Leader Blues

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

TOP STORY >> Marine’s life ends in remote outpost

Leader staff writer

Lance Cpl. Steven Valdez, 20, of McRae was killed Monday at Camp Blessing in Afghanistan’s Pesch Valley, which is home to personnel from the Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force, including Army Rangers, Marines and the Afghan Security Forces.
Valdez, a machine-gun operator, was running to his post when shrapnel from a mortar round struck him in the neck.

He died 40 minutes later.
Valdez was assigned to Second Battal-ion of the Third Marine Regi-ment, Third Marine Division III Marine Expeditionary Force in Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii.
Valdez was the only one to die in the attack.
“A mortar can take out 20 people; it can take out one. It just depends,” said his brother, Glenn (Poncho) Skaggs, a Marine sergeant who has witnessed similar attacks in Iraq. He could return there within a year.
Camp Blessing, named for Sgt. Jay A. Blessing, an Army Ranger killed there in November 2003, lies in the foothills of the Hindu Kush Mountains just 20 miles from the Pakistani border in Kunar province.
The camp, described as far removed from artillery and helicopter support, is the first of its kind in hostile territory that U.S. Special Forces have built in more than 30 years.

The complex mission of the Special Forces team stationed there is to develop an intelligence network, earn the trust of the locals, track down al-Qaeda terrorists and help build an Afghan army.
The camp was built for 14 Special Forces personnel and defended by a platoon of Marines. Surrounded by steep mountain bluffs, it is reportedly difficult to defend.

Bill Skaggs, Valdez’s grandfather, said his grandson was sent there three months ago, a place that his grandson called “pure hell.”

By mid-day Thursday, his body had arrived in Memphis and was expected home by Friday. Tentative plans were to hold a memorial service at Beebe’s First Baptist Church sometime next week before a second service and burial at Arlington National Cemetery.

Marine Corps representatives have visited Skaggs’ home twice this week, once to tell him his grandson was dead and once to make the funeral arrangements, and discuss his life insurance policy.

Skaggs said he will use part of the $400,000 death benefit he will receive to establish a college scholarship in his grandson’s name and part to pay for nursing school for Jessica An-drews, who Valdez planned to marry.