“You could see the lightning going through the clouds,” said Oakes, now 28, “it
was beautiful and annoying – annoying because we had to live in it.”
Oakes, who completed three combat tours of duty while serving in the Marines,
including one to Afghanistan in 2002, another in 2003 and a deployment to Iraq
in 2005, has since become a Federal Correctional Officer – and among the things
he cannot forget about his time overseas are those mountains.
“They were just beautiful,” said Oakes, who enlisted in 2002. “I’ve never been
up so high and there’s just nothing up there. We’d hike for days and days and
not see anyone.”
And then there was the day that made the mountains truly unforgettable. On June
24, 2004, while on a reconnaissance patrol in Kunar Province, Oakes lost best
friend, Juston Thacker, when the group was ambushed by the Taliban. Oakes was
on a neighboring hilltop when his friend radioed for help.
“It was more than I wanted to see in combat,” said Oakes through his quiet
Despite still being in his twenties, Oakes’ glassy blue eyes tell a troubling
story. The small scars on his hands and face illustrate the toll the wars have
taken on his young body. He only ever talks about his time overseas when asked,
and he never boasts about what he’s been through – it’s not something to brag
about, he said.
From a young age Oakes, who’s always had a long and lean body frame, had been
taught to shoot a gun. And growing up in a rural mid-western New Hampshire town
provided the perfect place to learn.
“He was a natural,” said Oakes’ dad, John, who bought his son his first rifle
when he was 12. “He grew up in the woods. Not everyone gets that kind of
experience. We always shot.”
With those skills, Oakes served his first tour as a sniper – but it wasn’t his
first plan. After graduating Newport Middle High School in 2001, Oakes had
plans to play baseball in college. And then September 11 happened.
“I felt like I had a job to do,” said Oakes. “It was my calling and what I
believe was the right thing to do at that time.”
While serving as a sniper in Afghanistan in 2002, Oakes over-watched security
for the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, which included high-profile visitors like then
secretary of state Colin Powell and secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld.
For his service, then U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan, Robert Finn, awarded
Oakes a Certificate of Appreciation for protecting him and other embassy
“I look at that deployment as a workout for the rest of my deployments,” said
Oakes, who described the deployment as “good” because he didn’t get shot at
frequently. “We were there just in case – we sat on rooftops – my other
deployments we were out on patrols, we were fighting.”
For his latter two deployments, Oakes received two Medals with Combat Valor for
heroic actions. But it didn’t come without a price. While overseas, Oakes
estimates that he’s lost 15 friends. One thing he prides himself on is that he
never lost someone he was in charge of.
“I got them home. It was my job,” said Oakes with a silent sigh.
After three deployments in four short years, Oakes was honorably discharged
from the Marines in 2006 and has since worked at Fort Devens in Massachusetts
for the Federal Bureau of Prisons. But his time in the Marine Corps, especially
while overseas, is never far from his mind.
“Everyday there’s something that reminds me about each deployment,” said Oakes.
“It’s one of those things that’s always there.”
Navy, 23rd Special Construction Battalion (“Seabee”)
At age 17, Joe joined the US Navy and
trained in the Great Lakes area and Hawaii. He was assigned to the 23rd
Special Seabees. At that time, the US Navy was still segregated so Joe trained
and served with only black servicemen. On D+5, Joe landed on the small island
of Iwo Jima; his job was to prepare roads, unload ships, take ammunition to the
front lines, and build tents. Despite the battle ending after 36 days of
fighting, Joe stayed on Iwo Jima for 6 months where he and the Seabees cleaned
up the island. Following service in Okinawa, he was honorably discharged in
February 1946. In March 2012, Joe will return to Iwo Jima for the first time in
almost seven decades, sponsored by Denver-based, non-profit organization The
Greatest Generations Foundation.
Cpl. Brandon T. Palaoro served with 3/1 India company for the United States Marine Corps from 2004-2008, with two deployments. His first deployment was to Haditha, Iraq in 2005. His second deployment was with 13 MEU SOC, to Iraq. He was injured on his second deployment and received a Purple Heart medal. Now that he is out of the Marine Corps he lives in Chandler, Arizona with his wife and son. He works as an armed guard and is working on getting hired with the local police department.
Bryan Randolph was in the military from October 1998 through September 2009. He was with the 1/505, 82nd airborne. He was deployed in Afghanistan from July 5th 2003 through February 12, 2004. Iraq, March 2004-August 2004, Iraq again from October 2004 to May 2005. Afghanistan again from October 2005 to November 2005 and Iraq once again from August 2006 to December 2007. Bryan currently resides in Cortez Colorado working at Vista Mesa Assisted Living and attending college full time. His parents are Leon and Mary Randolph and he has a sister, Amber Randolph.