Lance Cpl. Fredrick Wyman of Durham, N.C., enlisted in the Marines one month after his 18th birthday. At 19 he finds himself deployed with the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit on the USS Iwo Jima, an amphibious assault ship in the Mediterranean Sea. Last month his unit evacuated Americans from the U.S. Embassy in Beirut during the heavy fighting between Israel and the militant group Hezbollah.
In a telephone interview from aboard the USS Iwo Jima, he spoke recently with Tribune correspondent MyLinh Shattan and editorial writer Jim Beamguard.
Tell us your mission in the evacuation of Beirut. We were just supposed to get the Americans out and then go on about our way. We gave them cargo, MREs, food, water. Israel was hitting them really hard. And they were running out of suppliesWhat was your role? My job was to basically assist in passing out the water, MREs, to help bring luggage on the helicopters for the passengers. None of them had flown in a CH46 helicopter before. [I] comfort them; make sure they’re strapped down right in the helicopter. Try to keep them as calm as I can. Tell them everything’s going to be OK.
We took them to one of our ships, the USS Nashville, then from there they took them to Cyprus, [where] they were trying to take flights back to America.
How many people did you evacuate that day? Five people in the helicopter. Our squadron made runs back and forth all day. Maybe 30 to 40 people.
What was their reaction? One of the people I evacuated was an elderly lady, and she wrote me her e-mail address and she was very grateful. They were very happy, very, very appreciative. It felt good doing something like that.
Do you see any evidence of the fighting? From the boat, you could see smoke coming from some of the hills in Beirut. Most of the fighting was in south Lebanon. I think the closest they got to the embassy was when rioting broke out at the United Nations building. We got pretty worried about that.
What’s your normal assignment? My normal job is aviation operations – that is, keeping track of all the flight hours that go off the boat. We have several different aircraft that go off the boat: H46s, Cobras, Hueys, jets, called Harriers. I track down their flight hours and record pilots and air crew time for the record and log books. I also deal with training for my squadron, which is to make sure they have proper rifle scores, up-to-date education.
Where’s your home station? Camp Lejeune, N.C. Do you have family at home? I have a fiancee and one daughter.
What does your fiancee think about your being there? She’s always worried about my safety. She understands what my job is. She’s very supportive of me. She handles it pretty good.
How long have you been deployed? So far we’ve been gone for two months. Expect to be back early December, a six-month deployment
Most interesting thing about your job? Most interesting thing is being able to see the world. Like, many people can’t say they’ve been to France or Rome or all over the Mediterranean Sea. That’s what I’ve joined for. We’ve been to Italy, France, Jordan, Cyprus and Lebanon.
What’s the reaction of people toward an American Marine? Most are very friendly, then you have some that think we’re the bad guys because we’re in Iraq. But you just try to relax, get your mind off the ship. Get out, see the world and try not to focus on the negative. When we’re off the ship, we’re allowed to dress in civilian attire. They want us to try to blend in – we don’t want to stand out too much.
What do you do for recreation? The ship has TVs; they show movies throughout the day and night. Some people brought their own Playstation 2’s and X-Boxes, so we can hook those up in the lounge. Bingo night, karaoke night, stuff like that. Just trying to keep morale high. They also do things like big movie nights in the chow hall where they pass out ice cream and stuff.
How’s the food on the ship? It’s OK. It’s pretty good. They try to feed us balanced meals [with] vegetables and fruit.
What’s the worst thing that’s happened to you since you’ve been in the Marines? Boot camp. [He laughs.]
That was worse than the war on terror? I guess if you were to talk to an infantryman, then he can tell you more in depth as far as the combat side, like actually going into hostile fighting. Me, being on the airwing, I really haven’t gotten to experience that much yet.
Do you think you will re-enlist when your service is done? Yes, I think I’m progressing, coming up the ranks pretty fast. I like my job. Like everything, you got your good times, bad times. But overall, I think the Marine Corps has been pretty good to me
Because Marines’ training is so tough, other branches think all we do is train to kill, kill, kill. They don’t see the educational side of it. I would say some of the brightest people in the Marine Corps, or the military, period, would be the infantrymen. There’s so much stuff they have to store in their head. Like, as soon as a round goes off, that squad leader has to be able to react.
What will you tell your family about this deployment? Tell them about my port call to Rome, because I come from a very religious family. I actually got to see the Vatican, go inside of it. Got to see many chapels. Just amazes me.
When’s the last time you’ve seen your little girl? June 1. We left June 7.
When will you see her again? The first day we get back. She should be at the homecoming with my fiancee, my mother and my grandparents. I see pictures of her every day. That’s the toughest part.