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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). If you'd like to send them any care packages -- and they'd certainly be appreciated -- please send them to: Lt Crabtree, 1/23 H&S Co, Unit 41900, FPO, AP 96426-1900 -- and James will distribute whatever you send to many of the Marines in the 1/23d.

Editor's Second Note to the USMC Families: I've received notes from several of you unhappy with the heavy Democratic slant of the banner ads that run in the left-side column. It takes money to run Politics1, and those are PAID ads. If a campaign -- or a political group -- wants to buy an ad here, I'll only reject it in the rarest of circumstances. We've run ads in the past from candidates associated with the Democratic, Republican, Green, Libertarian and Constitution parties (plus MSNBC, the Wall Street Journal, New Yorker magazine, Fox, and others). If your favorite candidate buys an ad: I'll likely run it.


NOVEMBER 18, 2004 - REPORT FROM IRAQ: FIGHTING (INSIDE THE RING) AND THREE TRUCKS WORTH OF MAIL. Our special correspondent Lt. James Crabtree of the 1/23 Marines found time amid the fierce fighting in the Annar province to send us another report.

Dear Politics1.com Friends,

Howdy once more from the Lonestar battalion in sunny Al-Asad, Iraq. We had an outstanding day today because of the sheer volume of mail we received in the way of letters and care packages. It was unreal. It took three 7-ton trucks to move all the mail into our camp and a working party of Marines spending several hours just to get everything sorted. We really appreciate all the support from home. Some of the more notable items include a box of signed CDs from a young country singer out of Texas named Allie Danielle, a box full of sports yearbooks from Street and Smith's, and a very patriotic letter from Congressman Pete Sessions (R-TX). The young ladies from his office made a sign saying they love the Marines and posed with it in pictures while blowing kisses and so forth. Needless to say, our guys really loved that and now they want to know if any of these ladies are single. It was a nice diversion from their everyday routine.

This week we turn our attention back to the "Marine of the Week" feature. Our very deserving subject this week is 20-year-old Lance Corporal Edward Toppen from Houston, Texas.

LCpl Toppen on the radio.

LCpl Toppen has the highly trusted and valuable task of being the operations chief of the battalion's Command Operations Center (COC.) The COC is the nerve center that tracks and controls all operations for our battalion with an area of operations (AO) that is roughly the size of all of Connecticut, Rhode Island, and the Cape Cod area of Massachusetts combined! It is a task that requires constant attention to detail, the ability to quickly discern actions amid chaos, and be able to effectively convey information. LCpl Toppen relishes the responsibility and enjoys his service in the Marines to such an extent that he plans to transfer onto active duty upon 1/23's return to Texas.

LCpl Toppen has been in the Marines for less than 2 years. His being in such a position at such a young age and with so little time in service is highly unusual and testifies to the faith his superiors have in him. "LCpl Toppen, despite his youth and short time in the Marines, is filling a billet of responsibility that would normally go to a much more senior Marine. He does an outstanding job," said Major David High, his watch officer. Every day for at least eight hours per day LCpl Toppen has served with Major High and his fellow Marines on their shift. "It's been everyday since August 27th and we really get to know one another," adds Major High. "LCpl Toppen's skills are greatly appreciated in the COC," echoes Cpl Tony Ruiz, a fellow COC member on the shift. For him though, LCpl Toppen smiles and laughs about all the attention and says simply, "I just try to keep everything up to date in here and ensure that everything is running smoothly."

LCpl Toppen conducts a update for the members in the COC. From left to right: LCpl Toppen,
Major David High, Sgt Julio Grimaldo, Cpl Wes Lord, Cpl Tony Ruiz, and Sgt John Toel

The COC is a room in the main headquarters with no windows, a plethora of radios, maps, charts, pins denoting troop movements, computers, and everything else one would imagine when it comes to the control of a battalion. LCpl Toppen might have honed some of his COC-like skills while working as a banker for Wood Forrest National Bank in Houston before his activation. Or perhaps he draws on the inner discipline that he uses while boxing, or in his quest to become a Marine Corps Drill Instructor. In fact, this coming Friday LCpl Toppen will be stepping into the ring for his first bout in part of the Al-Asad's "Friday Night Fights." These matches take place on the main side of the base and were made famous when Geraldo Rivera did a segment on them for Fox News. I'll be sure to let you know how he does.

Another interesting fact about LCpl Toppen is that his twin brother also serves in 1/23, which is ironic because one of LCpl Toppen's goals in the boxing match will be to knock his opponent so silly that they have double vision and see two of him. Let's hope it turns out that well. All of 1/23 will be rooting him on -- if not in person, then certainly in spirit.

Well, that's all the time and space I have for this update. As always, thanks for reading and for your support. I don't have the words to express how much it means to be able to share a small glimpse into our world this way.

Semper Fi,

P.S. - There is a chance that USA Today may send an embedded reporter to 1/23. I'm doing all I can to make that happen. I know our Marines would love to be able to tell their story to the world --.a story that everyday makes me proud to serve with them

P.P.S. - We just received a great letter from Congressman Solomon Ortiz (D-TX), who said he follows our exploits here on Politics1.

If you'd like to send the 1/23d any care packages, please address the packages to Lt Crabtree, 1/23 H&S Co, Unit 41900, FPO, AP 96426-1900 ... and James will ensure that whatever you ship gets distributed to the Marines in the 1/23.

NOVEMBER 11, 2004 - REPORT FROM IRAQ: VETERAN'S DAY UPDATE. The fighting continues in the Anbar province around Fallujah, but our special correspondent Lt. James Crabtree of the 1/23 Marines found time to send us another report.

Dear Politics1.com Friends,

Greetings once more from the cynosure (a fancy word for "center of attention") of all the world’s eyes. The actions in our province continue to be all over the news and in some respects you may know things more quickly than we do thanks to embedded reporters and the global communications networks. Our Marines and sailors are as busy as ever, but morale is high and our missions continue to be accomplished with a great deal of skill and daring. Yesterday I was able to take part in a mission in which we actually captured a couple of suspected anti-coalition members. I’ll now attempt to tell that story with all the details that I can (while not giving away any restricted information).

Whenever the Battalion Commander moves about the area he takes his own personnel security detachment (PSD) with him. These Marines are the best the battalion has to offer and together they form a “God Squad” that is more than capable of dealing with any issues that might arise. Yesterday this element was sent to visit some of our Marines at one of our outlying posts in the area.

Members of the lead vehicle team - Cpl Woodruff, HM2 Cox, me, LCpl Roberts, and LCpl Dill.

The lead vehicle of the patrol consisted of Lance Corporal Dill as the driver, Corporal Woodruff as the vehicle commander, HM2 Cox as the element’s corpsman, Lance Corporal Roberts as the gunner in the ring mount, and yours truly. Before our departure Cpl Woodruff made sure that everyone was aware that the road we would be traveling had been averaging two land mines and one IED (Improvised Explosive Device) per day. The entire patrol then gathered and were led in a prayer by LCpl Bills. With that completed the Marines mounted up and rolled out. Leaving the base is like rolling out into the unknown. Every passing vehicle is a potential threat and everyone must be constantly ready to react. Upon reaching the first bridge Cpl Woodruff, HM2 Cox, and myself got out of the HMMWV and walked underneath and across the bridge in order to make sure it was not rigged with explosives. Once it was secure the rest of the patrol rumbled across.

Here is where we first saw the two ski-masked suspects on a motorcycle.
We chased them across this area for seven miles.

It was not too much later that Cpl Woodruff and LCpl Roberts simultaneously spotted a couple of suspicious men on a motorcycle that had taken off at a high rate of speed when they saw us. The fact that these men were on a route that is restricted to only military vehicles drew our immediate interest. They were also in the middle of nowhere and one of them was dressed in black (including a black ski mask), and they ran like crazy. These facts led us to immediately decide to chase them down and capture them. The motorcyclist had a good jump on us and was easily 600 meters ahead when we saw them. The skillful and aggressive driving by our Marines allowed us to chase them at high speeds across some very unforgiving desert land, up a highway, and then through some rural roads before they were finally nabbed. In fact, it was the battalion commander and SgtMaj’s vehicle that actually was the first to catch them. The pursuit went for over seven miles and those sitting in the rear of the HMMWV had to be ready to pull the gunner down in the event that the vehicle began to roll over. Catching the suspects was a rewarding feeling. Our interpreter was able to speak with them and it was quickly decided that their stories did not seem to add up. The suspects were then detained and brought back to our base for further questioning. Hopefully they will provide information that will prove valuable to us.

With the new prisoners in our possession we now had to abandon our plan to visit the outlying area and began our return back to the base. Along the way we conducted several “snap vcps." A VCP is a vehicle checkpoint and basically if we saw a vehicle that looked suspicious the lead and rear vehicles would stop all on-coming traffic while the Marines closely and quickly inspected the suspects and their car. This is dangerous work, but never once did the Marines display anything but bravery and skill. It was most impressive.

Here we are halted in order to check out a section of road that appeared to be mined.

Once we had finally concluded the patrol I had a chance to speak with the Marines in more detail about their experiences with the PSD and what exactly is going through their minds during a mission like the one that had just been completed. For LCpl Eddy Roberts, a 20 year old native of Tulsa, Oklahoma, he couldn’t think of a more rewarding experience than to be the gunner on the lead vehicle for the PSD. "I like it a lot. I like knowing that I’m providing security for my Bbattalion Commander and fellow Marines. I wouldn’t trade my job with anyone," says Eddy. LCpl John Dill, 26, is originally from Harlingen, Texas. When it comes to his exemplary driving skills, John said: "You can never slack off for a minute, and its always pretty exciting." Cpl Kevin Woodruff, 22 and from Austin, Texas, explained that the PSD duty has some benefits: "We get to see more of the area than any other element in the battalion, and we have a very tight knit group. Every Marine here does his job well -- we keep each other alive and accomplish the mission." Perhaps the one member of the patrol that hopes he doesn’t have to perform his main task is the corpsman, HM2 Larry Cox, 36, from Houston, Texas. "If I don’t have to do anything medically, that means everything is going well. A slow day for the medical personnel is a good day for everyone," says Larry.

Well, that’s all the time I have for this edition. Thank you once more for all of the wonderful emails, letters, and packages that you continue to send us. They are truly appreciated. In fact, today we even received a big box of items for the Iraqi children. Our Marines will hand out those items during future patrols and I know they will be well received. Finally, yesterday was the 229th birthday of the United States Marine Corps. We were founded by an act of the Continental Congress and every year, even way out here in the desert, Marines make sure to stop and recognize the occasion, if only for a few moments. Next year’s birthday will be even better for us though since the Marines will be able to get all decked out in their dress blues and medals and bring their wives, girlfriends, or dates to a very enjoyable and festive party. I can’t wait! To all the Marines out there -- both past and present -- Happy Birthday Devil Dog!

Semper Fi,

If you'd like to send the 1/23d any care packages, please address the packages to Lt Crabtree, 1/23 H&S Co, Unit 41900, FPO, AP 96426-1900 ... and James will ensure that whatever you ship gets distributed to the Marines in the 1/23.

NOVEMBER 8, 2004 - REPORT FROM IRAQ: WHEN YOU CAN'T WRITE ABOUT THE COMBAT, WRITE ABOUT THE FOOD. With the fighting increasing in Al-Anbar province around Fallujah, our special correspondent Lt. James Crabtree of the 1/23 Marines has a lot he is not allowed to write about these days for security reasons. That doesn't mean, however, that James couldn't come up with something this week for the families and friends back home...

Dear Politics1.com Friends,

Hello once more from Al-Asad, Iraq. Like I mentioned last time, our AO (Area of Operations) is very active and is receiving a good deal of the world's media attention. I wish I could share the details with you, but I can't. We might even have an embedded reporter or two with us soon, which could be interesting. I'll let you know if that happens. Our Marines and sailors continue to excel in their tasks in every manner. It is truly inspiring to see the way they conduct themselves each and every day.

I haven't had a chance to really do a profile this week, but I figured now would be as good of a time as any to share with you some info about one of the most popular places in our camp: the 1/23 Chow Hall. Led by Gunnery Sergeant P.C. Smith, a jailer for the Harris County Jail in his civilian life, the Marines and foreign national contractors run a great operation. They serve thousands of meals three times daily in a timely and efficient manner -- and even managed to get a couple of big screen televisions hooked up to a satellite dish so that we can watch sports or the news while we eat. The most common item served is chicken and nothing is that fancy, but for a non-picky eater like me, the food is great. They also often have a good supply of ice cream from the Kuwaiti Danish Dairy Company. It is unknown how many Danes actually live in Kuwait, but their ice cream is fairly popular with our guys. Of course, you can't get Ben and Jerry's here -- so it may only be popular by default.

"The Corral" ... our chow hall here at Camp Lone Star.

I've included some photos from inside of the chow hall. As you can see, it is fairly large and Spartan. The chow hall is actually a series of portable structures linked together to form a building. There are two serving lines and a small section in the center that sometimes contains salad, fruit, and desserts.

There are also some convenience store-type coolers that contain bottled water and Middle Eastern versions of Coke that actually have the old removable pull tabs like those that used to exist in the US until the mid-1980s. I personally eat here twice a day (I'm not a breakfast person) and I'll move around where I sit from meal-to-meal simply to add some variety to my dining experience. Our neighbors from the Air Wing, as well as the occasional civilian contractor, also use the chow hall. It may never make it into the Zagat's Guide -- trust me, it doesn't deserve a place there -- but it is still a great place to get a quick meal and share some stories with fellow Marines. So, if you ever happen to just be driving through the desert of the Anbar Province and come past Al-Asad, stop into the 1/23 chow hall for some good Marine Corps home cooking and tell them Lt Crabtree sent 'ya. Oh, and the food is free ... so you can't complain.

Thanks as always for all of your support. The care packages are arriving more and more every day. It means the world to our guys!

Semper Fi,

If you'd like to send the 1/23d any care packages, please address the packages to Lt Crabtree, 1/23 H&S Co, Unit 41900, FPO, AP 96426-1900 ... and James will ensure that whatever you ship gets distributed to the Marines in the 1/23.

NOVEMBER 2, 2004 - REPORT FROM IRAQ: AN ELECTION DAY MESSAGE. With all the fighting going on in the Al-Anbar province around Fallujah, our "adopted" 1/23 Marines are rather busy these days. Fortunately, our friend and special correspondent Lt. James Crabtree of 1/23 took a few minutes to send a brief Election Day message to those of us back here in the United States.

Dear Readers of Politics1.com,

Greetings again from 1/23 in the Anbar Province of Iraq. Things are busy here, as I'm sure everyone is aware of from all the news reports. Our battalion is certainly doing it's share around here, like we have done since the day we got here. I'll be able to hopefully write a more detailed report for you in a few more days. For now, I simply wanted to share some pictures with you that I really like.

Sgt Gamez on the satellite phone with KISS-FM in San Antonio.

The first two are of Cpl Cruz and Sgt Gamez using one of our satellite phones to speak live with "Lisle and Hahn" on KISS 99.5 FM in San Antonio last Friday morning.

Corporal Cruz talking with the San Antonio radio station.

The call went well and I think these photos show you just how remote our area can be at times, as well as how amazing it is that we were able to call in live like we did. On Thursday we did another call in to the "Sammy and Bob Show" on KVET radio in Austin. It was wonderful to be able to talk with them again and we've really seen an increase in letters and care packages because of their efforts. You can go to www.kvet.com to hear some of the audio clips from the program.

I've also enclosed a photo that one of our Marines has out here that he wanted everyone to see:

This is a picture of (left to right) Lance Corporal Jimmy Bills, Sergeant Patrick Foreman, Future Baseball Hall of Famer Roger Clemens, Corporal Javier Quezadavazon, and Staff Sergeant Benjamin Clede at a Houston Texans football game last fall. These Marines were at the game to collect toys in the Marine Corps Reserve's Toys For Tots campaign and Clemens stopped by to say "thank you" for their service and have his photo taken with them.

Finally, I wanted to add a personal note since I know today is Election Day in America. Last night at our weekly chapel service we said a prayer to ask that our nation be brought together again after what has been a very acrimonious and divisive election. Whether our own candidate wins or loses, we are all still Americans -- and we asked that whoever is elected be given the strength and courage to lead our country during a very trying time in our history. I hope that people can realize that because someone disagrees with them politically, that it does not make them evil or stupid or so forth. Rather, they simply have a different view of life. Perhaps being able to disagree without being disagreeable is something more Americans can learn. I use as an example myself and our Chaplain. Navy LT David Dinkins is a great man and a good spiritual leader and while we don't agree necessarily on a lot of issues politically, we are united by things far greater than who wins or loses an election. Well, that's my two cents.

Thank you as always for your thoughts, well wishes, and prayers for our battalion and all of our men and women here in Iraq -- and for their families back home that worry each day about their loved ones.

Semper Fi,

If you'd like to send the 1/23d any care packages, please address the packages to Lt Crabtree, 1/23 H&S Co, Unit 41900, FPO, AP 96426-1900 ... and James will ensure that whatever you ship gets distributed to the Marines in the 1/23.



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