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Friday October 17, 2003 - News

Former Salidan recounts tearing down statue

Courtesy photo

Marine Gunnery Sgt. Leon Lambert said the people in the picture with him are the reason he’s looking forward to retiring from the Marine Corps in three and a half years. ‘I’ve spent enough time away from my family. I want to see my daughter and son grow up,’ he said. Sheridon, 4, is happy to have her daddy home and Leon was happy to get back to the United States 19 days before his new son, William Gunner, was born July 2.

by Michael D. Reed
Mail Staff Writer

Marine Corp Gunnery Sgt. Leon Lambert returned to the U.S from Iraq June 13, just in time for the July 2 birth of his son, William Gunner Lambert.
Lambert, a 1986 graduate Salida High School graduate and long-time Salida resident, signed into the military soon after graduation.
He left the United States Jan. 27 and spent four months and 16 days in the Middle East where he was responsible for the April 9 felling of the statue of Saddam Hussein in Ferdoos Square.
National Geographic magazine featured a picture of Lambert and Cpl. Edward Chin preparing to topple the statue in its September issue.
“Denise (his wife) bought about a dozen copies of (the magazine) when she found out I was in it. She’s funny,” Lambert said.
He was allowed to return home ahead of the rest of Bravo Company First Tank Battalion which arrived in Twentynine Palms, Calif. July 25.
Young William was named for Lambert’s father, Bill, who died Oct. 2, 2002.
Lambert was nominated for the bronze star for actions in combat when his unit was ambushed.
He told The Mountain Mail the bronze star has been changed to a Navy and Mar-ine Corps Accommodation medal.
He will also receive the Purple Heart for injuries sustained from an Iraqi missile.
He will be reviewed for a promotion to First Sergeant (E-8) Oct. 20 and will transfer to Yakama, Wash., where he will take over as the new maintenance chief for Bravo Company fourth tank battalion reserve.
“I’ve spent enough time away from my family in the past 16 years. I want to watch my son and daughter grow up,” he said.
“I’m going to retire in three and a half years and we’re thinking of moving to my dad’s ranch near Moffat. The whole thing is still up in the air, but I’d like to go back to Colorado,” he said.
Lambert continues to care for his father’s horses which were relocated to Twentynine Palms, Calif., after his father died.
Lambert told The Mountain Mail the story of the now famous events in Ferdoos Square in Baghdad, Iraq.
“We fought every day from March 19 until April 9 when we rolled into Baghdad. We were the first Marine Corps unit in Baghdad and we didn’t meet any resistance there.
“I radioed my executive officer and said, ‘We got this statue here. Can we knock it down?’ He called back and said, ‘No, Gunny. That’s not what we’re here for.
“An Iraqi citizen with broken English asked me if we could loan them equipment so they could knock it down themselves. I got authorization, and gave them a long rope and a sledge hammer. They worked at it for a couple of hours.
“There was quite a group of Iraqis – about 500, I’d guess – spitting at it and hitting it with the soles of their shoes – which is very disrespectful (in their culture.)
“I feel like we gave the Iraqi people their first taste of freedom in 30 years since Saddam took over. They were not allowed to express themselves like that under Saddam’s regime.
“My commander, Capt. Louis, told me, ‘be prepared to help them take that statue down.’ A little later he told me to drive my M-88 Hercules tank retriever into the square.
“I was told ‘Do what you need to do, but not without the battalion commander’s signal.’
“We had an American flag with us. It was flown at the Pentagon Sept. 11, 2001.
“When we put that flag up we were not saying ‘We conquered this nation.’ I think what we were saying was ‘This is what happens when you mess with the United States. We’re here to take down Saddam’s regime.’
“The Iraqi people were jubilant when we brought out that flag. They were cheering us. They wanted us to put our flag up there – to put it on Saddam’s head.
“Cpl. Chin is my rigger and I told him to rig a chain around the statue’s neck and put the flag up. I chose him because he’s from New York.
“That’s when the picture in National Geographic was taken. I was actually yelling at all the photographers and reporters to get off my M-88. It was crazy. They were climbing on top of my tank.
“My Battalion Sgt. Maj. ordered us to take the American flag down. I think he didn’t want to send the message that we were there to conquer the nation. That’s not why we were there.
“The Iraqi citizens booed when we took it down. They wanted it to stay up there. Then a man brought us a pre-Gulf War Iraqi flag. Saddam changed their flag in 1991 after the Gulf War.
“With the old Iraqi flag over the statue, Lt. Col. McCoy gave me the order to bring it down so we brought it part-way down and stopped to make sure there were no civilians in the way.
“When we got it all the way down the reaction of the Iraqi people – I honestly don’t think there are words to describe it.
“I’m just proud to be part of that moment.”
Lambert said he brought four pieces of the massive bronze statue to Twentynine Palms, Calif., and will have some of the pieces cut, and possibly inscribed, to give as gifts to the Marines who were with him when they made history in Baghdad.

Back paddle — boathouse not up for sale

Photo by Denise Ronald
Sale of the FIBArk boat house is delayed after a quit claim deed was filed and ‘clouded’ the title to the building

by Kristen M. White
Mail Staff Writer

Sale of the FIBArk boat-house is on hold because of complications with the building’s title according to the FIBArk board of directors.
Ray Kitson was scheduled to complete purchase of the building Wednesday, but re-ported “ambiguities and challenges to the title of the building” forced postponement.
In past weeks, the FIBArk board entered into professional mediation with people opposed to the sale of the building.
Members of the newly formed FIBArk Boathouse Preservation Trust filed a quit-claim deed earlier this month, transferring ownership of the boathouse to the non-profit group. The deed clouded the title, making closure of the sale more difficult.
In addition, Salida businessman Denny Lee reportedly offered to purchase the building.
Lee Hart, speaking for the FIBArk board, said board members will “proceed with the necessary legal work to secure clear title to the building. The board has been counseled that this process could take upwards of a year.”
Meanwhile, all offers re-garding the sale or long term lease of the building have been suspended.
The FIBArk board reportedly agreed to continue to lease the building to Ray Kitson for two years.
“Once title work has been legally cleared up, the board will revisit its options regarding the future of the building,” Hart said.

Bush policy won’t affect Chaffee County wilderness study areas

by Michael D. Reed
Mail Staff Writer

Wilderness study areas in Chaffee County will not be affected by a recent Bush administration policy restricting the right of the Bureau of Land Management to designate wilderness areas.
Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt filed suit in April challenging the bureau right to designate land as wilderness or wilderness study areas after Oct. 21, 1993.
Policy directives were sent to state BLM offices Sept. 29 after Leavitt and Interior Secretary Gale Norton reached agreement about the issue.
All requests for federal protection filed after Oct. 21, 1993, are rescinded and bur-eau officials must reevaluate the protection designation to be applied, according to appro-priate guidelines.
Although some wilderness advocates claim the new policy will leave vast tracts of previously protected land without protection against development, bureau officials disagree.
“We can still protect land, but we must use different designations which are managed under different guidelines,” Ken Smith, BLM public affairs officer, said.
All land designated before Oct. 21, 1993 – about 22 million acres – will maintain its designation until Congress makes a decision about BLM recommendations of 1991.
Congress has no time rest-riction regarding when the decision must be made. Land is managed according to interim wilderness management guidelines until Congress rules.
When the decision is made, it can maintain the wilderness designation or release land from protection and restore it to multiple use.
“This settlement has nothing to do with this area. Locally, this policy has no impact at all. It will not affect anything in Chaffee County,” Smith said.
“All land protected by this (Cañon City) office of the BLM is wilderness study area. There are no wilderness areas,” he said.
“We did not propose any land for federal protection after Oct. 21, 1993, so none of our protected land is add-ressed by this policy,” he said.
The bureau office in Cañon City manages land in Fremont, Chaffee, Teller, Park, Lake, Custer and Huerfano counties, he said.
Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), introduced legislation in May to preserve 1.6 million acres. About 600,000 acres of her proposal will be affected by the policy change.
She called the policy “a crime.”
Environmental groups earlier identified 3 million acres in Utah they believed should be considered for wilderness designation that can no longer be included.
Matt Baker, executive director of Environment Colorado, said, “The administration has, in effect, ruled the primary purpose of public land is to provide energy at the expense of everything else.”
Wilderness or wilderness study area designations prohibit motorized and mechanized traffic according to the 1964 Wilderness Act.
Motorized recreation enthusiasts argue the interim wilderness management guide-lines are too restrictive.
Smith said federal protection allows hunting, grazing, hiking, camping and other outdoor activities not involving motors.



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