Names (Not) Remembered


Sgt Delfin Montemayor Santos was one of three soldiers killed, alongside State Department’s Anne Smedinghoff, but there wasn’t any CNN, Washington Post, Huffington Post, etc., profile of Santos, like there was for Smedinghoff.

Granted, Santos didn’t have the college degree from Johns Hopkins, being a grunt perhaps doesn’t have the same cache as being a Foreign Service Officer, so people might think a guy like Santos didn’t have the “potential” of a Smedinghoff to impact the world, and his death was somehow less of a loss, worthy of news eulogies. Or maybe it was that Smedinghoff wasn’t supposed to die, not in the way 8,000 servicemembers can be neatly reduced to a statistic.

Maybe it’s like my grandmother said to me, that “other people’s kids are allowed to die, but not you,” before I left for Afghanistan in 2009.

Except she had probably forgotten who I cast my lot with.

We had an ethics class once, where they hypothetical was a speeding train headed for a bridge that would collapse, and all those onboard would perish. You could push a button to divert the train onto another track, but that track had an individual on it who would then get killed. That individual started out as a pedophile, and gradually evolved to a daughter/grandmother. Then it was flipped around, where the 100 people on board the train were pedophiles. Social utilitarian arguments began to show cracks. Then it was asked whether anything would change if, rather than pushing a button, you would have to actually push a person over the bridge in order to save 100 lives.

An Army captain and myself were initially lambasted for refusing to push the button, under any circumstances. We weren’t going to play God. Yes, we would have let 100 innocents in a train die rather than push the button to save them, and allow the lone pedophile to die. We were accused of “killing” the 100 innocents (“inaction is action”).

But somewhere along the spectrum, some people’s “morality” started to shift.

It was pointed out that we tend to judge ourselves based on our intentions, but we judge other people based on their actions.

Judging at all, is a dangerous excercise.

This Memorial Day belongs to Delfin Montemayor Santos, but in this age of “Military Operations Other Than War” (and various other terminology to describe actions from Peace Keeping to Nation Building), where diplomacy is more interlaced with military operations than ever, it also belongs to Anne Smedinghoff.





“Incoming is coming in every day, rockets are hitting the Green Zone,” said Jack Croddy, a senior foreign service officer. He and others confronted Foreign Service Director General Harry Thomas, who approved the move to “directed assignments” to make up for a lack of volunteers willing to go to Iraq.

“It’s one thing if someone believes in what’s going on over there and volunteers, but it’s another thing to send someone over there on a forced assignment,” Croddy said. “I’m sorry, but basically that’s a potential death sentence and you know it. Who will raise our children if we are dead or seriously wounded?”



When 200 members of the 800-member 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment extended their enlistments earlier this year so they could accompany the Two-Five back to Iraq, their decision was numerically significant.

No infantry battalion has had as many Mar
ines extend their tours as the Two-Five — troops who were “short-timers” and could have ended their service with comfy stateside billets but chose instead to return to Iraq to help less-experienced Marines navigate the dangers.

As the Marines from the Two-Five returned to Camp Pendleton early Monday, they had a new significant number to boast about: zero.

In seven months of patrolling the streets of Ramadi, once the most violent city in Anbar province, the 2nd Battalion, 5th Regiment had no Marines or sailors killed and only one injured. In its previous deployment, the battalion’s numbers were 15 killed and more than 200 wounded.

No one is saying that the presence of the 200 Marines who had extended their tours was the crucial factor in the battalion’s returning with no fatalities. No one is saying it wasn’t.

“Barbara Porter’s son, Cpl. Jesse Porter, 22, was one of the 200 who responded to an appeal from his commanding officer and sergeant-major to make another trip to Iraq before returning to civilian life.

Jo McDaid of Kalamazoo, Mich., was similarly unsurprised when her son, Sgt. Matthew McDaid, 22, announced he was returning to Iraq, voluntarily.

“It’s all about, ‘If my buddies are going, I’m going too,’ ” he said.

Fog of War


Top “When you realize you are about to fuck yourself” Moments.

#2: Conducting a rules of engagement inquiry in Afghanistan. Asking the lance coconut who shot a civilian what ROE training he’d received pre-deployment. Lance coconut: “Back at Pendleton we had a class by some captain. I think it was a Captain L?” (looking at my nametape). #PoliticalGenius that Lance Coconut.

Fog of War: 

Lance Corporal – “I knew the guy was a bad guy after I shot him because none of the TCNs by the supply convoy went to help him.” 

TCNs by the supply convoy – “The guy was crying to us for help, but we didn’t want to go help him because we didn’t want to get shot.”

The Tempest

war is hard, but probably not for the reasons movies and television portray. war is hard for the hundreds of hours of boredom. you dont spend time training for that. just like you don’t train for whatever might happen inside your head the first time you kill someone. Some people get desensitized. Start devaluing life, dehumanizing the enemy. Becomes like a game where you decapitate your enemy, for sport, even after you’ve defeated him (Mortal Combat). Who knows. war is hard when it can turn good kids who volunteered to do something 99% of the country wouldn’t do, into “monsters.”


“The U.S. military should be held to a higher standard, certainly, but it is important to understand the context of the behavior in the video…. But of course they have dehumanized the enemy — otherwise they would have to face the enormous guilt and anguish of killing other human beings. Rather than demonstrate a callous disregard for the enemy, this awful incident might reveal something else: a desperate attempt by confused young men to convince themselves that they haven’t just committed their first murder — that they have simply shot some coyotes on the back 40. It doesn’t work, of course, but it gets them through the moment; it gets them through the rest of the patrol.”




I have never heard soldiers nor Marines asking the public back home to patronize, excuse, or forgive battlefield conduct. Most are likely both too proud, and too humble, to expect that.

This includes conduct that, in the comfort and safety of watching NFL playoffs on a big screen TV in one’s own home, too easily prompts the passing of snap judgment followed by a doling of immeasurable contempt. 

But what these soldiers and Marines do deserve, in return for doing the dirty work of executing policy directed by the nation’s elected civilian leadership, is at least some amount of compassion when things get ugly – and they will, no matter how much we try to instill discipline, and preach honor – in the face of committing state-sanctioned murder.

That compassion can come only from understanding.

Those who insist on continuing to judge what they do not even attempt to understand, reflect a failure or refusal to understand themselves.

Take, for example, the revelations by the researchers involved with famous The Stanford Prison Experiment ( Or, maybe what Oscar Wilde once described “the 19th century dislike of realism” to be “the rage of Caliban seeing his own face in a glass.” (I.e., you’re not going to like what you see).

Well publicized military disdain for civilian leadership may derive, not from a sense that civilian control is per se incompetent in matters of directing war policy – because in an all-volunteer military, nobody is forced to serve under a leadership they have no faith in. It more likely comes from a sense of frustration, and due increasingly to a body politic that lacks any military experience themselves, that those who direct us oftentimes do not even understand what they ask us to bear. And the final insult is the conclusion that we are lesser people than them, for having gone into the heart of darkness, yet not managing to escape untouched.

This widening chasm is unhealthy for our republic.


in memoram

23 Jan 2010

Petty Officer Second Class Qin “Doc” Xi
Bravo Company, 4th Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion

The report came in the battalion COC (combat operations center).

“DS2120 and XQ5698 have multiple injuries to face/neck, are unconscious, and bleeding severely. Corpsman treating on scene …”

I first met “Doc” Xi at Pendleton in August 2009, when 4th Light Armored Reconnaissance battalion activated for deployment to Afghanistan. We were bivouacing in the field on Camp Pendleton. During the day, we went through K-2 “combat town,” simulating urban patrols (Missions Over Urban Terrain –MOUNT, as the military likes to call it), and at night overlooked the I-5 and bright headlights of from the steady stream of San Diego / Los Angeles traffic.

It had been the first time since The Basic School (TBS), in 2005, that I had done urban patrolling. I had pulled Doc aside, in between our 2-a-day runs through combat town, confiding in him that I had gotten an 86% on my combat first aid “prac app” (practical application) exam at TBS, and how I had been admonished by the instructors that while 70% was passing for all classes at TBS, combat first aid was one class where, in reality, anything less than 100% was unacceptable, because in real life, it the difference wasn’t measured in terms of graded percentage points, but potentially in terms of life and death.

Doc had been reassuring. Anytime I needed anything, he’d be available, he said. He then let me practice tying tourniquets on his arm. I would repeatedly ask, “is it tight enough?” Doc would patiently tell me to keep going, never mind caution from causing discomfort practicing on another person, and protested lightly with a slight smile only when I finally had it tight enough to cut off circulation going to and from his arm.

Lance Corporal Jeremy Kane died on scene, when the suicide bomber detonated himself, as the patrol was walking through the bazaar. The initial MEDEVAC (medical evacuation) request reported one “angel” (KIA), 2x urgents, and 2x priority.

Doc was one of the urgents – bleeding profusely, and requiring immediate surgical care. Our battalion position, the furthest south of any American units in all of Afghanistan, and some 50 kilometers from the Pakistani border, put us at the edge of the “golden hour” – the critical time period for a MEDEVAC helicopter could come down, pick up casualties, and return to the large Marine base at Camp Leatherneck, for advanced surgical care – all within one hour, where it had been shown would dramatically improve an injured service-member’s chances for survival/recovery.

Doc didn’t make it to Leatherneck; his injuries were too severe. He succumbed to his wounds on the helicopter.

I remember my first deployment to Iraq in 2007. I had joked with the Marines there, how if one reads obituaries, only the best people seem to die. You never read obituaries commenting on what an asshole the deceased was. “If you want to make sure you don’t get killed, just be an asshole,” I joked. Doc was one of our best. 

He was only 25.

His assuring smile and generous patience will be missed.

Semper Fidelis, Doc.


Loud and Vicious – In Memoram – Capt Jessica Conkling, OCC-187

Friday, May 8, 2009 at 12:03pm | Edit Note | Delete

I remember the name, though not the face. But we spent 10-weeks together in Charlie Company, Officer Candidate Class 187, and commissioned together as Second Lieutenants on December 10, 2004. Approximately 200 of us took our oaths – to defend the Constitution, against all enemies, foreign and domestic – together in Little Theater, Quantico Marine Corps Base, on that December 10 – C Co, OCC-187.

She was certainly there, behind the “classroom”, when I announced, as candidate platoon sergeant, that 2nd platoon looked like a “sack of turds” only “because this candidate looks like a sack of turd, Staff Sergeant!” and proceeded to march 2nd platoon across the grass in the most direct line to the squad bay.

As with Gunny Jerome Murkeson, who I sat next to in the SIPR room without exchanging more than a passing greeting during the time we were at FOB Shield by Sadr City, and before he was shot and killed on a mission with the MiTT, you are still always left wondering about those you have crossed paths with. Who were these people, what of their families (Gunny was married and had two young children)?

The military is unique in the sense that even those you don’t know well, there always remains a sense of “family” for having been “there” together, the commitment to shared sacrifice, and the belief in something much greater than our individual selves. In the words of Colonel Rachel:

Commanding Officer’s Letter To Candidates

The Officer Candidates School trains, evaluates, and screens qualified applicants to ensure they demonstrate the leadership, the mental and the physical qualities to be an Officer of Marines. We are dedicated to making Marine Officers that possess our core values of honor, courage, and commitment to lead the Corps into the 21st Century.

In order to provide the Marine Corps with the quality leadership that Marines deserve, candidates must display the ability to lead by example while under demanding conditions. This is an important trait of any Marine Officer and will be the focus of your evaluation. In order to complete Officer Candidates School, we must ensure you are mentally and physically prepared. Candidates must understand that in some cases they will fail. How well you recover from failure, adapt and overcome in the face of adversity, is a key factor when determining if you have what it takes to be a leader of Marines.

You do not have a right to be a U.S. Marine. It is a privilege, a privilege that must be earned. So join us, embark on a journey that will make you a part of history.

I want to thank you for two things; displaying an interest in becoming a leader of Marines and for your patriotism as you choose a path that allows you to serve your country — there is no greater opportunity in your young lives. God Bless America.

Semper Fidelis,

L. N. Rachal

But also, in the words of Chaplain Stevens:

Wood is only beautiful because of the pattern…the pattern is the wood’s life story. Some lines are years of struggle and other lines are years of blessing. OCS will paint some lines across your soul. Would you have it any other way?

May Jessica’s soul now rest in peace.

Semper Fidelis.

* * * * *

Loud and Vicious

It’s almost 0530. It’s still dark out, but you can almost feel the crack of light. OCS candidates have already woken up (“count, off!”), dressed (“put your left boot on now! 20, 19, 18, 14, 8, 5, 3, 2, 1!”), cleaned the squad bays (“scuzzbrush the bulkhead!”), scampered (moonbeams clanking against their warbelts) onto the parade deck for formation (“Report!”), marched (“Road guards! Post!”) across the damn bridge to Bobo Hall (“1, 2, 3 attack the chow hall!”), and are now standing in line holding their trays with elbows tight and to their sides, side-stepping through the chow line (“Eggs please, ma’am!”).

They will be eating with feet flat on the floor, at a 45-degree angle, backs straight and off the seat rests, bringing their food to their mouths, and not their mouths to their food. There will be no talking unless spoken to first. And then they will reply loud and vicious. Sergeant instructors are yelling. Some candidates will be assigned 300-word “remedial” essays for transgressions such as walking with food in their mouths (“daggon heinous!”). This will probably fall under the subject heading “failure to follow simple instructions.” The platoons that finish first will go sit outside in front of Bobo Hall, facing the Potomac. Some candidates make a “head call” (which evolves into social time at OCS). The rest will unfold and sit down on their campstools and bury their faces in their candidate regulations. But really, each is staring at the Potomac as the sun soon breaks the horizon. A precious moment of peace, perhaps the only moment of peace, in a day in candidate land. It’s about 0545, and all they can think of is “what the fuck am I doing here?!”

“Aye aye candidates! Aye aye gunnery sergeant! Carry on candidates! Kill!”

Something similar is probably happening at MCRDs San Diego and Parris Island.

While most of our society sleeps, the Corps is making Marines.

shared sacrifice?

“Incoming is coming in every day, rockets are hitting the Green Zone,” said Jack Croddy, a senior foreign service officer who once worked as a political adviser with NATO forces.

He and others confronted Foreign Service Director General Harry Thomas, who approved the move to “directed assignments” late last Friday to  make up for a lack of volunteers willing to go to Iraq.

“It’s one thing if someone believes in what’s going on over there and volunteers, but it’s another thing to send someone over there on a forced assignment,” Croddy said. “I’m sorry, but basically that’s a potential death sentence and you know it. Who will raise our children if we are dead or seriously wounded?”

Jack Croddy, Director, Officer of International Health Affairs, Department of State. 202-647-1318,1,2358560.story?coll=la-iraq-complete

When 200 members of the 800-member 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment extended their enlistments earlier this year so they could accompany the Two-Five back to Iraq, their decision was numerically significant.

No infantry battalion has had as many Marines extend their tours as the Two-Five — troops who were “short-timers” and could have ended their service with comfy stateside billets but chose instead to return to Iraq to help less-experienced Marines navigate the dangers.

For Wendy Hill of Phoenix, it was the end of the longest seven months of her life. Her son, Cpl. Joshua Bodnovits, 22, was on his first tour. She had taken comfort in the fact that so many of his fellow Marines had opted to return with him.

Jo McDaid of Kalamazoo, Mich., was similarly unsurprised when her son, Sgt. Matthew McDaid, 22, announced he was returning to Iraq, voluntarily.

“It’s all about, ‘If my buddies are going, I’m going too,'”

Yellow ribbons on cars don’t measure real support

Sept. 15, 2007, 4:55PM
U.S. troops die and suffer while most of us simply move on without remembering

Who in the United States really supports our troops? If truth be told, basically nobody.

My former boss, Sen. Bob Dole — who was grievously wounded in combat during World War II and then spent the next three years of his life in various hospitals trying to survive and recover from his wounds — says this generation of soldiers, not his, is truly “The Greatest Generation.” Over the course of the last few years, he has quietly visited with hundreds of wounded soldiers and been brought to tears, not only by their sacrifice, but also by their determination to rejoin their fellow soldiers back in Iraq and Afghanistan.

While Bob Dole, who clearly supports our troops, may think of them as “The Greatest Generation,” not many of us agree with his very accurate assessment. Out of a nation of now 300 million people, who really cares about the young men and women we send into harm’s way?

Let’s see. Those on active duty obviously care, their families care, veterans care, a small number in the media care, some states like Texas care more than others, and a minute amount of the national population actually cares. But for the vast majority of the rest America, the young men and women who serve on the front lines and protect us from evil are all but invisible. They don’t exist in our lives, they occupy no space in our minds, and their sacrifice goes unnoticed and unappreciated.

Many on the far left think those in uniform are fools, puppets or even war criminals. Witness the already controversial ad run in the New York Times last week by  that intimates Gen. David Petraeus — a nonpartisan professional soldier of impeccable reputation — may in fact be “General Betray Us.” Is that their “support” for our troops?

Politicians who speak for the far left often say, “I support the troops but not the war.” Proudly, liberal Democratic presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, often parrots that exact phrase. This is the same man who, while in the terrorist-sponsoring state of Syria, just denounced the Iraq war on Syrian television and praised Syrian President Bashar al-Assad— a dictator who, according to our intelligence agencies, allows and encourages Islamists to cross his border into Iraq to kill U.S. soldiers. Is that “support” as defined by Kucinich?

What about wealthy liberals who can’t fathom why U.S. soldiers would accelerate their training for a $20,000 bonus? As they ridicule these soldiers for selling their souls for a pittance, do they understand what $20,000 represents to the average American? Is this the “support” and understanding they are willing to grant our soldiers?

What about the far right? What about those who purport to speak for my party? Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith and Steve Cambone were three high-level political appointees in the Rumsfeld Pentagon who were instrumental in planning the Iraq war and wildly underestimating the response. Do they “support” our troops? What price do these, never been in the military, ivory tower academics pay for their gross miscalculations?

As they move forward with their careers and makes hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars, what support do they offer to the families of the almost 4,000 killed and 30,000 wounded?

What about the conservative politicians and pundits who did everything they could to get out of service in Vietnam but now stand as the loudest cheerleaders for the war in Iraq?

Is hypocrisy and enthusiastically sending others to do what you would not their definition of “support?”

While I disagree with much of his politics, I will always deeply respect Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., for his service in Vietnam. More than most, he has earned the right to offer his insights on this war and combat. Likewise, newly minted Democrat and Democratic Sen. James Webb of Virginia. As a highly decorated combat veteran, Webb understands well the price our troops are paying for their nonstop deployments. To counter that, he just introduced an amendment “requiring that active duty troops have at least the same time at home as the length of their previous tour of duty overseas. After four years at war, supporting our troops means addressing the erratic deployment tours that are breaking our military and ignoring the demands that extended tours place on our troops and their families.”

Clearly, Sen. Webb is looking for ways to support our troops. But sadly, he represents a minuscule percentage of the country at best.

How do the U.S. television networks “support” our troops?

One way it seems, is by showing a montage of U.S. military vehicles being blown apart by roadside bombs. All of the networks and cable networks have shown this disgusting montage as background tape and none seems bothered by the fact that the video of our troops being killed and maimed was shot by the very terrorists who did the killing. If the networks have any sympathy for the families of the brave soldiers killed and wounded, they can support them by refusing to air this snuff film made by al-Qaida.

How do some liberals in Hollywood, who despise George W. Bush and the War in Iraq, “support” our troops.

Well, a couple of them, like Brian De Palma and Mark Cuban, make films that put our troops in the worst possible light. Their new film depicts the undeniably disgusting, criminal behavior of a handful of soldiers, and uses it as a political tool to go after the policies of President Bush while smearing more than 160,000 other troops in the process. How will De Palma and Cuban respond if their film inflames and incites Islamists in Iraq and around the world to kill more Americans?

What about the employers who now say they would never hire someone in the National Guard or hold a job for someone in the Guard currently serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. Does patriotism and the ultimate protection of their business, now have a price tag or bottom line?

Let’s be honest with ourselves. As most of us blissfully go to the movies, sporting events, restaurants, the mall, walks in the park or sleep safely in our beds, we don’t think of the troops. Never. Their sacrifice and pain never crosses our minds. Not once.

But it should. For it is only their sense of duty and heroic sacrifice that is separating us from those who mean to end our way of life. Shame on us all for forgetting that.

MacKinnon was a spokesman for former Sen. Bob Dole and a former civilian Pentagon and White House official.

“The first time you blow someone away is not an insignificant event. That said, there are some assholes in the world that just need to be shot. There are hunters and there are victims. By your discipline, cunning, obedience, and alertness you will decide if you are a hunter or a victim …. It’s really a hell of a lot of fun. You’re gonna have a blast out there. I feel sorry for every son of a bitch that doesn’t get to serve with you.”


General Mattis to 1stMarDiv in 2003.




—–Original Message—–
Sent: Monday, August 13, 2007 9:54 AM
Subject: MG Lehnert speech



The following presentation was delivered to a San Diego community group by MG Mike Lehnert, commander of Marine Corps Bases (West)


Good morning ladies and gentlemen.  Last year I was present in the audience when Tom Brokaw addressed the 2006 Stanford graduating class. After the initial pleasantries and one-liners, Mr. Brokaw said something unexpected.  He told the class that they were the children of privilege, fortunate to be attending one of the finest educational institutions in the country, the anointed because they had both the test scores for admittance and parents who were able to afford their tuition.  He noted that they could likely expect rapid advancement in almost any endeavor they choose and that they were destined to lead the most powerful country in the world. The class was beaming. 


And then Brokaw reminded them that the liberties and freedoms they enjoyed were being defended by young people their age that did not have their advantages. That at this time thousands of men and women were fighting, dying and suffering  debilitating injury to ensure that the rest of us could live the American dream.  There was an uncomfortable shifting  in the seats, followed by slow but growing applause from the audience.  When we sent my son to Stanford four years ago, we filled out a form asking for demographic information. One of the questions for the parents said, what is your profession? After it was a list of about thirty professions including doctor, lawyer, congressman, educator, architect. Military was not listed so I filled in “other.”  My son was the only graduate who had a parent serving in the armed forces.  As I was introduced to his friends’ parents, it was interesting to watch their reaction. Few had ever spoken to a member of the military.  One asked me how my son was able to gain admittance with the disadvantage of having to attend “those DoD schools”. Many voiced support for our military and told me that they’d have served but clearly military service was not for their kind of people.


This year of the so-called elite schools, Princeton led them with nine graduates electing military service. Compare that with 1956 when over 400 of the Princeton graduating class entered the military.  Most of the other Ivy League schools had no one entering the military this year.  I wonder how many of you know the young people who are serving today. I won’t embarrass anyone by asking for a show of hands to ask how many really know a young enlisted Marine who has been to war. I’m going to try to give you a better feel about those who serve our nation.


Our Marines tend to come from working class families. For the most part, they came from homes where high school graduation was important but college was out of their reach.  The homes they come from emphasize service. Patriotism isn’t a word that makes them uncomfortable. The global war on terrorism has been ongoing for nearly five years with Marines deployed in harms way for most of  that time. It is a strange war because the sacrifices being levied upon our citizens are not evenly distributed throughout society.  In fact, most Americans are only vaguely aware of what is going on.  That isn’t the case aboard the Marine bases in Southern California where we see the sacrifice everyday as we train aboard those open spaces  that you covet for other purposes. Many of our Marines are married and 70% of our married Marines live in your communities, not aboard Marine bases. These Marines coach your soccer teams.  They attend your places of worship. They send their kids to your schools.  However, in many ways they are as different from the rest of the citizens of Southern California as my son was different from the rest of the students at Stanford.


One of the huge differences between the rest of society and our Marine families, is when Marine daddies and mommies go to work, some of them never come home. The kids know that.  The spouses know that. Week after week we get reports of another son,  father, husband who won’t be coming back.  During the past four years, over 460 Marines from Southern California bases have been killed by the enemy. 107 more have died in Iraq and Afghanistan due to accidents.  6500 have been wounded some of them multiple times.  You will never know or meet Brandan Webb age 20 or Christopher White age 23 or Ben Williams age 30. They were all assigned to First Battalion First Marine Regiment, Camp Pendleton, California. They were some of the  Marines who died this week out of Marine bases in Southern California.


Last Friday, we hosted a golf tournament at Camp Pendleton to raise money for wounded Marines. There are a lot of expenses that the government cannot legally pay for from appropriated funds. The people who attended the tournament genuinely wanted to help and we invited a couple of dozen wounded Marines to golf with them. As I watched the teams leave for a  shotgun start, I saw three Marines sitting by themselves and went over to talk to them. Clearly they’d been told by their chain of command that this was their appointed place of duty. They were sitting in the sun chatting, probably not unhappy with the duty but mildly uncertain as to why they were there. I asked them why they weren’t golfing and they said that they’d never learned.  No one in their families ever played golf and that this was the first time they’d ever been on a golf course.  I asked them how many times they’d deployed. One of the young men had just returned from his third deployment and had been wounded every time.  The others teased him for being a bullet magnet. I asked him if he was going to stay in and he thought for a moment what to say to a general and he said, “I think I’d like to try college. No one in my family has ever gone.”


I asked these Marines if I could buy them a beer. They looked at me and smiled. One of them said, “We can’t ask you to break the rules sir. None of us are 21 yet.”  They seemed much older. As I left them I wondered about a policy that gives a young man the power of deciding who will live and who will die but won’t let him drink a beer.  I thought about these young Americans who had never shot golf but had shot and killed other men in order to carry out foreign policy.




… If you take nothing away from this talk, I’d hope you understand and appreciate what a remarkable group of young people currently serve in your Armed Forces today.  Want to know what Marine Generals talk about when we are together?  We talk about what a remarkable privilege it is to lead these extraordinary Americans.


I started by mentioning Tom Brokaw.  His book coined the phrase, “The Greatest Generation” and our nation responded in kind. Twenty years from now we may recognize that this young generation currently serving has the same qualities of greatness.  On the battlefield today are future CEO’s of corporations, university presidents, congressmen, state  governors, Supreme Court justices and perhaps a future president of the United States.  Take the time to meet one of these young people. You won’t be disappointed. 


OK, I’ve talked long enough.  I’d be happy to take your questions.

the ripple effect

the news of doc fralish’s death in afghanistan didn’t tell the entire story. that’s just how it is. the entire story is rarely, if ever, told. perhaps it simply isn’t possible.


ross was a model marine. technically and tactically proficient. always “squared away.” assigned billets above his grade. meritoriously promoted, the company guide, looked up to by his peers, who were impressed when the company commander would stop to acknowledge ross. “the captain doesn’t stop to say ‘hi’ to me.”

but when doc fralish died, and ross carried doc’s lifeless body from where doc had gone down, everything changed inside of ross. “he was different.” “ross kept asking why we didn’t go back to the valley where doc was killed.” “he said he wanted to go back for revenge.” “he was going to shoot anything that moved.” “he was going to kill them all.”

the fear of another Haditha kept the command from sending ross’ squad from ever returning to the same valley.

ross saw it otherwise. it was as if the corps did not care for its own. doc got shot, and we were going to do nothing about it. when told to go on another patrol, ross defied the order. after returning from afghanistan, ross was court-martialed, served six months in the brig, and kicked out of the marine corps with a bad conduct discharge.


owens was everything not ross. ross was a strong, compact and muscular kid from georgia. owens was a skinny white kid who grew up in vero beach, florida. while ross impressed the company in the competition to be company guide, by doing 200 push-ups, owens was struggling to complete humps (marches with full combat gear). he had fallen out on occasion and been sent to the battalion aid station. he was told he might be medically separated from the corps. his unit left him behind when it deployed to afghanistan. owens said his goodbyes to the marines in his platoon. he said goodbye to ross.

then owens went home to florida on leave. and when his leave ended, he decided not to return. for twenty odd days, he stayed at a friend’s house in vero beach, not wanting his mother to know that he was in an unauthorized absence status from the marine corps. nevertheless, from his friend’s house in vero beach, owens learned quickly about doc fralish’s death in afghanistan.

for once, owens was like ross — in the grief that they shared over a friend dying so young, so far away from home. but owens also felt a sense of guilt – from not being there with his friend when his friend fell. one night, when friends at a party offered him marijuana to smoke, that he had refused on all other occasions, owens accepted. maybe it would help take his mind off doc fralish and his own feelings of guilt. and it did, for a little bit — until the alcohol and the high wore off in the morning. then the guilt just multiplied. the guilt of realizing how his friend died in combat in afghanistan, but here he was — on unauthorized absence back home in florida getting high. owens drove to mcdill airforce base and turned himself to military authorities, and soon found himself on a plane back. checking back in with the remain behind element, he submitted to a mandatory urinalysis, that returned with positive results for marijuana use.

owens received a much lighter sentence at his court-martial but, like ross, received a bad conduct discharge from the marine corps.

months after both owens and ross served their sentences and returned home, i came across marshall, who was being recommended for an administrative discharge from the marine corps. he, too, knew doc fralish. he blamed doc’s death that day on the platoon commander. after doc’s death, the lieutenant was relieved of his command, marshall noted. who was the lieutenant, i asked. i recognized that name, too.

but i didn’t ask anything more. that’s just how it is. rarely, if ever, can the entire story be told, and rarely, if ever, will the entire story be known.

War’s chosen high school
Tucson classmates struggle to absorb nation’s heaviest losses — their friends, their youth

Anna Badkhen, Chronicle Staff Writer
Sunday, March 25, 2007

(03-25) 04:00 PDT Tucson — Sam Huff, class of ’04 at Mountain View High School, was the first to be killed. The 18-year-old died on April 17, 2005, less than a year after her high school prom, when the humvee she was driving hit a roadside bomb in Baghdad.

Months later, Kenneth Ross, 24, class of ’99, was killed in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan.

The next year, an insurgent’s bomb in Iraq’s Anbar province blew up Chad Kenyon, 20, class of ’04.

Another bomb in Anbar killed Budd Cote, 21, class of ’03.

In February, another member of the class of ’04, Alan McPeek, 20, died in Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province, when an insurgent’s shell killed him on the last day of his 14-month deployment.

“Everybody I knew who was over there is no longer with us,” said Shaun Moreland, 21, McPeek’s best friend, who also graduated from Mountain View High in 2004.

The impact has been devastating — not only to the dead soldiers’ families, but also to the classmates they left behind.

“The war just keeps getting closer and closer,” said Ryan Azuelo, 21, who was vice president of the student body that year.

Mountain View High is the only school in the United States known to have lost so many former students. But across the country, the deaths of more than 3,200 troops have scarred young Americans whose friends were killed in the war, mental health experts and youth researchers say.

That is one reason, said Max Valiquette, president of Youthography, a Toronto-based research agency, why its most recent poll showed that Americans ages 14 to 29 list the war in Iraq as their top concern.

“They think the No. 1 most significant issue for their country and for people their age right now is this war,” he said.

The Youthography poll surveyed 1,900 young people across the United States. In another survey, released last December by the Washington-based Young Voter Strategies, Americans ages 18 to 30 cited the war in Iraq as the main issue that shaped their voting decisions in November’s midterm elections.

Mourning friends

The trauma that haunts thousands of veterans returning from the wars has been widely reported. Less studied is the impact of war-related grief and loss experienced by their young friends at home who have never stepped onto a battlefield.

“The focus (right now) is on those who raise their right hand and go in the military rather than the people they left behind,” said Charles Figley, director of the Traumatology Institute at Florida State University. “We don’t know yet what indirect impact that (will have) at home.”

McPeek went to Iraq with the 16th Engineer Battalion, attached to Task Force 1-37 Armor, in late 2005.

On Feb. 2, the day before he was due to finally leave for home, insurgents opened fire at Combat Outpost Grant, an abandoned concrete building in violence-prone Ramadi. McPeek and Pvt. Matthew Zeimer, 18, a soldier from the 3rd Infantry Division’s 3-69 armor battalion, which had arrived the previous week to replace McPeek’s unit, ran to the roof of the outpost to fire back at the insurgents. It was Zeimer’s first combat assignment. An explosive round blasted through the reinforced concrete wall, killing them both.

Friends drop by almost every day at McPeek’s one-story brick home in the foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains, where a black flag bearing an Army coat of arms and the words “Served with Pride” flies from the eaves next to metal wind chimes. They share pizza, beer and stories of teenage mischief with McPeek’s father, Kevin Doyle, who said they “talk like adults.”

“We are helping each other get through this,” he said.

But each time they get together is a reminder that their friends never will join them again for hair-raising midnight rides through Tucson’s streets, or hang out with them in the dusty dry washes that cut through the city, or party hard, like they did back in the day.

“After high school, to see these friends die what seemed like back to back,” said one of McPeek’s classmates, Derrick Greene, 21. He trailed off, crying silently. “I have this in-shock kind of feeling.” Azuelo wiped away tears with the back of his left hand.

One school’s dedication

Mountain View High School has no memorial for the dead, and recruiters from various branches of the military still visit with students at the cafeteria on the sprawling red brick campus in a working class neighborhood of Tucson. Between 25 and 50 seniors enlist each year, said Verna Sharp, career center coordinator at the school of 2,200 students.

“It’s unfortunate that five students from our school (were killed) — I think it shows more of a dedication,” Sharp said. “All the students that had sacrificed their lives over there, their statement was that they’d do what it takes to serve their country.”

Joel Holodynski, class of ’04, who joined the Army that year, said his “friends were split on the issue of the war, and I wasn’t sure which side to take, so I decided to go.”

Holodynski, who is deployed in Afghanistan with the 82nd Airborne Division, wrote in an e-mail that he “felt like something was really going on in the world, and I was just the right age to be a part of it.”

“I had no idea what I was getting myself into. … At the age of 17, I was too naive, and I was full of ideals based upon books and movies,” he wrote.

His classmate and friend Amber Thill, a member of the 164th Military Police Company stationed in Fort Richardson, Alaska, said she joined the military because she didn’t know what else to do after graduating from Mountain View High.

It was Sam Huff who introduced Thill to her military recruiter. They went through basic training two weeks apart.

“She was so brilliant. She could have had a full scholarship. She could have had anything,” Thill said by phone from Alaska. “She was incredibly smart, very popular. I think she just wanted to defend her country.”

Thill was in Afghanistan when Huff was killed. She had Sam’s name tattooed on her right shoulder, and visited Huff’s grave at Arlington National Cemetery during leave last year.

“I went to the cemetery, and she’s surrounded by Rangers and officers and all those big, tough, important guys,” said Thill, who expects to be deployed to Iraq later this year.

Her voice caught, and she started crying. “And it was April, and there were cherries in blossom. And she had a grave right there, among all those important Army guys. Sam. There she is.”

Angry and driven

McPeek, whose mother is a Navy veteran, enlisted when he was 17. He wanted to be a military engineer, defusing roadside bombs.

“One day he came home from high school with a recruiter,” said his father, who works at a waste management company. “We would have paid for him to go to college, but … he had his mind set …

“He was pissed about 9/11. He said he wanted to make a difference. There was no talking Alan out of it.”

Some of McPeek’s friends thought about enlisting. Moreland, who has a lower lip piercing and long hair that falls over his eyes, could not join because of poor eyesight. He distributes signs for a real estate company and works part time as a wildland firefighter.

Greene and Azuelo used to keep in touch with McPeek via e-mail and instant messages on MySpace, but decided against joining him in the military. Greene sells used cars at a dealership in Tucson. Azuelo is a service representative at a Caterpillar equipment rental outlet and attends a community college, hoping to become a police officer.

They still party hard. But for them, and for their friends who still serve, the indestructibility of youth is gone.

“It certainly brings it closer to home: like, s — , this can happen,” Thill said.

“We’d thought that they were invincible,” said Greene, who is friends with Holodynski and who knows Thill. “Now I worry all the time.”

Last week, Holodynski wrote: “When I’m on base, I’m hearing about the people getting killed in the war … and when I go home, I’m grieving with my friends for the friends we lost. When I leave home, I never say goodbye anymore. It’s ‘I’ll see you later,’ and there is a lot of tears.”

Tired of bad news

In Tucson, Azuelo squatted on the balcony of his apartment and dropped his head in his hands when he talked about Huff, whom he had dated on and off at Mountain View High.

“My mom and her mom always said that Sam and I were gonna get married,” he said. “That’s what makes it so hard.”

His parents called him to tell him that Huff had been killed; Greene called to tell him about McPeek. He dreads receiving more bad news from overseas.

“Two phone calls now that I’ve had like that,” he said, sobbing. “I don’t know if I could get through another.”

When Huff was killed, “that was actually the first time Alan realized that he was scared about going to Iraq,” Greene said. “He knew his life could be over next week, next month, next year.”

Friends visit McPeek, who is buried in the veterans section of Tucson’s Evergreen Cemetery. A few weeks ago, they made a late-night pilgrimage, jumping fences and stumbling over graves.

Not long after that, Moreland came alone, and left an unopened can of beer on McPeek’s grave.

Last week, the can was gone, and only a small plastic G.I. Joe that McPeek’s mother had brought stood guard next to an American flag and two bunches of plastic flowers. Moreland’s shadow lay across his friend’s grave in the early afternoon sun.

He lit a Marlboro Red, McPeek’s favorite, smoked half of it, then bent over and stuck the cigarette in the dry dirt at the head of the grave, where he imagined McPeek’s lips would have been.

“It’s the hardest thing in the world,” said Moreland. “I never thought I’d be doing this with my best friend.”

He watched in silence as the remains of the Marlboro Red glistened and burned away.

E-mail Anna Badkhen at

This article appeared on page A – 15 of the San Francisco Chronicle

Nate Krissoff, and many others.


Then-lance corporal Edwardo J. Lopez was my first defense client when I was assigned to trial defense back in April 2006. Captain Winchell, then the Senior Defense Counsel, who would be leaving the Marine Corps in May, gave me Lopez’s file. 


Lopez, an 0311 rifleman with Second Battalion, Third Marines (2/3 – “two-three”), was being charged with a single “112-alpha” spec (Article 112a, Uniform Code of Military Justice, “wrongful use of controlled substance”) at a special court-martial, where maximum confinement would be one year, and the conviction equivalent to a federal conviction. Specifically, he had tested positive on a urinalysis for valium.


It would be a easy “summary court board waiver” deal – if the marine agreed to plea guilty at summary court-martial — where the maximum confinement time was 30 days, and the conviction would remain a note in the marine’s military record and not follow him into his civilian life – in addition to waiving his right to an “administrative separation board” (essentially the Marine Corps’ way of firing marines, but providing the marine the right to appear before a 3-member panel to argue their case and appropriate characterization of service if discharged), the convening authority would withdraw the charge against Lopez at the special court-martial.


Lopez insisted he was innocent.


The only way he could have “popped positive,” Lopez told me, was from the pills that another Marine, Lance Corporal Machado, gave him on the plane.  They were literally on the plane sitting on the tarmac, in Afghanistan, about to return home from deployment.  Lopez told me that he had photos of him and other Marines playing in the snow outside the plane before they left, and that the cold from the snow had actually made his knees stiff and sore.  His knees had already gotten progressively sore while deployed in Afghanistan, humping up and down mountains in combat gear on patrol. Lopez said that Machado was sitting next to him on the plane, and had turned to offer him some pills from a bottle, saying “Here, take these. It’ll help you go to sleep.”  He asked Machado what the pills were, and Machado had told him that they were painkillers, so Lopez figured they would help the pain in his knees as well, and took two of them.


Maybe I was too new to the game, but I believed Lopez. He seemed like a good kid to me. I wanted to contest the case.  Captain Winchell thought otherwise, and made the comment to Lopez that “new defense counsel may want to get some courtroom experience, but a summary board waiver is a good deal for you.”


Lopez still hesitated. He didn’t want to waive his right to an administrative separations board. He was worried that he would be separated from the Marine Corps, even after serving his sentence. “Sir,” he emphasized to me, “I want to be able to go back on the next deployment with my platoon.”


That was really all Lopez wanted. He was willing to serve time and plea guilty, but he could not imagine leaving, or being left behind by, his buddies for the next deployment, to Iraq, in October 2006.


I  talked to Lopez’s staff non-commissioned officer (SNCO), his platoon sergeant, staff sergeant Rauda.  SSgt Rauda supported Lopez, and thought he was a good marine, too.  But SSgt Rauda also told me that “Lopez, he hung around too much with those other guys who all popped,” including Palomares, aka, “candyman” (Palomares was eventually found not guilty at trial for distribution, but pled guilty to wrongful use of valium).


Lopez was torn. He asked me to call his mother to better explain to her what was going on. He described his mother as his best friend.  I remembered the 630 area code for DuPage Country, Illinois, a Chicago suburb, since I had gone to the University of Illinois. And I remember Martha Lopez asking me, “Lieutenant Lee, how long have you been doing this?”


LCpl Lopez pled guilty without having to waive his right to an administrative separation board.  Even while serving time in the brig, I would receive phone calls from Lopez.  “Sir, have you heard anything about my adsep board?”  “Is the command going to try and separate me?”  All Lopez wanted, was to return to his platoon. He could not imagine leaving, or being left behind, by his buddies.


One day, I received a message on my answering machine.  It was Lopez again.


“Hey Sir, I’ve gotten out of the brig. They’re not separating me! I just want to come by your office and drop off paperwork they gave me. Just so you can make sure.”  The battalion commanding officer had, in fact, recommended that Lopez not be administratively separated.  Lopez had not waived his right to appear before a board, but given the C.O.’s recommendation, that would no longer be necessary.  2/3 was taking Lopez to Iraq.


I did not see Lopez when he came by to drop off the papers with the C.O.’s recommendation.  I called him afterwards, just to tell him that everything looked “good to go,” and to wish him “good luck.”


I didn’t think of Lopez much after that.  I became detailed defense counsel to many more Marines, and the names and faces began to blur. I stopped believing what many of them said to me, and their proclamations of innocence.  Sometimes, I felt that I was playing a dual role – holding their hands as their defense counsel, but at the same time, trying to smack sense into the young knuckleheads as an officer.


Names and faces began to blur.


So it was, too, perhaps, with the growing list of KIA’s in the “Global War Against Terrorism,” as Joseph Stalin once put it – “one death is a tragedy; one million is a statistic.”  I suspected this Stalinism to be mostly true for the majority of the American population, where less than two percent of the population carries nearly all of our nation’s burden in fighting the war. We put yellow “support our troops” bumper stickers on our cars, but for the most part, our everyday concerns revolve around something like the last episode of Grey’s Anatomy. Most of us are simply too far removed from the fight for it to really mean anything, when it isn’t actually our own father, our own brother, our own sister, our own children deployed in harms way …


This was true to an extent, even for myself, a non-combat MOS Marine, never deployed, sitting at base – clicking on the “breaking headlines” link on the Honolulu Advertiser’s online webpage.  I knew the word that Iraqi snipers had begun targeting officers. They had shot and killed 2ndLt Josh Booth a week earlier.  But even though we were fellow officers, I never knew Josh personally.  To me, he had a name, but not a face.  It was with more of a passing curiosity, perhaps, than genuine concern, that I wondered if another insurgent sniper had killed a marine officer.   Then I read the short blurb to the “breaking news.”






Kane`ohe Bay Marine killed in Iraq (Posted at 9:24 a.m.)



Posted at 9:24 a.m., Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Kane`ohe Bay Marine killed in Iraq

Advertiser Staff


The Department of Defense announced today the death of a Kane`ohe Bay Marine killed in Iraq.


Pvt. Edwardo J. Lopez, 21, of Aurora, Ill., died Oct. 19 while conducting combat operations in Al Anbar province, Iraq.


He was assigned to 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division, III Marine Expeditionary Force, Kane`ohe Bay, Hawai`i.






Edwardo J. Lopez.


Aurora, Ill.


2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment.




Then I remembered not just the name, but also the face.


And I remembered stories about Marines playing in the snow while waiting for their flight back home after a 6 month deployment.


And I remembered the voice of a concerned mother, and the awkwardness of possibly informing her of just how inexperienced her son’s detailed counsel was.


And I remembered how the most important thing for a young marine was, in the end, to be there with his fellow marines.



I am often asked how, as defense counsel, I can stand to oftentimes counsel, advise, and represent the young Marines that seem to habitually get into trouble again, and again.


Perhaps it has to do with my definition of what it is to be a hero.


A hero is not a perfect person. A hero will have his or her flaws, shortcomings, and failings. Or we would have no heroes, only saints.  Instead, the defining essence of a hero is an extraordinary commitment to extraordinary sacrifices. Lopez had that extraordinary commitment – and on 19 October 2006, six thousand five hundred miles from home, all of twenty-one years old, he made an extraordinary sacrifice.