Marine tells of life on the front line
By Bonnie Obremski, North Adams Transcript
North Adams Transcript
Article Launched:02/01/2007 11:59:18 AM EST
Thursday, February 1

WILLIAMSTOWN — Seventh-grade students at Pine Cobble School were careful not to stare at Marine 1st Lt. Brent Filson's right leg early Wednesday morning, even though they knew his athletic pants stretched over a number of pins bracing his broken bones.

Filson, a 1996 Pine Cobble graduate, was there to tell students what it is like to be a Marine and what it is like to serve in Iraq.

"Daily life is different every day," he told the group of about 20 students in the school library. The private school offers preschool through Grade 9.

Susan Wells, director of athletics and public relations, said she outlined discussion guidelines for the students and Filson prior to the meeting in order to ensure sensitivity.

Filson, 26, was injured after three months patrolling in and around Anah, Iraq, on Oct. 22, when an explosive device detonated 10 meters away from him. The 82-millimeter mortar explosion injured four other Marines, causing one to lose his foot. Filson said he will keep his leg but will recover at home for several months. He said he plans to return to duty if he is physically able.

He described his profession, training and mission in Iraq, using professional reserve and military jargon.

"We swept 30 kilometers along the Euphrates (River) looking for weapons caches and insurgents," he said, then paused. "You guys know where the Euphrates is, right?"

The students were silent, but he continued the tale, later asking the audience to ask questions. Pupils referred to lists they had made during a previous class.

"Who do you want to win in the Super Bowl?" one student asked.

Filson laughed. "Not the Colts," he said. "Chicago. I've got to root for the underdog."

"Did you have a best friend?" Kyle MacKenzie, 12, asked.

Filson smiled again. "Yes. We came into the fleet together. But I was a platoon commander. What that means is, I don't have someone to go to to talk about personal things. I have to keep a professional persona all the time."

"What did you do, like with fighting and stuff?" Dakota Ross, 12, asked.

"Our main mission was to build up the Iraqi police and army forces so they can do the fighting," Filson said, adding that he believes Iraqis are not yet prepared to protect themselves from al-Qaida terrorist or insurgent attacks.

"Some say as soon as American troops leave the cities, so will the IEDs (improvised explosive devices), but "

He said his interactions with Iraqi citizens was positive. He said it was a misconception that Iraqis generally practice extreme Muslim religious customs.

"We gained the trust of the Iraqi people," he said. "They just want security, to walk down the street and not have to worry."

Sounds of explosions

He described the occasional sound of explosions and mortar fire and caring for injured Iraqi civilians. He said the Iraqis seemed to respond well to the Marines' "powerful" presence. Some of the Iraqis congratulated the work troops had done to filter out terrorists in the community by hosting an impromptu and rare street celebration, he said, adding, "It looked like a block party."

"How heavy was your gear?" Brodie Beliveau, 13, asked.

Filson rattled of a long list of specialized equipment, then looked back at Brodie.

"You don't have to know what all of that means," he said, smiling. "It was heavy as hell."

"When did you decide to go into the military?" Patrick Shine, 12, asked.

"I always knew, and I've always had this thing about being with the best, so I joined the Marines," was the response.

Filson graduated from Mount Greylock Regional High School in 1999 and from Union College in Schenectady, N.Y., before joining the Marines in 2003.

He was a platoon commander with the 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, headquartered at Camp Lejuene, N.C. His father, Brent Filson Sr., is a former Marine. His brother, Rush Filson, 36, is a Marine major, and his other brother, J. Adam, 42, is a judge advocate general officer in the National Guard. His family lives in Williamstown.

Wells asked Filson what students should include in a care package to servicemen in Iraq.

"Hand warmers, candy, Mach3 razors and wet wipes," he said.

He said the thing he had missed most in Iraq were showers. He said troops live in camps without even the heat of a campfire. And, he said, he discovered a passion for Slim Jims after receiving them in a package one day from his friend's girlfriend.

"After serving in the military, do you have a new respect for servicepeople?" Katie Swoap, 13, asked.

"I have a whole new respect for Vietnam veterans," Filson said.