... because Nate's eyes still laugh.
As he sits in my living room or in the back yard talking ... as he does back flips off the diving board, gathers his fellow home school friends for a volleyball game, or canoes with those same friends on the Shenandoah River ... he's still the Nate we love. He jokes, tells war stories, and warmly remembers his Marine buddies ... those guys he depended on to watch his back in life-and-death situations. And somehow you know he's leveling with you and, at the same time, protecting you.
In Iraq he was Lance Cpl. Nate Salatin, United States Marine Corps. We stayed in contact with him through email while he was in combat ... "we" being dozens of friends and parents who wanted to stay abreast of his time in Iraq. Through regular emails home we kept up with what was happening and, even then, Nate's humor came through.
His last "group" email sent several weeks ago was a remembrance of his time away from the States. He starts by saying:
First, I want to thank everyone who thought about and prayed for me and my fellow Marines. We needed it and could feel it in many instances. It's hard to explain, but when you are in a world so far removed from anything that you have grown up with, it is very comforting to know that people are thinking of you.He continues by talking about the mundane days and nights of regular patrols when nothing happened, and when excitement did come it wasn't always the kind that you wanted.
Nate was part of a mine sweeping detail, the Marines who patroled the roadways in the desert, searching for and detonating Improvised Explosive Devices before they could damage vehicles traveling in that area.
In all, my route clearance team traveled 9,000 miles and did more than 250 investigations for IEDs. We only missed one that blew a tire off of an armored tractor trailer and the driver was fine.And while this 21-year-old was in the middle of war, there were people here in the States complaining about the U.S. ... and the democrats in Congress were plotting to prevent sending more money to the troops.
We found and successfully blew up around 30 IEDs and dug up several more that other units had spotted. Our convoy was hit six times. Sgt Miller, my squad leader who was in the lead truck, was blown up 3 times, but he personally found 12 IEDs before they were able to hit the convoy. In one instance he got his driver (Cpl Gordon) to stop the truck inches from the IED pressure strip.
Turner, one of my best friends, was blown up three times in three different vehicles. My vehicle was hit once. The run flat (a very thick rubber piece inside the tire) absorbed most of the frag. I pulled out pieces the size of my fist. It went off right under me so I am very glad that I was in a good vehicle.
We got shot at and mortared more than once, but they evidently weren't sharp shooters. JohnnyV (lead gunner) had frag rip up the front of his Kevlar, an inch or two from his face, but not touch him. God was sure looking out for us.
Thankfully, Nate's company came home although there were some with serious injuries:
My whole company came home, even though a few of the guys got pretty mangled. The worst one, Cpl. Walker, was there in California to meet his platoon, walking with a cane on his metal legs. We were all very happy to see him, especially to see him doing so well.He then thanked everyone again for remembering him and his buddies:
Once again, thank you so much for all of the packages, letters, and prayers for me and my guys. Because yes, most of that stuff was shared by all.Next: From Nate's perspective ... should the U.S. be in Iraq?
Their names are Sgt Mark Miller, Sgt Jeffery Powell, Cpl. Daniel Sherwood, Cpl. Gordon, LCpls. Marvin Bell, Daniel Connally, Dustin Meadows, Matthew Turner, Bruce Jamerson, Jacob Turpin, Johnny Vasquez, Jason Als, and Stephen Pociluyko. The guys in my squad were some of the best that I could have asked for and my squad leaders, Sgt Miller and Sgt Powell, were two of the best Marines that I have ever seen. If you ever get to meet any of the guys in my squad, make sure you thank them for what they did. They all deserve it.