Wednesday, February 08, 2006

The Production Crew

The Marine Corps is like a movie set. You've got your Producer (the Commanding General), the Director (the Deputy CG), the editor (the Chief of Staff), and your screen writers (the G-3 Operations staff). In the limelight, you've got your movie stars, the actors and actresses whom we watch on the big screen. In the Corps, your movie star is the 0311 Infantry Marine. Your basic grunt. He's the guy in the field, carrying out the actions and heroics that make the Marine Corps famous. He's the guy whom everyone else in the Corps is paid to support. He's the guy we think of when we hear the title "Marine."

Behind every successful director and movie star, there are a number of players that ensure the successful production of the film. You've got stuntmen and gaffers, key grips, wardrobe personnel and a host of other positions. Just like Hollywood, the Marine Corps has its own production crew, a bevvy of Marines who work behind the scenes to support their "cast" to ensure a succsseful operation. I've met a few of the Corps "production crew," the men and women who'll never be the stars, but will always be the backbone of the Corps, the reason for our success.

There’s US Navy Petty Officer (MR1) James Heard,a Machinery Repairman deployed with the 133rd Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (aka: the “Seabees”). Machinery Repairmen are skilled machine tool operators. They traditionally make replacement parts, repair or overhaul ship's engines and auxiliary systems, and work on deck equipment including winches and hoists, condensers and heat exchange devices. Miles from the ocean, MR1 Heard finds himself “working steel,” using his skills to design and craft specialty parts to sustain operations aboard the camp. He’s machined items ranging from custom water hose couplings for the Camp Fallujah Fire Department to replacement refrigeration parts for the dining facility. He’s produced bolt-on vehicle armor to protect our HMMWV convoy vehicles and has hastily manufactured specialty parts to repair inoperable M-240G machine guns. With only a lathe, drill press and grinder, he quickly turns scrap of metal into a functional object. He is the Picasso of steel.

Commander Stephen Christopher is also a repairman of sorts – he spends his days fixing broken fillings and cracked teeth of Marines and sailors deployed to OIF. He’s also spent time with soldiers of the Iraqi Army, providing emergency treatment to those in dire need of dental care. As the 2nd Marine Division Dental Officer, he has personally treated over 1100 patients during his deployment. A wanderer of sorts, I met CDR. Christopher at Hurricane Point in Ramadi, home of the 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines. He and his dental technician travel lightly, carrying a fold-up dental chair and dental tools in addition to their M-16’s and body armor. Despite the lack of a permanent office and the specialty tools associated with CONUS dentistry, he performs magic with cracked teeth, extractions, fillings and temporary crowns, a task made more difficult in the hostile environment of Iraq.

Major Mark Gilday, the II MEF (Fwd) G-4 Motor Transport Officer, was intimately involved with the introduction and installation of Marine Armor Kits (MAK) and Marine Armor Systems (MAS) on hundreds of II MEF (Fwd) HMMWV’s and 7-ton trucks. If you recall, Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was asked by an Army soldier in December, 2004, "Why do we soldiers have to dig through local landfills for pieces of scrap metal and compromised ballistic glass to up-armor our vehicles?" The Secretary’s initial response was testy. "You go to war with the army you have," he barked. The soldier’s question, it turned out, had been planted by a reporter embedded with the US Army 278th Regimental Combat Team. The effects of the question, however, resulted in a firestorm of activity for the Army and the Marine Corps over the next 12 months. Since deploying to Camp Fallujah, Major Gilday has coordinated the up-armoring of nearly 1200 of the II MEF’s HMMWV’s with the new MAK systems. These improvements have greatly increased the survivability of our Marines in the field.

Lance Corporal Stephanie Twichell, a Marine Corps reservist from New Orleans, LA, enlisted in the Corps in June, 2004. She’s spent her deployment guarding prisoners and suspected insurgents at the Regional Detention Facility (RDF) in Camp Fallujah. She performs a thankless job made even less enviable following the US Army debacle at Abu Ghraib prison in 2004. However, you’ll rarely find a Marine complain about this important duty, knowing they are the thin blue line that separates the residents of Camp Fallujah from the captured insurgents. Breaking the monotony of daily prisoner counts, feedings, and searches, she spends her off-duty hours learning new law enforcement techniques, such as TASER training, escalation of force and riot control. The challenges of deployment were doubled when Hurricane Katrina ravaged her hometown. Regardless, LCpl. Twichell continues to serve her country and her Corps with dignity and without a complaint.

In Al Qaim, Iraq, I ran into Captain Timothy Evans, Company Commander for Food Service Company, H&S Battalion, II Marine Logistics Group, formerly known as the FSSG. Captain Evans enlisted in the Corps in 1983 and is currently a limited duty officer, deployed to Iraq to supervise the fielding of the new Field Food Service System (FFSS), a mobile kitchen unit which will update the old Marine Corps “mess kitchens,” taking us away from 1950’s technology and into the 21st century of food preparation. Captain Evans supervised the installation of these portable kitchen units at FIRM bases and FOB’s along the Syrian border, the unit itself enclosed within two 20’ x 8’ self-sufficient ISO containers similar to those seen stacked aboard transatlantic freighters. In lieu of eating MRE’s and pogey bait, the grunts on the front lines can now enjoy freshly prepared hot chow from these portable kitchens, capable of operating in black-out environments, all the while providing the field messmen protection from indirect and small arms fire. Nothing motivates a dirty, tired, and worn-out troop better than hot chow.

Others, like Colonel Gary Wilson, a retired Marine
brought back on active duty to serve as the II MEF (Fwd) Anti-Terrorism/Force Protection Officer (ATFP), conduct their daily duties atypical to that of their fellow Marines. The Colonel and his small staff play the part of the devils advocate, intentionally thinking and acting like the bad guy. They develop “red cell” ideas and schemes on how to successfully attack the base and threaten the safety of our Marines. He and his team conduct surveys of the camp perimeter in search of vulnerabilities and weaknesses, an attempt to uncover weaknesses in a units force protection stance. Afterward, he suggests methods to correct the vulnerabilities and improve the levels of protection for Marines deployed in theater. His findings are sometimes rebuffed by Commanders unwilling to believe they are less than prefect, that their individual force protection plans may have missed something upon implementation. Regardless, the Colonel and his staff are the mechanism that identifies and helps bring in the necessary technology and equipment to further enhance the safety of our Marines, be they in Camp, at a checkpoint, or in a vehicle.

Similar to the my job as the Marine Corps Field Historian, Sgt. Josh Hauser spends his deployment collecting stories from Marines far and wide. Sgt. Hauser is a combat correspondent with the II MEF Headquarters Group (MHG), traveling from FOB to FOB, embedding with Marines from various companies and platoons in search of the stories that will tell the world the tale of the Marine Corps in OIF. Unlike my Field History collection, Sgt. Hauser’s stories are published in hometown newspapers, spreading the exploits of our young Marines at work and play in Iraq. He’s a gypsy among Marines, attempting to live the story of which he writes, if only for a short period of time. His weapons are his camera and pen, although he has often put them aside to shoulder his weapon to protect himself and his temporary family. He goal as a combat correspondent is to balance the negative image of the Marine Corps as portrayed in mainstream media with good news stories from our Marines, fighting the good fight, doing what needs to be done to protect the freedoms of the naysayers back home.


Wayne Goldstein said...

Craig- I continue to check for new postings on The Daily Grind every day. Your work remains superb and is greatly appreciated. I look forward to one day seeing your acquisitions on display in the new Marine Corps Historical Center, which will open soon at Quantico. Take care, be safe and I look forward to seeing you upon your return stateside. I am especially grateful to every Marine, Soldier, Sailor, Airman and Coast Guardsman serving in OIF, OEF, CJTF Horn of Africa, and everywhere else INCONUS or overseas. Their dedication to duty, professionalism and bravery are the reason America can sleep soundly at night.

Papa Ray said...

I echo, what Wayne said very well.

Your devotion to duty comes through to all of us here at home. Thanks again.

Continue the Mission

Papa Ray
West Texas

Gypsy said...

Sir, it is so great to read some personal accounts of the Marines out there, all part of the success stories we so rarely hear in MSM news. Thank you for giving us a glimpse into the Men and Women of our Marine Corps.

Not to hijack your entry, but I wondered if you heard the news that Mrs. Chesty Puller passed on this past Saturday, I thought you might wish to know.,0,133157.story?coll=dp-news-local-final

Please continue to stay safe, you are in my prayers.

Jeff Conrad said...

My name is Jeff Conrad and I am a friend of Major Mark Gilday who was featured in your story. I have lost touch with him and wanted to say hello to him and tell him that he is in our thoughts and prayers. Can you get this message through to him and tell him to drop us a line if he can. Thank you! Semper Fi, Jeff Conrad

John said...

Hello, I stumbled upon your blog this evening and I've been enjoying it very much -- excellent to read your descriptions of the people behind the news, the Marines who toil in obscurity to aid the mission.

One question, though. Why the antagonism to the mainstream media? In my experience the Marine Corp is viewed very favorably in both the general media and society at large. In fact I came upon your blog from a link in the New York Times, where I was reading another soldier's blog.

I think this idea that the mainstream media is somehow anti-military is a common assumption that, upon closer inspection, does not generally hold water.

Just my two cents. Thanks for your words and insights, and stay safe.

Daniel Bergeron said...

Hi. I served with Cdr Christopher on the "Connie" in the mid to late 90's. Could you possibly forward him my email address. Would like to get in touch.
Daniel Bergeron (Formerly DT3, then PH3)
email= at gmail dot com.

Thanks. Take care.