Veterans answer call to help families of fallen Marines

Sunday, March 15, 2015
Community coming together for fallen Marines
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Numerous businesses and individuals are joining forced to support the families of the fallen seven Marines from Camp Lejeune.

SNEADS FERRY, N.C. (WTVD) -- Five children under the age of five. Two children on the way. Wives. Fiancees. Countless loved ones.

These are the legacies left behind by the seven Camp Lejeune Marines who lost their lives in a helicopter crash during training in Florida this week.

For the families left behind, it's an unspeakable loss. The basics are hard to navigate. That's why the convoy of black vehicles came into Sneads Ferry from Cary Friday afternoon.

The mission for the U.S. Veterans Corps is simple -- answer the call at a moment's notice.

"People know us as the black shirts," said USVC executive director Andrew Ladner. "About 10 percent of our mission, it's never on social media. We've never shown on camera."

But social media is exactly what connected the Triangle veterans with coastal veterans, volunteers and the Marine Corps Special Operations command, home to the seven fallen troops.

The Marines, identified by their command on Friday, ranged in age from 26 to 33. Word quickly spread around the tight-knit community outside the Camp Lejeune gates.

Nancy Greene, a Marine veteran, goes to church with part of the MARSOC command. On Thursday, she hopped on Facebook to start gathering help to provide hot meals, housekeeping, and morale boosters for the family.

"To kind of ease their burden. They have extended families here. The last thing they need to do is worry about cooking. Worry about cleaning their house, anything like that," said Greene.

That call for help was answered immediately.

"Less than 24 hours. Talk about mobilization," said Greene. "Less than 24 hours."

Greene connected with Sherri Yuhas, a football mom from Dixon High School in Sneads Ferry, and a former military spouse who helped mobilize other mothers. That led to a call to the USVC in Cary. On Friday morning, the USVC took $1,000, did quick shopping for non-perishables in the Triangle, picked up toys leftover from their annual drives, and hit the road to Onslow County.

Local volunteers fixed the hot meals to send straight to the families.

By 2:30 p.m., the volunteers met in Sneads Ferry with car loads of supplies for seven young families.

"We have five children who will not grow up with their father and two on the way," said Yuhas. "So this is a true gift. It's a blessing."

"This is what it's all about," said Jennifer Woods, an Air Force veteran with USVC.

The group headed to Coastal Mini Storage, where the owners displayed a sign reading "Our thoughts & prayers are with the families & our military affected by this crash."

An American flag flew overhead at half-staff as the non-perishable food, bikes, bottled water and treats were loaded into storage.

"After the funerals and all this stuff, this will be a smile on the kids' faces," said Greene. "It's a tragedy, but in Sneads Ferry, in North Carolina, in this area people are willing to reach out and help."

Investigation continues

During a Friday news conference at Camp LeJeune, Osterman - who is commander of Marine Corps special operations forces - said the Marines were flying offshore to practice rappelling down ropes into the water and then making for land. He didn't know whether the Marines were planning to reach shore by swimming or in small rubber boats, but the same drill had been practiced hours earlier during daylight, Osterman said.

"They literally had done it hours before in daylight as part of the rehearsal for being able to do the nighttime operations, which inherently are more difficult," Osterman said.

The teams of Marines and Army-piloted choppers made a judgment call on whether conditions were sufficient for the training mission to go ahead. Then when they were heading out to start the mission, they tried to abort after deciding it was too risky, Osterman said.

Training is part of being ready for high risk operations. The seven Marines were members of the same team who constantly trained and faced danger together, he said.

Marine Special Operations Command, or MARSOC, has seen its members honored for valor and suffering with 19 Silver Star medals, 7 Navy Crosses, 189 Purple Hearts and 207 Bronze Stars, Osterman said.

"They really epitomized the silent warrior and the quiet professional that is really a hallmark of all the Marines here at MARSOC," Osterman said of the 2,500 MARSOC troops. He declined to cite specific instances of heroism or the missions accomplished by other Marines who were on the doomed chopper.

Like other clandestine services, a private ceremony remembering the special operations Marines will be held in the coming weeks to help surviving family members close the page on their deaths.

Names of 7 Marines killed in helicopter crash released

Also on Friday, military officials released the names of the Marines killed. All were from the 2nd Special Operations Battalion of the Marine Corps Special Operations Command at Camp Lejeune.

Here are some of their stories:


On March 6, just days before the helicopter crash, Staff Sgt. Andrew C. Seif was awarded the Silver Star Medal. Seif, 26, received the award for facing enemy fire to save a mortally wounded friend in Afghanistan in July 2012.

He was born in Fairbanks, Alaska, and lived in Albuquerque, New Mexico, until middle-school when his family moved to Holland, Michigan, the Marines said.

Seif grew up playing soldier in his backyard and joined the Marines just weeks after graduating from high school, according to an article about his award published this week in the Camp Lejeune Globe, the base newspaper.

By 2012, he had spent two years as a special forces operator with the 2nd Marine Special Operations Battalion, which operates from the Middle East to Central Asia. Seif and his teammate, Sgt. Justin Hansen, were closing in on one of western Afghanistan's bomb experts, according to the paper. They came under fire, and Hansen was hit. Seif moved Hansen to safer position and treated his teammate's wounds. Seif returned fire, advanced alone across the compound and found the targeted bomb-maker.

"The fact that (Seif) continued to fight through the objective to get Sgt. Hansen taken care of, putting himself in the line of fire, speaks volumes to who he is and demonstrates that he would never leave a Marine behind," said Maj. Gen. Joseph L. Osterman.

Seif's wife was at his side when he received the medal.



Staff Sgt. Trevor P. Blaylock, 29, was born in Lake Orion, Michigan, and swam on the varsity swim team. He attended Henry Ford Community College for one year before joining the Marine Corps in 2006.

Initially, he was a mechanic in an armored reconnaissance battalion at Camp Pendleton in California. He served two tours in Iraq in 2007 and 2008. His decorations include the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal with Valor.

His home near Camp Lejeune was within earshot of dull booming sounds of artillery or other heavy weapons. A woman who came to the front door declined to speak to a reporter.



Born in Bonn, Germany, Master Sgt. Thomas A. Saunders, 33, enlisted in the Marines after graduating from high school in Virginia. Following basic training in 1999, he was assigned to Camp LeJeune.

He deployed to Kosovo and served with special operations teams in Iraq and Afghanistan for years before joining a Marine Corps special operations unit in 2010. He spent eight months as a liaison to Army Special Operations Command before joining his Middle East-focused regiment four years ago.

He was married to a fellow Marine based at Camp Lejeune, and the couple has one son, according to an award by the Marine Corps Association & Foundation naming Saunders its special forces operator of 2014.



Born in Reading, England, Staff Sgt. Liam Flynn, 33, moved to Queens, New York in 2002.

He enlisted in the Marine Corps in 2006. After boot camp, he was assigned to Camp Lejeune.

He served tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan before joining the Marine Corps' special operations force in 2011 and returning to Afghanistan in 2012.

Flynn's heroism was honored by receiving three Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medals with Valor and the Bronze Star with Valor.



Capt. Stanford Henry Shaw III, 31, was from Basking Ridge, New Jersey, and attended Ridge High School, where he was student government president and captain of the varsity lacrosse team.

Neighbors along a quiet cul-de-sac about 40 miles west of New York City said the hard-working teen they knew as Ford had always dreamed of going into the military. His family declined to speak to a reporter Friday.

"Just a fantastic guy," said next-door neighbor Gretchen Priore, who said she'd known Shaw since he was in high school.

He attended the United States Naval Academy and became a commissioned Marine officer upon graduation in 2006. He graduated from the Infantry Officer Course and was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 7th Marines.

He served two tours of duty in Iraq in 2007 and 2009, according to information provided by the Marines at Camp Lejeune.

His career took him to Japan, where he became the deputy camp commander of a jungle warfare training center on Okinawa in 2011. He graduated from the Malaysian army's jungle warfare course and then joined the Marine special forces.



Staff Sgt. Marcus S. Bawol of Warren, Michigan, "loved everything about the military," said his sister, Brandy Peek.

"He couldn't wait to join. He wanted to fight for our country and was always striving to be the best Marine he could be," Peek said.

The 27-year-old graduated in 2006 from Warren Mott High School. Bawol played baseball and football and was a member of the school's swim team, according to district Superintendent Robert Livernois.

Bawol attended Olivet College for a year, where he was a catcher on the baseball team.

He had planned to marry his fiancee in October, Peek said.

On Thursday, Warren Mayor Jim Fouts ordered flags in the city, just north of Detroit, flown at half-staff.



Staff Sgt. Kerry Michael Kemp, 27, was the proud father of a baby just shy of her first birthday and loved horsing around with his nephews.

"He would wrestle with them. He really got into that, the wrestling and playing. He'd carry them around on his back," said his sister-in-law, Lora Waraksa.

He was a "proud Marine, a loving husband and most wonderful father," she said. He also loved golfing and the ocean - he often took his nephews out to hunt for sea shells.

Born in Memphis, Tennessee, Kemp met his wife, Jenna, at Port Washington High School in Wisconsin, where he was voted "best smile" by his senior class. He graduated in 2005.

He started as an artillery mechanic, and his military merit led to three quick promotions. He completed training in special operations in 2012 and spent seven months in Afghanistan before returning in June.


Lush reported from Tampa, Florida. Associated Press reporters Michael Biesecker in Raleigh, North Carolina; Corey Williams in Detroit; and Gretchen Ehlke in Milwaukee contributed to this report.

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