A Marine Corps Reserve unit headquartered in the San Fernando Valley has suffered 32 casualties in the war in Iraq, including four from the Los Angeles area who were wounded in fighting this week in Baghdad.
The 2nd Battalion, 23rd Marine Regiment, which has its headquarters on Balboa Avenue in Encino, was activated in February 2002 and sent to the Middle East in February of this year.
Those wounded this week include Sgt. Ryan White of Palmdale, an officer with the Devonshire Division of the Los Angeles Police Department, who was shot in the foot Wednesday, and Cpl. Jesus Vidana of Sun Valley, who suffered a serious shrapnel wound Monday. Also wounded this week, though less seriously, were Cpl. Jimy Guerralemus and Cpl. Jesus Hernandez, both of Los Angeles.
The unit has reported no fatalities in the conflict.
The five-acre Naval and Marine Corps Reserve Center on Balboa Avenue is home base to about 200 reservists who come from as far away as Sacramento. The 2nd Battalion, which also has companies at reserve centers in Los Alamitos, Port Hueneme, San Bruno, Las Vegas and Salt Lake City, totals about 900 reservists.
The battalion was created in 1942 in North Carolina. Its members saw action in World War II at Iwo Jima and Saipan, among other battles. After the war, the battalion relocated to Camp Pendleton. Converted to a reserve unit of the 4th Marine Division, the battalion was headquartered at Santa Monica in 1962, then moved to the Valley in 1973.
First Sgt. Charles Dillree, 41, praised the unit as "one of the best in the entire Marine Corps," crediting its abilities to the members being older and together longer than most outfits.
"A lot of these Marines are former active-duty Marines who are now firemen and police officers and have been together as a unit for seven, eight years," Dillree said. "When they get the call to active duty, they put down their ax or badge and put on the uniform."
White, the LAPD patrol officer, was described by his patrol commander, Los Angeles police Capt. John Sherman, as "a shining star."
"He's a real hard-working, real good officer," said Sherman, 41, a former member of the Marine unit. "In fact, we have an award waiting for him from the CHP and AAA for making so many [grand theft auto] arrests."
Vidana, 24, was the unit's most seriously injured member this week, suffering a head wound as the battalion fought as part of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force against Iraqi forces.
"He was beat up pretty tough, but he's hanging tough," Dillree said.
By Friday, Vidana's condition had improved dramatically, and his family was on its way to visit him at a military hospital in Spain.
At the Encino station, Marine Capt. Chico Manning talked about the wounded and how hard it was for him not to be with his comrades.
"Whenever I hear about a Marine getting killed or injured, it hurts. But when you can put a face on that person, it's very difficult," said Manning, 32. "I understand I have duties I'm responsible for here, but, of course, I wish I was over there."