Rally around: Retired Marine praising young patriots

Wednesday, June 15, 2011
DAR Robert Lewis Chapter regent Dixie Waters, left, speaks with retired Maj. Amy Irvin, USMC, right, just before the chapter's annual Flag Day ceremony at the log cabin on Cornersville Highway.

A "positive message about the young people of today" was delivered Tuesday at the log cabin in Memorial Park where Yell Road splits from Cornersville Highway, according to participants attending the annual Flag Day observance.

Retired U.S. Marine Corp Maj. Amy Irvin, 43, guest speaker for the Robert Lewis Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, served in Iraq as a battalion executive officer and company commander, thereby providing leadership for 150 to 1,200 Marines.

Irvin observed young Marines delivering "the best possible response under very difficult circumstances from full combat to establishing elections" in Iraq, she said during two telephone interviews prior to her remarks.

She decided against approaching her Flag Day remarks from an historic perspective. Instead, Irvin described "some of the things our country and flag stand for."

She lives on Cornersville Highway with her husband, the Rev. Mark Irvin, pastor of the First United Methodist Church in Lewisburg. They've been married four years. The Irvins moved to Lewisburg on the July 4th weekend last summer.

She was in the Marines 20 years and five months. From September 2004 to March 2005 she was in Iraq, including work in Fallujah.

She did not mention it, but that was six months after Iraqi insurgents ambushed Blackwater USA military contractors; dragged them from cars, beat them; set them on fire; and hung the burned bodies from a Euphrates River bridge. The war intensified. Casualties increased. Allegations were made.

Some Marines, after 12 days of fighting, she said, were "volun-told" for missions that "an 18-, 19-, 20-year old would not raise a hand for."

That included "mortuary affairs," collecting remains for public health and intelligence reasons. "Sometimes they'd go out under gunfire for recovery."

Those missions required treatment of remains with respect under Western traditions and those of Muslims, she said. Imams were consulted.

Young people from the United States in the military saw combat, stability and security and, she said, the military is not necessarily equipped to conduct elections.

"We had to learn a lot on the fly," she said. "I was a communications officer, utilizing new technology with environmental factors that made it challenging."

During telephone interviews, Irvin claimed no glory and was proud of "what our young people are doing."

Therefore, she delivered "a positive message" on Flag Day.

"Whether someone supports what our government is doing," Irvin said, "There are young people who have stepped up... It's challenging and scary at times."

Still, Americans "will have a generation of people who understand sacrifice and will be great citizens."

Monday, she was asked for her thoughts on the death of Osama bin Laden.

It was "a tremendous victory for all Americans ... an event that any American should be able to rally around," she said, using that phrase about the American flag, something that people can rally around.

Asked if it was hard to be a woman in the Corps, she said her answer "will probably be surprising to most. When I joined, I was older, so it was harder."

She was a private, but she was also a recent college graduate, more mature than someone just out of high school, and she was taking orders from younger Marines with rank.

It was also about the time of what The New York Times described as the "the infamous Tailhook convention ... the scene of physical assaults in which unwilling women were grabbed, fondled and partially disrobed. The Navy says 140 Navy and Marine pilots assaulted 83 women."

"I did put up with some things before we got serious" about sex harassment, Irvin said. However, "I never felt limited about being a woman. The Marine Corps is extremely mission oriented, so anyone who has talent... to get the job done... is treated like a Marine and that's all we could ask for. I was always treated like a capable Marine."

She also recalls having "tremendous mentors" and hopes she was able to do the same.

Because of those qualities, Irvin said she believes that "what the DAR stands for will be perpetuated."

Irvin is a self-described "northern transplant" from Hershey, Pa. She took a "circuitous route" into the Marines and to Tennessee. She went to Duquesne University in Pittsburgh on a basketball scholarship to study psychology, a practice that wasn't to be a career path for her.

Graduate school wasn't an option, so she answered a couple of help wanted ads. Both turned out to be vacuum cleaner sales. She tried it not once, but twice and it was humorous after the fact. She looked for a regimented lifestyle to be built on the discipline she had as a student. In civilian job interviews she was found to be either over qualified or without enough experience.

Of course she went to Parris Island for basic training and she served at several bases in southern California, but during her first five years in the Corps, she was the photographer for the commandant of the Marine Corps and went to Capital Hill and White House functions during the administrations of George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton.

During her last assignment, she worked at Quantico, Va., as a teacher in the Expeditionary Warfare School for captains of all branches of the military, including other students from NATO countries.

Students were selected for their ability and career path. As a major she was a faculty advisor, a position comparable to a professor in a civilian university. She taught several classes and seminars on communications and amphibious warfare.

"I was the first female to teach there... and have a lot of good friends still there."

Irvin is currently organizing her final application to be a member of the DAR. Her great, great, great, grandfather fought at Trenton and Valley Forge.

She and her husband moved here from northern Virginia.