Battle Rattle

Modern Day Marine exposition kicks off at Quantico

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A Marine fires his weapon Sept. 8 during the exercise Africa Partnership Station 13. (Photo by Sgt. Marco Mancha)

The Marine Corps’ annual exposition of gear, weapons and vehicles kicks off today at Quantico, Va. It is expected to draw thousands of Marines and civilians from across the country, with a special emphasis on what industry is producing for the Corps.

Marine Corps Times prepared for the expo by producing its annual State of the Marine Corps issue. Out on newsstands this week, it leverages insight from 15 general officers to paint a picture of where life stands in the Corps. If you’re on base and looking, you’ll find it available at the expo.

Highlights of the event include an enlisted awards parade Wednesday at 9 a.m. and a brief to industry involving several senior Marine officers Thursday at 11. The exhibition floor will be open Tuesday morning through Thursday at 3 p.m. A complete schedule of events is here.

Marine Corps Times and its sister publication, Defense News, have several reporters who will be walking the floor at Modern Day Marine and providing updates on our Show Scout site. Twitter also is active with updates through the hash tags #MDM and #MDM13.

Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Mike Barrett just shared the following on Twitter, in fact:

Commandant @USMC and I are looking forward to being with @MBWDC & @usmcdrumcorps tomorrow for #MDM13 enlisted awards & parade @MCB_Quantico.

Congressman launches social media campaign for former Marine imprisoned in Iran

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As world leaders gather in New York this week at the U.N. headquarters, a Michigan congressman is inviting Americans to join a social media campaign designed to draw attention to a former Marine sergeant who has been held prisoner in Iran for two years.

About 70 members of Congress have taken photos with a #FreeAmir sign in order to draw awareness to the case of Amir Hekmati, a former Marine held prisoner in Iran. Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Mich., represents Hekmati’s district and encourages all Americans to take a similar photo and share it on social media.
(Rep. Dan Kildee)

Rep. Dan Kildee, a Democrat from Michigan, is working to boost global awareness of the imprisonment of one of his constituents. Former Marine Amir Hekmati has been held prisoner in Iran for two years. Kildee is encouraging members of Congress to have their photos taken with a sign that says “#FreeAmir” and share them on social media — so far, about 70 members of Congress have done so.

Kildee’s efforts are timed with the first visit Iran’s new president, Hasan Rouhani, will make to the U.S. He hopes Iranian officials will see the campaign and know the world is watching, he said.

Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Mich., with a #FreeAmir sign outside his congressional office. Kildee represents Amir Hekmati’s district.
(Rep. Dan Kildee)

“The idea is to make sure the Iranian government and officials who are here in the U.S. and clearly follow social media, know that the American people and their representatives are engaged in Amir’s case and are watching Iran as they deal with this case going forward,” Kildee said.

Releasing Hekmati is a tangible step Iranian leaders can take to prove their seriousness as they try to engage the global community, he said.

Iranian officials announced today that 80 prisoners who were arrested during political crackdowns in that country have been freed. Last week, it was announced that 11 others were released.

Kildee said releasing the American prisoners would be a step in the right direction for Iran.

Former Marine Sgt. Amir Hekmati
(Courtesy of FreeAmir.org)

“So far from Iran, we’ve had a lot of words,” Kildee said. “For some it’s a sign of hope that there might be a way to bring Iran back into the international community — but words don’t mean as much as actions.”

Hekmati was arrested and tried on the grounds he was spying in Iran during a 2011 visit to see his grandmother. He was held in solitary confinement and at one point, faced the death penalty — a decision that was since overturned. He has had little contact with his family, and his father has since been diagnosed with brain cancer.

On Sept. 1, he wrote a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry detailing miserable prison conditions. Kildee said Hekmati was brave to write to Kerry because, while he wants to be free and come home, he wants to be sure it’s not at the expense of his own integrity or that of the U.S.

Representing Hekmati’s district in Michigan, Kildee said he’s always hearing from people who want to know how they can help his cause. He encourages Americans to take their own photos with a #Free Hekmati sign and share them on social media.

 

Exclusive videos: Cpl. Rob Richards, Marine scout sniper, speaks on ‘urination video,’ getting wounded in Afghanistan

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Cpl Rob Richards, left, and his wife Raechel met with Marine Corps Times in their home on Sept. 11. (Mike Morones /Staff)

Marine Corps Times posted online last night my long-form profile of Cpl. Rob Richards, one of the Marine scout snipers who appeared in a video urinating on dead Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan. The video created an international uproar after it first appeared on the Internet in January 2012.

My story is posted in its entirety here. However, I also wanted to point out the work of staff videographer Mike Morones, who traveled me with for the interview to Jacksonville, N.C. With Richards’ permission, we recorded the interview and Morones edited together two video packages.

First, here’s Richards speaking on how the incident in question occurred:

Richards also spoke at length about recovering from an improvised explosive device blast that wounded him in Afghanistan in 2010. He deployed to the war zone again in 2011, the year the urination video was recorded:

If you’re interested, there’s a photo slide show accompanying the story available here.

Dakota Meyer’s interpreter, once scared in Afghanistan, now safe at U.S. Wal-Mart

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Medal of Honor recipient Dakota Meyer posted this photograph on Twitter on Friday, showing himself with the interpreter who fought alongside him in Afghanistan in 2009. Fazel had been afraid for his life, but has been allowed by the State Department to stay in the U.S. (@DakotaMeyer twitter)

In recent weeks, Medal of Honor recipient Dakota Meyer has forcefully advocated for the U.S. to allow his former Afghan interpreter into the U.S., saying the man feared for his life after getting death threats from the Taliban.

Fayez, shown at right with Meyer, is now in the U.S. The Marine posted the photograph on Twitter on Friday, adding a note that showed relief.

“Back together finally,” Meyer said. “Fazel is in America.”

Fazel — known in a lot of previous media coverage as Hafez to protect his identify — was in the Ganjgal Valley in eastern Afghanistan on Sept. 8, 2009, when forces from Meyer’s unit were caught in a fierce ambush staged near the Pakistan border. Meyer, now a sergeant in the Individual Ready Reserve, received the Medal of Honor in 2011 for heroics in the battle. A soldier also in the melee, Army Capt. Will Swenson, will receive the U.S.’s top award for combat valor in a White House ceremony Oct. 15.

Meyer’s book, “Into the Fire: A Firsthand Account of the Most Extraordinary Battle of the Afghan War,” portrays Fazel as a hero. It says the linguist was with a four-man team of U.S. troops that went missing when the ambush erupted. They covered his initial escape from the village, but he sustained a minor gunshot wound to the right arm in the process. A second round hit him in the armor plate covering his back.

Nevertheless, Fayez volunteered to go with Meyer back into the Ganjgal Valley to help wounded Afghan soldiers and find the missing U.S. troops: Marine 1st Lt. Michael Johnson, Gunnery Sgt. Edwin Johnson, Marine Staff Sgt. Aaron Kenefick, and Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class James Layton. All four men died that day. A fifth member of the training team, Army Sgt. 1st Class Kenneth W. Westbrook, died a month later from wounds suffered during the battle.

Under fire, the interpreter hopped in and out of the Humvee driven by then-Staff Sgt. Juan Rodriguez-Chavez to assist Meyer, according to the book, and later manned the gun turret.

“Twice, Hafez and I got out, climbed up the sides of terraces, found the [Afghan soldiers], and lugged them down the terrace walls to the wash,” Meyer says in the book, using the linguist’s pseudonym. “After we’d loaded two into a Ranger, my brain finally kicked in: I couldn’t be the gunner and the corpsman at the same time. I didn’t need Hafez out there in the fields with me. [Rodriguez-Chavez], though, needed someone on the gun.”

Meyer and the co-author of his book, Bing West, take the U.S. to task for failing its interpreters in an opinion piece that was published in the Washington Post last weekend.

What’s happening is a failure to keep faith with those who fought beside us,” it says. “The State Department has defied Congress by denying visas to thousands of interpreters who, like Fazel, fight alongside our soldiers.”

Gritty war-zone video emerges of Capt. Will Swenson, next Medal of Honor recipient

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Former Army Capt. Will Swenson kisses his wounded sergeant first class during the Battle of Ganjgal during a new video published by CBS News on Thursday. (Photo courtesy U.S. Army)

The White House announced on Monday that former Army Capt. Will Swenson will receive the Medal of Honor on Oct. 15, four years after he braved enemy fire repeatedly while leading U.S. forces through a horrific ambush that erupted in eastern Afghanistan.

The Battle of Ganjgal on Sept. 8, 2009, is especially well known because Marine Sgt. Dakota Meyer already received the nation’s top award for valor that day. Until tonight, however, few had seen a gritty war-zone video of Swenson on the battlefield during it. A sergeant in the Army National Guard recorded it while working that day on the medical evacuation crew, and shared it with CBS News:

CBS’s presentation of it is good, but touches on only parts of the raw emotion that is intertwined with the battle. It will be interesting to see what else emerges between now and Swenson’s ceremony at the White House next month.

UPDATE: Friday, Sept. 20: The Army released the raw video that CBS published last night. It’s up here:

From the Persian Gulf to the Coral Sea: Your Marines around the globe this week

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This week, Marines around the world are battling drug trafficking in Guatemala, training with Dutch, British and Spanish counterparts in western Africa, and providing embassy security in Libya, along with a host of other forward-deployed missions.

Here are the latest available status of forces totals:

Active duty: 195, 231
Selected Marine Corps Reserve: 39, 984
–Reservists on active duty: 2,266

Featured photo of the week: A Marine assigned to the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit signs autographs for children at a cultural exchange community service program at Bidau Akadiru-hun school in Dili, Timor-Leste. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Christopher Lindahl)


View Marine Corps Times: Marine Corps as of Sept. 16 in a larger map

As always, if you don’t see your unit on the map, shoot us an email at hseck@marinecorpstimes.com.

 

2nd Tanks Battalion has its first female field-grade officer

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Navy Lt. Shannon Stout made history for 2nd Tank Battalion this month when she pinned on the rank of lieutenant commander, making her the unit’s first field grade officer, according to Marine Corps reports.

Navy Lt. Cmdr. Shannon Stout, the 2nd Tank Battalion medical officer, from Sarasota, Fla., gets her rank pinned on during her promotion ceremony Sept. 4 aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune. Stout became the first female field grade officer in 2nd Tanks history. (Photo by Pfc. Jose A. Mendez Jr.)

A battalion surgeon, Stout joined the unit in 2012, according to the report. The promotion is significant because the Marine Corps only recently opened a limited selection of billets in ground combat elements, including tank units, to female Marines. Beginning in May 2012, women have been able to serve in 371 new billets within combat units. The change opened more than 14,000 new positions to women. Nearly a third of active-duty positions in Marine units remain closed to women.

Navy Lt. Cmdr. Shannon Stout, the 2nd Tank Battalion medical officer, from Sarasota, Fla., returns a salute after her promotion ceremony Sept. 4 aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune. Stout became the first female field grade officer in 2nd Tanks history. Photo by Pfc. Jose Mendez Jr.

“It’s exciting to be the first female medical (field grade) officer with 2nd Tank Battalion, and I am honored to be holding the plank with some other outstanding female Marines and sailors that were also part of the women in combat integration,” Stout told a Marine combat correspondent.
In the report, Stout said that working within 2nd Tanks is “the most fun, the most rewarding and the most frustrating thing I have ever done,” but said other female officers now work near her and she has enjoyed being able to mentor them.
Congratulations, Lt. Cmdr. Stout!
 

Watch: Former Marine challenges McCain on Syria intervention

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On the viral YouTube video beat, check out this showdown between a former Marine grunt and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.)

In the video, Bryan Bates, who identified himself as a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan who also worked as a private security contractor with the Army Corps of Engineers, stands up at a Sept. 5 town hall in Tucson, Ariz., to ask McCain a tough question about military involvement in Syria.

YouTube Preview Image

“ I am no stranger to Al Qaeda, their affiliates and the people of the region near Syria. I am here to tell you that I completely oppose any military intervention in Syria,” he says in the grainy video.  ”My reason, I do not believe that we can differentiate between who the good guys and who the bad guys are. I have lived amongst the population in that region. I have sat and ate dinner and been in many houses over there and I can tell you from experience that although there are many good people in that region; the cultural, religious and ideological differences from us Americans are too great for us to truly understand what is going on in Syria. We need to stay out of there. ”

Then he gets more personal, addressing McCain.

“You sir, do not represent me or my people and I am flabbergasted that a man of honor who has sacrificed so much for his country does not understand the danger of aiding the Syrian rebels.”

The audience cheers.

McCain first thanks Bates for his service. Then he adds that one of his sons was a former Marine lance corporal and the other is a Navy pilot.

” They don’t share your views,” McCain, himself a former Navy officer and Vietnam prisoner of war, says. “When you think you speak for men and women in the military, I think you speak for yourself. Because I talk with men and women in the military all the time.”

His response gets drowned out as Bates turns on his heel and walks out and the audience cheers him again.

The video so far has over 63,000 Youtube views and growing.

Marine Corps Times caught up with Bates, who is 28 and lives in Tucson, Ariz.

Bates, in a photo from 2005. Photo courtesy Bryan Bates

He served as an infantryman from 2004 to 2008 and left the service as a Pfc., having gotten into trouble a few times, he said. One of his hobbies is photojournalism, and he said he has attended a number of local Syria protests as a photographer.

Since the video was posted, Bates said he has taken some heat for his brusque treatment of McCain.

“I’ve had a couple of people kind of mad at me because I disrespected the senator and how dare I do that because he’s a war hero,” he said. “I believe that the second he became a public servant and ran for office, we can’t be nice to him just because he is a war hero.”

Whether or not you think Bates took the right approach in addressing McCain, he’s not alone in his views. A new Military Times poll shows that troops oppose a military strike on Syria by a three-to-one margin.
 

Could Marines be called in to train Syrian rebels?

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According to reports, the president is weighing a plan that would engage U.S. troops to train Syrian rebels, enhancing their military skills and capabilities. The big question remains: would Marines be tapped to conduct such training?

According to Lolita Baldor of the Associated Press, “any training would take place outside Syria, and one possible location would be Jordan.”

U.S. Marines of Tank Platoon, Battalion Landing Team 3/2, 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), take part in the combined arms live fire exercise, the culminating event of Exercise Eager Lion 2013 in Al Quweira, Jordan, June 19. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Michael S. Lockett)

If approved, this training would expand on work being done to train small groups of rebels in Jordan in the use of communications equipment and certain weapons systems, according to her report.

“The new discussions center on whether the U.S. military should take over the mission so that hundreds or thousands can be trained, rather than just dozens,” Baldor writes.

“Any new training program conducted by the U.S. military would take time to put in place and likely would not begin until after any potential military action had been taken in response to the recent chemical weapons attack. It would require getting approvals from the host country, finding appropriate locations, getting the right number of personnel in place to conduct the training and setting up a vetting system to insure that instruction was not provided to any rebel groups that may not be friendly to the U.S.”

While the heady logistics–including a reported potential $500 million-per-year price tag–make the prospect of training Syrian rebels a far-from-certain possibility, it may well be a future job for the Marines.

Troops with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit were just in Jordan in June for 12-day exercise Eager Lion, which involved partner training missions with the Jordanian armed forces, as well as reconnaissance, field, and aircraft training exercises. These kinds of coalition training exercises are common for deployed MEUs. Over the last decade, Marines have also taken an active role in training Iraqi troops and Afghan National Army soldiers as the U.S. has worked to transition control for ongoing missions back to local authorities.

The U.S. reportedly played a role in training the militaries of 33 different countries in 2012. Much of this training was conducted by the Army, which has dedicated elements to complete such missions. The mission statement of the Army’s Special Forces element, the Green Berets, includes advising and training foreign militaries. But at this point, it’s all just speculation on a yet-to-be-made decision.

What do you think? Could this be a future mission for the Marine Corps?

 

Last U.S. Marine tank unit heading home from Afghanistan

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Marines with 1st Tank Battalion travel through northern Helmand province, Afghanistan, in 2011. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Brian A. Lautenslager)

The Marine Corps made national headlines in fall 2010 when it sent tanks to northern Helmand province to bolster firepower there. It was a first for the U.S. in the war, which was nine years old at the time.

Nearly three years later, the tanks are coming home. Delta Company, 2nd Tank Battalion, out of Camp Lejeune, N.C., will redeploy to the U.S. soon, and will not be replaced by a similar unit, said 1st Lt. Philip Kulczewski, a Marine spokesman in Afghanistan.

It’s one of the most tangible indications recently that that the U.S. drawdown in forces in Afghanistan continues. There are currently more than 60,000 U.S. troops deployed across the country, including about 7,000 Marines in Helmand province. That’s down from a peak of about 108,000 troops and 20,000 Marines in 2011.

The tanks offered not only heavy 120mm cannon fire, but also advanced optics that were used to observe Taliban fighters from more than a mile away. Shortly after deploying, they were teamed early in 2011 with elements of Battalion Landing Team 3rd Battalion, 8th Marines, which was flown in from Navy ships while underway with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, out of Lejeune. Lt. Gen. Richard Mills, then the two-star commander of Marine forces in Afghanistan, used them to improve security in northern Helmand province at a time when the Corps was taking heavy losses in and around famously violent Sangin district.

Later that year, the tanks were paired with scout snipers with 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marines, out of Lejeune. In a novel concept, the Marines used the optics from the tanks to establish positive identification on who was an insurgent in Musa Qala district, and then targeted them with sniper fire.

“They’ve been highly effective,” said Lt. Gen. John Toolan, then the two-star commander of Marine forces in Afghanistan, in a Sept 2011 interview. “Just in the past 10 days, the tank and snipers teams have contributed to about 50 enemy insurgents killed, using the snipers as sharpshooters and the tanks for the surveillance capability. It’s really a great combo, and 3/2 is spearheading that.”

Some of those same scout snipers eventually found themselves in hot water for urinating on the dead bodies of Taliban fighters, but the tank operations continued. In one spring 2012 example, tanks combined with Marine infantrymen in Operation Jaws to raid Taliban outposts in Zamindawar, an insurgent-controlled area in between the population centers in Kajaki and Musa Qala districts.

The operation highlighted a common Marine Corps strategy at the time. Grunts spent months using reconnaissance and surveillance to gather intelligence about insurgents in areas like Zamindawar, leading to bold raids aimed at disrupting the Taliban and targeting their headquarters.

“I guess I can say that now I know what a cop feels like on a stakeout,” said Staff Sgt. Matthew Hutchenson, a platoon sergeant for Lejeune’s 1st Battalion, 8th Marines, during a 2012 observation mission observed by Marine Corps Times. “You wait, and wait, and wait — and then you get what you need and move on them.”