Deported Marine Veteran Comes Home in a Casket


Deported Marine Veteran Comes Home in a Casket

By Debbie Gregory

Persian Gulf War veteran Lance Cpl. Enrique Salas put his life on the line for the country he called home since he was a six year old boy. How unfortunate for him that his adopted country was unsympathetic to his plight when he brought the after-effects of military service home with him.

Like many of his fellow service members, Salas was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, and he also struggled with drugs. But it wasn’t war, suicide or drugs that killed him; Salas died on April 12th at age 47, succumbing to complications stemming from injuries suffered in an auto accident.

In 2004, Salas was convicted for possession of a controlled substance for sale, an aggravated felony that made his deportation mandatory. He was deported to Mexico in 2006.

After the accident, Salas received an emergency humanitarian parole visa to cross the border to access better medical care at the University of California, San Diego. While waiting, he suffered the first if two heart attacks, the second while en-route to San Diego, where he was pronounced brain dead. Salas was buried with military honors in a Reedley cemetery beside his younger brother, another fallen Marine.

In 2002, Hector Barajas was deported after pleading guilty to felony charges resulting from issues with alcohol and drugs. He founded the Deported Veterans Support House, known as the Bunker, a shelter for former U.S. military servicemembers who find themselves in the same situation. Last year, Barajas received a pardon from Gov. Jerry Brown, and recently became a U.S. citizen. Barajas though that Salas was headed in that direction as well.

Salas met other deported veterans through the Deported Veterans Support House. Like many of them, Salas learned that had he applied for citizenship anytime prior to his conviction, he could have received U.S. citizenship through his military service. But he was never given that information.

The Sad Story of Lance Corporal Brian Easley


The Sad Story of Lance Corporal Brian Easley

By Debbie Gregory

Former Lance Corporal Brian Easley had fallen on hard times. The 33-year-old former Marine was barely getting by on a small monthly disability check from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Back aches, a marriage and child in quick succession, his mother’s death and mental illness started a downward spiral that Easley couldn’t escape. The last thing he needed was an issue with his disability check, but that occurred when the check mysteriously failed to materialize.

Calls to the Veterans Crisis Line and a trip to the VA’s Regional Benefits Office in Atlanta failed to resolve the issue.

Out of desperation, Easley entered a Wells Fargo bank and claimed he was carrying C-4 explosive. He took two employees hostage and alerted the authorities and the media. He had no intention of robbing the bank or hurting the hostages. His goal was to draw attention to his plight.

Diagnosed with PTSD and suffering from schizophrenia and paranoia, Easley was already on the edge. His monthly VA disability check came to $892. When July 1 2017 came and went, and the expected funds were not in the account, Easley began to panic.

That panic led the soft-spoken, shy veteran to snap.

While it turned out that his check had been garnished due to a tuition issue, he was suffering from a severe mental illness, one that should have been recognized by the VA and dealt with accordingly.

Many of the law enforcement officers who responded to the crisis at the bank were former military. Cobb County Police Chief Mike Register served on a mobile reconnaissance team in Afghanistan with the 20th Special Forces Group. Sgt. Andre Bates, the lead hostage negotiator, served in the Marine Corps, as did Joel Preston, the commander of the tactical team, and Officer Dennis Ponte, the sniper who eventually ended the situation when he took Easley’s life.

After a negotiated trade for one of the hostages was made, the logistics of the plan were being worked out. It was during that planning session that Officer Ponte made a fateful decision, and for reasons unknown, took his shot.

The contents of the backpack were a Bible, some papers, and a small machete, among other incidentals. No C-4. No surprise.

First Female Marine Officer Leads Assault Amphibian Vehicle Platoon

Mariah Klenke

By Debbie Gregory.

Second Lt. Mariah Klenke has made history.

On Tuesday,  October 3, the Camp Pendleton Marine became the first female to graduate from the Marine Corps Assault Amphibian Officer Course and earn the military occupational specialty (MOS) of assault amphibian officer.

Klenke was the first woman to start the course since the Pentagon nixed its ban on female troops in combat roles in late 2015.

Klenke’s first duty station will be with the 3rd Assault Amphibian Battalion with the 1st Marine Division.

“We cannot overlook the historic nature of this day,” Col. Dan Yaroslaski, commander of the Assault Amphibian School, told the graduates, family, friends, commanders and instructors at the ceremony.  “The Marine Corps has been through the process of integration. We can stop talking about integration. This is who we are. We have set the standards every Marine has to pass. There has been no distinction between male and female.”

The demanding 12-week amphibious assault officer course is designed to produce platoon leaders who command assault amphibious vehicle crews. Klenke learned gunnery marksmanship, water survival skills and offensive and defensive operations, both on shore and deep inland.

Previous to her service, Klenke attended and graduated from the University of Tennessee, where she played collegiate soccer, holding her own with her male counterparts.

Klenke said that her toughest challenge came during amphibious operations training, when she completed up to four missions daily.

“We operated pretty much all day. We got a couple of hours of sleep and then went back to operating the next day,” she said.

“I’m excited to finally get done with the course and onto the fleet,” she said after the graduation ceremony

As for women thinking about a career in the corps, Klenke said anything is possible.

“If you think you can do it, you can do it,” she said. “There were hard times in the class, but hey, I got through them. I’m nothing special. I just did my job and if you work hard you can get through it.”

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Former Marine Celeb Chef John Besh Gives Back

besh 2

By Debbie Gregory.

Before “celebrity chef,” “TV personality,” “philanthropist,” “restaurateur” or “author” appeared before his name, Louisiana native John Besh served his nation as a United States Marine.

The son of a fighter pilot, Besh enlisted in the Marine Corps after graduating from high school, serving with the 1st Marine Division, the 4th Marine Division, and I Marine Expeditionary Force.

Besh credits the Marines Corps for his culinary expertise. In fact, many veteran entrepreneurs cite the military as a source of the qualities that make them successful in business: a sense of leadership, mission, focus, organization skills, and selfless service.

These attributes have served Besh well, and have become the hallmark of the Besh Restaurant Group. Combat also gave him perspective, allowing him to keep kitchen disasters in context by not sweating the small stuff.

Each November, Besh’s restaurant group hosts a free social gathering celebrating the Marine Corps birthday, and the brotherhood for which the military branch has become famous.

From the battlefield to the kitchen, this award-winning chef has dedicated his life to the service of others. Besh has been active with the Marine Corps Scholarship Foundation, the oldest and biggest donor of need-based scholarships for military students. He has also served the UDT-Seal Association, a Veterans Support Organization that offers scholarships to the children of fallen warriors.

Additionally, Besh has worked with the Delta Veterans Foundation, which helps wounded warriors transition back to civilian life. He has also worked with the Wounded Warrior Project and the USO’s Operation SAFE Return campaign to create family centers for the loved ones of wounded warriors as they get medical care.

Lastly, Besh is proud to have partnered with Baton Rouge-based emergency reconstruction specialists Arkel International, for which he creates high quality, ready-to-eat meals for distribution to thousands of emergency response teams and sustained strategic operations in the U.S. and around the world.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Camp Pendleton Marine Group Makes History Focusing on Electronic Warfare

marines first

By Debbie Gregory.

On July 6th, a new command known as the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force’s (I MEF) Information Group made history at Camp Pendleton by becoming the first of its kind among the Corps’ Marine expeditionary forces.

“It’s a centerpiece of some of the changes the commandant wants us to make in our support to warfighting,” said Col. Roberta L. “Bobbi” Shea.

The command is skilled in cyber, electronic warfare and intelligence, all critical needs as the service looks to build capacity to conduct information warfare at all.

“In the past, the group’s primary mission has been moving and supporting Marines as they go forward to command forces in theater,” Shea said.

Col. Shea handed over command of the newly designated I MEF Information Group to Col. Dawn Alonso, who most recently served at Central Command.

Marines trained in intelligence gathering and electronic warfare in closer contact with commanders and troops on the ground to degrade the enemy’s ability to exploit the information environment, capitalizing on social media and defending the country’s abilities against cyber vulnerabilities.

Shea pointed to such examples as the use of drones, law enforcement Marines picking up fingerprints or exploiting found cellphones on the battlefield, and imagery analysts gathering information from satellites.

Among the changes that are part of the transition are new Marine personnel, increased intelligence and cyberspace training, and a move to new facilities on the base.

While military officials called the re-designation a first at the Marine Expeditionary Force level, an increased focus on new technology and cyber warfare threats are among the Corps’ broader changes, mandated by the Marine Corps Commandant to “modernize the force.”

The re-designation is the first among the Marine Corps’ three MEFs, with I MEF at Camp Pendleton, II MEF at Camp Lejeune, N.C., and III MEF based in Okinawa, Japan.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Former Marine Admits in Court to Killing Fellow Marine’s Wife


By Debbie Gregory.

A former Marine has been convicted of killing the wife of another Marine and pushing her head-first down an abandoned mine shaft in the remote California desert.

Christopher Brandon Lee, 27, had previously pleaded not guilty to killing 19-year-old Erin Corwin, with whom Lee’s suspected of having an affair. He later admitted in court that he had strangled Corwin.

Corwin’s body was found hidden 100 feet down a mine shaft in a remote area of the high desert near Joshua Tree National Park after a nearly two-month search. She had disappeared in June 2014.

Friends told investigators that Corwin, whose husband was stationed with Lee at the Twentynine Palms Marine Corps base, believed she was pregnant and that Lee might be the father.

“I made the decision to kill her,” Lee testified. “I was controlled by the anger. The hate I felt that day. It was something I never want to experience again.”

Lee said he approached Corwin from behind and strangled her for at least five minutes with a garrote made up of two pieces of rebar and a cord. He said he then dragged Corwin’s body to the mine shaft and pushed her in head first.

Jurors also found true a special sentencing enhancement that Lee was lying in wait for Corwin.

“This was a terrible crime that showed absolutely no regard for the value of human life,” District Attorney Mike Ramos said in a statement issued shortly after Lee’s conviction. “Erin Corwin was just a young girl with her entire life ahead of her. And now, all that’s left is her memory.”

Lee’s sentencing has been set for Nov. 29. He faces life without the possibility of parole.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Should Iraqi Who Saved US Servicemember’s Life Receive Asylum?


By Debbie Gregory.

Chase Millsap is on a mission. The former Marine and Green Beret, a veteran of three military combat tours in Iraq, wants to save the man  who saved his life.

“The Captain,” a former Iraqi military officer who had worked with the Americans, is currently living in Turkey, and is trying to seek permanent asylum in the United States.

For the past two years, Millsap has been trying to help the 37-old married father of two

expedite his refugee application.

Millsap formed the Ronin Refugee Project with a few other military veterans, a non-profit dedicated to helping those who fought alongside Americans find safe harbor here or in other Western countries.

First on the list is the Captain.

“He’s one of millions that’s stuck in a system that is broken and he’s just gonna continue to wait,” Millsap said. “And so we decided to step up, me and a few other veterans.”

Millsap is looking to repay a debt. After a sniper tried to take Millsap’s head off during a routine patrol, the Captain pushed him down and ran towards the gunfire and saved Millsap’s life.

The sniper, seeing an angry Iraqi soldier charging at him, chose to run rather than shoot again.

“And that,” Millsap added with a laugh, “is when I truly realized that this guy’s OK.”

Millsap left the Marines after his second tour to join the Army’s Green Berets, rising to the rank of captain. The two captains didn’t cross paths but kept in touch by phone and email until the Captain almost died when an improved explosive device blew up his Jeep.

Although he recovered, when the Captain and his family began to receive death threats, they fled to Turkey.

He and Millsap Skype once a week. During a recent call, he praised Ronin Refugee Project for not forgetting him.

“I feel like you are my family. You are my brother. You and the other group of Marines are really gentlemen,” he said before his voice began to break.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Marine Vet’s Tweet to Trump Goes Viral


By Debbie Gregory.

A Marine veteran took to social media to fire back at Donald Trump’s call for American Muslims to be registered in a national database.

Marine Sgt. Tayyib Rashid’s comeback has gone viral. Rashid, whose Twitter handle is @MuslimMarine, tweeted Trump a photo of his military identification card with the message: “Hey @realDonald Trump, I’m an American and I already carry a special ID badge. Where’s yours?”

Rashid, the son of a Muslim missionary and theologian, served from 1997 to 2002 as an aircraft electronic countermeasures technician with 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing, according to Marine Corps officials.

On November 19th, Trump said that he “would certainly implement” databases or increase surveillance for Muslims living in the U.S.

Rashid’s post has over 39,000 retweets and 51,000 likes. It has also prompted a barrage of follow-on social media posts under the hashtag #MuslimID from other U.S. troops, police officers, lawyers, medical professionals and students who identify as Muslim.

“I got borderline angry that [Trump] would make such a comment and try to drive a wedge between Muslims serving in the U.S. armed forces and people who aren’t Muslim,” said Rashid. “I felt the need to call him out — particularly because Trump himself has never served.”

Rashid, now 38, said that he became a Marine because he “wanted to be part of a brotherhood of men dedicated to the service of our country.”

He said that he is a proud American Muslim.

“For me there is no conflict between the two identities,” he said.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.