Gunnery Sgt. Christopher W. Burnett of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit bids his squadron mates farewell at a retirement ceremony in his honor Monday night at Al Asad.

Gunnery Sgt. Christopher W. Burnett of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit bids his squadron mates farewell at a retirement ceremony in his honor Monday night at Al Asad. (Joseph Giordono / S&S)

Marines from the Okinawa-based 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit held an unusual gathering Monday night, performing a retirement ceremony at an air base hangar in Iraq.

The ceremony honored Gunnery Sgt. Christopher W. Burnett, who officially retires July 1 after 20 years in the Marine Corps. But Burnett didn’t want to spend the last year of his “twilight tour” away from the unit, so he pressed to go with the unit to Iraq.

“It took me a while to get here, but I’m here,” Burnett said in an emotional farewell to his fellow Marines in Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 265, based at Al Asad.

“I’m excited about leaving, don’t get me wrong. But I’ll miss you all. And I’ll be thinking about you.”

Following a flag ceremony, tape recordings of “Auld Lang Syne,” “Anchors Aweigh” and “The U.S. Marine Corps Hymn” were played as the Marines stood at attention.

After the retirement ceremony, Burnett went to pack his final belongings; he was hoping to head to Okinawa on Tuesday to start the process of officially separating from the service.

A long shot

A sniper with the 1st Battalion, 23rd Marine Regiment has been credited with the longest confirmed kill in Iraq, according to a Marine Corps news release.

Sgt. Herbert B. Hancock, chief scout sniper of Sniper Platoon, Company B, shot at four insurgents from 1,050 yards away during the November assault on Fallujah, the Marines said. Hancock, a 35-year-old native of Bryan, Texas, is a reservist like the rest of the 1st Battalion, 23rd Marines.

In his civilian life, he’s a police officer, but has been a Marine sniper since 1992.

According to the Marine Corps release, Hancock and his spotter, Cpl. Geoffrey L. Flowers, were sent into Fallujah on Nov. 11 to find the source raining down mortar fire on their company command post.

After moving through a series of buildings to the edge of the Euphrates River, Hancock and Flowers set up atop a large building, spotting the mortar teams about 1,000 yards away. Hancock shot at least four insurgents who were firing the mortars, before the Marines’ own counterfire was called in on the positions.

“One had a black [outfit] on,” Hancock said, according to the release. “I shot and he dropped. Right in front of him another got up on his knees looking to try and find out where we were, so I dropped him, too. After that, our mortars just hammered the position.”

The snipers measured the distance by comparing an eight-digit map grid of their own position with the eight-digit map grid fired upon by the Marine mortar teams. It came out at 1,050 yards. Hancock made the shots with an M40A3 sniper rifle, the Marines said.

Colonel running back

When Spc. Phil Predoehl of Headquarters Platoon, Company B, 1st Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment was chosen to represent the unit at the battalion soldier of the month board, he knew the panel members would ask questions ranging from the unit’s mission and rules of engagement to first aid and land navigation.

The board also asks about the unit’s history, the regimental crest and the 1st Cavalry Division’s patch.

Predoehl had been studying for the board, but military mission and history weren’t the only thing on his mind. It’s football playoff time.

When a board member asked him who designed the division’s patch, he knew it was Col. Ben Dorsey and his wife at Fort Bliss, Texas, many years back.

But that’s not what came out of his mouth.

“At the board, for some unconscious reason, I said, ‘Colonel and Mrs. Dorsey Levins,’ ” he said.

Dorsey Levins is a running back with the playoff contender Philadelphia Eagles.

“They asked me to repeat myself a couple of times,” he said, “and I said it a couple of times.”

He didn’t catch on to what he was saying until he noticed a couple of board members with smiles on their faces.

Though the board didn’t tell him whether it credited him with a correct answer, he did come in second out of all the candidates.

Stars and Stripes reporters Joseph Giordono and Jason Chudy contributed to this report. Giordono is currently embedded with Marines near Fallujah, Iraq; Chudy is embedded with the 10th Mountain Division near Baghdad.

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