US Marine LtCol Mark Smith, Commander of the Mad Ghosts, sends another letter which includes (1) info about the Marines in his command in their own words, (2) MLK's legacy and the Marines, and (3) more about the media and LTC Tim Ryan. He wraps up with a tribute to Corporal Robert Warns (which I've linked to before - it's amazing and a must see).
It's a long letter, worthy of your time, about the Marines of the 2/24th Battalion (USMC Reserve - Chicago, Illinois), in Iraq.
Mayhem from the Heartland!!!
It is my deepest wish that all are well, excited for the challenges that lie ahead, and full of life and spirit!
As we draw ever closer to historic elections in the Arab World, and help set the world on an undeniable course towards democracy and freedom, and away from tyranny and terror, I hope to share some moments of illumination that were achieved in the past week since we last spoke. By way of reaching that destination, I ask you to indulge me as my partners on a journey. A ride if you will, not unlike a thrill ride at Disney World. (Come to think of it, I think I will take my beautiful wife and daughters to Disney World, if the Lord sees fit to return me home standing. For in all my trips to Disney, it really is the happiest place on earth. Who can be mad at Disney World? And I know my wife and daughters have earned it. But, I digress.)
This journey begins with meeting some of the Mad Ghosts. We are going to meet the Mad Ghosts of the S-1 section. Now, the S-1 section is the Battalion Administration section. They handle everything from pay to record books to awards to performance appraisal to legal. And, in this new fourth generation warfare, they also handle FOB employee badging, interpreter support, detainee handling and processing, etc., etc., etc. These duties, like every duty in the Battalion are performed a minimum of 12 hours a day, with their personal responsibilities as Marines taking another 6: weapons cleaning, gear accountability, laundry, haircuts, improvised physical training, and on and on. There are no days off, it is 24/7. And, they are routinely tasked for combat operations both defending the FOB and "outside the wire." They are typical of every Marine in this Battalion in effort and scope, just different in primary responsibilities. However, the reason that I chose the S-1 section is they are shining examples of what this War on Terror is really all about.
Now, the way I intended originally to do this was to do a short description of these Marines. I asked them to provide Maj Sullivan, the S-1, a quick biography. However, when I received the product I asked for, I immediately knew I could not do justice by any method or manner than to cut and paste their own words. For two reasons: one - it shows the level of professionalism I deal with. I asked for simple background, I got the heart and soul of who they are; two – their personalities are illustrated in their words. The quiet ones write little, the jokesters write much. But in each of them, you will see the indominateable spirit I see every single day. You will see the magnificent warriors that are US Marines. You will see the people behind the numbers. You will see the tip of the spear! So, Ladies, at this time, let me introduce to you the S-1 Marines of TF 2/24, or Mayhem 1:
Sir, I was born and raised in Worcester Mass. My father was born and raised in County Kerry, Ireland, and came to Worcester with his parents at age of 13 in 1936. He volunteered for the service after Pearl Harbor and served in the Army during WWII from August 1942 -April 1945 in the Solomon Island campaign. He came home, got his US citizenship, and went to college on the GI bill and was a junior high teacher for over 40 yrs. He was also a scout leader and volunteered many hours at our Catholic Church and had my brothers serve and myself as altar boys from ages 8 to `18. He went to Mass everyday and ensured we attended Catholic High school. My mom, Catherine Hennigan, was also of Irish heritage and met my dad after WWII in college. My mom was a junior high reading teacher from 1947 to 1997 and still substitutes occasionally. She will turn 80 on June 5th of this year. She was voted the Massachusetts teacher of the year and one of the Worcester State College Alumni of the century.
I have 2 brothers, Neil Patrick (software rep) and Brian Terrance (grade school phys ed teacher) My parents instilled in all of their children from a very young age what a special nation we have, and how freedom was a privilege that needed to be respected and guarded at all times. They taught me that serving our nation and its people was a duty and the greatest privilege any person could aspire to achieve.
I have been truly blessed to have wonderful parents who believed in service to our nation, and believed that freedom was worth fighting for all over this world. They have always supported me in everything I have done, and particularly with my Marine Corps career. (My dad passed away in 1989)
I feel that I have also been blessed this year to be allowed to serve my nation again as a Marine Officer. Deploying with 2nd Battalion, 24th Marines has been the greatest experience of my life. I have been privileged to lead the finest young men I have ever met. Each one of the Marines in the S-1 shop is dedicated to serving his country, and every day work incredible hours and performs all manner of tasks without one complaint. They look forward to the challenges, and ask for more. They volunteer everyday to go on the road with detainee runs, and to support surge ops with EOD or H&S or HET raids.
They also look out for each other everyday and ensure each of their fellow Marines are OK, including "the major". I actually find myself watching them in action, quietly performing their duties without being told to do so, accomplishing the mission and helping every Marine that comes through the door, and I thank God for allowing me to realize that I will never be surrounded by this caliber and quality of people ever again in my life.
I realize that I have been truly blessed to be allowed to serve my nation again with these incredible young Marines, as the adjutant of this very special Battalion.
Semper fi Sir!
Cpl Larry L. (LL Cool Mail) Branch Jr.:
For Cpl Branch jr., life began on the Westside of Chicago born to Larry & Amanda Branch Sr. My father is a Missionary Baptist minister at Mount Bethlehem Church at 2625 W. Ogden Ave., Chicago Il.
I attended multiple grammar schools finished High School at William H. Taft. I worked many jobs from shoe salesman to social case aid worker. A sense of duty and personal challenge lead me to enlist in the Marine Corps in 1998. I am the first in my family to serve in the Armed forces and in a combat zone. The day I graduated from boot Camp was one of my proudest moments.
Later, in October 1999, I married the beautiful Lavenia Malone out of a courtship of 5 yrs. We have had three wonderful children from this union, Kezia Nicole Branch, Larry L. Branch III, and finally, the birth of my daughter Lamariah Almond Branch born just this past December 18th 2004, which I regrettably missed due to our operations in Iraq.
Now I am currently working at SBC Telecommunication Company, which I am proud to work for almost as much as earning the right to be called at U.S. MARINE. If there is any more miraculous information you would like to hear about Cpl Branch jr. just give me a holla.
My name is Raymond C. Monk. I am a 23-year-old African-American male from Milwaukee, WI. My parents were both born in the states. Neither of them continued their education beyond high school but through out my childhood emphasized the importance of getting a college education. In the civilian world I am a manager at a Home Depot store and a college student attending the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee majoring in Business Administration. I have two sisters and one niece. I joined the U.S. Marine Corps with the intent to gain leadership and organizational skills.
Lcpl Bernard J. Brennan:
Well, sir, you asked for a family history so now you're going to get
Generally speaking, my father's family is Irish and my mother's is an American hodge-podge of various European ethnicities, but to leave it at that would not do justice to either's complexity.
My paternal ancestry has been trans-atlantically confused for over a century. As far as I know, our first American adventures began with my great-grandfather (James Carroll) who would leave Ireland for a few years at a time to make money working on the railways and coal mines of Pennsylvania, but raised his family in Ireland and returned there with whatever small fortune he had amassed during his absence. My own grandfather (Patrick Brennan) was born one day before the Easter Week insurrection in Dublin started in 1916. He left home (Kiltimagh, Co Mayo, Ireland) at the age of 15 working in England as an unskilled laborer and his travels brought him to work on the London Underground (subway), The Belfast shipyards that built the Normandy landing crafts and the rebuilding of Coventry, England after the Nazis had bombed the city to kingdom-come. He married my grandmother (the late Delia Brennan, nee Carroll) in Kiltimagh in 1947 and they relocated to Chicago where my grandmother worked as a domestic maid for an extremely wealthy family on the Gold Coast while my grandfather fixed buses for the CTA. My father (Bernard Brennan) followed that great Irish-American tradition and became a Chicago Police Officer in 1976; he will retire this summer as a Detective. In more recent times, my own sister (Karry Brennan, soon to be Mrs Sean Creagh) spent nearly 5 years living and working
In Dublin and will be married this summer in Castleblaney, Co Monaghan.
I maintain dual citizenship with the United States and the Irish Republic.
My mother's family is even more confusing. My maternal grandfather (the late Julius F. Slonski, former Sgt First Class, US Army) was born to ethnically Polish immigrants who had actually lived in Austria at the end of the 19th Century. He enlisted on 9 December 1941 and served as a US Army artilleryman in the south pacific campaign, seeing action on Iwo Jima and Saipan, amongst others. He worked as a mechanic and long-haul trucker based out of Chicago. My maternal grandmother (Arlene Slonski, nee Walstrom) is something of a confusing case herself: Her father was the son of a Swedish immigrant father and a Norwegian mother. Her mother (the late Annie Wainscott) was a Tennessean whose family had been in Virginia since at least the first United States Cencus, in 1790. Anecdotally, Annie's father was a Confederate veteran of the US Civil War. Annie's family had been in America since the beginning, but had originally come from England, Ireland and Wales and it is a family legend that the great Kentucky explorer Daniel Boone was a relative. My mother (Sandra Brennan, nee Slonski) is a certified shorthand stenographer who work for the office of the State's Attorney of Cook County, Illinois.
I have relatives in Micronesia, Sri Lanka, Canada, England, at least 4 different areas of Ireland, lost somewhere in the hills of Tennessee, Australia, the North and South Sides of Chicago and countless other places. At last count we were on 5 continents.
Slan go fhoill a cairde,
Beorneard Seamus Og O'Braonain
a/k/a LCpl Bernard James Brennan, Jr. USMCR
I am First generation American. I was born in the North Side of Chicago and lived there ever since. I practice Hispanic customs daily. I speak and write in both English and Spanish, my family cooks ethnic dishes on a regular basis. I listen to Spanish Music. I celebrate mother's day every second Sunday as well every May 10th, I also celebrate Halloween and at the same time, I celebrate the Day of the Dead. From a young age my parents ensured I learned enough of my both cultures. They sent me to a bilingual school where I would learn about both my Hispanic and American heritage. Although my mother spoke perfect English, we were told that when we were at home, that we had to speak Spanish. So, my first language spoken was Spanish. When I was in 1st Grade, I was placed in the ESL program (English as a Second Language). As I was growing up I always found myself confused about having more pride about being American, or more pride in my Mexican background. It was not because I was ashamed of either, but because when I was young, there were still a lot of people being put down if they were not "just" American. If you spoke a different language or looked different, some people would tend to ignore the fact that you were in fact born in this country and express their disapproval. To the reverse of that, when I talked to family or friends who were born in Mexico, they would tell me not to talk
English and talk about why Mexico is so much better that the U.S. Every 4th of July I would proudly fly my American Flag and say how proud I was to be an American. On the 15th of September (Mexican Independence Day) I would also fly my Mexican flag and feel such pride in its History. I had always wanted to be in the military. And it wasn't till one day when someone asked me, "If the U.S. would go to war with Mexico, who would you fight for?" that I knew where I stood. I realized that I am an American, born in this country; I go to American schools, speak the language and follow current American trends. I also realized that I knew a second language. That I celebrate more than the average American Holidays and still practice Hispanic customs. I was not "Just" American and I was not "just" Mexican. I was both. But my loyalty lied in the country where I was raised at and currently lived in and where I planned to raise my family. I knew at that point that I was truly blessed to have been born in the U.S. I knew then more than ever that I would join the military. No one in my family had been in the military. My Father and Grandfather tried to volunteer for the Viet Nam War but they were turned down because they were not yet citizens. I knew that there are many people in my family enjoying the freedoms and liberties that many American and foreign fathers and sons have shed blood for. Being first generation American and second oldest, I knew that no one in my family had yet paid their dues or done their part to secure what this country represents. So that is why I joined the Marines.
My father's grandparents all lived in Germany, and came to America to farm in Wisconsin. My father's father grew up speaking both English and German. He served in the U.S. Navy during World War II. He served on an LVS, and was awarded a Purple Heart, along with several other medals he never told me too much about. He also served 30 years in the Police department. He was a sheriff for some of the time. My mother's family is a mix of Swedish, Norwegian, and several other European countries. My mother's father served in the Army, but has never spoken to me about his service. He is the president of the Wisconsin Agricultural Board, and has traveled to China twice in the past 3 years to share knowledge with the Chinese Agricultural program. All of my grandparents are alive, save my Father's father, who passed away Two years ago of lung cancer. I was born May 29, 1982 in Baraboo, WI. My brother, Morgan, was born April 18, 1985. We lived in Baraboo, WI where my mother remarried twice. After her second divorce we moved to Middleton, WI, a suburb of Madison. I enlisted in the Marine Corps on July 22, 1999, the summer before my senior year of high school. I graduated in May of 2000, turned 18, and headed to Basic Training on June 6, 2000.
Lcpl Michael Vasquez, USMCR:
As a Mexican-American I was born in 1984 on the Southside of Chicago. Having been raised by both my mother and grandmother I was brought up learning both the American culture as well as the Mexican culture. My ethnic background reaches far back to the late 1930's, which was around the time my grandparents came to the United States later becoming US citizens.
Dennis Skowronski, Sergeant USMC:
I was born in Chicago. My ethnic background is America, which would make me American.
Lcpl Sokol lluri:
Citizenship: Naturalized U.S. Citizen
I was born in Durres, Albania on 12 April 1980. Durres is the second largest city in Albania with a population of 300,000. My father was a High School physics teacher in on the major high schools of the city. My mother was a Civil Engineer. I went to school in the same city where I lived till the age of 18. I grew up in a family who were dedicated to each other and was surrounded by love. Upon graduating high school on June 1998 myself and my parents moved to the United States of America joining my older brother who had already moved to the US, 3 years before us.
It was a dream for us to move to the United States. My parents managed to raise a beautiful family with ridiculously low incomes. I remember my father once telling me: "Son, my father did not leave me any money, and I don't have any money to leave you when I die, but my goal in life is to provide you with opportunity and the means to make something of yourself." He knew that the United States was the country that would give us the chance to make our dreams come true, and I saw him work with great dedication to achieve that goal and it was the greatest gift my parents gave me, the opportunity to become a citizen of the United States of America. I saw myself as a bridge between two different cultures but with one large thing in common, humanity and love for one another.
Graduating high school with good grades and raised by two parents who emphasized education, I decided I would pursue a college degree. Upon arriving in the United States I worked at different jobs for almost 2 years before I enrolled at DuPage Community College. After completing the second year of college with good grades and being part of the College Tennis Team, I decided to join the United States Marine Corps. Being the 1st in my family to ever serve in the Military, I was asked many times about my decision. And the only answer that really explained how I felt was: "I wanted to serve; I wanted to give something back to a great country which became my home, I wanted to be proud and I wanted to deserve all the great opportunities that were given to me, and most of all I wanted the honor of being a United States Marine; men who I idolized since I was a little kid"
That dream became reality on 4 Jan 2002 when I walked across the Parade Deck (MCRD San Diego) with my parents watching with pride. On December 2003 I was able to complete my citizenship process to finally become an American Citizen.
My name: Woon Hyuk Kim. Born on March 26, 1982 in Seoul, South Korea, I was the second largest baby born in my hospital at 11 pounds. GIGANTIC HEAD. I lived an entire year as an infant before my parents immigrated to Chicago, Illinois. I grew up near the Headquarters Drill Center, on Lawrence Ave, where at the time, the Korean population was jumping. Now the street has a secondary name: Seoul Drive. Growing up, it seemed like my parents were always at work. As a kindergartener, I had a key necklace that I wore around my neck so I can let myself in after school. I was very independent at a young age. I personally saw my parents' hard work paid off. We moved from Lawrence to Des Plaines to Mount Prospect then to Vernon Hills where I currently live. My mother is an insurance agent and my father owns his own cafe. Growing up, I was involved in playing football and track, working endless hours at my father's former drycleaners, being the editor of my high school newspaper, and spending as much of my time with my 9-year younger little brother. Like I told the Major, I joined the Marine Corps to live out the boot camp experience and get some tuition assistance---never did the recruiter mention anything about Iraq. However, I am grateful the adventure God has put me through and can't wait to go back home and resume my civilian life as an accountant student, family son, and Marine.
Right there you have it <…> a cross section of America. As many ethnicities and backgrounds as you can imagine. They cut across all religious and political lines. But, do you also see the threads that weave this quilt: it is their pride and LOVE of their country, the United States of America. It is their desire to GIVE, rather than to receive. It is their willingness to "put it all on the line" to defend that which has given so much to the world and to them and to their families: their
COUNTRY! Is the bright light of illumination shining from your computer screen?
The reason this hit me so hard this week was because of our loss of time. Due to our SOP of an operating pace whose sole speed is "faster than yesterday," we easily lose track of real world time. It was this past weekend while trying to conduct some electronic business with some USMC units in the States that we realized it was the Martin Luther King Holiday weekend. As soon as I heard "Martin Luther King," the illumination hit me with the intensity of the sun and with the power of a Whitney Houston high tone. While most of the United States was taking pause to ponder the widsom and sacrifice of Dr. King and his dream, we are living it. We exist every single day in an organization where Dr. King's premise of "judging a man by the quality of his character, not the color of his skin" is so ordinary and every day that we do not give it a second thought. But, it struck me that we should. We should because, while others discuss such things as banter at cocktail parties, we live it! While others have celebrity benefits and concerts, we live it. While others chastise every action under the sun that actually attempts to bring such freedom and tolerance to other parts of the world, these Marines simply, and quietly demonstrate it, in living color, among great violence, and at risk to their very survival! I wonder who Dr. King is most proud of, the talking heads or the magnificent Marines?
I know where my answer lies. I think, in my humble opinion, it is with the magnificent Marines. Because while so many rail against our cause, while professing equality, these Marines live it and are spreading it.
Please, let me tell you one more story of illustration. I am a personal witness to an event so extraordinary in today's times, that I would argue it only happens because of a nation named the United States of America.
During an attack on Co F, I watched a Muslim Marine give 175% of his heart, soul and effort to provide the lethal fires of his 81mm mortar against enemy forces and in support of his fellow, and brother Marines. His Christian brother Marines, his Jewish brother Marines, his agnostic brother Marines and his atheist brother Marines!
He did this because they ARE HIS BROTHERS.
Their religion has no impact. Their ethnicity, no impact. Their economic or social status, no impact. Their only impact was the Eagle, Globe and Anchor they all wear as symbols of their brotherhood. Their connection is their oath to the death that all that shall matter is a person's RIGHT to choose their own way in this life. Their common bond: shared hardship and a common goal. No, I argue to all, that while the USMC may fall short of the perfect, it is the ideal. It is the ideal example of how life should be lived and shared, not horded or directed.
So, to close our journey. Last week's update was pretty hard on the media. And, a good friend and fellow Bn Cmdr who now operates on one of my flanks, the Mighty LTC Tim Ryan, 2-12 Calvary, USA, has a run of news coverage this week decrying the media coverage of the Iraq War. I am but one of a long line of fans who say Tim was right on. There are reasons that there is much dissatisifaction and angst among many military types for the US Media coverage, on average, of this Global War on Terror. One of them most assuredly is the continued accusations that Iraq has nothing to do with the War on Terror. To that one I will only say, come spend some real time on the ground, face the real enemy, know the real facts and that accusation would never come out of your mouth again. But, there is a bigger reason. And I think the bigger reason strikes officers like Tim and myself the hardest, because of our awesome responsibility for the lives of these MAGNIFICENT Warriors placed in our charge. That bigger reason is this: left unchallenged, unfair reporting of this War leaves us at risk of losing!
How, you ask? That would be a fair question. Fair question because there is no doubt that militarily we crush, and will continue to crush this enemy into oblivion. It will take some time, because he is a coward by nature who hides in plain sight, attacks women and children and does everything he can to avoid direct conflict with US forces, for he knows the outcome of direct conflict is violent and precise death. However, I constantly refer you to the tentes of fourth generation warfare because the enemy has but one singular goal: defeat the will of the American people. He knows militarily he is a punk who will taste overwhelming defeat at every engagement. So, he seeks media attention through "mass casualties" and a cumulative effect of nightly reports of casualties over a sustained period of time. We understand this. We accept this. It is the reality of fourth generation warfare and our role in it as the Warriors. It, for us, is a slow and long slog of systematically identifying and removing from the earth a web and network of evil doers, terrorists, insurgents, criminal and thugs. And, we will. However, just as his goal is the defeat of the will of the people, so too the real strength of America lies in her people. We are but the tools. You are the FORCE. And, although all are important, none more so than the mothers and spouses of the Warriors. For if in them is a never-bending will, and in the Warriors the steadfast knowledge of their support, the conclusion of this War on Terror is inevitable!!! If, however, the
mothers and spouses can be made to bend, the nation weakens. Each of these
barrages of negative and one-sided media stories is a constant stacatto of rounds against the armor of the mothers and spouses. And I know, as I think Tim knows, this is our danger. No, both sides must be told for the mothers and the spouses. They are the strength of both the Warrior and the Nation.
That THEY never be weakened is our hope
That THEY never be broken is our prayer.
Below is a portion of an email I received this weekend from one of the mother's of a magnificent Mad Ghost. It ends our journey far more elegantly and poetically than I could ever hope to:
"It's shameful to say that before my son joined the Marines, shortly after 9/11, I really never took notice on who was defending our country, my home. I speculate, like so many other American's, I took so much for granted.It has been both eye opening as well as a very humbling experience. I am so very proud of my son as well as all the soldiers defending not only me, but also this fabulous country of ours. I am proud my son stands amongst these fine men and women who are a creation of a better future.
I leave you with a quote..."As the storm clouds of war gather, at least I know that I can look the men and women in uniform in the eye. My son is one of them. He is the best I have to offer. He is my heart. He is my son."
Sandy Zenoni, proud mother of Cpl Zenoni, 2nd Bn, 24th Marines
PS: attached is a link to a memorial tribute video for Cpl Robert Warns, Co G, killed in action Lutafiyah, Iraq, 8 Nov 04. 8 Nov was a day that will never be forgotten by the Mad Ghosts of 2/24, as it was one of our darkest days. As you watch this video, ask yourself, if the Warns family can pay such a price, bear such a burden and still send me well wishes and support, can the outcome ever be in doubt. NO! It is inevitable that we shall perish evil from the earth. And we will do it every single day with Marines like Cpl Warns in our hearts, and thoughts of his family in our souls. For one day we will have muster with Cpl Warns, we will cry tears of joy at the reunion, and if our will be never broken, we will hear from him, "well done," and we will know we did our duty. May God Bless and Keep the amazing Warns family!
LtCol Mark A. Smith, MAYHEM 6
CO, Task Force 2/24
"Mayhem from the Heartland"
or as the terrorists call us
"The Mad Ghosts"
2nd Bn, 24th Marines, H&S Co, Bn Cmdr
The previous letter from LtCol Mark Smith is here.