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Help our troops!!!
Pride doesn’t deflect bullets
Published on Sunday, April 13, 2008 12:11 AM AKDT
The U.S. Army may be looking for a few good men; in the Marine Corps, soldiers would settle for a few basic supplies.
At least one Marine has discovered when Uncle Sam is stretched thin, you can rely on mom.
Big Lake resident Joanne Casqueira’s 20-year-old Marine son and his 10-person battalion are scheduled to head to Iraq in September. It will be Alex Casqueira’s second tour of duty there. During his first tour, he realized there were deficiencies in the equipment allocated to each Marine.
When Alex Casqueira learned he’d be deployed to the Middle East again — this time in charge of 10 other Marines — he asked his mom if she could put out a donation jar at Sears in Wasilla where she works. It’s a basic, grass-roots effort to help raise the money Alex needs to not only outfit himself, but his battalion members, for their tour of duty in the callous and dangerous land so far away from his home in Alaska.
Joanne, a Marine mom through and through, is doing much more as she tries to raise the $11,000 needed. Her son serves proudly, and we are proud of him and his family, and the supplies he wants are hardly considered luxuries in the harsh Middle East during wartime. Things like new boots adequate to the job and a GPS wristwatch that could mean the difference between being killed by enemy insurgents and finding one’s way back to a friendly base are examples of the supplies Alex Casqueira says soldiers need. Overall, each soldier could be equipped for about another $1,000, which may not seem much, but is too expensive for a young U.S. Marine making $1,100 a month.
While Joanne works to make her son and his battalion more safe, she is also asking a very valid question: Why can’t the federal government allocate sufficient funds to the military so the young men and women it puts in harm’s way can be properly outfitted to meet the dangers they face?
We wonder the same.
Instead of putting itself in the position of explaining away a $640 toilet seat, why shouldn’t the Department of Defense be proudly showing how it has made outfitting its military men and women with state-of-the-art, fitted equipment its No. 1 priority, along with the weapons and military vehicles needed to give them more than a fighting chance of coming home again.
How many U.S. taxpayers would complain if the federal government spent equivalent funds on its volunteer soldiers compared to the high-paid, highly controversial private “security forces” with whom it contracts in Iraq?
We are proud of our local servicemen and women who put themselves in harm’s way to protect our freedom and the freedom of others around the world. We’re equally proud of the strong and glorious military tradition Alaska has and continues to cultivate. The Casqueiras are a good example of this.
Politics have no place in determining the best equipment used for fighting a war, but published reports have made it clear our soldiers are often tangled in the red tape of bureaucracy and politics, and it is no match for the enemy’s IEDs.
Alex is a patriotic soldier; one of the few and the proud. As Valley residents, we are grateful to all of our military men and women, serving near and far. We want for them what Joanne wants for her son — the best possible equipment to raise the odds he will safely return to the Valley.
To help Alex and his battalion, see the contact information with the story in today’s Valley Life section. To help everyone else, express your opinions to Congress.
a mother’s honor
By J.J. Harrier
Published on Tuesday, April 15, 2008 9:54 AM AKDT
MAT-SU ??” For one military mother from Big Lake, “Support Our Troops” is more than a familiar saying ??”? it’s a call to action.
In January, Joanne Casqueira received a call from her son Alex saying in September he’ll be deployed to Iraq for the second time in two years. As with most military moms, Joanne went through all the emotions upon hearing the news.
Like many young men in Alaska, Alex Casqueira, a lance corporal in the U.S. Marines, had held a gun in his hand since an early age. He had prepared his entire young life to serve his country and when the time came, he signed up.
ROBERT DeBERRY/Frontiersman Joanne Casqueira holds a photo of her son Lance Cpl. Alexander Casqueira. Casqueira, along with her fellow Sears associates, pictured behind her, is hoping to raise money to help purchase combat equipment for marines like her son, who will be heading out on his second tour of duty in Iraq. Casqueira says Marines are being sent to combat without adequate gear and equipment, and she wants to raise funds to get them that equipment.
(Use arrows above to view more photos)
“He loves being a Marine,” Joanne Casqueira said. “He would be going over with 10 men and women under him, showing them his experience. Alex has always been the kid to take others under his wing. He was a very giving child.”
Early last week, Casqueira again received a phone call from her son, who is stationed at Camp Pendleton in San Diego, Calif. This time something seemed different. He sounded worried.
Alex, 20,? called to ask his mother, a sales representative at Sears in Wasilla, if she could set a donation jar at her work for him and his battalion. He needs money to buy gear. What the government had issued them was, in his opinion, not enough.
“He had damaged his eyes on that first deployment and so he needs special glasses,” she said. “But it didn’t just stop there.”
Casqueira said Alex went on to explain the standard issue of cammies, boots, slings, headlamps and even rifles, distributed to all Marine Corps soldiers, were not only used and well-worn, but just not enough. He had found from his first tour that he didn’t want to scrape by again and told her that if he and his men were to face the ever-changing conditions in Iraq head on, they were going to need more gear ??” gear the military is unable to provide and most soldiers cannot afford.
Alex and his unit had visited an authorized military outfitting company called Combat Ready U.S.A., near Camp Pendleton and found the additional items Alex feels are necessary for their mission in Iraq, his mother said.
“I was shocked,” Joanne Casqueira said. “Here he is, having to call his mom to ask for money to go to war, where we sent him, and that’s not right. What’s wrong with this picture?”
She said Alex takes home roughly $1,100 a month in salary. Basic allowances are given for food, housing and the standard-issue gear necessary for combat, but additional gear and equipment to go into battle carries an additional cost.
Casqueira said after Alex talked with Combat Ready personnel and added the numbers, her son would require an additional $1,000 worth of gear to ensure proper safety in Iraq. Money her family does not have.
“The government only allocates enough money for the bare essentials, and it’s simply not enough,” she said. “This is not right. Alex was not recruited, he went out and joined the Marines. Now he’s being charged for everything. Marines are at the top of our country’s defense, so it makes no sense why they can’t have the very best. It is very upsetting.”
After Casqueira hung up the phone with Alex, she knew she had to do something. Putting pen to paper, she began writing out her son’s plea to anyone who would listen.
First up was Combat Ready, the military outfitters in California where Alex had visited. She wanted to know if her young son was possibly shopping for extravagant items or items he actually needed. She was told the items were basic needs for her son to make the trip to Iraq less dangerous.
Colin Burgos and Travis Box, ex-Marines and owners of Combat Ready U.S.A in San Diego, said Alex is just one of many concerned Marines who come through his door every day with the same concern ??” are they ready to go to war with what they are given?
“Her son came in first and looked at the items and saw a lot of items he could have used the first time he was over in Iraq,” Burgos said. “Joanne was asking us questions and made sure they were legit. They are getting the essentials from the Marines, but because Alex had served previously, he is basically asking for necessary upgrades.”
Burgos, a U.S. Marine from 1997 to 2004, said the Marine Corps does what it can to provide the best equipment possible to its troops, but often used or worn equipment is still issued. He said each Marine is issued an ample 70-plus pounds of combat-ready gear valued at $5,000 to $8,000.
“They’re getting issued plenty of gear, but not always the correct sizes and sometimes used. Quite frankly, I’d rather have the best gear possible,” Burgos said. “Alex came in here and makes $1,000 month. He wanted reliable boots, a helmet and glasses ??” the basics. He looked at a GPS watch, which alone is almost a $600 item. That’s half his paycheck. Knives can be an additional $140. New boots, up to $300. The stuff does add up.”
Burgos said each Marine is outfitted for his or her specific theater or combat zone. Because Alex had been to Iraq before, he had an idea of what gear he wants for the second time around.
“He and his mom are taking the initiative to help these guys out and getting the gear they should have,” Burgos said. “For us, we’re doing the same thing. Travis and I understand the job description for each Marine. I wish someone would have done that when I was serving in the Marines.”
Burgos said outfitting each Marine for battle starts with a basic platform fitting. Body Armor is issued to each Marine and cannot be altered, but additions can be made to the shells. Pouches can be purchased for better access to ammunition and other crucial items, a bonus for left-handed Marines.
Joanne Casqueira began tallying up the numbers. Without a second thought, Burgos and Box helped set up an account for donations to come through. She began her effort to raise money, not only for Alex’s gear upgrades, but also for the 10 other soldiers under him. She has little time before they are to be deployed in September. At $800 to $1,000 each, her goal of $11,000 is a large chunk of change. But she knows where to start.
Joanne Casqueira got on the phone and began calling local businesses and government officials to ask what could be done. She went straight to the top.
“I called Governor Palin’s office and left messages in hopes she’ll do something,” Joanne Casqueira said. “I’m continuing to e-mail her every day until I get a response.”
Next, she went to her manager at Sears, Jodel Carlson.
“Joanne came into my office and said, ‘I’m not leaving until I talk to you,’” Carlson said. “I listened. I’m proud of Joanne for stepping up. I’m a military mom too, and understand her concern.”
Carlson took Casqueira’s letter and sent it to Sears’ corporate headquarters, where a decision will be made next week about collecting at the store. She said a station will be set up inside the Wasilla Sears store for donations, and perhaps more.
Since last Monday, Joanne Casqueira has contacted Wal-Mart, Arctic Insulation, the Great Alaska Pizza Co., and a handful of other local businesses in hopes they too would set up donation jars. The response so far has been positive.
“We’ll know more soon,” She said. “It’s all happened so fast. The kids need this stuff now, and their needs are all different. Alex has been to Iraq and knows what they could use. They need to train with this stuff and know how to use it before they go into a battle zone.”
Joanne Casqueira said she by no means disrespects the U.S. government or the Marine Corps in their handling of gear issuement. She would simply like to see more funding put into equipping soldiers adequately for the tasks they are assigned.
“We need to come together as Alaskans,” she said. “Especially those of us living in the Mat-Su Valley. This is my son’s home. We all drive around with the now-trendy yellow ribbon bumper stickers saying ‘Support Our Troops.’ How are we doing that? Well, now 11 boys and girls truly need our support.”
Burgos said Joanne Casqueira is on the right track in helping her son and his unit.
“For the most part, Joanne’s attitude is like any other military mom,” Burgos said. “She’s making sure that when you’re a mom to a Marine, you’re a mom to all. We’re going to try to do this and get the funds together as soon as we can so they can come in and get the gear they need for training. They need gear they can gain trust in. It makes them a team and is a force multiplier.”
Casqueira said she knows she is just being a mom, but hopes people will want to help.
“I would love to help all of them out,” Casqueira said, “but my focus is on these kids. I mean no disrespect calling them children, but the average age of a Marine being deployed to Iraq is 19 to 20 years old. The least we can do is really support them by giving them what they need. It’s what they need.”
To donate to the Alexander William Casqueira fund, contact Colin Burgos or Travis Box at Combat Ready at 949-276-2333, or? e-mail Joanne at email@example.com.
Contact J.J. Harrier at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 352-2269.