Marines remove piece of past, build brighter future

7 Aug 2004 | Staff Sgt. Demetrio J. Espinosa

For the past 15 months, a local family has had to live with the constant reminder of the former Iraqi Army that used their land to fight coalition forces.  Since Iraqi soldiers abandoned their post, his children have been playing near the howitzer left behind.

Marines and sailors from Marine Expeditionary Unit Service Support Group 24, 24th MEU, returned to the site where, just a couple of weeks before, they promised to remove the piece of artillery.

The howitzer was discovered during a humanitarian assistance mission to deliver potable water to residents in the area.  One of the residents took the water, and when asked if he needed anything else, he asked to have the howitzer removed.  According to the resident, he was afraid for his children’s safety because they often played on it.

“For this mission the MSSG had to call on several of its detachments, its maintenance detachment, (Explosives Ordinance Disposal), transportation support and some staff members,” said Capt. Thomas H. Gilley, operations officer, MSSG-24, and Glenn Burnie, Md., native.  “The Maintenance Detachment is the main effort; everybody else is out here in support of this mission.”

The Maintenance detachment’s first task was to see if the howitzer was moveable.  Once that was accomplished, they went to work loading the large artillery piece.

“We came out, brought the wrecker out, and our job was to winch it in, and set it up so we could put it on the flat bed and take it,” said Cpl. David G. Lopez, a vehicle recovery specialist with the Maintenance Detachment, MSSG-24.  “It wasn’t too tough,” the Lamont Calif., native explained.  “But cranking on that wheel was pretty tough.”

Preparing the howitzer to be loaded was the easiest part of the process.  The hardest part, since the howitzer was missing one of its four tires, was loading it onto a flatbed trailer.  The Marines first hooked it up to their 7-ton tow truck.  Then the artillery piece had to be driven onto the disconnected and lowered flat bed trailer from the back end.  Once that was carefully done and it was safely on the trailer, it was disconnected from the tow truck and secured to the trailer. 

The leathernecks came up with this solution after a few failed attempts to load the howitzer.  In the end, success came through perseverance for the section that never quits.

“There isn’t a task (MSSG-24 Marines) think they can’t accomplish,” said Gilley.  “Our motto is if we can’t find a way, we make a way.”

With that mission accomplished, the Marines also made great strides in the MEU’s larger goal of being a good neighbor to the Iraqi people.

“Their workload never stops and they never stop producing results,” said Gilley about the Maintenance Detachment.  “Not only are they working to help the MEU, they are working to help the local populace and to make a good impression of why we are here.” 

The Iraqi spirits weren’t the only ones boosted.

“It makes me feel pretty good helping out people,” said Cpl. Ron A. Underwood, a Logistical Vehicle System operator with the Transportation Support Detachment, MSSG-24.  “You drive down the road and see all the kids waving at you, it kind of makes you feel good,” added the Chesterfield, Mo., native.

Echoing that sentiment, Gilley says this type of mission is what will help the MEU in the long run.

“(The Marines) will remember this, as will the Iraqi people.  One small contribution from the Marines on the howitzer makes a lasting impression on the families.”