'Ode to Joy'

'Ode to Joy'

April 29, 2011

Photo of the Day

Sgt. Maj. of the Marine Corps Carlton W. Kent, who has served as the Corps' highest ranking enlisted member since April 2007, speaks to approximately 2,000 Marines and sailors from various units at Camp Del Mar here April 26, saying farewell before his scheduled retirement in June. In attendance were service members from the 11th and 15th Marine Expeditionary Units, 3rd Assault Amphibian Battalion, Assault Amphibian School Battalion, 3rd Civil Affairs Group, Corporals Course, I Marine Expeditionary Force Headquarters Group and I MEF Training and Experimentation Group.  (Photo by Lance Cpl. Ryan Carpenter)

Recon Marines tackle jungle warfare training

Staff Sgt. Sigifredo Apodaca, right, team leader, 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion, 3rd Marine Division, III Marine Expeditionary Force, discusses the plan of action with Cpl. Adam Reynolds, assistant team leader, 3rd Recon Bn., during a stop in a patrol at the Jungle Warfare Training Center April 18. The Marines were practicing standard operating procedures for movement in jungle terrain. (Photo by Lance Cpl. Mark Stroud)
By Lance Cpl. Mark W. Stroud, Marine Corps Bases Japan 
JUNGLE WARFARE TRAINING CETER, Okinawa, Japan  — Marines with 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion, 3rd Marine Division, III Marine Expeditionary Force, engaged in jungle warfare training at the Jungle Warfare Training Center on Okinawa April 12-27.

In preparation for an upcoming deployment, the Marines with Force Reconnaissance Company worked on patrolling tactics, jungle survival techniques and communication during a training evolution designed to focus on the fundamentals of reconnaissance and teamwork.

“No matter how advanced our job is, we start with the basics and go from there,” said Staff Sgt. Sigifredo Apodaca, team leader, 3rd Recon Bn. “The goal is to work on (standard operating procedures), working out the mechanics of how we work together as a team.”

Instructors from the JWTC hosted both classroom and practical application sessions on jungle survival skills for the reconnaissance Marines. 

The JWTC instructors discussed jungle shelters, water purification, improvised weapons, snares, starting a fire, jungle navigation and tracking foot-mobile enemies during the training evolution, according to Sgt. Joshua R. Mathes, chief instructor, JWTC. 

The terrain and vegetation of the JWTC provided the Marines with an environment conducive to the training.

“This kind of terrain is always a challenge, that is why we come out here and work on communication and movement,” said Apodaca. “You can always paint a broad picture in the classroom, but it’s nothing like being out in this environment.”

The thick canopies, limited visibility and steep terrain provided a degree of challenge for the Marines.

“Navigating is the main challenge, if you can’t get a (global positioning system) signal you have to use your compass, and with the drastic changes in elevation you can’t shoot a good azimuth and follow it for a long way,” said Cpl. Jason T. Schaefer, reconnaissance scout, 3rd Recon Bn. “You have to inch through the jungle.”
The foliage also provided an impediment for communications.

“The (satellite communications) were an issue with the thick canopies,” said Cpl. Shane Robertson, one of the battalion’s radio operators. “Any type of communication was an issue.”

Movement through jungle terrain was another focus of training.

“The course of training we’ve had has helped with mountaineering and traversing some of the extreme obstacles like cliff faces,” said Cpl. Adam Reynolds, assistant team leader, 3rd Recon Bn.

The training movements started off with a low degree of difficulty that gradually increased, allowing the Marines to perfect the fundamentals of patrolling before they were asked to execute a movement under operational conditions.

“When we first came out here we started slick, (no packs), working out the basics, and we’ve been adding more gear and more weight as we go,” said Apodaca. 

The presence of the JWTC instructors and the challenging terrain provided the Marines with the chance to engage in this wide range of training in a relatively short amount of time.

“Everything you need is up here, from patrolling to rappelling. It’s all here,” said Apodaca.

“We are just making sure everyone is capable because a lot of us are new to the job,” said Reynolds. “We need to make sure we are capable of doing whatever is asked of us.”

April 28, 2011

Photo of the Day

Sgt. Maj. Carlton W. Kent, the Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps, shows Marines a U.S. Army recruiting poster depicting the phrase "Sometimes the best Soldier for the Job is a Marine," to show the Marines how important they are to our country, during his visit to Marine Corps Air Station Miramar April 25.  (Photo by Cpl. Jamean R. Berry)

Two IED blasts can't stop BLT 3/8 Marine

U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Schultz, a combat engineer attached to Company L, Battalion Landing Team 3/8, 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, Regimental Combat Team 2, relays information from the intelligence brief to his Marines in Helmand province, Afghanistan, Jan. 27, 2011. Elements of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit deployed to Afghanistan to provide regional security in Helmand province in support of the International Security Assistance Force. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Jesse J. Johnson/ Released)
By Gunnery Sgt. Bryce Piper, 26th MEU 

April 27, 2011

Marine earns GEICO Military Service Award, rewarded by saving lives

Cpl. Robbie D. Johnson, hailing from Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C., received the GEICO Military Service award for the prevention and education of driving intoxicated April 18, 2011. The GEICO Military Service Awards honor service members for exemplary efforts in not only serving the nation, but their communities as well. (Photo by Lance Cpl. Christofer Baines)

By Lance Cpl. Christofer P. Baines, Headquarters Marine Corps 
ARLINGTON, Va.  — Cpl. Robbie D. Johnson received the GEICO Military Service Award in a ceremony April 18 for exemplary efforts in preventing drunk driving. The award is presented annually to service members who contribute to their communities and the military, volunteering their own time to make a difference.
His brainchild, “Project Guardian Angel,” achieves its mission by sending volunteers to local bars in the Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C., area, as well as surrounding cities Marines frequent. Then, armed with breathalyzers, volunteers show people how intoxicated they really are.

Project Guardian Angel officially began July 27, 2010, weeks after Johnson received non-judicial punishment for driving under the influence. Johnson immediately took responsibility for his mistake and set out to prevent the same thing from happening to other Marines.

He first experienced the repercussions of drunk driving at age 13, when he tragically lost his father in an accident caused by a drunk driver.  With tragedy and a wake-up call behind him, he pushed forward and sought to prevent Marines from making the same mistake.

“When my father was hit by a drunk driver and killed, I was immediately mad, thinking someone meant to get behind the wheel drinking and driving,” said Johnson, who serves as an automotive organizational mechanic with Company H, 2nd Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment. “I have come to believe, and I truly believe, it’s not always that intention. Sometimes they have three or four and think they’re good to go – they honestly believe they’re good to drive. That’s the thing about alcohol, that’s why you need someone there personally to hold you accountable, because when you have that first drink you’re not the same person you were five minutes before. Alcohol can be a good and relaxing thing, but if you don’t control it you can ruin your life.”

With his ideas and determined mindset, Johnson set out to create Project Guardian Angel. From the ground up, he did everything from purchasing breathalyzers to getting the organization filed with the Internal Revenue Service as a non-profit organization, and he did it all in a quiet, humble manner.

“I was in awe of what he was able to put together in such a short amount of time,” said Lt. Col. Susan B. Seamen, battalion commander, Headquarters and Support Battalion, Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C. “He did this very quietly, with no fanfare and his own money. It took us a while to find out about it.”

After his efforts were noticed, his superiors recognized his hard work by nominating him for the award.

“He’s taken something that could’ve been a negative and turned it into a significant positive,” said Brig. Gen. Steven Busby, director, Joint Capabilities Assessment and Integration Directorate, who presented the award at the ceremony in Arlington, Va. “He and his team takes care of those who are out and about enjoying themselves – maybe sometimes a little too much – who would otherwise make poor decisions. He and his team are there to help them make the right decision.”

Though he knew he was nominated nine months prior to the ceremony, he didn’t know he was chosen for the award until he received a surprising phone call from the Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps, Sgt. Maj. Carlton W. Kent.

“I didn’t find out I won till Sgt. Maj. Kent called me on my cell phone. I thought it was a joke at first but he called me the next day,” said Johnson. “It was a humbling experience in itself.”

Since its inception, Project Guardian Angel has grown to a volunteer base of more than 5,000 in only nine months, and has helped more than 1,000 men and women make the right decision when it comes to getting behind the wheel.

“We have tried to pull up statistics on Jacksonville, like DUIs this year compared to last year,” he said. “The only way we can really track it is the reflection of people that use our system, or just come up to us for a breathalyzer. We measure success by knowing we helped that handful of people at a time.”

The program is based upon the ideal of educating potential drunk drivers on their personal alcohol tolerance and the consequences getting behind the wheel when they’re over the limit. It offers rides to those who have no other option, though a common misconception is that free rides are the goal of the program.

“We are not a taxi service at all,” said Johnson.  “We’re purely educational. Our logo is ‘no more excuses’ – the vans are a last resort, if you do need a ride, we’re not going to let you drive drunk.”

Funding and equipment now comes from sponsors, volunteers and through their website, www.projectguardianangel.com. Through his initiative and hard work, Project Guardian Angel is growing. Leader’s Corpswide have even noticed the effective approach of the program, seeking to implement it in other Marine Corps installations.

“We will definitely be in every Marine Corps base by the end of 2012,” said Johnson.

Emulating the core values of honor, courage and commitment, and turning the negative to positive, Johnson has created something that has benefited his fellow Marines, as well as his community.

“We can’t be anything but proud to serve in the same organization as Cpl. Johnson,” said Seamen. “He possesses strong moral character, is a born leader and not easily defeated. Marines everywhere are proud of him.”

Marines, Senegalese commandos maneuver through river obstacles

U.S. Marine Corps 1st Lt. Michael J. Thomas maneuvers a bobbing crossbeam during a water obstacle course in the Sadoum River, recently. Thomas, platoon commander for second platoon, Ground Combat Element, Security Cooperation Task Force, Africa Partnership Station 2011 has led the platoon through several facets of APS-11's mission of a partnered military-to-military exchange in Senegal. (Photo by Lance Cpl. Timothy Solano)

By LCpl. Timothy Solano, Marine Forces Africa 

TOUBAKOUTA, Senegal   — High tide in the Sadoum River here makes for a perfect training day as the Marines of second platoon, Ground Combat Element, Security Cooperation Task Force, Africa Partnership Station 2011 partner alongside Nigerian Navy Special Boat Service operators and Senegalese commandos.

Though the day’s primary partnered event was a sure reprieve from the heat, maneuvering through the Senegalese river obstacle course was no easy feat.

In full military uniform, the platoons moved from obstacle to obstacle in teams of four as they crossed floating monkey bars, pulled themselves over a bobbing wall and leapt from a high dive, among other events. By the midpoint of the course, the effect of maneuvering through a water course was apparent on all participants.

 “By the end of the course, I felt like I used every muscle I had,” said Lance Cpl. Zach Stevens, a San Francisco native. “This was an effective training tool, especially for this platoon of [amphibious assault vehicle operators].

“As Marines, we’re amphibious by nature,” he added. The river’s current played its own role in the difficulty level of the course, whose participants’ various swim levels ranged from beginner to advanced. For the Marines who usually conduct combat water survival qualification in a pool, this variable added to the complexity of the course. “The obstacle course was very difficult,” said Senegalese air force commando Babacar Ngom, a first-time swimmer. “I left the river, came back to my bed and took a nap.”

Likewise, the Marines took from the course a respect for the difficulty of a moving current.

“The water is not something you can beat,” said Gunnery Sgt. Michael Connors, platoon sergeant for second platoon and a Fitchburg, Mass., native. “You have to work with it, not against it. Either way it’s going to take a lot out of you, even through a course as short as this.”

Approximately 150 meters of rope secured the o-course just off the river shoreline as some maneuvered expertly and others struggled to finish the course. The four-man teams ensured one another’s success through each obstacle, and no personnel had to be recovered by the nearby safety boat. Connors, who is also a certified Marine Corps Water Survival Instructor, supervised the exercise for his Marines as well as the Senegalese and Nigerian troops.

Though second platoon’s home base of Camp Lejeune, N.C., does not have a water obstacle course of its own, the effectiveness of the course set a precedent for each Marine to pass on future water endurance training.

“The water is one of the best training tools we can use for fitness, and we don’t use it enough,” said Connors. “Having the Senegalese show us this training tool provided the Marines with another tool to train themselves and their subordinates in building endurance.”

Africa Partnership Station 2011 is a U.S. Africa Command maritime security engagement program that is designed to strengthen participating nations’ maritime security capacity through multilateral collaboration and cross-border cooperation. Marine Corps Forces, Africa is supporting APS-11 with a Security Cooperation Task Force based out of Camp Lejeune, N.C. The task force began its deployment in Ghana in March and is slated to continue its follow-on mission at Gabon in June.

Photo of the Day

The 3-year-old daughter of Petty Officer 2nd Class Jerome Cinco, a hospital corpsman with Headquarters Battery, 1st Battalion, 12th Marine Regiment, holds her father close before his departure from Marine Corps Base Hawaii on a seven-month deployment to Afghanistan, April 25, 2011. Over the course of the week, approximately 550 Marine and sailors from 1/12 left Hawaii to replace 1st Battalion, 10th Marine Regiment, in Afghanistan's Helmand province in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. Unlike their last two deployments - supporting Task Forces Military Police in Iraq - 1/12 will revert back to its primary mission and provide artillery fire support to 2nd Marine Division (Forward) during ongoing counterinsurgency operations in the province. (Photo by Cpl. Reece Lodder)

April 25, 2011

Artillery Marines hold back insurgents in key Afghan district

Marines with Bravo Battery, 1st Battalion, 10th Marines, Regimental Combat Team 8, patrol through a poppy field in the Kajaki green zone, Helmand province, Afghanistan, April 19. An artillery unit by doctrine, Bravo Battery has served as a provisional infantry rifle company for the last several months while protecting the area around the Kajaki Dam. (Official USMC photo by Staff Sgt. Jeremy Ross)

By Staff Sgt. Jeremy Ross, II MEF (FWD) 

FORWARD OPERATING BASE ZEEBRUGGE, Afghanistan  — Kajaki District is usually dangerous, occasionally beautiful, always strategically important, and for the last six months its security has been lead by a single Marine Corps artillery battery.

The mission of shielding the Kajaki Dam and the area around it from insurgents has drawn the Marines of Bravo Battery, 1st Battalion, 10th Marines, Regimental Combat Team 8, away from their traditional mission of providing long-range support by fire and into the full spectrum of the counterinsurgency fight in Afghanistan.

“The [improvised explosive device] threat here is very high, and we’ve had numerous direct fire engagements with insurgents,” said 1st Lt. Joe E. Sawyer, 26, the battery’s executive officer and a New Brockton, Ala., native.

Situated along the Helmand River to the north of the volatile Sangin District, Kajaki is blessed with natural scenery. Rocky hills rise above the ‘green zone,’ a winding area of irrigated farmland. The Helmand River flows into the Kajaki Dam near here. There are foaming rapids and a sparkling reservoir. In the fields, farmers grow wheat alongside opium-producing poppy. The latter is currently in full bloom, coloring the area with vivid pinks, whites and reds.

Despite its lush appearance, Kajaki has long been an area under threat by insurgents. The counterinsurgency campaign in Kajaki revolves mostly around the dam and the communities surrounding it, said Cpl. John T. Gizzi, 21, an assistant squad leader from Tucketon, N.J.

“With the way the insurgents influence the people, they’d like to control the dam and its power output so they can tax it,” he explained.

The U.S. government helped fund and build the dam in the 1950’s and installed hydroelectric turbines in 1975. Today the dam provides most of the electric power in Helmand province. When ongoing repairs and improvements to the turbines and power grid are completed, the dam has the potential to power most of Helmand and Kandahar provinces, said Sawyer.

The strategic potential of the dam has proved irresistible to insurgent groups. The closest bazaar was shut down several years ago. Many of the villages around the dam have been abandoned by all except insurgents and their sympathizers, said Sawyer.

With much of the local populace either dispersed or suspected of supporting the insurgency, the Marines of Bravo Battery have focused on reminding the insurgents that Marines can and will strike and interdict areas outside the immediate area around the dam and FOB, said Gizzi.

“We patrol frequently,” he said. “We’ll push to contact to the north or south [of the dam] and make sure they know we’re here.”

This active patrol presence is very different from the traditional artillery mission, although converting artillery units into provisional infantry rifle companies has occurred several times previously in Iraq and Afghanistan. Another artillery unit, India Battery, 3rd Bn., 12th Marines, preceded Bravo Battery as the main security force in the area.

During their engagements with the enemy, Bravo Battery Marines have unleashed virtually every ground combat weapon system available to the Marine Corps, including machine guns, rockets and mortars. This is unusual because while many non-infantry Marines train to use these weapon systems, using them in continuous combat ops is typically an infantry-only task.

At Kajaki, Bravo Battery has had to adapt. Teams of artillerymen who had never touched a mortar system before pre-deployment training have fired hundreds of rounds here, said Sawyer.

Of course the artillery Marines get the artillery pieces involved as well. On several occasions during this deployment, cannoneers with Bravo Battery have found themselves firing their M-777 A2 lightweight howitzers from their hillside FOB in support of fellow artillerymen engaging insurgent fighters in the green zone below. A battery firing in support of its own personnel is practically unheard of since Vietnam, said Sawyer.

“That guy who’s out on patrol, when he comes back and he’s sitting in the chow hall, the guy to his right is the guy who was pulling the lanyard in support of him the night before,” he said. “The next day they switch.”

The battery has done much of this fighting alongside the local Afghan uniformed police unit, said Cpl. Anthony J. Chavez, 24, a provisional rifleman and Albuquerque, N.M., native.

The Kajaki AUP outfit, mentored by police advisors with 1st and 3rd Battalions, 5th Marines, includes dozens of men originally from Kajaki who were displaced by the insurgency.

“They’ve gone out and found IEDs for us,” said Chavez. “We take them out with us on pushes. They’re helping us keep the insurgency pushed back here.”

With the end of their deployment now in sight, the Marines of Bravo Battery have a lot to be proud of, said Sawyer.

“We’ve definitely kept the insurgents on their toes,” said Gizzi. “We’ve been able to push them back further and further and gain some territory.”

Photo of the Day

Lance Cpl. Wayne Snelling (left), looks on as Lance Cpl. Taylor Slay, a Baton Rouge, La., native, shares a piece of his steak with Mac, a military working dog with 3rd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion. Steak Team Mission, a privately funded, nonprofit organization from Dallas, served the Marines and sailors of 2nd Marine Division (Forward) steak dinners in seven separate locations within a five-day period. (Photo by Sgt. Earnest Barnes)

April 21, 2011

Photo of the Day

Maj. Gen. Carl Jensen (left), commanding general of Marine Corps Installations - East, explains the path of Saturday night's tornado to Gen. James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, among the wreckage of one of the demolished houses aboard the Tarawa Terrace housing community, Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, April 15. Cartwright was briefed prior to viewing the wreckage by Col. Daniel Lecce, commanding officer of MCB Camp Lejeune, explaining how the displaced families are being cared for and the clean-up efforts occurring aboard the housing community. (Photo by Cpl. Johnathan Wright)

The wrath of the storm, the strength of the people

Petty Officer 2nd Class Fredrick Lacy, head operation's petty officer for 2nd Dental Battalion, 2nd Marine Logistics Group, embraces his wife after surveying the remains of their house aboard the Tarawa Terrace housing community, Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, April 15. The Lacys' house was one of the hardest hit residences from the tornado that ripped through the TT area shortly after 8 p.m. Saturday night, one of approximately 12 that were completely demolished. (Photo by Cpl. Johnathan Wright)

By Cpl. Jonathan G. Wright, Marine Corps Base Camp LeJeune 
MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C.  — All day this past Saturday, the sky was overcast. Warm breezes blew through Jacksonville, N.C. as if a herald to the impending summer. As the day wound down the wind started to pick up and the clouds chased each other across the sky as if in some heavenly horse race. As the sun sank below the horizon and the clock hands rested slightly after 8 p.m., the residents of the Tarawa Terrace housing community aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune looked toward the southwest in horror.

From the clouds descended a mighty vortex over the New River, bearing right into the middle of the military housing community as if it possessed free will. Taking many by complete surprise, it bulldozed a surgical path of destruction, diagonally cutting the area in half and decimated anything that was unlucky enough to stand in its path.

After reaching the edge of Lejeune Boulevard, the grotesque funnel left the ground and continued onward, dropping its vortex now upon the Holiday City Mobile Home Community, overturning trailers with many residents still inside of them.

Ripping through the mobile home community, the tornado continued north-eastward until it shortly died out. Nearly four miles of Camp Lejeune and Jacksonville area was selectively obliterated, momentarily stunning the residents in its wake. However, these residents did not bar themselves inside their houses and sit in shock and wonder after the tornado hit.

“We had just gotten back from a fishing trip in Emerald Isle when it hit,” said Cpl. Dustin Marks, a maintenance management specialist with Communications Company, Headquarters Battalion, 2nd Marine Division. “I had gotten out of the shower and just as I was leaving my room, a (board) crashed through the window.”

He and his wife Amy had no idea what hit them. Everything on their patio was taken away by the wind; the screen door was ripped off its hinges and debris slammed against the house. Yet, with such an unexpected event as this, they, like every other family aboard TT, reacted.

“It didn’t last more than five seconds,” said Amy. “After it passed, we went outside to go help the people in the houses with much more damage than ours.”

The Marks’ house escaped nearly unscathed. Except for minor cosmetic damage and a momentary loss of power, they were lucky. Unconcerned with the state of their own house, they ran outside in the pitch black darkness to aid the more unlucky – those like Ashleigh Seniw.

“My husband is deployed, so it was just me in the house,” said Seniw. “I was in the bathroom when, out of nowhere, it hit.”

Seniw’s house was demolished, trapping her inside the rubble of what was left of her house. It took four firefighters to eventually remove her from the rubble. Amazingly, she made it out unscathed.

After a detailed assessment following the tornado, 10-12 homes were completely destroyed, 40-60 homes sustained significant structural damage and 40-60 more homes sustained minor cosmetic damage.

However, there were some even more unlucky than Seniw. Ten residents were airlifted to Pitt County Memorial Hospital in Greenville, N.C., and until now, nine have been released following full recovery. The only remaining tornado casualty is an infant in critical condition, sustaining a broken leg, broken ribs and a punctured lung among other injuries.

With the quick, yet devastating tragedy that laid a path of demolition through the area, the residents both on base and in town showed their true colors of military and neighborly support.

“Not even a minute after the tornado passed, there were people outside with flashlights and flares making sure everyone was ok,” said Marks. “Shortly after that, people with shopping carts were going around giving out free food and a van made rounds with free water.”

The following day, after emergency teams cleared the roads of downed power lines and obstructing debris, the community came together in a completely unselfish effort to aid others. Marine working parties from Camp Lejeune combed through TT alongside civilian volunteers to pick up as much rubble and trash as they could while donation efforts for the affected families took off in full swing.

“Since (Sunday morning), donated food, clothes and children toys have been coming in non-stop,” said Raechel Richards, assistant director with the United Service Organizations – Jacksonville Center. “From Sunday morning to Monday afternoon, the two spare rooms (in the TT Community Center) are completely filled.”

Along with the food and clothing donations, Richards was handing out food vouchers for the base commissary for the families whose houses were deemed uninhabitable. She said that along with the community center aboard TT, the local USO was flooded with donations and requests to help the families.
The families who were unable to return to their homes following the tornado who had no other place to reside were put up in hotel rooms, paid for by Atlantic Marine Corps Communities aboard the base.

“Everyone is coming out of the woodwork to help,” said Richards. “This is a perfect example of how military-friendly this community is.”

In terms of child care, the tornado struck Tarawa Terrace in the middle of the Saturday night care hours for the TT Child Development Center. While many parents were unable to retrieve their children before the havoc ensued, the skilled child care providers made the children’s safety top priority.

“I’m very proud of the providers and how they acted during the tornado and the loss of power,” said Marla Talley, director of the Children, Youth & Teen Programs aboard the base. “They cared for the children and acted accordingly during a time of emergency.”

Whereas the TT CDC was unaffected, the Tarawa Terrace I Primary School sustained significant damage from the tornado, deeming it necessary to close the building for the rest of the school year. All students from the Tarawa Terrace I Primary School will be moved to the Tarawa Terrace II Elementary School Thursday.

“All this volunteer work and donations go to show how great a community this is,” said Col. Daniel Lecce, commanding officer of MCB Camp Lejeune. “It is very typical of Marines and their families to come together in a time of need and work as a team, and the outpour of help with all of this is tremendous.”

With salvaging crews and working parties still working on the debris and rubble in the area, the worse has come and past and the bright light of community support shines on the Tarawa Terrace and Jacksonville area. Born from disaster are friends and neighbors, all coming together to rebuild what was fallen and continue on as a family.

April 19, 2011

Photo of the Day

Approximately 130 Marines and Sailors with the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit trek through the hills during a hike here April 13. The unit hiked 14 1/2 miles to build mental and physical readiness and prepare for possible movements during their upcoming deployment. (Photo by Lance Cpl. Ryan Carpenter)

Rejoining the fight: 1/3 Lava Dogs leave for Afghanistan deployment

Marines and sailors with Headquarters and Service Company, 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, load their bags into semi trucks at the Marine Corps Exchange Annex parking lot on Marine Corps Base Hawaii before departing on a seven-month deployment to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, April 13, 2011. Approximately 1,000 Marine and sailors from 1/3 will join Regimental Combat Team 1, based out of Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif., only ten months after returning from a deployment to Helmand province's Nawa District in support of RCT-7. Contrasting their last deployment, 1/3's area of operation will shift further south into the province's Garmsir District, where they will replace 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment. (Cpl. Reece Lodder)
By Cpl. Reece E. Lodder, Marine Corps Base Hawaii 
MARINE CORPS BASE HAWAII  — In the shadows past dim parking lot lights outside the Marine Corps Exchange Annex on Marine Corps Base Hawaii, April 13, 2011, approximately 300 Marines and sailors with 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, joked and laughed as they loaded rows of green and brown deployment bags into semi trucks.
They were the first group of approximately 1,000 Marines and sailors from 1/3 to leave Hawaii for a seven-month deployment to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. The remainder of the battalion will say goodbye to their loved ones over the next few days.

“Our mission is to partner with the Afghan National Security Forces and conduct counterinsurgency operations in Garmsir, focusing on protecting the population, defeating the insurgents, and developing the ANSF and Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, in order to set the condition for stabilization, and transition to the host nation government and security,” Lt. Col. Sean Riordan, 1/3’s commanding officer, said.

The battalion will join Regimental Combat Team 1, based out of Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif., only 10 months after returning from a deployment to Helmand province’s Nawa District in support of RCT-7. Contrasting their last deployment, 1/3’s area of operation will shift further south into the province’s Garmsir District, where they will replace 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment.

“In Nawa, there might have been an air of ‘been there, done that,’ but in Garmsir, we don’t have that,” Maj. Thomas Grace, 1/3’s battalion operations officer, said. “None of our Marines or the battalion leadership has been there, so it’s new ground for everyone across the board.”

Upon returning to Hawaii from Afghanistan in June 2010 and taking a short block of leave, 1/3 returned to the field and conducted training in Hawaii and California to prepare for the deployment. While originally scheduled to deploy in May, 1/3’s departure dates were moved up a month during their last training exercise in California.

“Initially it was a shock, but we covered the gaps by identifying the areas where we knew we were going to be short, and back-filled them with compressed training,” Grace, from Cherry Hill, N.J., said.

Despite 1/3’s shortened training schedule, the battalion’s leaders said their successful predeployment training program has prepared them for their mission, and will help strengthen foundations from the battalion level to the International Security Force’s Regional Command Southwest.

“The quality training we’ve received on the battalion and individual levels is far beyond anything I ever saw coming up in the Marine Corps,” Sgt. Maj. Dwight D. Jones, 1/3’s battalion sergeant major, said. “From combat hunter training, to counter-[improvised explosive device], to the [IED detection dogs] that we use, all of these training devices are more tools for our Marines and sailors to employ when we’re performing security operations in Afghanistan.”

Jones, from Brownsville, Tenn., said 1/3 is a “learning battalion” and will use their knowledge to build off of 2/1’s success in the district, especially regarding 2/1’s employment of counter-IED procedures, counter-insurgency operations and governance.

“The men of 1/3 are writing history that will be read about in years to come,” Jones said. “They have the opportunity to have a great influence in transitioning two districts in Afghanistan, which is very significant. We recognize there is a terrorist threat and we’ll deal with it accordingly, but the bigger picture is trying to get the people of the district, and of Afghanistan, on their feet so they can operate independently.”

April 14, 2011

Luck strikes wounded Marine

By Aquita Brown, Wounded Warrior Regiment 
PITTSBURGH, Pa.  (April 14, 2011)  — Leadership, discipline, integrity, honor and hard work these are all of the lessons that Cpl. John Conney credits to his success.  Corporal Cooney had to learn these lessons the hard way just like every Marine does.  He never believed in the phrase, “one-half of life is luck; the other half is discipline.”  All of his life was geared toward disciplining his mind and body.  However, Cooney would soon find out that luck would play a major role in his life.
In August 2005, Cooney joined the Marine Corps as a 0311 Infantry Rifleman.  “Being a Marine is something that I wanted to do since I was young,” said Cooney.  “When the opportunity came I immediately signed up.”

Since gaining the title United States Marine, Cooney has deployed twice to Iraq.  September 25, 2006 during his first tour, Cooney and his unit, 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance, Charlie Company 2nd platoon, were in progress of searching personal vehicles at a traffic control point.  Around a quarter after twelve, Cooney recalls waiting for the next car to be sent over so he went to grab a cigarette.

“I bent down to grab my lighter,” said Cooney.  “That is when I felt a round penetrate the left side of my neck.”

Within seconds Cooney and his unit were under heavy sniper and machine gun fire.  Yet, the courageous service members of 2nd platoon were able to reach Cooney within minutes of his injury. 

Cooney remained positive while his senior Marines Cpl. Kevin Plummer, Cpl. Anthony Demarco and his Corpsman Dustin Black carried him to safety.  In shock during the time he was shot, Cooney remembers making jokes.  He credits the swift action of his Marines as the real reason for his confidence and survival.  Cooney believes that the tragic events that occurred during his deployment happened for a reason. 

“Every day I have memories of the events that got me here,” said Cooney.  “But I consider myself very lucky.  If I did not bend down at that moment, the round would have penetrated my head.” 

Since being injured Cooney was sent from a traffic control point on the outskirts of Rutbah, Iraq to Landstuhl, Germany and then to Bethesda, Md. for more treatment, surgery and physical rehab before going home to Pittsburgh, Pa. where he was an outpatient at the local Veterans Affairs Hospital. 

“I still have many struggles but I’ve come a long way,” said Cooney.

With the help of his fellow Marines, Cooney was able to get his life back on track.  In 2007 Cooney learned about the Marine Corps Wounded Warrior Regiment through his best friend Cpl. John Chmill.  The Wound Warrior Regiment stood up in 2007 to provide and facilitate non-medical care to combat and non-combat wounded, ill, and injured Marines, and sailors attached to or in direct support of Marine units and their family members in order to assist them as they return to duty or transition to civilian life.

Cooney’s case was immediately taken over by Gunnery Sgt. Michael Palarino a District Injured Support Cell at the Regiment.  The DISC are mobilized reserve Marines who are located throughout the country to conduct face-to-face visits and telephone outreach to wounded, ill and injured Marines and their families who are recovering within their assigned region.

As a DISC, Gunnery Sgt. Palarino is equipped with the knowledge and expertise to assist Marines through various procedures, including the Physical Evaluation Board.  Gunnery Sgt. Palarino worked on getting Cooney set up with the Veterans Affairs Hospital in Pittsburgh, Pa.  Within a few months of speaking with Palarino, Cooney had received his disability rating and was now completing the Board for Correction of Naval Records process.  According to the Naval Inspector General, the BCNR was created by Congress in 1946 to provide a method for correction of errors or removal of injustices from current and former Navy and Marine Corps member’s records without the necessity for private legislation.

Today Palarino continues to meet with Cpl. Cooney and other wounded, ill and injured Marines in the Pennsylvania and West Virginia region. 

“Palarino is 100 percent awesome,” said Cooney.  “He always calls to just check up on me and it is not always about the effects of my injury.  He asks about my day to day personal issues.  We definitely need more Marines like him.” 

Since Cooney’s honorable discharged in 2009, Gunnery Sgt. Palarino and his network have also played a major role in finding Cooney a job.  Gunnery Sgt. Palarino received information regarding several positions from Mr. Richard Waller, Marine for Life’s Employment Manager.  According to the Marine For Life website, the goal of the program is to harness the skills, contacts and personal and professional networks of Marine Corps veterans and others in the community—to form a network to help Marines find job opportunities within their field. 

After an extensive search and a lot of preparation Cooney finally found a job that matched his expertise. He was excited to build his future at a job in corporate America.  March 21, 2011 marked Cooney’s first day as a security supervisor for loss prevention at American Eagle’s Corporate Office. 

“My first day was awesome,” said Cooney.  “It is not going to be easy but I know that I can succeed at this.”

Cooney wants to encourage other wounded, ill and injured Marines to stay positive throughout their recovery and transition process. 

“The whole idea behind me wanting to have my story told is to motivate my fellow Marines out there.  Even though I do not currently wear the uniform I am still a United States Marine.  I will always do anything in my power to uphold our Corps values and to show other Marines that no matter what we endured in life, sky is the limit.  We are warriors,” said Cooney.  "We survived some of the worse situations and if we can do that, we can do anything.”

Photo of the Day

Marine point guard Chris Harris puts up a jump shot at half time during the Army vs. Marine Corps Armed Forces Championship basketball game held at Paige Fieldhouse, April 12. The best players will be selected to compete in the World Games in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, July 12 through 25. ( Photo by Cpl. Jen Callaway)

April 13, 2011

The future of the Marine non-commissioned officer (NCO)

Now, more than ever, the Corps remains unwavering in its reliance on the NCO. With the Marine Corps currently engaged in combat operations in Afghanistan, NCOs are showing unsurpassed leadership proficiency on the battlefield. (Photo by Sgt. Bobby J. Yarbrough)
 Story by Sgt. Bobby J. Yarbrough, Marine Barracks Washington

Since the creation of the Marine Corps, Marine non-commissioned officers (NCOs) have played an integral role in the Corps' success. Since the inception of our Corps, NCOs have been the 'backbone' and the role of the NCO continues to remain one of the most important leadership roles to mission accomplishment.

Although their responsibility has changed over time, Marine NCOs remain committed to the one principle that has forever been woven into the tapestry of the Corps: leading junior Marines.

The responsibility of an NCO, both in combat and in garrison, is to professionally and personally develop each Marine under his charge. They teach junior Marines how to be professionally proficient by providing them a working knowledge of general military subjects and how to make good moral and ethical decisions while both on and off duty.

Now, more than ever, the Corps remains unwavering in its reliance on the NCO. With the Marine Corps currently engaged in combat operations in Afghanistan, NCOs are showing unsurpassed leadership proficiency on the battlefield.

Today, sergeants and corporals are leading foot patrols and convoys throughout the mountains of Afghanistan. As leaders, the burden and responsibility of each decision, both good and bad, relies on him. Though tough, Marines are persevering, demonstrated by the actions of Marines like Cpl. Jason Dunham and Sgt. Rafael Peralta.

NCOs have and will continue to be the driving force behind the legacy of the Corps. As we move into the future, the traditions of the Corps will be imbedded in the leadership and actions of each individual non-commissioned officer. It will be up to them to decide the fate of the Corps.

Photo of the Day

Lance Cpl. Travis J. Stanley, from Tampa, Fla., a combat engineer with 8th Engineer Support Battalion, 2nd Marine Logistics Group (Forward) uses a ground torch to clear vegetation from a road April 7, 2011. The Marines rebuilt nearly 20 miles of roads to increase convoy access to combat outposts and forward operating bases as well as facilitate combat operations throughout Marjah, Afghanistan, in support of International Security Assistance Force operations. (Photo by Sgt. Bruno J. Bego)

Commandant announces next sergeant major of Marines

Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. James F. Amos announced Sgt. Maj. Micheal Barrett as his selection for the next sergeant major of the Marine Corps. Barrett recently returned from Afghanistan where he served as the sergeant major of Regional Command Southwest and I Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward).  (Photo by Sgt. Ben Flores)

By Sgt. Michael S. Cifuentes, Headquarters Marine Corps 

WASHINGTON  — Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. James F. Amos announced the next sergeant major of the Marine Corps April 11.

Sgt. Maj. Micheal Barrett, 1st Marine Division’s sergeant major, is set to take charge as the senior enlisted Marine in the Marine Corps. He’s scheduled to succeed Sgt. Maj. Carlton Kent, the current sergeant major of the Marine Corps, during an appointment and relief ceremony, and Kent’s retirement ceremony held at Marine Barracks Washington June 9.

Barrett recently returned from a deployment to Helmand province, Afghanistan, where he served as Regional Command Southwest’s sergeant major.

Amos said Barrett is “the best of the best,” and will continue to serve the Corps as Amos’ senior enlisted advisor.

“Sgt. Maj. Barrett, through his long and distinguished service to our nation, has demonstrated that he is particularly well-suited to serve as my senior enlisted advisor through the challenges ahead,” said Amos.

Barrett enlisted as an infantryman in March 1981. In addition to Afghanistan, his combat deployments include serving in the Persian Gulf War as a sniper with 3rd Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, and two tours in Iraq as battalion sergeant major of 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment.

Kent has served as the sergeant major of the Marine Corps since April 25, 2007. He graduated recruit training March 1976 at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, S.C. In his 35 years of service, Kent has led Marines in various billets to include senior drill instructor and battalion drill master at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, chief drill instructor and first sergeant at Naval Aviation Officers Candidate School in Pensacola, Fla., and sergeant major of I Marine Expeditionary Force at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif.

April 11, 2011

Marine Corps makes aviation history with intercontinental Osprey flight

By Cpl. Rashaun X. James , 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing (Fwd) 
CAMP BASTION, Afghanistan  — The Marine Corps completed an aviation first, April 8, by flying MV-22B Ospreys on the aircraft’s longest movement to date.
Six Ospreys with Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 266 returned to the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit after a trek from Camp Bastion, Afghanistan, to Souda Bay, Greece, with the assistance of a pair of KC-130J Hercules from 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward) who provided transport and aerial refueling support.

“As far as aerial refueling missions are concerned, this was a Marine Corps and Naval aviation first,” said Capt. Ben Grant, the executive officer for the Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 252 detachment currently deployed in support of operations in Afghanistan. “Never before has an MV-22 movement been conducted this far or on this scale. On this mission, the MV-22s travelled in excess of over 2,800 miles from Camp Bastion to Souda Bay, using aerial refueling provided by KC-130Js.  We transited three continents over land and water, three combatant commands’ areas of responsibility, and did it with no major issues.”

The mission was conducted to return VMM-266 Marines, cargo and aircraft to the USS Kearsarge and the 26th MEU, which had been tasked to the Mediterranean region in support of operations in Libya.

“This mission validated a capability that should ultimately be seen as routine,” said Grant. “We affirmed the ability of the MV-22 to be long-range deployed with KC-130J support.”

Grant said the mission was conducted over two separate movements consisting of two Hercules and three Ospreys. During both movements, the KC-130Js not only refueled the MV-22Bs, but also transported more than 50,000 pounds of VMM-266’s essential cargo, maintenance and support equipment. Nearly 100 Marines also made the journey so they could join the rest of the 26th MEU, and prepare for their return to the U.S.

“Our weather radar, familiarity with international flying, cargo capacity, communications and navigational abilities, and ability to aerial refuel the MV-22 makes us a combat multiplier for them, ensuring their success,” Grant said of the KC-130J’s abilities. 

 Grant said the mission went well, a result of not only planning, but the Marines’ ability to adapt to the situation.

“Though we had prepared for a myriad of contingencies, none arose that required us to alter our timelines or routing,” said Grant.  “While each movement encountered expected and unexpected friction that had to be immediately addressed, each was handled superbly by the KC-130J and MV-22 Marines.  Everyone involved worked as a team of professionals.”

Grant said while the mission was the first of its type at this scale, he believes more missions of this nature will occur in the future.  He said he sees movement like this becoming as routine for the Osprey as they are for other Marine Corps aircraft including F/A-18 Hornets, AV-8B Harriers and CH-53E Super Stallions. 

“It was not without many learning points for both the MV-22 and KC-130J crews,” said Grant.  “We are still developing and refining these procedures as the MV-22 continues to mature.  Great credit goes to the MV-22 pilots and crews for their ‘can-do’ attitude and planning of these two movements.”

Since responding to a request to support Regional Command Southwest’s area of operations, the Fighting Griffins of VMM-266, based out of Marine Corps Air Station New River, N.C., have provided aviation and assault support for 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment and other coalition ground forces in Afghanistan, explained Lt. Col. Romin Dasmalchi, the VMM-266 commanding officer. Simultaneously, other elements of VMM-266, including reinforcements from an AV-8B Harrier detachment, participated in other activities, notably recent operations in Libya.

“It’s been a challenging deployment for the Marines here,” Dasmalchi said. “They’ve been split up into two theaters and have found motivation in the fact that the squadron was still able to operate with great success.”

Before VMM-266 departed Afghanistan, the squadron and VMM-264, another New River, N.C.-based MV-22B squadron, conducted an aircraft exchange allowing four of VMM-264’s Ospreys to return back to the U.S. for maintenance. In return VMM-264 inherited four newer Ospreys from VMM-266 to continue to conduct operations in Afghanistan, said Dasmalchi.

“Our Marines had their work cut out for them once we accepted these older aircraft,” said Dasmalchi. “The aircraft had to be operationally sound before we embarked on the long-range flight to Souda Bay. The Marines did an incredible job, logging thousands of maintenance hours, all while supporting Regional Command Southwest simultaneously.”

Grant credited the mission’s success to KC-130J and MV-22 maintenance and support Marines, cooperation from the United Kingdom’s Royal Air Force, which aided with ramp space and air traffic control and support from other Marine units, like meteorological service.  He also said many Marines throughout the region, other military services, and U.S. government agencies worked behind the scenes to ensure smooth coordination.

“As Marines, we are not just warriors from the sea. We are warriors, from anywhere to anywhere on the globe,” said Grant who also serves as a KC-130J weapons and tactics instructor. “This mission got the MV-22s on their way home. The next mission may be to get them to the fight, or from one fight to another.” 

Photo of the Day

Friends and family pay their respects to fallen Cpl. Jonathan D. Faircloth, an aerial observer with Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 363, Marine Aircraft Group 24, during a memorial service at the Marine Corps Base Hawaii chapel, April 6, 2011. The 22-year-old Mechanicsburg, Pa., native died and three fellow HMH-363 Marines were injured when their CH-53D Sea Stallion helicopter went down in Kaneohe Bay March 29. Faircloth joined the squadron in April 2007, and deployed with them to Iraq in 2008 and Afghanistan in 2010. His personal awards include four Air Strike Flight Medals, the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal, and the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal. (Photo by Lance Cpl. Reece Lodder)

April 8, 2011

Marines partner with youth football camp

Staff Sgt. Christopher H. Miller, an instructor at the Drill Instructor School, Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, S.C., speaks to players attending the Junior Rank Diamond Flight football camp Mar. 25. High school juniors and seniors in attendance participated in leadership and character development training with Miller as part of the new Proving Ground component of the camp. (Official Marine Corps Photo)

By Lance Cpl. David Flynn, Marine Corps Recruiting Command  

Some of the finest young football players in the Jacksonville, Fla., area teamed up with a few of America’s finest warriors as the Marines took over the Junior Rank Diamond Flight football camp Mar. 25-27.

The Marine Corps Recruiting Command has teamed up with Junior Rank to share its core values of honor, courage and commitment in an environment promoting academic and athletic excellence.

Junior Rank was founded in 2008 by Shaon Berry, a youth football coach and former University of Pittsburgh running back. The goal of the program is to develop the next generation of student athletes through education, evaluation and instruction. Football players from middle school age all the way up to high school seniors can attend the camps.

“I think the Junior Rank program is awesome,” said Sylvester Pinckney, father of 5th grade camp participant Jarrell Pinckney. “[Shaon Berry] has put together a great team. It’s a great group of people there and they have great partners like the Marines.”

The Marines were at the camp to physically train the players and to teach them leadership and discipline.

 “We were there to assist in physical training, developing the player’s character and to teach them the life skills a person needs to be a quality citizen,” said Capt. Martin Galvancastillo, project officer for Junior Rank, MCRC. “The Marines served as mentors for [the football players].”

As part of the Marine Corps’ partnership with Junior Rank, a new component to the camp called “Proving Ground” was established. In Proving Ground, high school juniors and seniors participating in the camp had the opportunity to do football drills along with leadership and character development training with a Marine Corps drill instructor. 

According to Capt. Brad A. Goldvarg, recruitment advertising officer and officer-in-charge for the event, 6th Marine Corps District, parents liked seeing the Marines instill their brand of discipline on the players.

“Most parents were enthusiastic about their kids being taught discipline and instant obedience to orders,” said Goldvarg.

During football drills, the Marines motivated players and reinforced what their coaches told them.

“The Marines set the tone of the camp,” said Pinckney. “Football is similar to the military because players must have the discipline to do what the coach is telling them just like a Marine must have it when his commanding officer orders him to do something. The dedication [the Marines] brought from their training really showed.”

The players enjoyed the presence of the Marines as well.

“The players like having the Marines there because they helped push them to their limits,” said Sgt. Charles McKelvey, marketing and public affairs representative, Recruiting Station Atlanta. “The players saw how hard the Marines pushed themselves and liked that.”

According to Pinckney, the camp left a great impression on his young wide receiver.

“[Jarrell] truly loved it,” said Pinckney. “He’s still talking about what a great time he had.”

In addition to the physical training, the Marines also hosted a leadership seminar designed to engage the young players in character development activities and to teach them skills to help them lead both on and off the football field.

“The goal was to teach them that anyone can lead,” said Goldvarg. “It doesn’t matter if you’re the oldest, the strongest or have the most money.”

“The Marines taught the kids about discipline and having good character,” said Pinckney. “You must have both whether you are in the military or on a football team. The kids have to be mentally tough. Not everyone can be a professional football player and the Marines taught the kids that they still have the opportunity to do great things by serving in the military.”

Looking ahead, the Marine Corps will team up with Junior Rank for many more camps across the country during 2011. To find out when Junior Rank and the Marines will be in your area or for more information, visit http://www.juniorrank.com/ .

April 7, 2011

Photo of the Day

Cpl. Nathan J. Roeller, a UH-1Y Huey crew chief with Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 169 out of Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif., surveys the surrounding terrain during a mission in Afghanistan April 4. Roeller is a native of Denver, Colo., and his duties as a crew chief include preflight inspections of the aircraft, observing the surrounding terrain and air while in flight, and manning the Huey's door gun. (Photo by Cpl. Samantha H. Arrington)


SOUTHERN SHORSURAK, Afghanistan – Cpl. Matt Garst should be dead. Few people survive stepping on an improvised explosive device. Even fewer walk away the same day after directly absorbing the force of the blast, but Garst did just that.

A squad leader with 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, Garst was leading his squad on a patrol in Southern Shorsurak, Afghanistan, June 23 to establish a vehicle checkpoint in support of Operation New Dawn.

The men were four miles from Company L’s newly established observation post when they approached an abandoned compound close to where they needed to set up their checkpoint. It would serve well as an operating base — a place for the squad to set up communications and rotate Marines in and out of. But first, it had to be secured.

As they swept the area with a metal detector, the IED registered no warning on the device. The bomb was buried too deep and its metallic signature too weak. Two men walked over it without detonating it.

At six feet, two inches tall and 260 pounds with all his gear on, Garst is easily the heaviest man in his squad by 30 or 40 pounds — just enough extra weight to trigger the IED buried deep in hard-packed soil.

Lance Cpl. Edgar Jones, a combat engineer with the squad, found a pressure plate inside the compound and hollered to Garst, asking what he should do with it. Garst turned around to answer the Marine and stepped on the bomb.

“I can just barely remember the boom,” Garst said. “I remember the start of a loud noise and then I blacked out.”

Since Garst’s improbable run-in with the IED, his tale has spread through the rest of the battalion, and as often happens in combat units, the story mutates, becoming more and more extraordinary: He held onto his rifle the whole time … He actually landed on his feet … He remained unmoved, absorbing the impact like he was muffling a fart in a crowded elevator …

What really happened even eludes Garst. All went black after the earth uppercut him. When he came to, he was standing on his feet holding his weapon, turning to see the remnants of the blast and wondering why his squad had a look on their faces as if they’d seen a ghost.

Marines in Company L think Garst is the luckiest guy in the battalion, and while that may seem a fair assessment, it was the enemy’s shoddy work that left Garst standing. The three-liters of homemade explosive only partially detonated.

Marines who witnessed the event from inside the compound caught glimpses of Garst’s feet flailing through the air just above the other side of the building’s eight-foot walls. The explosion knocked him at least fifteen feet away where he landed on his limp head and shoulders before immediately standing back up.

“My first thought was, ‘Oh [shoot], I just hit an IED,’” he said. “Then I thought, ‘Well I’m standing. That’s good.’”

Garst’s squad stared at him in disbelief. The square-jawed Marine has a tendency to be short-tempered, and the realization that the blast was meant to kill him spiked his adrenaline and anger.

“It pissed me off,” he said. He directed his men to establish a security perimeter while letting them know in his own way that he was OK.

“[What are you looking at?]” he said. “Get on the cordon!”

Garst quickly radioed back to base, calling an explosive ordnance disposal team and quick reaction force.

“I called them and said, ‘Hey, I just got blown up. Get ready,’” he said. “The guy thought I was joking at first. ‘You got blown up? You’re not calling me. Get out of here.’”

Once EOD cleared the area, Garst led his squad the four miles back to their observation post — just hours after being ragdolled by an IED blast.

“I wasn’t going to let anybody else take my squad back after they’d been there for me,” he said. “That’s my job.”

The next day Garst awoke with a pounding headache and was as sore as he’d ever been in his life. “Just getting up from trying to sleep was painful,” he said.

But he saw no reason being sore should slow him down. He popped some ibuprofen and after a day of rest, Garst was back out on patrol, showing his Marines and the enemy that just like his resolve — Cpl. Matt Garst is unbreakable.

April 6, 2011

Silent Drill Platoon's first performance of the year

Today, the United States Marine Silent Drill Platoon performed for the first time this year at Marine Barracks Washington. We hosted approximately 150 World War II veterans with a group called the Flight of Honor. It's amazing the sacrifice these men and women made and the impact they had not only on their generation, but mine as well. We were privileged enough to get to meet them and learn some of their heroic stories. I thank God for their service and I am proud to carry on their legacy.

Federal Shutdown: Military pay will be affected

This word has officially been passed down from the Pentagon. Troops worldwide would remain on duty if the federal government shuts down Friday, but would only receive pay through April 8 until the budget issues are resolved.

With the U.S. military currently engaged in combat operations in Afghanistan, humanitarian operations in Japan, and NATO operations in Libya, I beg to ask the question, "Is this fair to the men and women who are in constant service to this nation."

I have to say no. The men and women who are currently engaged in these operations deserve to receive their basic pay without any disruptions. They shouldn't have the added stresses of how are they going to pay their bills or provide for their family while they are 8,000 miles away protecting American interests.

I believe our lawmakers have lost sight of what is important. For the last seven months, legislators have debated a national budget. It amazes me, that in this amount of time, nothing has been resolved. All lawmakers have agreed that cuts are necessary, however, none can agree on the amount that needs to be cut.

I am Republican by nature and I agree that fiscal cuts are necessary, but I believe $100 billion is a lot of money to cut in one year. Democrats have made concessions totaling up to $62 billion. These are great strides in fiscal cuts and I believe they must find some middle ground.

With no solution in sight, I hope the two sides can begin to work together to solve our nation's budget issues. I mean as a country, don't we deserve that!