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Marines near Iraqi-Syrian border mourn loss of three of their own

15 Jun 2006 | Cpl. Antonio Rosas

Marines and sailors gathered at a small headquarters outpost near the Euphrates River to pay respects to three fallen brothers.

Two Marines and one sailor lost their lives while conducting security operations in a village near the Iraqi-Syrian border. Their vehicle struck a mine on one of the region’s dangerous roadways June 9, 2006. 

The three U.S. servicemen from Weapons Company, 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, were memorialized at the outpost, which Marines call ‘battle positions,’ where they worked alongside Iraqi Army soldiers.

Lance Cpl. Brent B. Zoucha, 19, a mortarman from Clarks, Neb., Lance Cpl. Salvador Guerrero, 21, a mortarman from Whittier, Calif., and Navy Hospitalman Zachary M. Alday, 22, a corpsman from Donalsonville, Ga., traveled in the same humvee together on numerous missions, weeding out insurgents in Iraq’s western Al Anbar Province.

The three men ate, lived and worked together on a daily basis.

“I didn’t know them as well as you did but I know their sacrifices were not in vain,” said Lt. Col. Nicholas F. Marano, the battalion’s commander.

Marano, a Philadelphia native, urged his Marines to not allow the deaths to detract them from their mission, but instead to remember the sacrifices the men made.

“Take their memories and move forward,” said Capt. John W. Black, commanding officer for Weapons Company. “By doing so you are honoring them.”

As Black gave a final roll-call at the memorial, silence marked the absence of the fallen warriors.

Three sets of service rifles, dog tags, combat boots and Kevlar helmets – representation of the three men – were rendered one final salute under the midday sun in the 100-degree weather.

Following the service, Marines and sailors shared stories and memories of their fallen brothers.

Several recounted how Zoucha had an older brother, Derek, in the same platoon and how hard it was for Derek to see his brother die. Derek Zoucha was amongst the team of Marines who responded to the scene of the explosion. Derek was immediately evacuated to be with his family.

“They were real close but they had a professional relationship at work,” said Lance Cpl. Cody J. King, 22, a turret gunner with Weapons Company. “When they came to work together they were there to train and learn and that was it.”

King, from Phoenix, Ariz., lived at the same battle position as Zoucha, Guerrero and Alday. He shared many moments with the three men on countless missions through the various villages in this pocket of Al Anbar Province.

The Marines who operate in this remote region spend countless hours patrolling through miles of towns and cities, while loaded down with 60-plus pounds of protective gear. Countless missions, combined with Iraq’s unforgiving heat, leaves little to laugh or smile about, the Marines say.

Still, Guerrero managed to uplift everybody’s spirits with his uncanny humor, said the Marines.

“He was a funny character. He was very smart and he would always talk about his ‘my space’ web page,” said King. “He would always say things to make you laugh.”

On every mission “outside the wire,” Weapons Company Marines counted on the medical supervision of one man – a corpsman. For these Marines that man was Alday.

The platoon remembered their trusted corpsman Alday, or ‘Doc’, as they called him.

“He loved what he did. He was always trying to teach us about medical procedures,” said King. “He loved being a corpsman and he loved his Marines.”

The Twenty-nine Palms, Calif.-based Marines, partnered with an Iraqi Army unit, have spent nearly three months now conducting counterinsurgency operations in this region and mentoring their Iraqi counterparts to become a self-sustaining force.

Iraqi soldiers who work alongside the Marines and sailors here also stood in line to pay their final respects to the fallen servicemen they have conducted numerous foot patrols with.

Email Cpl. Rosas at rosasa@gcemnf-wiraq.usmc.mil