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Four combat veterans thank LAV repairmen

7 Apr 2011 | Marti Gatlin

During an offensive in Marjah, Helmand Province, Afghanistan, six Marines traveled in a light armored vehicle seeking insurgents and improvised explosive devices on March 31, 2010.

On a road outside of the region of Sistani, Helmand Province, LAV driver Lance Cpl. William E. Chapman and his platoon commander hit an IED that destroyed the vehicle and caused him multiple injuries. His unit, A Company, 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, 2nd Marine Division, Camp Lejeune, N.C., deployed to Helmand Province in December 2009.

“We were covering two route lines in Sistani in search of IEDs and my platoon commander and I hit an IED,” said the Charleston, S.C. native. “I don’t remember the blast. I woke up inside my driver’s hole. There was debris everywhere. I wasn’t sure exactly what had happened. I tried to get a hold of the rest of my crew, but I couldn’t get anyone’s attention. So then I tried to get out of my hatch, but the barrel from my turret was pinned down on top of the door and I couldn’t open it.”

Ten to 15 minutes later his crew came and pulled Chapman out of the LAV driver’s hatch onto a stretcher. While they were looking at Chapman’s injuries, the enemy began firing at the Marines and they placed him behind the totaled LAV.

Because his rifle was damaged in the blast and he couldn’t return fire, Chapman called for help via a radio. For about an hour the Marines returned fire.

“Once we got shot at, they gave me the radio,” he said. “I just wanted to get support.”

Another platoon arrived to help the Marines. Following the IED blast and firefight, a medevac helicopter flew Chapman to Camp Bastion, Afghanistan, and then to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, Landstuhl, Germany. On April 3, 2010, he flew to Bethesda Naval Hospital, Bethesda, Md.

“I fractured my left tibia and fibula,” the young Marine said. “I fractured a vertebra. I broke my eleventh rib. I lost my spleen. I had a pulmonary contusion, second degree burn on my left side and I took shrapnel all up the left side of my body.”

Currently a member of the Wounded Warrior Battalion at Camp Lejeune, Chapman noted some of the LAV’s armor helped save his life. Once he recovers from his injuries, he hopes to return to 2nd LAR.

Chapman and three other fellow Marines toured Maintenance Center Albany on Friday to see firsthand how LAVs like the one he was injured in are repaired.

“There’s up-armor that covered the entire outside of the vehicle,” he said. “The IED that hit us blew a hole through the up-armor that reinforced the vehicle and it means that if that armor wasn’t there it definitely would have taken my life.”

Chapman, Sgt. Justin L. Riggs, Cpls. Christopher A. Gisbrecht, and Matthew C. Worley, members of 2nd LAR, have spent significant time in the LAVs in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The combat veterans expressed their gratitude to the civilian-Marines here who repair the vehicles and discussed several suggestions to make the LAVs better.

“They saved my life. I thank you,” Chapman said. “It was amazing seeing the processes they do. I really didn’t know or expect that they broke down a vehicle completely, took everything out and rebuilt them pretty much from the floor up. It was good being able to give them suggestions on how what they do saves Marines’ lives.”

Infantryman Gisbrecht, offered several suggestions that can make the vehicle better especially for LAV crewmen - making the crewmen hatches a little bigger, better heaters, more air conditioning and seats.

“They have a hard time getting in and out,” Gisbrecht said, noting Riggs was his LAV vehicle commander in Afghanistan.

“I think it was great to come down here and see it and talk to the workers and see some of our ideas come into effect,” Gisbrecht, who hails from Somerset, Pa., said.

While on foot patrol with 11 other Marines to clear out a courtyard compound in Helmand Province, Gisbrecht was injured in an IED blast on Sept. 3, 2009.

He suffered a sucking chest wound, and shrapnel wounds to the throat, face, extremities and groin. He was transferred to Camp Kandahar and then to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, Landstuhl, Germany. After receiving medical treatment in Germany, he was sent to Bethesda Naval Hospital, Bethesda, Md.

He is awaiting orders to medically retire from the Marine Corps.

“The Marines knew of two IEDs in the courtyard,” Gisbrecht said. “I was about 25-30 feet away. I don’t remember the blast. After the blast, the Marines took care of me. I was grateful the Marines were able to take care of me.”

One of those Marines taking care of Gisbrecht was Riggs, who is currently serving as the platoon sergeant for 4th Platoon, A Co., 2nd LAR Bn. Riggs received a Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal with Combat V for his actions that day.

“He was the first one I went to. I applied a pressure dressing on his wounds and talked to him until the corpsman got there,” Riggs said.

The Tacoma, Wash., native then went to another Marine and applied pressure dressings to his legs.

A member of LAR for six years now, the LAV crewman said he was excited about the tour of MCA.

“What I liked most about it was how much manpower it actually takes, how much support we actually have and how the Marine Corps sets everything up so we have what we need to have,” Riggs said. “We really don’t need to worry about the quality of gear and vehicles, etcetera, that we receive.”

Worley, a small arms repair technician, is currently serving as company armor, Headquarters and Service Company, 2nd LAR Bn.

The Columbus, Ohio, native will tell his fellow Marines back at his unit how good a job the LAV tradesmen do here repairing the vehicles.

“I thought it was pretty neat how they could take any vehicle, and in eight days pretty much have it combat ready again,” Worley said. “It shows they really do take pride in what they do and they’re thinking about us and the guys (who) are forward (deployed). These guys really do care about us and it’s not just a job they do. They really care about our safety.”

Master Sgt. David E. Elliott, Program Management Department, MCA, escorted the Marines during their visit.

“Marine Corps Logistics Command and Maintenance Center Albany wanted them to come down here to show them how much we appreciated their hard work and efforts in combat,” Elliott said.

Col. Terry W. Reid, commander, MCA, presented armor shield plaques to the four Marines following a cookout with the LAV work section.

The Marines also played golf and attended an Albany Panthers arena football game.

“The big sign above our building, ‘What you do is important. Everyday a Marine’s life will depend upon it,ß’ you are the Marines,” Reid said. “You represent the thousands of Marines we have out there every day forward deployed. Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedules to come out here.”

An LAV supervisor, who spent the day with the Marines, described the event as exciting.

“The ‘Warrior Day’ was very exciting and a reward for us (who) build the equipment as well as the Marines in them,” said Robert Graham. “We enjoyed every minute of it. I’m a Desert Storm veteran and I know firsthand what it’s like to have a dependable vehicle, and most of all, a safe one.

“We, at MCA, strive to do our best to support the warfighter and we love doing it,” he said. “This job is double fulfilling when you know that ‘what we do will one day save the life of a Marine.’”

Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany