Saturday, May 15, 2010

And Now For Something Completely Different

A while back I mentioned another very talented Marine, Max Uriarte. Max has recently joined the proud ranks of former jarheads, but he's also managed to create a unique contribution to Marine Corps lore and culture. Back in January Max started a witty and biting little web cartoon called Terminal Lance. Terminal Lance has since gone viral with well over three and a half MILLION hits. Max asked me to contribute to his site and my first cartoon is up today.

This cartoon is a commentary on the Corps I first encountered in the 70s and the one Max is exiting in 2010. While the fighting elan of Marines is as constant as the Northern Star, there have been significant changes in, shall we say, the quality of recruits and the moral fiber of the Corps over the last 40 years. The days of morning formations where a quarter of your fellow devildogs are UA (unauthorized absence) and barracks hallways fragrant with the smell of pot are long gone, but senior enlisted and officers still seem to find ways to keep non-judicial punishment charge sheets coming. Like recruiting duty, there must be quotas.

At anyrate, check out my cartoon scribblings over at TERMINAL LANCE.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Something Old, Somethings New

I'm pretty close to having all my gear for the upcoming trip to Afghanistan bought and put together. Today UPS delivered the last of my required protective gear, a tan ballistic Kevlar helmet. On my feet for this trip will be a pair of well broken in desert boots and around the neck a shmeagh from my last jaunt. The ergonomic single strap bag for my art supplies and cameras is also a veteran of several campaigns.

A friend of mine, a retired Defense Intelligence Agency civilian, was kind enough to offer me his personal set of Dragon Skin body armor! I can't tell you how thrilling, and reassuring this is. Dragon Skin is the ultimate in protection from multiple threats.
Over the past month I've been going to the gym around the corner and spending a couple hours on a stair climber with my body armor on. You can imagine the questions, and looks I get.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Finally Found

Corporal Leon Salisbury, Fire Team Leader, November 2005

Back in November of 2005 I took a photo of a Marine fire team leader with 2nd Platoon, Fox Company, 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment. I had just joined this platoon for Operation Steel Curtain. I always try my best to get all the information possible from each of my portrait subjects. Many of the photos I took would be turned into drawings. There was one drawing/photo where I failed to find out who the Marine was. Thanks, in large part to Facebook, I finally know who the subject of this drawing is . . . Corporal Leon Salisbury.

A few days after photographing Leon he was severely wounded and medevaced to Germany. He, along with 11 other members of his platoon, were wounded the morning of November 16, 2005. 5 others lost their lives in a hellacious firefight in and around a "hell house". On that morning Leon's squad, led by Corporal Javier Alvarez, were assigned to two tanks supporting Fox Company for the final push through the last 100 acre pocket of Ubaydi, Iraq. When the shit hit the fan Alvarez led his squad to the aid of the squad caught in the initial contact. Dashing into the confines of a farmyard they immediately came under fire and Alvarez, in the lead, went down after being shot in both legs by a hidden mujh. Leon, and another Marine, LCpl Justin Mayfield, quickly located and closed with the insurgent who had shot Alvarez. No sooner had they eliminated that threat, a hail of hand grenades started to fall around them. Alvarez picked the one closest to them and tried to toss it back through a window, but no luck. It exploded just as he got it over the sill and into the window opening. His right hand disappeared in a red haze, but the majority of the blast was deflected away from his squad. Alvarez would get the Silver Star for his quick selfless thinking. Leon, although severely wounded by the same blast, dashed to his wounded squad leader and tried to apply a tourniquet. Leon's a little hazy as to what happened next, other than he got dinged again, and although his helmet absorbed most of whatever hit him, it pretty much knocked him out. The next thing he knew he was in Germany. He underwent 6 surgeries for his multiple wounds.

Leon shared with me how his squad leader, Alvarez, even though he himself was recovering from multiple gunshot wounds and the loss of his hand, was bringing his wounded buddies "pogey bait" from the hospital snack bar. And this was mere days after they had been medevaced to Germany.

For his actions that day Corporal Leon Salisbury was recognized with the Purple Heart and a Bronze Star with Combat "V". Leon also endured 6 surgeries to deal with his wounds.

Yesterday Leon came to Fredericksburg to visit and showed me his shattered helmet and bloody flak vest. Leon's platoon sergeant, GySgt Robert Homer, made sure his Marine would have these mementos of his heroics. Homer was recognized with a Silver Star for his actions that fateful morning. Leon was on his way from Harrisonburg to Manassas, Virginia to spend the weekend with his Mom. He's currently a junior at James Madison University majoring in international relations and Arabic.

Corporal Salisbury with his shrapnel damaged helmet and helmet cover

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Getting Even Closer

4 Months into Retirement

I''ve cleared the final hurtle for going to Afghanistan as a free-lance correspondent. . .picked up my 6 month visa from the Afghan Consulate in DC last Thursday. My plan is to fly to Kuwait on or about May 23rd and then catch a military hop from Ali Al Salem Air Base into Kandahar. In Kandahar I'll check in with the NATO/ISAF Region South Public Affairs Embed Team and then, hopefully, out to Marine units in the field. I'll be in Afghanistan for the entire month of June.
Word has it that June should be a very active month in and around Kandahar City as coalition forces begin the process of "pacification".