03 December 2011

Camp Victory is No More

As I watched the news on Friday about the hand over of Camp Victory to the Iraqis, I mentally walked through the facility again with the camera crews and anchor, reliving my visit there in 2007. Despite the appearance of the elegant building, marble rotunda and columns, gold plated faucets, expansive balconies, and moat (with its' shell-pocked guard tower), the facility is all a facade.

I learned during my visit there in 2007 that the marble covers wall voids filled with trash, the water is non-potable, the swimming pool is empty, much of the wiring is faulty, and that the moat contains giant carp covered with diamond-shaped green scales. The rumor was that Saddam used the carp to dispose of "unwanted refuse." I shot a photo of 2 soldiers and a Marine with their fishing poles that I have included with this post. I was told that fishing in the moat was a common activity during their down time. I just hope they practiced catch-and-release.

The troops I interviewed in 2007 and 2008 told me that they just wanted to finish their mission in Iraq, so that their sons and daughters did not have to return there to fight in another 10 or 20 years. These brave men and women have worked tirelessly to accomplish that goal, and have lost 4483 of their comrades in the process, with another 33,183 wounded. Let's not forget these volunteer warriors and their families. Veterans and their families need our help and support, including employment opportunities. These men and women volunteered to serve our country. We should thank them in every possible way.

05 April 2011

USMC 2-4 Echo Company Ambush Remembrance 6 Apr 2004

Seven years ago today, 12 young men of 2-4 Marines "Echo" Company lost their lives in a cowardly ambush in a marketplace on the east side of Ramadi, Iraq. They died bravely in the performance of their duties as U.S. Marines and the U.S. Navy. One of these men, 2Lt J.T. Wroblewski, is the son of my friend John Wroblewski. On 6 Mar 2008, John and I stood in the narrow Ramadi alleyway where his son fell in combat.

We were there along with US Marine Major General John Kelly, and USMC 2-8 PSD Company to perform a memorial service to honor the service and sacrifice of these 12 men who had given their lives in combat. John Wroblewski solemnly read the names of the fallen, "LCpl Benjamin Carman, LCpl Marcus Cherry, PFC Christopher Cobb, LCpl Kyle Crowley, PFC Deryk Hallal, PFC Ryan Jerabek, PFC Moises Langhorst, LCpl Travis Layfield, HM3 Fernandez Mendez, LCpl Anthony Roberts, SSgt Allan Walker, and my hero, 2Lt John Thomas Wroblewski."

John then asked the Marines if they would honor their fallen brothers with an "Oo-Rah." Their resounding "Oo-rah!" echoed back from the surrounding houses and walls of the alley, and then faded away into the palm trees around us.

I cannot imagine the pain of losing a son, and it was gut-wrenching to see the anguish on John's face as he remembered his son while he stood where he died. As Americans, we must not forget these men, their families, and the other fallen men and women who died serving our great Republic.

Tragically, Major General Kelly's own son, 2Lt Robert Michael Kelly USMC, was killed in combat in Sangin, Afghanistan on 9 November 2010, and was laid to rest in Arlington Memorial Cemetery on 22 Nov 2010. Lt Kelly was posthumously promoted to 1st Lt US Marine Corps.

Take a minute: slowly, thoughtfully read aloud each name and think about them and the thousands of loved ones they left behind. Think about their Marine brothers and sisters they left behind. Try to put yourself in their place, if just for an instant. I would ask that you honor their memory today and silently thank them.