CAMP MAHMUDIYAH, Iraq -- Sgt. Michael R. Speer, 24, was leading 2nd Platoon, Company F, 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment on a combat mission in Lutafiyah, Iraq when he was killed in action April 9.
Speer was the first Marine from the Camp Lejeune-based battalion killed in action since the beginning of their deployment in March. He was posthumously promoted to sergeant.
To Marines who knew Speer, he was "Poppa."
His battalion held a memorial ceremony in his honor April 19. The ceremony was packed with Marines from his platoon and those who called Speer a friend.
The simple ceremony started with a Bible reading. Marines followed with stories of the Kansas Marine and how Speer impacted their own lives.
"I went to boot camp with Speer," said Cpl. Adam M. Magnuson, a Las Vegas Marine assigned to Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment. "He was just as bad as a drill instructor, believe me. He always made sure everyone was giving their all. He knew how to yell, so you didn't want him to catch you slacking off."
Magnuson and Speer were both assigned to the School of Infantry together. The two seemed inseparable when their order assigned them both to the same battalion.
"We were both sent to 2/2 after SOI," Magnuson explained. "My brother was also there, and sure enough, he and Speer ended up roommates."
Getting to know Speer's family and spending time with them was a common occurrence during liberty for Magnuson.
Speer's magnetic personality is what drew people to him most, Magnuson said. If he walked in a room, you wanted to talk to him, to see how he was doing and see what he had to say about whatever was going on.
"When he spoke to you, it wasn't like he was just hearing you," Magnuson said. "You could tell he was really listening. He was a great person to talk to about anything."
Speer's other platoon mates and friends felt the same way. The memorial ceremony echoed with sentiments concerning Speer's unique personality and his sense of duty to his Marines.
"He kept you in the game no matter how hard it got," one Marine said. "He always held himself high no matter what was happening, and he inspired you to do the same.
"We know he's our guardian angel now, looking after and taking care of us even now," he added.
The ceremony concluded with a roll call. The platoon sergeants of Company F were called and answered "Present!" Speer's name was called and returned with only silence. His name was barked again and again with no answer from the fallen warrior.
Taps was sounded for Speer.
The battalion's Marines paid their final respects to Speer before leaving by saluting an upturned rifle, helmet, and boots.
"This type of service exists so Marines can say goodbye to their own, it acknowledges the loss and gives permission to grieve," said Navy Lt. Eric Verhulst, battalion chaplain, from Grand Rapids, Mich. "It starts them in the next stage of their journey, where they realize that this is both an ending and a beginning."
Speer is survived by his 23-year-old wife, Eliza, who resides in Tennessee.