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First sergeant celebrates third consecutive birthday in Iraq

20 Jul 2006 | Cpl. William Skelton

1st Sgt. Lance V. Chwan’s humvee driver cracked a smile as Marines from 1st Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment set out on a re-supply mission July 20.

“Today is my birthday – so today we don’t hit any IEDs,” explained the 39-year-old company first sergeant from Little Falls, N.J.

Since March 2004, Chwan, the senior enlisted Marine for A Company, has spent 25 months in Iraqi fighting in the war on terror. July 20th marked the third consecutive birthday he’s spent in this combat zone.

“Out of my last five birthdays, two have been good.  Three have been here,” Chwan explained.

Chwan spent his birthday much like any other day here. He conducted routine patrols, checked on his Marines and kept a wary eye out for danger.  For most Marines on deployments, birthdays aren’t filled with cake and presents.

The convoy rolled out and patrolled the area surrounding the company’s forward observation post.

“Today was uneventful,” Chwan said. “I didn’t do anything special. I didn’t even call home this year,” Chwan said. “It was just another normal day here in Iraq.”

Staying focused on the mission at hand was the only concern for Chwan. The only person he told of his birthday was his humvee driver.  It’s that quiet professionalism, selfless duty and leadership by example that Marines have come to rely upon and admire in Chwan.

“First sergeant is definitely the type of Marine you look up to as a junior Marine and try to emulate,” said Lance Cpl. Louis D. Chavarry, an 18-year-old rifleman from Pemberton, N.J. “I could see myself with a lot of his qualities when I move up in rank.”

That example of duty to his Marines is nothing new to Chwan.

Chwan entered the Marine Corps August 25, 1985, and reported to recruit training at Parris Island, S.C.   Since then, he visited almost 70 countries during his 21 years in the Marine Corps.  Nearly all that time was spent working shoulder-to shoulder with fellow Marines.

“1st Sgt. Chwan is the type of Marine who is firm, but fair,” said Cpl. Kyle B. Kelley, a 21-year-old rifleman from Newton, N.J. “He doesn’t hesitate to go out with the Marines on operations or to do hard work.”

Chwan is a single Marine with no children, but that hasn’t stopped him from being a father figure to hundreds of Marines who have been in his charge. He believes in hard work and integrity and has tried to instill these qualities in his Marines.

“Being above reproach is the most important quality in a Marine,” Chwan said. “Always doing the right thing whether it’s the most popular decision or not.”

Chwan’s years in the Marine Corps have shaped him into the man he is today – a man that loves to work out and to take care of his Marines.

“1st Sgt. Chwan is a very by-the-book Marine,” said Navy Seaman Apprentice Adam D. Petree, a 21-year-old corpsman from Slidell, La. “The Marines from Alpha Company seem to like him a lot, though.”

The convoy made it back to the observation post unscathed. Chwan was granted his single birthday wish.  No IEDs were hit and everyone made it back safe.

“I hit two IEDs last year when I was over here,” Chwan said. “We found about five others that didn’t explode on us. It was definitely something I don’t want to happen again.”

Chwan sacrificed a lot for his Marines and for the Marine Corps over the past 21 years. He hasn’t completely made his mind up yet, but Chwan is considering retirement early next year.

“If I don’t get back on Marine Security Guard duty after returning home, I’ll probably go ahead and retire,” Chwan said. “But either way, this is hopefully my last birthday in Iraq.”

Chwan said he doesn’t regret his time in Iraq or the birthdays he has spent here.

“There have only been a few bad days in the Marine Corps,” Chwan said. “You just have to take them in stride.”