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AL ASAD, Iraq - Two Marines show their final respects to a great Marine, First Sgt. Michael S. Barnhill of 6th Engineer Support Battalion. Barnhill was honored with a memorial service held on Memorial Day here.

Photo by Cpl. C. Alex Herron

First sergeant remembered on Memorial Day in Iraq

31 May 2005 | Cpl. C. Alex Herron

Memorial Day took on special meaning for Marines of 6th Engineer Support Battalion May 30. A memorial service was held here in honor of First Sgt. Michael S. Barnhill who was killed in the line of duty when his vehicle was struck by an improvised explosive device in the Al Anbar province late May. Marines and sailors in the unit reflected on the man they respected as a great Marine.

“Barnhill hated leaving the wire,” said Maj. Sean J. Riddell, the Alpha Company commander with 6th ESB. “But the only thing he hated worse was knowing his Marines were out there, and there was nothing he could do if something happened.”

World War II veterans define courage as being afraid, but going anyway, said Riddell.

“By that definition, Barnhill was a very courageous man,” Riddell said. “He hated leaving the wire, but he did it for the Marines. He was old enough to know he wouldn’t live forever, but young enough to know he wanted to do a lot more with his life.”

After the opening remarks, four of Barnhill’s younger Marines gave eulogies in honor of their fallen mentor.

“He helped out his junior Marines even when he didn’t have to,” said Sgt. Justin Babbit. “He was buoyant and loud. His personality was one of the defining personalities of our company. I had never met a bigger, tougher man who showed his love for his junior Marines.”

Barnhill was a Marine who expected all of his Marines to always look out for each other – the example he set each day.

“My first meeting with [First Sgt. Barnhill] was at a company formation before the unit was to deploy in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003,” said Cpl. James Peterson. “When he stood in front of me to ask me why my dog tag had not been placed in my left boot like he had instructed I responded that I was new and had not heard the order. Then he proceeded to explain why that was no excuse. His [Peterson’s] noncommissioned officers should have passed the word. That is what he expected of them, to look after their junior Marines just like he did.”

His door was always open for advice, help or if you just needed someone to talk to, according to Lance Cpl. Jared Tjaden.

“He always found a way to make you laugh,” Tjaden said. “He always made sure his Marines were taken care of.”

Barnhill, who was scheduled to retire in December, leaves behind a wife, Joanna, and three children, Michael, Michelle and Ashlee, and a unit that will carry on and continue their mission in his honor until they return to California to properly grieve the loss of their leader, mentor and friend. 

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