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Sep 10th, 2011 by Richard Lowry
Never Forget

This is the first flag carried into battle by the United States Marine Corps

I will never forget the clear sunny morning of September 11th, 2001 and, I will never forget the cowardly attack that was perpetrated on America that day. 9/11 changed our lives forever. Americans lost their innocence on that day. I remember telling my sons that America would never be the same.

Nearly three thousand innocent Americans were killed in the 9/11 terror attacks and each family lost a mother, father, brother, sister, son or daughter. None deserved their violent end in the terror of flames and crumbling concrete. We must never forget those we lost that day, including the hundreds of police, EMTs and firefighters who charged into Harm’s way to help others.

Our lives were indelibly changed yet over the years; many Americans have lost sight of why we went to war. We went to war to hunt down and bring to justice the fanatic terrorist leaders who ordered the 9/11 attacks. The hunt focused on Osama bin Laden and his reviled al Qaeda network.

In the process, America went after the radical fundamentalist government of Afghanistan who harbored bin Laden and his group, al Qaeda. The Taliban were quickly deposed and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who had gone to Afghanistan to fight and kill Americans, was wounded while serving as one of bin Laden’s lieutenants.

Zarqawi managed to escape the American onslaught and ended up in a hospital in Baghdad, where he was nursed back to health. Once Abu Musab al-Zarqawi recovered, he slipped out of sight. I have been told by a former Army intelligence officer that he was then ordered by Osama to find a new location for al-Qaeda to train and plan. Bin Laden needed a new base of operations after the Americans had driven his followers out of Tarnak Farms in Afghanistan.

Zargawi found an ideal location on a small finger of land in the mountains of Northern Iraq. He founded his own terrorist organization, Ansar al-Islam, and built the largest terrorist training camp in the world. The facility was up and running in 2002 and it is believed that al-Qaeda was training its people in the newly established camp long before the 2003 invasion.

Everyone remembers the American invasion into Iraq from the south, but few know of the Special Forces Operation – Viking Hammer – in which Kurds and Americans attacked and cleared Zarqawi’s training facility, in March of 2003. Unfortunately, Zarqawi slipped away again. Few know that the American military chased al-Qaeda into Iraq. American forces then spent many years hunting down and eliminating al-Qaeda leaders throughout the country.

Unfortunately, most remember the Abu Ghraib scandal in which a handful of demented American soldiers abused some Iraqi prisoners. Most don’t remember that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi savagely beheaded Nick Berg in his next stronghold inside Fallujah.

Never forget, that we were attacked and never forget that we have been working all these years to bring 9/11’s perpetrators to justice. Fly your flag today, just like you did ten years ago. Show the world, friends and enemies alike, that we will never forget.

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Aug 14th, 2011 by Richard Lowry
Don’t forget my Dad

Bryan and Braydon Nichols

Last weekend, on August 6th, 2011, our nation lost thirty of its finest Soldiers, Airmen and Sailors in the single largest loss of life for U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Thirty fathers, sons, husbands and brothers lost their lives in a horrific Special Operations helicopter crash in Afghanistan’s Tanji Valley. Eight brave Afghan soldiers were also killed in the crash.

It is believed that the helicopter was downed by a rocket-propelled grenade, fired by a Taliban insurgent while it was transporting elite Navy SEALs to the scene of an on-going fire fight. US Army Rangers had been searching for a Taliban leader when they came under fire and a gun battle ensued. The Rangers called for reinforcements and the CH-47 helicopter was shot down while bringing the SEALs in to thefight.

All week, we have heard story after story focusing on America’s most elite Special Operators – the Navy SEALs. But, a ten year old boy, Braydon Nichols, wanted to know why his father’s photo was not included with those we had been seeing all last week. His father was the pilot of the Chinook helicopter. His father was his hero. His father was a member of another elite American unit. His father was a member of the U.S. Army’s 158th Aviation Regiment – a unit which ferried Rangers and SEALs in and out of Harm’s way.

Of the 30 Americans lost, 17 were Navy SEALs and 15 of the 17 belonged to the top-secret unit that conducted the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. Five were men with particular specialties who regularly worked with the SEALs. The other eight included three Air Force forward air controllers and five Army helicopter crew members, including the pilot of the aircraft, Chief Warrant Officer Bryan J. Nichols.

Bryan always wanted to be a solider. He enlisted in the military before he had graduated from high school and worked his way up through the ranks until he eventually had the opportunity to pilot the same type of helicopter his father flew in Vietnam – a Chinook.

Bryan’s son, Braydon, also dreamed of flying alongside his father one day. Let us honor this boy’s remembrance and never forget Chief Warrant Officer Bryan J. Nichols, United States Army – an American hero. And never forget the other twenty-nine brave Americans lost in that crash.

Thank you for your service to our nation –

Lieutenant Commander (SEAL) Jonas B. Kelsall, 32, of Shreveport, La.

Special Warfare Operator Master Chief Petty Officer (SEAL) Louis J. Langlais, 44, of Santa Barbara, Calif.,

Special Warfare Operator Senior Chief Petty Officer (SEAL) Thomas A. Ratzlaff, 34, of Green Forest, Ark.,

Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technician Senior Chief Petty Officer (Expeditionary Warfare Specialist/Freefall Parachutist) Kraig M. Vickers, 36, of Kokomo, Hawaii

Special Warfare Operator Chief Petty Officer (SEAL) Brian R. Bill, 31, of Stamford, Conn.

Special Warfare Operator Chief Petty Officer (SEAL) John W. Faas, 31, of Minneapolis, Minn.,

Special Warfare Operator Chief Petty Officer (SEAL) Kevin A. Houston, 35, of West Hyannisport, Mass.

Special Warfare Operator Chief Petty Officer (SEAL) Matthew D. Mason, 37, of Kansas City, Mo.

Special Warfare Operator Chief Petty Officer (SEAL) Stephen M. Mills, 35, of Fort Worth, Texas

Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technician Chief Petty Officer (Expeditionary Warfare Specialist/Freefall Parachutist/Diver) Nicholas H. Null, 30, of Washington, W.Va.

Special Warfare Operator Chief Petty Officer (SEAL) Robert J. Reeves, 32, of Shreveport, La.

Special Warfare Operator Chief Petty Officer (SEAL) Heath M. Robinson, 34, of Detroit, Mich.

Special Warfare Operator Petty Officer 1st Class (SEAL) Darrik C. Benson, 28, of Angwin, Calif.

Special Warfare Operator Petty Officer 1st Class (SEAL/Parachutist) Christopher G. Campbell, 36, of Jacksonville, N.C.

Information Systems Technician Petty Officer 1st Class (Expeditionary Warfare Specialist/Freefall Parachutist) Jared W. Day, 28, of Taylorsville, Utah

Master-at-Arms Petty Officer 1st Class (Expeditionary Warfare Specialist) John Douangdara, 26, of South Sioux City, Neb.

Cryptologist Technician (Collection) Petty Officer 1st Class (Expeditionary Warfare Specialist) Michael J. Strange, 25, of Philadelphia, Pa.

Special Warfare Operator Petty Officer 1st Class (SEAL/Enlisted Surface Warfare Specialist) Jon T. Tumilson, 35, of Rockford, Iowa

Special Warfare Operator Petty Officer 1st Class (SEAL) Aaron C. Vaughn, 30, of Stuart, Fla.

Special Warfare Operator Petty Officer 1st Class (SEAL) Jason R. Workman, 32, of Blanding, Utah

Special Warfare Operator Petty Officer 1st Class (SEAL) Jesse D. Pittman, 27, of Ukiah, Calif.

Special Warfare Operator Petty Officer 2nd Class (SEAL) Nicholas P. Spehar, 24, of Saint Paul, Minn.

Chief Warrant Officer David R. Carter, 47, of Centennial, Colo.  He was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 135th Aviation Regiment (General Support Aviation Battalion), Aurora, Colo.

Chief Warrant Officer Bryan J. Nichols, 31, of Hays, Kan.  He was assigned to the 7th Battalion, 158th Aviation Regiment (General Support Aviation Battalion), New Century, Kan.

Sergeant Patrick D. Hamburger, 30, of Lincoln, Neb.  He was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 135th Aviation Regiment (General Support Aviation Battalion), Grand Island, Neb.

Sergeant Alexander J. Bennett, 24, of Tacoma, Wash.  He was assigned to the 7th Battalion, 158th Aviation Regiment (General Support Aviation Battalion), New Century, Kan.

Specialist Spencer C. Duncan, 21, of Olathe, Kan.  He was assigned to the 7th Battalion, 158th Aviation Regiment (General Support Aviation Battalion), New Century, Kan.

Technical Sergeant John W. Brown, 33, of Tallahassee, Fla.

Staff Sergeant Andrew W. Harvell, 26, of Long Beach, Calif.

and

Technical Sergeant Daniel L. Zerbe, 28, of York, Pa.

Braydon Nichols posted a photo of his father online, saying; “please don’t forget about my Dad.” Please reach out to the children of these men to let them know how much we all appreciate their dedication to our nation. Please let them know we will never forget their Dads.

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May 22nd, 2011 by Richard Lowry
A Final Farewell

Today, Saturday, May 21, 2011, I had the honor of bidding farewell Marion “Turk” Turner’s as his ashes were returned to the sea for his eternal patrol. A cool breeze blew in Bataan’s hanger deck this morning as an honor guard, silhouetted by the bright morning sun, stood at attention in their crisp dress white uniforms. There was a white morning haze separating the deep blue sea and a clear blue sky. It was a perfect day to say goodbye.

Turk was born Marion Turner on April 22, 1918 in Moultrie, Georgia and enlisted in the United States Navy in 1939. He became an Electrician’s Mate and immediately volunteered for the submarine service. He served aboard USS Sealion and USS Perch.

While serving aboard Perch, the boat was attacked by Japanese destroyers on March 1, 1942. The Captain quickly submerged the boat, as the enemy quickly closed in on the American submarine. The relentless depth charge attack drove the boat down to 135 feet. Turk and his friends worked through the night patching leaks and they were finally able to resurface early the next morning to get fresh air and recharge their batteries.

The enemy ships spotted Perch when she surfaced and attacked – again. This time the depth charges exploded dangerously close, rupturing one of Perch’s ballast tanks, belching oil and bubbles toward the surface. Perch waited in silence until it was safe to surface again. They patched up all they could but the damage was too severe to allow Perch to submerge again. Unable to submerge, the boat’s captain, Lieutenant Commander David A. Hurt ordered the ship to be abandoned and the submarine scuttled.

Years later, Turner recalled: “… as we were given the order to ‘abandon the boat’ when Perch was going down, our captain was the last man off the conning tower. We were in the water for awhile before the Japanese came by to rescue our crew. We did not know if they were going to shoot us or abandon us to the sea. Hurt was having difficulty treading water as the Japanese ship was rescuing the crew using a rickety ladder.”

The captain told Turner that he “wasn’t going to make it,” and said, “Just leave me Turk, I no longer have the strength to go on, save yourself … leave me.”

“I wasn’t going to listen to that,” Turner remembered, “so I dove down and came up right under him, and I pushed him right up the ladder with him still protesting,”

The entire crew survived that day, but six died later in Japanese POW camps as they all endured cruel beatings, starvation and tropical diseases for three and a half years. Fellow POWs remember Turk for his indomitable spirit. Daily, he would tell his friends, ‘We will be saved tomorrow.’ Turk, his friends and the captain were not rescued until the end of the war. After more than three years of captivity, they returned home to the United States October 17, 1945.

Turk Turner remained in the Navy until he retired on December 1, 1959. He settled in Virginia Beach and because of his POW experience with survivors of the Bataan Death March, became a friend of USS Bataan. Turner made many visits to events sponsored by Bataan until his death on February 28, 2011.

Over sixty years after receiving his injuries while in captivity, Turner was presented the Purple Heart Medal, January 2, 2011 during a ceremony held at King’s Grant Baptist Church in Virginia Beach.

“Turk showed us all courage and humility during and after facing the enormous struggle of a POW,” said Captain Stephen T. Koehler, who as the commanding officer of USS Bataan, pinned the medals on Turner. “He gave us perspective when we thought we were having a bad day. It only takes a thought of him with his struggle over 60 years ago, and the way he handled it with a positive attitude to shed light on our current day-to-day problems.

“He became a friend and inspiration to both me and the crew of Bataan with this positive attitude and his zest for life,” Koehler continued. “He spent a lot of his time with my young Sailors telling stories and relating his time in submarines and as a POW, for which I am grateful. He was truly a great influence on Bataan Sailors in our quest to keep Bataan’s heritage part of our ship.”

Ted Davis, a retired U.S. Navy captain and former commanding officer of the USS Grenadier SS 525, echoed Plantz’s praise.

“There is nothing Turk wouldn’t do or has not already done for his country, his service, his friends, and his family,” said Davis, a long-time friend and member of the Hampton Roads Chapter of the U.S. Submarine Veterans, Inc. “Turk showed us the way a hero walks, softy with love in his heart. He may have spent many tours in Hell, but he served God and country for life.”

This morning, after a short speech and prayer, Turk’s remains were passed to Captain Stephen Koehler, who reverentially placed the ashes under an American flag. Then, Turk was committed to the deep to the sharp shrill whistle of a Boatswain’s Pipe and a final hand salute.

Farewell my brother, may you rest in peace.

Richard S. Lowry is currently embedded with the 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marines, on-station in the Mediterranean Sea with the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit, aboard USS Bataan LHD 5. Richard is a contemporary military historian, award-winning author and former submarine sailor. He is a member of USSVI’s Central Florida Base and served aboard the USS Ulysses S. Grant SSBN 631 from 1968 to 1975. During that time, he made eight deterrent patrols. Read more about Richard and his work at www.richardslowry.com.

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May 19th, 2011 by Richard Lowry
Gator Squares

The 22nd MEU has been on station in the Mediterranean for about two weeks now and we have done absolutely nothing to assist the people of Libya who continue to be slaughtered by their own government. We have spent all our time training and avoiding all other shipping. Once our coalition allies realize that the Obama Doctrine is to instigate but not participate, I fear that they too will back away from their mission of helping the Libyan people.

President Obama has publically stated two important goals for the resolution of the Libyan crisis: First, he has said that the fighting must stop and; second – Qaddafi must go.

The President acted decisively in halting the pro-Qaddafi forces’ advance on Benghazi when he ordered 26th MEU’s Harriers to attack the advancing Libyan Army from the air. He has done nothing to work toward his other stated goal and, after our initial involvement, he has done nothing more to stop the fighting. Qaddafi will not just go away on Mr. Obama’s request. Once a president sets a goal, he needs to lead the military in developing plans to achieve that goal.

It appears that Mr. Obama’s plan is to let other nations take the reins while America watches from the grandstands, cheering NATO and the Coalition on from the sidelines. Mr. Obama has abdicated his seat as leader of the free world and obviously washed his hands of the entire mess.

All the while, four thousand Soldiers, Sailors and Marines are driving in circles in the Mederiteranean. We have left our families to wait at home, missed Easter and Mother’s Day, and ten new fathers were not home to see their sons and daughters born. I am all for the existence of an expeditionary force. I am all for our troops, but I must tell you that this is all a giant waste of time and money for 22nd MEU to be sitting out here doing nothing. A young sailor, mother of two children, said to me today, “I feel like I’m in the Navy to help, but I’m not really helping.”

The MEU has the resources needed directly over our horizon. We could help evacuate refugees. We could provide our substantial medical facilities to wounded Libyans. We could contribute to the air raids or help in the maritime embargo or we could put boots on the ground to decapitate the Qaddafi regime.

Yet, we are traveling in circles.

Semper Fidelis,

Richard

Richard S. Lowry has been writing about the Marine Corps for many years. To learn more about his writing and how to purchase his latest book, visit www.richardslowry.com.

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Apr 24th, 2011 by Richard Lowry
Another day at sea

Greetings from USS Bataan, underway in the Atlantic

110417-N-7508R-001The young men and women of the United States Navy and Marine Corps live a life most of us could not imagine when they sail the seas for you and me. It is a Spartan life. They leave most of the comforts we take for granted as they sail over the horizon.

Many bring iPods, wet wipes and cookies but their lives are drastically changed when they sail out to sea. My first taste of their sacrifice was the loss of the information we have all become accustomed to receiving at home.

Americans are bombarded with information from the time we get up in the morning, to the time we go to bed at night. We turn on our television sets to get the weather and traffic as we prepare for our day; we listen to our radios as we drive to work; most of us have a computer on our desk where we are literally connected to the world through Facebook, Wikipedia and Google; and if there is some piece of unique information we want – there’s an app for that.

Out here on the sea, the Sailors and Marines have none of that. They are lucky if the satellite connection stays up long enough to receive their few email messages. They are elated if they can sit through a March Madness playoff game without losing the signal while the ball is in the air for the winning shot at the buzzer.

Out here, we get our weather by looking outside and measuring how far our chair slides across the deck in heavy seas. Out here, we get our news by word of mouth, to later realize that it was only rumor.

These young Sailors and Marines sacrifice so much every day just by being out here on the high seas. There are no McDonalds, 7-Elevens or local bars. There are no sidewalks, driveways or trees. Everyone is packed into this giant metal monster, plodding our way across the ocean.

We could see land a few days ago. After a week of crossing the Atlantic, the silhouette of mountains on the horizon was a fascination to the Sailors and Marines on the hanger deck. Everyone moved to get a look as word spread. A small group of Marines joked that they could swim for it and make it to shore: never mind the fact that the white capped waves were ten feet tall in a rolling sea and that land was at least fifteen miles away.

The short thrill dissipated as the land disappeared behind us and the men and women on the hanger deck returned to their daily routine. The Sailors and Marines are kept busy with maintenance, training and drilling but at the end of the day they only have a tiny rack to call their own. Every day is a Monday and hours slowly turn to days. Days drag on into weeks. And weeks give way to months. The only respite from the boredom is mail call.

Semper Fidelis,

Richard

Richard S. Lowry has been writing about the Marine Corps for many years. To learn more about his writing and how to purchase his latest book, visit www.richardslowry.com.

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Apr 13th, 2011 by Richard Lowry
Bataan Amphibious Ready Group Receives Visit from Commander, U.S. Second Fleet

Bataan ARGUSS BATAAN, at sea – Sailors and Marines assigned to the Bataan Amphibious Ready Group (BATARG) and 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) received a visit from the Commander, U.S. Second Fleet, April 11-12.

Vice Adm. Daniel Holloway visited each of the three ARG ships during the final two days of a rigorous integration training cycle designed to prepare the blue-green team for a broad range of amphibious operations.

During the three weeks of accelerated training, Sailors and Marines tested their ability to perform in such areas as flight deck and well deck operations, air and surface-defense exercises, replenishments-at-sea, small boat operations, medical evacuations, non-combatant evacuation, and tactical recovery of aircraft and personnel.

“I came out here for one reason only, and that is to congratulate you on the way you have come together during this training,” said Holloway in an address to Sailors and Marines on board USS Bataan (LHD 5). “It is no small feat to surge like you have. You have risen to the occasion and knocked this training out of the park.”

The integrated training, conducted by Strike Force Training Atlantic and the Marine Corps’ Special Operation Training Group, began shortly after the Marines embarked March 29.

For many Sailors and Marines, the training marked their first experience working together.

“This is my first deployment, and it took awhile to get used to being on a ship,” said Lance Cpl. Dijon Terry, assigned to Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (VMM) 263. “I spent the first few days lost and trying to get used to the ship rocking. I feel much more comfortable now and I really like the Sailors and Marines I work with. As we head east, I know we’re ready.”

Holloway was present during the final training exercise, a complex scenario that tested each watch stander’s ability to make tactical decisions and work together as a unified team.

Holloway expressed his satisfaction with the considerable progress Sailors and Marines had achieved during their short time underway, as well as his confidence that the team will only continue to grow stronger as they ‘sharpen the sword’ and refine their skill sets.

“We are proud of you,” said Holloway. “You are the face of the Navy and Marine Corps and the face of the nation.”

The BATARG deployed three months ahead of their original schedule to relieve the Kearsarge ARG and 26th MEU, currently conducting operations in the Mediterranean Sea.

The BATARG is comprised of Bataan, amphibious transport dock ship USS Mesa Verde (LPD 19), and amphibious dock landing ship USS Whidbey Island (LSD 41).

For more information about Bataan, visit the ship’s website at http://www.bataan.navy.mil.
Reposted with permission from Bataan ARG Public Affairs

Semper Fidelis,

Richard

Richard S. Lowry has been writing about the Marine Corps for many years. To learn more about his writing and how to purchase his latest book, visit www.richardslowry.com.

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Apr 11th, 2011 by Richard Lowry
At sea with the Bataan Amphibious Ready Group.

110408-N-3965T-160Today, April 9, 2011, is the sixty-ninth anniversary of the fall of the Philippine island of Bataan and the beginning of the “Bataan Death March.” The brave men on Bataan had been under siege since the December 7th attack on Pearl Harbor.  They held as long as they could without re-supply or reinforcement until they were finally forced to surrender. The 4500 men and women of USS Bataan held a moment of silence today in remembrance of that fateful day in history. It was the first time the ship has been quiet since my arrival eleven days ago.

Our days have been filled with exercises of every sort. We have practiced fires, flooding and defending ourselves from attacks from the air, land and sea. The air crews have been continuously honing their skills on the flight deck. The Air Boss and his staff have been directing the intricate ballet of launching and landing several different kinds of aircraft from this relatively small flight deck.

The ships’ officers have participated in this ballet by working with the Air Boss to correctly position the ship for “Flight Quarters” while avoiding other maritime traffic and, at times, conducting drills to practice evading and fighting off small boat attacks.

The Battalion Landing Team has not sat idly by. They have been practicing helicopter borne raids along with mechanized and motorized operations. These exercises include launching and retrieving our amphibious craft, further complicating the air operations and maneuvering of the ship.

All the while, the ships’ crew has been working to keep this small floating city running. They have manned the engine room, laundry and galleys. They have worked to maintain the sophisticated electronics and weapons systems and they have kept our satellite television and internet connection to the world working.

All the elements of the Blue/Green Team in the Bataan Amphibious Ready Group are coming together and are beginning to operate as a finely tuned instrument. Soon, the world will see the varied capabilities of the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit embarked aboard Amphibious Ready Group 6.

Semper Fidelis,

Richard

Richard S. Lowry has been writing about the Marine Corps for many years. To learn more about his writing and how to purchase his latest book, visit www.richardslowry.com.

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Apr 6th, 2011 by Richard Lowry
Greetings from USS Bataan, underway in the Atlantic.

IMG_0161On 28 March, 2011, I set off on a great adventure. I was invited to spend four months with 2d Battalion, 2d Marines on their deployment with the 22 Marine Expeditionary Unit. I will be conducting my initial research to tell the Marines’ expeditionary story in a forthcoming book and I will also be writing periodic posts to this web log so that you too can make the journey with these dedicated men and women as they deploy in these troubled times.

This last week has reaffirmed my admiration for the Sailors and Marines who leave their lives behind to sail the seas in the service of their nation. I am traveling with the Bataan Amphibious Ready Group (ARG), carrying the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU). The blue/green team is known as the ARGMEU. We spent several days loading personnel, equipment, vehicles and aircraft. The Sailors and Marines wasted no time in getting down to business. Everyone is planning and preparing as we are sailing off into history.

The ARGMEU stands ready to provide Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief, or to conduct combat missions. The ARGMEU is ready to extend a helping hand or bring down an iron fist. In the words of Lieutenant Colonel Gordon Miller, “Together, as a team, we are stronger than anyone.”

And, this blue/green team is doing it all on a miser’s budget. I know of no better way to project American diplomacy and power around the world. 22nd MEU stands ready for any mission. It is amazing to see all the weapons systems and equipment in top-notch condition, but the ancillary equipment is old and some is in dire need of repair. The Navy and Marine Corps are spending your money wisely but the Amphibious Navy/Marine team needs more, not less.

I am sitting in the wardroom lounge in a chair that is falling apart. The metal desk drawer handles have fallen off and have been replaced more than once. The computer itself is five or six years old. The commercial internet connection that the Marines and Sailors use to communicate with their loved ones is a decade old and is brutally slow. The bathrooms are in need of renovation and so are the Marines living quarters.

Yet, the Sailors and Marines, the ships and aircraft, and all the critical equipment are prepared for whatever may come their way. These young men and women will soon stand ready as America’s next 911 force in the Mediterranean Sea.

Semper Fidelis,
Richard

Richard S. Lowry has been writing about the Marine Corps for many years. To learn more about his writing and how to purchase his latest book, visit www.richardslowry.com.

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Mar 24th, 2011 by Richard Lowry
This Just in – 22 MEU headed to Libya

———-MEDIA ADVISORY———-
22d Marine Expeditionary Unit
Advisory #05-11
24 Mar 2011
22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit to deploy

MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. – Approximately 2,200 Marines and sailors with 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit, II Marine Expeditionary Force from Camp Lejeune, N.C. received deployment orders to support the commanders of the U.S. European, African and Central commands, and will leave in April.

The MEU has been instructed to deploy to relieve the 26th MEU and maintain an uninterrupted regional presence to provide the President flexibility on a full range of options. There is no speculation about possible missions nor can we provide more detail about movement of forces in the region.

With the expertise and ability to perform a wide variety of missions, the 22nd MEU provides theater commanders with flexible, agile and responsive force able to respond to potential contingencies.  Marine Expeditionary Units are fully capable to conduct a variety of missions from humanitarian assistance to non-combatant evacuations to combat operations.

The 22nd MEU will deploy with Amphibious Squadron 6, and will embark aboard the USS BATAAN (LHD-5) Amphibious Ready Group.

“We began with four different elements of the Marine Air Ground Task Force,” said 22nd MEU Commanding Officer Col. Eric Steidl.  ”We are now a fully integrated MAGTF, giving the nation a potent worldwide Navy/Marine Corps response force completely capable of conducting a full range of operations from humanitarian assistance to combat.”

Over the last several months, the Marines and Sailors of the MEU conducted training across the U.S., not only in Camp Lejeune, but in Florida, Virginia, West Virginia, Tennessee and California.  Realistic exercises and countless hours of individual unit training were conducted during the MEU’s pre-deployment training in order to ready the Marines and sailors for deployment.

The training focused on a broad number of missions and honed the unit’s ability to plan and execute missions from U.S. Navy ships and from ashore.  This training enhanced interoperability between the Marines and their naval counterparts and formed the 22nd MEU and BATARG into a seamless Blue/Green team.

“I fully expect the Marines and sailors of the 22nd MEU will perform magnificently, and we will do this with professionalism and a mastery of the basics,” said Steidl. “The Marines and Sailors of the 22nd MEU are prepared.”

The 22nd MEU is a Marine Air Ground Task Force comprised of Ground Combat Element, Battalion Landing Team, 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment; Aviation Combat Element, Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 263 (Reinforced); Logistics Combat Element, Combat Logistics Battalion 22; and the Command Element.

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Mar 19th, 2011 by Richard Lowry
Anniversary of the battle for Nasiriyah

c211 croppedIt is hard to believe that it has been eight years since Jessica Lynch and the 507th Maintenance Company rolled through the dusty streets of An Nasiriyah on March 23, 2003. Eleven of Jessica’s fellow soldiers were killed that morning, five were captured and a dozen more injured. Lynch was critically injured and near death when she was brought into a military hospital near the site of her ambush.

Within hours of the ambush, the North Carolina Marines of Task Force Tarawa moved to secure the bridges in An Nasiriyah. LtCol Rickey Grabowski’s 1st Battalion, of the 2nd Marine Regiment rolled into the city and encountered stiff resistance. By mid-morning they had rescued nearly half of the soldiers who had been ambushed and by noon the Marines were charging forward through a hail of RPGs, AK-47 gunfire, mortar and artillery barrages. By sunset, Grabowski’s Marines had secured their objectives but at a terrible cost. Eighteen of America’s finest died and another dozen were wounded.

In all, twenty-nine Americans died that day in An Nasiriyah. Initially, the situation in Nasiriyah was so confusing and filled with the fog of war that no one knew the connection between the 507th Maintenance Company and the brave Marines of the 2d Marine Regiment. At first, Jessica’s capture was kept quiet for fear that the enemy would move her if they suspected that America knew where she was.

As the days and weeks passed, the news media moved on to Lynch’s rescue and then the fall of Baghdad. When the Department of Defense finally sorted things out and released the names of the Marines and soldiers who died that day, the media took very little interest. No one ever realized that that bloody day in Nasiriyah, on March 23rd, was the costliest day of combat for America in these long eight years of operations in Iraq.  Twenty-nine American soldiers and Marines were never given a fitting tribute to the ultimate sacrifice they made while in the service of their country.

Before sunrise on the 23rd on March 2003, thirty-three soldiers, traveling in eighteen trucks, stumbled into the dusty desert city of An Nasiriyah. It wasn’t until they had driven all the way through the city that they realized that they were hopelessly lost. As soon as they turned around and tried to retrace their path, every Iraqi with a gun started shooting at the beleaguered convoy. The lead three vehicles managed to run the gauntlet and get back to the U.S. Marines’ front lines.

Five vehicles broke down and ten soldiers scrambled for cover in a nearby ditch. Surrounded, they each vowed to go down fighting. They had fought to hold off the enemy for nearly an hour, when Major Bill Peeples and the Marine tankers of Alpha Company, 8th Tanks arrived to save the day. The Marines beat back the enemy and rushed the ten soldiers to safety.

The remaining seventeen soldiers were not as fortunate. Eleven were killed and six captured. Specialists Jamaal Addison and James Kiehl both died when their vehicle careened through an intersection and rolled over on its top.  Private First Class Howard Johnson II and Private Ruben Estrella-Soto’s truck crashed at the same intersection.  Sergeant Donald Walters was lost north of An Nasiriyah when his vehicle broke down. He leapt from his disabled vehicle behind enemy lines and laid down covering fire so that the rest of his unit could turn their vehicles and get out of a horrific ambush.  Private Brandon Sloan was shot and killed while the vehicle he was in was racing south. Chief Warrant Officer Johnny Mata’s truck shuddered to a stop atop a railroad overpass and burst into flames. Mata was killed, but his driver, Specialist Hudson, survived.

Near the end to the doomed convoy, First Sergeant Robert Dowdy tried to shepherd his soldiers to safety. Private First Class Lori Piestewa was driving Dowdy’s HMMWV. Specialist Edward Anguiano, Sergeant George Buggs and Private First Class Jessica Lynch were riding in the back. Piestewa managed to maneuver around obstacles and raced all the way back through Nasiriyah when the flatbed in front of her jackknifed. Lori was unable to avoid the back of the skidding truck. She plowed into the rear of the flatbed, instantly killing Dowdy.

We know that Lori and Jessica survived the collision. It is not clear what happened to Buggs and Anguiano. Patrick Miller, Hudson, Hernandez, Lynch, Piestewa, Riley, and Shoshana Johnson were all taken prisoner. Lynch and Piestewa were separated from the others and eventually ended up in the Tykar Military Hospital. Lori died while being treated, leaving Lynch alone and near death.

The soldiers of the 507th Maintenance Company that were killed that day were from all walks of life and every corner of this nation. They were a swatch cut from the American fabric and the first to die in this protracted war. Lori Piestewa was an American Indian and single mother. Brandon Sloan and Robert Dowdy were both from Cleveland Ohio. Brandon, 19, had left high school early to join the Army, while Dowdy, 38, was a career soldier. James Kiehl, 22, was a friendly computer technician who left behind a pregnant wife. Buggs and Anguiano were not even members of the 507th. Dowdy had convinced them to take one of their vehicles in tow two nights before. Their tow truck ran out of gas north of An Nasiriyah and Dowdy, Piestewa and Lynch had picked them up.

By noon, the Marines were pressing north to secure two vital bridges in An Nasiriyah. The fighting started long before they reached the Euphrates River but it wasn’t until they moved into downtown Nasiriyah that all hell broke loose. Alpha Company secured the Euphrates River Bridge while Bravo Company swung out to the east side of town. Charlie Company raced over the Euphrates River and charged through “Ambush Alley” to the Saddam Canal Bridge.

Eighteen Marines died in Charlie Company’s battle for that northern bridge. Donald Cline was a twenty-one year old husband and father of two young boys. Patrick Nixon loved history and wanted to eventually be a teacher. Phillip Jordan was a career Marine and loving husband and father. Fred Pokorney was a giant of a man who had just been promoted to 1st Lieutenant.  Sergeant Michael Bitz was the father of two young boys and one-month old twins. David Fribley and Brian Buesing were both Florida natives. Fribley joind the Corps after 9/11 and Buesing had been in the Marines since he graduated from high school. Brendon Reiss was the son of a decorated Vietnam Veteran and Randal Rosacker was the son of a Navy Master Chief submarine sailor. Jose Garibay and Jorge Gonzalez were both from Southern California. Thomas Slocum was a 22 year old from Colorado and Nolen Hutchings was from South Carolina. They were both troubled teens who had worked to turn their lives around in the Corps.

Tamario Burkett was a young Marine from upstate New York. Kemaphoom Chanawongse was born in Thailand and came to the United States at nine years old. He was the first to have a Buddhist funeral at Arlington National Cemetery. Johnathan Gifford wanted to be a Marine since he was a little boy. Michael Williams joined the Corps late in life. At 31, he was just a Lance Corporal but older than most of the young officers he worked for. On his trip over to Iraq, he emailed his girlfriend and asked her to marry him. Thomas Blair was not a member of Charlie Company. He was part of an anti-aircraft unit that had been assigned to Charlie Company. He too, went directly into the Marine Corps after high school graduation.

Twenty-nine lives ended too soon on that clear Sunday in March. Twenty-nine families grieve to this day. These soldiers and Marines died before there was a daily box score in the newspapers of America. They have been buried under 4000 more stories. Donald Cline and Michael Williams died because they chose to help their wounded comrades.

Many more soldiers and Marines would have died that day had it not been for the Herculean efforts of men like, Private First Class Patrick Miller, Sergeant Michael Bitz, Gunnery Sergeant Jason Doran, Lieutenant Mike Seely, Captain Eric Garcia, and Major Bill Peeples. These men are true American heroes.

Read about these brave young men and women in the only book to tell the entire story of America’s first major battle in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Marines in the Garden of Eden, Berkley, New York, 2006, is available at all fine bookstores and online booksellers. It is available in Hard Cover, Trade Paperback, and in many eBook formats.

Visit Richard S. Lowry’s website to learn about other books he has written.

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