In Nebraska, a US Marine's Father shares the letters he gets from his son who is with the USMC 3/5 3rd Battalion, 5th Regiment in Sangin, Afghanistan... The Dad is a Marine himself and knows of the sacrifice his son and the others out there are making.....
Please share this with others as people need to know what their Marines are up against in Sangin, just northeast of Camp Leatherneck in Helmand Province.
Marine's dad reads between lines
By Matthew Hansen
WORLD-HERALD STAFF WRITER
Published Sunday March 6, 2011
WEST POINT, Neb. — Rick Wimer pulls the tattered, dirty-white envelope out of the mailbox on a frigid winter Friday.
His hands start to shake. It isn't the cold.
Wimer is an old Marine, a volunteer EMT in West Point, a man who has seen things.
But the return address on this letter says Afghanistan, and the handwriting on the front is Cpl. Ross Wimer's, and even an old Marine gets jittery when his second-born son sends his first letter home from the Sangin district of Helmand province — maybe the most dangerous speck of land in the entire Afghan war.
Rick pries open the envelope, careful not to rip it. He shakes out the four-page letter and speed-reads the first paragraph, standing next to his mailbox on Centennial Road.
The words suck the air out of his lungs.
“So I thought I would start the letter writing thing today,” Marine Cpl. Ross Wimer writes. “It is a sad day for 1st Platoon as we have lost a good friend once again. ... He was shot in the head by a sniper. His wife has just given birth to a child. I am not sure if it was a boy or a girl.”
There are many places in Afghanistan where the young men and women of the U.S. military live on bases with running water and Internet access and can assure their loved ones that they sleep safely at night.
Sangin, Afghanistan, is not one of those places.
Cpl. Ross Wimer reached the outskirts of the southern Afghan town in October, one of about 1,000 Marines in the 3rd Battalion, 5th Regiment taking over a security mission long held by the British.
Since then he has lived for long stretches in a tiny outpost with sandbags for walls and a tarp for a roof.
He cannot e-mail because there are no computers, or Internet connections, or reliable electricity.
He can call home on a satellite phone once or twice a month, and the calls frequently get cut off.
Back in West Point, when Rick and Jayne Wimer's son calls, they have learned to tell him right away that they love him, before the line goes dead.
The young Marine hasn't showered since October.
He lives in the dirt and sleeps under the stars and never gets more than two steps from his M-32, a grenade launcher that weighs 15 pounds and can fire off six 40 mm shells in three seconds.
The enemy has shot at 1st Platoon practically every day since the 22-year-old from West Point showed up in Sangin. And the gunfire isn't the scary part.
The scary part are the homemade bombs, the IEDs that the Taliban plant on the roads and on the paths, in the fields and in the canals. The Marines have found nearly 500 IEDs buried around Sangin.
When they go on a mission, they walk “ranger style” — each man trying to walk in the footsteps of the man in front of him, worried that a stray step could be his last.
It is hard to describe in a letter what this feels like, but Ross Wimer tries. His dad is an old Marine. His dad will understand.
Rick Wimer carries the letter into his living room so he can get in out of the January cold and concentrate.
He rereads the first paragraph. He reads the whole first page. He does something he never does.
He begins to cry.
“He was a good friend. ... I will be sure not to dwell. His fate has been determined and I know thinking about it will be bad for my mental health in a combat zone. I have no choice but to brush it off and stay positive. Negative emotions can be a poison in the Platoon.
“On days like these too many Marines feel as if they are waiting in line for their turn.”
Rick Wimer wipes his eyes and flips to the second page of the letter, which is dated Dec. 6. His son has made a list of names, ranks and dates.
The first is a corporal. He stepped on an IED on Oct. 15 — the week the Marines reached Sangin.
“Lost his left leg and is fighting to keep his right.”
The second is a sergeant who stepped on an IED on Oct. 16.
The list goes on, recounting IED blasts that cost one Marine his arm and another Marine both his legs and another his left leg and left eye.
The platoon commander — the son of a three-star general — took a step into the shallow water of a canal Nov. 9.
“KIA — stepped on an IED.”
Rick Wimer already knows about most of these casualties — generals and experts have written about the inordinate sacrifice borne by the Marine regiment in Sangin. Sometimes he sits in his insurance office and reads their words in military journals and magazines.
These articles say the Marines are going after the insurgents, day after day after day, in a way the British never did. They say the insurgents are desperately fighting back with everything they have, afraid to lose Sangin, their last foothold in Helmand province, and afraid to lose a main road the Taliban have long used to transport weapons and drugs.
The writers hint that the 1,000 men in the regiment are battling their way right into U.S. Marine history.
The regiment has patrolled Sangin for nearly five months. Twenty-five Marines have died. More than 150 have been wounded; many of the wounded have lost limbs.
“I don't think there's ever been a battalion in the Marine Corps at any time — in World War II, the Korean conflict, Vietnam — that's pulled a tougher mission than what 3/5 has right now,” Gen. Richard Mills, commander of U.S. and international forces in southwestern Afghanistan, told reporters in November.
Rick Wimer knows all this, but still he rereads his son's page-long list slowly. These are not just names and dates, a chronology of death in Sangin. These are his son's friends.
The lance corporal started with 33 men in his platoon.
“So with the (latest) death ... that brings our Platoon's total to 12 in just 2 months. 3 KIA. 9 WIA.”
Rick Wimer finishes the list, still standing in his living room, still unwilling to take the time to sit down.
He flips to the third page, then the fourth.
For the first time, he smiles.
The latter half of the letter focuses on care packages, an issue near and dear to this father's heart.
Truth is, Rick Wimer considers himself pretty much the best care-package sender in Nebraska, and quite possibly the world.
He sent his first care package in September, before his son had even reached Sangin.
He sent 16 boxes of stuff in one day early on — all 16 boxes on a day the platoon was moving to another outpost.
He has sent peaches, pears and dill pickles. He has sent eyedrops, cough drops and cold medicine.
He has sent shoelaces. He has sent mousetraps. He has sent old copies of The World-Herald so his son can keep track of the news back home.
He found a slingshot in a drawer at home. That went into a box bound for Afghanistan. He found a telescoping mirror. That went into a box, too.
“I don't know what the heck he's going to use that for,” he admits.
He has kept track of every care package, recording the contents and the weight in a notebook.
So far he has sent 134 boxes and 27 bubble envelopes. The packages have weighed a total of 2,239.87 pounds.
He plans to keep sending stuff until someone tells him to stop.
So that's why he is smiling — his son writes that he doesn't want the packages to stop.
He writes that he likes the seasonings that spice up his MREs, those bland, ready-to-eat military meals. He wants more magazines, and he'd love a cheap battery-powered razor.
He's good on blankets and notepads and pens. Sometimes he gives those to the Afghan kids in Sangin, and they crowd around him and happily accept the items that his father has carefully packed.
“My squad leader called dad a care package genius so you guys are doing good.”
Rick Wimer is reaching the letter's end now, and his thoughts drift to his son's homecoming, as they do almost every day.
He and another West Point man whose son is a Marine in Sangin go to lunch at JD's Bar and Grill sometimes and try to guess what day their sons will reach their base back in California.
It won't be before Easter on April 24, Rick Wimer thinks one minute. But maybe they will get lucky. Maybe it will be early April.
He worries how his son will readjust to Nebraska life, how he will handle going from the battlefields of Sangin to a college classroom this fall.
But the end of the letter makes him worry less: The young Marine has included a couple of jokes, retaining that sense of humor his father thinks will be invaluable when he comes home.
“How much wood could a wood chuck chuck if a wood chuck would Chuck Norris? Answer: All of it.”
In West Point, on a cold winter Friday, Rick Wimer finishes the letter, refolds it and carefully places it back into its tattered envelope.
Soon he will take it to the office, copy and scan it, share it with co-workers and friends and relatives.
And soon this letter, forwarded and forwarded again, will force those who read it to feel the fury and the bravery and the tragedy of Sangin, Afghanistan.
But Rick Wimer isn't thinking about any of that, not yet.
He's savoring the letter's final line, the words that make an old Marine proud.
“That's it! Semper fi. Love ya'll.”
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