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Military police keep Chocolate Mountain Range safe

By Cpl. Daniel Thomas | | September 25, 2003

"Eagle two, this is Eagle one, over ..."

"Send it ..."

"Be advised our vehicle seems to be overheating, break ... We're pulling on to the shoulder, over ..."


Both vehicles pulled off the interstate. Minutes later, the four Marines of the Chocolate Mountain detail could be seen next to the desert dunes of Interstate 8, corralled around the open hood of a High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle.

"She's dead," said Lance Cpl. Kurt Greenleaf, military policeman, Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron, as he looked over at the vehicle's engine. "Maybe we can call in for a jeep and still accomplish our mission."

The Marines remained eager to make it to the Chocolate Mountain Bombing Range by nightfall, but it didn't happen. The jeep was a no-go. In fact, help didn't arrive until four hours later and after dark.

This, however, was but a minor drawback for the four Marines who, since being stationed here, have grown accustomed to the desert and its many hazards.

Instead, they arrived at Camp Billy Machen the following day, where they began their week-long post of guarding the station's Chocolate Mountain Bombing Range from intruders.

"It's a dangerous job," said Greenleaf. "Besides the obvious hazards, like the desert environment and unexploded ordnance, there's also other factors."

He said it all came down to trespassers trying to protect what they considered valuable.

"Whether they are smuggling drugs, scrap metal or their families across the range, they may pull a weapon if they feel threatened," said Greenleaf.

He explained that the Provost Marshal's Office has many safety procedures in place for such dangerous situations.

"It's a common misconception for people to think we're out here to actively hunt down illegal aliens," said Greenleaf. "We're actually out here to protect people from unexploded ordnance on our range. If people run from us, we don't chase them far. We're out here to save lives not endanger them."

It is saving lives that helps Cpl. Sam Chittenden, Crisis Management Force, H&HS, put himself in harms way everyday.

"Sometimes it just doesn't seem worth it," said Chittenden. "There's always going to be someone doing something wrong. You can stop them today, and tomorrow they'll be out here doing the same thing."

Chittenden admitted, however, if he could save just one life, it would all be worthwhile. He also said he could be in a worse situation.

"I'm in harms way, but I'm only out here for a week," said Chittenden. "That's cake compared to those Marines who are far away in another desert for six to nine months -- sometimes a year."

He added that the short deployment had given him more respect for his wife and other Marine spouses.

"I respect my wife for being a wife of a Marine and being able to handle me being away," said Chittenden.

Despite the dangers of guarding the bombing range, Lance Cpl. Dusty Rawls, CMF, H&HS, said he enjoys the post.

"It's more like what I joined the Marine Corps to do," said Rawls. "It's one thing to wave traffic through the gate, but out here it's a little more high-speed. You're in harms way and there's no doubt about it."

Rawls said the danger of the situation didn't bother him because he knew it was all for a purpose.

"It's what we're here for -- to help people," said Rawls. "We can't be out there every time someone infiltrates our range, but we hope to be there to protect a person's life when it counts."

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