North Port Marine returns from duty in Iraq

Lance Cpl. Chali Wolfrom talks with his wife, Nicole, in front of his grandmother’s home in North Port, Fla.. The Marine just returned from a tour of duty in Iraq. Sun photo by Don Moore

Lance Cpl. Chali Wolfrom, a 20-year-old Marine and North Port, Fla. High School graduate, has just returned from a six-month tour of duty in Ramadi, Iraq.

“Our job was to provide security for our troops throughout the city of 450,000 people,” he explained during an interview at the home of his grandmother, Jean Steam, in North Port. “We tried to send as many patrols out into the city to see what was going on out there.”

Wolfrom, a starting nose guard for the Bobcats football team all four years until his graduation in 2007, is a member of the 2nd Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division. It’s a dangerous, dusty and sometimes depressing job, but Wolfrom says he doesn’t mind doing it for his country. Ramadi is a Sunni Muslim city, bound by the Euphrates River on the north and east. It’s part of the so-called “Sunni Triangle” and the largest city in Al-Anbar province.

“Most of the people in Ramadi are … not very happy with the Marines. The people over there know when we’re coming and give us a lot of negative gestures,” Wolfrom said. “They not only give us a bad time, but they also fight among themselves. We figure when we get out of there and go home there will be chaos among the various factions.”

His battalion of 900 Marines — five companies — is working shorthanded. When they first arrived in Ramadi on Sept. 24, 2009 there were nine Marine battalions keeping a lid on the Sunni stronghold. By the time they pulled out and went home on April 19, his was the only battalion left with boots on the ground in the city.

Wolfrom tells a story about seeing a little Sunni Muslim boy on a bicycle on a crowded street in Ramadi that changed his outlook on what he was doing and what it meant to be a Marine in Iraq.

“My unit was traveling through the city and it was a really bad day for me because some of the locals had thrown rocks at us earlier. It was hot and sandy, and the crowd that blocked the main road running through Ramadi was nasty as usual,” he said.

“In the chaos in front of us I spotted this young boy riding on the back of a bike. In the midst of all these people with rotten attitudes this little kid was blowing us kisses. As we passed by the kid on the bike I could see that he had no legs. He looked mentally challenged, and life had to be very rough for him.

“This little kid was the only person in the crowd who seemed to appreciate what we were trying to do to help him and his country. He smiled at us as we drove by and kept blowing kisses our way,” Wolfrom said. “The day I saw that little boy I realized there was at least one person who really and truly cared about our fighting ability. It gave me so much pride to think I was there helping him. This was one of the most inspirational things I experienced while in Iraq.”

Wolfrom said he wanted to thank all the people who sent him cards, letters and packages while serving in the Middle East.

“When you were over there for the holidays and you got packages from people you didn’t even know, it helped a lot,” he said. “There was also a kindergarten class that sent us cards, and included with the cards was a class picture. That was really uplifting.”

Wolfrom plans to make the Marine Corps a career. When he returns to his unit after leave, he and his wife, Nicole, will be stationed at Camp LeJeune, N.C. He can retire when he’s 38, he says.

“Having gone to Iraq really makes me appreciate what we have in the United States. Now that I’m home,” he said, “I’ll be spending as much time with my family as I can.”

This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Florida on Monday, May 18, 2009 and is republished with permission.

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