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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.

ARCHIVED ENTRIES:
JULY - AUGUST 2004
SEPTEMBER 2004
OCTOBER 2004
NOVEMBER 2004
DECEMBER 2004


DECEMBER 31, 2004 - REPORT FROM IRAQ: A NEW YEAR'S MESSAGE FROM THE 1/23 MARINES. Our special correspondent Lt. James Crabtree of the 1/23 Marines gives us his final thoughts for 2004.

Dear Politics1.com Friends,

Hello for the last time this year from the Haditha Dam in Iraq. The New Year is almost here and weíve had a very busy week so Iíll do what I can to try to fit all the happenings into this update. To start with, I mentioned in my last report that I would be profiling the Motor-T Marines. I havenít been able to complete that yet, so Iíll have to push that to next time hopefully. Sorry about that. Well, while those of you in the continental US will be celebrating New Yearís Eve those of us here in Iraq will already be 8, 9, 10, or even 11 hours ahead of you. No champagne or parties for us, though. Weíll have a simple talent show on New Yearís Eve and perhaps sing Auld Lang Syne, but thatíll be about it. For those of us that are Longhorn fans, weíll certainly try to watch the Rose Bowl on New Yearís Day.

We had a nice candlelight Christmas Eve service with Sgt. Danceís Marines serving as the choir. Everyone enjoyed the Bible readings and the hymns. The feeling of Christmas was certainly present. The next day everyone was treated to some turkey and ham and the usual other Christmas Day foods. The officers served the enlisted Marines and everyone got one bottle of Budweiser and a small bottle of Bacardi Rum (like the ones you get on an airplane). For the Marines that drink this was the best gift anyone could have given them, though it was probably just enough to whet their appetite.

Our first embedded reporter, Mr. Joe Sacco, has now been with us for over a week and has been all over the area with our Marines. Heís a very professional and friendly journalist and we certainly enjoy having him here with us. Our Marines have taken him out with them on many of their missions and he lives with them in their quarters. He is a very accomplished artist as well and actually writes his stories in a comic book fashion. The story he is doing on 1/23 will be around eight pages in a Sunday magazine of The Guardian, a large London newspaper. The piece should come out sometime in February and the Marines are already looking forward to seeing it. Iíve had a chance to look through a book Mr. Sacco gave us that he wrote on Bosnia and itís very captivating. His style of illustration in his stories is unique and catches your attention. Itís a real thrill for us to have him here, especially in light of all the praise his past books have received from folks like Christopher Hitchens and The Economist magazine.

In other big news, the Marines of the Small Craft Company recently discovered a sizable weapons cache during one of their raids. They found many mortar rounds, ammo, machine guns, explosives, and other accoutrements of the insurgents. Their hard work has brought them a lot of well deserved praise. Finding a cache like they did is not easy and it further serves to weaken our enemy around here.

Weíve also had some individuals that deserve mention here, too. RP2 Rumsey was just named the "Religious Program Specialist of the Year" for all of the Naval Reserves. This is a high honor and everyone in the battalion is proud of his success. Iím also happy to announce that my right-hand man, GySgt Sepeda, just became a father again yesterday when his wife gave birth in Austin to their son Carlos Sepeda Jr. Congratulations!

The last bit of news to pass this week is the return home for many of our Azerbaijani soldiers that have guarded the dam. I was able to watch them leave yesterday as the Marine Corps CH-53 helicopters landed on top of the dam to take them on the first leg of their journey home.

Most of these soldiers had been on this dam for 18 months and they were thrilled to finally be heading home! There is a great deal of mutual admiration between the Marines and the Azerbaijanis. The "AZs" were constantly professional, friendly, and extremely hard working. I got to know Lt Javid Abasov (below) quite well and it was exciting to see how ebullient he was about his homecoming.

Javid (he had us call him David) is returning home to be married to his fiancťe. She is a doctor and he jokes that she is always telling him that she will take care of him when he gets home. They have been together for two years -- even though he has not left the dam for the last 18 months! Javid is very smart and extremely driven, and his goal is to one day be a general. I feel pretty certain he will succeed in that dream of his. He is a big fan of the United States and we enjoyed talking about American history and the US Constitution. In turn he would tell me about his home country and its history. Azerbaijan might not be a place that the media covers very much, but their soldiers have made some life long friends in the US Marine Corps. Our battalion commander presented Certificates of Commendation to the AZ company commander, and to their company as a whole, the morning that they left. Upon receiving the awards their commander spoke through Lt Abasov as the translator and said, ďIt has been an honor to serve with you. Years ago I saw the US Marines on television, but never thought I would serve with them. You have taught us much and we will take these lessons home to teach to our soldiers.Ē Our battalion commander was effusive in his praise for the AZs and made sure to tell them how grateful we are for their service. I truly feel that the Azerbaijanis are great allies and that they are the types of allies that many Americans probably donít even know that we have. I told Javid that when he gets promoted to general I want to be there for the ceremony. He smiled and said that would be great. Weíve exchanged email and postal addresses and he says he will send me some wedding photos when he gets them. Once I receive them Iíll be sure to put them in an update.


A group of AZ's eagerly watching their helicopter as it lands.
There was lots of waving and many smiling faces as the AZs finally boarded for the trip home.

Thank you, as always, for reading this update and for all of your support. 2004 has been a wild and adventurous year for us, and for most of us we will never have another one like it again. I hope and pray that the New Year finds you and your loved ones well. Until next year, take care.

Semper Fi,
James

P.S. Hookíem Horns! Beat Michigan!

P.P.S. Our own LCpl Hudgens is in the year-end issue of Time Magazine (the one with the President Bush-Man of the Year cover). There is an article on the President meeting with wounded servicemen and giving them their Purple Hearts. The half-page black/white pic is of President Bush hugging LCpl Hudgens' mom while he looks on. LCpl Hudgens came very close to being killed a while back when his vehicle struck by an IED. Heís getting better now, and seeing his photo in Time was surreal. My mom just recently mailed it to me and I was flipping through it this morning when I noticed the photo.

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. The 1/23 Marines are scheduled to remain in Iraq until March 2005.


DECEMBER 24, 2004 - SHOWERS, FIELD KITCHENS, THE DUNGEON, AND HOLIDAY GREETINGS FROM THE HADITHA DAM. Our special correspondent Lt. James Crabtree of the 1/23 Marines sends a few more pix and Christmas thoughts from our adopted Marines.

Dear Politics1.com Friends,

This is my last posting before Christmas and I felt compelled to give you one last look at our battalion before the big Christmas turkey is eaten. Weíve got a few exciting things happening here that are worth sharing. First off, the phone call to "The Sam Malone Morning Show" went very well Tuesday. We werenít able to round up as many Marines as before, but most of the ones who got on the air this time had never done so before. In the case of LCpl Westmoreland, heíd desperately wanted to be on the air the two previous times but was unable to make it. Every day that heíd see me for th past two weeks heíd mention that upcoming show -- so I made sure to have him at the front of the line this time. The folks at KRBE were great, as always.

Another thing we are looking forward to is finally getting our first embedded media reporter. Newspaper reporter Joe Sacco writes for The Guardian in London. He will be with us for a week or so. Hopefully heíll get a chance to ride along with the Marines on their patrols and get a great feel for what this area is like and how well the Marines handle themselves. As soon as I find a link to the stories he writes on the battalion .Iíll be sure to pass it along.

To give you a glimpse into our daily life here at Haditha Dam, here are a few more pictures. They're just of run-of-the-mill things -- nothing special -- but then you'll better understand what our home away from home looks like out here. Below is our field kitchen where are all meals are prepared -- including the “special” meal we’ll eat on Christmas day.

This next one is of the only shower we have on the 5th deck of the dam. It has no hot water and some pretty crazy looking plumbing. We need Bob Villa over here!

Finally, here is our battalion conference room in "The Dungeon” area of the dam (named for the feeling one gets in the darkened area). During General Natonski's recent visit, he joked with us that our table had clearly seen better days.

Now, on to other matters. My next update will center on the Marines of the Motor Transport section. Iíve not written about them yet and they deserve to be mentioned. They do a fine job keeping the battalionís vehicles on the road and have seen more than their share of road time driving in convoys. Look for those profiles in the next update on Monday.

One final note before I close this brief column Ė last spring before the Marines were activated there was a family orientation at the headquarters in Houston. One of the guest speakers joked that USMC stood for "U Suckers Miss Christmas." Those of us there laughed, but then realized that the joke perhaps hit a little too close to home. Well, we may not be home for Christmas this year, but I assure you that every member of this battalion longs to be there. When we are home next year, we will have a far greater appreciation of our time spent with family and loved ones than we have probably ever felt before. I know thatís the way I feel about it.

Until next time, thank you for reading and for all of your continued prayers and support. Have a great holiday season!

Semper Fi,
James

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. The 1/23 Marines are scheduled to remain in Iraq until March 2005.


DECEMBER 20, 2004 - REPORT FROM IRAQ: MORE HOLIDAY THOUGHTS (AND PIX) FROM THE HADITHA DAM. Our special correspondent Lt. James Crabtree of the 1/23 Marines sends a few pix and words from the Marines as the holiday season approaches.

Dear Politics1.com Friends,

Seasonís greetings from the 1st Battalion, 23d Marines in Iraq. We hope that you and your loved ones are well. Our Marines and Sailors are as fine as can be expected. The Battalionís chaplain (LT David Dinkins) and his aide (RP2 Rumsey) have gone out of their way to make everyone feel the Christmas spirit this holiday season. They have even scheduled a midnight mass for Christmas Eve. We're also continued to receive a heavy volume of care packages and the Christmas items are ubiquitous. It makes home feel a little bit closer. We are supposed to have some sort of special meal for Christmas and I know the Battalion Commander and Sergeant Major will be visiting all of our Marines in the outlying areas. When the Commanding General of the 1st Marine Division flew in to see our staff members last week, he said: "Obviously everyone would rather be home for the holidays with loved ones, but if you have to spend them in a faraway place you could do a lot worse then to spend them with your brother Marines." I believe everyone here would agree with that sentiment.

Many of the Marines here comment on how the days are starting to fly by. Each day blends with the next, and each has a "same-ness" to them, so I would guess that half of the Marines here are in the dark when it comes to what day of the week it is. For many this is probably a good thing. This being in the dark can be quite a literal thing at times, too. For some reason this dam -- a source of electrical power -- is plague by power outages. You can hear the turbines stop and the lights start to flicker as if they were in some cheesy WWII movie, and then they go out and everything becomes very dark and very quiet. Flashlights and chem lights are used to get around and eventually, somehow, the power gets restored. This dam provides power for about a third of Iraq, so when we lose power here we can look down the river and see that the city of Haditha has no lights as well. The irony of living in a hydro-electric dam and losing power is one that grows stronger and stronger every time an outage occurs. As I type this email right now there are huge turbines spinning and generating power that are about twelve stories beneath me and yet the walls and floors still vibrate and the sound of a low rumble is everywhere. You donít even notice it unless it stops.

Iím sorry I havenít been able write another profile on any of our Marines this week. I guess Iíve just been staying busy. Instead, I'll just share two pictures with you.

This first one is of Lt Kleinman (left) being recently promoted from 2nd Lieutenant to 1st Lieutenant. Lt Colonel Stevens, above, administered the oath of office. This was taken in the conference room area known as "the dungeon."

This second photo is my way of acknowledging the support I get from these two Marines. SSgt Tom Watson (left) of Warner Robbins, Georgia, and Sgt Reginald Pinkney, of Chicago, Illinois, both work for me and do a stellar job. They are both reservists from the 3d Force Recon Company based out of Mobile, Alabama. (Also: Note the UT Longhorns banner hanging -- along with Christmas lights -- in the hallway.)

I know many of you want to see updates on the Marines in some of the other areas, but thus far I havenít been able to get out there. We know they are doing well from everything they tell us -- and we make sure to push care packages out to them, too.

One thing to look forward to is another live phone call-in for the Houston area Marines to The Sam Malone Morning Show on KRBE 104 FM in Houston at around 6:10 am on Tuesday, December 21st. This show has also been very generous to us and we hope to get as many Houston area Marines and Sailors on the air as possible. It truly boosts everyone's morale to take part in something like that.

Well, that is all the time I have for this update. One final note: we received word that Cpl Jake Schick has actually taken his first steps on his new foot -- and also that several of our 1/23 Marines recovering at the Bethesda Naval Hospital were personally awarded their Purple Hearts there by the President. Our thoughts and prayers are with them.

Thank you as always for reading this update and for all of your continued prayers and support.

Semper Fi,
James

PS - Here is a photo of the dam with itís spillways open. The gate is only raised about 6 inches, but it produces a ton of water! This is the first time they opened it since the whole battalion moved up here.

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. The 1/23 Marines are scheduled to remain in Iraq until March 2005.


DECEMBER 16, 2004 - REPORT FROM IRAQ: HOLIDAY SEASON AT THE HADITHA DAM. Our special correspondent Lt. James Crabtree of the 1/23 Marines sends a few pix and words from the Marines as the holiday season approaches.

Dear Politics1.com Friends,

I didn't have the time to write up another full update, but I had some pictures I wanted to share with you about our life here in the Haditha Dam. This first shot is of our newly reorganized battalion library.

We have had many books sent to us by folks back in the states and the battalion that preceded us also left some books, so we have taken a small closet room area on our main deck and put in some shelves and made it into a min-library. One of my favorite films is The Shawshank Redemption and the main character -- named Andy Dufresne (played by Tim Robbins) -- starts a library in the prison out of donated books. Well, since our source of books is through donations as well -- and the Dam sometimes resembles a prison -- I have named our library the "1/23 Andy Dufresne Library." Hopefully, when we leave (and not via a tunnel), we will have added to the book collection.

The second photo today is of the battalionís improvised Christmas tree in our chow hall.

The tree is made of a camouflage net and a long pole. Weíve taken various ornaments and decorations that we have been sent and decked the tree out as best we could. In the photo you see some of the Azerbaijani soldiers eating dinner next to the tree. It always amazes me how the Marines here can continuously make improvements to our surroundings.

One final note: we have still not received any embedded reporters out here. Our higher headquarters keep telling me that some may come out here. Iíve seen everything from the NY Times and USA Today to the foreign TV networks and newspapers, but they never pan out. I think they must believe the action is in the Fallujah area and/or they prefer to stay in the nice relative comfort of the International Zone in Baghdad. Iíll keep plugging away at this, as it would create more opportunities for the 1/23 families to read about what we do each day. So, if you know any reporters, please send them our way. Weíve got some great stories to tell. Until next time, thank you for all of your prayers and support!

Semper Fi,
James

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. The 1/23 Marines are scheduled to remain in Iraq until March 2005.


DECEMBER 13, 2004 - REPORT FROM IRAQ: MEET THE FUTURE SWIFT BOAT VETS. Our special correspondent Lt. James Crabtree of the 1/23 Marines spent some time this week with the Marines who patrol the waters around the Haditha Dam.

Dear Politics1.com Friends,

Hello once again from the Haditha Dam in Iraq -- where Soviet bloc architecture, Iraqi engineering, and US firepower fuse together for a surreal environment.

I want to start off this update by strongly thanking everyone that extended their prayers and condolences to the Kolda family. We are forever grateful for that. Cpl Zak Kolda was laid to rest yesterday in Corpus Christi and every member of this battalion wishes they could have been there. I also want to thank everyone for the large volume of mail and care packages that we continue to receive. We only get mail every third day here on the dam and every time our convoy returns with mail the amount increases. I believe this trend will continue until Christmas. We also were very lucky to have The Weekly Standard run a thank you note I sent them in their December 6th issue. I had mentioned to them that they could see these updates here on Politics1 and it also contained our mailing address. I have already received about a dozen letters from people that say they saw the reproduced postcard in the magazine. Each was well written and from the heart and they made my day.

In other news, the battalion continues to do a stellar job and our light at the end of the tunnel is growing nearer. In fact, the battalion commander of the unit that will replace us here in March visited for several days last week and he said he was highly impressed by our Marines. He also stated that he is now confident that our turn-over with his battalion will go well. In addition, we had the Commanding General of the 2nd Marine Division fly in to visit since his division will be taking over in the Al-Anbar Province sometime in the Spring. It's a great thing to know that the wheels are already in motion for our return home.


A Marine out running on the dam at sunset.

Speaking of being in motion, the other day while running on the dam with Capt Kuniholm (the Engineer's platoon commander), we were discussing the fact that the Euphrates is the southern border of the ancient land of Mesopotamia. With the Tigris River on the north, Mesopotamia meant "the land between two rivers." As the Captain and I were doing our normal run back and forth across the long length of the dam it occurred to me that we were running in and out of Mesopotamia every time we crossed the river. We've decided that as a humorous note we should create a sign and place it atop the dam that would say in English and Arabic "Now entering Mesopotamia" on one side and "Now leaving Mesopotamia" on the other side. For some reason this seemed really funny to me. Perhaps I've been in Iraq too long, but I think it might just be from my warped sense of humor.


Larger boats of the Small Craft Company on patrol at sunset.

The focus of this week's report is on the active duty Marines from the Small Craft Company out of Camp Lejeune that patrol our river and lake areas -- and thus keep the dam safe. I had the chance to speak with several of these Marines today and all of them were eager to share their stories. The Small Craft Company is the only one like it in the whole Marine Corps (and quite possibly the entire US Military). They run boats on the lake that closely resemble the Swift Boats that John Kerry piloted in Vietnam, and much smaller boats on the Euphrates River that look like the type you could buy at a Bass Master dealership. These Marines speak about patrolling through the reeds and muck of the river in the cold of the night, about navigating choppy waves on the lake, dealing with fishermen that get too close to the restricted areas around the dam, and of receiving small arms fire from people taking shots at them from the banks of the river. All of these Marines seem young, and for some reason most of them are from Ohio, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. Each of them is an infantryman and most had no experience with boats before they joined the Marines. They even joke that some of their members don't even know how to swim well. When they were first assigned to the company, none of them knew where they were going. Corporal Jimmy Taulbee, 25, of Hershey, Pennsylvania, said, "I heard 'Small Craft Company' and I though 'What am I going to do? Make pottery?" Lance Corporal Mike Malionek, 21 (next week) and hailing from Beverly, Massachusetts, added: "My instructors at the School of Infantry didn't know what it was and they told me I must have gotten into trouble or something at boot camp."


Some of the Small Craft Company Marines.
Front row (L to R): LCpl Malionek, LCpl Keeney, LCpl Ryan, PFC Walker,
LCpl DeBord, LCpl Pass, LCpl Kittleson, and LCpl Milczewski.
Second row (L to R): PFC Yates, Cpl Taulbee, and 1stLt Kruse.

All joking aside, these Marines are very skilled at what they do and they take pride in their service. The river is surprisingly shallow at points and hitting the bottom is a routine occurrence. Lance Corporal Kevin Kittleson -- a 21-year-old from Three Oaks, Michigan (near Benton Harbor) -- claims that the river and its weeds eat up the boats engines and bang up their hulls. He should know because, as one of the platoon's mechanics, he has to keep the boats up and running. Like all Marines here in Iraq, they like to talk about what they will do when they return home. Kittleson is scheduled to leave the Marine Corps on New Year's Eve next year and looks forward to the celebration of his return home.

The platoon is led by First Lieutenant Eric Kruse, 25, a native of Thorndale, PA. Like the 1/23, Kruse and his Marines have been in Iraq since August and will rotate home in the Spring. It's obvious he is proud of his Marines and the fact that they truly are a unique unit in the Marine Corps. "These guys are asked to do a lot and they always come through it well. Motoring down a river at night armed and looking for terrorists is not easy, but in a weird way my Marines live for that sort of thing." A good example of that type of Marine is Lance Corporal Tim Milczewski of Northfield, Ohio. The 19-year-old boat coxswain is called "Ski" by his fellow Marines and he jokes about coming back to Iraq one day as a Sergeant Major for "OIF 13" (note: right now we are on OIF 2). FYI: a coxswain drives the boat. He also serves as a gunner and as part of the ground combat element for his platoon. Almost to a man, none of them ever expected to be running a boat up and down the Euphrates River in Iraq. It is certainly not like fishing back home, but that doesn't keep them from thinking about that. In fact, Kruse even says he wants to buy a boat like the one the Marines have because he's come to know well the intricacies of the little riverboats and because "these things don't sink."

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

Semper Fi,
James

PS - Oh, and we got another huge box of stuff from Congressman Gene Green (D-TX) again. He sent a really nice personal Christmas card, DC ornaments, food, candy, hygiene items, magazines, books, etc. It was great!

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.


DECEMBER 6, 2004 - REPORT FROM IRAQ: THE 1/23 RELOCATES TO A DAM ... AND THE BATTALION'S FIRST COMBAT DEATH. Our special correspondent Lt. James Crabtree of the 1/23 Marines lost email access for a week when they were moved from their former airfield location to a dam on the Euphrates River. James is now back online, so here is his latest report.

Dear Politics1.com Friends,

Hello once again from 1/23 in Iraq. It has been a long time since I was able to write an update. Over the Thanksgiving weekend a large part of the battalion relocated to the Haditha Dam. The dam is the largest hydroelectric dam in Iraq and spans the Euphrates River. Everyone is settled in now and things are up and running well. It was a difficult move not only because of the distance and new surroundings, but also because we had to continue our regular operations while making the many convoys involved with the move. The Marines did great as always. It was a classic case of "Semper Gumby" ... Always Flexible.


A view of the dam from James' room.

We now literally live inside the dam, but our battalion still carries out its same missions as before. In many ways I personally prefer the dam to Al-Asad. While the Al-Asad base had better communications and the mail was quicker, the dam is in a much prettier location. The dam itself has a great many levels with some above ground and many below. A good form of exercise here is to run the stairs or to run along the roads on top of the dam. The dam is also very wide -- perhaps several miles long -- and it provides electricity to roughly a third of Iraq. Needless to say, none of us ever thought we'd be living in a dam on the Euphrates!

Cpl Zak Kolda, USMC
Cpl. Zak Kolda

Well, in much more somber and important news, our battalion lost a true hero on December 1st. Corporal Zak Kolda was a 23-year-old student at the University of Texas and was also recently married. He is the first member our battalion has lost over here. Just typing these words are very difficult for me. I have no way of expressing what a good man he was and how much he meant to his fellow Marines. We all feel a tremendous amount of grief over the pain his family is going through and we pray that they may one day find peace. Zak was actually one of my Marines in the Heavy Guns Platoon in Austin before I was made the battalion adjutant. I remember talking with him that first weekend that I was with the unit and he struck me as a man with a lot going for him. He was smart, squared away, and cared about the Marines under his charge. I want everyone to know that Zak was a hero and that this battalion will always honor his memory. The other night several of his closest friends were able to speak with a reporter from the Austin American-Statesman via satellite phone. They spoke deeply and movingly about who Zak was and what he meant to them. I wish all of you could have heard what they said. It was dark, cold, and windy on the top of the dam as the Marines had just returned from one of their many patrols, and yet they thought nothing of standing outside for over an hour so that the phone could get a signal and they could tell the reporter about their brother Marine. The reporter, Laura Heinauer, did a fine job capturing many of their comments and putting them into her article. I encourage you to read it at www.statesman.com. It first ran on December 3rd, so you may have to look in the archives. Below is the picture that newspaper originally ran with the article.


Cpl. Kolda's Memorial Service at the Haditha Dam.

Our battalion held a memorial service for Cpl Kolda on Friday morning just as the sun was rising over the river. Everyone that was not on duty or on a patrol was there. His best friends spoke about their feelings for him and the Chaplain led the battalion in a very emotional service.


I really like this photo (above). It was taken from the top deck (level 10) of the dam and is looking down on the memorial service on Level 7 as the Marines are bowing their heads in prayer. The sun rise was beautiful and the Euphrates flowed in the background.

Finally, I want to close with an email that Zak's mom, Paula Kolda, sent to me today. It moved me very deeply. It says far more than I or anyone else could ever say about her son. She wanted me to share this email with his fellow Marines and all the other the friends of 1/23:

On Thanksgiving Day, your Cpl. Kolda, my Zak, told his family that he was thankful to, among other things, serve with the finest Marines ever. I just want you all to know that Zak saw you as brothers and as such, we will continue to pray for your safety and your success. We thank each of you for the personal sacrifice that you are making for your country.

If anyone who knew Zak would care to contact us, please give them my address.

Sadly but sincerely,
Zak's mom
Paula Kolda

If anyone wishes to write to the Kolda family to express their condolences they may do so by contacting our rear party at Camp Mabry in Austin. The address is:

The Kolda Family
c/o Capt Schumacher
Weapons Company 1/23
4601 Fairview Drive
Austin, TX 78731

Thank you as always for reading this update and for all of your support -- not just for the members of this battalion, but more importantly, for their families and loved ones back home.

Semper Fi,
James

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. The 1/23 Marines are scheduled to remain in Iraq until March 2005.


READ 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

 

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