Saturday, January 31, 2009

Small Corps

Just today I was able to eat dinner with a Major that I go to church with! He and his family are AWESOME and they are hanging out with our family on a regular basis. (He is doing awesome Danielle!)

Tonight I also saw a Marine who's bride sings in our church choir. He just got here and still looks jet-lagged....

Then there is a GySgt who was a SSgt Intel student of mine... got to see him walking out of the chow hall....

Then there was another student of mine who came up to me and told me stories of stuff I had taught him back in the day....

Two of the civilians working here were active duty Marines back in the day and were students of mine. Now they are telling me to hold on to their contact information for when I retire....

Seems I can't go a day here with out someone coming up to me or me going up to them and reconnecting.

It is neat to see the threads of our lives make a pattern of friendly faces over the years. Personal seeds sown then are reaping a harvest now. Sure glad they were sown with care and kindness and not with malice.

Semper Fi,

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Sandbox Shoes (Camp Cupcake edition)

Just wanted to give you an idea of what we are living in at Camp Cupcake... give you an idea of you walking in our shoes.

- Move into one of the kids rooms. Lock all the rest of the bedroom doors, bathroom doors, closet doors and deny access to the kitchen and all other rooms of the house.... Now send the family to live about 7 time-zones away. One more thing: we are going to move 3 of your favorite neighbors in with you, and I will even let you pick which ones.

- The bullet above leads into what you have... You only get two big duffel bags, one carry-on sized bag, one laptop computer bag and one big back-pack sized bag. Mind you, that is a lot of space, but everyone else in the room will get that same amount of stuff, and you have to be able to carry ALL of it at the same time about 50 yards. (That is how far we have to carry it to and from the helo's we have to move around in.) One more thing about the stuff. You have to have all your combat gear, including your weapon(s) and stuff which takes both sea-bags to carry and starts your weight off at about 100 pounds. Happy packing!

- You have no vehicle asset on this camp, so you have to walk everywhere you go... Other people have vehicles because, well, you don't know why, but they do.

- The good news is that all the food in your camp is free, except the restaurants... but you still have to walk and the nearest grocery store or chow hall is about a half-mile away.

- Your nearest bathroom is a quarter-mile away and it is a port-a-john. There is a warm, shower/bathroom facility about a half-mile away. Both are cleaned and re-stocked with toilet paper about once a week. You have to take navy showers to conserve water. That means you turn on the cold water to get wet, turn it off to shave or whatever, turn it back on to rinse off, turn it off to lather up or shampoo or ..., and then turn it back on to rinse and repeat as necessary.

- Your work is about a half-mile away and you get to work 12-18 hour days. Those neighbors of yours, yeah, they all work different shifts and need to get into their/your room every so often in the middle of their shift.

- The laundry service is free, but it too is about a half-mile away. They are open from 0500-midnight, so they have very flexible hours.

- About every quarter mile, someone is stopping you and asking to show your ID card. In every facility you go into, you have to show your ID card.

- Everyone is wearing the same uniforms, including you, for the whole time you are there. No one is wearing denim or colors or normal clothes except for civilian contractors and foreign nationals and they are not all that prevalent. At this location, there are thousands of people walking around, looking just like you, haircuts and all.

- The gym is also free and about a half-mile away. It is full of any type of running or riding machine and every free-weight or resistance exercise machine available.

- Throw your phones away and cut off your cable. You can watch the TV at the restaurant, but you cannot choose the channel. Your internet is now dial-up and even that is intermittent. There are pay-phones but they are, you guessed it, about a half-mile away.

- You are required to carry a pistol and 15 rounds everywhere you go and are required to clear it before entering any building.

- At night, you have to wear a reflective belt and/or carry an illuminated flashlight with you everywhere you go.

- Every 3 months you are going to move neighborhoods. It is OK, you are going to a friend's room who lives across town and he is going to go to yours. The trick is, we are not going to tell you exactly when or if it is really going to be 3 months or not. You don't know what the living conditions will be like there and don't know about the room-mate situation. Remember, you get to carry all that stuff with you too....

- About 4 times a day, you hear an explosion off in the distance, just for fun. You really don't know what it was or who was doing it, and it happens at random. Most of the time it is just Marines shooting things at a range or conducting a controlled detonation, but ya just never know.

- Helo's fly around at all hours of the day and night.

- There are no animals around and the only plants around are trees in random places.

- You get mail once a week and still have to pay all the bills. The good news there is you get a 20% pay increase.

As goofy as this life would seem, that is what we are living in over here... and this is much, much better than at the Ramadi Police District Headquarters. We (those of us over here) chose this life though, so we are all good with it.

Obviously some have it better than others, and some have it worse.

Thanks for all your prayers, and now you can have your master bedroom back!

Semper Fi,

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Camp Cupcake

Well this new place is only the latest of a continuing transition. I am now on an established base that is considered extremely secure.

There is a section of stores that has been deemed Northpoint Mall. In that compound there is a Pizza Hut, KFC, Berger King and even a Cinnabun.

This place is so comfortable that the Marines have deemed it Camp Cupcake. That is probably a common name for bases abroad that are just too comfortable.

At first I found that concept completely backwards. "Too Comfortable?" Is there such thing?

Actually, in a combat zone, there is. Creature comforts like these breed complacency and complacency kills.

Where Sgt Garrett and I were before, there was a constant sharpening of our combat skills. We routinely had ranges, reset training, radio training, and opportunities to practice combat convoys. On top of all that, we were doing the job we were sent out to do.

The Marines on Camp Cupcake are so engaged in their work that the additional training and practice never happens... but they are not so engaged that they can't make it to KFC or one of the other creature comfort locations.

If they had to go on a combat convoy, like Sgt Garrett and I did every other day, would they be ready? Would they have that sharp edge they would need to react properly in a split-second?

Don't get me wrong, I am not saying we were something special or that these Marines are not doing their jobs. They are doing AWESOME out here, but the life lived here is so much different. It is almost like we were in a different country down there in Ramadi.

There are two out-door pools that the Marines here can use when the weather is right... POOLS!

At the Ramadi DHQ, we never unloaded our pistols. I haven't loaded my pistol since I have been at Camp Cupcake.

Hopefully my upcoming assignment will be somewhere I can stay sharp and still have a few of the comforts of home at the same time.

Semper Fi,

Monday, January 26, 2009

Mark's New Email
Here is Mark's new email. Send him a note, he has a bit more time to respond right now, and I know he'd love to hear from all of you!

Sunday, January 25, 2009


Well, the last two weeks have brought little in the way of mission accomplishment and lots in the form of little frustrations. Seems like every step forward is up hill and accompanied by two steps back.

As you can see, since the last time I was on here has been a couple weeks +. Since then, I have moved two times and am expecting a third move. Addresses are in flux and internet connectivity is sporadic and restricted. When I do have internet, the firewalls are always blocking the places I would want to get to... (Face-book, this blog, and G-mail specifically).

Since I last blogged, I have met Major General Mills and written about 46 pages of reports, taken a Physical Fitness test and exercised more in the last few weeks than in a long time. The pull-up challenge had to stop because some of the places we were waiting for movement to didn't have the bar... but I am now running again and getting faster each and every time.

Thank you all so very much for your prayer and support. I really appreciate them and your patience. I am now going back through my e-mail in-box and will be doing my best to reply to your e-mail. At this point I also have a .mil account, but don't have that address on this computer... Colleen, when you read this, please post that address on here if I don't beat you to it.
The camp I am on now is a polar opposite to the little Police station I was living at in Ramadi! Yeah, can you believe it, I was actually out in the city of Ramadi, one of the most violent cities in Iraq over the last few years. Well, the Iraqi Police have really cleaned that place up and quelled most of the violence. They still have their incidents, but so does every other city. Although we were really safe there, we were constantly vigilant.

The stuff we did there. Man. Daily I wished I could write about it and really tell the stories. Some of the stuff we did there still blow my mind.

Remember on 3 November when I thanked you for your prayers? Yeah, this picture tells a little of that story: (I will post it when the internet cooperates... but at least I have the text up, right?)
That is a bullet-hole in the ceiling of the hooch right next to ours. When the bullet came in through the roof, it was about 12 feet from where I was sitting. Sgt Garrett was on Camp Ramadi, but he would have likely been about the same distance from it had he been there. Apart from a little ventilation in the roof, the bullet caused no other known damage. We are assessing it was celebratory fire, based on the near vertical trajectory of the round. Where we are now, that type of incident is more likely to happen in the states than here (so no worries!).

We got to go to each of the 5 Precinct Headquarters and work with the IP's there. (I will post a pic or two from those adventures as well). We made those trips out into the city 2-5 times a week and any time we left the wire was a good opportunity for positive interaction.

We had to stay sharp on our skills, so monthly we went to ranges, got to send some rounds down range and review our standard operating procedures.

Iraqi police had negligent discharges of their AK's about 3-4 times a week. We had to re-review how to handle their weapons safely.

We worked directly with the IPs in the handling of their detainees and probably helped to prevent countless abuses.

We made a difference out there in that city and in the lives of those we worked with. In the words of our 1stSgt, we worked ourselves out of a job.

I will write more later...

Semper Fi,

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Not Much Internet Access...

Even though Mark's moved and he thought he'd have more time/internet access it is obvious he does not. He's doing well, just busy and working long hours. He'll get back on here, sooner or later. I just wanted to let everyone know that he's safe and all is good!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Back with the Unit

I am now back with my parent unit, at least until they decide to send me home, and who knows when that will be. We are comfortably nestled into a base and relatively secure... much more so than we were before.

My internet access is very limited now though. Where before we had dial-up to share between about 16 people and had it for free, I share it with several thousand now and pay about as much as I do for cable internet back home.

Anyway, the connection is SLOW and the usage sporadic. Please forgive me for taking a little longer to reply.

My busy work has significantly increased and my schedule is no longer my own.

I will write more when I can...

Semper Fi,

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Checking in

Mark is doing well, for an update on his status, please click here...

Monday, January 5, 2009

Internet Access

Due to Internet access this blog may not be updated as frequently as before. As soon as Mark gets coms he will blog again, check back often for further updates. You can also check updates on his status by visiting...

written by Colleen, per Mark's request.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Car Accident

A LtCol/Sheik, a Captain and a Lt that we work with out here died in a car accident yesterday. Two sheiks were also injured and are currently being treated in Ramadi General Hospital.

They were on their way to an election event and were hit by a truck that was traveling the wrong direction.

God bless their families and let them rest in peace.

Semper Fi,

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Cpl Jonathan Yale and LCpl Jordan Haerter

Los Angeles Times
December 29, 2008

A Speeding Truck Bomb, And A Shared Act Of Courage

Two Marines in Iraq saved dozens -- but not themselves. They'll be awarded the Navy Cross.

By Tony Perry

SAN DIEGO -- They had known each other only a few minutes, but they will be linked forever in what Marine brass say is one of the most extraordinary acts of courage and sacrifice in the Iraq war.

Cpl. Jonathan Yale, 21, grew up poor in rural Virginia. He had joined the Marine Corps to put structure in his life and to help support his mother and sister. He was within a few days of heading home.

Lance Cpl. Jordan Haerter, 19, was from a comfortably middle-class suburb on Long Island. As a boy, he had worn military garb, and he had felt the pull of adventure and patriotism. He had just arrived in Iraq.

On April 22, the two were assigned to guard the main gate to Joint Security Station Nasser in Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province, once an insurgent stronghold and still a dangerous region. Dozens of Marines and Iraqi police lived at the compound, and some were still sleeping after all-night patrols when Yale and Haerter reported for duty that warm, sultry morning.

Yale, respected for his quiet, efficient manner, was assigned to show Haerter how to take over his duties.

Haerter had volunteered to watch the main gate, even though it was considered the most hazardous of the compound's three guard stations because it could be approached from a busy thoroughfare.

The sun had barely risen when the two sentries spotted a 20-foot-long truck headed toward the gate, weaving with increasing speed through the concrete barriers. Two Iraqi police officers assigned to the gate ran for their lives. So did several Iraqi police on the adjacent street.
Yale and Haerter tried to wave off the truck, but it kept coming. They opened fire, Yale with a machine gun, Haerter with an M-16. Their bullets peppered the radiator and windshield. The truck slowed but kept rolling.

A few dozen feet from the gate, the truck exploded. Investigators found that it was loaded with 2,000 pounds of explosives and that its driver, his hand on a "dead-man switch," was determined to commit suicide and slaughter Marines and Iraqi police.

The thunderous explosion rocked much of Ramadi, interrupting the morning call to prayers from the many mosques. A nearby mosque and a home were flattened. The blast ripped a crater 5 feet deep and 20 feet across into the street.

Shards of concrete scattered everywhere, and choking dust filled the air.

Haerter was dead; Yale was dying.

Three Marines about 300 feet away were injured. So were eight Iraqi police and two dozen civilians.

But several dozen other nearby Marines and Iraqi police, while shaken, were unhurt. A Black Hawk helicopter was summoned in a futile attempt to get Yale to a field hospital in time. A sheet was placed over Haerter.

When it was considered safe to take Haerter's body to a second helicopter, his section leader insisted he be covered by an American flag. "We did not want him carried out with just a sheet," said Staff Sgt. Kenneth Grooms.

Maj. Gen. John Kelly, the top Marine in Iraq, wanted to know how the attack happened. Like many veteran Marines, he is haunted by the memory of the 1983 bombing of the barracks in Beirut, when a blast from an explosives-laden truck killed 241 U.S. service personnel, including 220 Marines.

Not given to dark thoughts or insecurities, Kelly, who commanded Marines in the fight for Baghdad and Tikrit in 2003 and Fallouja in 2004, admits that the specter of another Beirut gives him nightmares as he commands the 22,000 Marines in Iraq.

He went to Ramadi to interview Iraqi witnesses -- a task generals usually delegate to subordinates.

Some Iraqis told him they were incredulous that the two Marines had not fled.

When Marine technicians restored a damaged security camera, the images were undeniable.

While Iraqi police fled, Haerter and Yale had never flinched and never stopped firing as the Mercedes truck -- the same model used in the Beirut bombing -- sped directly toward them.
Without their steadfastness, the truck would probably have penetrated the compound before it exploded, and 50 or more Marines and Iraqis would have been killed. The incident happened in just six seconds.

"No time to talk it over; no time to call the lieutenant; no time to think about their own lives or even the American and Iraqi lives they were protecting," Kelly said. "More than enough time, however, to do their duty. They never hesitated or tried to escape."

Kelly nominated the two for the Navy Cross, the second-highest award for combat bravery for Marines and sailors. Even by the standards expected of Marine "grunts," their bravery was exceptional, Kelly said.

The Haerter and Yale families will receive the medals early next year.

On the night after the bombing, Kelly wrote to each family that though he never knew its Marine, "I will remember him, and pray for him and for all those who mourn his loss, for the rest of my life."

A motorcade escorted Haerter's casket through Sag Harbor on Long Island, as residents lined the streets and wept and saluted.

Yale's casket made the 83-mile trip from the airport at Richmond, Va., to Farmville with an honor guard provided by the Patriot Guard Riders, a motorcycle group of former service members.

"He's not supposed to be dead," said the Rev. Leon Burchett, who did the eulogy at Yale's funeral and in whose home Yale had often lived as a teenager. "The casket was flag-draped but it couldn't be opened. There's no closure -- it's like we're still waiting for him to come home."

On Long Island, a bridge was renamed for Haerter. His high school put a flag from his funeral in a time capsule. His family set up a memorial website,

At a Wounded Warrior Project event, Haerter's mother, JoAnn Lyles, her voice breaking, talked of how she had hoped to do something special for his 20th birthday. "We now know that Jordan -- Lance Cpl. Jordan C. Haerter -- was already a man, a courageous and brave young man."

Their battalions are now back at Camp Lejeune, N.C. -- for Haerter, the 1st Battalion, 9th Regiment; for Yale, the 2nd Battalion, 8th Regiment. In Iraq, both units were part of the Camp Pendleton-based Regimental Combat Team One.

Yale's unit was within a week of going home when the attack occurred. His death seemed to deflate its sense of achievement.

"The Marines were very upset and very disappointed because of the effort they had made to make a better life for the Iraqis and then to have this happen," said Capt. Matthew Martin, Yale's company commander.

Haerter's unit had just arrived for a seven-month deployment, and officers tried to make sure his death did not unduly distract the Marines.

"It's something you don't get over," said Lt. Dan Runzheimer, 24, Haerter's platoon leader.

"I wouldn't say it put a cloud on us, but it was always there. The men still knew what they had to do: You have to . . . complete the mission."

As both battalions train for possible deployment to Iraq or Afghanistan, the deaths of their comrades are still in their thoughts.

Yale was always trying to boost the morale of his buddies, said Lance Cpl. Brandon Creely, 21, of Boise, Idaho. "Whenever I was down, he'd tell a joke, tell me it's not as bad as it seems."

Staff Sgt. Grooms, 28, said he knows how Haerter should be remembered.

"He was a hero," Grooms said, "and a damn fine person."

This happened at a station right down the road, at a station just like the one where I am living. These are the kinds of men with whom I am serving. These are the kinds of men that America has sent to represent her. They are among our best. They are hero's. Remember them.

Semper Fi,

Iraq... An Update

The New York Times published work from the Brookings Institute discussing their take on the overall situation in Iraq (

Their overall numbers can be found here:(

They have taken numbers from November's 2004, 2006 and 2008 and compared them. Oddly enough, I was here for 2 of those Novembers: 2004 and 2008.

The numbers presented only tell a part of the story.

Just remember that Operation Al Fajr (the HUGE offensive where Marines took back Fallujah the second and final time) took place in November 2004. Large scale operations were executed during that month, causing not only high numbers of incidents, but also significant displacement of people. Their first statistic that discusses only 2,650 civilian deaths from war in November 2004 is AWESOME considering all the infrastructural havoc we wreaked that month.

The numbers addressing Iraqi Security Forces and Judges.... Those they had back then had very little training and were mostly Sheik's personal security details. The ones they have now have much more training and coalition support.

In working with the IP's, they seem to be taking leaps and bounds forward in some areas and in other areas they are not doing so well.

In general, they are manning posts and attending training like they should, but in doing the details and supervising those details to effective completion, they are still struggling. Delegation is very un-natural to them. They prefer the appearance of power over its application. They prefer the appearances of authority over its responsibilities.

That is all in general of course. Specifically speaking, there are many good, solid leaders who are there for the betterment of Iraq and are consistently working to achieve it.

At this point however, I am not so sure we Americans are doing much good. If we act to make a situation better, those security forces who should be doing that appear incapable, so we are undermining those supposed to be doing the job. If we don't act, then why are we still here?

Semper Fi,

Thursday, January 1, 2009

January 09.

Happy New Year! It is 2009 and a good one it could be. I will be coming home, this year!

We are one year closer to.... you fill in the blank. Hopefully you have long range goals that you can aspire to attain or achieve that will complete that sentence.

Today is day 70 in the pull-up challenge. ... hang in there....

Semper Fi,