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POLITICS1 Goes to War with the
1st Battalion/23rd Marine Regiment

Editor's 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).


APRIL 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.

Dear Politics1.com Friends,

I'm 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.

We 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.

Our 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.

The 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.

The 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.

I 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.

Well, 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.

Now 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.

Semper Fi and Sine Die,

PS - 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.

On 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).
Posted by Ron Gunzburger - 4.18.05 |

MARCH 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.

Dear Politics1.com Friends,

As 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.

When 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 ever-present notebook.

I 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.

Thanks again for reading these updates and for all of your support.

Semper Fi,

PS - There was snow on the ground in Bangor -- quite a contrast to the sandy desserts of Iraq!

Posted by Ron Gunzburger - 3.22.05 |

MARCH 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.

Dear Politics1.com Friends,

When 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.

© Jaime Razuri/AFP

This 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.

© Jaime Razuri/AFP

The 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.

© Jaime Razuri/AFP

The 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.

The end of our time in Iraq is growing ever closer. Yesterday LtGen 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 as LtGen 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.

Yesterday 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.

Friday 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.

That’s all the time and space I have for this update. Thanks for reading and for all of your continued support.

Semper Fi,

PS - 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 2005.
Posted by Ron Gunzburger - 3.14.05 |

MARCH 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.

Dear Politics1.com Friends,

Today 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.

Above is a photo of one of the helicopters landing on top of the dam with a group of the new Marines, and below is ...

... a 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.

The 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.

Capt 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
Unit 72110
FPO, AE 09509-2110

The 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.

Every 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."

Another 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.

Until 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 been.

Semper Fi,

The 1/23 Marines are scheduled to remain in Iraq until mid-March 2005.
Posted by Ron Gunzburger - 3.7.05 |

MARCH 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.

Dear Politics1.com Friends,

Happy 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 Battalion
from Camp Lejeune who live and work with us. These Marines are repairing a
tread (in the foreground) on one of their tanks.

Our 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.

Yesterday 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.

We 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.

The 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 taking place..

As 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.

One 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.

Well, that’s all the time and space I have for the update. Thanks as always for reading this and for your prayers and support.

Semper Fi,

PS - 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!

PPS - 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 2005.
Posted by Ron Gunzburger - 3.2.05 |



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