Meadville Tribune

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June 5, 2014

Local: I wouldn’t change my life experience as a Marine for anything

Over the years, I have had the opportunity to meet with and get to know many veterans. It is always an honor to hear their stories, those that they can or are willing to share, and to catch a small glimpse of what their time in the service may have been like whether it was during peacetime or a time of conflict.

The people who decide to share their stories with me all took an oath, a solemn oath to defend our country against enemies both foreign and domestic. Taking that oath is no small matter, knowing you very well may have to sacrifice everything. As always, I am deeply thankful to all who have done so.

The following is a small glimpse into a three-month deployment of a local Marine.

Ron Cochran, a Meadville resident, enlisted in the Marine Corps after high school. He served four years of active duty and four years inactive. He was an artillery mechanic.

He was stationed at Camp Pendleton in California and other places around the globe.

One of Cochran’s deployments was in 1990. Operation Team Spirit was a three-month mission to South Korea to team up with the Republic of Korea Marines as a “show of force” to the North Koreans.

Cochran and approximately 160 other Marines were attached to the Navy for this deployment. He served on a LKA 116, which is an attack/amphibious cargo ship with a full Navy crew and 160 Marines aboard. The ship Cochran was on was just one of an entire fleet that had been deployed for the mission.

It took 31 days to reach South Korea. The Navy trained continuously while they were underway. With a fleet being so large and so widely spaced, you may only see one or two other ships along the way.

They had an early morning landing on Red Beach Pohang, South Korea. It was winter in that part of the world with temperatures in the low 50s. Those temperatures “seemed pretty cold to us coming from Okinawa, Japan,” Cochran said. “Wind chill and water spray made it feel a lot colder.”

I was curious about how a ship is offloaded at its destination.

“Ships are anchored approximately three miles off shore,” Cochran explained. “We put Mike Boats (LCM — which stands for landing craft mechanized) in the water and offload the vehicles onto them. Everything we need. Hummers, water buffalos, five-tons (trucks), etc.”

Once the vehicles are offloaded, the Marines descend down the cargo net into the Mike Boats with the vehicles.

Descending the net, the Marines are in full gear, carrying their Alice pack, which is approximately 40 pounds, and their M-16.

“Both the ship and the Mike Boats are rocking back and forth on the waves. With the wind and rocking of the ship, the cargo nets would “pull tight and loosen, almost as if you are on a rubber band. It can get a bit hairy at times. The nets are huge. They used to actually use those nets to offload vehicles, so you can imagine how strong they are. You may have 10 or so Marines descending at once. Once that group reaches a certain point, the next 10 will descend until all are in the Mike Boat. With two Mike Boats making two trips each to the landing zone, each trip carried approximately 60 Marines.

“We head towards shore until the front of the Mike Boat hits ground, the ramp is dropped and you drive the vehicles out and up onto the beach. At times, the water is up to your neck as you are driving the vehicles onto the beach. Once on shore we set up main camp, soaking wet and pretty cold. It’s not real comfortable, just part of the job. We don’t complain.”

I asked what that particular area in South Korea was like, and Cochran replied, “well, as the day warmed up a little, we soon realized there was a fish factory there. It stunk — bad. The stench was about 400 yards ahead of our bivouac, and it smelled the entire month we were there.”

Part of this operation was for the U.S. Marines and the ROK Marines to patrol the river bottoms, which were dry due to North Korea having had dammed off the rivers going into South Korea.

Twelve to 15 Marines would be out on a 15-hour patrol, searching for easy access points from North Korea, booby traps or anything the North Koreans may have set up to “keep an eye” on the South Koreans. They also searched for old camps from reconnaissance missions and anything out of the ordinary.

Cochran explained “ROK Marines had manned bunkers and their own patrols. They did their thing and we did ours, but at the same time, we (the American armed forces) were letting the North Koreans know we were there working together.”

“We got along well with the ROK Marines. They were glad we were there and were real receptive to us. We took some of the burden off them for a while. I had a couple ROK Marines want to trade their boonie hat for my bayonet. I didn’t do it. I sure wasn’t going to the brig over a bayonet!”

I have often heard people say “The Marines, they are a different breed.” I have said it myself and asked Cochran what he thought of that statement. He replied, “Setting out to become a Marine and accomplishing it gives you a lot of pride. Not knowing much about the Marine Corps, I decided one day I was going to join the Marines. I didn’t give it much thought. That was now my goal, to become a Marine, and I did it.

“I saw a lot of people try to get through basic and they couldn’t make it. It’s tough, physically and mentally. My mindset was simple — I’m going to do it. Once you make it through, it gives you a big sense of accomplishment.”

The Marines are a different breed. Cochran said, “We are typically the first ones in. You get a rush knowing you’re the first line of defense, knowing our guys behind us won’t have to worry about what’s in front of us, because we’re going to take care of it.

“Being a Marine, it really is a brother/sisterhood. You can run into a Marine, whether or not you served with them or knew them personally, you knew what they had to go through to wear the uniform. That forms an unspoken bond. There is an automatic mental response of ‘brother,’ it’s that simple.”

During Cochran’s four years of active duty in the Marines, he was deployed three times. When asked if he would do it again, he immediately replied, “Yes. I wouldn’t change my life experience as a Marine for anything in the world.”

May God bless America and those who defend her.

Kim Lengling is co-chair of Project Support Our Troops and co-founder of Embracing Our Veterans. To learn more, go to embracingourveterans.org or email embracingourveterans@gmail.com.

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