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Marine Corps wife on 13,000-mile trip for Raising Raiders

Olympia Yarger’s husband had six combat tours in 10 years with his U.S. Marine Corps special-operations unit.

Now, Staff Sgt. Eric Yarger is staying home with the kids while Olympia is on a tour of her own. It’s a tour of 50 states in 30 days, and it brought her to Vancouver, Washington, last week.

Olympia Yarger is on the road to raise awareness for a couple of causes that will assist military families. They’re particularly relevant to MARSOC (Marine Special Operations Command) families.

Families of special-operations personnel are stressed even more than families of conventional troops, Yarger said. According to the MARSOC website, the job description for its operators is to “win the war before it starts.” Its missions are normally conducted “in irregular and unconventional settings.” And those missions require a lot of training. So, when Staff Sgt. Yarger was not overseas, he might not necessarily be home with Olympia and their two children, either. It’s an extreme example, Yarger said, but her husband was home for 62 days in a 21-month span.

Yarger was welcomed to Vancouver by Bill Koehler. Koehler and his five brothers all are members of the U.S. Marine Raider Association, a nonprofit group that honors the memory of a World War II force. Their father, Ralph Koehler, and their uncle, Paul Tousignant, were Marine Raiders; Tousignant was killed on Okinawa.

But their Marine Raider heritage goes even deeper than having WWII veterans in the family. If it wasn’t for the Marine Raiders, the Koehler boys would have never been born.

His dad and uncle volunteered for the Marines and became good friends during Raider training, Bill Koehler said.

“They were together until Paul was killed,” Koehler said.

Ralph Koehler was wounded in the Pacific campaign.

“While dad was hospitalized, he wrote a letter to Paul’s parents. He wrote: ‘It was an honor serving with Paul, and I was with him at the end.’”

The Tousignants invited the young Marine to Michigan to meet the family; in 1947, Hariett Tousignant and Ralph Koehler were married.

Bill Koehler said their group has no idea how many of the WWII Marine Raiders are still alive; only 28 were able to attend the 2013 reunion.

The Marine Raiders foreshadowed today’s special-operations teams. That heritage is echoed in one of the MARSOC family initiatives Yarger is promoting on her 13,000-mile trip.

“My charity is Raising Raiders,” she said. “The focus is on families, education and children’s programs.”

Yarger also is using her trip to meet and advocate for caregivers. Her interviews with these family members who provide in-home care for injured or aging veterans will be used to make a documentary film.

She is meeting caregivers whose loved ones served in a wide range of conflicts, “including a WWII spouse,” she said.

Yarger has one companion on her monthlong journey. Riding shotgun in the tiny Smart Car is Snicklefritz, a dog that also kept her husband company in Afghanistan.

Their team’s Afghan interpreter gave the dog — a steppe Kuchi — to the Marines, and Snicklefritz wound up going home with Staff Sgt. Yarger.

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