'Hell Of A Leader': Marines Remember Sergeant On Friday, Marines will gather to remember Sgt. Joseph Garrison at a small combat outpost in Afghanistan's Helmand province. Garrison, 27, was killed earlier this month on his fourth combat tour. Two years ago, he told NPR about his fellow Marines: "We're brothers. ... We'll die for each other."
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'Hell Of A Leader': Marines Remember Sgt. Garrison

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'Hell Of A Leader': Marines Remember Sgt. Garrison

'Hell Of A Leader': Marines Remember Sgt. Garrison

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This Friday, at a small combat outpost in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, Marines will gather to remember Sergeant Joseph Garrison. He was killed earlier this month by a roadside bomb, at the age of 27.

NPR's Tom Bowman talked with Garrison on an earlier deployment, when the sergeant was busy training Marines for an operation against Taliban forces in the Helmand River Valley.

(Soundbite of archived broadcast)

Sergeant JOSEPH GARRISON (United States Marine Corps): We're brothers, you know. We do everything together. We eat together. We also sleep together, as you can see. We train together. You know, we're willing to die for each other.

BLOCK: That was two years ago. Today, Tom Bowman has this remembrance.

TOM BOWMAN: Sergeant Garrison was on his fourth combat tour in Afghanistan. He planned on one day becoming a drill instructor, or maybe a Marine guard in an embassy. But that would have to wait. He was in Afghanistan, and he wanted to make sure his Marines were always ready for war.

Sergeant DAN CLIFT (United States Marine Corps): Our first firefight was with him and, you know, as soon as we started taking rounds you couldn't tell that he was nervous or anything.

BOWMAN: That's Sergeant Dan Clift, who served under Garrison.

Sgt. CLIFT: He just snapped. He said hey, you guys need to get over there now. And everyone did everything that we were supposed to, and everything was fine. And he talked to us about it before, like, you know, hey, this is what you guys can kind of expect; this is what might happen; this is why I need you guys to do - just follow my orders, and you guys will be fine. And that's what we did.

So like I said, he's a hell of a leader.

BOWMAN: This was a guy who made himself a leader. Garrison grew up near Pittsburgh, a big hockey and football fan. He overcame a speech impediment.

Corporal Sean Martin was in Garrison's squad.

Corporal SEAN MARTIN (United States Marine Corps): I always ragged on him about it, so I always called him Joey G., 'cause he always said, yeah, I'm Joey Garrwehson(ph). So I was always like, oh, Joey G.

BOWMAN: His parents got divorced. In high school, his wrestling coach became something of a father figure. Garrison was built for wrestling - short and stocky.

Sgt. CLIFT: But it was always funny, though, 'cause I'm 6'4" and he's like 5'3," 5'4."

BOWMAN: That's Sergeant Dan Clift again.

Sgt. CLIFT: He's pretty short. I would always just tower over him but, you know, I'd follow him anywhere.

BOWMAN: Garrison heard about the Marines and decided that was the only life for him. And it was in Afghanistan that he teamed up with Sergeant Clift and Corporal Martin. Garrison always told his men to keep their cool and not become callous toward all Afghans.

Here's Garrison on NPR two years ago.

(Soundbite of archived broadcast)

Sgt. GARRISON: I just tell them, you know, everybody here is not bad. You know, you've got the people that want us here, that are good. And you've got the Taliban here that don't, obviously, want us here. And, like I tell them, I said as long as you do your job and you do what you're supposed to do and what's right, we won't have problems with anything.

BOWMAN: Corporal Martin smiles when reminded of what Garrison had said.

Cpl. MARTIN: He told us that all the time - that these people, some of them are good. We just have to weed out the bad ones.

BOWMAN: Garrison knew more than most that there were bad ones out there. And he knew about roadside bombs, the biggest killer of Americans. When a minesweeper detected a bomb beneath a dirt road, Garrison would run ahead to check things out.

Again, Corporal Martin.

Cpl. MARTIN: He would tell him to back up, and he would get pretty much on all fours and wipe away the dirt.

BOWMAN: That's not how it happened the day he died. In the end, it was just fate. He was part of a patrol walking alongside a high, mud wall. The bomb just happened to detonate next to him.

Corporal Martin heard the explosion, and saw the plume of smoke that meant one more roadside bomb. He was part of the quick reaction force that rushed to help.

Cpl. MARTIN: I knew inside. Something just - I felt like I thought it was him. I didn't want it to be. Then whenever my squad leader came back from doing the linkup, he came over, he told me it was Sergeant Garrison. And it hit pretty good.

I'm going to miss him. He was just a standup guy. He would help out his Marines before himself any day of the week.

BOWMAN: Sergeant Clift was also at the scene of the blast that day. He remembers a squad leader holding the bandana that Sergeant Garrison always wore.

Sgt. CLIFT: I mean, it put me on my knees. I couldn't believe, you know, he was gone.

BOWMAN: Sergeant Joseph Garrison described himself as a solitary man. When he talked with NPR back in 2009, he said he had no girlfriend back home, no fiancee.

(Soundbite of archived broadcast)

Sgt. GARRISON: It was like, growing up and everything, I was more like a loner. You know, so, kind of worked on my own and did a lot of stuff on my own. So I just kind of stayed that way.

BOWMAN: But he didn't stay that way. Since that interview, Garrison met Brittney Stephens, who worked at a store at Camp LeJeune. They had planned on getting married when he returned home.

Tom Bowman, NPR News, Helmand Province, Afghanistan.

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