Marine tankers mourn loss of crewman killed one month into Iraq deployment

2 May 2006 | Staff Sgt. Jim Goodwin

Lance Cpl. Michael L. Ford wasn’t one to keep quiet when he saw wrong doings. In fact, the Marine from New Bedford, Mass., often piped right up to correct mistakes – whether they were others’ or his own.

“He had a lot of guts. If something was wrong, he’d stand up (against) it, no matter what the situation was,” said Cpl. Robert C. Shea, a 19-year-old from Haverhill, Mass. – just an “hour and a half” drive from Ford’s hometown.

Ford, a M1A1 Main Battle Tank crewman, or “tanker,” was killed April 26, 2006 in Iraq’s western Al Anbar Province after the tank he was driving struck an improvised explosive device – a roadside bomb.

In between two 65-plus ton tanks on a paved lot at this sprawling U.S. military airbase, Ford’s unit – Twentynine Palms, Calif.-based Company C, 1st Tank Battalion – honored Ford’s sacrifice with a memorial service four days after his death.

Ford was part of Company C’s 3rd platoon, which operates with 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment near the Iraqi-Syrian border.

Ford’s death was the first for the company of 120-plus Marines since they arrived in Iraq about six weeks ago. Company C will remain deployed to Iraq for at least another five months. 

During the memorial service, several Marines who served with Ford shared memories of the 19-year-old, whose job was to provide route security in a tank for Coalition and Iraqi Security Forces along Al Anbar’s dangerous roads.

Lance Cpl. Nikolas A. Solana, a 20-year-old from Slidell, La., knew Ford since they attended “tank school” at Ft. Knox, Ky., in late 2004. He recalled Ford as a man who lived his life “in a way that he wasn’t ashamed of anything.”

“He wouldn’t be ashamed to do anything he wouldn’t tell his mother,” said Solana, also a tank crewman with Company C. Solana said Ford’s mother is also deceased.

Shea also knew Ford since their days together at the Ft. Knox school. He said Ford was a person who stood up for himself and kept everyone “in check.”

“We all make mistakes, but he kept his head high when he made a mistake,” said Shea, who said he and Ford were close friends and “hung out on the weekends” back in the States.

“He was a great Marine and a great friend,” said Shea.

As the song “Taps” was played, the Marines – Ford’s fellow “tankers” – saluted while lined neatly in a four-rank platoon between the two tanks. Some seemed to fight back tears, doing their best to maintain the military bearing and discipline often associated with Marines. Others simply cried.

“Commanders live their entire lives to have Marines like that under their command,” said Capt. Jarred R. Duff, Company C’s commanding officer.

Following the ceremony, Marines approached the memorial – represented by a wooden cross, M16 rifle, combat boots, Ford’s helmet and dog tags – to pay final respects and give silent prayers for their fallen comrade.

Ford, who studied culinary arts in high school, joined the Marine Corps in 2004 after watching President Bush speak about Operation Iraqi Freedom on television, according to a report from Ford’s hometown newspaper, the Standard-Times.

In his free time, Ford enjoyed reading and playing video games, according to a summary-type biography of Ford’s military career and curricular activities written by his platoon sergeant, Gunnery Sgt. Randy B. Phillips. He was also very competitive, and often tried to get others interested in playing a World War II military strategy board game.

After his service in the Marines, Ford had aspirations of becoming a police officer in Massachusetts, according to the biography.

Though Ford is survived by his immediate family in the United States – his father, two brothers and a sister – he is also survived by the more than 100 Marines who served alongside him both back at the Marines’ base at Twentynine Palms, Calif., and in Iraq.

“The loss has hit the unit hard,” said Duff. “The tank community is a very small community that is very tight within its ranks.  Names are known on both coasts (in the U.S.) and gents that stay in come to know each other as family.”

Email Staff Sgt. Goodwin at: goodwinjm@gcemnf-wiraq.usmc.mil.