FORWARD OPERATING BASE RIPLEY, Afghanistan -- In recent years, Marines participating in combat operations have grown accustomed to having news reporters in their midst. However, few of these, regardless of their media affiliation or fame, match the prestige of the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable)'s most recent embed.
James Webb, a writer for "Parade" magazine, spent several days with the Marines and Sailors of the MEU as they continued their hunt for Taliban and anti-coalition militia in central Afghanistan.
During his time with the 22nd MEU (SOC), Webb traveled via a CH-46E Sea Knight helicopter from Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 266 (Reinforced) to elements of Battalion Landing Team 1st Bn., 6th Marines who were in the midst of a battalion-level combat operation.
Accompanied by his son Jim (who was acting as his photographer), Webb spent time with BLT 1/6's field headquarters, Charlie Company, and Combined Anti-Armor Team.
The 58-year-old Webb, perhaps best known for penning the Vietnam War classic "Fields of Fire," is himself a former Marine who served in Vietnam. There, the U.S. Naval Academy graduate earned a Navy Cross, the Silver Star, two Bronze Stars for valor, and two Purple Hearts while serving as a platoon leader and company commander with Delta Co., 1st Bn., 5th Marines.
Following his service in Vietnam, Webb, the son of a career Air Force officer, remained on active duty for several years before entering the Georgetown University Law Center in 1972. Later, he chose to pursue journalism and in 1984, won an Emmy Award for his coverage of the Marines in Beirut. Webb has had a relationship with "Parade" magazine for nearly 20 years, and frequently contributes to the U.S.'s most-read magazine (weekly readership of 40 million).
In addition to "Fields of Fire," he has authored five other best-selling novels: "A Sense of Honor," "A Country Such As This," "Something To Die For," "The Emperor's General," and "Lost Soldiers." He is also a widely-sought public speaker, and contributes frequently to a wide range of prestigious magazines and newspapers.
Webb's public service included work on the Congressional House Committee on Veterans Affairs, as the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs, and as the Secretary of the Navy. Over the years he has received a number of awards for his work on the behalf of the nation and its veterans.
As Webb waited for his flight from Forward Operating Base Ripley (named after another Vietnam Navy Cross recipient, retired Marine Col. John Ripley) to visit other Marine units in Afghanistan, he met with the MEU's commanding officer, Col. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., and joined the colonel in promoting one of the MEU's Marines.
Newly-promoted Lt. Col. Mike H. Brown, the MEU's future operations officer, said his reason for asking Webb to promote him was simple.
"If you can't be with your family when you're promoted, this is the next best thing," Brown explained, "being forward deployed and promoted in front of your fellow Marines by a living legend of the Corps."
In addition to BLT 1/6 and HMM-266 (Rein), the 22nd MEU (SOC) consists of its Command Element and MEU Service Support Group 22. The MEU is in Afghanistan conducting combat and civil military operations as Task Force Linebacker.
For more information on the 22nd MEU (SOC)'s role in Operation ENDURING FREEDOM, visit the unit's web site at www.22meu.usmc.mil.