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An empty bed

Community donations of shaving cream mark suspected bombs and help keep our soldiers safe

POSTED: November 13, 2011 12:06 a.m.
/For The Times

U.S. Marines walk on patrol in Sangin, Afghanistan recently. The Marines use shaving cream to mark suspected sites of roadside bombs, which have killed or seriously injured many U.S.-led coalition troops in the war-torn country.

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It is difficult to prove a negative or something that didn't happen. But like front-line health care providers don't need a government study to convince them that smoking causes lung cancer, Marines patrolling the fields in Sangin Afghanistan don't need convincing that shaving cream has saved lives and limbs by marking the safe path through IED-infested ground.

I've recently returned from San Diego with my wife and daughter, welcoming our son home from his tour in southern Afghanistan with the 1st Batallion, 5th Marines from March to October of this year. It was a great and emotional reunion which can not be described with words, but as with every parent, we were so glad to be there.

On the day we left for home, my son and a few other Marines went to Balboa Naval Hospital to visit injured Marines from their company, who had preceded them home. Several were missing legs and endured other serious injuries. He commented on their strong spirit in spite of the situation and how proud he was of them. He also noticed some empty beds.

I don't know how many beds were empty due to the shaving cream sent by the generous people of Gainesville, Hall County and around the country, but if was just one, all of the work was well worth it! I believe in my heart - and from the letters I've received from Marines in the area - the number of empty beds is more than one, but we'll never know scientifically.

I do know this: Following arrival of the entire battalion of over 1,000 Marines throughout the month of October, my son commented that, while many in his company of about 200 suffered injury, some very serious, 100 percent of Marines in his company returned to the USA.

My wife and I are humbled by the generous response of people willing to help our young men and women sacrificing for each us in lonely outposts and terrible conditions in Afghanistan. In this small and spontaneous outpouring, our community made a difference and kept a bed empty and, more significant, may have kept a family from losing a precious gift of a son or daughter.

Each of these sons and daughters are gifts to all of us and we should never forget their service. I've been honored to receive several "thank you" letters on behalf of Operation Shaving Cream, but one stands out and best describes how fortunate we are to live in the United States of America. In calls home, my son constantly reminded us that Sangin operations was a "squad leaders" war, where the point of the spear was carried to the enemy by Marine sergeants, corporals and privates as they independently moved through fields and villages, 24/7 to continually press the Taliban and provide security for the people.

The following is an excerpt from a letter written by my son's commanding officer, titled "To the Generous People of Georgia," thanking us for our support in sending them shaving cream, describing the character and bravery of our young men and women serving in harm's way.

He wrote:

I'm not sure how the media portrays our situation back home, but if you could see these brave young men you would and you should be proud of them. It doesn't matter if it's an IED, a suicide bomber, mortar attack, fighting in an open field, or all of it at once; these Marines talk, swagger, and, most importantly, fight today in the same way our young warriors have since the Revolution.

They also know whose shoulders they stand on, and they would die before anyone of them shame any veteran living or dead.

As mentioned before, you would be proud to see them. They have the look in their eye and a way of walking that marks them as warriors as good as any that have ever marched to the sound of the gun. They are good and decent young men mostly from working class homes, and more often than not are the sons and daughters of cops and firemen, factory workers and farmers. Kids who once delivered your papers, stocked shelves in the grocery store, played Little League, and served Mass on Sunday morning. They were athletes, as well as "couch potatoes," drove their cars and motorcycles too fast, and blasted their music a bit louder than perhaps they should have.

They are ordinary young people, performing remarkable acts of bravery and selfless acts of devotion to a cause bigger than themselves. They could have done something else more self serving, but chose to server knowing full well Afghanistan was in their future. They did not fail out of school with no prospects but to join the military. But rather they are the best our nation has to offer and have put every one of us above their own self interest.

They are all heroes, but they know and understand fear in a way that few Americans do. It is not the fear of death or maiming they think about, but, rather, they are most terrified of letting their buddies down, of letting those who have served before them down. But they never do.

Your Marines (Marines belong to all Americans) are continuing to persevere in the face of tremendous challenges and hardships and, despite what some media pundits may say, we are winning. When we arrived here in March 2011, Sangin, Afghanistan was being held hostage by a group of misogynistic cutthroats who held sway over the people through use of intimidation and brutal acts of cruelty and violence. However, by relentless pursuit by a bunch of 18- and 19-year-olds with guns who never hesitated and never backed down, while at the same time holding an open hand with the promise of economic prosperity and the chance of a better life, the people of Sangin have seen the light and know that the Taliban cannot win against such men.

Your Marines continue to be ferocious in battle, honest in our dealings with the populace and above all have kept their honor clean. ...

While this may seem strange and perhaps a bit comical, the use of this simple household item — shaving cream to mark a safe path on patrols  is often times the difference between a good day and a bad one.

It is obvious from letters like this, our country is blessed to have unbelievable young people answering the call to protect our way of life. We should also feel pride in helping make a difference to keep them a little safer in a terrible part of the world.

During my son's deployment, some Marines in Battalion 17 gave their lives as the ultimate sacrifice and hundreds of others were injured. On this Veteran's Day, let us remember their families in our prayers and thank all who have and are currently serving to make this the best country in the history of the world. Without brave young warriors willing to put their lives on the line, this would not be the case.

Thank you again for your help in supporting Operation Shaving Cream, but more importantly this week  and every week  remember and thank all our past and current Veterans in your life and prayers.

Tony Herdener is the father of a U.S. Marine who recently returned from a tour of duty in Afghanistan.


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