By LtCol Mike Christy-Together We Served Dispatches
On March 31, 2004, a private contractor’s convoy was traveling through Fallujah when it was ambushed by heavily armed insurgents. Safeguarding the convoy were four Blackwater USA employees – Scott Helvenston, Jerry Zovko, Wesley Batalona, and Michael Teague. The four were killed by machine gunfire and a grenade thrown through a window of their SUVs. Their charred bodies were dragged from the burning wreckage of their vehicles by a mob, mutilated, dragged through the streets, and two were hung on display from a bridge over the Euphrates river as the crowd celebrated below.
The public display of the beaten and burned bodies of the four security contractors triggered worldwide outrage. In response to the gruesome slaughter of the private security guards, a U.S.-led operation to retake Fallujah began on April 4, 2004 – only four days after the macabre incident.
Within a week, a third of the city had been retaken, but due to the considerable destruction of the city and heavy civilian deaths by U.S. airstrikes, the interim Iraqi government pressured the American forces to withdraw from the city on May 1, 2004. The U.S. then turned over military operations to 1,100-man Fallujah Brigade, led by Muhammed Latif, a former Ba’athist general, but when the brigade folded in September, American weapons and equipment fell into the hand of the insurgents, foreign fighters, and criminals. The Marine command vowed to return and establish some semblance of peacefulness in Fallujah.
The U.S. suffered 27 deaths in the campaign; some 200 insurgents were killed and approximate 600 Iraqi civilians; 300 of them believed to be women and children.
By the early fall of 2004, the chief objective of the American campaign was to eliminate burgeoning insurgency in safe havens in advance of Iraq’s first parliamentary elections after the American invasion. The legitimacy of the interim government, and the upcoming elections appeared to hang in the balance. Fallujah, a city of 250,000 less than an hour’s drive from Baghdad, was the mother of all safe havens and was among the cities to be retaken.
This metropolis on the edge of the desert had a well-earned reputation as a home for former Ba’athist party enforcers and other criminal elements. It was a squalid, unattractive place, unfriendly to strangers – a city, writes military historian Bing West, “comprised of two thousand blocks of courtyard walls, tenements, two-story concrete houses, and squalid alleyways. Half-completed houses, garbage heaps, and wrecks of old cars cluttered every neighborhood.”
The Corps couldn’t wait to assault the city and mix it up with a colorful mÃ©lange of al Qaeda, freelance Islamist extremists from across the Middle East, and several Sunni militia groups.
That chance came in November and December 2004 with the Second Battle of Fallujah – code-named Operation Al-Fajr and Operation Phantom Fury – as part of a joint American, Iraqi, and British offensive. It turned out to be the bloodiest battle of the Iraq War and is notable for being the first major engagement of the war fought solely against insurgents rather than the force of the former Ba’athist Iraqi government, which was toppled in 2003.
Unlike the recent struggle to take the city back from ISIS, the outcome of the fall 2004 encounter was never really in doubt. Superior numbers, training, and an immense advantage in firepower ensured that the Fallujah would fall to the Americans. The critical questions were, how much blood and treasure would it take to wrest the city from the enemy? Would the city have to be destroyed to be saved? And most importantly, would victory in Fallujah reverse the momentum of an insurgency steadily growing in both numbers and intensity across much of the country?
Lt. Gen. John F. Sattler, the top commander of Marines in Iraq, had the luxury of several months to prepare their plan of attack, which proved to be a very successful plan. A preliminary feint from the southwest 24 hours before the main assault would draw off considerable numbers of jihadists from the northern sector of the city, the direction from which the main attack would proceed. A U.S. Army armored brigade had thrown a tight cordon around the entire city, preventing reinforcements or resupplies from reaching the enemy.
Crucially, the Iraqi government and the Americans had managed to persuade/cajole well over 90 percent of the city’s populace to evacuate their homes, so if the American infantry ran into exceedingly tough resistance, they could employ the full range of their lethal supporting arms – Abrams tanks, the steel rain of 105-mm shells from circling C-130 gunships, jet fighter-bombers, and of course, artillery fire – without fear of causing large numbers of civilian casualties.
During this time, it was clear that an assault on the city was imminent and the insurgents prepared a variety of defenses and strong points. The attack on the city was assigned to Lt. Gen. Sattler’s I Marine Expeditionary Force (I MED).
With the city cordoned off, efforts were made to suggest that the Coalition attack would come from the south and southeast as had occurred in April during the Firsts Battle of Fallujah. Instead, I MEF intended to assault the city from the north across its entire breadth. On November 6, Regimental Combat Team 1 (RCT-1), consisting of the 3rd Battalion/1st Marines, 3rd Battalion/5th Marines, and the U.S. Army’s 2nd Battalion/7th Cavalry, moved into position to assault the western half of Fallujah from the north.
They were joined by Regimental Combat Team 7 (RCT-7), made up of the 1st Battalion/8th Marines, 1st Battalion/3rd Marines and the U.S. Army 2nd Battalion/2nd Infantry which would attack the eastern part of the city. These units were joined by Iraqi as well.
With Fallujah sealed, operations began at 7 pm, November 7, when Task Force Wolfpack moved to take objectives on the west bank of the Euphrates River opposite Fallujah. While Iraqi commandoes captured Fallujah General Hospital, Marines secured the two bridges over the river to cut off any enemy retreat from the city.
A similar blocking mission was undertaken by the British Black Watch Regiment south and east of Fallujah.
During the cold, rainy evening of November 8, the northern rim of the city came under a thunderous and sustained bombardment from artillery and warplanes. Hundreds of 155-mm shells and 500-pound high-explosive bombs shook the earth across a three-mile front, obliterating a train station and a large apartment complex on the outskirts of the city.
An eerie silence followed. Suddenly the two Regimental Combat Teams of Marine infantry and Army armored battalions, about 8,000 men in all, crossed a railroad embankment and began to push south into the city proper. Within seconds, the American advance was met with an avalanche of small arms and mortar fire. Over the earsplitting din of simultaneous fire from thousands of weapons, loudspeakers on Marine Humvees blared Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries,” and insurgent commanders barked orders in Arabic over their own loudspeakers, ensconced in the minarets of several of the city’s 200 mosques.
Thus, began ten straight days of brutal, close-in fighting to sweep through this labyrinth of a city, north to south, and wrest it from the insurgents’ grasp. The jihadists had spent the better part of half a year constructing bunkers, strong points, and laying out avenues of retreat, and ambush sites. Hundreds of rooms and entire houses had been expertly booby-trapped, and IEDs had been liberally planted in the streets and alleys. Road blocks of Jersey barriers and junk cars designed to funnel the attackers down lethal avenues of approach seemed to be around every other corner. As the insurgents came under fire from the advancing American battalions, they tended to react in one of two ways: they either held their ground and fought to the death, or they rapidly retreated down side streets or into alleys, hoping to lure the Marines and soldiers into prepared kill zones.
Dexter Filkins, a New York Times war correspondent who had covered half a dozen wars and was embedded with a Marine rifle company in Fallujah, described the combat there as “a qualitatively different experience, a leap into a different kind of battle.” He was hardly the only veteran reporter to register that reaction. Filkins himself narrowly escaped death at least once in the fighting and saw several of the men with whom he was embedded die as well.
Later Gen. Sattler recalled the battle “was intense, close, and personal, the likes of which have been experienced by U.S. forces on just a few occasions since the battle of Hue City in the Vietnam War. There were no real front lines, because the insurgents would get behind you constantly.”
On November 9, after 16 straight hours of fighting to take a fortified mosque being used as a command post, men in B Company, 8th Marines, saw a car pull up behind them. Out poured six insurgents wielding rocket-propelled grenades and AK-47s. The Marines sprung in action, killing four in a matter of seconds before the insurgents could get off a single round of fire. The two remaining insurgents dashed for a courtyard, where they were rapidly cornered by several Marines. Suddenly, one of the insurgents pulled a cord on his suicide vest, sending himself and his brother fighter to instant martyrdom. Virtually every infantry company in Fallujah could report at least one such encounter.
Forty-eight hours into the fight, the Marines had advanced methodically through about one-third of the city, and seized the government center, having leveled several hundred enemy strongpoints to rubble with air strikes, tank fire, and armored bulldozers that proved critical in keeping the advance moving. The insurgents were so entrenched that by the end of the fight, the Marines had been forced to level some 10,000 of 50,000 residences – most were rebuilt at American expense.
On the fourth day of the battle, November 12, both Regimental Combat Teams crossed Highway 10, the six-lane, east-west artery that divided the northern half of the city from the grimy industrial southern half. Southern Falluja had been far more heavily fortified than the north. Here the Marines came up against dozens of unyielding defensive pockets and had to fend off a series of suicidal counterattacks that left the streets littered with bloated, stinking corpses. “Almost as soon as the insurgents were dead, the dogs started gnawing on their bones,” recalled a Marine officer. Heavy rains prevented the authorities from burying these bodies for several days.
It sometimes became necessary to slip small units of Marines in behind the enemy-held pockets to clear them out. Marine Capt. Elliot Ackerman’s platoon slipped behind insurgent lines in the middle of the night, and took up residence in a four-story building.
Author Bing West, who was embedded with a company of Marines in the battle, gives this vivid account of what followed in ‘No True Glory’: “At first light, on both sides of their building, insurgents were slipping forward in bands of four and six unaware of the Marines until the M16s opened up, hitting three or four before the others ducked into the surrounding buildings.”
The insurgents scattered for cover, then converged on the platoon. Within minutes the fighting fell into a pattern. The platoon held a stout building with open ground on all sides, which made a frontal assault suicidal. Instead, enemy snipers, RPG teams, and machine-gunners were running from floor to floor and across the roofs of the adjoining buildings looking for angles to shoot down.
The Marines tried to pick out a window or a corner of a building where an insurgent was hiding and smother it with fire. The shooters on both sides were like experienced boxers, jabbing and weaving and never leaving themselves open. The Marines punched mouse holes in the walls and threw up barricades in front of their machine guns, shifting from room to room every ten minutes.
A particularly effective method for reducing stubborn enemy positions within apartment buildings or other large structures was for the American artillery to fire a “shake and bake” mission: First, a battery of cannons fired incendiary white phosphorus smoke rounds into a building to flush the insurgents outside, and then, after a short delay, they bracketed the building with high explosive rounds to kill them as they exited.
After ten days of grinding, close combat, the Americans, supported by two elite Iraqi Army battalions, had captured the city.
The heavy fighting continued for the next several days as Coalition forces went house-to-house eliminating insurgent resistance. The fighting was not as intense as it had been during the clearing phase, but it was still dangerous, exhausting work. More than 20,000 structures were searched and cleared – some as many as three times, as insurgent hangers-on re-infiltrated previously cleared dwellings. If the Marines were forced to withdraw from a house due to heavy fire from inside, they would reduce it to rubble by attaching a patch of C-4 explosive to two propane canisters and throwing them through a window.
By the time it was all over on December 23, U.S. forces had uncovered more than 450 weapons caches, three torture chambers, one of which contained a live prisoner who’d had his leg sawed off, and 24 bomb-making factories. According to a log cited in Bing West’s book, one Marine platoon cleared 70 or more buildings a day for more than a week, during which time they engaged in an average of three firefights a day, and killed 60 insurgents.
The outcome for taking Fallujah was 95 Americans killed in action, and 450 seriously wounded. According to a report from Gen. George Casey Jr., commander of all coalition forces in Iraq, of the 8,400 insurgents killed in 2004, 2,175 had fallen in the Second Battle of Fallujah. Unfortunately, hundreds of Islamist insurgents had either left Fallujah before the battle or slipped through the cordon in small groups and went on to join their brothers to spark new uprisings in Mosul, Ramadi, and East Baghdad.
Even though Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi – the mastermind behind hundreds of bombings, kidnappings and video beheadings in Iraq – was not captured during the operation, the battle severely damaged the momentum of the insurgency. Tactics that were developed in the battles of Fallujah were used on larger scales to capture Ramadi and other surrounding areas afterward. After the Second Battle of Fallujah, the insurgents avoided open battles, but the number of attacks on coalition troops began to rise more. Four years after the bitter fighting, the city was turned over to Iraqi Forces and the Iraqi Provincial Authority.
The Second Battle of Fallujah joins the ranks of Tarawa, the Chosin Reservoir, and the Battle for Hue as one of the Marine Corps’ bitter, hard-won triumphs that unfortunately had little strategic impact on the war of which it was a part.
One veteran of the battle, Col. John Toolan, was hardly the only thoughtful officer to question whether the kind of fighting that had gone on in Fallujah was counterproductive in the long run. “What’s the impact on a ten-year-old kid when he goes back and sees his neighborhood destroyed? And what is he going to do when he is 18 years old?”
Hearts and minds are not won by leveling cities, and by late 2004, the American military was finally waking up to the fact that it was in the middle of a protracted insurgency war, and hearts and minds were what it was all about.
Twelve years later, the Marines have left Iraq, the insurgents remain, and the country finds itself deeply mired in civil war. But Fallujah has at last been retaken, and the Islamic State is clearly on the defensive – at least in Iraq. And that’s good news for Iraq, for the United States, and for the American Marines and soldiers who fought the good fight for Fallujah in 2004.
Unfortunately, even today, more than a decade later, much of Iraq and the Middle East is still beset by violence.
Read the service reflections of US Army Soldier:
SFC Monica J Primus
PLEASE DESCRIBE WHO OR WHAT INFLUENCED YOUR DECISION TO JOIN THE ARMY?
I had been working as a Certified Nursing Assistant and wanted to do something more with my life than just get a paycheck so I decided to join the military. I knew it would give me health and dental benefits, financial stability, training and an opportunity to travel so once I made up my mind to join I did not hesitate. There was no delayed entry program for me or reserve time. I went full force and enlisted for 5 years initially. I looked at all branches. I ultimately chose the Army. This was the branch of service of my father, Furlan Udine Primus, and offered the training I wanted.
WHETHER YOU WERE IN THE SERVICE FOR SEVERAL YEARS OR AS A CAREER, PLEASE DESCRIBE THE DIRECTION OR PATH YOU TOOK. WHAT WAS YOUR REASON FOR LEAVING?
I enlisted for 98GL, but that was not to be. During basic training, I received a Letter of Intent (LOI) to Deny Security Clearance so I was forced to change my military occupational specialty (MOS). It took some wheeling and dealing, but I finally got my choice, Pharmacy Specialist. After completing basic training at Fort Jackson, SC I moved onto Advanced Individual Training (AIT) at Fort Sam Houston, TX and then to my first duty station at Fort Sill, OK. While I was stationed there, I did receive my security clearance. I was that 1 in a 100 that receives an LOI to Deny but actually is not denied. If I had only held out longer, I would have been a Linguist. It actually turned out well though because I have come to love the Pharmacy and did well for myself in that career field. During my first tour at Fort Sill, I rotated through all areas of the pharmacy. After my rotation through all areas, I was assigned to work in the Outpatient Pharmacy. I worked with many wonderful civilians and soldiers there.
I next moved on to Camp Red Cloud in Uijeongbu, Korea where I learned to love Kimchi. I then went back to Fort Sill. It was as if I had never left. I was now in charge of the Inpatient Pharmacy. Next up was instructor duty at Fort Sam Houston. I had begged for this and thoroughly enjoyed my time there. While I was there I not only taught pharmacy specialists, I also taught cardiovascular techs, ENT tech, eye techs, helped with PA program and Medic training. I guess my crowning glory there was incorporating the Sterile Products training program into the Pharmacy Specialist course so all techs were trained in this specialty area. I was then off to Fort Meade, MD followed by Walter Reed Army Medical Center. While there I ran the Inpatient Pharmacy, worked as the Training NCO (about 500 soldiers), and was the only enlisted person assigned to Clinical Pharmacy. I was also a member of a S.M.A.R.T. that deployed to Hurricane Katrina Relief. My last assignment was Senior Enlisted Advisor for Pharmacy, Bavaria Medical Department Activity (BMEDDAC), Germany. While there, I was the Non-Commissioned Officer in Charge (NCOIC) of the Department of Pharmacy for Bavaria and got to travel to all the clinics on a weekly basis. This was not an undemanding final assignment. I had to work many long hours and travel a lot, but it was worth it. I retired from the Army in 2010 because I felt it was time to start a new chapter in my life.
IF YOU PARTICIPATED IN ANY MILITARY OPERATIONS, INCLUDING COMBAT, HUMANITARIAN AND PEACEKEEPING OPERATIONS, PLEASE DESCRIBE THOSE WHICH WERE THE MOST SIGNIFICANT TO YOU AND, IF LIFE-CHANGING, IN WHAT WAY.
I was part of a Special Medical Augmentation Response Team (SMART) that was deployed to Hurricane Katrina Relief in New Orleans, Louisiana. It was quite an experience to see all the devastation that was left behind due to the hurricane and I cannot imagine living through it. Other than that, I was not deployed anywhere else. At the end of my career I found out that someone had coded me as non-deployable. I guess whoever that was thought they were doing me a favor.
OF ALL YOUR DUTY STATIONS OR ASSIGNMENTS, WHICH ONE DO YOU HAVE FONDEST MEMORIES OF AND WHY? WHICH ONE WAS YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
I guess I am quite lucky because I have very fond memories of almost all of my duty stations. My first duty station was at Reynolds Army Community Hospital’s (RACH) Outpatient Pharmacy and my first line supervisor was then SFC Juli Zugner (now MSG (r) Juli Tanzi). She was a dynamic NCO that set a wonderful example of what a Soldier should be, know, and do. I also worked with Mrs. Cyndi Bell, who treated all of us as equals and ensured we were “family”. While I was stationed there, I helped create the pharmacy at the then to be built, TMC #2, which was dedicated to SGT David B Bleak, Medal of Honor recipient, whom I was honored to meet.
My second duty assignment was Camp Red Cloud, South Korea. Although this was a difficult assignment because I had absolutely no overlap time with the specialist I replaced, it gave me an opportunity to enhance my skills as a pharmacy specialist and NCO. Because Pharmacy, Radiology, and Laboratory were all only one man deep, we were always on call and this did not allow for much true down time, but we managed to have fun. I remember one time we all were called in because there had been a single vehicle accident involving a Soldier. Under the guidance of CPT Uretzky, we were able to save the patient’s life. She unfortunately did lose one of her legs below the knee, but had we not been there working together as a team she would not have made it.
During my third duty assignment, I was stationed again at RACH at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. It was wonderful going back there because they had just completed work on the new hospital. During this assignment, I was made the NCOIC of the Inpatient Pharmacy, something I had not done since my initial assignment at RACH and did a two-week rotation there. I was a bit nervous about having so much responsibility placed upon me. While I was there, I was able to computerize our crash cart inventory and inspection process and I created a medication location guide for the nurses so they would not have to call a technician in during the middle of the night for a medication that could be found readily available on another ward. I had 3 wonderful military technicians, one of whom I still stay in touch with.
Two of my least favorite moments occurred while I was stationed there. The first one is that my top-notch civilian technician quit without notice. This unfortunately had a lot to do with her spouse, but she never opened up to anyone other than to say he did not like the hours that she worked. The second incident that put a damper on my spirit and made me question whether I would re-enlist was that I was called on the carpet by the acting Sergeant Major because there had been a Soldier sleeping in the lobby near the command suite and in an authoritative voice, I told him to wake up! I was told by the acting Sergeant Major that it was not my place to tell that Soldier to wake up. I was incredulous. If it were not my duty to do this then whose was it?
I was next assigned to the Academy of Health Sciences where I was an instructor for almost 4 years. I had begged and pleaded to be assigned there and when I got my orders, I was ecstatic. I loved teaching and I loved pharmacy, so this was a dream job. I helped integrate the stand-alone Sterile Products course into the Pharmacy Technician course thereby allowing all those enrolled to receive the training. I was also the primary instructor for that portion of training, which is considered the most difficult portion. I have many cherished memories of students finally “getting it”, truly comprehending what the practice orders were, being able to do the complex calculations, and then being able to compound the required product. It really did seem as though a light would turn on over their heads. I really loved that assignment. I also had a great relationship with my fellow NCOs and still am in touch with one of them.
My fifth assignment was at Fort Meade and this was a dark time in my life. I suffered the loss of my husband followed by the loss of my dearest aunt followed by the loss of thousands of dollars worth of vaccinations due to a refrigerator malfunction and a civilian interim supervisor that blamed me and whom I bumped heads with every step of the way. Fortunately, I was reassigned to Walter Reed Army Medical Center and had a wonderful First Sergeant (now CSM Gregory Lott) who was also a Pharmacy Technician. I worked with a wonderful team of pharmacists in the Clinical Pharmacy section of the pharmacy. These were some very smart people and I had the privilege to be on their team. What an honor.
My last assignment took me to Bavaria, Germany where I was in charge of seven pharmacies. I spent many hours on the road going to and fro, but it was worth it because I was able to ensure that the pharmacies were in peak operating order and that the pharmacists and specialists were all well trained. I was able to pass on my knowledge, which helped ensure that my Soldiers performed well and that my Pharmacists stayed informed. This assignment took its toll on my TMP, but I would have driven around the world to ensure my pharmacies were at their optimum.
FROM YOUR ENTIRE SERVICE, INCLUDING COMBAT, DESCRIBE THE PERSONAL MEMORIES WHICH HAVE IMPACTED YOU MOST?
There are many memories that stand out for me. First is repelling down Victory Tower during Basic Training which allowed me to overcome my fear of heights and accomplish a task that I originally thought I would not be able to. My first duty assignment where I worked with some of the best trained and knowledgeable people I know. Teaching at Fort Sam Houston because I was able to pass on skills and knowledge to new Soldiers. Deploying to Hurricane Katrina Relief. Being the Training NCO for about 500 Soldiers. Working in Clinical Pharmacy and doing drug studies. My service in Germany. I know those are just brief statements but I could write volumes on those subjects.
WHAT ACHIEVEMENT(S) ARE YOU MOST PROUD OF FROM YOUR MILITARY CAREER?
There are two awards that I am most proud of. The first one is a Commendation I received while stationed at Camp Red Cloud. We had a trauma victim come in and I was part of the team that worked on her. Unfortunately, she did not make it, but I am proud of the fact that I know I and the team of health care providers did everything humanly possible to try to save her. There was nothing in my pharmacy technician training that even came close to preparing me for that situation, but I and the others handled it with great professionalism. This was in January 2004.
The next award that I am proud of is an Army Commendation Medal I received for rendering emergency medical treatment to a civilian who was having a grand mal epileptic seizure. This incident occurred while I was attending a pharmacy conference in Biloxi, Mississippi. The conference had ended for the day and I was on my way back to my room to change into civilian clothes. I just passed a pillar and caught a glimpse of someone. It looked as though they were hitting their head on the slot machine they were playing. I took another step forward toward my room, but something just didn’t seem right. I turned around and noticed this person was not just hitting their head on the slot machine, but was actually having a grand mal seizure. I rushed over to him, pulled him back from the machine so he would not injure himself further, got the attention of a security guard who helped me lower the man to the floor, directed him to call 911 and get the man’s player’s card from the machine so he could be identified and have his family or companions paged, ensured the man did not injure himself, and stayed with him until the ambulance arrived. Again, my pharmacy technician training did not prepare me for this, but I had prepared myself because I had been a Certified Nursing Assistant before joining the Army and by taking the Combat Lifesaver’s Course and attempting the EFMB twice. This was in April 2000
OF ALL THE MEDALS, AWARDS, FORMAL PRESENTATIONS AND QUALIFICATION BADGES YOU RECEIVED, OR ANY OTHER MEMORABILIA, PLEASE DESCRIBE THOSE WHICH ARE THE MOST MEANINGFUL TO YOU AND WHY?
My second AAM (1993) is very meaningful to me because it validated my knowledge and skills.It was given to me because I went TDY to Fort Chaffee to replace the Pharmacist who had to be out for over a month and there was a JRTC rotation being held so it was critical that the pharmacy be manned.
WHICH INDIVIDUAL(S) FROM YOUR TIME IN THE MILITARY STAND OUT AS HAVING THE MOST POSITIVE IMPACT ON YOU AND WHY?
My very first NCOIC, MSG(r) Juli Tanzi had the biggest impact on me. She set the standard of how an NCO should behave. Never once did I hear her complain about the long hours we worked or the changes that seemed to be constantly implemented. She made it happen. I
remember when I first arrived and met with her she cared about my whole person, not just the soldier side. She helped me enroll in correspondence courses and directed me to the Ed Center so I could enroll in college classes because that, too, was important. If there was training to be had, she would ensure we got to it. I never saw her back down from any challenge and that set a trend for me. She also never hesitated to lend a helping hand and she was always present. During our busiest times of day, she would be out on the front-line entering or filling prescriptions with the rest of us. She exuded competence and confidence and had an outstanding work ethic. I am so glad that she was my first NCOIC.
The other person that had a very positive impact on me is CSM Gregory Lott. After I had suffered the loss of my husband, my aunt, and had fallen into a deep depression, he supported me by ensuring there were no ramifications to me seeking mental health help, having confidence in my abilities as a pharmacy technician and NCO, and allowing me to perform my job as the NCOIC of Inpatient Pharmacy at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and then as his training NCO. This changed my life for the better and without his support I don’t know if I would have been able to continue my career in the Army.
CAN YOU RECOUNT A PARTICULAR INCIDENT FROM YOUR SERVICE WHICH MAY OR MAY NOT HAVE BEEN FUNNY AT THE TIME, BUT STILL MAKES YOU LAUGH?
Yes, my first desk when I was assigned as the Training NCO for Alpha Company, WRAMC. You see, there were not enough desks to go around and the building was being renovated so I had a living room chair to sit in and a desk chair as my desk.
WHAT PROFESSION DID YOU FOLLOW AFTER YOUR MILITARY SERVICE AND WHAT ARE YOU DOING NOW? IF YOU ARE CURRENTLY SERVING, WHAT IS YOUR PRESENT OCCUPATIONAL SPECIALTY?
After I retired from the Army I attended Fayetteville Technical Community College (FTCC) where I earned a degree in Culinary Arts and graduated with honors. I currently am a Chef for hire for private occasions, am involved in the American Culinary Federation, and will begin teaching cooking classes at the Continuing Education Department of FTCC in July 2015.
I am involved in a four volunteer projects. I do data entry for both Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org. This allows documents to be searchable. I also photograph, upload, and transcribe headstones for Find-A-Grave.com and BillionGraves.com
WHAT MILITARY ASSOCIATIONS ARE YOU A MEMBER OF, IF ANY? WHAT SPECIFIC BENEFITS DO YOU DERIVE FROM YOUR MEMBERSHIPS?
I was a member of Sigma Phi Psi Sorority, Inc. They were the first Greek letter sorority for Armed Forces women that required no college affiliation. This association provided a great feeling of sisterhood, support and camaraderie, but I got stationed in Germany for 4 years, retired from the Army, and then went to school for two and a half years. I found I did not have the time to dedicate to the sorority since I was no longer near a chapter therefore I resigned my position and left the sorority although I do still keep in contact with a couple of the sorors.
My sorority sisters and I would carry the flags for the DAV during parades on Memorial Day and Veterans Day at Arlington Cemetery and Quantico.
IN WHAT WAYS HAS SERVING IN THE MILITARY INFLUENCED THE WAY YOU HAVE APPROACHED YOUR LIFE AND YOUR CAREER?
Actually, it hasn’t. My philosophy and that of the military were the same when I joined so I really fit in. I had a strong work ethic, a sense of being, and a sense of purpose when I joined and that fell right in with what I believe the military represent. I was also taught, before joining the Army, that if you are going to do something then do it right the first time and that is a philosophy I tried to follow and instill in my soldiers.
BASED ON YOUR OWN EXPERIENCES, WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO THOSE WHO HAVE RECENTLY JOINED THE ARMY?
I would challenge them to better themselves and those around them. It really is a team effort and if you are in it for yourself then you are in the wrong profession and need to leave. For those that are in it to better themselves, their soldiers, and to stand up for what is right then I say to them continue what you are doing. You are an elite few that have chosen to take on this challenge and it is worth it. If more people had this mindset then we would all be better off. Regardless of your MOS, field time, or deployments you are important and what you do does make a difference. Whether you are a pill pusher as I was, a cook, or a tanker we all have our role to play and they all interlock so do the best you can because someone is counting on you.
IN WHAT WAYS HAS TOGETHERWESERVED.COM HELPED YOU REMEMBER YOUR MILITARY SERVICE AND THE FRIENDS YOU SERVED WITH.
It is a good forum to stay in touch with others that had served or are still serving. I was able to find a fellow soldier that I had served with while at Camp Red Cloud. Because we had different MOS’s we drifted apart, but because of Togetherweserved.com we were able to reconnect.
Peck’s mother, Greta, first wife of movie star Gregory Peck, told Steve she could arrange for him to skip out and stay with family in Sweden, but he wasn’t very politically aware and wasn’t opposed to serving. “I certainly didn’t want to use my father,” said Peck, even if his famous Oscar-winning dad and humanitarian might have been able to get him out of military service.
So Stephen Peck was drafted into the U.S. Marine Corps in 1968 and served as a Lieutenant in the 1st Marine Division near Da Nang from 1969 to 1970. When he came back, he pursued what he thought would be his long-time career. He enrolled in a graduate school cinema program in 1972 and went on to become a documentary filmmaker.
But his life changed in 1990 when he made a film about a group of homeless veterans living on the beach in Venice, Calif. Back then, there were few services for veterans outside of the VA, and almost none for homeless vets. After that, Peck knew he had to do something to help other fellow veterans; to become an active participate in solving the problem rather than an observer. So he went to University of Southern California and earned a degree in social work with the goal of devoting himself to helping veterans.
In 1993 Peck joined U.S. VETS, a nonprofit organization serving homeless and at-risk veterans. The organization partnered with a housing developer at that time and started it’s first site, the West Side residence in Los Angeles -a place veterans could go and get the services they needed to stabilize themselves.
In 2012 Peck was named CEO of U.S. VETS, which now has 11 facilities in six states and the District of Columbia and it serves more than 2,000 veterans each day. They have helped 3,000 veterans find housing and more than 1,000 veterans obtain full-time employment yearly. The estimated number of homeless vets at the time he became CEO, was 60,000 homeless vets. Twelve percent, or 7,200, lived in the Los Angeles area.
As a Marine officer serving in Vietnam, Peck learned a few things about war. “You face enemy fire, you engage the enemy. If you don’t go where the trouble is, you cant solve the problem.”
As the CEO of U.S. VETS, Peck takes the fight to the front lines. “Our job as I see it is to engage the enemy at home in the U.S.- the enemy of homelessness, disillusionment, and disappointment-to let these men and women know that there is a path forward and that we support them and are tremendously grateful for their contribution to this country and the sacrifices they have made.” he said in recent newspaper interview.
But Peck knows the demand for services nationwide is growing dramatically as thousands return from multiple deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq. He also recognizes the Veterans Administration will not be able to answer the need.
He estimates 20 percent of all vets suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder but only 40 percent seek help. “Crunch those numbers and it mean roughly 250,000 vets from Iraq and Afghanistan will go untreated and that translates into thousands of fractured families, lost jobs and more homelessness,” he said.
To stem the tide, Peck and his staff began going to college campuses and into the streets in search of vets needing help but either didn’t known it or didn’t know where to turn. U.S. VETS is building a network of contacts on greater Los Angles college campuses where several thousand vets are taking advantage of the G.I. Bill.
“We owe it to veterans who are sent out there to serve this country, to help them when they come back and that there will be sufficient money set aside for them to re-integrate back into society. I feel we have an obligation to do that,” he said.