'We know firsthand the nature of war'

'We know firsthand the nature of war' »Play Video
As the ceremony comes to an end, Marines come forward to the battlefield cross to say their personal goodbyes to their friend.

PATROL BASE KHERSE, Afghanistan - First Sgt. Jeff Craig calls out the names of the Marines in Golf Company, and one by one they answer.

But when he calls out for Sgt. Jason Calo, there is no response.

Craig calls out Calo's name again, but there is no response.

So he calls out Calo's name for the third time, yet still there is silence.

He calls out another name - LCpl Nathaniel Schultz - and there is more silence.

Silence - followed by rounds of gunfire shot into the air, gunfire to honor the two men who were killed in action just weeks ago.

This is the second ceremony this day for Golf Company of the 26 Marine Infantry Battalion.

“Unfortunately it is not our first time and nor will it be our last,” says Lt. Col. Kyle Ellison, commanding officer, in his address to grieving Marines at Patrol Base Kherse.

Since the battalion has been in country - just three months - they have lost eight Marines in combat.

“We have suffered 88 Marines wounded in action, 88 Marines wounded in action,” he says as Marines sit with the flyer bearing the face of their lost brother, LCpl Cody Childers.

Before the rows of Marines are two flags raised behind a helmet placed on top of a M16 A2 weapon.

Dog tags hang on chains above a pair of boots resting on a box with the image of the young Marine who was killed in action.

The flags are called a battlefield cross, used in the battlefields of the Civil War to identify bodies before they were moved.

Now it is used to show respect.

“We know firsthand the nature of war,” continues Ellison. He speaks about adversity, about loss - and offers words of encouragement.

Earlier in the day, Ellison attended a school opening in Marjah where 150 kids were registered. He attributes the success of that effort to the Marines standing before him.

His solution to Marines struggling with adversity is cohesion and getting back into the fight.

“Whichever Army marches into battle stronger in the soul, they’re enemies can generally not with stand them,” says Ellison.

Cpt Brandon Turner, the company commander, is second to speak to his men. He speaks of the loss of machine gunners like Childers.

“Machine gunners are always out front providing that suppression for each one of you to maneuver,” he reminds the Marines. “Cody was a Marine that placed duty above himself.”

Cody Childers was born on March 2, 1991, and was killed in action on Aug. 20, 2010.

According to fellow Marines, Childers was a small town country boy from Chesapeake, Va. He loved talking about his life at home, including his parents, hunting dogs and his “jacked-up” Ford truck that made him so proud.

He never complained and smiled even on the worst of days. He wanted to re-enlist when the time came.

 Early on, when Childers was first wounded with a dislocated shoulder and shrapnel, he used his remaining good arm to help carry another Marine to the Medevac helicopter. When Childers was asked if he wanted to return to duty, there was no hesitation: he wanted to return to his platoon and squad.

Sgt. Richard Madrid told Marines at the ceremony that for Childers “being a Marine was second nature to him, like he was born for duty.” He was such a remarkable Marine that Madrid thought to himself, “no matter what comes, he could handle it.”

“He was an ideal Marine, a great friend and brother,” wrote LCpl James Rogers in a statement for the day. “People looked up to him.”

Childers was the Marine who would end the day with a song, a song that Rogers would help him finish.

As the ceremony comes to an end, Marines come forward to the battlefield cross to say their personal goodbyes to their friend.

Why have so many Marines died?

Within an hour, Marines gather at Patrol Base Beirut, where there are two helmets, two sets of dog tags, two pairs of boots in memory of Sgt Jason Calo and LCpl Nathaniel Gage.

Ellison and Turner offer words of encouragement to the Marines. “Destroy those that need to be destroyed, help those than need to be helped,” says Ellison. “Mourn him now in private and when this is done, finish the task at hand.”

Ellison describes Shultz as aggressive but calm and on all accounts a tremendous Marine.

When Turner approaches the podium he admits to his Marines that although he may appear stoic, he wrestles with the why: why have so many Marines died?

As an answer, he calls forth the story of the famous Battle at Belleau Wood in 1812, the battle that immortalized the fighting force that is the Marines today.

Artilleryman Sgt. Calo was part of that force. He was born on Jan. 26, 1987, in Mancelona, Mich., and was killed in action on Aug. 22, 2010. He enlisted in the Marines in 2006.

The Marines describe Calo as a proud father, so proud he carried around a photo album of his family. He was someone who extended his military service to be in Afghanistan.

As a PFC he was full of enthusiasm. “He had a smile and air about his that was contagious and it made you just want to get to know him more,” says his friend Sgt. Matthew Nelsen.

“He was my mentor, showing me that was is right no matter how hard it is or how much people wont like you for it is part of being an NCO (Noncommissioned officer),” Sgt. Joshua Gage says of Calo.

“He was the first friend I lost,” says Nelsen stopping to take a breath, strength to continue his message. “It breaks my heart to think his children won’t get to see him again.”

Assaultman LCpl Nathaniel Schultz was born April 30, 1991, in San Diego, Calif., and was killed in action on Aug. 21, 2010. He joined the Marines in 2009.

“He was on his way to being one of the best assaultmen ever,” says LCpl Stanley Passaretta. “He even had a tattoo of the words honor, courage and commitment.”

A few months after he joined the fleet, a Marine asked Schultz what he had learned. His answer: I’ve learned more about being a man. Schultz is described at the ceremony as loyal, determined, with a sense of humor that often included a subtle little smirk.

“He never stopped learning or improving, he never quit,” says LCpl Andrew Rice. “Little brother, until we meet again.”

For the second time today “Amazing Grace” is played, and Marines step forward, kissing the dog tags and placing their fingers on the feet of the empty boots.

“As Marines, we live in the dark places,” says the Chaplain in closing. “As Marines, we live in the dark places.”

Dan Morrison and Cali Bagby are embedded with the Marines in Helmand province, Afghanistan, north of the Pakistani border, as multimedia journalists for KVAL News.

Morrison teaches photojournalism and multimedia reporting at the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication in Eugene, Ore.

Bagby is a freelance multimedia journalist who spent 10 months embedded with the Oregon National Guard in Iraq for KVAL.com.