In the middle of nowhere, 1st FSSG makes village home

4 Jul 2004 | Sgt. Matt Epright 1st Marine Logistics Group

In a remote stretch of Iraq's western desert, closer to the border than to Baghdad, Marines and sailors of the 1st Force Service Support Group directly support the residents of this small camp.

The 1st FSSG provides amenities like a post office, post exchange and disbursing office, even to the most far-flung outposts, by embedding small detachments, and sometimes even individual Marines, at the camps to support the local units.

The 1st FSSG Marines sent out to these camps are expected to operate without daily supervision from their higher headquarters.

"The (officer-in-charge) looked as us and said 'Guess what? It's on you guys,'" said Sgt. Clayton J. Sharples, who along with his assistant, Sgt. Terrell D. Hemphill, runs the post office here. Hemphill, 26, is from Greenville, Miss.

Sharples said he enjoys the opportunity to provide a vital service at this isolated location.

"I love seeing smiles on Marines' faces when they get their mail," said Sharples, a 29-year-old native of Annapolis, Md.

While the post office delivers Marines' cookies and brownies, the small post exchange stocks basic necessities, such as toiletries, and nice-to-haves, such as snack food and tobacco.

"I get a lot of thanks from the grunts that are on the front lines," said Staff Sgt. Mario Martinez Jr., the camp's PX officer, and a 29-year-old native of Seguin, Texas.

Unfortunately, a thanks alone doesn't pay the bill. To shop at the PX, Marines need to be able to get access to their money, a task that can be difficult in the desert.

"Out here we don't have any ATMs or banks like we do back in the states," said Sgt. Octaviano Ortega, the camp disburser and a 22-year-old Dallas native.

The Marines do have the camp disbursing office, though, where they can go to get their money.

Giving money to Marines is not Ortega's only duty on the camp.

"The disburser is really critical for us, operationally. We take the disburser out with us when we're ... buying things from the (Iraqi merchants) to use here on camp," said Maj. Walter E. Lavrinovich, the camp commander.

The money is also used to pay contractors who are helping to rebuild Iraq's infrastructure as part of the Marine Corps' mission to conduct security and stability operations, said Lavrinovich, a 37-year-old native of Crown Point, Ind.

"That money is critical to building goodwill with the Iraqis and also helping them get on their feet," he said.

But, money and mail don't grow on trees and PX shelves don't stock themselves. Regular convoys must bring these vital items to the camp.

The five 1st FSSG Marines that run the fuel farm here give those convoys, as well as anyone based here, the gas they need to operate, said Sgt. Mark E. Fornaro, a 27-year-old native of Cliffwood Beach, N.J., who is in charge of the crew.

Marines of the 1st FSSG are not the only ones far from headquarters.

A small detachment of 1st FSSG sailors, including a general surgeon, an anesthesiologist, a trauma doctor, a nurse and several corpsmen, is on hand to provide vital medical care to anyone who needs it.

Shock Trauma Platoon 7, along with Forward Resuscitative Surgical System 3, stabilizes patients from the local area for transfer to higher-level medical facilities, such as those located at Camp Al Asad or in Baghdad.

In the region surrounding the camp, "any trauma that the corpsmen can't handle on the front line, they come to us first," said Petty Officer 3rd Class Allan G. Lee, a hospital corpsman with the platoon, and a 23-year-old Honolulu native.

Camp Korean Village serves as a base camp for elements of 1st Marine Division's Regimental Combat Team 7, which help the Iraqis run checkpoints along the Syrian and Jordanian borders and patrol western Iraq.

The small collection of concrete buildings, intermingled with Marine Corps tents is also home to detachments from the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, which provide air and communication support to the infantry units based here.

All together, the camp population here, though fluctuating, frequently exceeds several hundred troops, and there are only a few dozen 1st FSSG Marines supporting them.

Though few in number, the 1st FSSG Marines do all they can to make things a little bit easier.

"We don't have a lot, but what we do have makes life better out here," said camp resident Lance Cpl. Jose L. Hernandez, a 21-year-old native of Laredo, Texas.
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1st Marine Logistics Group