Monday, May 28, 2007

Perspective: Marines volunteer to return to Iraq

RAMADI, IRAQ — Marine Cpl. Saul Mellado could be back in California, finishing the final months of his enlistment in a safe billet at Camp Pendleton.

Instead, the 23-year-old naturalized U.S. citizen from Mexico is patrolling these war-torn streets only recently wrested from insurgent control — and bracing for an expected counteroffensive.

Mellado, a machine-gunner, knows these streets: the adults who eye the Marines with suspicion and the children who beg for candy and water. He was first dispatched to Ramadi in late 2004, a deployment during which 15 Marines in his unit — the 2nd Battalion, 5th Regiment — died and more than 200 were wounded.

Under Marine Corps rules about "short-timers," Mellado could have skipped this return to Ramadi six weeks ago. But like 200 other members of the battalion — a quarter of its number — he asked to have his enlistment extended. Unlike a reenlistment, the move earns the Marines no bonus money, no promotion and no promise of a job shift or posting to a favored duty station.

"For a lot of the guys, this is their first tour," Mellado said as his Humvee moved slowly through the rubble-strewn streets. "If anything happened to them, and I could have helped them, I couldn't stand that."

Read the rest at the LA Times