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US marines undertake "gut-wrenching" clean up in Sri Lanka
AFP ^ | Tue Jan 11, 3:19 AM ET | AFP

Posted on 01/11/2005 2:08:59 PM PST by Eurotwit

GINTOTA, Sri Lanka (AFP) - Despite their training and combat experience, the US marines working in tsunami-hit Sri Lanka admit that picking through the shattered remains of peoples' lives has been a heart-rending exercise.

A few dozen of around 400 marines stationed in or off the southern city of Galle pick up brick after broken brick, the pieces left behind after the Asian tsunami ravaged the seaside village of Gintota.

Like survivors right across the three-quarters of Sri Lanka's coastal belt obliterated by the December 26 tsunami, they use their hands -- some gloved in black leather or khaki wool, others simply bare.

They toss what's left of entire lifetimes into the mouths of camouflaged bulldozers, brought by the US military themselves, which then transfer the detritus into their dump trucks. Then it's off to a makeshift tip.

"There was rubble everywhere. It was like the Twin Towers," in New York destroyed in the September 11, 2001 attacks says Private First Class Damon Carr, describing the scene when he arrived.

"I didn't know where we were going to start from; everywhere you looked, there was rubble."

He found a photo album with a family snap of half a dozen people and says he handed it back to the mother pictured in it. She was the only one still alive.

"I almost cried," he says. "We're marines, we've been trained, but I never thought I'd be standing here, picking up the pieces of someone's whole life."

Sergeant Jarrod Birchler was also astounded at the scale of wreckage.

"It looks good now but when we came you couldn't even drive a truck here. There were six houses standing and there were six with nothing but their foundations left," he says.

Those standing had to be demolished -- except for a small structure that he thinks used to be somebody's kitchen -- and added to the metre-high rubble which has taken three full days to almost clear.

"It's long, hard work," Birchler adds.

The area the marines have tackled is barely a dot on the map of Sri Lanka's disaster zone, an indication of the enormous effort that will be needed to rebuild the South Asian country.

Amid the mess, the occasional piece of torn cloth -- perhaps once someone's dress -- and pieces of household items still peak through.

Hospital Corpsman First Class Tim Dittlinger, who normally provides medical care to the marines from the 9th Engineers Support Battalion here, scrunches up a piece of material and tosses it into the bulldozer's jaws as he admits it's been tough.

"It's been heartbreaking and gut-wrenching. It's hard to come here and do what we've been doing, dumping what people have built up their whole lives," he says.

"Picking up people's lives, it's not what we've been expecting to do."

In small clusters around the periphery of the work site, curious Sri Lankans watch. G.V. Kellum, 41, who lost his father to the tsunami, solemnly observes as the remainder of his home gets tossed away.

"They're helping, so that's good," the labourer says, standing from a vantage point where he can also see the surf rolling in along the rubbish- and boat-strewn beach, an ever-present reminder of the tragedy.

Nearby G.V. Dayawathie rummages in the remains of her home, surrounded by a few relatives and neighbours, hoping to find some intact bricks that they might be able to re-use, while also keeping an eye on the marines at work.

"We are happy that they are coming to Sri Lanka for free to help us. We're happy about them cleaning up," says the 33-year-old mother of four, whose father was also killed by the surging waters.

Her neighbour and nephew, Padme Talakkumara, 17, would like to talk to the marines but can't speak English.

The marines say many Sri Lankans have been hesitant to approach, but some have cheerfully handed out sliced coconuts from the palms swaying overhead.

"Obviously, the machinery is intimidating -- we're intimidated by the machinery. They've been gracious, hospitable and yet wary," says Dittlinger.

"They're glad we're here, but at the same time, you can read the distress and the loss on their faces."

Corporal Ryan Zeiter, 24, drives one of the seven-tonne dump trucks.

Asked how he is coping emotionally, he says: "I've been to Iraq (news - web sites), I'm used to it. But it's pretty sad to see some of these people who don't have anything anymore."

The conditions he's working under are however far better than in Iraq, he says, where he finished a tour a year ago.

"There you've got to be constantly looking around. There's no trust. Here, I can leave my truck running without worrying it will get stolen. They seem like pretty honest people here."

Asked if anything stands out as being difficult, he shakes his head.

"No, it's something we do. We're marines, we're here to help."


TOPICS: Extended News; News/Current Events
KEYWORDS: disasterrelief; humanitarianrelief; marines; srilanka; sumatraquake
Asked if anything stands out as being difficult, he shakes his head.

"No, it's something we do. We're marines, we're here to help."

1 posted on 01/11/2005 2:08:59 PM PST by Eurotwit
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To: Eurotwit

Thank you for posting.
I think people forget so easily that not only what our military does is brave, but it is hard, backbreaking work.

God Bless Our Military!


2 posted on 01/11/2005 2:10:51 PM PST by RushCrush (We can stand here like the French, or we can do something about it.-Marge Simpson)
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To: Eurotwit

HOW STINGY.


3 posted on 01/11/2005 2:15:31 PM PST by JackDanielsOldNo7 (Jack Daniels is so good you can feel a straight shot all the way to your toes.)
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To: Eurotwit

Our military is the world's 911. Also, no good deed goes unpunished.


4 posted on 01/11/2005 2:20:15 PM PST by yellowdoghunter (Liberals should be seen and not heard.)
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To: JackDanielsOldNo7; Eurotwit
"We are happy that they are coming to Sri Lanka for free to help us. We're happy about them cleaning up," says the 33-year-old mother of four, whose father was also killed by the surging waters.

STINGY INDEED!

5 posted on 01/11/2005 2:21:42 PM PST by sam_paine (X .................................)
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Comment #6 Removed by Moderator

To: JackDanielsOldNo7

What do you mean, stingy? You have me a bit confused.....


7 posted on 01/11/2005 2:24:08 PM PST by NewHampshireDuo
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To: Eurotwit

I'm amazed anything positive about the US (especially the military!?) is being reported by AFP (Agence France Presse). They're usually as bad as Reuters. Maybe this signals a bit of a thaw?


8 posted on 01/11/2005 2:28:34 PM PST by Conservative Canuck (The Voice of One Crying in the Wilderness)
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To: timeislightislife

But don't you know that wealth was built on the backs of slaves and stolen resources? sarc :-)


9 posted on 01/11/2005 2:29:50 PM PST by Conservative Canuck (The Voice of One Crying in the Wilderness)
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To: timeislightislife

Are we supposed to contribue to their wealth?


10 posted on 01/11/2005 2:31:12 PM PST by yellowdoghunter (Liberals should be seen and not heard.)
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To: NewHampshireDuo
What do you mean, stingy? You have me a bit confused

Do you not remember the guy from the UN calling the US stingy?

11 posted on 01/11/2005 2:33:12 PM PST by JackDanielsOldNo7 (Jack Daniels is so good you can feel a straight shot all the way to your toes.)
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To: Eurotwit

I am very proud and always amazed how the Marines can go and do just about anything anywhere. Let's always remember, though, that the Marines are trained to kill to protect Americans. Our Marines are not a rescue squad, nor a police operation. Each and every one is always in my thoughts and more importantly, my prayers.


12 posted on 01/11/2005 2:37:41 PM PST by getmeouttaPalmBeachCounty_FL (I feel so naked not having JEB as my governor)
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To: Eurotwit
This sort of job should be reserved for the Peace Corp and various charitable organizations.

The U.S. Marines have no business cleaning up the mess left by natural disasters. Their job is to kill people and break things. Time spent this way is time they cannot spend training. Lack of training will be responsible for some of their deaths when called upon to enter combat to defend the U.S.A. Who will take the blame for their lack of training?

13 posted on 01/11/2005 2:38:32 PM PST by Jason_b
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To: Eurotwit
"I almost cried," he says. "We're marines, we've been trained, but I never thought I'd be standing here, picking up the pieces of someone's whole life."

The Marines are trained to kill people and break their stuff. This is not the proper role for a Marine. It is someone else's job. Now, if he was there to kill people and make all of that rubble, that would be a different thing entirely.

14 posted on 01/11/2005 2:40:16 PM PST by Spiff (Don't believe everything you think.)
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To: Jason_b

Well said.


15 posted on 01/11/2005 2:40:35 PM PST by getmeouttaPalmBeachCounty_FL (I feel so naked not having JEB as my governor)
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To: Eurotwit

What a wonderful story! Our soldiers are amazing. God Bless them all.


16 posted on 01/11/2005 2:41:58 PM PST by NRA2BFree (NO AMNESTY!!!!!)
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To: Eurotwit

What a wonderful story! Our soldiers are amazing. God Bless them all.


17 posted on 01/11/2005 2:41:59 PM PST by NRA2BFree (NO AMNESTY!!!!!)
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To: Spiff

Have you heard if there is an exit date for the carriers? I think there should be one. We should only be there temporarily to help with the initial stages until the French and everyone else can get their people over there and in place.


18 posted on 01/11/2005 2:44:47 PM PST by getmeouttaPalmBeachCounty_FL (I feel so naked not having JEB as my governor)
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To: Eurotwit
"No, it's something we do. We're marines, we're here to help."

bump

19 posted on 01/11/2005 2:52:14 PM PST by iceskater (The UN Oil for Food scandal has cost our troops their lives. Time for Kofi to go.)
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To: JackDanielsOldNo7

Yeah! That the rest of the world should be so stingy!


20 posted on 01/11/2005 2:52:41 PM PST by shiva
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To: Jason_b

I agree.


21 posted on 01/11/2005 2:55:24 PM PST by adaven
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To: getmeouttaPalmBeachCounty_FL

Semper Fi. And let's not forget the Army Corps of Engineers and Navy CBs. They do a lot too. It's just that the Marines are the only self-contained rapid response units available. They are not only unique in the world, but the very best at what they do.

The bottom line is, these guys are ready for anything, and willing to help with open hands and hearts.


22 posted on 01/11/2005 2:56:35 PM PST by Conservative Canuck (The Voice of One Crying in the Wilderness)
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To: Jason_b

My husband is a marine and found your post humorous. Marines have a variety of jobs. One being, they go out on ships as security during a det. These marines are probably glad they have something to do other than cut squares out on the ocean. While the situation is horrendous, these marines are an asset. They do a whole lot more than just killin'.


23 posted on 01/11/2005 3:36:43 PM PST by Millicent_Hornswaggle ("We walk by faith, not sight." 2 Cor 5:7)
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To: NRA2BFree

Soldiers are ARMY, Marines are Marines. Vast difference :')


24 posted on 01/11/2005 3:37:38 PM PST by Millicent_Hornswaggle ("We walk by faith, not sight." 2 Cor 5:7)
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To: Eurotwit

May the Lord richly bless them!


25 posted on 01/11/2005 3:52:20 PM PST by jer33 3
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To: Eurotwit

A tear or two in my eye after reading this one ...


26 posted on 01/11/2005 3:52:34 PM PST by GOP_1900AD (Stomping on "PC," destroying the Left, and smoking out faux "conservatives" - Take Back The GOP!)
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To: Millicent_Hornswaggle
Vast difference.

Not to me!! They're ALL soldiers to me. :-) They're all doing one heck of a job, and for that I will always be grateful.

27 posted on 01/11/2005 3:55:06 PM PST by NRA2BFree (NO AMNESTY!!!!!)
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To: Millicent_Hornswaggle

Glad to have provided some comedy. Just stated an opinion which comes from years of hearing about military all around the world in hell holes doing everything not seemingly related to what one would think the military is for: defense and to wage war. On the other hand, I see your points and they are well taken.


28 posted on 01/12/2005 3:40:29 AM PST by Jason_b
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To: Eurotwit
"There you've got to be constantly looking around. There's no trust. Here, I can leave my truck running without worrying it will get stolen. They seem like pretty honest people here." Hot dump truck for sale! Quick paint job and voila! You're in business
29 posted on 01/12/2005 3:46:38 AM PST by carumba
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To: Eurotwit
"There you've got to be constantly looking around. There's no trust. Here, I can leave my truck running without worrying it will get stolen. They seem like pretty honest people here." Hot dump truck for sale! Quick paint job and voila! You're in business
30 posted on 01/12/2005 3:48:25 AM PST by carumba
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To: Jason_b

Thank you for taking it as it was meant. My husband has been a Marine for 15 years. He's actually seen it all, this last time coming home in parts. This has been hard on him, everything going on in the world around him and he's used to being in the center of it helping. Now he sits on the sidelines and helps the ones getting ready to leave make sure they have what they need.


31 posted on 01/12/2005 6:01:55 AM PST by Millicent_Hornswaggle ("We walk by faith, not sight." 2 Cor 5:7)
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