Why We Serve: Student Leaves Campus for Boot Camp

By John J. Kruzel

American Forces Press Service  

March 21, 2008 – After completing four semesters at the University of Alabama, 19-year-old Daniel K. Winnie felt his life lacked discipline and direction. “I was sitting around enjoying college life, which was good, but I wasn’t doing much of anything else,” he recalled. At that point, about halfway through his college career, Winnie made a bold decision.  “I thought the military maybe would get me out of the rut that I was in,” he said, “and give me some other opportunities that I certainly didn’t have doing what I was doing.”  

Winnie, a native of Everett, Wash., enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1993, turning 20 years old during basic training at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego.  Now a chief warrant officer and 15-year veteran of the Corps, Winnie is one of 10 servicemembers selected to tell the military‘s story to the American public.

As a participant in the Defense Department’s “Why We Serve” outreach program, Gregg shares his tale of service at community and business events, veterans’ organizations and other gatherings.  Winnie’s first deployment to Iraq in 2003 truly opened his eyes, he said. For some, the raging battle between coalition forces and insurgents brought out the worst, he recalled, but for others it brought out the best.  Winnie, a communication electronics platoon commander, remembers being with his unit near Nasiriyah, Iraq, in what he described as a “free fire” zone — a designated area in which weapons may be fired with minimal restrictions.  “There was a goat herder who had gotten lost, and lost his entire herd, and was headed into (the free fire zone). Of course, he didn’t really know what was going on,” he said.  

Compounding the herder’s trouble was the fact that his donkey, which he used to corral his flock, had wandered onto the deadly tract of land. Then, one of Winnie’s fellow Marines intervened in a display of compassion for the Iraqi man.  “A guy that was working for me went out there in the open, got this guy, and personally walked him over to get his donkey,” Winnie recalled with some laughter. “The grown man got back on and rode this donkey — which wasn’t a whole lot bigger than a German shepherd — and got his sheep back.”  

Instead of ignoring the herder, Winnie’s fellow Marine was willing to help him recover his “scraggly, scrawny donkey” and sheep, the chief warrant officer said. “That was wonderful,” said Winnie, noting that the herder’s two young sons and daughter observed as the Marine helped their father regain his cherished possessions.  On his second deployment, Winnie witnessed a larger-scale transformation occur during his nine months in Iraq’s Anbar province.  

Upon his unit’s arrival in the war-torn province in January, insurgents regularly engaged the Marines with indirect fire, he recalled. But by mid-April, a strange phenomenon occurred: the firing stopped.  Winnie attributed the security improvement to several factors stemming the new strategy implemented by Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of Multinational Force in Iraq. In addition, he said, U.S. operators began to solidify their relationships with Iraqi government officials and local tribal sheiks, as Iraqis themselves tired of the radical insurgency.  

The subsequent progress was later dubbed the “Anbar Awakening,” a societal purging of extremism by Anbaris that ushered in a level of stability unprecedented since U.S. operations in Iraq began.  “It was like a light switch had been turned on,” Winnie said of the sudden security improvements in the province. “2007 will go down as the turning point in this entire story, and I was there for it.”  Winnie said despite receiving some tough questions during Why We Serve events, he enjoys getting the chance to address an audience that is unaccustomed to hearing an unfiltered story from a U.S. servicemember.  

“Every experience I’ve had has been wonderful,” he said. “The people that are hearing it are hungry for (firsthand) information.”


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