Decking the halls in Iraq
By Sharon Stello/The Davis Enterprise
Published Dec 19, 2006 - 14:22:53 CST.

Sgt. Brad Bitler is a long way from home this holiday season.

The 2003 Davis High School graduate has been serving with the Marines in Iraq since August. Thanks to local donations, he plans to throw a holiday party for his battalion Saturday night (that's Friday in Davis, due to the time difference).

Bitler's mother, real estate agent Julie Partain, collected more than $7,000 from Davis businesses to buy more than 900 phone cards for soldiers serving with her son.

Some of the donations helped purchase DVDs, video games, snacks and online gift certificates, which will be assembled into small gift packages for each Marine. Bitler's friends and family also sent gift items.

These donations will bring holiday cheer to the servicemen and women. Bitler wrote an e-mail to The Enterprise, thanking the community for its generous support.

"It's tough being away from our family during the holidays, and deeds such as this help us get through the tough times," Bitler wrote. "Word has leaked out throughout the battalion, and morale has already lifted. It's a great gesture from the people of Davis."

Partain and Bitler's girlfriend, Lillian Grant (daughter of local artist Heidi Bekebrede), sent numerous boxes of holiday decorations and board games. Bitler's stepfather, Julian Youmans Jr., sent a complete set of golf clubs and balls. Partain sent a Santa Claus suit, which Bitler plans to wear to the party.

"With holiday music and hot chocolate in hand, the Marines and sailors of CLB-1 will have a chance to take a picture with Sgt. Claus," Bitler wrote.

The party is a needed break after the military personnel have been working for more than 120 days straight.

Bitler joined the Marine Corps after high school, attending basic training in August 2003. This past August, he was meritoriously promoted to sergeant, years ahead of schedule, and stationed at Camp Pendleton in Southern California with Combat Logistics Battalion-1, 1st Marine Logistics Group.

The battalion was deployed to the Al Anbar Province of Iraq in mid-August for a seven-month tour.

During his service there, Bitler has kept in touch with his hometown. His unit became pen pals with Kate Bowen's sixth-grade class at Patwin Elementary School. Bowen was Bitler's sixth-grade teacher at Pioneer Elementary School.

When Bowen heard that Bitler - one of her all-time favorite students - was serving in Iraq, she asked if her class could write to him and the other soldiers. They've been exchanging letters every month.

"Since they are studying Mesopotamia (ancient Iraq), they were full of questions," Bitler wrote in his e-mail to The Enterprise.

After writing a couple letters, Bowen's class asked if Bitler and the other soldiers needed anything. They requested instant soup cups, coffee and magazines, so the class sent three large boxes full of these items around Thanksgiving.

Bitler and his friends were grateful for this support from home. Bitler works 12- to 19-hour shifts, seven days a week, and is on standby 24 hours a day.

He works in combat administration. From time to time, he visits outlying forward operating bases to ensure they are running smoothly from an administrative standpoint.

When a Marine is injured or killed, Bitler gathers information on the attack or accident and completes personnel casualty reports, which are reviewed at the highest levels of the military. For example, these reports are used to determine whether a Purple Heart should be awarded.

He also develops custom databases, which detail everything from the percentage of Marines given awards during the deployment, to weapons and personnel strength and location.

Additionally, Bitler is the Red Cross liaison for his battalion. In this role, he makes sure soldiers receive important messages about deaths or births in their family.

His unit is stationed at an old Iraqi air base taken over by the U.S. military during the invasion of 2003. The troops live in old Iraqi barracks.

"There are remnants of our enemies who used to dwell in the same rooms. There are also Anti-American slogans carved into the walls of our room in Arabic dating back to the 1990s," Bitler wrote.

There's no running water in the barracks. Shower trailers and portable toilets were built 100 yards away. Large diesel generators provide power, so diesel fumes are a constant. Temperatures soared above 120 degrees in the summer and now have dropped into the 30s and 40s.

Bitler's service in the Marines will be completed in June. He hopes to attend the University of Southern California and pursue a bachelor's degree in business administration.

In high school, Bitler played rugby and was involved with the yearbook. He served as vice president of Future Business Leaders of America and class president during his junior year.

He joined the Marine Corps' delayed entry program in March 2003, just as the country was invading Iraq.

"I felt compelled to join; so many Americans have given their lives and sacrificed too much for the freedom we take for granted in every breath. I couldn't sit on the sidelines," Bitler wrote in an e-mail.

"I was 6 years old when we were involved with the Gulf War," Bitler wrote. "The thought of one afternoon praying with my mom for the safe return of the Americans fighting in that war radiated through my pen as I signed my enlistment papers."

Bitler wrote that "the discipline gained and life experiences so far have been far worth it."

"I'm proud of serving here if it meant one innocent American life was saved, including those who are against the war or even against the Marines," Bitler wrote.

To send a donation toward more phone cards to be shipped to the troops after Jan. 1, contact Partain at 304-4290 or