Marine ready for 3rd tour of duty in Iraq
By J.J. Huggins
Sentinel & Enterprise

Jayson Ashmore has witnessed fellow Marines being killed and wounded during his two tours of duty in Iraq.

But he's not afraid to go back.

"I'd rather be over there and do my part than have my child go there," Ashmore said. "It's my duty to serve my country."

The 22-year-old Leominster Marine has served two 7-month stints in Iraq, the latest one in the city of Fallujah, and he's facing the likelihood of going back to war for a third time.

"Every day was combat," Ashmore recalled about Fallujah, while at his family's Merriam Avenue home on Monday. "It's a relief to come home."

The soldier has been home since Jan. 30.

He is scheduled to return to his training base at 29 Palms, Calif., on March 9.

The insurgency continues to be a problem in Iraq, but Ashmore said he believes the situation on the ground in Iraq is improving with the new constitution, and the strengthening of Iraqi forces.

Troop morale does get low at times, he said, especially when soldiers don't have the opportunity to communicate with loved ones for long periods of time.

"It's low at times," he said. "It's definitely a lot higher when we're not getting shot at."

Although the public may debate the war, Ashmore said he thinks the general public supports the troops.

Ashmore described the duties he performed in Fallujah, which is located in the so-called Sunni Triangle, and has been the site of constant violence since the war began.

"We go door to door, we search some houses for insurgents, weapons," he said. "I speak a little Arabic. That's all we do when we're on foot patrol, talk to people. They like us there, for the most part."

Ashmore and his fellow Marines have caught foreign insurgents, who came from places like Saudi Arabia, in the act of setting up Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDS), he said.

The Marines split into groups and work various jobs during three-day shifts, Ashmore explained.

The jobs consist of patrolling, guarding the base, watching over the city, and being on the Quick Reaction Force, or QRF, he said.

Marines on the QRF have to be ready for battle every second of the day, even when they're sleeping.

So Ashmore had to wear his combat uniform, including his boots, 24-hours-a-day, for three days straight at times, he said.

His stepmother, Lise, who sat in on the interview along with Ashmore's father, Kerry, joked about how the soldiers save themselves from having to smell each other's feet by keeping their boots on.

Ashmore smiled and laughed along.

The father and stepmother said they were "shocked" when Ashmore, at the age of 19, informed them he was joining the Marines.

Asked what motivated him to enlist, Ashmore replied, "I just wanted to help out my country."

His father and stepmother said he has made them proud.

"It's nice to have him home; we're proud of him," Lise Ashmore said.

The war in Iraq hadn't begun when Ashmore first decided to enlist, but Ashmore said he hoped he would see action.

He graduated from boot camp at Parris Island, S.C., where he lost more than 50 pounds, in October of 2003.

The military then sent him to the 29 Palms base, which is in a California desert, and that's when his father knew he'd be going to war.

"I said, 'That's desert training, you're going to Iraq.' I knew right away," he said.

The Marines shipped Ashmore to the city of Hit in Iraq for his first tour in February 2004.

Ashmore said he felt "fearless" then.

"I wasn't worried at all," he said. "I don't know what I was thinking."

He saw less violence during his seven-month stint in Hit than he did in Fallujah, he said.

Seven months is the standard tour length for infantry-battalion members like Ashmore, he said.

Ashmore's father never served in the military, but his grandfather was in the Air Force. Kerry Ashmore hoped his son would join the Air Force instead of the Marines, but that didn't happen.

"He said he wanted to be in the toughest (branch), and he is," Kerry Ashmore said.

The 2002 graduate of Leominster High School attended Mount Wachusett Community College and used to sleep-in on a regular basis before deciding to put his education on hold and join the military.

"It's given him some direction," Kerry Ashmore said. "He's not the same kid I used to wake up at noon."

But the couple constantly worries that one day a military car will pull to their house, and somebody will come to tell them their son has died.

They only heard from Ashmore about once every 10 days while he was in Fallujah.

Constant television coverage of soldiers dying in combat didn't ease their apprehensions either, Lise Ashmore said.

"You can't watch the news," she said.

"In four years he's going to have been over there three times, that's not what any parent wants," Kerry Ashmore said. "I don't want him to go back a third time."

Ashmore has so far escaped injury while serving, but he has seen several of his fellow soldiers wounded and killed.

His father is worried about the mental toll warfare might have taken on him.

Ashmore moved to Leominster from Gardner in the eight grade.

He likes to golf, and he hopes to enroll as a business student at Arizona State University, after finishing his time in the military.

He will resume training in March, and will be promoted from lance corporal to corporal. He is facing the possibility of being sent to Iraq for another five to seven months before he completes his four years of active duty in 2007.

Ellie