Goes to War with the
1st Battalion/23rd Marine Regiment
Note: Politics1 "adopted" the 1st Battalion/23rd Marines
-- an infantry regiment of reservists from Texas (and neighboring
states) deployed to Iraq in August 2004. Lt James Crabtree,
a regular Politics1 reader, belongs to the battalion and he
submits regular dispatches to us. Anything you can do to show
support for these brave yound men and women is greatly appreciated
(regardless of whether or not you support the war).
ENTRIES ON THE 1/23 MARINES:
JULY - AUGUST 2004
17, 2005 - A FINAL WRAP-UP. Now that our correspondent
-- Lt. James Crabtree -- is back in the states from Iraq, he's
had some time to write us a final report to bring closure to
this series on the 1/23 Marines.
sorry it has taken me so long to get this last update to you.
I’m currently in Florida with my girlfriend Meredith. We are
getting engaged and I’m in the process of helping her move
to Austin. We’ve been busy, but life is good. It’s taken me
some time to be able to adjust to being home -- little things
like driving a car or using a toilet that flushes seem strange,
but wonderful after seven months in Iraq.
had a fantastic welcome home reception in Austin, Texas. I
assume the other companies had good homecomings as well. For
those of us from Austin, we were met by an Austin Police Department
escort when we landed at Bergstrom Airport.
first chartered flight from the old George AFB in California
arrived in Austin around 6:30 in the morning on March 31.
Around 50 motorcycle officers shut down rush hour traffic
along some of the major roads so that our buses could get
us to our awaiting families at Camp Mabry. It was a great
surprise to us and we were very honored by it.
Austin motorcycle police officers also lined up (above) and
saluted as everyone got off the buses. They told us they had
volunteered their time to do the escort. The Austin police
also had a great bagpipe unit present and, of course, the
media was there along with all of the ebullient and screaming
families. Many of the family members were so happy that they
were moved to tears. It was perfect. I believe most people
present had chills seeing the Marines be marched out one last
time by GySgt Varos while the Marine Hymn was played on the
bagpipes. Major Russell gave a quick speech of thanks to the
Marines and Sailors and then dismissed them. Pure euphoria.
next couple of days the members of the unit had to do some
more medical and administrative work (it never seems to end
-- I truly think the Marine Corps has a Department of Redundant
Departments) until finally on Sunday, April 3, we held the
"Family Day" celebration. 1stSgt Clark and Capt
Schumacher in Austin, along with all of their Marines, did
a spectacular job of setting up the events. We first presented
the last of our Purple Hearts and Navy Achievement Medals
to the company in front of all of the packed bleachers. The
standing ovation the crowd gave our men afterwards was awesome.
We then had comments from State Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson
(himself a former Marine) and Governor Rick Perry. UT Football
Coach Mack Brown was on hand with his wife, and everyone was
glad to see them. KVET radio set up a great stage and live
music, and Carraba’s Italian Grill donated and prepared a
feast for everyone. There was a petting zoo and huge inflatable
Incredible Hunk obstacle course for the kids, too. I wish
everyone could have been there, and perhaps most were since
the place was packed.
think the most rewarding part of the day was finally being
able to meet all of the great families and friends that sent
us letters and care packages. I was humbled, too, by the number
of people that said they loved these updates and served like
a lifeline to their loved ones in Iraq. I never fully knew
how much it meant to them and they were also effusive in praising
Ron for giving us this opportunity. Many of the families that
lost Marines in Iraq also came to the Family Day event. I
know it took a great deal of courage on their part to attend
and I think it provided comfort to them -- and to our Marines
-- to be able to hug one another and talk. There were several
times that afternoon I felt like crying.
I guess this is my final update and I feel like I should write
something profound to wrap it all up -- but I’m not really
sure how to do that. I think back a lot about everything we
went through and sometimes it doesn’t seem real. I hadn't
been home to Austin since June 3, 2004, and in some ways it
was like I’d just done a Rip Van Winkle and slept through
a year of my life. New roads and buildings were built in Austin
and yet, in my apartment (which my brother looked after for
me), the calendars were still set to June of 2004. Even a
newspaper from June 3 was still left in my room. I even had
some dirty clothes in the hamper that I had last worn while
in Texas. I will say this: I’m grateful for the experience
I had in Iraq. There were some amazing Marines that I was
able to serve with. Like any organization of our size, there
are always a few folks that you might not like on a personal
level, but virtually all of them were ones I'm honored to
have served with (and that’s saying a lot after spending seven
months in constant and close contact with hundreds of other
people). I still keep in good contact with the Azerbaijanis
who served alongside of us and I try to follow the Iraqi news
(and 3/25 news) as best I can.
I’m ready to finally spend some time with my family and return
to "my regular life" that I never really got to
start in Austin after being activated just shortly after leaving
active duty in March 2004. It was a good experience and I'm
proud of the job we did. I
want to thank everyone from the bottom of my heart for all
of your support. I’ll probably never be able to thank each
of you in person and that was one of the things that was so
amazing about this whole experience. Thank you -- and farewell.
Fi and Sine Die,
- I was promoted to Captain on April 1. The timing was great,
as all of my family was present for the homecoming. I had
my Mom and Meredith pin on my new bars.
behalf of Politics1, I'd like to thank James for these great
reports over the past nine months ... and thank each of you
for your great support for the 1/23 Marines. We all stepped
up to show support for these brave young men and women -- regardless
of whether or not we supported or opposed the Iraq War -- to
show we appreciated their service and sacrifice. The care packages
and letters you generously sent them were well appreciated.
I join James in extending our best wishes to the 3/25 Marines
that replaced 1/23 at the Haditha Dam (and, hint, hint,
hope another website will adopt them as we adopted the 1/23).
by Ron Gunzburger - 4.18.05 |
22, 2005 - STATESIDE ... BACK WHERE IT ALL BEGAN.
Fresh off the flight back to California, our special correspondent
Lt. James Crabtree of the 1/23 Marines gives us a brief report
on their return to the US.
I write this, I'm sitting in the library at the Marine Corps
base in 29 Palms, California, and just wanted to send you
in a quick update. We are in the middle of our "demobilization"
phase now. Lots of admin, supply, and medical issues to finish
up so we can head back home. It feels surreal to be back in
the States and the jet lag and various convoys and flights
have served to wear me down physically and emotionally. I
got to the base last night with about 150 or so of our guys
after midnight. We still have folks from 1/23 that are making
their way here over the next couple of days.
I can get to one of our own computers again, I'll type up
more details about our trip home. The transfer of authority
ceremony took place on the 15th and after that it was a two
hour trip to Al-Asad, several days of classes and briefs,
a packed C-130 flight to Kuwait, a 24-hour stay on a cot in
a tent in Camp Victory, Kuwait
(where we were able to eat fast food for the first time by
walking a half mile from our tent to a group of trailers the
Army set up with Hardee's and Subway). We then went through
more briefs, thorough customs inspections, another bus ride,
and finally a flight that left Kuwait City International Airport
at 0550 local time. We spent an hour in Hahn, Germany, where
-- for the first time in seven months -- we could drink alcohol.
We also connected through Bangor, Maine, where a great group
of veterans met our flight. There were over 50 of them and
they call themselves "The Maine Greeters." Many
US military flights go through Bangor because of it's location
and the vets told me that, since May 2003, they have greeted
963 flights (we were #963) and each flight conservatively
estimated had 200-300 service members on board. This welcome
was unexpected and very moving. The Bangor Airport donates
a free shop space for them, they get free cell phones from
a local phone company, and free food from a nearby Sam's Club.
It was a great moment. I even was able to spend some of my
layover in the airport talking to some Maine vets about one
of my heroes, Colonel Joshua
Chamberlain (right), who led the 20th Maine in the Civil
War, was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, and later
served as Republican Governor of Maine. I showed them a photo
of his that I had cut out of a magazine and taped into my
have a bunch of pictures of our trip home and will send them
in when I can. I've also got some great stories to tell of
having a final toast with the AZs on our last night at the
dam, and also how five Marines (including myself) were baptized
or re-baptized in the Euphrates River by our Chaplain (Navy
Lt David Dinkins) on our last Sunday at the dam. It was unforgettable.
again for reading these updates and for all of your support.
- There was snow on the ground in Bangor -- quite a contrast
to the sandy desserts of Iraq!
by Ron Gunzburger - 3.22.05 |
14, 2005 - MAYBE THE REPORT FROM IRAQ: HOMEWARD BOUND.
Our special correspondent Lt. James Crabtree of the 1/23
Marines shares some of his favorite photos and writes of the
latest VIP visitors.
the Civil War began in 1861, photography in the United States
was only 21 years old. Pioneering photographers like Matthew
Brady and Alexander Gardner were able to take pictures with
cumbersome cameras that used glass-plate negatives and printed
them on albumen photographic paper. Today a Marine can purchase
a nice camera for a relatively small amount of money and take
photos and email them home in a fraction of the time that
folks like Brady and Gardner would have needed to simply unpack
their camera equipment. It continues to amaze me how, when
used the right way, technology can bring people closer together.
When Mr. Jaime Razuri of the Agence France Presse left last
week, he gave us two disks full of hundreds of pictures that
he took during his time here. While he may never become as
famous as Matthew Brady, his pictures are in keeping with
that great tradition of battlefield photography. I’ve decided
to share some of my favorites with you.
first photo is of one of my Marines, Sgt. Reginald Pinkney,
preparing his gear prior to heading out for Operation River
Blitz. The picture is an example of how Mr. Razuri uses his
20 years of experience and fine equipment to really make you
feel like you are part of the moment.
next photo is of some of our Marines from H&S Company riding
in an Amphibious Assault Vehicle (AAV) as they made their
way into Haditha to conduct a raid. The tactics, techniques,
and procedures, as well as the gear and equipment, may be
far different from those of the 1860s, but I think the thoughts
and emotions of those riding in the AAV are probably as timeless
and consistent as anything Matthew Brady would have photographed.
third photo is one I’ve included because I like the way it
looks. It is of a Marine walking on the ground deck of the
dam as the water from the dam spillway cascades overhead.
end of our time in Iraq is growing ever closer. Yesterday
Dennis McCarthy, the head of the Marine Corps Reserves,
stopped by to meet with our battalion and applaud the job
that we have done here. The VIP tour continued again today
John Sattler stopped in for a "thank you" visit
as well. Gen Sattler, like Gen McCarthy, is a three-star general
and is in charge of the First Marine Expeditionary Force.
In laymen’s terms, he is the highest ranking Marine in Iraq.
Gen Sattler is a very charismatic and personable leader and
he revels in telling jokes and firing up the Marines with
motivational speeches. He was in charge of the 2nd Marine
Division when I was on active duty in Camp Lejeune and some
of his best lines were that, “General Motors doesn’t have
a fight song, General Electric doesn’t run with his men in
the morning, General Mills doesn’t have a cool uniform, and
General Dynamics wasn’t formed in 1775.” Lines like these
always made the Marines laugh and many of them thought of
Gen. Sattler as like a good old fashioned football coach.
Some think he may be in line to become the Commandant of the
Marine Corps one day and few that have met him would be surprised
if that happens. On his visit here today he went out of his
way to commend our troops on the job they have done and he
took time to pose for photos with any Marine that wanted one
with him. While addressing a battalion formation he said,
“You have maintained your honor, courage, and commitment and
displayed a strong warrior spirit. When you go home, hold
your sword and shield high and be proud of what you have done.
Some people back home are on the sofa and have the clicker
in their hand trying to find CNN. You have been on CNN. Some
folks read books about history. You and your actions here
will be part of history.” It was a great moment for 1/23.
I was asked to speak with the Azerbaijani’s senior liaison
officer with Central Command at MacDill Air Force Base in
Tampa, FL, as well as a public affairs rep with the US Navy.
They had seen Mr. Perry’s L.A. Times story on the AZs and
said they are interested in setting up some interviews with
US media to have me tell them more about our service with
the Azerbaijanis. I think this is a great idea and I’d love
to tell anyone that will listen about the strong relationship
we have here with the AZs. After the phone call from Cent
Comm was over I was able to sit and speak with our AZ officers
for about an hour. We had a great time talking about US politics,
Azerbaijani history, and the events in Iraq. I learned that
their capitol city of Baku is over 1,500 years old, and the
photos they showed me of their buildings right along the Caspian
Sea look beautiful. I know we’ll stay in contact and I told
them one day when I can save up enough money that I’d love
to come visit them. The AZs also have a good sense of humor
and Maj Salbuzov told me how many of the drawls and accents
of the Texans in the battalion are hard for him to understand
because the words are either spoken too quickly or are mumbled
together. This cracked me up. He said the AZ language is similar
to Turkish and that all the “stan” countries like Turkmenistan,
Kazakhstan, etc. can all understand one another. I guess it’d
be like someone saying they speak Texanese or New Englander.
I know my successor, Capt Kasparian, has an accent from Massachusetts
that confuses me sometimes. The other day he was talking about
a political poll called “The Rasmussen poll” and he said it
like it was the “Rasputin” poll. It took me a while to figure
out what he was saying and perhaps that’s how the Major feels
when sitting in our staff meetings.
night I went over again to the AZ side of the dam and spoke
with Michael Hedges of the Houston Chronicle via a satellite
phone about the great job the AZs have done here. The interview
went for about 20 minutes and he asked a lot of good questions
and thinks it’ll be a good piece. CentComm set up the interview.
Not sure what day it’ll run, but I’ll let you know when it
does. The Chronicle website is www.chron.com,
so look for the story there. I had a good time hanging out
with the AZs, too. We watched some Turkish basketball on their
satellite TV and we talked a lot about sports. It was great.
all the time and space I have for this update. Thanks for
reading and for all of your continued support.
- We are heading to Al-Asad in a few days and I’m not
sure if I’ll have internet access down there or in Kuwait
before we fly back -- so this may be my last report sent from
Iraq!! Spirits are high!!
The 1/23 Marines are scheduled to remain in Iraq until mid-March
by Ron Gunzburger - 3.14.05 |
7, 2005 - REPORT FROM IRAQ: THE REPLACEMENTS START ARRIVING.
As their time in Iraq is rapidly winding down, our special
correspondent Lt. James Crabtree of the 1/23 Marines writes
of the latest events.
is a brilliant and pristine day here at the dam. We have sunny
skies and the temperature is about 70. If it weren't for the
insurgents this would be a nice spot for some spring training
baseball or a day of water skiing on the lake. As I sit and
type this update, I can hear helicopters coming and going
as they bring in wave after wave of our replacements from
the 3/25 Marines. The dam is so crowded with people that it’s
like our own version of "March Madness." My successor,
Captain Kasparian, has now arrived -- and I can’t recall the
last time I was so glad to meet a total stranger.
is a photo of one of the helicopters landing on top of the
dam with a group of the new Marines, and below is ...
shot of some of the new 3/25 guys getting a "welcome
aboard" brief. The second photo was taken from our office
(one deck above their formation -- and the slats can not be
removed from the window, which explains the obstruction).
Part of their briefing amusingly consisted of being told not
to mess with the Iraqi wiring in the dam or to go swimming
in the lake or river.
3/25 Marines come primarily from Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania,
and upstate New York. They are fortunate in that they should
be home next fall and won’t miss the holidays as we did --
but they will be here through the long hot summer. I think
Texans are somewhat used to the heat, so for guys from Buffalo,
NY, that are used to frigid winters and cool summers, this
might cause them some shock. 3/25 is a reserve infantry battalion
like us, though, so I expect them to understand how we have
run things here and they should do fine.
Kasparian told his battalion about these updates and it appears
that many of them have looked at this site to get a better
feel for what they were getting into. I’ve already had about
a dozen folks tell me they knew who I was from these reports.
3/25 is also eager to start a pen-pal program as we did and
to also try to gin up as many care packages as possible. [Editor's
Note: I'd urge all of you to contact other webmaster you know
-- perhaps one of the NY or PA political sites -- and suggest
they adopt the 3/25, just as Politics1 adopted the 1/23.]
In order to help them get started with that, here is their
mailing address, so that you can get started writing and sending
packages to them. Send it to:
c/o Capt Kasparian
3/25 H&S Co
FPO, AE 09509-2110
other day Ron and my Mom were both able to send me Joe Sacco’s
illustrated story on us from the London Guardian (via a PDF
file), since we oddly couldn’t get their website to open on
our computers here. I printed and distributed a bunch of copies
and the Marines loved it. I think it created more excitement
and buzz to see our fellow Marines and sailors in a comic
book-style story than all of the other combined media stories
we've generated from here. Mr. Sacco did a great job telling
the story of our unit and the details in his drawings were
amazing. Many of the Marines from Weapons Company told me
they could identify the checkpoint in the story or where they
are on the road due to the detail. They can also point out
Marines in the story even when their names aren’t mentioned.
I personally liked how Mr. Sacco focused on our Marines that
patrol the roads -- and also how he told about my friend Capt
Kuniholm. It was a truly well told and expertly drawn story
and we’re very lucky to have had him with us. He is sending
us copies of the actual magazine to 29 Palms, so I'll be sure
to get copies to everyone who was in the piece -- and spread
the extras around to all of our companies and sections.
once in a while I try to add some humor into these updates,
as there are certainly plenty of funny and goofy things that
happen here. One example of some rather weird behavior occurred
the other night when I saw a Marine walk into our head [bathroom]
barefooted. Keep in mind that our sinks and floors in there
leak, that dirt from the boots turns into mud on the tile,
and even after repeated mopping there remains a strange rust
colored series of stains underneath the urinals. Well, to
witness this particular Marine disregard the use of flip-flops
and walk nonplussed across the floor was pretty funny. I wouldn’t
be surprised if his feet soon become a "fungus among us."
way many folks have passed their spare time here is listening
to music. Two of the more popular songs that have gradually
turned into theme songs (along with Sonny and Cher’s "I’ve
Got You Babe" because of the Groundhog Day movie-like
repetitiveness we experience each day) are Loverboy’s 80’s
classic "Working for the Weekend" and the Talking
Heads' "Once in a Lifetime." The first one is great
since we play it here during the weekends and simply change
the lyrics from "Everybody’s working for the weekend"
to "Everybody’s working on the weekend." The reason
the Talking Heads tune is so perfect is because its lines
like “Watching the days go by ..." and "You may
find yourself living in a shotgun shack" and the many
references to water. Well, we've changed them to "...
living in a dam in Iraq.” They also sing that "you may
ask yourself 'Is this my beautiful wife?' and you may ask
yourself 'How did I get here?'" and so forth., Once again,
these lyrics are easily adapted to make fun of various items
or incidents here at the dam. They help us to pass the time
here and get a humorous handle on some of our experiences.
next time, thank you as always for reading this update and
for all of the support you have showered upon us. It has truly
made our deployment much better than it otherwise might have
The 1/23 Marines are scheduled to remain in Iraq until mid-March
by Ron Gunzburger - 3.7.05 |
2, 2005 - REPORT FROM IRAQ: TEXAS INDEPENDENCE DAY, MEDIA
COVERAGE OF 1/23 ... AND ALMOST HOME. Our special correspondent
Lt. James Crabtree of the 1/23 Marines writes of events as some
of the Texas begin returning to the US.
Texas Independence Day! On this date in 1836 in a small little
town called Washington-on-the-Brazos a group of Texicans (what
they called themselves at the time) declared their independence
from Mexico and the tyrannical Gen. Santa Anna. Today, 169
years later, a group of our Marines and sailors declared their
independence from Iraq by boarding flights home to America.
Needless to say, it’s still a very exciting time here
for the battalion and the friends and families back home are
growing increasingly eager for our return. For those of us
that came to Iraq back in mid-August with 1/23’s advance
party, tomorrow will be our 200th day here. 200 straight days
of meetings, patrols, convoys, operations, and every other
thing you could image to keep this large of a unit running
in the middle of a harsh and remote region.
A shot I took yesterday of some of the Marines from 2nd Tank
from Camp Lejeune who live and work with us. These Marines
are repairing a
tread (in the foreground) on one of their tanks.
battalion continues to receive a good deal of attention in
the media. In Wedneday’s Austin American-Statesman, there
was a nice story about Lance Corporal Justin Gower of Weapons
Company and how he is dealing with injuries from a mine strike
here last November. He seems to be getting along pretty well.
You can read the story by going to this
link. LCpl Gower is a first class swimmer and the story
comments on the time he was stationed here at the dam by the
water and yet he wasn’t able to indulge in his swimming passion.
There is also a nice photo of him with his wife in front of
their home after he got back to the states. Hopefully all
members of this battalion will have similar photos with their
friends and family soon.
A helicopter at sunset, here at the dam.
our Engineer platoon was the subject of a story on the front
page of the Marine Corps’ official website at www.usmc.mil.
It gives the reader a good understanding of the tasks these
Marines have had to deal with and it contains some illuminating
quotes from those that have worked closely with them. You
can read the story here.
also briefly had a three person camera crew from CNN with
our battalion out in the field as our troops take part in
Operation River Blitz. Mr. Razuri of the Agence France Presse
continues to live out in the field with our Marines as well
and he submits his photos regularly to the newswire. He must
be getting a lot of photos that he is pleased with because
he has yet to ask to come back in from the field and has now
been out there for over a week. Journalist and comic book
author Joe Sacco’s story on our battalion ran in the
Sunday magazine of The (London) Guardian on Sunday, February
27th. You can view his story online here
(PDF format) -- and it's pretty cool. You'll recognize many
of the name of Marines that appear in his article.
other day I received a nice large envelope packed full of
letters from the students of Ms. Starling’s 4th grade
class at Double File Trail Elementary school in Round Rock,
Texas. Her students had written to me before and they all
seemed to really like the cardboard postcards that I sent
back to them. They want me to visit them when I get home --
and I plan to do so. I remember as a young kid how much I
looked up to the military and it would be a thrill for me
to see these students in person and thank them for all of
their letters. I was in the 4th grade in 1986 and I remember
going to see the Blue Angels at Miramar Naval Air Station
and also visiting Navy ships as they would give tours on weekends
at one of the piers in the San Diego harbor. When I was about
4 or 5, my mom’s cousin -- who was a sailor in the Navy
-- came to visit us. I remember how excited I was by that
visit and I insisted that he wear his uniform and I held his
hand and walked him up and down our street while wearing a
plastic Army helmet. I guess its no surprise that I ended
up in the military. One of the kids that sent a letter to
me really cracked me up when he suggested that we “train
parrots to fly around and bite off the fingers of the bad
guys.” For all we know, with the way Washington spends
money on programs, there might already be something like that
always we continue to receive all sorts of generous and from-the-heart
letters and packages. Just recently we received a bunch of
great magazines from North & South, which is one of the
premier Civil War magazines. We also had a nice letter from
a gentleman who was a Navy veteran of many of the major battles
in the Pacific. He enclosed a twenty dollar bill and told
me to buy my Marines some drinks. We’ve not been allowed
to have any alcohol here for seven months (with the short
exception of two bottles of beer per man during New Year’s
Eve), so I’m sure my Marines will welcome his generosity.
After seven months, they’ll probably get a pretty good
buzz off of $20 worth of booze.
way of gauging the amount of tremendous support we have received
comes in the number of cardboard thank you notes I’ve
mailed out. To anyone that sends us a letter or package I
try to send them a note of thanks written on some cardboard
cut out of the boxes that our bottled water comes in. To date
I’ve sent out over 400 of them.
that’s all the time and space I have for the update.
Thanks as always for reading this and for your prayers and
- It's looking like our replacements will fully take over
on the 15th and we'll start our series of flights home after
that. I'll be with the last wave out and I'm hoping to be
back to 29 Palms (where we have to demobilize) around March
23-24 time frame. I can't wait!
- The friends of LCpl Trevor Aston have set up a memorial
website for him at www.trevorastonusmc.com.
The 1/23 Marines are scheduled to remain in Iraq until mid-March
by Ron Gunzburger - 3.2.05 |
OLDER ARTICLES ON THE 1/23 MARINES IN OUR ARCHIVES:
JULY - AUGUST 2004 ARTICLES
SEPTEMBER 2004 ARTICLES
OCTOBER 2004 ARTICLES
NOVEMBER 2004 ARTICLES
DECEMBER 2004 ARTICLES
JANUARY 2005 ARTICLES
FEBRUARY 2005 ARTICLES