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LAKE THARTHAR REGION, Iraq - Lance Cpl. Joseph Wheeler, a 20-year-old Squad Automatic Weapon gunner from Bumpass, Va. leans against his rucksack during some down time before leaving to search for insurgent weapons caches as part of Task Force Hard. The Task Force primarily involved Marines with 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, who searched the region as part of Operation Khandjar (Iraqi for dagger), June 17 through 22. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Stephen D'Alessio (RELEASED)

Photo by Sgt. Stephen D'Alessio

Bumpass, Va., native combs the desert

7 Jul 2005 | Sgt. Stephen D'Alessio

Every man in Lance Cpl. Joseph Wheeler’s family has been a Marine.  And now that he’s in the infantry with 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, he’s definitely not the one to break the tradition.

Most recently, Wheeler was part of a large operation to uncover insurgent weapons caches and hideouts during Operation Khanjar – meaning dagger in Arabic.  His team, part of Task Force Hard from Company B, traveled throughout the desert region here, questioning nomadic Iraqi farmers and fishermen as to the whereabouts of weapons or insurgent activity.

Wheeler and his squad were part of a ‘Track Company,’ mobilized on Assault Amphibian Vehicles that transported him and his squad members to regions in the desert suspected of being hideouts and weapons caches for insurgents.  The small task force is just one part of the work he completes during Operation Iraqi Freedom, intended to bring freedom to all Iraqi citizens.

“I didn’t actually join the infantry; they just gave me this job because I shot too high in boot camp,” said the 21-year-old M-249 Squad Automatic Weapon gunner referring to his high marksmanship score.  “I have no regrets, though.  I’m getting to see things I’d never have seen in my entire life.

“Heck, my friends are still at home sitting on their rear ends and I’m about to get married and living life to the fullest.”

Wheeler and his mates walked the desert for five days in the blazing sun without shade and without shelter.  It’s Marines like him who are at the forefront of the Corps’ stability and security operations here.  And he’s making the best out of it.

“I love it – as you can see I’m living in a hole (referring to his dugout fighting position).  “I’ve never had so many brothers in my entire life.”

He and his unit arrived at the homes and tents of many nomadic herders to question them about insurgents.  During the visits, Wheeler and his fellow Marines interacted with the families.  Sometimes they received good response like a thank you and other times they were clearly unwelcome.  Some of those unwelcoming families were supporting insurgents, which was proven by anti-coalition propaganda posters on their walls.

Further north, during a separate operation, an insurgent torture chambers and weapons caches was recently discovered.  These types of finds are what keep him motivated for everyday work – which is literally, every day.

“I think we’ve done an excellent job here for the Iraqis,” said Wheeler.  “We’re helping to liberate these people after years of oppression and we’re showing them a taste of the freedom we have to offer – if they accept it.”

Wheeler learned room-clearing and patrolling tactics from his mentors in the Corps.  He plans to do some teaching of his own when he goes home to Louisa County High School where he graduated in 2002.

“When I get back I’d like to get a history degree and teach, coach football and wrestling for the rest of my life,” said Wheeler.  “I love Bumpass; everybody knows everybody’s business and it’s a small Southern town.  But in the meantime, I want to help get the bad guys out of this place and make for a better and safer country for the Iraqi people.”