May 24, 2007

MARINES VOLUNTEER TO RETURN TO 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.”

Showing more dedication than some politicians I could name. Plus, there’s this:

The Two-Five, whose motto, “Retreat, Hell,” stems from the World War I battle at Belleau Wood, has drawn one of the tougher assignments in what remains the toughest city in sprawling Al Anbar province. Phone service is spotty, sewage runs in many streets, and any sign of local government is minimal.

But Marines say that residents, encouraged by tribal sheiks and imams, have turned against the extremists and, among other things, are pointing out the location of hidden roadside bombs.

“The last time, it was like the people didn’t want to do anything to help their neighborhoods,” Mellado said. “Now it’s a big change. I want to be here to help with that, to help my Marines.”

Bravo. Again, unlike some politicians I could name.

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