority use of intelligence assets such as satellites- and Bush signed it into law.
Akin says he, too, has questions about how far and fast Iraqi society really can move toward a democracy.
But Akin's support for the mission remains constant despite Perry's deployment. He gets frustrated when people ask how he can support a war that puts his son in such obvious danger. His answer to that is not much different from Teddy Roosevelt's early in the last century.
"If he gets killed over there, I'll still think it's a horrible tragedy - ruin my life," Akin said. "But I'll still think what he's doing is the right thing."
03-14-05, 05:28 AM #7
Americans Back Troops Via Bumper Magnets
March 14, 2005
SHAWNEE, Kan. - Sandra Wetmore, lover of country and supporter of troops, wanted a simple way to show her allegiances. So, like many other Americans, she put them on her bumper, sticking on a yellow, ribbon-shaped magnet that pleads "Support Our Troops" and others promising "United We Stand" and "God Answers Prayers." These magnetic ribbons have become fixtures on highways across the country, a symbol of people looking for ways to show support of the men and women overseas, or of issues such as breast cancer research and autism awareness.
"It's very positive," said Wetmore, 59, of Kansas City, Kan.
"I think it's immediate, I think it's cheap and I think it's something that you can say 'Well, I'm doing something,'" said Wichita State University sociologist Ron Matson.
A loop of ribbon has long served as a symbol of a cause, from red for AIDS to pink for breast cancer. Yellow ribbons became widespread during the Iran hostage crisis in 1979 and during the Persian Gulf War in 1991.
The magnetic version - mostly yellow or variations on the support-the-troops theme - began popping up on bumpers two years ago. Veterans' groups sold them and then mass retailers got in the act.
Today, so many have popped up - pledging support of everything from people with diabetes to victims of the Asian tsunami - that some find the trend laughable.
"Putting a ribbon magnet on your car is an empty gesture," said Jay Barnes, the author of AntiMagnet, a Web site devoted to ridiculing the trend. "It's prepackaged sentiment for a profit."
Jeff Poirier joined with friends to launch Support Our Ribbons, which offers magnets displaying messages such as "Support Our Ribbons," "I Support More Troops Than You," and "One Nation Under Ribbons."
"Ribbons support many causes," said Poirier, 25. "Isn't it time that we support them?"
03-14-05, 05:29 AM #8
MARINES GET HEROES' WELCOME
By ERIN CALABRESE
March 13, 2005 -- More than 100 New York Marines were welcomed home yesterday by dozens of relatives who were waiting with open arms.
"It feels good to be here," said Lance Cpl. Stephen Esposito, 20, after being mobbed at Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn by his family — including his pit bull, Boomer.
"He said: 'Don't come unless you bring the dog,' " joked his mother, Gerrianne, 47.
After Boomer gave him a big, wet doggy kiss, Esposito — part of the 6th Communications Battalion, which was stationed in Baghdad for nearly eight months — got to meet his nephew for the first time.
Ryan Sandt, Esposito's 5-month-old godson, was clad in military fatigues for his introduction to his Marine uncle.
Esposito, a Brooklyn native now living in East Meadow, L.I., worked in motor transportation for the unit that supplied, organized and maintained all communications in and around Baghdad.
One-hundred and eighteen members of the unit arrived home yesterday.
03-14-05, 05:30 AM #9
Cooper River bridge to host final 10k run
Submitted by: MCAS Beaufort
Story Identification #: 2005311145143
Story by Cpl. K. A. Thompson
MARINE CORPS AIR STATION BEAUFORT, SC (March 11, 2005) -- On the morning of April 2, the Silas N. Pearman Bridge will be covered in a sea of humanity when more than 30,000 participants line up for the start of the 28th Cooper River Bridge Run and Walk, waiting for their last chance to “Get Over It.”
The starting gun at this year’s event will signal the beginning of a race and the end of an era. World-class runners and weekend warriors will be pounding the pavement of the Silas N. Pearman Bridge for the last time. The Pearman is scheduled to be torn down later this year. The event will move to the new Arthur Ravenel Bridge in 2006.
The 10K bridge run has been a Charleston tradition since its inaugural running in 1978. It has grown into the largest race in the Carolinas and the eighth largest 10K in the world.
A variety of activities are scheduled to take place, including a two-day expo at Gaillard
Auditorium, located at 77 Calhoun St., in downtown Charleston. The expo takes place March 31, 8 a.m.-8 p.m. and April 1, 8 a.m.-10 p.m. and will include a variety of vendors and information booths for participants. There will also be a Kids Run, a 7K walk and a post-race finish festival, which will include live music, food and more.
For additional information or to register for the Bridge Run, go to www.bridgerun.com. Online registration ends March 29 at midnight, and the cost is $30 for the run and $20 for the walk.
Shuttles will provide transportation on race day. People planning to participate in the run, it is recommended they be at the starting line before 7 a.m.
03-14-05, 05:33 AM #10
Weary but proud Marine unit deployed in Iraq 3rd time
By Mike Dorning
March 14, 2005
FALLUJAH, Iraq - Lance Cpl. Nicholas Renkosik spent his 21st birthday battling to take a bridge on the outskirts of Baghdad. On his 22nd, he was hit in the jaw by shrapnel from a roadside bomb that detonated near his vehicle in western Iraq.
Next month, the gangly, 6-foot-2 Marine from Davenport, Iowa, turns 23. And once again he will be in Iraq - on his third tour of duty.
"I feel like I'm doing the right thing," said Renkosik, who could have remained in the United States because of a shoulder injury but went overseas again with his unit.
Renkosik's unit, the 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, provided one of the enduring images of the fall of Baghdad, toppling a statue of Saddam Hussein before cheering Iraqis and a worldwide television audience.
The unit was once again part of a signature moment: In January, it became the first Marine battalion to return to Iraq for a third deployment, a Marine Corps spokesman said. More are to follow.
With less than six months in the U.S. between deployments, said Cpl. Kellen Scott, 22, of West Chicago, "it almost seems like I never left Iraq and my time home was just a dream."
On the first deployment, Lance Cpl. Dusty Lansdorf's family was anxious but supportive. On the second, they were incredulous that he had to return, said Lansdorf, 22, of Oroville, Calif.
Their reaction this time: "Don't go. You're rolling the dice too many times."
The unit's tough schedule is testament to the heavy burden U.S. ground forces have shouldered in a fight that has gone on much longer than the Pentagon planned, against more tenacious resistance than expected.
The men of "Darkside," as the battalion is nicknamed, have been present for many of the high points and low moments in a conflict that has taken plenty of unexpected turns.
More than half the unit's 800 Marines have been with the unit for all three deployments.
They speak of pride in having been part of a historic moment that their children and grandchildren will read about.
But they also murmur of weariness with their repeated deployments.
"They're tired. They're tired of being here," said Navy Lt. Matthew Weems, the battalion's chaplain.
During the drive to Baghdad that began two years ago this month, these men spent weeks in armored vehicles packed shoulder-to-shoulder in stifling, full-body biochemical gear.
They weathered a sandstorm so fierce that an outstretched hand could disappear in the swirling brown air. They fought through mortars, rocket-propelled grenades and gunfire to take a key bridge.
And afterward, they were welcomed with flowers and dancing in the streets by residents of the Iraqi capital.
A year later, after U.S. contractors' bodies were burned and hanged in Fallujah, these same Marines fought their way into the western Iraqi city, battling block by block, only to be forced to give up the ground.
Higher-ups called off the offensive. It was a painful setback that ate at many of the Marines during the months of monotonous duty in the Iraqi desert that followed.
Now they are in Fallujah again.
This time, they encountered a city largely in ruins, after an offensive that retook the town in November.
This deployment may have given the Marines "a bad taste in their mouth," said Staff Sgt. Michael Robinson, 32, of Fayetteville, N.C. But "they understand the mission. They accept it. And they're going to do it."
03-14-05, 06:57 AM #11
He's no longer a young buck
Voice of 'Bambi' reminisces on DVD
By Roger M. Showley
March 12, 2005
The story of "Bambi" did not end with Walt Disney's pastoral treatment in 1942. The deer – or at least the voice of the deer – grew up to be an abandoned teenager living in a Los Angeles boardinghouse, a Marine in Vietnam, a drill instructor at San Diego's Marine Corps Recruit Depot and a corporate executive retired to his home state of Texas.
And that all followed his 1939 appearance in the title role of "Son of Frankenstein."
Donnie Dunagan, now 70, is back in the news after 63 years, thanks to the release, on a two-disc special edition DVD, of the 67-minute cartoon classic, in which he and the voice of Thumper the rabbit and Faline, the girl deer, reminisce about their work on the film.
"Isn't it marvelous?" he exclaimed in a phone interview from his home in Texas.
But Dunagan said he told only family members of his Bambi connection until the news leaked out at a fund-raising event he emceed last year.
"I wanted to go to college to be a doctor," he said. "I didn't dwell on it."
The experience faded further into memory once he was drafted during the Korean War. He volunteered for the Marines and didn't dare tell his buddies in the field, much less the recruits he later drilled at MCRD.
"In the Marine Corps, I didn't bring it up because I was a pretty successful commander," he said, "and if the guys found out I was the model . . . "
Once Dunagan was outed as Bambi last year, a Texas TV station picked it up, his work on "Frankenstein" was featured in last October's Video Watchdog magazine, and Disney marketers tracked him down to include him on the bonus material on the new release.
Now, having received mail and calls from old Marines, who ribbed him about his days as a fawn, Dunagan has finally owned up to his contributions to this children's classic. He created his own Web site – www.donniedunagan.com – completed a publicity tour in England and booked appearances at film festivals and other venues.
For the few people who've never seen "Bambi," the story comes from a 1928 children's story by Felix Salten. Containing fewer than 1,000 words of dialogue, the movie uses music and impressionistic backgrounds and action to trace the deer from his birth, through the offscreen death of his mother (a shocking event to young viewers even today), a forest fire, defeat of a rival for Faline's hand, er, hoof, and the birth of twins.
It's a lyrical, funnier and more dramatic circle-of-life story than Disney's "Lion King," and, wouldn't you know it, "Bambi 1½" is due next year to cover the tween months from mom's demise to the young buck's first antlers. The title is "Bambi and the Great Prince of the Forest," and there's a preview on the DVD.
In some ways, Dunagan's life parallels Bambi's and could make a fairly compelling direct-to-video itself.
Born in San Antonio, Texas, he soon moved with his dirt-poor, Depression-era parents (father sold golf balls, mother cleaned houses) to Memphis, Tenn. At 3½, he won a local theater's talent show and the $100 prize by tap dancing to "A Tisket, A Tasket" on stage after only a few days' practice.
Within days, an RKO studio talent scout tracked Dunagan down, arranged for his family to go to Hollywood for him and won him a part in "Mother Carey's Chickens," released in 1938. The next year came "Son of Frankenstein" and, in between, he modeled and then voiced Bambi for Disney. It was his last movie.
After eight pictures, Dunagan said his parents proved incapable of handling their sudden good fortune, and their marriage fell apart.
"By 13½, I was in a boardinghouse supporting myself in Hollydale (a section of South Gate, Los Angeles County)," Dunagan said. Like his father, he found himself selling golf balls at a country club when he was drafted in 1952 and joined the Marines.
"I fell in love with the Marine Corps, got 13 promotions in 21 years, which has to be something of a record, and retired as a battalion commander," he said.
He was wounded several times while serving in the Vietnam War and received numerous combat and valor awards.
In 1977, when he was a drill sergeant at MCRD, he received a citizen-of-the-year award in San Diego for arranging food disbursement to World War II widows. He retired at year's end.
His early marriage had failed (he has a 49-year-old son), and he entered the corporate world, eventually settling in Texas and remarrying 13 years ago.
As for "Bambi," Dunagan remembers seeing the movie multiple times when it was released, six days after his eighth birthday.
"I was surprised by the mother being shot," he said.
The movie, coming as it did in the first year of World War II, was in stark contrast to many patriotic, war-related movies and escapist fare produced at the time. Its message – man is a threat to nature – represented a rather sophisticated, environmentalist theme that rings true even more so today.
The DVD release offers more appeal than just a pristine, digitized visual restoration with dramatically enhanced sound. The extras include nearly an hourlong documentary on how it was made; a visit to the Disney studio vaults, where much of the original artwork remains; and the obligatory "deleted scenes" – two segments showing Bambi eating winter grass and testing the snow.
Of surprising interest is a reenacted story meeting between Walt Disney and his staff working out character development and plot points – all drawn from a stenographer's transcription.
For toddlers, there are games and, for New Agers, there's a quiz to determine your favorite season ("Which of the following animals would you most like to be – a deer, coyote, butterfly or skunk?").
History buffs will enjoy a brief review of the events of 1942, and Disney fans can scroll through artwork, story sketches, movie posters and character designs.
Finally, Walt Disney is seen in a 1957 segment from his TV show discussing "Bambi," and the 1937 Oscar-winning short, "The Old Mill," also is included to illustrate how studio artists prepared for their first naturalist feature film.
Roger M. Showley: (619) 293-1286; firstname.lastname@example.org
03-14-05, 07:38 AM #12
Local Marine keeps his promises while in Iraq
By Vickie Speek
CHANNAHON — A Channahon Marine is home after seven months of deployment in Iraq.
Jason Daniels, 28, the son of Robin Clower and James E. Daniels, is making the rounds visiting area schools, Scout groups and community organizations to express his appreciation for the support he received during his deployment.
Daniels first considered becoming a Marine about the time he started high school. At that time, another Chan-nahon resident, Dusty Seales, was in the Mar-ines and serving in Operation Desert Storm. Seales was the best friend of Jason Daniels’ brother, Tony
“Dusty is my ‘other brother,’ and my mentor for the Marines,” Daniels explained.
Only nine days after graduating from Minooka Community High School in May 1995, Daniels left Channahon to go to Marine boot camp. Ten years later, he is a staff sergeant based at Great Lakes, and plans to make the Marines his lifetime career.
As a ground radio technician, Daniels fixes radios, telephones, computers and switchboards — anything to do with communications.
On Aug. 6, 2004, Daniels’ unit, Marine Wing Communications Squadron 48, was deployed to Iraq. The unit returned from Iraq on Feb. 18.
Daniels is glad to be back in the United States with his unit intact. There were no fatalities and only one significant injury during the deployment.
“I'm just real glad to get my Marines back,” Daniels said.
“I actually made a promise to one of the Marines’ mothers that I would bring him back...
“One of my Marines, the night before we were leaving, he called me up and said, ‘My family’s kind of in distress. Do you think you can come and talk to them?’ and I said, ‘Yes, absolutely!’”
Daniels called his “brothers” Tony and Dusty and the three drove to Chicago to assure the Marine’s family everything was going to be OK.
“Dusty talked to them for awhile and Dusty said he was over there and he came back all right, and I said I'd do my best to make sure he (their Marine) came back the same,” Daniels said.
Daniels was conscious of his promise for the entire deployment.
“I mean you've got promises to keep, but you make sure that none of your Marines are taken care of better than any others,” he said. “You just try to get all your Marines back.
“That was my main goal — to get all my Marines back, everybody in our unit back. That was my mission — to make sure that we accomplished it.”
Daniels was stationed at Al Taqaddum, an airfield outside of Fallujah. At first the unit lived in tents. The tents were soon replaced by hardened structures.
“The hardened structures were better. They were obviously much smaller, but they were much safer,” Daniels explained.
He was in Fallujah when a bomb went off in a mess hall in Mosul and killed several soldiers.
“That was a scary time for everybody,” he recalled. “I remember several times eating in the chow hall and I... just didn't feel comfortable in there, so I would eat fairly quick. The mess hall was huge, but security tightened up quite a bit after that as well.”
Daniels was in charge of five individuals. He said they didn’t leave the base much because their job was to fix the communications equipment.
“We basically fixed whatever we could... made sure the communications were up the whole time. Communications are instrumental to the operation,” he explained.
The group worked seven days a week. In their off times, the troops spent time working out in the gym and watching movies on DVD. Their commanders arranged softball games and other activities to keep morale up.
“It depended on if there was stuff that needed to be done,” Daniels said. “There were times when I stayed there all night and worked through the next day. If it has to be done, somebody has to do it. Especially if somebody is depending on that stuff.
“You know the people that are out there on patrol, they use that stuff, so you literally kill yourself trying to fix it for them.”
Daniels and his Marines were constantly aware that they were living in a dangerous place.
“It’s always in the back of your mind that at any moment something could happen,” he explained. “It’s always — always, at the back of your mind. There for a few months it seemed like we were getting attacked every other day.
“The first time I didn't know what to expect. I heard an explosion off in the distance and I asked what was that. Then we heard another one and I thought, ‘Oh, my God! We’re getting attacked!’ And then your training just takes over and you get your gear on and you get down. And if the post needs to be manned, then you man it. You go through the protocol and you get through alive.”
Although it did not experience any fatalities or major injuries, Daniels unit saw a lot of trauma.
“That was humbling — it makes you realize how fragile life is. I mean, you are here one second and gone the next,” he said.
“One of our Marines took a small piece of shrapnel in his arm. He was really lucky, because a rocket impacted his compound and he was about 30 feet from the blast — from the point of impact. But he came out fine and he got the purple heart. That was really the only injury our unit had.”
Mail call was the favorite time of the day in Iraq.
“I don't think there is any faster way to clear a building than to yell ‘Mail call!’ Everyone just comes running. There were two different ones,” Daniels explained. “There was the mail call for mail and the one for packages.”
Everybody there appreciated the letters and packages, he said.
Daniels received care packages and cards from local Scout groups and school children, including Eagle Scout John Smith and Mrs. Okey's class from Galloway School.
“That was always heartwarming to get that kind of stuff and it does help to have all these kids rooting for you,” he said. “You get touched by it.”
Daniels’ main support group was his family.
“Between my brother Tony and my ‘other’ brother Dusty and my mom, I couldn't ask for a better support team at home,” he noted. “Mom always sent care packages. My whole family sent care packages. People I didn't even know were sending care packages to me. But it was really great. It was really nice to get stuff like that.”
“Between Dusty, Tony and my mother, there's no way I could have done it over there,” he added. “Tony kept care of my dog, my financial stuff. Dusty took care of me mentally and spiritually as a Marine. And my mom always had care packages and stuff like that coming to me.
“I wasn't lacking in anything. They took great care and I couldn’t ask for anything better. And the community and schools — it was good to know that people were rooting for you and everybody had you in their prayers and thoughts.”
Daniels will the guest of honor at a special welcome home party to be held Saturday, March 12. Everyone is invited to attend — especially former Marines and area service men and women. The party is scheduled for 6-11 p.m. at Skateland in Channahon.
“We would love to have them there,” Daniels said. “When you get around veterans it helps, because you can communicate with them — because they have been there and done that.”
03-14-05, 09:55 AM #13
Entrepreneur changes life, deploys to Iraq
Submitted by: 2nd Marine Division
Story Identification #: 200531071913
Story by Lance Cpl. Lucian Friel
CAMP AL QAIM, Iraq (March 06, 2005) -- Owning your own business can be rewarding in many ways. You're your own boss, you can control how you do business and make a lot of money.
But according to 28-year-old Lance Cpl. Kevin D. Taylor there is more to life than making a large amount of money.
The Warren, Ohio, native decided to join the Marine Corps just a couple of years after starting his own small construction company.
"I'm a patriotic person, and I started to realize that if I was going to say that we needed to be in this place or that place, military wise, than I needed to be willing to do it myself and put myself on the line. Not have everyone else do it all the time," explained the 1995 Champion High School graduate.
After graduating from high school and the Trumbull County Joint Vocational School for building trades, Taylor went to work for his father, David, at his chimney sweeping company.
He then branched off of his father's company and started his own smaller project, but after a few years of running his own business, Taylor decided it was time to do something he was passionate about.
"I got into firearms and weapons and I wanted to get into law enforcement or even the security industry. Even though I was making a good amount of money, I decided it wasn't about money it was a call for duty. I knew the military would be a good start and good on my resume," he explained.
So in early 2002, Taylor joined the Marine Corps' delayed entry program and left for recruit training at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, S.C., in the fall of that year.
Once he completed basic training, he went home to help the local recruiter and helped enlist one person.
He then attended the School of Infantry where he trained to become a machine gunner, which eventually lead him to his current unit, 3rd Battalion, 2d Marine Regiment.
The machine gunner deployed with the battalion to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in late 2003.
"I really felt that I was fulfilling my call for duty and my skills were put to the test. I was doing what I was meant to do and what I wanted to do," he said.
After his four-month deployment, Taylor returned to Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C., his unit's home base, to become a part of the battalion's operations and training section. He also became the battalion's school noncommissioned officer, responsible for placing the battalion's Marines in advanced schools to sharpen their skills.
Although Taylor has assumed more of an administrative role in the Marine Corps, when his unit deployed to Iraq in February, he still wanted to be involved in some of the operations.
"I would like to go on a few convoys, and I mainly want to see the local people here. When I was in Afghanistan, I could see how much the local people wanted us there and I know it would be the same situation here," he explained.
As Taylor's deployment in Iraq begins he looks back on the reasons he joined and he looks to the future sense of pride he will have.
"I will continue to serve and fulfill my duty and it will be an honor to say I was here, and I did my part," he said, chest swelling with pride.
03-14-05, 02:36 PM #14
MSSG-13 trains with 'bouncing bulets'
Submitted by: 13th MEU
Story Identification #: 200534191719
Story by Staff Sgt. Jesus A. Lora - 13th MEU Public Affairs Chief
MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. (March 4, 2005) -- The U.S. Embassy is under attack. Local villagers have gathered at the front gates; throwing debris inside the compound and shouting that the U.S. should leave their country and go home. All the while, clan leaders have ordered innocent bystanders to act as human shields. This scenario is a reality in today’s unbalanced world.
For scenarios like this one, the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit will rely on the tactically proficient unit known as the Tactical Security Element (TSE).
The TSE trained with non-lethal weapons at range 201 aboard Camp Pendleton on March 3rd. Marines from MEU Service Support Group-13 (MSSG-13) and Marines from Camp Pendleton’s Provost Marshal's Office honed their skills with the M1029 40-millimeter crowd dispersal rounds, M1012 12-gauge non-lethal point target cartridge rounds, M84 stun grenades and oleoresin capsicum spray.
“This is great tactical training,” said Gunnery Sgt. Rogelio Burboa, military police chief, MSSG-13. “Our training today will ensure that the units in theater will be protected.”
The day started with an M1012 12-gauge shot gun demonstration. The shotgun fired non-lethal point target rounds to stun individuals without penetrating the skin. This employment of munitions allows Marines to push back individuals and isolate targets to be detained by snatch teams.
“When we go on float, we will know our mission,” said Pfc. Jason Sauve, bulk fuel specialist and line-walker, MSSG-13. “This training will help me handle unforeseen missions that may arise. I’m glad that we are accomplishing this type of training; we are being trained the right way.”
Although, NLW is a deterrent that minimizes death or serious bodily harm, the weapons can cause serious injuries. It’s important for Marines to understand that NLWs reduce the risk of destroying the target, yet may cause harm when employed without proper technique.
Training continued for MSSG’s riot platoon. The platoon consists of 61 MSSG Marines. Each Marine is individually selected for this special billet. These Marines are dual warriors; tending to their own military occupational skills while being tasked as members of the TSE.
“This training gives us hands on experience with these types of weapons,” said Sgt. Brain Piendergast, bulk fuel specialist and NLW platoon instructor, MSSG-13. “It prepares us for riot control operations. You don’t always have to use deadly force.”
Training is everything to the Marine Corps. The riot platoon repeatedly rehearsed riot formations and crowd control operations until the mission was accomplished.
“NLW shotguns, tap down, fire, tap up ... Five steps forward, move!,” Sgt. Piendergheast yelled out movements to his platoon.
By the end of the day, the range appeared to be a sea of emptied cartridges. Marines had employed flash bang grenades, fired NLW weapons, the M240G, M249 Saw and executed vehicle dismount operations on to the objective.
“We now have weapons that will take care of certain missions,” said Piendergast. “We train so innocent individuals will not be harmed.”
03-14-05, 03:33 PM #15
Video games train tomorrow's warfighters
Submitted by: 2nd Marine Division
Story Identification #: 200531075116
Story by Cpl. Shawn C. Rhodes
MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. (March 10, 2004) -- Marines are facing rocket propelled grenade attacks, improvised explosive devices, suicide bombers and many other threats found in Iraq, all from the comfort of a computer screen in an air-conditioned cubicle. A modified version of the interactive computer game Operation Flashpoint, with the assistance of some Operation Iraqi Freedom veterans, is training Marines preparing to deploy to Iraq.
“This training allows units to run through an endless amount of scenarios to prepare them for the unexpected,” said Cpl. Gary W. Hogue, a 21-year-old from Saint Louis, Mo. The 2nd Marine Division field wireman was with Task Force Tarawa when the first Marine ground forces hit Iraq in 2003. He uses his firsthand knowledge of war to plan and execute combat missions on the Virtual Battlefield System.
“The unit leaders tell us what they want their Marines to experience and we plan out combat scenarios for them on the computer system,” he said.
Hogue works with Marines and a team of computer technicians to develop and execute the combat missions. The hazel-eyed Marine and his comrades man computers where they control the movements of insurgents. This means the unit undergoing the training has to think on their feet. It isn’t just a computer program they’re up against, it’s a real person.
“There was a unit which came through here doing convoy training. We (technicians) set the insurgents up with sniper rifles and took out one of the drivers in the vehicles on their computer screens,” Hogue said. The 5-feet-9-inch Marine added, “They went into a frenzy, not knowing what to do. We could have picked the whole convoy off, one by one. These are the mistakes we want units to make here so they don’t make them in Iraq.”
One unit using the software recently was the 4th Amphibious Assault Battalion, a reserve unit headed to Iraq later this month. The Marines normally train and operate with Amphibious Assault Vehicles in teams, which the computer program replicated. The Marines in each vehicle team were kept together in their own cubicle with a walkie-talkie to imitate the radio they would use to communicate with their platoon commander.
“It’s OK to make mistakes here. We can find out what problems we’re going to have before we ever hit the ground in Iraq,” said Staff Sgt. Brad R. Reichard, the maintenance chief for the unit. The Boone, N.C., native added, “The best part about this program is when a mistake is made here, no one dies.”
The unit found this out for themselves when their convoy was attacked by vehicle-born IEDs, suicide bombers and mortars. They were forced to think on their feet when lead vehicles were hit or when a convoy commander was killed.
“One advantage we have here over the enemy is that we know which vehicle has the platoon commander in it so we can purposely take it. That could put a private first class in charge of the whole convoy,” Hogue said. He chuckled as he added, “Because the younger Marines are better on video games, we’ve seen them perform better than many officers when they’re put in charge of a unit here.”
The training will continue for units preparing to deploy in order to ensure they will be ready to meet the challenges insurgents could present them with.
“I wish I would have had this training before I left for Iraq,” Hogue said. “It’s a good feeling to know I’m doing my part to make sure the next wave of Marines are ready to face what’s waiting for them.”
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