KARABILAH, Iraq -- A two-time veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Lance Cpl. Aaron W. Simons was a Marine who could be counted on in any situation.
“He could’ve done anything he wanted to. He didn’t have to be in the Marine Corps, but he chose to fight among us,” said 1st Lt. Richard J. Cannici, Simon’s platoon commander.
That “fight” took Simon’s life, a 20-year-old team leader from Modesto, Calif., on April 24, 2006. The infantry team leader died during combat operations near the Iraqi-Syrian border in Iraq’s western Al Anbar Province.
The Marines of Company C, 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, better known as “Suicide Charley,” mourned the loss of Simons during a memorial service at the Marines’ base here, or “battle position,” as the Marines call it.
The service was held the day after he died.
The Twentynine Palms, Calif.-based Marines, partnered with an Iraqi Army unit, have spent nearly two months now conducting counterinsurgency operations in this region and mentoring their Iraqi counterparts to become a self-sustaining force.
As fellow Company C Marines from neighboring bases congregated for the memorial, they shared photographs and stories about Simons, the details surrounding his death, which was still fresh on their minds.
“He had those qualities you look for in young Marines,” said Cannici, 26, recalling the day he met the young man. “He was very bright and always challenging others to excel.”
As Simon’s platoon leader, Cannici was always impressed with the Grace M. Davis High School graduate. “He had the ability to elevate the conversation beyond my understanding.”
Others remembered Simons as the man with the aviator sunglasses, which he never took off.
“He always wore those glasses ever since our last deployment,” said Lance Cpl. Jonathan A. Humphries, a mortarman who served in Charley Company.
Those aviator glasses adorned the fallen Marine’s Kevlar helmet alongside his service rifle, dog tags and combat boots at the service – a symbol representing the fallen Marine.
Many remember him for his guitar playing and sense of humor.
“He wasn’t just good at playing the guitar, he was gifted at it,” said Humphries, from Versailles, Ind., who hosted “jam sessions” with Simons using a pair of bongo drums during the battalion’s deployment here last year.
Simons was someone who was always telling jokes and spreading laughter wherever he went, according to the Marines from his unit.
“The guy was very optimistic and funny,” said Humphries. “Every time things went bad in Iraq, he always had a joke about it.”
Company C Marines said Simons was a person who could be counted on when it was time to strap on the body armor and leave the security of the Marines’ forward operating base to conduct foot patrols through the city. Simons had done so numerous times during the battalion’s last deployment to the same area of operations.
Iraqi soldiers who served alongside Simons also paid their respects at the memorial, standing alongside Marines and shedding tears for the fallen warrior they had served with on numerous security patrols with.
"The participation by the Iraqi soldiers was very impressive," noted Sgt. Maj. George W. Young, the battalion sergeant major.
Iraqi soldiers have also suffered casualties in this region while working hand-in-hand with their Marine counterparts.
The Iraqi Army soldiers serving alongside First Team’s Marines have suffered their own casualties in recent weeks where a suicide-vehicle-borne improvised explosive device attack occurred several hundred yards from the Company C area of operations, according to battalion officials.
Following the memorial, the Marines wiped away tears and once again donned body armor to leave the security of the reinforced base. In Iraq’s Al Anbar Province, where U.S. Marines have suffered hundreds of fatalities since the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom three years ago, protection for U.S. troops here comes from not only from their body armor and weapons, but also from watching out for one another.
“You’ve got to take care of each other. You have to be physically ready for whatever comes your way,” said Cannici. “We can’t let something like this let us down.”
After a few minutes of putting on their heavy loads – body armor with protective ceramic plates, Kevlar helmets, ammunition and various weapons, the Marines piled into their seven-ton trucks and headed back to their various bases – the Marines call them “battle positions” – to continue the fight against the insurgency in this remote corner of western Al Anbar.
Before his death, Simons had an inspiration to make a unit t-shirt using a logo he designed, according to fellow Marines in the unit.
His unit will make good on their fallen comrade’s idea and complete the project upon their return to the United States, the Marines said.
“The shirt will be a way of representing the unit as well as a remembrance of him,” added Humphries, recollecting the moments he spent with Simons. “I’m really going to miss that guy. His presence always lit up the room.”
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