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Saturday, 22-Apr-2006 12:00 Email | Share | | Bookmark

Fallen troops are honored
April 22,2006
The Jacksonville area has spent the past two months welcoming home thousands of Marines and sailors from the battlefields of Iraq. But not all have come home the way they planned.

The 2nd Marine Division honored those who died fighting in Iraq during a Friday memorial service at Camp Lejeune. Families and friends of the 265 fallen Marines, sailors and soldiers who served under the Division flag in Iraq between January 2005 and early March gathered to honor their loved ones at the banks of the New River. More than 80 of the fallen were stationed at Lejeune.

The families faced a solemn monument of helmets and boots, rifles and dog tags as the names of the departed warriors were read aloud, a 21-gun salute shook the sky and a pair of bugle players sounded a somber rendition of “Taps.”

Maj. Gen. Richard Huck, the division commander, spoke of the Marines as coming from every background imaginable, a representation of the best America has to offer.

“They were tall, stout, short and thin,” he told the families. “There were every color and creed. They came for many reasons, but each was a volunteer and wanted to be part of something bigger than themselves.

“On this day in history, we stand together to remember those we stood shoulder to shoulder with in Iraq,” he added. “They are gone from us now, but they will never be forgotten.”

Of the 265 men and women honored, there were 189 Marines, 70 soldiers and six sailors. While many of the honored fallen were Marines from other bases, a large number were stationed at Camp Lejeune itself — 83 Marines and sailors, according to a Daily News count.

These service members died — most in combat or from roadside bomb explosions, some in accidents — during a year when 2nd Marine Division was the primary infantry element serving under the II Marine Expeditionary Force in western Iraq. During the year, about 14,000 Marines fought for the Division in Iraq in two rotations.

Huck told the families they should be proud of their loved ones, for they were part of the “vanguard in the war on terror” and their sacrifice will always be remembered by the Marine Corps, their names added to the rolls of fallen heroes from all of American history.

“May they remain forever living in your memory,” he said. “They will in ours.”

While all of these service members had memorial services while in Iraq and private funerals in their hometowns, Friday’s service offered an opportunity for families and area Marines to join together in grief, said Cmdr. Gary Carr, a 2nd Marine Division chaplain.

“The Marine Corps wants to profess its profound sorrow in the loss of their loved ones,” Carr said. “Every Marine, sailor and solider that served this past year matters to all of us. We wanted to come together as a complete unit to remember their service and sacrifice.

“We hope to bring a little comfort and hope and help share the burden of grief.”

The assembly of families was surrounded by a formation of division Marines, standing quietly as their comrades’ names were read.

Cpl. Josh Langdon, with 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion, was friends with one of the fallen, Lance Cpl. Mario Castillo. They were in the same unit and served in the same platoon when they were deployed to Haiti in 2004.

“It’s kind of hard to come here and see his family and see what they are going through, but it’s also comforting,” he said after the ceremony. “Its one of those things you just have to progress through.”

Sgt. Bradley Wood, also with 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion, was deployed to Iraq from August 2004 until April 2005. While he wasn’t close with any of the fallen Marines, he did have a message for their families.

“I’ll tell them their sons or daughters or whoever it was, were good people that meant good and they did good,” he said.

Navy Capt. Bryan Weaver, a division chaplain, perhaps summed up the memorial’s message best in his remarks.

“They have given us the gift of valor,” he said. “May God’s peace follow them. Rest in peace, warriors.”

Contact staff writer Chris Mazzolini at cmazzolini@freedomenc.com or 353-1171, ext. 229.


Friday, 21-Apr-2006 12:00 Email | Share | | Bookmark
Sgt Miles awarded Purple Heart

Photo # 1
Photo # 2
Photo # 3

Marine posthumously awarded Purple Heart Medal
Submitted by: 2nd Marine Division
Story Identification #: 200642675651
Story by Cpl. Athanasios L. Genos

MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUUNE, N.C. (April 21, 2006) -- Genevieve Miles and her family were surrounded by Marines from her husband’s company as their commander presented Sgt. Sean Miles’ Purple Heart to her here, April 21.

Miles was fatally wounded while saving the life of another Marine during an ambush in the Al Karmah region. His wife, Genevieve and son, Tyler, were present to accept the award on behalf of Sgt. Miles. The Marines from Company E, 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment were present to honor the fallen hero and his family.

“Today is a day to not only remember, but also honor our heroic brother, Sgt. Sean Miles,” Brady said. “Sgt. Miles distinguished himself on numerous occasions in combat and was also posthumously awarded the Bronze Star with combat distinguishing device.”

They were ambushed while on a dismounted patrol, and Miles began sending in a situation report while directing his Marines into position to return fire on the enemy.

One of his Marines was in the direct line of fire. Seeing this, Miles acted without hesitation, putting himself in between the enemy fire and his Marine.

“He acted without a second thought and deliberately positioned himself in between the enemy fire and his Marine, shielding and shoving the Marine to safety,” Brady said. “After saving the Marine’s life, Sgt. Miles received a fatal wound from enemy fire.”

Miles was a squad leader who influenced many of his Marines and those he worked for.

“He was the only man I have ever met who I wanted to be like,” explained Cpl. Jason Gillilan, a fellow squad leader who served with Miles. “He never quit anything in life and most of all he loved his son and wife. He gave up everything ... his family and his squad.”

Two Marines who were a part of his squad in Iraq were trained by Miles at the School of Infantry. Miles later became their squad leader when the two Marines reported into the battalion.

Lance Cpls. Alexander Burke and Samuel Fonseca both had only good things to say of Miles.

“He is one of the greatest guys I have ever met,” Burke explained. “He was like a father figure to all of us in the squad.”

“He was someone we all looked up to ever since we first met him at SOI,” Fonseca explained.

Everyone was in a somber mood as they all lined up to hug and shake hands with the family. Marines embraced each other and the family as they remembered all Miles had done for both his families.

# 1 - Genevieve Miles accepts the Purple Heart for her husband, Sgt. Sean Miles, who was killed in action during an enemy ambush near Al Karmah, Iraq. Genevieve and her son Tyler with other family members and Marines were gathered together to honor the life of Miles. Photo by: Cpl. Athanasios L. Genos

# 2 - Marines from Company E, 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment pass by and hug the family members of Sgt. Sean Miles, their fallen comrade-in-arms, who laid down his life to save that of another Marine. Photo by: Cpl. Athanasios L. Genos

# 3 - Lt. Col. J.J. Minick, 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, battalion commander, consoles the wife and son of fallen Marine Sgt. Sean Miles at a Purple Heart Ceremony where the award was posthumously given to Miles’ wife, Genevieve. Photo by: Cpl. Athanasios L. Genos

Sunday, 19-Mar-2006 12:00 Email | Share | | Bookmark
2/2 Company G - LCpl Tony Gilliard


March 19, 2006
From The Morning Call

On war's anniversary, a family mourns, another worries

Liberty grad killed in Iraq last winter; injured schoolmate yearns to return to combat.

By Matt Assad
Of The Morning Call

As he sank into the couch in his parents' Freemansburg home, the shrapnel scar visible behind his ear, 21-year-old Lance Cpl. Tony Gilliard clicked through an electronic photo album of the guys he spent nine months with, fighting side-by-side in Iraq.

He'd grown to regard many of them almost as brothers. As he moved from page to page he matter-of-factly ticked off the grim details of how his extended family had shrunk so quickly.

''That's Kenny, he got hit with a [bomb], and Ramone here got torn up by one, too, but at least he's still with us,'' Gilliard said, clicking to another page. ''Cabino and Chevy are dead, and Herbert here, he lost sight in his eye and his jaw is pretty torn up, but he's alive. This guy right here, that's Doc Vega. He's the guy who saved my life.''

Through at least 10 major firefights and more roadside bombings than Gilliard can count, he said, more than half of the 47 members of his Company G, 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marines have been killed or injured in battles near Fallujah — a place that remains one of Iraq's most unstable regions.

The Marines are among the more-than 2,300 American troops who have been killed and the more-than 17,000 who have been injured since the Iraq War began three years ago today.

Gilliard has seen so much death that he's come to regard it as part of the job. And it doesn't stop him from wanting to go back to the Middle East.

Crosstown in Bethlehem, the family of Gilliard's Liberty High School friend, Kyle Grimes, is still trying to come to grips with one death.

Grimes, a 21-year-old corporal, and 30 other U.S. troops were killed in a helicopter crash west of Baghdad in late January 2005. Grimes' death not only brought a feeling of loss to the tight circle of friends at the Monocacy Field & Stream social club in Bethlehem, where his and Gilliard's parents are members, but it also brought a sense of heightened anxiety. Even as Liberty's Grenadier Band played ''Amazing Grace'' in Grimes' funeral procession in February, Tony Gilliard was training to leave for the war.

Pursuing a dream

Kyle Grimes was the senior who had dreamed of being a Marine since he was 4 years old. Gilliard was the gung-ho freshman who also had a lifetime dream of becoming a Marine. Both also liked wrestling and dreamed of getting into the FBI.

Mary LeVan, who now lives in Baton Rouge, La., remembers her son Kyle's wide-eyed reaction when he playfully tried on his grandfather's Marine uniform, and how he had made up his mind, almost in that instant, that he would one day be a Marine.

Kyle Grimes wrestled and played football at Liberty, but his single-minded focus on his goal helped him become an expert marksman in the Corps, and ultimately it put him on that helicopter that day when LeVan's worst nightmare came true.

''People ask me if it ever gets any better, and I can honestly say, no, it never does,'' LeVan said. ''You learn to live with it, but that horrible feeling never goes away.''

Robert Grimes still can't talk about his son's death, and Kyle Grimes' grandmother, Kathleen Grimes, is finding late winter particularly difficult. With the one-year anniversary of his death came well-wishing e-mails from military families from across the nation. With each e-mail came a reminder of the loss, along with comfort that others share their pain.

''February will probably always be a difficult month for us,'' Kathleen Grimes said. ''Kyle had his heart set on being a Marine since before he could spell Marine. We didn't want him to enlist, but you can't tell a kid he can't pursue his dream.''

Tony Gilliard's mother, Monique Fetter, and stepfather, Angelo Fetter, are dealing with that dilemma now. On Christmas Eve as Gilliard lay unable to move, with pieces of shrapnel searing into his flesh, he never reconsidered a decision he had already made. He will re-enlist, he says, despite all of the close calls, the loss of his high school friend and even the anxiety it brings his family every day. Much as it was for Kyle Grimes, being a Marine has been his lifelong dream.

''I'm not afraid,'' Gilliard said. ''They [Marine doctors] keep asking me how I feel about all this, but I don't want to answer their questions. I just want to do my job. Why would I want to quit a job I like?''

Monique Fetter sees a lot of reasons, many of them contained in the pain she sees the Grimes family enduring. At the Monocacy Field & Stream social club a picture of Kyle Grimes hangs behind the bar just a few paces from the Marine Corps flag Angelo Fetter waved from the back of his Harley-Davidson in the funeral procession.

And she sees plenty of reasons not to enlist in that photo album her son keeps on his laptop computer.

A call home on Christmas

Company G spent 10 months hunting insurgents, in some cases doing home-to-home searches, in the unstable areas near Fallujah. At least 10 times the company was engaged in firefights that lasted 30 to 60 minutes against attacking insurgents, and it hit several roadside bombs. Gilliard, without emotion, recalls the day that an Iraqi woman approached him. Anywhere else it may have appeared as nothing more than a woman with a question, but not in Iraq.

The woman had a grenade tucked in her left armpit and she was trying to get close enough to kill as many U.S. troops as possible. She was subdued before she could detonate the grenade, Gilliard said.

''When we're approached by an Iraqi woman we know something's not right,'' Gilliard said. ''They don't talk to other men, especially American soldiers, or they face consequences at home.''

He excitedly recalled when, after spending weeks traveling the countryside in search of insurgents, his company assumed control of one of Saddam Hussein's palaces with its marble floors and gold-plated toilet seats.

Gilliard's luck ran out on Christmas Eve. He was playing chess with a fellow soldier when their base in Fallujah was attacked by insurgents armed with pistols, rifles, rocket propelled grenades and machine guns. They attacked the base, Gilliard theorized, because it was in the same building as the Iraqi police station and the insurgents wanted to discourage police from helping American troops.

Gilliard grabbed his M-16 rifle and his 9mm handgun and ran to the roof with an Iraqi officer. Minutes later a grenade went off a few paces away, dislocating his shoulder and driving hot metal into both legs and the side of his head.

''I could feel my knee burning, but I never thought I was going to die,'' Gilliard said. ''I couldn't move, but I just kept thinking, 'Get up and get your rifle.'''

That's when medic Jayson Sepulvedavega grabbed him by the back of his vest and dragged him to safety. The vest had a spray of bullets across the front, but none of them reached Gilliard's body.

When the battle was done, seven American soldiers were injured, 14 insurgents were dead, and Gilliard was in an Iraqi hospital.

Gilliard called home Christmas morning, asked for his stepfather and made him promise to wait a day to tell his mother about the injury. He didn't want to ruin his mother's Christmas, but sometimes a mother just knows.

''I knew something was wrong when he wouldn't talk to me, and it bothered me all day,'' Monique Fetter said. ''It's scary, and now he's going back.''

Unfazed by injury

For all of their similarities, there is one area where Grimes and Gilliard differed. In contrast to Grimes' Marines-first attitude, in the days before his helicopter went down he wrote eerie letters home, telling of his fear that he could die in battle at any time, and regretting that he might never get a chance to marry and have children. By then he had toured the campus of Louisiana State University during leave and he had decided he would not re-enlist. He was fighting to get to the end of his tour, he told his mother.

Gilliard, however, is fighting to get back to war.

Gilliard is going back to his unit — or at least that's his plan. After recovering at home in Freemansburg for about a month, Gilliard left last month to rejoin his unit at Camp Lejeune, N.C., where it has been stationed since returning from Iraq in February. But when tests taken at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda showed he still suffered memory loss from his injury, his plans were delayed.

He says he'll keep taking the test until he passes because Company G will soon begin training to go to Afghanistan and Gilliard plans to be with them. When the time comes in a few months, Gilliard — if he's deemed healthy — will re-enlist for another four years.

Unlike his friends, he enjoys the running and training, and he can't pass up the $30,000 enlistment bonus being offered. And unlike Grimes, he has not been jolted by his mortality.

For his mother, that means four more years of worry.

''Part of me wants him to fail those tests because then I won't have to worry so much,'' Fetter said. ''But on the other hand, it's his dream going down the tubes, and I don't want that. It's terrible to be so torn.''

The Grimes family knows that feeling. In the months before his son was killed last year, Robert Grimes would tell his friends at the social club that he feared going home because he was afraid Marine officials would be there with bad news. He knew his son had dreamed of wearing the uniform since he wrote ''I want to be a mreen'' for a first-grade school assignment, but still the worry never seemed to subside.

Monique and Angelo Fetter remember the day that bad news came. They remember it most because Tony Gilliard was just a few days from shipping off to Iraq.

''Bobby told us 'don't worry the way I did or it might happen,''' Angelo Fetter recalled. ''But how do you not worry? People are dying over there.''



Copyright © 2006, The Morning Call

Saturday, 11-Mar-2006 12:00 Email | Share | | Bookmark
2/2 2nd CEB - Cpl Daniel Wright


Iraq tours give marine new appreciation
for U.S., friendships - 3/11/06

Twenty-year-old Cpl. Daniel W. Wright, a demolition expert with the 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion, 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Division, has been forced to grow up quickly the past two years.

While serving in Falujah, Iraq, Wright said, he learned a lot about war, death, danger and fear. But the greatest lessons he learned during two tours in the Middle East are: how lucky he was to be born in the United States of America and the meaning of true friendship.
"After being there," he said of Iraq, "and seeing how those people live, I know we take for granted what we have here in America."

Wright said Iraqis who live outside the larger cities live in houses built of mud, and often "20 people live in a house that has room for [just] five. There is trash everywhere, and the water is not sanitary."

The lives of most Iraqi women weighed upon Wright’s mind, he said, because under the regime of Saddam Hussein, they had little control over their lives. While the women worked hard in the fields, he said, "the father has control of everything.

"After being there," and seeing how the common folk live, he said, "it is always in the back of my mind" that the average Iraqi has never known the kind of life Americans in the U.S. take for granted.

But, he said of the U.S. and Coalition forces, "We already have made a difference for the better."

Over the course of the recent Iraqi elections, said Wright, the number of Iraqis exercising their democratic right to vote increased by more than 300 percent from the first election and by 92 percent between the second and third elections. That, he said, is proof that his own work and that of thousands of other soldiers and Marines has not been in vain.

When he first went to Iraq, Wright said, two platoons of Iraqi soldiers had been trained by U.S. and Coalition forces. But, he noted, “When I left, two battalions had been trained. To see that in a seven-month period makes me know that we’re going in the right direction. The more Iraqi troops we can put on their feet, the less Americans have to be there.”

He said the Iraqi troops had been trained in combat and now will receive the logistics training needed for them to take over, allowing U.S. and Coalition forces a gradual pull-out that Wright thinks might begin over the next couple of years.

“Over all,” he said of the Iraqi troops and civilians, “we’re helping them. No matter what” others may say, “we are helping them.”

Wright added that, as some Democratic lawmakers have urged, should U.S. troops pull out of Iraq now, “we would do more damage than anything.”

The 2003 Person High School graduate said he knew when he signed up with the Marine Corps a few months after graduation that he would eventually go to Iraq. He didn’t, however, plan on doing two tours or going quite as quickly as he did for the first tour.

After entering service in October 2003, Wright completed basic training at Parris Island, S. C., then went to Marine Combat Training at the New River Air Base at Camp Lejeune. After two months of intensive training that lasted six hours a day, he left in June for Al Asad in western Iraq, where he spent three months before taking part in the assault on Falujah. The next three months were spent there, he said, searching for enemy caches.

“We’d sweep,” he said matter of factly this week, “and if we found something, we’d blow it up.”

When that first tour was up, Wright had no qualms about returning for another seven months in Falujah. He says now he couldn’t bear the thought of leaving the guys with whom he had worked so closely and become such close friends. When he came home on leave between tours, he said, “It was always in the back of my mind,” that his buddies and fellow Marines were still in Iraq.

Asked if he lived with constant fear during those months in combat, Wright said that, while he felt fear at times, a Marine could not focus on that and do his job.

“So many different things can happen,” he said, but most soldiers stay so focused on their jobs and looking out for one another that fear is forced to take a back seat.

But, he said, “When you get into a dangerous spot you can look at the other faces and tell; everybody steps up their game.”

Wright said he felt prepared by the training he received and was well-equipped by the Marine Corps with all the tools needed to do his job.

“I had everything I needed and more,” he said this week while home on leave before returning to Camp Lejeune. “Anything I said I needed, it was there for me.”

Wright did know real fear on one occasion during his time in Iraq, though, when his vehicle suffered an IED attack. He was awarded a Purple Heart after suffering a concussion and burst eardrums. He is thankful, he said, for receiving good care after his injuries.

When asked how he became interested in the military, Wright said he had been fascinated by it from an early age but had not planned on signing up until after he graduated PHS. He had applied, he said, to Piedmont Community College and hoped to be a member of the first class in PCC’s Power Production Technology program. But, Wright’s GPA was not quite high enough to gain him admission.

His next choice, he said, was to join the military and, after serving his time, “let them pay” for his college.

When he gets out of the Marine Corps in October 2007, Wright plans to apply to PCC again. Until then, he will take some online courses and try this time to keep up the grades.

By that time, Wright will have married his high school sweetheart, Jennifer Dunn. Their wedding is scheduled for May.

He returned from Iraq on Feb. 13 and has enjoyed spending time with Dunn and his family. He returns to Camp Lejeune March 13.

When asked what he wanted to do first after returning to Person County, the Hurdle Mills native said, “Go to Hardee’s for a Frisco Burger.” He ended up having steak with his family first, but the trip to Hardee’s didn’t wait long.

Wright encouraged all Personians and other Americans to support the troops still in Iraq and Afghanistan by sending cards, letters and packages. Receiving mail, he said, is the highlight of a soldier’s day. He received so many packages and letters from Person County, he said, that his fellow Marines began teasing him. But it meant a great deal to Wright. Those who are still there, he said, need that same kind of support.

“If you know somebody who’s over there,” he urged, “be nice and send them a box or a letter to let them know you care.”

And for those who don’t personally know a soldier or Marine serving in the Middle East, Wright said organizations such as Adopt a Soldier and Soldiers’ Angels (www.soldiersangels.com) can put civilians in touch with a soldier.

Wright’s parents are Terry and Sherry Wright of Hurdle Mills. He has two younger brothers, David, who turned 18 Tuesday, and Stephen, 15. Both are students at Person High.

In addition to the Purple Heart, Wright has also earned the National Defense Medal; Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal; Global War on Terrorism Service Medal; Iraqi Campaign Medal; Sea Service Deployment Ribbon with Bronze Star; and the Combat Action Ribbon.

Friday, 17-Feb-2006 12:11 Email | Share | | Bookmark
Sgt Wayne Norman and Sgt Brian Stokes - Warlord Alumni!

Norman & Stokes
Wayne Norman
Brian Stokes
View all 5 photos...
OK, I've been receiving e-mail about these two for quite some time. I didn't feel it was appropriate to cover their story while the guys were deployed but now I will.

Along with the stories there is a link below to a great radio interview. What a couple of knuckleheads! - JHD

A New Kind of Battle

by Tommy Bowman (Winston-Salem Journal)
July 22, 2005

After two tours of duty in Iraq, a three-month football season doesn't seem so imposing for two Appalachian State players.

Wayne Norman and Brian Stokes, two strapping, 26-year-old freshmen, will take the field for the Mountaineers this fall.

"When we open the season against Eastern Kentucky, on each side of that kicker is going to be a Marine running down the middle of that field," Coach Jerry Moore of the Mountaineers said.

Having served four years in the 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marines, Norman and Stokes have endured experiences that few 18-year-old, fuzzy-faced freshmen could comprehend. They were shipped to Iraq in 2003 at the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom and returned last year as things were heating up in Faluja.

As TOW gunners, or anti-tank missile launchers, both progressed from driver to vehicle commander to squad leader, and both attained the rank of sergeant. Now both are living out their dream of playing college football.

They were applauded by the rest of the team when they were introduced last spring.

"As with anything, we've gained a lot of confidence by being over there," Stokes said. "You lead 25 troops in a firefight, that should tell you that you're capable of doing anything you want if you put your mind to it."

Or, as Norman put it: "I think it goes with that mentality of what doesn't kill you just makes you stronger."

Stokes, a Shrine Bowl selection from Burlington Williams High School, went to East Carolina in 1997 as an invited walk-on but tore a tendon in a finger and didn't play. Norman, a two-way starter in high school, enrolled at his home-state University of Massachusetts for a year.

Both faced financial hardship and left college after a year. They worked for a while, then joined the Marine Corps in 2000 with the intention of returning to college afterward with the aid of the GI Bill.

Norman and Stokes met at Camp Geiger right after basic training and hit it off immediately.

"I wound up having to borrow money from him the first day because I didn't know we had to go buy a bunch of stuff at the PX," Norman said.

In 2002, they began a nine-month deployment to Kosovo, Kenya and the United Arab Emirates. They wound up in Iraq in March of 2003 and stayed there 45 days.

"We were actually on our way back to Camp Lejeune when the war started," Norman said. "Everybody was pretty happy about that, and then it was, 'Guess what, we're turning the boat around.'"

Norman and Stokes said that their unit encountered little resistance once there, but that changed in a seven-month follow-up assignment beginning in March 2004. They encountered particularly heavy fighting when approaching Faluja.

"The second time, I couldn't count how many bullets I felt fly by," Stokes said. "We were in probably over 30 fire-fight engagements, and I don't know how many road-side bombings. And every day there was a mortar attack."

Stokes lost some of his hearing during one attack and has applied for a purple heart.

"A 100 kilogram bomb blew up about five feet from my armored truck," Stokes said. "The impact blew the 300-pound doors open."

Norman said: "The first time we got ambushed was so surreal. We had trained with blanks, and you're used to the sound, but it's definitely not the same. We were taking it from both sides of the road in pitch black. It was incredible. We were blessed that none of our guys got hit that day."

Both completed active duty last November, although they remain on reserve and could be recalled. Stokes, who had wanted to attend Appalachian out of high school, decided to pursue football again and confirmed that he would have at least two and possibly three years of eligibility remaining.

"I felt like it was something I left undone at ECU," Stokes said. "I wanted to come back and finish what I started and complete that dream."

Norman came with Stokes on a visit and was sold, too. "I figured it was like riding a bike," he said.

Stokes said: "I had forgotten what practice was like. I was really anxious to get that first hit, to see how it felt. As soon as I did, it was like, 'Yep, that's how it feels.' "

Norman (5-11, 215) nailed down a spot on punt coverage, and Stokes (6-1, 220) on both kickoff teams during spring drills.

"We know we're not going to go out and start right away, but maybe in a year or two we might learn the defense enough or the offensive schemes to be able to compete at that level," Stokes said.

Norman said: "It's a little bit physically demanding because we have aged a bit and we're competing with kids out of high school, but it's not that bad."

Not bad at all, Stokes said.

"We went from having such close friends in the Marines - people we went to war with - and that's what you miss the most when you leave," Stokes said. "We get here, try out for football in January and didn't know anybody, but now it's very similar to the same sort of brotherhood and camaraderie we had over there. I love being around these guys. It's a great bunch."

• Tommy Bowman can be reached at 727-7320 or at tbowman@wsjournal.com

Original Page: http://GoASU.com/?page=202&article=4331&search=Brian%20Stokes%20and%20Wayne%20Norman&fromPage=431

Appalachian State Player Receives Purple Heart

by Aaron Beard (Associated Press)
February 16, 2006

BOONE, N.C. - Brian Stokes just wanted to fit in, even if he couldn’t help but stand out.

He wanted to be known more for serving as the wedge-buster on Appalachian State’s I-AA national championship team than being a veteran of two tours of duty in Iraq. Still, it was hard not to notice that U.S. Marine Corps patch on his Mountaineers’ jersey this season.

Now he stands out in another way: he recently received his Purple Heart for injuries received in a roadside bomb attack in 2004.

Stokes, 27, is proud of his time in the military and talks openly about his war experiences. But he sounds more eager to talk about being a student-athlete in this small college town nestled in the North Carolina mountains.

“I didn’t want to be an advertising campaign,” he said. “I wanted to play football again. That was my dream.”

Stokes played in 14 of 15 games for the Mountaineers, who beat Northern Iowa 21-16 in December for their first title, and finished with five tackles while playing on special teams and as a reserve tight end. His Purple Heart was officially issued in early December — the day before the national semifinals — and arrived last month at his mother’s home in Gibsonville.

It’s just the latest highlight in a rewarding few months for Stokes, who also appeared on “The Late, Late Show with Craig Ferguson” on CBS days after the title game.

Many nights while serving overseas, Stokes would imagine playing football again.

“Of course, it’s way more than everything I hoped it could be,” he said.

Stokes was a sergeant in the 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marines Division out of Camp Lejeune on his second tour in Iraq when he was injured. The device went off as his armored vehicle led a squad near Lutayfiah, leaving him with shrapnel wounds in his right arm and hearing damage in his right ear — a condition that grew worse as his squad was involved in firefights and encountered about 30 other exploding roadside bombs.

“It’s a weird feeling,” he said of the explosion. “That’s why for a couple of seconds I was like, ’What just happened?’ You just feel the most extreme pressure on all parts of your body. ... It’s like everything was crushing in on every side of you, then all of a sudden, it was released and it felt like a vacuum after that.”

By the time he returned to the United States later that year, Stokes had taken part in more than 200 combat missions. And once he was back, he turned his attention toward football.

Stokes began as a walk-on at East Carolina in 1997, but left at the end of the semester due to an injury.

He then went to Elon, but his habit of partying too much followed him there and he flunked out of school after one semester, ultimately leading to his decision to join the Marines two years later.

Appalachian State had recruited Stokes out of high school, but his grades weren’t good enough. So his mother and grandfather visited coach Jerry Moore and admissions officials about Stokes enrolling after returning home, bringing Moore a letter from Stokes and showing a photo of him carrying a machine gun in front of an armored vehicle.

He was granted two years of eligibility by the NCAA and quickly earned the respect of the players. They greeted Stokes and fellow Marine Wayne Norman, who also served in Iraq, with applause when Moore introduced them at an offseason meeting in early 2005.

“It was a big moment for everybody,” said Moore, who completed his 17th season. “I felt chill bumps. It was for real, there wasn’t anything phony about it. These kids know it’s for real. They see something every day about Iraq.”

From there, Stokes tried to fit in. He talked about his military experiences when asked, but didn’t volunteer them. He concentrated on proving himself as a player to his teammates.

The most obvious way to tell Stokes was different was the Marines patch he and Norman wore at the behest of Moore. And in the season opener at Eastern Kentucky, Stokes assisted on a tackle on the opening kickoff.

“People can say ’We’re going to war on the field,”’ said Matt Isenhour, a junior offensive lineman. “You ain’t going to war. That guy’s been to war. When you think that we have a guy on our team who did two tours in Iraq, that is something special.”

Stokes, meanwhile, talks of his teammates like a surrogate family that fills the void after leaving the Marines. And he’s still adjusting to life at home, from dealing with occasional nightmares to attending the funeral of a Marine from his unit who was killed after Stokes left Iraq.

Days after returning home, Stokes had to leave a mall because he felt “paranoid” being around so many people without carrying a weapon for the first time. He admits to still swerving away from abandoned cars on the side of the road, a favorite place for insurgents to hide explosives in Iraq.

But with each day that passes, Stokes hopes he’s becoming known more as a football player.

“You can’t just take the respect you earned from something long ago and say, ’Well, that will carry me the rest of my life,”’ he said. “To me, it’s all great and everything, but that’s not what I’m here to do now.”

Original Page: http://GoASU.com/?page=202&article=6816&fromPage=8

Football player Stokes excels on and off the field
Tuesday, 14 February 2006

Sports Editor

For Appalachian State football player Brian Stokes, the 2005 national championship was just one of the prestigious awards he won in December.

Although unknown to him at the time, the U.S. Marine Corps issued Stokes a Purple Heart Dec. 9 for injuries he suffered in Iraq in 2004.

Despite the award’s high esteem, Stokes did not find out about it until over a month later.

“I actually found out about it when it was delivered [in January],” Stokes said. “They didn’t call me or anything, I just got a UPS package at my mom’s house.”

Stokes admits that, although he suffered injuries, he had forgotten about the award since the incident had happened over a year ago.

During his four-year campaign in the Marines, Stokes had two separate tours of duty in Iraq.

In his most recent tour in 2004, he was in charge of one platoon consisting of six machine-gun equipped Humvees.

“We were basically a task force that was assigned to any mission you could think of,” Stokes said.

These missions included clearing houses, convoy security, recon and acting as the main support during firefights.

Stokes said he was involved in over total 400 combat missions, 20-30 of which were firefights.

“We would have four or five missions in one day,” he said. “They would start in the morning with explosive ordinance disposal [the clearing of roadside bombs] and then later on in afternoon we could be involved in a firefight.”

Of these firefights, Stokes said he was involved in the invasion of Fallujah.

Despite these dangerous missions, Stokes’ injury occurred during a day that resembled most others.

Stokes said his platoon was assigned to a recon mission and was driving along the road looking for roadside bombs.

“We went by a burned out vehicle and I was sitting there [in the passenger seat] and as soon as we passed it, I was like ‘thank God,’” Stokes said.

Stokes said whenever the platoon passed abandoned vehicles, they always worried there would be an explosion.

When Stokes’ gunner bent down from the turret to tell him something, the bomb in the abandoned vehicle went off.

“As soon as it went off, it was a huge explosion, we basically disappeared into a fireball,” Stokes said.

The explosion was so powerful that it ripped the Humvee’s 300-pound doors off, leaving Stokes exposed to shrapnel.

Though he did receive some minor injuries to his exposed arm, Stokes lost extensive hearing in his right ear.

Despite the injuries, they could have been much worse.

“If we would’ve been three feet back, then our whole truck would’ve been torn to pieces,” he said.

Looking back now, Stokes describes the award as “out of the blue” and had written it off prior to receiving it.

“It’s something that you definitely don’t want to have,” he said. “You don’t strive to get an award like that.”

Regardless of Stokes’ humble approach, many have said his duty in the Marines made him a better person, and player, at Appalachian.

“He’s been in the real world and he’s been facing life and death situations every day,” head football coach Jerry Moore said. “Our players have great respect for him.”

These past months have been an incredible journey for Stokes. From winning the national championship to receiving one of the highest honors in the Marines, Stokes has been living in the glory.

“I’ve definitely been blessed with a lot of different things,” Stokes said. “For any of these one events to happen to anybody, let alone all together, would be remarkable.”

Radio interview: http://www.goasu.com/?page=276&audio=445&fromPage=202

#1 - Special to The Appalachian
Appalachian football player and U.S. Marine Brian Stokes received the Purple Heart award in December for an injury during his duty in Iraq.

#2 - Jessica Hines
Stokes celebrates the National Championship victory with fans in December. A "Strength and Honor" sign is shown in support for Stokes.

Class: FR.
High School: East Longmeadow
Last College: N/A
Height / Weight: 5-10 220
Position: RB
Birthdate: July 24, 1979

Class: FR.
Hometown: BURLINGTON, N.C.
High School: Williams
Last College: East Carolina
Height / Weight: 6-1 220
Position: TE
Birthdate: Nov. 24, 1978

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