CAMP BLUE DIAMOND, AR RAMADI, Iraq -- Marines in non-infantry military occupational specialties find themselves taking up arms when they deployed to Operation Iraqi Freedom – a corporal with the 2nd Marine Division Band is one of them.
Christy O’Neill, a 22-year-old Bend, Ore. native and trumpeter with the band, is part of the camp’s quick reaction force, which is dedicated to protecting the general, his staff and all of the inhabitants of the camp.
Blue Diamond is located in the infamous Sunni Triangle, where some of the most active cloisters of insurgent cells are known to operate. Day and night, she is either roving the camp or standing post in a guard tower keeping a sharp eye peeled for anything out of the ordinary.
O’Neill, a 2001 graduate of Bend Senior High School trained to play the trumpet since sixth grade. For her deployment as part of the QRF here, training began more than a year before she deployed. She had to learn quickly and apply that knowledge like a reflex in just a short amount of time.
Her training encompassed much more than the ordinary rifle range marksmanship course or field firing that Marines in her MOS are accustomed to. She learned to handle and maintain machineguns, grenade launchers and she qualified on courses that tested her accuracy. She was also instructed in squad maneuver and patrolling tactics directly from infantrymen who have served in Afghanistan for Operation Enduring Freedom and Iraq.
“We participated in security and stability operations training well before we came out here,” said O’Neill. “One of the best things was the Enhanced Marksmanship Program where we learned to shoot in a close quarters combat style.”
It isn’t just standing on a tower or guarding the base, though. O’Neill and her counterparts are the first reactors to any threat situation on the base.
“Not too long ago, me and another Marine were patrolling on base, when rockets hit one of the buildings nearby,” said O’Neill. “We ran about 200 yards to the scene to make sure nobody was hurt.”
O’Neill also trained in the Corps’ combat lifesaver course where she learned basic procedures in sustaining casualties in the field until they can receive more advanced medical care. The course taught her up-to-date tactics like using the most effective improvised splints, how to stop major bleeding and resuscitation.
Aside from combat arms, her main occupation in the band has brought her to some very memorable places. In one case, she traveled to Plattsburgh, N.Y. to play in an outdoor concert and march in a parade wearing her uniform. She also played in the Evansville, Ind. Freedom Festival.
“The best was when we went to Rochester, N.Y. for the indoor Field Show,” said O’Neill. “There were British fief and drum players, Canadian dancers and Irish folk musicians.
“When we stepped on stage, people got on their feet for a standing ovation even before we played. We were the only unit to get one and their own local army band was even there, which didn’t. It was the best feeling I’ve ever had.”
For now, O’Neill wants to take a break from it all and spend time with her family back in Oregon. She hopes that one day all of her experiences and training will pay off for when she becomes an elementary school teacher.
“I’m a big family person and I’ve been lucky so far in the Marines because I’ve been able to be home for Christmas for the past three years,” said O’Neill. “So for Marines who are having a hard time on deployment; it may seem hard now, but there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.”