The last time Marine Sgt. Raymond Elwell was in Iraq, he saw his platoon commander killed by enemy fire in the streets of Fallujah.
Elwell lives in Albany and is a member of Fox Company, a reserve unit based on Washington Avenue that will be deployed to Iraq later this year.
The unit is part of the 2nd Battalion 25th Marines.
There are about 170 Marines in Fox Company from as far away as Maryland and Pennsylvania, according to Cpl. Kristen Velardi in the company’s public affairs office.
About 60 members of Fox Company are from the Capital Region, Velardi said. Military officials would not divulge actual numbers because of security concerns.
The company will leave for California in May to train at Mojave Viper, an area built by the military to prepare units for realistic desert combat, improvised explosive devises and desert survival.
Fox Company will then to go to Iraq for at least seven months starting in the fall. The Marines will help train Iraqis to defend themselves against insurgents, rebuild infrastructure and secure the streets.
Elwell was on patrol with platoon commander Capt. John J. McKenna IV and Lance Cpl. Michael D. Glover in Fallujah in August 2006 when Glover was hit by enemy fire.
McKenna rushed to help Glover and both were fatally shot. Elwell still vividly recalls that sweltering afternoon.
“He went over there for us, to look out for us and he died looking out for one of his Marines,” Elwell said. “He died and everybody stepped up and did what we had to do because of how he trained us.”
McKenna had lived in Clifton Park and was a New York state trooper before he was killed at the age of 30. He was posthumously awarded the Silver Star last year.
Elwell fulfilled a mandatory six-year active reserve requirement with the Marines in January, but he can choose to serve for up to two more years under his contract.
The 26-year-old said that he will return to Iraq with his unit if he doesn’t get a job with the Albany Police Department by June. He served tours of duty in Iraq in 2003 and 2006.
“I don’t care about going over there. It doesn’t scare me, it’s just the fact that I need a career to come back to,” Elwell said. “I’m trying to figure out what to put first.”
Sgt. Dennis Pichardo from the Bronx will be returning to Iraq for his fourth tour there with Fox Company. He was part of the original invasion five years ago.
Pichardo is one of about a dozen active duty Marines in Fox Company from across the nation who are stationed in Albany to oversee the training and operations at the reserve center.
He said a lasting memory of Iraq was when he passed a stretch of highway near Nazaria two months after he helped secure it as part of the invasion.
“We’re rolling back through the same area that was pretty much non-stop fighting,” he said. “[I remember] seeing nothing but normal people walking around like nothing had ever happened, happy and cheering.”
Another member of Fox Company is Gunnery Sgt. Eric Carlisle from Alabama. The 34-year-old helps train Iraqi forces to defend themselves against insurgents.
“You see them grow from the gunny [gunnery sergeant} training them to now actually taking over and doing operations next to you,” Pichardo said. “They’re pretty much brothers in arms.”
When Fox Company deploys, 1st Sgt. Edward P. Ackley will stay behind in Albany to help the families of area Marines who are in Iraq.
Part of Ackley’s duties include notifying families if any local Marines are killed in Iraq.
“There’s no preparations. You have to take it as it comes,” Ackley said. “The emotional impact from it is unexplainable.”
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