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Copyright © 2003 Express Publishing Inc.
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For the week of October 15 - 21, 2003

Features

Home front
welcomes sons back

Wood River Marines are home on leave


By MATT FURBER
Express Staff Writer

A cadre of local U.S. Marines who enlisted after graduating with the Wood River High School Class of 2001 have been trickling back into town from the Iraq War to the welcoming and thankful arms of families and friends.

U.S. Marine Lance Corporal Zac Broadie hugs his grandparents, Kathy and Jerry Broadie, at a community cavalcade at the Timmerman Hill intersection on his way home on leave in Hailey. Express photo by Willy Cook

As part of the first wave in the largest military leave program since the Vietnam War, Lance Corporals Zac Broadie, 20, Carlos Simental, 19, Javier Terrazas, 20, and Jason Willingham, 20, are veterans of a foreign war. They are also too young to celebrate their first wartime leave with a drink at the VFW. Some of the 10 Wood River Marines have already finished their leave, others are still on their way home and some have been whisked away by their loving families.

Terrazasí mother, Augustina, said her son has already returned to the U.S. Marine Corps base at Camp Pendleton in Southern California, but they had a big party with friends and family when he was home.

"I spoke with him this weekend and he said he may be going back to Iraq," she said. "That was not good news for me. Too many soldiers have died even after the war (was declared officially over)."

U.S. Marine Lance Corporal Jason Willingham of Ketchum also is at home on leave from Iraq. Express photo by Matt Furber

Most of the enlisted men are planning to attend college when they finish their military duty, but for now war is taking them in a direction few expected them to experience.

"I started at Santa Barbara City College," said Willingham, who is serving in the Third Battalion Fifth Marines as a motor transport operator driving Humvees and 7-ton trucks to support grunts on the front lines. "Financially it didnít work out for me."

After working construction for a while, Willingham said he had felt that the opportunity to serve in the Marines provided a substantial opportunity to get ahead.

Broadie, who also was dissatisfied in his first college experience, said he enlisted because wanted to get a little more out of life.

War is hell

"I thought I would go in do what I had to do and get out," said Broadie, who is responsible for the logistics of supplying Marines with chow, water and ammunition. "I thought I would do some peace keeping or be part of a humanitarian effort. I wanted to see the world. I never really thought I would see combat."

"When we first crossed the line of departure into Iraq I was scared shitless," Willingham said. "You are trained, but you never really know how you will feel until youíve been there Ö Am I going to live until tomorrow? You think these people hate you. There were blown up tanks and trucks and dead bodies. Itís just craziness.

"During sandstorms you canít see or hear anything. You wonder, are they going to attack us right now? Is that stray round going to come this way? As the days and weeks go by you get used to it. It is such a culture shock coming back here. Itís war and then you come back here."

Before being sent into battle, Broadie said the hardest part of active duty was being told last year at Christmas that they would not be able to go home.

"That was one of the hardest times. I was speechless," he said. "I have to be home for the holidays. I am a family person. I like to be around my family."

Lance Corporal Simental, who is home from his job as an infantry mortarman, has been one of the grunts on the front lines since the Iraq War started. While he is home he is putting in some extra time at the Marine recruiting station in Twin Falls to earn some leave for Christmas.

Simentalís company was among the first ground troops to march into Baghdad behind Army tanks, following the "Shock and Awe" bombing campaign that started the war in March. He said he has been fired at more times than he can remember. He is part of India Company, which has survived six months of frequent combat without a single casualty.

"One of our generals said, ĎYou guys must have a shield around you. You guys are truly blessed. I would have expected some of you to be killed.í" Simental said he agrees. "Mortars landed so close somebody had to die. I would take account of my men. Wow. Everybody is good."

India Company helped rout Saddam Husseinís elite Fedayeen forces in the last days of the battle around Baghdad. The company was also one of two Marine companies asked to return to the front as the best trained companies in the Marine Corps during the Desert Scorpion mop up operation last summer. At the time the Army was struggling to secure the northern part of the country.

Meanwhile, when not fighting, the company has been busy working on stabilization and helping with reconstruction in Karbala.

"We paint schools and give food away. People would tell us how horrible Saddam was and that they were happy we liberated them. We try to support the people as best we can," Simental said. "When we were chosen to go back to Baghdad for Desert Scorpion it was dangerous, we had to change to war rules again and use deadly force at all times. All those guys didnít like us in that region. We were getting shot at again."

"I didnít think weíd be in Baghdad so fast," said Broadie "It was a big reality check. I was anxious to get it over with."

Broadie, who will be home until Oct. 22 when he returns to his transportation support unit at Camp Pendleton, said he doesnít yet know where he will go next. Many of the Marines sent to Iraq were scheduled for deployment to Okinawa, Japan, as part of their regular service, but soldiers could soon be sent to Korea, Afghanistan, Liberia, or back to Iraq.

One thing for sure. As training continues, the possibility reveille will come with more than a drill is a distinct likelihood.

Boys return home as men

The Wood River Marines noted that they have grown up, and they share with remorse the loss of life that has come at their hands, but they are proud of how the Marines have fought for their country. They are also thankful for the support they have received in the Wood River Valley.

Broadie said he is aware that public sentiment can go the other way.

"There was a protest in L.A. There were hundreds of signs. People called us baby killers," he said. "It was in the back of my mind that there was a chance that people against the war would not be supportive."

"I am still glad we went over there for the people ... to stop the mass murders," he said. But he is critical of the Bush administrationís foreign policy and how the president focused on weapons of mass destruction as a motive. "It pisses me off because he made it a bigger deal than it really was."

Despite the horrors of war, the Marines share some of their positive experiences as well. They said they have found some companions among the Iraqis, some of whom have joined the Marines to work as translators as the military works to secure the country and push reconstruction forward.

"I think it is pretty cool seeing how other people live and how they act," Willingham said, reflecting on the positive reason for his decision to enlist. But, as much as he has enjoyed learning about Iraqi customs and eating their food, he is remorseful about the realities of war.

"It is my job. Iíll do it for the next two years. When thatís up Iím done, " he said.

Broadie added that foreign experiences in peacetime like going to Okinawa are part of the reason he joined. He is prepared if he has to go back into battle, but he hopes it will not be for as long.

"I donít want to do what we did," said Willingham. "The combat--it is chaos. They are shooting at you, you are shooting at them. You are just thinking--stay alive, stay alive. You are thinking about the guy next to you getting killed. The whole thought of it is just horrible."

"They say the Marines are like a band of brothers," said Broadie. "No worst enemy and no better friend than a Marine."

Simental said the tightness and the discipline are why his company has survived intact.

"You know the guy next to you will give up his life for you, and you will do the same for him," he said, admitting that he loves the adrenaline of being on the front lines. "You see things before anyone else."

Simental said he has thought about becoming a Special Forces soldier, but he said going to war has put his parents through enough.

"On behalf of all of us, I want to thank the Wood River Valley for their support and prayers," he added. "They have supported us through this whole thing. God bless them."

 

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