California Base Hit Hard by Marine Deaths

Ten Americans killed this week in Fallujah, Iraq, were all with the Marine Expeditionary Force based at Twentynine Palms, Calif. It's a satellite base of Camp Pendleton. Marine families are taking the news hard.

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DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Debbie Elliott.

Today north of Baghdad, insurgents ambushed an Iraqi army patrol, killing 19 Iraqi soldiers. The men were traveling in a convoy when they hit a roadside bomb. The gunmen then opened fire. Also today the Pentagon identified the 10 US Marines killed Thursday by a roadside bomb near Fallujah. It was the deadliest attack on American troops in Iraq in four months. All 10 were members of the 1st Marine Division based at Twentynine Palms in California. Twentynine Palms is a satellite base for Camp Pendleton, which has lost more troops in Iraq than any other US base. NPR's Scott Horsley went there today.

SCOTT HORSLEY reporting:

News of the roadside bombing commands a big headline here in Oceanside, California, outside Camp Pendleton, but deadly as the bombing was, it's just the latest in a sad litany for military barber William Palomo(ph).

Mr. WILLIAM PALOMO (Military Barber): It doesn't sound good. That's how I hear. It sounds bad. It is bad. It happens every day. There's two or three, five, 10. It's too bad it has to happen. Maybe it'll finish one of these days. It's been going on three years.

HORSLEY: Palomo's barbershop sits next door to the headquarters of the 1st Marine Division Association. A large map in the association window shows Iraq's Al Anbar province. That area's been a killing ground for numerous Camp Pendleton Marines. More than 250 from the base have died in Iraq so far. Fallujah and Anbar province are also the likely destinations for Private First Class Mike Miller(ph). He'll be deployed to Iraq for the first time in a matter of months.

Private First Class MIKE MILLER: I'm a little nervous and a little scared, but--I try not to think about it, but sometimes you can't help it. You just feel sorry for the loss. You know, we're all brothers here, and we feel it every time we watch the news and somebody goes down. It hits kind of close.

HORSLEY: The Marines killed Thursday come from around the country: Minnesota, Michigan, Illinois, Texas. For Miller who's from Columbus, Ohio, every one is like a neighbor.

Pfc. MILLER: A Marine's a Marine whether he's from Alaska, Hawaii, New York. You feel for the families and you feel sorry for them that it had to be him no matter where he was.

HORSLEY: The killings near Fallujah came one day after President Bush spelled out his strategy to win in Iraq amid growing calls for a quick withdrawal of troops. Marine Thomas Flame(ph) says US troops need to remain in Iraq until that country's own forces are ready to take over.

Mr. THOMAS FLAME (US Marine): It just makes me more fired up to go over there, do my part, fight for my country. We've got to go over there and do what needs to be done and take care of those people over there especially, train them to keep up with their own people, you know?

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Singer: I'll be home for Christmas.

HORSLEY: On a sunny Saturday in December, Marines and civilians stroll through an outdoor mall in Oceanside, snacking at fast-food shops or taking in a movie at the art deco-style Regal Cinema. Walking along the Oceanside Pier, Navy retiree Dominique Resoluzi(ph) says the country is lucky to have young Marines willing to fight.

Mr. DOMINIQUE RESOLUZI (Retiree, US Navy): You think that all the Marines that are over in Fallujah and all parts of Iraq are making a big sacrifice. They're doing it because they want to do it. There's a lot of them not saying that they want to come home. In fact, some of them have re-enlisted. So they must believe in what they're doing.

HORSLEY: Another deployment is set for early next year, sending more than 20,000 Camp Pendleton Marines back to Anbar province.

Scott Horsley, NPR News, Oceanside, California.

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