CAMP FALLUJAH, Iraq -- Lance Cpl. Michael S. Probst was a Marine who loved being in the action. He led his team of Marines through the discovery of several improvised explosive devices, securing driving routes for convoys.
He even once walked away from a blast without a scratch. The explosion was just feet away.
On Feb. 14, though, the IEDs he strived so hard to discover, claimed his life. Probst, a 26-year-old from Irvine, Calif., was assigned to TOW Platoon, Headquarters and Service Company, 1st Tank Battalion. He was serving in Iraq with Regimental Combat Team 8.
Probst was remembered by Marines here in a somber memorial service Feb. 22.
“My heart burst on Valentine’s Day, this year,” said Gunnery Sgt. Scott R. Peterson, a 36-year-old from Chicago who was Probst’s platoon sergeant. “I was most proud of him being the accountable young man he was.”
Peterson recalled first seeing Probst when he arrived at his platoon in May, 2005. He was impressed upon the very sight of him. He was described as a fit, disciplined and mature Marine. It was as if Probst was bred to be a Marine. His father served as a Marine captain in Vietnam.
“That was my horse,” Peterson explained of his immediate trust in Probst. “Michael was always there for those around him and took time to be a true friend.”
Capt. William J. Gibbons, Company A, 2nd Assault Amphibian Battalion commander, described Probst to the more than a hundred Marines gathered to honor his memory. He said he personally watched Probst leading his team from the front, taking on the most dangerous task of leading patrols and searching out IEDs.
“He earned the respect of his peers and seniors,” said Gibbons, a 32-year-old from Toms River, N.J. “He never failed to accomplish his mission. He never failed to take care of his Marines. He was the kind of Marine we all want to be.”
The ceremony was direct, conducted with military precision. Three Marines carried the elements of the visual memorial to Probst. A single rifle, helmet and pair of boots were placed in the center of the chapel. They were flanked by the flags of the United States and the Marine Corps.
Probst was remembered by young Marines who knew him best. They spoke of his keen interest in physical fitness and martial arts. Probst was an avid chess player, challenging others to match wits on the game board. He passed time in Iraq with his friends by watching movies and playing video games.
Navy Seaman Dominic D. Soto, a 21-year-old hospital corpsman from Houston who patrolled with Probst, described him as “many different things to us all.”
“To some, he was motivation,” Soto explained. “To a few of us, he was part of our vehicle group. For others, Michael was a buddy.
“He is – and always will be – our brother,” he added. “I take the opportunity in front of you all to say thank you for Michael. I will always take pride in the opportunity to serve with Michael.”
Navy Lt. Cmdr. Kevin J. Deeley, chaplain for Regimental Combat Team 5, addressed Probst’s brothers-in-arms and spoke to their love and care for their fallen Marine.
“I was struck by the emotional outpouring of the Marines in TOW Platoon,” said 57-year-old Deeley, from Boston. “I was struck by the sense you lost someone close to you.”
He said that reaction of the Marines stressed the good intentions and sense of selfless sacrifice of all Marines and sailors serving in Iraq.
“It’s a sign of real hope for what Marines are doing and continue to do here,” Deely said. “Marines like Lance Cpl. Probst are heroes. May we continue to be people of courage and hope, to honor him and all our fallen.”
Gibbons said that instead of shattering the unit’s resolve, Probst death has brought them closer together and renewed their sense of purpose. The pain of losing one of their own Marines hasn’t slowed the platoon, but charged it with a new sense of purpose.
“I believe the reaction of the unit is a direct reflection of the Marine he was,” Gibbons said. “I see a renewed sense of brotherhood. He now stands point at his new post … that’s the kind of Marine Lance Cpl. Probst was.”