Desert Diaries
Lance Cpl. Regina A. Ruisi

MARINE CORPS BASE HAWAII(Sept. 14, 2007) -- Since 1965, the Marine Corps has effectively preserved its history through the Marine Corps Oral History Branch. The Corpswide program is conducted here by Captain Diana Mearns, historical program officer, who documents the accounts of Hawaii’s service members. The warriors’ stories are collected orally and join the ranks of thousands of Marines and Sailors who have come before them, dating back to Vietnam.

“Desert Diaries” is the telling of the very personal stories of pride and loyalty, humor and sadness, and the glory and horror of America’s wars. The stories are provided by the base historian, and are published to help share our warriors’ stories with the public.

One of the most important missions Marines participate in during a deployment is a humanitarian aid mission. Winning the hearts and minds of the community in an occupied country is important, especially in the Global War on Terrorism war zones, according to Cpl. Michael Herzberger, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment.

Herzberger learned in Afghanistan and Iraq that supporting humanitarian efforts in a combat zone is important not only for public opinion, but also troops’ and civilian morale. Herzberger, who joined the Marine Corps in June 2004 from Michigan, deployed twice with 2/3. He went to Afghanistan as a lance corporal in June 2005 and returned February 2006, only to deploy to Iraq the following September. He returned to Marine Corps Base Hawaii in April 2007.
While in Afghanistan, Herzberger and the Marines in his platoon were part of a Combined Anti-Armor Team and conducted vehicle security missions. The platoon’s missions focused around providing humanitarian assistance to the local community during their first three months in Afghanistan.

“We were very active in providing humanitarian assistance,” Herzberger said. “In Afghanistan we went to places where the people didn’t even know we were in the country. One village we went to thought we were Russians!”

Winning hearts and minds was important for the unit while in Iraq. The Marines gave food, personal hygiene items, school supplies and other items to Iraqi civilians while conducting improvised explosive devise sweeps and patrols through the streets of Iraq.

One of the most significant experiences Herzberger remembers from his Iraq deployment was when insurgent forces sabotaged Marine humanitarian efforts. Herzberger suddenly found himself being shot at by a sniper while handing out school supplies to Iraqi children.

“A round whizzed right past my head,” Herzberger said. “It shocked me at first. I was like ‘somebody’s trying to kill me!’ I saw the guy and started unloading on him because here he is, trying to take my life. The most amazing thing about that moment was how everybody reacted. There was no chaos. We all reacted by immediately closing on the enemy. We just kept pushing forward until we couldn’t fire anymore because they fled. That would just figure about Iraq. You’re doing humanitarian aid, trying to help the people, and you get shot at!”

For Herzberger and his Marines, their deployment to Iraq was significant for re-establishing bonds formed in Afghanistan.

The Marines who were in Herzberger’s Mobile Assault Platoon had all deployed together to Afghanistan, and that helped them communicate better in combat. Herzberger said he feels his platoon did well in Iraq despite the loss of their platoon commander.

“Even though we lost our command, we still pushed on better than most platoons even without our commander,” he said. “Going to Iraq was just an amazing experience because working with the same people, you can pick up easily on what they want to say; they don’t have to say much for you to know what’s going on. I don’t think we could have done any better.”

The platoon was responsible for conducting security checkpoints, screenings and missions. The job left little time for rest, he said.

“Rest is a myth,” he said. “Most of the time it doesn’t happen. It’s a pretty grueling tempo. Doing checkpoints was basically like going into a three-day coma. Get up, sleep when you can, get up, sleep when you can.”

Despite the lack of sleep, the Marines continued not only supporting their primary mission of searching for terrorists, but provided humanitarian assistance throughout the entire deployment, attempting to win the hearts and confidence of the Iraqi people.

“We calmed it down a little bit so we wouldn’t be shot at while we were handing out a backpack,” Herzberger said. “We got the water running and really tried to help rebuild these communities from the ground up, doing more than we should do, in reality. It really helped out with the people. You could tell the difference in their attitudes toward us from when we got there and when we left.”