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First Lt. Erasmo Valles, 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment?s family readiness officer and officer-in-charge of the battalion?s Remain Behind Element, stands in front of the 7th Marines command post sign at the Combat Center Nov. 15. The Hobbs, N.M., native enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1994, served for four years, and was commissioned in 2003, both times serving 2/7.

Photo by Pfc. Michael S. Cifuentes

2/7 lieutenant comes across hardships during honorable service

25 Nov 2005 | Pfc. Michael S. Cifuentes

Semper Fidelis is more than just a motto to for Marines; it’s a way of life. It’s a commitment Marines all share to the country, to the Corps and to each other.There are Marines on and off the battlefield who practice this motto in ways which could classify them as extraordinary Marines. The honor and faithfulness they portray to their duty as not just a Marine, but a United States service member, distinguishes themselves as heroic, a leader or legend. The motto leads to creations of stories of unsung heroes, more so, Marines who live by the honorable words of Semper Fidelis.First Lt. Erasmo Valles, 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment’s family readiness officer and officer-in-charge of the battalion’s Remain Behind Element, joined forces with the Marine Corps in 1994. The Hobbs, N.M., native was 18 years old and a graduate of Hobbs High School. His decision to enlist in the Corps simply came from what he and his peers saw on television and in movies.“I was a big John Wayne fan,” said Valles. “The movies I loved to watch during my high school times were Marine Corps movies and war movies. The Marine Corps really stuck out to me, so I knew it was a path that I wanted to take. I gave it some thought and I believed infantry would be best fitting for me. I didn’t know that much about it, but I knew the Marine Corps’ infantry was the elite fighting force.”Upon the end of his training, Valles was assigned with Marine Corps Security Forces. He was stationed in Washington state, and tasked with guarding special weapons for the Navy. Aside from standing post, he learned a lot about security forces. Their training was more in-depth of interior guard and a lot of close quarters training, said Valles.In 1996, Valles was assigned to Weapons Platoon, Fox Company, 2/7 as a lance corporal.“This, by far, was one of the best experiences in my life,” said Valles. “My unit already had a good reputation as gun crewmen. Even when it was the worst of times, it was the best of times because we had this bond that was unlike any other bond I’ve had. And where else could you find a job where you’d play with toys like mortar weapons and machine guns. As a young man, it was an excitement to send rounds down range and blow things up.”As his four years of active duty service came to an end, his interest in continuing his education grew. Valles wanted to extend his education so he enrolled in to New Mexico Junior College in 1998.During his time at home and working on his degree in criminal justice, he worked part-time in a detention facility. “At that point I was looking into law enforcement,” said Valles. “I was also minoring in sociology because I wanted to learn more about why people do what they do.”Valles met his wife during this time, who also worked in the detention facility. They married in 2000.After earning his college degree, it was his goal to return to the Marine Corps but this time as an officer because Valles believed he could be a good leader.“When I put these pins on, in reality, I work for the people below me,” said Valles as he held the silver bars that were pinned to his collar. “That is why we are called officers of Marines – not Marine officers. The assets of the Marine Corps are the young Marines. The officers are the ones who need to represent and lead them.”Valles went to The Basic School and was commissioned a second lieutenant in December 2003. In January 2004, he met up with 2/7 again, but this time as platoon commander for 2nd Platoon, Echo Company. He deployed to Operation Iraqi Freedom for his first combat deployment the following month.“The company was based out of a firm base in [the city of Hit, Iraq],” said Valles. “We were tasked with patrolling the streets of the city. After seeing the destruction the war caused and the terror the citizens lived with, we knew in the back of our minds ‘This is the real thing. What we trained for will now pay off.’ The Marines did an excellent job with no complaint throughout the deployment.”The question “should we be here?” came across Valles’ mind during the deployment, he said.“During a patrolling operation we were stopped by an Iraqi civilian and his children," said Valles. "The man told us he knew of a large weapons cache near his house. We searched the area he pointed us to and found a large amount of explosives and bombs. We set a perimeter around the location and cordoned off the streets. His children, who both seemed to be nine or ten years old, stayed with the interpreter and I, and were asking us questions of what we were doing. “They were very curious of who we were and why we were in their back yard. I asked the interpreter to answer all the boy’s questions and tell them we were here to help them. Just then, the explosive ordinance disposal team set off the explosives and bombs, which made a tremendously loud blast. The two children jumped and hugged on to the interpreter. The interpreter calmed them down and told them that they set off the explosives on purpose. We assured them that everything was under control and there was no need to be afraid.” “At that point, my question was answered,” continued Valles. “The children were living with bombs and terrorists in their back yard. They were afraid to leave their father’s side until we showed up. They cannot play because they fear for their lives. I turned to the Marines of my platoon as the two children were still clinging to the interpreter. I said ‘Marines, look at these kids. This is their back yard. This is what they live with. I wouldn’t want my children to live like that. This is why we are here.’ I remembered that day as the day two boys couldn’t play in their back yard.”On March 31, Valles and his unit were conducting convoy operations in the city. They were traveling to different points of the city to set up observation posts. The humvee he was traveling in led the convoy. They made a turn onto a road and, uknowingly, passed over an anti-tank mine that exploded underneath their vehicle.The explosion ejected the Marines from the vehicle, but pushed the engine block through the dash and onto his lap.Night turned into day, said Valles. The explosion painted the sky beige and nothing could be seen. He forced his body out of the vehicle but his legs remained inside trapped between the passenger seat and engine block. As Marines and corpsmen rushed to his aid, his body hung out of the vehicle door while he tried to free his legs.“During that time, as I laid outside the vehicle, everything became quiet,” said Valles. “I began to think of my family; my wife and my two boys. I felt a celestial feeling that calmed me and I was at peace. The Marines and corpsmen came to my aid, and saved my life.”Valles was evacuated from the scene to a medical facility in Baghdad and was later transferred to another medical facility in Germany.Valles was sent to Bethesda Medical Hospital in Maryland after undergoing surgery in Germany.He was then transferred to Balboa Naval Hospital in San Diego where he spent three weeks and moved to Scripps Memorial Hospital La Jolla, Calif. After being in and out of hospitals, Valles underwent 22 surgeries on his legs.From July to January 2005, Valles spent his days trying to recover at home. He fought infection in his legs and was on antibiotics. Valles was hooked up to antibiotics intravenously four times a day for one hour – fighting to keep his legs.“My wife was the best support I had,” said Valles. “It was really hard for my family and I, and we all shared these times together. Whenever I felt down or like giving up, I just looked at my newborn son, [Lorenzo Joseph], who was born when I was in Kuwait, and my sanity came back.”“Everyone in my family pitched in for me,” said Valles. “Their lifestyles changed for me. There was nothing more I could ask for. Without question or hesitation my older son, [Ty Allen], took on tasks that I would normally do. He became the man of the house. My whole family really pulled close together and not only supported me, but also supported one another. This is what kept me going everyday. This is why I knew, no matter what, everything was going to be OK.”In January, Valles’ left leg was medically amputated. He was sent to Walter Reed Amputee Clinic following the amputation where he spent three months, with his wife and kids living in the area.“Although it was a terrible time for me, I was met by a lot of positive people who were in good spirits,” said Valles. “Throughout my time there, the challenge to walk was very motivating.”After Valles returned to the Combat Center, his battalion was preparing to deploy. His new mission was to be the family readiness officer and the OIC of the RBE.“As the family readiness officer and being a part of the RBE, it is our duty to show the same support to the Marines in Iraq as I received,” said Valles. “We act as a liaison between the command in Iraq to the families. It’s a very important responsibility and is vital to the morale of the Marines, both here and there, and their families.”“I’ve known [Valles] since he’s been back with this battalion after his final surgery,” said 1st Lt. Michael L. Bond, platoon commander with 2/7’s RBE and a Gulf Port, Miss., native. "He'sdone by far an outstanding job as the family readiness officer. He knows how life is out there [in Iraq], he knows how life here is being injured, and he uses that knowledge to the advantage of his Marines. He knows the questions and thoughts of individuals and it helps them through their times and struggles.” At home, Valles spends as much time as possible with his family, he said. Every chance he gets to be with them he takes. He goes home for lunch and on his days off, he travels around Southern California with them.“My future can go either way,” said Valles. “My injury can only take me so far. But, there’s a reason why I am still here and why God has placed me with these Marines. “Throughout this experience, my family was most important to me. My wife had to sacrifice furthering her education. My oldest son changed schools three times. There are no words to explain the hardships we went through with each other. They just kept me going. They are the reason why I am still here today. Now I pray for the men and women out there today and only hope they don’t suffer the same.”
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