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Heroic welcome


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POSTED: Friday, October 30, 2009

A Kaneohe Marine who lost both his legs in Afghanistan in May completed his rehabilitation in near record time to be part of his company's homecoming ceremony yesterday.

“;They saved my life,”; said Lance Cpl. Larry Draughn, 22, as he met members of Golf Company, 2nd Battalion, minutes after their chartered Omni International jet touched down at Kaneohe Bay. “;They saved my family from a lot of pain. I am greatly appreciative. I am just glad they made it home. I thank them for everything they have done.”;

The 300-Marine contingent from the battalion's Golf and Fox companies were the first to return from among nearly 1,000 Kaneohe Marines who deployed to Afghanistan in May. The entire battalion is expected to be back at Kaneohe by the middle of next month.

The Kaneohe Marines, part of the 3rd Regiment, were part of a surge of 21,000 U.S. troops ordered to Afghanistan by President Obama.

Another 1,000 Marines from Kaneohe's 1st Battalion will leave next month for seven months in Afghanistan.

               

     

 

WHITE TO BE RELIEVED OF 3RD MARINE REGIMENT'S COMMAND

Col. James “;Chip”; Bierman will assume command of the 3rd Marine Regiment at Kaneohe Bay, relieving Col. Duffy White on Nov. 12.

       

White has been in Afghanistan since October 2008 as head of the Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force.

       

In June the task force became a part of Marine Expeditionary Brigade-Afghanistan. Duffy leads seven battalions, including a rifle battalion from Kaneohe.

       

 

       

Much of Golf Company's battlefield action was described in dramatic detail by an embedded reporter from the Associated Press.

Capt. Zachary Martin, company commander, said Draughn was one of five Marines in his company who were severely wounded.

“;His attitude was inspirational,”; said Martin, a 12-year veteran.

Golf Company lost three Marines during its seven months in Helmand province. Overall, eight Marines and one Navy corpsman assigned to the 2nd Battalion were killed.

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Draughn and the other members of 2nd Battalion had just arrived in Helmand when he was wounded.

The Ohio native was on a foot patrol in Naw Zad May 30 when he stepped on two land mines placed on top of an artillery round. It blew off his right leg below the knee and left leg above the knee. He lost two fingers on his right hand.

“;I was conscious for everything, so I remember everything,”; said Draughn. “;It just felt like you were inside a very big chapel bell that someone was hitting with a sledgehammer.”;

As he flew through the air, Draughn literally saw his life pass before his eyes.

“;Everything. My wife. My kid. Seeing them smiling and laughing at the back of my mind and that I had to fight through for them,”; he recalled.

Draughn was the only member of his squad injured by the blast.

He credited his fellow squad members and a Navy corpsman for keeping his spirits up.

“;They kept me going,”; he said. “;They kept saying the trucks are right around the corner.”;

Golf Company spent all of its deployment in Naw Zad in the midst of the heaviest fighting.

Once the second-largest town in Helmand, Naw Zad has been almost emptied of its 30,000 inhabitants after three years of near-constant fighting.

Martin, who has completed two Iraqi combat tours and one to Afghanistan, described the Helmand assignment as “;a huge success story.”;

“;When we started there it was a kinetic fight,”; said Martin, referring to the 15 to 20 firefights his unit encountered. “;There was no involvement with the local populace. There were no Afghan security forces there. When we left we had all those things.”;

The Kaneohe Marines liberated the village of Dahaneh, with 2,000 people, from the Taliban.

“;Those people are receiving services from the government of Afghanistan,”; said Martin, 36. “;They are protected by Afghan national army and Afghan national police, which they haven't seen for years in that area. We really turned the tide a lot in Naw Zad. There is still quite a fight ahead there, but overall a lot has changed.”;

Despite the close media coverage, Marine wives said they did not follow the action closely.

“;I didn't keep up with the reports because there was too much,”; said Esmeralda Ferguson, whose husband, Staff Sgt. Alexander Ferguson, had been to Iraq on two earlier deployments.