HURRICANE POINT, Ar Ramadi, Iraq -- A Marine with 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment is well known among his fellow devil dogs here for connecting them with loved ones back home.
Twenty-two-year-old Lance Cpl. Richard E. Beland is the infantry battalion's mail clerk. His service is a lifeline between Marines and their families when they are deployed fighting the Global War on Terrorism, said the freckled-faced redhead.
Beland is responsible for picking up the mail, sorting it, and passing it out to more than 900 Marines in 1st Battalion, 5th Marines. He ensures the letter and care packages, which are often stocked with goodies and reminders of home, get in the hands the proper recipient.
"Getting mail out here is like Christmas time," said the 2001 Garner Senior High School graduate. "I guess that makes me Santa. I have a love-hate relationship with the Marines, though. They love me when I return with mail and angered if I don't."
Though the 5-feet-10-inch, 180-pound Garner, N.C., native may not look like Santa Clause, he does share one trait with the North Pole elf.
"He's jolly," said Lance Cpl. Christopher M. Johnson, a legal clerk with Headquarters and Service Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Marines. "He's a happy-go-lucky kind of guy. He goes with the flow and laughs about everything," continued the 23-year-old Maybee, Mich., native.
The 2000 Dundee High School graduate added that Beland maintains a positive persona even when times get tough and things aren't in his favor.
Beland travels in convoys to Camp Blue Diamond -- approximately a mile and half away -- two or three times per week to collect the battalion's mail from the post office there. Making a mail run means he has to leave safety for a short while and put himself in danger since many convoys have suffered improvised explosive device attacks on the routes between the two camps.
"Sure, I get worried," Beland said. "But it's a routine thing, and the Marines need their mail."
Many Marines in the battalion are grateful for what Beland does as the mail clerk.
"He's our connection to our families when the Internet and phone center is down," said Cpl. Nick I. Compton, the 21-year-old Odessa, Texas native and a supply administration clerk with H&S Company. "It sometimes seems as though we get our mail faster here than in the states."
Being around explosions and taking fire from the enemy is nothing new for Beland, however. He was a rifleman in Company A when the battalion was pushing though Iraq at the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
"I became a mail clerk after OIF I," explained Beland, who's on his third trip to Iraq in support of OIF. "I got injured and they made me the mail clerk."
Beland received a Purple Heart for injuries he received to his right hand during his first deployment to Iraq.
"I was looking out the top of an (Amphibious Assault Vehicle) and we started taking fire from an Iraqi tank in front of us," he remembered. "I got down, but my hand got caught in the hatch when (a Marine) closed it. The lid broke most of the bones in my hand."
Despite the injury to his hand, which rendered it unusable, Beland remained with his Marines in the fight for 10 more days. He later left the battlefield to receive medical treatment and eventually ended up back home. After completely healing, he returned to his unit in Camp Pendleton and was made the mail clerk.
Beland plans to leave the Corps to pursue a higher education at the Wake Technical Community College in Raleigh, N.C., when his enlistment expires in June.
"I want to get a degree and become a landscaping architect."