MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. -- Hundreds of Marines gathered on the shore of Courthouse Bay to pay their final respects to friends who made the ultimate sacrifice.
Just two weeks ago, 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion returned to the United States after their seven-month deployment to Iraq’s volatile Al Anbar Province.
Although Marines here consider the deployment to be a success - with the substantial build up of Iraqi Security Forces, a steady decrease of insurgent activity and an increase in the local’s willingness to work with Marines – success came with a price.
2nd Lt. Mark C. Gelina, Sgt. Chad M. Allen, Cpl. Benjamin S. Rosales and Lance Cpl. Edward M. Garvin gave their lives while working to help make Iraq a safer and more stable country.
The Marines of 2nd LAR stood in formation facing the memories of their fallen brothers. These memories were represented by four traditional memorials made up of a Kevlar helmet set atop a rifle stuck bayonet-first into the ground, adorned with dog tags and combat boots.
After a final role call, where names of the deceased hung in the air without answer, Marines especially close to those lost stood with family members in front of the battalion formation to honor the lives of their friends.
“I don’t look at this as a memorial, but as a way to honor (Gelina,)” said 1st Lt. Douglas A. Woodcock, a 30-year-old platoon commander from Greene, Mont. “He wasn’t just a friend to me, he was a mentor as well.”
Gelina, a 33-year-old platoon commander with Company D from Moberly, Mo., enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1996. He was accepted into the Marine Enlisted Commissioning Education Program in 2001, from which he received his commission as an officer. He was killed in a non-hostile incident Nov. 4, 2006, in Rawah, Iraq.
On Oct. 4, 2006, Rosales, a 20-year-old Light Armored Vehicle mechanic from Houston, and Garvin, a 19-year-old infantryman from Malden, Mass., were killed during Operation River Sweep; an eight-day mission spearheaded by Company D along the Euphrates River that was designed to oust insurgents and uncover enemy arms caches.
Garvin, known for his ability to make people laugh, was one-of-a-kind, said Lance Cpl. Joseph Foraker, a 20-year-old LAV crewman.
“No matter how long I live, I’ll never be half the man that he was,” Foraker said.
After their deaths on the second day of the operation, the Marines of Company D became determined to ensure the sacrifice was not in vain, Marines here say.
They spent the next six days tirelessly uncovering what was reputed to be one of the largest intelligence finds of Operation Iraqi Freedom – striking a devastating blow against insurgents across Iraq.
For the Marines here, this success was an important way to honor the memory of Rosales, a Marine who strove for excellence and achieved it humbly.
“I’ve never met anyone more deserving to go to heaven than him,” said Cpl. Harrison Kallina, a 21-year-old LAV mechanic from Grand Junction, Colo. “His only flaw was being too nice.”
For Marines in Company A, the loss of one of their Marines hit everyone hard. They experienced arguably some of the most intense fighting in the region as they conducted security operations and trained Iraqi Security Forces in Anah, a city of roughly 30,000 residents about 150 miles northwest of Baghdad,
Allen, a 25-year-old LAV commander from Maple Lake, Minn., was killed Feb. 28, roughly a month shy of the battalion’s return to the United States.
Universally liked throughout the company, Allen enjoyed the smaller things in life like hanging out with friends, listening to music and riding his motorcycle, said Cpl. Brandon Domanek, a 23-year-old infantryman from Springfield, Ohio.
After a 21-Gun salute and the playing of “Taps,” the entire battalion marched in front the four memorials in a single file line, saluting as they passed.
Although the only sound was the playing of “Amazing Grace,” words from Domanek’s eulogy still hung in the air.
“When you get to heaven,” he said of the Marines who died, “there is no need for greetings, because friends don’t say goodbye.”