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FROM READERS: Military service inspires Stephen Webber to seek meaningful legislation for veterans

Saturday, June 9, 2012 | 6:00 a.m. CDT

Jeremy P. Amick is the public affairs officer for the Silver Star Families of America.

For many veterans, service in the armed forces instills the ability to confront complicated problems by indentifying rational and focused solutions. Such experience can be a benefit when addressing many of the issues faced by members of the state’s legislative assembly.

State Rep. Stephen Webber, D-Columbia, notes that his own military experience, including two tours of duty in Iraq, provided him with such a background.

Webber’s military service history began shortly after his graduation from Hickman High School in 2001, when he began attending classes at Saint Louis University.

“I walked into the Marine recruiter’s office and asked, ‘Do you have reserves and infantry?’ Webber said.

After the recruiter confirmed they had both, he enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserve.

In December 2002, he traveled to the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego to begin his initial training.

From there, he traveled to Camp Pendleton where he completed his infantry training, learning small unit tactics and how to operate effectively in a combat environment.

With his training complete in mid-2003, he returned to school at SLU while assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 24th Marine Regiment in St. Louis, where he began attending drills on a monthly basis.

But in January 2004, his education would have to take a break when his unit was mobilized for service in Iraq.

“We went back to (Camp) Pendleton for two months of training and arrived in Iraq in March,” Webber remarked.

The 20-year-old Marine was under the impression that their mission would be rather lackluster as he anticipated playing a peacekeeping role. But after the activity appeared to “explode” a month after he arrived, he quickly realized what it meant to be a member of the infantry.

“We were assigned to perform force protection at Abu Ghraib prison," he noted. “We were taking mortars and shot at on a regular basis. It wasn’t the worst job, but it certainly wasn’t a cakewalk either.”

After spending seven months in country, Webber returned to St. Louis and resumed his coursework at SLU.

In the fall of 2005, the Marine Corps began seeking volunteers for another deployment to Iraq.

“I thought I could be helpful (on the deployment) since I’d been there before and I knew how things worked. ... So I volunteered,” he explained.

In May the following year, he graduated from SLU with a bachelor’s degree in economics but was unable to attend his graduation ceremony since he was in Camp Pendleton training for his second deployment.

Webber notes that the six-month cycle of training he received was slightly more intense than the previous; they were now being trained to “fight the war” — not serve as peacekeepers.

Arriving in Iraq in September 2006, Webber’s battalion was assigned to Fallujah, in order to patrol a city rife with opposition.

“At that time Bin Laden was encouraging everyone to come and fight to take the city back,” Webber remarked.

As part of their duties, Webber led a squad of 13 Marines. He notes they engaged in firefights almost daily and participated in raids and ambushes — sometimes becoming victims of ambushes themselves.

During their deployment, Webber said, the battalion incurred almost 50 casualties in an eight-month period.

The young Marine returned from Iraq in May 2007 and enmeshed himself in the political sphere when he went to work for Senator McCaskill in June 2007.

In 2008, Webber left the Marine Corps Reserve after completing his initial enlistment and made the decision to pursue his own career in politics. Later that year, he ran for the Missouri legislature, winning the seat for the state’s 23rd District. He was re-elected in 2010.

Possessing combat experience that tends to be rare among his lawmaking counterparts, Webber asserts that his focus is on legislation that has a tangible benefit to the veteran.

“Some lawmakers want to propose legislation that looks good and patriotic on paper, but that doesn’t really provide any tangible benefit to the veteran,” he explained.

“In my view, using the insight gained from my military service to advocate for real benefits for others who have sacrificed is part of my role as a state representative.”

This story is part of a section of the Missourian called From Readers, which is dedicated to your voices and your stories. We hope you'll consider sharing. Here's how. Supervising editor is Joy Mayer.


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