Honor. Courage. Commitment.
Semper Fidelis…always faithful.
Every day, citizens offer gratitude for the multitudes of Armed Services members protecting our country. At the same time, a Marine salutes his community for prayers of safety and support and shares a glimpse of his experiences on foreign soil.
Lance Corporal Joshua D. Cohron, 21, returned Oct. 5 from Iraq to Camp Pendleton, after serving seven months west of Baghdad in Arramadi, Iraq, west of Fallujah, Alambar Province. He is a member of Echo Company, 2nd batt salion, 5th Marine regiment, under the First Marine Division. This was his second deployment.
Cohron said that medical psychologist studies have proven that the front line defense is more stressful and troops' top capacity is about seven months. After that period, mental alertness shrinks and a little rest and relaxation is ordered.
He said after his arrival in Kuwait and a three-day stay, they pushed to an Iraq air station to transport helicopters to the field they called Junction City in Arramadi. The battalion studied the area of operation, became familiar with the territory, prepared gear, acclimated to the weather, and hydrated themselves.
He said that March wasn't too bad, about 85-90 degrees, but the summer was torturous with 146-degree days.
“The thermometer only recorded up to 120 degrees,” Cohron said. “In four months, I never saw it less than 115.”
He said that it was not only the heat, but also the combat gear, which included the flack vest, bulletproof covering, helmet, water supply, extra ammunition, grenades, and other necessities.
“If packing light, the gear usually weighed 85-96 pounds,” he said.
Cohron is 5.5 feet tall and weighs about 150 pounds.
The combat outpost was named Falcon, a mechanical unit with Bradley tanks, which are armored fighting vehicles. The unit took over the city, about the size of Kansas City. Cohron said the insurgent contact was heavy.
“The first few months were pretty hot,” he said.
But he was quick to add that there were no KIAs (Killed in Action), a first for no loss in this battalion's history. In 2004, 16 did not return. Cohron said that the 2nd/5th members extended their contracts to go back to be certain his battalion returned safely. He has done the same and will return if the 2nd/5th are deployed, which will be his third tour.
“All brothers took care of each other,” he said, adding they consider themselves the world's biggest fraternity and friends for life.
There is regular contact with each other.
“Everyone was tough and had their minds on their jobs,” Cohron said.
It was difficult to recognize the enemy. He said that insurgents would fire on someone, throw down the rifle, and blend in with others. The Marines didn't always know who was the enemy and who was not.
The living conditions are as the media has depicted. One of his duties is being assigned to a two-day post. During this time, there is site security duty to prevent insurgents from sneaking in. There are four hours on and eight off. There are two-day patrols with some on one-hour security and one or two days push into position, remaining until orders are received. He said personnel are rotated.
Cohron said that each squad is made up of 12 Marines. The ages in his group range from 19 to 28 years old. The small squads maneuver quickly into place without being noticed. He said that everyone in the battalion is schooled on medical issues that might occur in the field. Aid is rendered immediately if a comrade falls. Transfer time to an aid station, now more numerous than in the past, is within fifteen minutes by helicopter or vehicle.
Iraqis were frequently held for questioning as a suspected sniper, cell leader, mortar men, or for car bombings. He said the battalions are targets. If anyone suspicious is spotted, he is brought in for questioning. The transport normally takes place at night for security and safety purposes for both sides, he said.
The Iraqi people have definite notions of Americans. Cohran said that they believe a Marine must kill a family member before being eligible for service. He also learned that Iraqis don't respect Americans.
“Values have been instilled in them due to the thousands of years the country has been in existence,” he said. “They resent a 221 year old country, such as America, coming in and telling them what to do.”
However, Cohron said that the people are much like any other culture. They take pride in and are very protective of family, go to church, and watch their children grow up. Many are below poverty level and send their children out with five-gallon buckets of gas to sell because there are no gas stations. Those in dire straits receive assistance from others.
“The higher sheiks have money,” he explained. “Tribes have money. If one has money, all receive a portion.”
Most women do not communicate with the Americans, but he said many of them are very intelligent. One woman he talked to spoke in English, but she didn't want her husband to know. When he came home, she immediately reverted to the native language. Women were a separate entity by virtue of culture, he said.
The Iraqi people are allowed weapons to protect themselves.
“Every household is allowed one AK47 with thirty rounds of ammo,” Cohron said. “Serial numbers are recorded. If a weapon disappears, we would find it.”
The Iraqi army patrolled with the Marines as a learning experience.
“There was a language barrier,” he said, “but there was always an interpreter.” He said that the Marine knew some of the Arabic language. The Iraqi soldiers enjoyed mimicking the Marines' enthusiasm - and that there was good rapport between the soldiers.
The Marines supplied at least 200 Iraqi police uniforms and weapons. They invited the Marines for volleyball and football games.
During quieter moments, Cohron said that down time still entailed defense work. Sandbags were filled or checked, rifles cleaned, and gear prepared. Hydration became a normal way of life. For entertainment, groups played cards, told jokes, read, exercised in a makeshift gym, and wrote letters.
“Many guys had trouble leaving home at home and definitely returned to the States a little different,” he said. He felt he had to focus on his job. Then once he returned to Kuwait, he thought, “Wow, I'm really going home.”
Cohran said he received information on stateside occurrences and the negative remarks about the war.
“Politics is not an issue with us,” he said. “I'm there to take care of my job and my buddies and make certain I get home safely.”
He said the media blows things out of proportion and dwells on negative events when there are good things going on.
“I always had hard candy for the kids. They also loved pens and pencils. It is the small things in life that make them smile,” he said.
Cohran said that when he landed in Hans, Germany, on the trip home, he had his first beer in seven months. He flew to New York and then on to southern California where families were waiting to welcome them back.
Cohran said he learned to value numerous things during his tours.
“I appreciate restaurants, church, kissing a sweetheart, hugging Mom, seeing Dad, and hanging out with friends,” he said. He enjoys driving and walking around without gear. “However,” he said, “in public places I want to be able to see out the door.”
He said he feels anxious at times.
“Mom said I am making goat trails through the house, trying to stay active,” he said.
Little mistakes make him uneasy. He said this is due to his field experience to always be on alert and be perfect in everything.
On this Thanksgiving, he will give special thanks for his family, the guys he served with, the prayers and letters from home from those he doesn't even know, and the care packages.
School children sent letters and the Bread of Life ministries headed by Pastor Keith Evans, a Vietnam veteran, provided news from his church family.
“Care packages were special,” Cohran said. “I had a lot of Ramen noodles.”
He said a table was placed in the middle of the room for sharing items.
“It was kind of like having 36 brothers,” he said.
Support from his mother was invaluable.
“I know she had trying times dealing with a son overseas in one of the hottest spots of Iraq,” he said.
Cohran praises his supporters and encourages them to do the same for all everyone in all areas of conflict.
“I pray that God keeps all safe,” he said. “Those who don't make it back are never forgotten. Guys having readjustment periods are not forgotten. I ask that everyone pray for their improvement.”
Three medals and two ribbons have been awarded to Cohran. He received the National Defense medal, the Iraqi Campaign medal, the Global War on Terrorism medal, the Combat Action ribbon, and the Sea Service Deployment ribbon, starred for 2nd rating.
Cohan is the son of Dena Felts and stepfather Patrick, of Stephenville, two younger brothers Jody, 20, and Nathan, 11. His father, Larry Cohron, lives in Granbury.
The Marine will return to Camp Pendleton after the holidays. He should redeploy in seven months as he signed up for four active and four inactive years. He presently has a year and three months left on his enlistment.
He said he has seen more sites than he ever thought possible.
“I have been in Okinawa, Iwo Jima, Guam, South Korea, Thailand, Germany, Kuwait, and Iraq,” Cohan said. “I was sent to the Philippines on a humanitarian mission in 2005 after a natural disaster. We pulled people from the mudslides. The Philipinos were very thankful.”
His community, too, is thankful for the men and women in the military. Let's not forget them today when we sit down to a table rich in bounty to share with friends and family near.
SHERRY BOARDMAN is a staff writer for the Empire-Tribune and can be reached at email@example.com or 254-965-3124, ext. 229.