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Iraq: The Next Chapter

Aired June 28, 2004 - 20:00   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening and welcome. I'm Paula Zahn.
With the handover of power complete, the United States and Iraq face a new chapter. We join you tonight from the Marine Corps Air Station New River at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, where we will be talking with military families about their uncertain futures.

ANNOUNCER: This is a special edition of PAULA ZAHN NOW. Live from Marine Corps Air Station New River and Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, here is Paula Zahn.


ZAHN: Good evening and welcome. Thanks so much for joining us, a lot of enthusiasm tonight here at the Marine Corps Air Station New River, part of camp Lejeune.

The burden of war is carried by the men and women of the military and, of course, by their families. The pride in service, the victory belongs to them, as does the fear of separation and the pain of loss. That is why we have come here this evening to the base that is home to some 48,000 Marines and sailors.


ZAHN: (voice-over): Duty, honor, semper fi, it is the Corps motto, always faithful, that has become the heartbeat of this North Carolina coastal Marine base.

CAPT. NEIL MURPHY, U.S. MARINE CORPS: We all know that we're going to be called at some point to protect freedom and liberty.

ZAHN: According to Captain Neil Murphy, in its over-60-year history, Camp Lejeune has deployed more than one million Marines around the world, Korea, Vietnam, Haiti, Afghanistan, and now Iraq.

MURPHY: We're capable of deploying at a moment's notice around the world when the president calls for us. When we fight, we fight as a complete unit. We always bring with us an air combat element, a force or a service of support element, which is the logistical side. And we always bring a combat element, a ground combat element. Whenever we go into an area, we know that we're going to need those functions, so we always can support ourselves and take care of business.

ZAHN: The Lejeune story starts at the beginning of World War II when military planners were preparing forces for America's imminent entry into the war. They knew they needed an East Coast base close to ports with enough land to train large numbers of Marines.

In September of 1941, the 1st Marine Division set up camp in the middle of a sandy pine forest, complete with a tobacco barn and farmhouse and tent cities. Over the decades, the land was transformed into a 246-square-mile military training facility where soldiers come to train in everything from amphibious landings to precision marksmanship to urban combat.

In fact, Camp Lejeune was one of the first bases to build a mock city. They call it Combat Town. It is where Marines learn how to fight in urban settings, important especially for the thousands of Lejeune Marines fighting in Iraq's urban battlefields. Camp Lejeune is about more than training.

MURPHY: We know that we're one team, one fight, and we're in it for the long run. When you're in combat, the last thing you want to be thinking about is if your family is well taken care of.

ZAHN: The base is home to nearly 150,000 people, from active duty personnel.


ZAHN: To family members to civilian employees. While neighboring Jacksonville has traditionally supported the base, over the past five years, Camp Lejeune has opened dozens of businesses on the grounds of the base, from a barber shop for the requisite Marine buzz cut, to a bowling alley, to an on-base Domino's.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Pizza and wings. They love pizza and wings.

ZAHN: This location is actually the pizza chain's best-selling franchise nationwide.

And while these services make life on the base more convenient, they also help create a community, an extended family. Alice Ranker's husband was deployed in February to Iraq.

ALICE RANKER, WIFE OF U.S. MARINE: There is a sense of community here that there is not at any other base that I've been to. And there's a sense of family. And you get that support the minute you drive through the base.

ZAHN: Support that is critical at a base where Marines are deployed around the clock. Families are constantly dealing with saying goodbye to a loved one, always against the backdrop of loss that shadows every military family.

This base will never forget the tragic loss of their 241 Marines in the 1983 bombing of a Marine Corps barracks in Beirut, Lebanon.

MURPHY: When you compare Beirut to September 11, that was our September 11. That was our first shot at knowing what the effect of terrorism can be on a small community; 241 Marines died. Everybody knew somebody that died. And it impacted the community. And the community pulled together even more to get through it. And they all relied on each other to provide that support.

ZAHN: Today, a memorial and 241 pear trees planted to honor them, all done to remind every one of that loss and empower families and Marines to live the life and code of the Corps, with honor, courage, and commitment.


ZAHN: And, as you can see, Camp Lejeune is more than a military base. It is a community. And today's news about the transfer of power in Iraq affects everyone here.

Joining us now is Marine Captain Neil Murphy.

Captain, we're going to talk to you about that in just a moment.

But, first, let's go to Baghdad for the very latest on the fate of American hostages there.

Anderson Cooper joins us now.

Good evening, Anderson. There have been a number of reports this evening that we would like for to you try to cut through for us about Specialist Matt Maupin.

What can you tell us?

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, at this point, the Pentagon is saying that all those reports we have heard thus far are inconclusive.

What we know is this. Al-Jazeera has received and aired a videotape as well as a message. The videotape reports to show Specialist Matt Maupin. Now, the tape, for those who have seen it, apparently looks very similar, at least the first part of the tape, where you see Maupin looks very similar to the circumstances of the first tape which we received back in April, you'll remember. That was aired around the world, that tape made soon after Matt Maupin disappeared, after he was captured.

So this new videotape, the first part of it looks very similar. Then, later on in the tape, you see a figure not with their face to the camera. You just see the back. And the figure, the person is shot by the person who is holding him. The Pentagon has confirmed that the tape, which is of very poor quality, does show somebody being shot.

But they are saying they cannot tell whether or not it is Specialist Matthew Maupin. So they are determining this report at this time as inconclusive, but Al-Jazeera saying that it is Matthew Maupin who is on this tape. That is the information they have gotten from the hostages. Of course, now, there is another American being held tonight, Corporate Wassef Ali Hassoun, a Marine last seen June 19, been missing, declared missing for about a week. A tape now has surfaced, again played on Arab networks in which you see Corporal Hassoun, a sword dangled above his head and a threat which has become all too familiar, of course, that, unless the captors release hostages, release insurgent prisoners here in Iraq, they say they will kill Corporal Hassoun. And, as I said, it's a threat we have sadly heard all too often before -- Paula.

ZAHN: And something that certainly has to affect the morale of all the troops over there.

I know recently you've had an opportunity to travel with U.S. soldiers. What have you learned about their concerns?

COOPER: You know, I went out on patrol with some men and women from the U.S. 1st Cavalry who are in charge of the area around Baghdad, particularly the Baghdad Airport.

What is interesting is, repeatedly, what they'll tell you is, look, this is not like you see it on TV. On TV, you see the bombs. You see the headlines, but 99 percent of their time is kind of dull. I mean, a lot of the soldiers -- it was interesting. The day I went on patrol it was around Thursday, in which if you looked at the newspapers and the headlines, it looked as if all Iraq exploded. There were more 100 people killed. There were bombs throughout the country.

And yet on patrol, it was very dull. And that is something they have to battle against every day, staying on their toes, staying on their guard, because this thing can change in a moment. Soldiers I was with were ambushed back in April. They said they've learned from experience things can change here very quickly -- Paula.

ZAHN: Anderson Cooper, thanks so much for the update.

And Captain Neil Murphy is back with us now here at the Marine Air Station.


MURPHY: Thank you.

ZAHN: First of all, your reaction to this news, uncertainty over the potential killing of Specialist Matt Maupin, but, in addition to that, a fellow Marine taken hostage now in Iraq.

MURPHY: I think the most appropriate thing to say is that Corporal Hassoun is in our thoughts and prayers, as well as the specialist.

One of the biggest things for the Marine Corps is that we're going to focus on the mission. We've got a job to do and we're not going to be deterred. We have a clear set mission and we're going to continue to move forward. We've assembled one of the premier air- ground task force and we're going to do what needs to be done.

ZAHN: And how are Marines trained for the potential of being held captive?

MURPHY: There is extensive training, actually. A lot of Marines receive it. And the biggest thing that I want to focus on is that Marines train like we fight. So, the difference between training and actual combat should be very, very little when Marines are concerned with it.

ZAHN: But, in spite of that training, it certainly has to not only increase the fear of family members here, but those Marines that are soon to be deployed. Doesn't it have any impact, regardless of how strong the training is?

MURPHY: Our resolve is strong. And our moral is high. And we know the risks. Everybody here knows the risks associated with being a Marine. We accept those risks and we get through it as a family. And we provide each other support.

Marines provide each other support in combat. And the families provide each other support at home. And, together, we push forward and we continue to accomplish the missions that we're given. We've been doing it for 228 years.

ZAHN: Let's talk a little bit about the support this community provides to each other. You have this constant cycle of deployments and redeployments. What is the reality of that life?

MURPHY: The reality is that that's the reality here. Jacksonville and Onslow County work with TUMEF (ph) in making that as easy and the easiest transition that's possible.

Through the Key Volunteer Network and the links for the families, they continually provide support for each other as people are going out and as people are coming back. Same thing for the Marines. We continually support each other. And it's not just a phrase when we say one team, one fight, and when we use the word always faithful or semper fidelis. That's what we live by.

ZAHN: Let's talk a little bit more about this transfer of power. And I think, initially, when you hear the news, it's kind of easy not to focus in on what this really means long term to the Marines and other fighting forces in Iraq. What are we -- faced over there?

MURPHY: What the Marines face is the same thing we've been doing since we've been there, security and stability. And we're going to conduct the missions that we're given and keep moving forward and ensure that freedom and peace are brought to Iraq.

ZAHN: What do you see as the biggest challenge ahead for Marines in Iraq?

MURPHY: I think the thing that we need to focus on is maintaining our resolve and knowing that we've been training for this. This is what we do. This is what Marines live. This is what our family live through. And we need to band together as a team and continue to press on and ensure that freedom and liberty are brought around the world.

ZAHN: Well, we thank you for your time. No shortage of support here in this hangar tonight, huh?


ZAHN: Captain Murphy, thank you for your time. Thank you for allowing us to come here.

A bit later on, you're going to hear from some of the family members who have been so deeply affected by their husbands' deployment. We'll be right back.


ZAHN: The transition of sovereignty in Iraq doesn't end the goodbyes for military families. President Bush says the U.S. military force in Iraq right now at nearly 140,000 troops will remain there indefinitely. That means, as some of those troops return home, many others are getting ready to go to Iraq. In both cases, there are often loved ones waiting.


ZAHN (voice-over): These Marines at Camp Lejeune, back from Iraq, duty defines their lives.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: March on the colors.

ZAHN: That duty, during the bloodiest battle of the Iraq war, is being rewarded. In Nasiriyah, the 2nd Marine Division lost 19.

GEN. RICHARD NATONSKI, 2ND MARINE EXPEDITIONARY FORCE: The Presidential Unit Citation is the highest distinction this country can award a unit of our armed forces. The last award of a Presidential Unit Citation to a Marine unit was over 30 years ago in Vietnam.

COL. RONALD BAILEY, U.S. MARINES: It's always tough. It's emotional. It tears at you when you know that there is a father or a daughter, a son, a brother, a sister, that did not come back.

CPL. JORGE GALLO, U.S. MARINES: No one exactly wants war, knowing there's marines and soldiers dying every day.

ZAHN: Corporal Jorge Gallo is 21.

GALLO: There is always that day that you're just afraid. There's always nerves. But I think that actually keeps us on our toes. You learn to accept it. You learn to move on and just worry about the next time you have to go back.

ZAHN: These Marines are now home. And these Marines are preparing to go. MSGT. SERGEANT DAVID HENDERSON, U.S. MARINES: Most of the convoy procedures over there or the convoys are getting their -- have a possibility of getting hit.

ZAHN: This is live-fire convoy training.

HENDERSON: They get in a situation, they've been trained and they have confidence in their weapons and the Marines to the left and right of them, that -- they're going to survive.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A lot of things change when the bullets start coming back your way.

ZAHN: Twenty-year--old Lance Corporal Travis Cantrell is a gunner.

LANCE CPL. TRAVIS CANTRELL, U.S. MARINES: A little nervous, obviously, but you got to do what you got to do, go over there, do what I got to do and come back home.

ZAHN: Families here at Camp Lejeune deal with deployment often.

KATHY VENEMAN, WIFE OF U.S. MARINE: He's been gone for the last three years.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Last three years?

VENEMAN: Yes, he's had three back-to-back deployments. When they come back, you have to learn to live together again because you get used to being by yourself instead of depending on them when they're there. You have to do everything yourself.

ZAHN: This family picnic is for Marines about to deploy.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's the second deployment for him.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It seems like every time they get deployed, there is always a mother stuck either about to have a baby or just had a baby. So it's like, every deployment, there is a baby and little baby boomers everywhere. This is from the last war. There is a lot of 'em.

ERICA CASTILLO, WIFE OF U.S. MARINE: This is going to be my first pregnancy without him. We're always going to be waiting for him and be prepared for whatever time he's got to be over there.

ZAHN: Marines back, Marines going, and always the families left behind. It's daily life here at Camp Lejeune.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's been hard. But you just deal with it. You have to because that's our life and I can't imagine any other life.


ZAHN: And joining me now, four women whose husbands are now serving in Iraq. All of them are part of the Key Volunteer Network, a support group on the base.

Let me introduce you now to Libby Hightower. Her husband, Commander Jim Hightower, just got back from Iraq, but returns next week. Her oldest son is in the Marines Reserves and in the process now of being deployed. Martie Nunez down there in the hot pink gave birth to her daughter while her husband, Captain George Nunez (ph), was in Iraq. He saw his child during a visit home, but has since returned to Iraq.

And Maria Brenes Gordon is the coordinator for the air station squadron. Her husband, Master Gunnery Sergeant Mark Steven Gordon (ph), just got home from Iraq. And Lisa Jackson is a veteran of Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. Her husband, Sergeant Major Blaine Jackson (ph), was injured in Iraq and has now returned home.

Good to see all of you.


ZAHN: Maria, tell us a little bit about what gets you through these long deployments. How do you lean on each other?

MARIA BRENES GORDON, WIFE OF U.S. MARINE: We have a network, the Key Volunteer Network, which is a commander's program, directed by Marine Corps order.

The days that, if we wanted you to have it, we would have issued one are no longer there. We're very much supported by the Marine Corps and it's a group of ladies that pull together to help each other through these things. We don't coddle. We enable each other to get through the tough times.

ZAHN: Now, Martie, I can't think of anything tougher than going through a pregnancy, than giving birth alone, although your husband while he was in Iraq gave you a little bit of help, didn't he?

MARTIE NUNEZ, WIFE OF U.S. MARINE: He was aboard the USS Nassau, actually, from an undisclosed location. He started yelling push. Other Marines on the ship heard him yelling push. So they started yelling push. Getting lots of push. And out came my daughter McKenna (ph). And he was able to hear her first cry. And I put the phone to her ear so she could hear her daddy as well.


ZAHN: Did you name her Nassau?


NUNEZ: No. We don't care to see the Nassau again.

ZAHN: And how long was it Before your husband Actually got to hold that beautiful baby?

NUNEZ: He met her when she was 3 1/2 months old. And he said it took her about seven seconds for her to wrap him around her little finger. So...

ZAHN: I'm not surprised about that.


ZAHN: Lisa, you have an unusual story, because you, as we mentioned, were deployed twice in Desert Strom and Desert Shield. Then, your husband, more recently, was deployed to Iraq and is now back home. What was that experience like?

LISA JACKSON, WIFE OF U.S. MARINE: It was heart-wrenching. We received a call from casualty assistance, which -- a phenomenal, phenomenal office. And they notified me that my husband had been injured and the rest is history. He returned home safely, injured, but safely.

ZAHN: You'd gone through the cycle where he not only had to worry about your welfare. It was not that many months later then that you had to worry about vulnerable he was?

JACKSON: Pardon me? I'm sorry.

ZAHN: You had to worry about vulnerable he was.

JACKSON: Yes, he was very vulnerable. When he came home, he was injured, like I said, but his heart was still over in Iraq. And that was very tough, because we wanted him full 100 percent here with us at home, but he was really worried about his Marines and very concerned for their welfare, more than his own.

ZAHN: And is it true, in his dreams, he started to shout about some of his colleagues?

JACKSON: Yes. On occasion, he would still be in Iraq, unfortunately, and give his troops some support.

ZAHN: I think everybody in America appreciates the level of commitment. But when you hear stories like that, it really reinforces it.

You have a son.


ZAHN: Heading off to Iraq and your husband not too far behind him, a man who served as chaplain for many, many years.


ZAHN: How have you lived with this uncertainty over the years?

HIGHTOWER: Well, it's not been easy.

But my faith in God is what brings me through all of this. We started this journey back IN 1980. Of course, I've been married for 32 years to my silver fox. And we -- first deployment was in 1981. And we've had -- this will be probably about the seventh of three-to- six-months-long deployment.

ZAHN: But you never get used to it, do you?

HIGHTOWER: No. You learn to cope. And that's what this KVN network is all about. We didn't have this network with the technology that we have these days. When we did it before, it was a tape recorder. It was -- you make a phone call and it's over and you listen from the ships over the intercom to get a message through. So technology today makes it so much easier.

ZAHN: I would love for all of you to stand by, if you would, because when we come back, we are going to continue our conversation about the handover in Iraq and what it will mean for U.S. soldiers there and Marines.

We'll be right back.


ZAHN: Welcome back.

We're back now with four military wives whose husbands have served in Iraq or are headed there.

Libby Hightower, Martie Nunez, Maria Brenes Gordon, Lisa Jackson, thank you all for sharing your stories with us tonight. Welcome back.

Martie, I know that you feel that the reality of what your husband confronts in Iraq became very real when you heard about the torture and execution of American contractors in Fallujah. And your son came to you and said, is daddy dead? How do you answer a question like that?

NUNEZ: I have been tremendously blessed. I have a very strong faith and my family supports me tremendously, as well as all of the Key volunteers, and all of our wives.

The lord gives you the strength to do what you have to do it when you have to do it. And when Garrett (ph) asked me, mommy, has my daddy been killed, is my daddy dead, I tried to reassure him as best I could by going on a walk, getting away from the television. And it was right after, short after a rainstorm. And we turned the corner and saw the most beautiful rainbow in the sky.

We stopped and I crouched down next to Garrett and I pointed to the sky and I said, Garrett, you see that rainbow? That's God's promise that everything is going to be just fine. Your daddy is going to be just fine. The lord gives you what you need when you need it. And I have been tremendously blessed. We're very proud of daddy and we talk about daddy all the time. And he is just an amazing, amazing man.

ZAHN: Maria, I'm always struck by the strength that I see in your community. And you say that one of the tougher things, though, that you have to deal with are the rumors. You all hear potentially when your loved one is in Iraq about someone being killed, someone potentially being held hostage. And until the names are confirmed, everybody has that dreaded fear, do they not, it could be mine?

GORDON: They do.

And the wonderful thing about the Key Volunteer Network is, it is where we get to hear official command word very quickly. It is volunteers and we have a calling tree. So we get the word out very, very quickly straight from our commander. We pass it on. And everybody knows. When there is a mishap, everybody's heart just stops until you get, yes, there was a mishap and it happened to one of ours, but it wasn't our squadron or it wasn't our unit.

And that can be very, very reassuring. It's a very, very rapidly working network. And it's amazing the strength that you get just from hearing that other voice on the phone saying, it's OK. On the flip side of that, if something does, God forbid, go wrong, it's also the strength that gets us through it, because we do need to lean on each other and we do need to help each other.

JACKSON: It is sort of bittersweet, because you also feel for the family that has been...

ZAHN: And in spite your own service in Iraq and now your husbands been there and come home, you talk about the predeployment stage being the most challenging part of this. How so?

JACKSON: Death, unfortunately, is a part of our lifestyle, more so than I think the average American. And to prepare for war, we have to sit down and actually talk about what would happen in case of a demise, such as we get our power of attorneys ready, our wills, living wills, what would happen if something happens to me while he's away. It's soul-searching, pretty much. So...

ZAHN: And you've had to do a lot of soul-searching over the years, Libby. And I know we were talking before the break about having a husband who served as a chaplain serving all over the world. But now you have a son in the Marine Reserves who will deployed in a dangerous place.

HIGHTOWER: Right. And it never gets easier, I don't think. We just learn how to cope more with the situation.

And, as a reservist, my son, I'm concerned about those family members that don't have the network that we have right here.

GORDON: The nice thing, Libby, there was a gentleman that stopped me, I don't know, I've been told Marines aren't all gentlemen but he was a gentleman. He stopped me.

PAULA ZAHN, HOST: Well, the ones I met today are.

GORDON: That's right, they are. And he wanted to make sure that we understood that the key volunteer network has been instrumental to his family because, of course, with their healthcare.

They said you ladies are amazing how you are able to run through the red tape, just go right through it, and he was just so impressed with the support we have provided his family when they most needed it.

ZAHN: Well, we applaud your courage; we applaud your strength.

Do they not represent you all well, or what?

Libby Hightower, Martie Nunez, Maria Brenes Gordon, Lisa Jackson, thank you for sharing all your stories with us tonight.

When we come back, training for the art of urban warfare. Young Marines learning to fight and learning how to survive.


ANNOUNCER: This special edition of PAULA ZAHN NOW continues.

ZAHN: Despite somewhat of the celebratory cheers you hear tonight, only because it represents the great support these families have for their loved ones and for each other. Some Marines stationed here at Camp Lejeune will soon experience war for the first time.

And although there's no way to fully prepare for the unpredictable nature of combat, there is one training camp that's giving Marines a good idea of what they might expect.

Here is Thelma Gutierrez.


THELMA GUTIERREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): They are two young man heading into urban combat, where the enemy lurks in buildings. It's a hair-raising, adrenaline-pumping experience, where the bullets aren't real, but the scenarios are.

Welcome to Camp Matilda...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can we come in and search your house?


GUTIERREZ: ... Where the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit from Camp Lejeune is training. Marine role players help set the scene. The training is intense. Because, in a week, the 24th MEU is headed for Iraq.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right, we're moving.

GUTIERREZ: Private First Class Kevin Jones is 19. He's from Chumpsford, Massachusetts. Lance Corporal Joshua Hanson from Tampa, Florida, is 18, barely out of high school.

(on camera): Are you ready?

LANCE CPL. JOSHUA HANSON, USMC: I believe so, as ready as you can be mentally.

GUTIERREZ: What is unique about this Marine training village 60 miles outside of Los Angeles is that it closely resembled a town in Iraq called Habbaniya, which is between the town of Fallujah and Ramadi...

(on camera) ... where some of the heaviest fighting has taken place.

1ST SGT. RODNEY CARRICO, USMC: They need to be able to transition from shaking somebody's hand to shooting somebody in a moment's notice, a snap of a finger.

LT. COL. ERNEST GABLIER, USMC: But they're good at it and they're good at it because we are training them the very best we can in a place like Camp Matilda.

GUTIERREZ: There's a mock checkpoint. And a convoy, hit by a roadside bomb. They will experience close combat.


GUTIERREZ: And have the rare opportunity to make mistakes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is probably some of the best training we've done as far as realism.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You can't really tell what's going to happen until the first bullet flies over your head is what everybody says.

GUTIERREZ: As they prepare for Iraq, these men, still in their teens, say one of the hardest things about going off to war is trying to comfort their mothers before saying goodbye.

(on camera): You just recently graduated from high school, right?


GUTIERREZ: How does your mother feel about you going off to war?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She's kind of scared about it, the mere fact that something could happen to me.

GUTIERREZ: Yes. What does she say to you about it?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She tries not to talk about it, because then she starts crying, but we try to keep away from that subject.

PFC. KEVIN JONES, USMC: I never felt like that before, you know? I've never seen my mother or my sister cry like that before. It was a different -- it was a different feeling.

GUTIERREZ (voice-over): And so, while other 18 and 19-year-olds plan for their summer and go off to college, Jones and Hanson will head for the Middle East.

JONES: Everyone knew me as, you know, the kid that was going in the Marine Corps. There were very few people up where I live that want to go in the Marine Corps. A lot of people respected me for it.

GUTIERREZ (on camera): Do you have any fears?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have a fear, but I try not to focus on that. I try to focus on me and my squad and my platoon, training, getting in unison to come back all alive.

GUTIERREZ (voice-over): And so the baby, who became a school boy football hero, and even the class clown, grew up and joined a band of Marine warriors, headed for a new Iraq, hoping to make a difference.


ZAHN: That was our Thelma Gutierrez in March (ph) at the air reserve base in Riverside, California.

Joining me now, a member of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit. Captain David Nevers will head to Iraq next week. He will leave behind his wife and two young children.

Good of you to join us.

DAVID NEVERS, 24TH MARINE EXPEDITIONARY UNIT: Good to be here, Paula. Pleasure to be here.

ZAHN: We've heard a lot about your training tonight. You know what your mission is. You know what you've got to do. But you're leaving a beautiful wife behind and two young children. What goes through your mind before deployment?

NEVERS: Well, it's tough. It's tough leaving for -- facing the prospect of leaving for seven months or more.

I know my wife is strong. She's got a strong network of support back here at Camp Lejeune. That helps. But I know it's going to be hard on her, and I think what I think most about is my son, my 3-year- old son.

ZAHN: Is anybody in your family here tonight?

NEVERS: My wife is here.

ZAHN: We can point her out. Where is she?

NEVERS: Right over here.

ZAHN: Right over there. Welcome. Would you please stand up? We'll introduce you to our audience. We're going to -- Don't be shy on us, please!


ZAHN: So your son at the age of 3 is really old enough to understand that you're going away. What do you tell him about what you'll be doing? NEVERS: It's tough not -- it's tough not knowing how much he understands or doesn't understand. He's reaching the age where he's more and more aware.

We've gone through now roughly six months of pre-deployment workups. Along the way, have dealt with increasingly longer separations, but the longest has been two weeks.

And I think in -- you know, as I get ready to go in a few days and after two weeks, I'm going to be thinking hard about what's going through his mind. He's going to be awfully puzzled about where Daddy is and why he isn't home yet.

So that, for me, is the toughest aspect of this. I mean, I'm going to miss them all, obviously. But...

ZAHN: Of course.

NEVERS: But knowing that -- that he's going to be the most confused about what's going on, I think is the hardest thing to deal with.

ZAHN: Will you have much contact with him from over there, from what you understand?

NEVERS: Well, I don't know a lot about the infrastructure yet in our area of operations, but I know our commanding officer, Colonel Ron Johnson, is committed to taking care of the families and getting -- affording us as much as we reasonably can and as much communication with our families as we can. And I'm confident I'll be able to talk to them every now and then.

ZAHN: I had the privilege a while ago of spending a week at Parris Island, training with Marines. One of the things I was struck with was by this camaraderie that forms between you and your colleagues.

Just a thought tonight on this esprit de corps, how it develops and what it means to you once you are in the field and very much at risk.

NEVERS: Yes, I mean, what comes to mind is Shakespeare's "Henry V": "We few, we happy few, we band of brothers." And that carries with us through our training, and we rely on that esprit de corps in an operational environment.

We know we're heading into a dangerous environment. We accept the risks. We recognize the risks. But those risks are going to help us stay sharp, help us keep focused and, ultimately, they're going to make us better prepared to deal with the risks.

But, most of all, relying on a Marine to our right and our left who will do what it takes to bring -- to bring us home.

ZAHN: Well, we wish you tremendous luck. Thank you for joining us tonight. NEVERS: My pleasure.

ZAHN: And we wish you luck and your family luck and the rest of you that are facing deployments in the near term.

We're going to take a short break. We'll be right back.


ZAHN: Welcome back. The official transfer of power in Iraq is tempered by news of two missing Americans.

On a tape broadcast on Al Jazeera, Marine Corporal Wassaf Hassoun is seen being held with a sword brandished over his head. And late today, Al Jazeera also reported it has received a statement and videotape from a group of militants who have claimed to have killed Army Specialist Matt Maupin, who has been missing since April 9.

Joining us now, former POW Ron Young, who is now a CNN special contributor.

Good to see you. Welcome.

RON YOUNG, FORMER POW: Good to see you. Thank you.

ZAHN: Let's talk a little bit about Corporal Hassoun -- if these reports are true. Take us back to how you felt in your early hours of captivity and what he might be going through.

YOUNG: Well, in the early hours, I mean, you absolutely have no idea what's going to happen to you. You think that these guys are definitely going to execute you at some point. I think you have to really prepare yourself for the worst.

I have to say, for me, it would probably have been much worse for me to go through it, having known what happened to people like Nicholas Berg and Mr. Johnson.

ZAHN: Because that happened after your captivity. How would that change things as you were in the field?

YOUNG: Well, as I was laying on the ground that night, I had to make a decision. I had a 9-millimeter pistol. They had fully automatic AKs, and you know, their firepower far outmatches what I actually have. So, I'm going to get myself killed if I start shooting at them.

But laying there on the bank, also if I had known what had happened to these soldiers, I would have -- I know definitely right now I would have made a different choice, and I probably would have went out, because I wouldn't want to put my family through seeing me on TV and something like that happening to me.

ZAHN: What do you mean "make a different choice?" Would you have -- did you actually contemplate killing yourself? YOUNG: Well, not necessarily killing myself, but I would have definitely fired on the enemy and got into a confrontation with them and probably ended up dead that way.

ZAHN: But was there a point where that ever crossed your mind?

YOUNG: Absolutely. I mean, we had a choice to make, whether we were going to start firing on the enemy, whether we were going to run and be shot in the back, or whether we were going to give ourselves up. And we chose to give ourselves up, because nothing like this had happened.

And I think this is changing the soldiers' minds that are over there now to where they're not going to give up until the last man is not standing anymore.

ZAHN: If you were still active in Iraq today, is there anything you would have done differently?

YOUNG: If I was still active in Iraq, I wouldn't have gotten shot down.

ZAHN: Well, you didn't have much control over that!

YOUNG: But I have to say, going through my captivity, I was fairly pleased with everything that we did. I think we handled it as best we possibly could, and we came out of it alive, so that means it was successful for us.

Right now, there's not a lot of choices and there's not a lot of ways for people to get out of the situation I was in alive, and that's a big difference.

ZAHN: We talked a lot about this evening about Marine training and how -- prepares Marines for the potential of being held captive.


ZAHN: Were you surprised, after you went through your experience, that you did the things that you ended up doing? That you, in fact, survived?

YOUNG: Absolutely. I was extremely surprised. And a lot of it falls back on training. The reason that people are trained is so that they can react without having to think about it.

That night when I hit the ground, I knew I needed to run and run south; everyone was south. I knew there were certain protocols and measures I needed to take while I was being interrogated. I knew there were certain questions I needed to answer and to promote myself to be on TV so they would have to, you know, keep us alive at some point. But you see that is simply not the case now.

ZAHN: Is there one particular moment that you look back on and reflect on and say, "OK, that was it. That was the moment that my hostage takers felt this much empathy for me?" YOUNG: Absolutely...

ZAHN: I know you tried to play on the hostage takers' humanity, how little there might be.

YOUNG: Exactly. And one night we're laying in a prison, and the bombing became very intense. Of course, I was kept in downtown Baghdad.

And a bomb hit really close. I mean, it basically ripped the tin roof back, blew bricks in on top of us. And our captors jumped up and took off and ran outside into a bunker, left us in the prison.

We're screaming, you know, "Mister, come back, help us!" Because we wanted them, of course, to put us in the bunker with them.

And another bomb came right behind that one. This time, it blew the peephole open on my door and blew some more bricks in on top of us. And I ended up getting out of the cell, and while I was trying to open another one of the prisoner's cells, they come back in. And later on, we found out that the bomb actually landed in the bunker that they had ran into.

ZAHN: Divine justice.

YOUNG: Exactly. Irony.

ZAHN: Ron Young, thank you. Please stand by. We're going to come back to you after this short break. We will return in just a moment.


ZAHN: And we are back now. A former POW, Ron Young, he was among eight Americans captured in the first days of the fighting last year. Now, he is a CNN special contributor.

And we asked him to look up some of his former fellow POWs to see how they are doing.


ZAHN (voice-over): They were once just grainy images flickering on a eerie green screen, prisoners of war in an enemy land.

Ron Young and Dave Williams, Apache helicopter pilots shot down south of Baghdad. Joe Hudson and Shoshanna Johnson, two soldiers of the 507 Maintenance Company of Jessica Lynch fame that drove mistakenly into downtown Nasiriyah, thrown together as POWs, gaunt and in prison pajamas, finally set free to live with the memories.

DAVID WILLIAMS, FORMER IRAQI POW: I go down memory lane.

YOUNG: Everybody says look at that ugly mug. That's one ugly mug.

ZAHN: But after emotional reunions and the heroes' welcomes, where to go from there?

WILLIAMS: I think a way out that I found to help me cope is joke about it, some of the things. Even -- you know, I sit there and I joke to people and I'm telling the story about, you know, I was nearly killed. People don't find that funny.


ZAHN: Theirs is a lonely club of inside jokes and medical updates.

SHOSHANNA JOHNSON, FORMER IRAQI POW: You know, a lot of people don't realize you got injured. I didn't realize that.

JOE HUDSON, FORMER IRAQI POW: Yes. So what? I had too much pride to make it look like I was injured -- like, you know, the interview, our first interrogation when they had us on Al Jazeera, all that, I'm sitting in my own pool of blood, you know?

ZAHN: Specialist Joe Hudson still carries fragments in his buttocks and side.

HUDSON: When it came in right at my belt line, it ricocheted off my hip and the round split in two. One piece stayed in my hip, and one went all the way to my right side. Missed my kidney and missed my spine, so I'm pretty lucky to be walking.

ZAHN: Army cook Shoshanna Johnson has bullet wounds in both ankles.

HUDSON: You healed up pretty good.

JOHNSON: Yes, it's doing OK. It's ugly as all hell. I mean, it still bothers me a lot. I feel like an old woman sometimes. You know, you can feel when the rain is coming?

ZAHN: Apache pilot Dave Williams wants to teach others how to cope with captivity.

WILLIAMS: We're going to build a new school and help guys survive or, you know, go through what I went through and learn from what we -- our recent experiences.

ZAHN: Shoshanna and Ron speak with audiences.

JOHNSON: These kids don't know how good they got it. They have no clue. You know? I mean, they complain because the cable went out. I'm like, dang, do you know like in Baghdad, they still use them lamps, them oil lamps?

ZAHN: For now, Joe Hudson just wants to rest.

HUDSON: I can't even do my job that I, you know, came in the Army to do, so that makes it tough.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, yes. HUDSON: But right now, I'm doing administrative stuff in front of a computer, and that's about all I can do anymore.

ZAHN: These four former POWs hope to clear their heads of so many dark moments.

HUDSON: Specialist Joseph Hudson...

HUDSON: After they pulled me out of the vehicle and when they threw me on the ground and I was, you know, flat on my back like this, I'm like, you have got to be kidding me? You know, we go through all that training and enemy prison war searches and all that stuff, and not once did I ever thought I would be on the receiving end of one.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Where are you come from?


I'm terrified because I'm by myself now. Being a female, you know, and then they took me into this room when I got there. And then I'm just laying on the rug. My legs are bleeding. I'm bleeding all over the place.

ZAHN: But with notoriety comes new opportunity. Their identities reduced to two words: Iraqi POW.

YOUNG: What do you hope to accomplish with your life? You got a second chance.

HUDSON: Yes, that's practically what we're on. We're on a second chance. I want to get my education done, that's what I want to do. Like, what I'm looking at done is majoring in history for education and possibly be a history teacher.

YOUNG: Really? See, history has become a lot more interesting to me, too.

HUDSON: Yes, definitely!

YOUNG: And you?

JOHNSON: I don't know. I'm just lost sometimes.

WILLIAMS: All right, brother.

YOUNG: Take care, buddy.

ZAHN: Except when they're together.

WILLIAMS: Whether Ron likes it or Shoshanna or Joe or Edgar, I'll always be a part of their life, and I love them with all my heart. And it'll be like that till the day I die.

We've been through an extraordinary experience, and I don't wish it upon anybody, but you know, no one will ever be able to break that bond. (END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: And that bond is so obvious when you see you interacting with your fellow captive colleagues there.

Is there a minute that goes by where you don't focus on where you were over a year ago?

YOUNG: Right now, the minutes are still closer together. I think about it every night. It's something that you dream about. Sometimes, I lay down, and I'll hear a bomb hit beside us or something like that.

Every time someone pulls up into your blind spot and you almost get over on them, all of a sudden you react to it like someone is shooting at you, the adrenaline and everything. You're not just frightened or -- it's something just doesn't startle you anymore. You react to it like you're being shot at.

ZAHN: But you're feeling good? You're feeling whole?

YOUNG: Oh, absolutely.

ZAHN: Happy to be home?

YOUNG: It's great to be here and...

ZAHN: What's it like being around all these Marines?

YOUNG: Absolutely...

ZAHN: Army guy! It's pretty nice, isn't it?

YOUNG: Absolutely. I owe my life to these Marines. I just got one thing to say: hooah!

ZAHN: Hooah! It's good of the Marines to invite you into their home here.

Ron Young, thank you for joining us tonight. We'll be right back.


ZAHN: Welcome back.

Some final thoughts now about these dedicated people we have been privileged to meet here tonight.

In the last year in Iraq, there have been great victories, and heartbreaking setbacks, as well.

The men and women here at Marine Corps Air Station New River remain committed to serving our nation. Training, as you've heard here this evening, is a way of life for them, and sacrifice a way of life for their families. Some have made the ultimate sacrifice, and more, maybe, before it's all over.

These Marines and all their families know this well, and still their commitment remains. All of us at CNN want to thank all of you for your candor and for helping us better understand the challenges you all face and the pride you all share.

Thank you so much for being with us tonight. Stay with CNN all evening for complete (UNINTELLIGIBLE). "LARRY KING LIVE" is next, followed by a special "NEWSNIGHT WITH AARON BROWN." Again, thank you for joining us tonight. Good night.


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