He Called Me ‘Killer Instincts’
By Lieutenant Colonel Kate Germano, U.S. Marine Corps (Retired)
On 26 June 2008, the Marine Corps lost one of its most selfless and inspiring officers in a suicide bombing attack in Iraq. I first knew him as a Tiger Woods doppelganger. I kid you not—when I met Marine Major Max Galeai, a native of American Samoa, I was blown away by his resemblance to the golf superstar, particularly when he smiled his 5,000-watt smile.
When Max took over as commanding officer of Recruiting Station Orange, I had a year up on him on recruiting but was concerned he would minimize my experience and recommendations because he was the major.
I shouldn’t have worried. Two of his most admirable qualities were his humility and his enthusiasm for learning, even from the most junior of his Marines. Despite being the most senior guy in the room, he never had to be the smartest. A dedicated husband and father of four, he had a booming laugh and truly loved getting to know his Marines on a personal level. He was a Marine’s Marine—perhaps the highest compliment a commander can receive.
Max taught me to trust my gut, giving me the nickname of Killer Instincts Germano. The first time I heard him use that, I knew I had earned his trust and never wanted to disappoint him. His death left a void that will never be filled, for his Marines, his family, and for me.
Lieutenant Colonel Germano is a combat veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom. She is currently the chief operating officer for the Service Women’s Action Network.
A Marine I Never Met
By Lieutenant Colonel Neil Murphy, U.S. Marine Corps (Retired)
On Veterans Day, I remember a Marine I never met. I reflect on the spirit of bravery, humanity, and brotherhood in the strangest of circumstances. Marine First Lieutenant Warren Earl Vaughn was shot down in his F4U Corsair off the coast of Chichi Jima in 1945, flying missions in the lead up to Iwo Jima. Ditching his aircraft and swimming to shore, Vaughn was taken prisoner on the rocky island.
An old Japanese-American friend of mine, now deceased, Nobu (Warren) Iwatake witnessed the capture of First Lieutenant Vaughn. Iwatake was conscripted into the Imperial Japanese Army after moving from Hawaii to attend college in Japan before the war. As the war progressed, he found himself stuck on Chichi monitoring radio communications on a mountain with a hodgepodge of other service members. Iwatake remembered Warren as a tall and impressive Native American from Childress, Texas. He was held on Chichi Jima, and Iwatake would visit with him between listening to radio traffic.
About a dozen prisoners were on the island, and Iwatake was sometimes placed in charge of guarding and walking Vaughn for exercise. This odd pair quickly became friends and looked forward to the day when the war would be behind them. They shared their dreams for the future and hoped to reunite when the war was over. Both talked about escaping, but they believed it was better to stay put and wait for eventual rescue than risk swimming in the shark-infested waters.
As chance for Japanese victory in the war grew dim, Iwatake reported to his commander that Iwo had fallen to the Allies. Knowing that all was lost, that captain in charge of the island rounded up all of the captives and savagely beheaded them on the beach. Vaughn was among the men murdered that day. Iwatake was on the mountain listening to the radio and returned to find his friend dead. Witnesses said Vaughn had refused a blindfold and looked directly into his executioner’s eyes.
Eventually, the captain was tried and executed for war crimes. Iwatake was so moved by Vaughn’s life and death that he officially changed his name to Warren Nobu Iwatake. At war’s end, Iwatake dedicated his life to rebuilding Japan. He worked in the U.S. embassy, married, had children, and lived a long full life, honoring Warren every day.
Lieutenant Colonel Murphy retired in 2014 as the Marine Corps’ director of media relations in the Pentagon. A veteran of Operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom, he served with all three Marine Expeditionary Forces.
Flying with Teddy and James
By Dan Sheehan, Marine aviator
I assisted Captain Ted Treadwell’s widow and didn’t fly for several weeks after his UH-1N came apart in mid-air. When I did fly again, it was with then-Captain James Weis. I ripped that AH-1W around with reckless abandon, daring whatever malicious deity that had knocked our friend out of the sky to do the same to me. That’s not how I usually flew, and after a particularly rough maneuver, James asked calmly: “You done?” He knew I had to exorcise some demons and gave me space to do it.
Eight years later James was shot down and killed in Afghanistan. The same group of comrades who had buried Teddy gathered to bury James—30 feet away. I still visit their graves, but their names etched in marble wipe my mind blank. I cannot remember them.
But when I surf, I remember Teddy. His widow gave me his surfboards, and I still use them. I imagine his taunts when I wipe out, and when I break one in a spectacular crash, I know he’ll be laughing. When I’m spearfishing I remember James. We dove together, and I remember him telling me to leave the moray eels alone. I can hear him calling me an idiot whenever I look at the scar on my finger.
Their graves are places for quiet reflection. But they are not there. Those men, my friends, live in my memories of adventures and exuberant life. Continuing those adventures is how I remember them.
Dan Sheehan spent 12 years flying attack helicopters in the Marine Corps, including two combat deployments to Iraq. He is the author of After Action: The True Story of a Cobra Pilot’s Journey (Create Space: 2012) and Continuing Actions: A Warrior’s Guide to Coming Home (Create Space: 2015).
To Anyone Who Will Listen
By Captain Scott P. Cooledge, U.S. Navy (Retired)
I will never forget the first time I met Lieutenant Jeff Ammon. I was commander of Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) Ghazni attached to the 4th Brigade Combat Team of the 82nd Airborne. We were individual augmentees just a few weeks into our training at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, preparing for our one-year deployment to southern Afghanistan. Our mission would be the security, governance, and reconstruction of the fifth largest province in Afghanistan, Ghazni.
Jeff, an accomplished submarine officer, walked into my tent late one night and introduced himself. He told me he had heard that our engineer had failed to report for training and that he was one of the designated alternates being trained with the brigade. He proceeded to sell himself to me and asked me if I would request him as my new engineer. I stared at this very serious, eager young man for a few moments. His slight build, his baby face, and his wire-rimmed glasses made me hesitate. Before I could speak Jeff stood up, thanked me for my time, and then looked me straight in the eye and said, “I know what you’re thinking, but believe me when the time comes I will fight and I will fight hard. Just give me a chance.”
The next day I went to 4th Brigade and did a “by name call” for the submarine officer who told me he could fight. Over the next 14 months Jeff displayed the heart of a lion and never failed the team or me. Participating in more than 100 ground-assault convoys and operating in some of the most difficult and complex environments any naval officer will ever encounter, Jeff improved the lives of thousands of Afghans.
The month prior to our expected rotation home, Jeff came to me with one more request. He asked to be extended for a second one-year rotation, back-to-back tours. After a lot of talking I relented and sent his request up the chain, and it eventually was approved. A few weeks after our rotation home, while showing the new PRT the ropes, Jeff was killed in action in an IED strike.
I don’t know where we find young men like Jeff Ammon, but I do know that as a nation we are fortunate to have them among us. To honor Jeff, I tell his story at every venue I can, to anyone who will listen.
Captain Cooledge is a 1985 graduate of Maine Maritime Academy. He logged more than 4,500 hours in Navy aircraft as both a pilot and a naval flight officer.
He Died a Soldier
By Lieutenant Colonel Chad Pillai, U.S. Army
Service members value the concept of brothers-in-arms because of the close personal relationships we develop with fellow service members in harm’s way. For me, however, my brother-in-arms was actually my brother by blood, Sergeant Anthony N. Kalladeen. He initially served four years in the Marine Corps and then got out to go to college. Although Anthony joined the Army National Guard to help pay for college, in reality, he couldn’t stay away from the military he loved, and he hoped to enter the Marine Corps Officer Candidate School.
As a result, he jumped at the opportunity to volunteer to deploy with the famed 69th Infantry Regiment from New York to Iraq in 2004. Sadly, Anthony was killed by an IED on 8 August 2005 in Baghdad, a few months shy of coming home. While he died a soldier, he dreamed of becoming a Marine Corps officer, and as a result, I buried him with his Marine sword.
His death led me to research my own family history, especially my service alongside the Marines in Ramadi. What I found was that Anthony’s and my grandfather served with the 65th Infantry Regiment. (Named the “Borinqueneers” from the original Taíno name of the island Borinquen, a Puerto Rican regiment, its motto is Honor et Fidelitas, Latin for Honor and Fidelity.) The regiment was attached to the Marines at the “Frozen Chosin” Reservoir. As a result, my grandfather and I share the honor of wearing the Navy Unit Commendation as two soldiers serving alongside the Marines. Anthony would be proud.
Lieutenant Colonel Pillai is an Army strategist assigned to U.S. Special Operations Command–Central at MacDill Air Force Base. Previously, he served as a special assistant to the commander, International Security Assistance Force, and as a speechwriter for the Army Chief of Staff. He also deployed with the 1st Brigade, 1st Armored Division, to Tal’Afar and then Ar Ramadi.
The Marathon and ‘Team Beav’
By Lieutenant Colonel Jeannette Gaudry Haynie, U.S. Marine Corps Reserve
In November 2005, Marine Light Helicopter Squadron (HMLA) 369, my old squadron, lost two Cobra pilots: Majors Michael “Martini” Martino and Gerald “Beav” Bloomfield. Both were friends, and I had flown with each during my time in the “Gunfighters.” Approaching the one-year anniversary of Martini’s and Beav’s deaths, Beav’s sister Katy and widow, Julie, decided to run the Marine Corps Marathon (MCM).
“Team Beav” was born, raising money for the Injured Marine Semper Fi Fund from day one. I was lucky enough to be part of Team Beav’s inaugural run, and took a picture of Julie and Katy that morning with then-Commandant General Mike Hagee; both women wore plastic beer glasses. Katy had Team Beav shirts made for the three of us, and we all finished the marathon that gorgeous fall day.
Over the years, with Katy’s energy and stewardship, Team Beav grew into an amazing organization with runners participating in multiple races across the country. Many of us Gunfighters ran the MCM each fall with Team Beav. Over time, the names on the back of our shirts grew until the list was longer than the shirt. And every year, this year included, as I run the MCM, I wear my shirt and remember Martini, Beav, Chatters, Stuka, Sugar Bear, Bobo, and the many we have lost. At the start of each MCM, I am always overwhelmed by the beauty these Marines brought into our lives, the paths we stumble down, the distance before me, and the distance already behind.
Marine Corps Reserve Lieutenant Colonel Haynie is a Cobra helicopter pilot. She is a PhD candidate at George Washington University and senior fellow at Women In International Security.
What It Took to Lead Marines
By Lieutenant Colonel Joseph M. Plenzler, U.S. Marine Corps (Retired)
Ray Mendoza was the first person I met my first day on active duty. We were travelers from Columbus, Ohio, on our way to Officer Candidate School OCS) in Quantico, Virginia, to see if we had what it took to lead Marines. During the ten long weeks of OCS 159, we stood directly across from each other while standing rigidly at attention on-line in the squad bay while the drill instructors lost their minds and created chaos all around us. Ray and I would stare at each other—both trying to make the other crack up and reap the fury of our sergeants. I swear I broke a few ribs in the attempt to stifle my impulse to laugh. Ray beat me at the game many times, and I paid the price for my lack of discipline.
He was a mountain of a man, an incredible heavyweight collegiate wrestler who looked like he could rip off your arm and beat you to death with it. He was also the guy who would take the time to help struggling members of our platoon. He taught me that cheerfulness amid adversity is a leadership trait. Ray and I parted ways at OCS graduation in August 1995 and went to different parts of the Marine Corps. I never saw him again. I was in Okinawa when I got the news that Major Ray Mendoza was killed on 14 November 2005. He triggered an IED while leading his Marines in combat in Iraq.
As I approached retiring from the Corps in 2015, I thought about Ray a lot. His name is engraved on a bracelet I wear on my left wrist. Ray reminds me that every day I wake up alive is a gift. Valhalla too soon, brother.
Lieutenant Colonel Plenzler is a combat veteran of Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom. He served 20 years as an infantry officer and public affairs officer. He currently is executive vice president, outreach, for the U.S. Naval Institute.
EDITOR’S NOTE: On Veterans Day, 11 November 2016, we will post on the U.S. Naval Institute Blog Navy Reserve Lieutenant Amy Forsythe’s tribute and remembrance of Marine Corps Major Megan McClung, the first woman Marine officer to be killed in Operation Iraqi Freedom, as well as the first female graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy to be killed in action.