CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. -- Most of the 2,300 young Americans of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit missed all three of this year's presidential debates. They were too busy fighting the Taliban and al-Qaida in Afghanistan to watch the first two and en route home to this sprawling coastal Carolina base during this week's give and take. Few of them have had the opportunity to see the man who will be their next commander in chief -- even on television. Though they don't talk much about politics or politicians, there is one thing that they all seem to want -- no matter their age, rank or color of their skin. There's no debate; they want victory.
This isn't the first time we've met these Marines. The 24 MEU is built around the 1st Battalion, 6th Marines. In August, our Fox News Channel's "War Stories" documentary team was embedded with 1/6 in Afghanistan. Back in 2006, we lived with them in Ramadi, Iraq, when Anbar province was the bloodiest place on the planet. According to Col. Peter Petronzio, the MEU commander, and Lt. Col. Anthony Henderson, the commanding officer of 1/6, more than half these Marines have made multiple deployments in this long war against radical Islam. And while there is no such thing as a "typical Marine," what they say about what they have accomplished is nearly universal.
One of them is a 22-year-old sergeant, named Courtney Rauch. He and his wife, Vanessa, were part of our 2007 documentary "The Homefront to the Frontlines," which we shot in Iraq and here at Camp Lejeune. He returned from his first combat tour unscathed. But this time, he was not so fortunate.
On Aug. 3, a massive improvised explosive device detonated directly beneath his lead vehicle in our four-Humvee patrol through one of the most heavily contested parts of Helmand province, Afghanistan. The blast blew Chris Jackson, our cameraman, out the right rear door, and the heavily armored Humvee was engulfed in flames immediately.
The driver, Cpl. Arnaldo Figueroa, and Sgt. Rauch, both wounded, were trapped in the front of the burning vehicle. Despite his own wounds from shrapnel and the blast, Jackson immediately jumped up and scrambled back to the burning vehicle. As ammunition "cooked off" inside the Humvee, Jackson somehow jerked the buckled armored door open and dragged Sgt. Rauch to safety. On the left side of the vehicle, Cpls. Wright and Donald did the same for Cpl. Figueroa. Both badly wounded men were dragged to safety behind the next vehicle in the column and treated by the unit's two U.S. Navy medical corpsmen, Jose Pena and Gregory Cox, while Lt. John Branson, the platoon commander, deployed his Marines to secure a helicopter landing zone.
Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist, the host of War Stories on the Fox News Channel, the author of the new novel Heroes Proved and the co-founder of Freedom Alliance, an organization that provides college scholarships to the children of U.S. military personnel killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty. Join Oliver North in Israel by going to www.olivernorthisrael.com.
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