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Community of Lebanon Association hears how Christmas packages from home cheer troops

By LES STEWART | Lebanon (Pa.) Daily News | Published: November 14, 2013

Former Marine Capt. Riley Ockerman said he isn't sure he would want his daughter dating a Marine, but he would trust his fellow Marines with his life.

Ockerman, who retired from military service, spoke Wednesday at the Community of Lebanon Association's annual Support the Troops luncheon in the Lebanon Country Club.

Ockerman of Allentown said he wanted those at the luncheon to know what the troops they support are like.

"Marines are not Boys Scouts. Most of them are cocky SOBs, and they're proud of that," he said. "It's a rough, rough group." They like to fight, they like to curse, and they like to drink, Ockerman said.

Ockerman shared a story from a speech by Gen. John Kelly, commander of U.S, forces in Iraq from 2008 to 2010.

Kelly spoke about two Marines in Ramadi, Iraq, who were assigned to guard a gate at an outpost. They were told not to allow any unauthorized people or vehicles pass.

The two Marines could not have been more different. They came from two different worlds, according to Ockerman.

If they had not joined the Marines, they probably would have never met, Ockerman said quoting Kelly.

As they stood their watch, a blue truck appeared in an alley by the post and sped toward them. The truck suddenly stopped and exploded, killing the two Marines instantly.

The two Marines saved the lives of 150 fellow Marines and Iraqi police who were at the post, according to Ockerman's speech.

Several Iraqi police told Kelly the two Marines stood their ground and fired their weapons nonstop at the advancing truck until it exploded, according to Ockerman. A security camera caught the suicide attack and confirmed what the Iraqi police had told Kelly.

Ockerman said the two Marines are the types of people that the Central Pennsylvania Supports The Troops effort sends Christmas packages to each year. And the packages are welcomed by the troops, he said.

"It's very difficult for some of these guys," said Ockerman, who served 16 years in the Marine Corps and was twice deployed to Iraq.

He said one of his fellow Marine recruits in boot camp in San Diego never received a letter or package from home or from his friends. During the three months they were in boot camp, which included Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's, the Marine received only two letters and both were from his recruiter, he said.

At mail call, Ockerman said, it was obvious the recruit was disappointed.

"It's hard on them," Ockerman said.

But, when they receive a package from home, their faces light up.

"It does make a huge difference," he said.

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