KALSU, Iraq -- Regardless of the job, all Marines understand that deploying into a combat zone brings certain risks. March 18, 2005 seemed like any other day for Lance Cpl. Alexander Kramer.
Alone in his air traffic control tower, sitting below the Plexiglas window working on a computer at approximately 7 p.m., Kramer heard several mortars hit the airfield. As he was standing up to look for the impact areas, shrapnel from the mortars shattered the Plexiglas and chips of wood and plastic hit him in the face.
Three years ago, Alexander Kramer had no idea that he would join the Marine Corps. While attending Peninsula High School in his native Gig Harbor, Wash., Kramer knew he wanted to be in the military, but was unsure of which service he would join.
He talked to several recruiters and at the end he chose “The Few, The Proud”.
After graduating from high school Kramer reported to Marine Corps Recruit Depot, San Diego, in November 2002 and endured 13 weeks of basic training. After earning the title Marine he reported to Marine Corps Base, Camp Pendleton, Calif., where he attended Marine Combat Training, a three-week course on basic infantry skills.
Done with that training, Kramer reported to the Naval Air Technical Training Center in Naval Air Station, Pensacola, Fla., in April 2003. In Florida, he learned the basics of being an air traffic controller.
Marine Corps Air Station, Cherry Point, N.C., became his first duty station. He reported there in August 2003 and was assigned to Marine Wing Headquarters Squadron 2. After 17 months there, Kramer, now a lance corporal, deployed to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom assigned to Marine Air Control Squadron 2.
Kramer, one of the few Marines here at the forward operating base run by U.S. Army personnel, was on the receiving end of that insurgent attack in mid March. That day, two 120 mm mortars hit 20 feet away from the air traffic control tower he was in.
“It was the loudest thing I’ve ever heard,” he said. “It was crazy. That shrapnel must have gone right over the top of my head, because I took the by-product of the shrapnel.”
Bleeding profusely from a cut above his left eyebrow, Kramer took cover after being knocked to the floor. The air boss radioed the tower to find out if anybody had been hurt and Kramer gave him the news. “I got hit,” he said.
He had cuts on his left eyebrow, close to his left eye, on top of his head and several smaller cuts scattered around his face.
“The cut above my eyebrow was bleeding the most,” said Kramer. “It made it look a lot worse than what it was.”
After being taken care of, medical personnel gave him an opportunity to use a satellite phone to call his parents. “I couldn’t get a hold of them so I talked to my grandparents,” he said. “It probably wasn’t the best way for my mom to get the news, but at least she knew I was OK.”
The doctors here wanted to make sure he didn’t have shrapnel lodged in his head and recommended Kramer be flown to a clinic in Baghdad for further examinations.
As he was boarding a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter to be medically evacuated, Col. Mark R. Cyr, commanding officer of Marine Air Control Group 28 who happened to be visiting the Marines in Kalsu that day, approached him and had a few words with him. “He gave me a MACG-28 challenge coin, a cigar and wished me the best of luck,” said Kramer.
After a day in Baghdad, Kramer returned to Kalsu. It took a few days for him to get back in the tower, but he faced his inner fears and got back into the swing of things.
“It was kind of scary at first but I feel OK now,” he said. “There’s always a chance of getting hit again, but I’m hoping lightning doesn’t strike twice. It’s not fun when those things (mortars) get close.”
Sgt. Jason Gray, MACS-2 Marine Mobile Team assistant team leader and Hardeeville, S.C., native, has been working with Kramer for two and a half months and considers him a good Marine and a fast learner.
“He’s learned a lot here,” said Gray. “This is his first deployment and he works hard and completes any task he’s asked to do.”
Kramer sees at his time in Iraq as a good experience and said every Marine should deploy at least once. He plans to leave the Marine Corps at the end of his enlistment and attend college back home.
“After high school I wanted to get my life on track before going to college,” he said. “I feel like I’ve done that and I’m ready to further my education now.”
Putting his life on the line day after day after having a close call, Kramer continues to support the mission. His keen eyes on the airfield keep accidents at bay here and his motivation and dedication serve as encouragement for others.
- For more information about the Marine reported on in this story, please contact Sgt. Juan Vara by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org -