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This U.S. Marine needs your help

By Alan Caruba
web posted February 28, 2005

I served long ago in a peacetime, Cold War army, but my training in the combat arts and the skill-sets necessary to stay alive probably didn't differ that much from that which Marine Corps 2nd Lt. Ilario Pantano received. No, in fact, his training was probably better. Marines exist for one purpose. They are not peacekeepers. They are true warriors. They are the ones sent first to where the fighting will be the worst. They know it. They volunteer for it.

On April 15, 2004, the Lieutenant and his patrol were on duty in Iraq's violence-filled Sunni Triangle. That date had been proceeded by days of ambushes and near misses. Indeed, April 2004 marked the assault on Fallujah with considerable action in Najaf and Sadr City. As the Washington Times pointed out, "About one-third of the 147 US servicemen killed that month were Marines. They were killed in firefights and ambushes, and risked explosive devices in the streets."

It is unlikely that more than a few reading this have ever seen such street-to-street, house-to-house combat. It requires a level of courage most of us will never be required to summon in our entire lives. The wrong decision can get you dead. It can get the men under your command dead.

Last month, a friend shared an email with me from Damon Chapman, the brother-in-law of 2nd Lt. Pantano. He called him "the most honorable man I have ever known." The Marine Corps has charged him with the premeditated killing of two Iraqi insurgents based on a complaint, two months after the event, by a sergeant in his unit who had reportedly been admonished on several occasions by the Lieutenant.

2nd Lt. Ilario PantanoThe man now facing the death penalty had graduated from an elite private school and elected to delay his college education and instead enlist in the Marine Corps to fight in the first Gulf War against Iraq. When he returned home, he worked days to put himself through school at night. As Chapman notes, "He was in the middle of a successful career when, after 9-11, he decided to rejoin the Marines and, despite his age, he completed Officers Candidate School. He led his command bravely and honorably and now, ten months later, it is incomprehensible that he has been charged with this crime while just doing his job."

A pretrial hearing will be held this spring and Lt. Pantano has made no public statement regarding the charge. Already, though, many are calling for those charges to be dismissed.

What would you have done? The two Iraqis were stopped as they attempted to flee a site that was found to be filled with several mortar aiming stakes, a flare gun, three AK rifles, 10 AK magazines with assault vests, and materials for the manufacture of improvised explosive devices. Lt. Pantano ordered the two men to search their vehicle to insure it was not booby-trapped. At some point both men, ignoring an order to be quiet, and then an order in Arabic to stop, moved swiftly in his direction. He shot them both. I would have done the same thing.

Our soldiers and Marines are not facing an enemy that wears uniforms and attacks in formation. Even today, as a military convoy makes its way on the streets and highways of Iraq, those guarding it will fire a burst to warn civilian vehicles from getting too close. Barely a day goes by when some report of a suicide bomber does not make the headlines.

This charge against Lt. Pantano needs to be dropped and the sooner the better. Pursuing the charge would put every other Marine and soldier at even greater risk as they must make a split-second decision between defending themselves or facing a possible trial. The Lieutenant was and is no rogue officer. He's the kind of man we hope will lead our troops in battle.

Defending him is going to cost his family a lot of money. If you want to help, visit www.defendthedefenders.org.

Alan Caruba writes a weekly column, "Warning Signs", posted on the Internet site of The National Anxiety Center. © Alan Caruba, February 2005

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