USS IWO JIMA, Arabian Gulf --
Full Metal Jacket star R. Lee Ermey congratulated 10 Marines today aboard USS Iwo Jima in the Arabian Gulf for helping save Elnora, Ind., from flooding June 8, 2008.
Ermey presented each Marine with a miniature American flag, gifts from Elnora resident Heather Davis, Indiana radio disc jockey Diane House and the American Legion. The group sent 150 flags as a gesture of thanks to the more than 140 Marines and sailors of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit based in Camp Lejeune, N.C., who participated at Elnora. Ten flags were forwarded to the ship and presented to Marines representing MEU units who helped in the town's rescue.
"We wanted to send a little token of our appreciation to those who came and helped save my hometown," said Davis in a letter to the Marines. "(We) wanted to send a little thank you to all who came and helped us out."
"This is just something Diane and I do to send to the members of our military to let them know we are thinking of them, and for them to have a little piece of home, no matter where they are," she said.
Ermey was aboard for a morale-boosting troop visit through the Middle East. When presented with the opportunity to recognize the hard work of the Marines, the Marine Corps icon, most famous for his role as hard-nosed Drill Instructor Gunnery Sgt. Hartman in Full Metal Jacket, leapt at the opportunity.
The 26th MEU went to Camp Atterbury, Ind., in June to conduct Realistic Urban Training. Plans quickly adjusted when torrential rains flooded much of Central and Western Indiana. MEU leaders provided assistance to state and local officials when it became clear many residents were in danger. Elnora and state leaders took advantage of the Marines’ dedication and sheer muscle, requesting aid to shore up a nearby levee expected to break.
Flying in by CH-46E Sea Knight and CH-53E Super Stallion helicopters more than 90 miles from the training site, MEU Marines worked furiously through the night and following day filling sandbags and reinforcing a mile of levee protecting Elnora. They were joined by soldiers from the Indiana National Guard, Amish and Mennonite farmers, local residents and even a contingent of prisoners from a nearby jail in an incredible demonstration of teamwork in the face of impending disaster.
Later that evening, the rescue effort was called off and the workers and residents evacuated when experts determined the rising waters would overcome the levee and wash both town and people away. To the surprise and excitement of all, the levee held.
"It was important to show that no matter where we're at, we're going to help," said Cpl. Trevor J. Blackburn, who received a flag from Elnora via Ermey. "No matter if it's in our own country or outside the country, you know that's what we do. Our foremost job is to help out the people who care for us."
"We'd be glad to do it again if you called upon us and you needed our help, we'd be there," Blackburn continued. "Knowing that they were so grateful for what we did – and it seems like we didn't do much, but in all actuality we probably saved the town – but it didn't mean that to us, it just meant we got to get out there and help somebody."
The remaining 140 flags are with the MEU's family readiness officer at Camp Lejeune and will be given to the other Elnora Marines when the MEU returns from its current deployment early in 2009. The 10 Marines receiving flags today were hand-picked by MEU leaders to represent their units. Four Marines represented Battalion Landing Team 2/6, three represented Combat Logistics Battalion-26, two represented the helicopter air crews of Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron-264 (Rein) and one Marine stood for the Command Element. All the Marines given flags today directly contributed to the Elnora effort.
"That entire day was an emotional roller coaster for all of us," said Lt. Col. John Giltz of the mission to Elnora. Giltz commands CLB-26 and was officer in charge of the Elnora mission. "It was so inspiring to see Marines, sailors, Indiana National Guardsmen, townspeople, the Amish community and yes, even the prisoners, working side by side to save the town. Leaving town during the evacuation, without an expectation that it would survive, was a cruel blow to our morale. We had formed a bond with the townspeople, and felt that even with our collective effort, we had ultimately failed. Then, the next day when word reached us that the town had survived, a cheer went up throughout the unit--high fives, smiles and lot's of celebrating. So, while we received many accolades for our efforts, the town was saved because the people of Elnora simply refused to lose their town. We simply were inspired by their motivation."