The love story between Kimmy Kirkwood and her fallen Marine boyfriend, Sgt. Will Stacey, will forever be preserved in a Facebook tribute of the two showing how their lives became intertwined on social media in honor of website’s 10th birthday.
While most users saw their timelines filled with “a look back” videos over the past few days, 10 people were selected for a bigger project Facebook launched to highlight how people come together through social media. It’s called called “Ten Stories,” and was launched on Tuesday.
Kirkwood and Stacey’s Facebook story starts when the young couple reconnected a few years after high school in 2006. They started dating in 2007. Stacey, who was assigned to 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines, deployed to Afghanistan for the first time in 2008, while Kirkwood studied abroad in Italy. They exchanged letters since communication was difficult.
In September 2011, after reenlisting and being meritoriously promoted to sergeant, Stacey deployed to Afghanistan for the third time. He left weeks after the couple celebrated their third anniversary.
Their Facebook story closes on January 31, 2012, when Stacey was killed by an IED while on patrol in Afghanistan.
Kirkwood wrote about the decision to share their story on her Facebook page on Tuesday.
“When Facebook approached me about participating in this, I was happy to help,” she wrote. “I realized awhile ago that without Facebook, so much of my life with Will would never have been documented, and probably would be eventually forgotten over time.
“…A couple months after he was killed and I was back in California, I realized that I had no one to share my grief with. A lot of my memories were of the two of us alone together and couldn’t be shared easily with other people. It was a really lonely place to be.”
Then she realized that much of what she missed about him, their conversations, his humor, was all documented on Facebook, she wrote.
“I am incredibly thankful for what Facebook has given me.”
You can view the couple’s full story here.
A Harvard professor is suggesting that bad behavior in the war-zone could be prevented if just one person in the unit stepped forward to say, “Marines don’t do that.”
Michael Wheeler, professor of management practice at Harvard Business School, posted a piece to his LinkedIn profile examining how someone’s decision-making can be changed in a matter of seconds. He cited the case of British Royal Marine Sgt. Alexander Blackman, who was recently sentenced to life in prison after being found guilty for killing an insurgent at close-range during a 2011 patrol in Afghanistan’s Helmand province. The act was captured on helmet cameras worn by other Royal Marines.
Wheeler writes that some military experts believe the act might have been prevented if just one other marine in the unit told Blackman, “Marines don’t do that.”
The phrase is effective, he argues, because it includes the word “Marines,” which is an important part of someone’s identity. And since it doesn’t include words like “stop,” “order” or “wrong,” it puts the spotlight on the person rather than the act, he wrote.
“‘Marines’ is the most important word,” Wheeler wrote. “It comes first and works on two levels. It tells the soldier, ‘Remember who you are. Don’t renounce your identity.’ Uttered by a fellow marine, it also says, ‘Your brothers are here with you.’ ”
Wheeler reached out one of his former students, retired Maj. David Dixon, for his input. Dixon said the concept of reminding another service member about their values is exactly in line with what Marines are taught from their first day at boot camp.
“If the Marine next to you is falling asleep in class, you must have the moral courage to wake him up and motivate him to stay awake,” Dixon told Wheeler. “If you are caught sleeping in class at boot camp, not only do you get in trouble for laziness, but the Marine to your left and to your right get in trouble for lack of moral courage [because] they should have corrected you when you were in the wrong.”
Helping someone about to make a bad decision means Marines shouldn’t look away, Wheeler wrote. They should have the moral courage to speak up.
Tell us what you think. How can Marines help hold their peers accountable in the war-zone and at home?
Appearing before members of Britain’s Parliament on Tuesday, a top British general disputed assertions that his forces are to blame for the security failures that led to last year’s deadly Taliban attack on a coalition airfield in southwestern Afghanistan.
Lt. Gen. David Capewell, who oversees the planning for British military operations abroad, told lawmakers that even though the Brits were in charge of security for Camp Bastion at the time of the attack, they are not responsible for the deaths of two Marines gunned down after 15 insurgents breached the base perimeter in September 2012. His testimony before Parliament’s Defence Select Committee was reported by The Independent, a British news agency.
Two senior Marine Corps officers, Maj. Gen. Charles “Mark” Gurganus and Maj. Gen. Gregg Sturdevant, were asked to retire this fall after the results of a U.S.-led investigation concluded they should have done more to ensure Bastion was safe from such an attack. U.S. officials also pointed out that the Brits’ command structure was separate from the Marines’ principal headquarters, which is based at the adjacent Camp Leatherneck. Because of this, there was not a single commander overseeing security for the whole complex.
After the U.S investigation was released in October, questions were raised in the UK as to whether any British officials also bore responsibility for the attack.
From The Independent’s report:
British officers had recommended a protective fence be built around the airfield following an earlier suicide attack. But Lt. Gen. Capewell said that a “ditch and berm to prevent vehicular access” had been approved instead, and insisted that no request for extra protection had been. When reminded that more than half the guard towers were empty on the night of the attack, Lt. Gen. Capewell replied: “He who defends everything defends nothing.” … Requests for greater protection had not been denied and the US report was wrong in stating otherwise, he insisted.
British media, particularly The Independent, have criticized the country’s Defence Ministry for not thoroughly investigating the Bastion attack, noting that two of the top officers there at the time have since been promoted. Similarly, at least one member of Parliament has expressed dismay at the military’s “apparent unwillingness to address the U.S. document’s allegations openly and transparently.”
At the hearing Tuesday, Capewell addressed those allegations by saying that although British mistakes contributed to security failures at Camp Bastion, “there is no culpable failure on the part of UK forces,” according to The Independent.
A recent story by combat correspondent Cpl. Paul Peterson, offers a look into ongoing operations on the eve of the Afghanistan drawdown. The majority of U.S. and allied troops are slated to leave the country in 2014, but Marines in southern Afghanistan continue to engage in intense, hours-long firefights even as the Corps prepares to begin shipping men and equipment home.
A few recent command shifts have taken place preceding the pull out including the handover of 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing forward to Col. Scott Jensen from Brig. Gen. Gary Thomas.
But, those on patrol continue to take regular contact. One such fight recently occurred in the Nad Ali District, of Helmand province Afghanistan. Peterson was along for a dawn mission during which 2nd Platoon, 1st Battalion, 9th Marines made contact with a group of determined insurgents. The unit quickly found itself battling for its survival over about 5 hours. An excerpt from his account of the battle:
“Lance Cpl. Nathan Chandler, a machine gunner, and three or four Marines under [2nd Lt. James] Salka moved in behind us. The crickets and roosters that echoed across the desert only minutes earlier were suddenly silent as we moved across the field.
The sound of machine guns ripped the silence. Several insurgents began firing to our left, so the Marines in the front of the patrol crouched low and ran to a nearby house. Lance Cpl. Nathan Gulbronson was running in front of me with his M32 grenade launcher sticking out of his pack. He decided the house was too far away, so he juked, sagged to his knees, and let his body fall prone into the dirt. I slid into one of the shallow irrigation ditches.
I could no longer see Salka or the Marines. Chandler was still behind me, cheek nestled against his machinegun, screaming out for a smoke grenade. Rounds zipped and cracked over our heads.
Chandler and Gulbronson shouted back and forth – Run or stay put?
Their packs were heavy, gear cumbersome, and it was nearly 100 yards to the compound. There would be no moving without support.
A smoke grenade landed in the field and spit a green cloud between us and the shooters. Bravo Company’s snipers and machine gunners fired back at the insurgents. Fire over the field slackened. We ran.
Nearly an hour into the firefight, a call came across the radio that a Marine had been hit. I knelt inside a small, walled-off garden when a surge of gunfire rang out in the distance. I didn’t know it at the time, but Bravo Company was providing suppressive fire as a team of Marines ran into the open to grab the injured Marine. They dragged him back to cover and immediately began first aid.
Salka relayed the injury of the Marine over the radio—gunshot wound to the abdomen. Salka requested a medical evacuation and a helicopter was inbound within minutes.
Each squad of Marines held their positions and prepared to support the evacuation. The fields around the bazaar fell silent as the medevac moved in to pull out the wounded Marine.
As the helicopter made its approach, the insurgents concentrated their fire in an attempt to shoot it down.
Streams of bullets from AK47s and machine guns erupted from compounds around the area.
As we left the bazaar, insurgents once again attempted to pin us down in an open field. Helicopters flying overhead provided cover fire for the Marines, killing one insurgent fighter, as the Marines took shelter in a building.
By the end of it, I was pretty exhausted. We had been running, crawling, walking and running again in full gear for more than twelve hours. We had patrolled nearly four miles of the district and zigzagged in and around the bazaar for who knows how many more. We spent almost four hours under constant fire from the enemy. The energy I got from the bag of gummy bears I ate for lunch was gone.
Evening loomed as Bravo Company streamed out of the village and converged on the extraction point to wait.
Dusk settled over us as we finally slipped back onto our helicopters under the cover of darkness. I was thankful for the thrum of the CH-53.”
For the full version see Peterson’s story “Under Fire.”
A new commander is taking charge of Marine air operations in Afghanistan.
Col. Scott Jensen took command of 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing (FWD) from Brig. Gen Gary Thomas, Dec. 9 during a ceremony aboard Camp Leatherneck in Helmand Province, Afghanistan.
Jensen, who was the unit’s assistant wing commander, will run operations through February when 3rd MAW will take over in preparation for the final withdrawal of U.S. forces next year.
As operations are curtailed and Afghan forces assume more responsibility for local security, Marine units like 3rd MAW are adapting their command structures.
“Over the past several months, significant gains have been made in Regional Command (Southwest’s) area of responsibility,’ said Thomas in a Marine news release. “The Afghan National Security Forces continue to take great strides in taking the fight to the enemy and is daily increasing in its capabilities and strength.”
More changes in senior Marine leadership in Afghanistan are expected in the months to come.
A sergeant in the British Royal Marines was found guilty of murdering an insurgent during a court-martial on Friday, after helmet camera footage of him emerged showing him shooting the man in the chest at close-range.
The man, identified only as marine A, faces a life in prison after being found guilty of murder, the Guardian reported. He and two other Royal Marines were on trial for their actions during a Sept. 2011 patrol in Afghanistan’s Helmand province.
Royal Marine A was accused of dragging an insurgent who was hit in a helicopter attack to the side of a field and shooting him in the chest.
The act was caught on a helmet camera, worn by marine B, the Guardian reported. Marine A can be heard quoting Shakespeare before shooting the man.
“There you are, shuffle off this mortal coil … It’s nothing you wouldn’t do to us,” he said.
He can then be heard instructing the others to keep the video to themselves.
“Obviously, this doesn’t go anywhere, fellas,” he said. “I’ve just broke the Geneva Convention.”
The video wasn’t released after the government argued it would be a recruitment gift for terrorists and could lead “lone wolves” to attack British troops or citizens in revenge, the Guardian reported.
The two other Royal Marines were cleared.
Brigadier Bill Dunham, the Royal Marines’ deputy commandant general, released a statement after the verdict was issued. He said they respected the jury’s decision.
“What we have heard over the last two weeks is not consistent with the ethos, values and standards of the Royal Marines,” Dunham said. “It was a truly shocking and appalling aberration. It should not have happened and it should never happen again.”
The Royal Marines would consider the impact the case should have on training given to its personnel, he added.
The sentiment mirrored the Marine Corps’ decision to crackdown on cameras used outside the wire following the infamous urination video and the footage of scout snipers posing with a Nazi-era SS flag.
The Royal Marine who was found guilty is expected to receive his sentence December.
A fallen Marine’s brother is making a film to collect people’s memories of him in order to tell his life story to others so that he will never be forgotten.
Sgt. Dan Patron was an explosive ordnance disposal technician who died during a 2011 deployment to Helmand province in Afghanistan. He was assigned to 8th Engineer Support Battalion, out of Camp Lejeune, N.C. He was 26-years-old.
Patron’s older brother, Matthew, is a filmmaker. While he grew up alongside Patron, he recognized that once he joined the Corps, he had other brothers in his life. He decided to tell the story about Patron’s other brothers in a new film called “Collecting Sgt. Dan.”
“This is the story of Dan’s other brothers, the lives he saved, my struggle to live in a world without him, and a community shaken by the end of his beautiful life,” he wrote on his Kickstarter page. Kickstarter is a website people use to raise money to fund creative projects.
Matthew launched the Kickstarter project in October with a goal of $20,000 to help fund the travel and production fees associated with making the film. His is working to get the film distributed on Netflix, iTunes, Amazon as well as Blu-ray and DVD. He raised more than $14,000 in less than two weeks. He also plans to show it in a theater on his brother’s birthday.
Patron’s wife, Cody, said Matthew began documenting the memories fellow Marines had of her husband as a way to deal with the grief of losing his younger brother. She began helping to link Matthew up with some of Patron’s friends from the Corps, she said. Matthew also interviewed Cody to gather her memories of his brother.
Matthew’s little girl had the chance to meet Patron before he died, but his son never did, Cody said.
“I thought it was a great idea because it’s something that he’ll be able to show his kids and I’ll be able to show my family,” she said.
Several Marines have shared their memories of Patron, Cody said. Matthew has visited Camp Lejeune, where his brother was based.
Cody said it’s only appropriate for Matthew to call the Marines in the film Patron’s “other brothers” because he thought of them as family. He would’ve done anything for them, she said. And in the warzone, that translated to helping to save their lives on the battlefield.
“His partners got his legs blown off — Dan saved him,” Cody said. “Now the guy he saved has two kids. He’s thankful every day.”
Cody said she hopes her husband’s memory is carried forward, and that when people see the film, the remember the service members still going over to Afghanistan and the families that wait for them back home.
Former Army Capt. Will Swenson will receive the Medal of Honor on Oct. 15, more than four years after he and other U.S. forces tried desperately to find and save three Marines and a Navy corpsman who were trapped under heavy fire in the infamous Battle of Ganjgal in Afghanistan.
Those troops didn’t make it out of the Sept. 8, 2009, ambush alive, but Swenson has not forgotten them. He invited the families of Marine 1st Lt. Michael Johnson, Gunnery Sgt. Edwin Johnson, Staff Sgt. Aaron Kenefick and Navy Hospitalman 3rd Class James Layton to his White House ceremony, said Susan Price, Kenefick’s mother. Also attending will the family of fallen Sgt. 1st Class Kenneth Westbrook, a soldier who died the following month due to wounds he sustained in the attack.
Price said she has never met Swenson, but was touched by the gesture. She shared the text of his invitation:
We have never met. We have never spoken. But I would like to believe that I know something about each of you through the actions of your loved ones on that day. They were a part of a Team. And you are now a part of that Team. I would be honored for you to attend a ceremony that will acknowledge what that team represented.
The ceremony will be October 15th and 16th, respectively at the White House and Pentagon. If you wish to attend, please contact me and I will provide whatever information I can. I sincerely look forward to meeting you.
Swenson is said to be close with the family of Westbrook, who served as his senior enlisted adviser on the deployment in which he the Battle of Ganjgal occurred. He was seen in video released by the Army giving Westbrook a kiss on the forehead during the battle, and attended Westbrook’s Silver Star ceremony earlier this year wearing a dark suit and thick beard.
He barely knew the fallen Marines and corpsman, however. They served in another unit, Embedded Training Team 2-8, out of Okinawa, Japan, that worked together on which the ambush occurred. The unit included then-Cpl. Dakota Meyer, who in 2011 became the first living Marine to receive the Medal of Honor in 38 years for his actions that day.
Price said she is looking forward to meeting Swenson and reconnecting with some of the members of her son’s training team who also will be a the White House. She and the other Gold Star families created during the battle have stayed in touch over the last couple years.
“We are the other side of war,” she said. “We represent hope, peace and closure. I pray that Captain Swenson will see this in our eyes, and sense it through our character when we meet in person.”
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.
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.”