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Tankers honor a fallen comrade

14 Aug 2006 | Gunnery Sgt. Mark Oliva

Marines from A Company, 2nd Tank Battalion, Regimental Combat Team 5 paused their operations to honor one of their fallen, Aug. 14.

Sgt. George M. Ulloa Jr. was killed in action Aug. 3 while conducting security and stabilization operations near Habbaniyah.  He was memorialized by his fellow Marines at the camp’s chapel.  He was 26-years-old and from Jacksonville, N.C.

Col. Larry D. Nicholson, RCT-5’s commanding officer, said Ulloa was a member of a special team of tankers that led Marines from the front.  Ulloa fought during Operation Al Fajr, the offensive to take Fallujah nearly two years ago and was back in Iraq leading Marines again through dangerous missions.

“It was while supporting these vital missions, in support of 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, such a very gifted and rising star was taken away from us,” Nicholson said.  “This is where we needed the ‘Masters of the Iron Horse,’ to support 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marines in the most challenging mission; to open the road between Fallujah and Habbaniyah, something not accomplished in the three years of this fight.  This mission is now accomplished and Sgt. George Ulloa gave his precious life in its accomplishment.”

Nicholson said Ulloa’s leadership of his Marines in combat operations earned him the highest accolades from his fellow combat-hardened veterans.  He said Ulloa was a hero in every sense of the word.

“Heroes are not athletes, rocks stars or movies stars,” he explained.  “They are mortal men who perform immortal deeds— Men like Sgt. Ulloa.  Sgt. Ulloa is in fact worthy of this title so often casually and undeservedly bestowed upon others.  He will certainly, forever, be one of mine.”

An inverted rifle was placed in Ulloa’s honor.  A tanker’s helmet balanced on top with identification tags hanging from the rifle.  Just in front, an empty pair of boots was placed.  Behind the memorial, the national and battalion colors hung.

Ulloa was described by the Marines who knew him best as a man of intense dedication to his trade and tremendous pride in being a Marine.  He was “professional” and “confident” in nearly every task he took on, from earning his instructor’s status in the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program to learning Arabic prior to deploying to Iraq.

“It was a role, that of the unsung hero, that he was ideally suited,” said Capt Edward Y. Blakiston, A Company’s commander.  “Perhaps more so than the rest of us.  Sgt. Ulloa did not need the praises of others.  He did not need his actions justified.  He did what he did because it was his duty and it was the right thing to do.  He possessed an inner strength and confidence that guided him through the turmoil that sometimes trip the rest of up, so he was a very special person in that respect.”

Blakiston said Ulloa was a mentor and teacher to his Marines around them, pushing them to achieve greater goals and improve their own abilities.  It was a trait he carried with him off duty, as well.

“I remember going to a soccer game on base once ... and seeing Coach George teaching and mentoring those young soccer players on his son’s team,” Blakiston recalled.  “He was that kind of a person.  It did not really matter to him if you were a 20-year-old highly-trained killer or a six-year-old soccer player.  He was always available to teach and mentor you.  I know I for one learned a great deal from him and I’m a better person for simply having known him.”

Ulloa enlisted in the Marine Corps Sept. 13, 2002, and attended boot camp at Marine Corps Recruit Depot on Feb. 10, 2003, graduating May 9.  He attended Marine Combat Training at Camp Pendleton’s School of Infantry, completing his instruction in June before reporting to Fort Knox, Ky., for training as an M-1A1 tank crewman.

Ulloa graduated from the U.S. Army Armor Center Sept. 19, 2003, and was ordered to 2nd Tank Battalion, 2nd Marine Division, at Camp Lejeune, N.C.  He was assigned to C Company and deployed to Iraq in 2004 where he participated in combat operations, including Operation Al Fajr.

Ulloa moved to A Company where he became the Headquarters Section leader.  He again deployed to Iraq in March 2006, leading his Marines on more than 70 combat patrols.  In May, he was given his assignment as tank commander and section leader for A Company’s 2nd Platoon.

“Sgt. Ulloa had tactical instincts well beyond his rank that made it all the more hard to believe he was a new TC,” said Capt. Tom Montgomery, Ulloa’s platoon commander.  “He wanted to be in challenging roles and situations.  Time and time again, he proved himself capable well beyond his rank and experience.”

Montgomery said Ulloa was moved into his section late in the deployment and made the transition to his new role as a tank commander smoothly.  He demanded excellence from his Marines, leading them from the front, even until the day he was killed.  The training he instilled allowed them to maneuver from the danger areas, keeping the rest of the crew safe.

“In the couple of short months as a tank commander, Sgt. Ulloa left his legacy, evidenced by their performance,” Montgomery explained.  “And I know that Sgt. Ulloa would have been especially proud of his crew that day.”

Sgt. Alexiou C. Higgs said although Ulloa was a serious and intensely-focused Marine, he bonded well with his Marines.  He shared their concerns and their laughter.  He was recalled as a loving husband and father to his three children.

“He didn’t joke around too much, but once you got him laughing, he couldn’t stop,” Higgs said.  “And for those who actually had the chance to see him around his children, you would never see him in a better mood.  He was always happy to be around them and he cherished every moment he had with them.”

Lance Cpl. Ronald A. DiazMichel came to value Ulloa’s friendship and steadfast mentoring.  He said Ulloa – who dreamed of joining the Marine Corps Boxing Team – gave of himself, offering advice, counsel, a listening ear and stern leadership.

“He always tried his best and expected nothing less from his Marines,” DiazMichel said. “You could talk to him about any problems, maybe because he was a father of three.  He always seemed to know what to say.  He would help you and put you back on track.”

Marines filed past the memorial placed in honor of Ulloa, pausing for moments of prayer and reflection.  Some reached out to touch the empty boots.  Each took one last moment in private with the Marine they admired.

Ulloa’s decorations include the Purple Heart, Combat Action Ribbon, Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Iraq Campaign Medal, Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal and Sea Service Deployment Ribbon with bronze star in lieu of second award.

“He is your brother, now and forever,” Nicholson told the Marines gathered in the chapel.  “Our brother did not die in vain.  He died freeing a nation for decades enslaved under the oppressive yoke of a tyrannical dictator and coveted by terrorists from which to launch a Global War of Terror.  Our quest for victory in liberating and freeing the people of this ancient and historic land from all agents of oppression and fear is indeed noble. 

“The sacrifice of our dear brother will long be remembered as part of the most important struggle of our generation and his sacrifice will forever be a part of the timeless combat legacy the Fighting Fifth Marines, the most-decorated regiment in our Corps,” he added.