Eerie outpost unnerves US Marines with strange lights and whispers in the night

The Marines found the bone as they scraped a shallow trench. Long, dry and unmistakably once part of a human leg, it was followed by others. They reburied most of them but also found bodies. Three of the graves were close together; in another was a skeleton still wearing a pair of glasses. The Marines covered the grave and told their successors to stay away from it.

Observation Point Rock sits a few hundred metres south east of Patrol Base Hassan Abad, where a company from 2/8 Marines has been stationed for the past seven months. It is a lonely and exposed outpost 20 metres (65ft) above the surrounding landscape, which has been in Nato hands since it was captured from the Taleban in 2008.

Groups of Marines are posted to guard it, usually for a couple of months at a time, and “the Rock” has acquired a peculiar reputation. American troops widely refer to it as “the haunted Observation Point”.

It is hard to say how much the 100F (38C) heat, round-the-clock guard shifts and months spent living in trenches and peering out of sandbagged firing points have gilded the legend of OP Rock. The only break from the tedium, apart from dog-eared magazines and an improvised gym, has been small-arms or rocket-propelled grenade attacks from the Taleban, usually on a Sunday morning.

But as Sergeant Josh Brown, 22, briefed his successor when a detachment of men from Golf Company was swapped for an incoming contingent from Fox Company, he warned of the strange atmosphere and inexplicable phenomena that plagued OP Rock. “The local people say this is a cursed place,” he said. “You will definitely see weird-ass lights up here at night.”

Others in the outgoing unit had reported odd sounds. “It is weird what you hear and don’t hear around here,” he added.

Each successive detachment that guards the Rock appears to add its own layer to the legend, which has spread through the Marine units pushing into southern Helmand.

There is talk of members of the Taleban entombed in caves below; the bodies buried on the summit are identified confidently as dead Russian soldiers from the ill-fated Soviet invasion.

Corporal Jacob Lima’s story is the latest addition. One night he was woken by the sound of screaming. It was Corporal Zolik, a Marine who has since been moved to a unit farther south. “He was yelling and begging me to go up to the firing point he was guarding,” Corporal Lima, 22, told the men taking over from him. “When I got there he said that he was sitting there when he heard a voice whisper something in his ear. He said it sounded like Russian. He begged me to stay in there with him till he was relieved from guard duty. After that he really didn’t like standing post up there.”

The Marines’ predecessors, a unit of Welsh Guards, also produced tales of the unexpected. “The Brits claimed to see weird things, hear noises,” Corporal Lima said. “Lots of them said it’s creepy at night, especially from midnight till 4am. You see a lot of unexplained lights through night-vision goggles.”

Its elevation has clearly made the Rock a natural defensive position for centuries. It is not a rock, though it resembles one. Medieval arrow slits and the remains of fortified turrets on its eastern flank show that this was once a large mud fort that collapsed in on itself and was probably built upon in turn. The locals say that it dates back to Alexander the Great, and another similar structure is visible in the distance to the south, part of a supposed line of such forts built at some point in Afghanistan’s history of invasion and war.

When US Marines seized the post last summer they dropped a 2,000lb (900kg) bomb on one side, collapsing part of the structure on to what its current occupants claim was a cave where Taleban fighters were sheltering.

“This place really sucks,” said Lance Corporal Austin Hoyt, 20, putting his pack on to return to the main base. “The Afghans say it’s haunted. Stick a shovel in anywhere and you’ll find bones and bits of pottery. This place should be in National Geographic — in the front there are weird-looking windows for shooting arrows. You know, they say the Russians up here were executed by the Mujahidin.”

He looked meaningfully at his successors and prepared to leave.

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/Afghanistan/article6969122.ece

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Poisoned patriots? Stricken Marines seek help with illnesses

*These assholes will never be held accountable for their crimes toward Americans.*

TAMPA, Florida (CNN) — For Rick Kelly, the first sign of cancer was a feeling of discomfort in his chest.

“My wife would hug me, and it became almost unbearable,” he said. “I went to a doctor, and they sent me to the oncologist, and they did biopsies on both sides. And then I ended up with a double mastectomy.”

Kelly is one of 20 retired U.S. Marines or sons of Marines who once lived at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, and who are now suffering from breast cancer, a disease that strikes about one man for every 100 women who get it. Each of the seven men CNN interviewed for this report has had part of his chest removed as part of his treatment, along with chemotherapy, radiation or both.

All 20 fear that water contaminated with high levels of toxic chemicals may have caused their illnesses, but the Marine Corps says no link has been found between the contamination and their diseases. Without that link, the men are denied treatment by the Department of Veterans Affairs, which says it can’t treat them for a condition that hasn’t been shown to have been “service-related.”

Kelly was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1998, 16 years after he served at Camp Lejeune. Now a single father of a 7-year-old boy and without health insurance, he filed a claim with the VA to help pay his medical bills.

Kelly said his VA representative told him, “It’s not the VA’s problem, it’s the Marine Corps’ problem.” VideoWatch Marine Corps general respond to some of the allegations »

And Peter Devereaux, who was stationed at Camp Lejeune in the early 1980s, was told in writing that his breast cancer “neither occurred in nor was caused by service.”

But Kelly, Devereaux and other stricken men CNN interviewed say the Marine Corps knew about the contamination in tap water years before it shut down tainted wells in the mid-1980s. Now they want the service to acknowledge that the water from those wells made them sick, which could make them eligible for VA benefits.

“They want it to go away, and it kind of just makes you sick with disgust,” Devereaux said.

The men with breast cancer are among about 1,600 retired Marines and Camp Lejeune residents who have filed claims against the federal government. According to congressional investigators, they are seeking nearly $34 billion in compensation for health problems they say stemmed from drinking water at the base that was contaminated with several toxic chemicals, including some the federal government has classified as known or potential cancer-causing agents.

Jerry Ensminger is a former Marine Corps drill instructor who was stationed at the base in 1976, when his daughter, Janey, was born. She died of childhood leukemia at age 9.

“We were being exposed when we went bowling,” Ensminger told CNN. “We were being exposed when we went to the commissary. We were being exposed when we went to the PX. And then when we went home, we were being exposed over there.”

Ensminger helped start a Web site, “The Few, The Proud, The Forgotten,” which was set up to organize people who believe they have been affected by the contamination. He also testified at a 2007 congressional hearing on the issue.

He and others say the Marine Corps waited too long to test and shut down the wells after learning the drinking water was contaminated.

“Five years they knew they had this stuff in the tap water,” Ensminger said. “They never went and tested the wells. I think it’s just criminal.”

In 1980, the Navy hired experts to test for trihalomethanes, a byproduct from chlorination, in the base tap water. The experts reported that some of the base tap water was “highly contaminated,” according to a test report.

In 1981, the lab again found “water highly contaminated” — and added the word “solvents,” with an exclamation point. In August 1982, the experts found one sample with levels of trichloroethylene, a degreaser believed to cause cancer, of 1,400 parts per billion. Today’s EPA safe level for the substance is five parts per billion.

“We’ve never seen 1,400 parts per billion of trichloroethylene, so that is very high,” said Frank Bove, an epidemiologist with the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

“These are very toxic chemicals we’re talking about,” Bove said.

But it would take until late 1984 and early 1985 for the Corps to begin widespread testing of wells on the base and shutting down ones that had been polluted. In addition to trichloroethylene, chemicals eventually identified in the drinking water included benzene, which the federal government identifies as a known cancer-causing agent; and the dry-cleaning solvent perchloroethylene, a suspected carcinogen.

The Marine Corps said two independent studies have found no link between water contamination and later illnesses. And in a statement to CNN, the Marine Corps wrote, “Once impacted wells were identified, they were promptly removed from service.”

A fact-finding panel created by the Corps in 2004 ruled that officials acted properly and that the water was “consistent with general industry practices” at the time. And investigations by the Bush administration’s Justice Department and Environmental Protection Agency found no criminal conduct by Marine Corps officials and no violations of the Safe Drinking Water Act.

Tyler Amon, an EPA investigator, told a House committee in 2007 that some employees interviewed during the criminal investigation appeared coached and were not forthcoming with details. The Justice Department decided against filing charges based on his concern, however.

The Corps told CNN that its actions “must be considered in the context of the state of science at the time” and should be viewed with a “contemporary understanding” of the chemicals involved and the “evolving regulatory structure” of the time.

But while chemical solvents may not have been tightly regulated back then, there was a clear general awareness on base about the need for proper handling.

In June 1974, the base commander issued an order calling for the “safe disposal” of organic solvents, warning that improper disposal could create “hazards” such as “contamination of drinking water.” And as far back as 1963, the Navy’s Bureau of Medicine outlined similar guidelines.

Two years ago, Congress ordered the Marine Corps to notify all Marines and their families who might have been exposed — an estimated 500,000 people. The Marines say they have worked with environmental and health agencies “from the beginning” to determine whether the contamination resulted in any illness, and “this collaboration continues to the present day.”

“I think if cancer of the breast in men or other kinds of cancer have been linked to this exposure, that we ought to know about that,” said Richard Clapp, a nationally recognized epidemiologist who has studied clusters of cancer cases at toxic sites. “The families deserve that. The veterans themselves should know about that, and they should be compensated if the link can be made.”

But for now, there is no proven link — just Marines and their families who say they are suffering.

“Having been a former drill instructor where I trained over 2,000 brand new civilians and made them into Marines, I instilled in those Marines our motto, which is Semper Fidelis — our slogan, that we take care of our own,” Ensminger said.

“Nobody in this world has been more disillusioned than I’ve been. I feel like I’ve been betrayed.”

http://www.cnn.com/2009/HEALTH/09/25/marines.breast.cancer.folo/index.html

F18 Fighter Jet Crashes into Residential Neighborhood

LA JOLLA — An F-18 military jet has crashed into at least two homes a San Diego neighborhood, exploding into flames. At least two cars are also on fire.

Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Ian Gregor says the plane crashed shortly before noon today as it prepared to land at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar. The crash occurred two miles from the base.

The plane crashed into the residential neighborhood near Cather Avenue and Huggins Streets in University City, near University of California at San Diego.

Gregor says the pilot ejected and landed safely. There are no reports of any injuries on the ground.

Scott Patterson, an area resident, says he “heard two large booms and then saw smoke”. He also said he could see people running in the area. The fire department is evacuating the area.

The F-18 is a supersonic jet used widely in the Marine Corps and Navy.

Miramar, well known for its role in the movie “Top Gun,” is home to some 10,000 Marines. It was operated by the U.S. Navy until 1996.

http://www.ktla.com/landing_topstories/?F18-Fighter-Jet-Crashes-into-Residential=1&blockID=156056&feedID=1198