It was a privilege to meet “JD” (Jon) Derhammer, a 21-year-old Marine Lance Corporal, who will return to Iraq this month for his second deployment. A Trail resident, Derhammer was home on leave, visiting his family and reminiscing about the potential career he gave up when he felt called to serve his country.
Before Iraq, Derhammer, a 2006 graduate of Eagle Point High School and Volunteer Firefighter at Fire District 4, was well on his way to becoming professionally competitive in Motocross racing. He followed in his father’s footsteps. His father, local Contractor Jon Derhammer, had been a professional Motocross “support” rider who taught JD to ride at an early age. After winning trophies in the Junior class and achieving top five finishes in the Intermediate class, JD unfortunately suffered serious injuries while competing in Reno, Nevada.
The accident occurred around Thanksgiving and bad weather forced JD to settle down while he recovered. Sitting around got him thinking. 9/11 had made a big impression on the teen and he also had a strong interest in the military, garnered partially by watching war movies. As a result, three months before high school graduation, JD joined the Marine Corps.
As photos in the home reflect, JD was a boy when he went to Iraq. He came home a man; a man who was awarded the “Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal” for his accomplishments. His Battalion was the first to leave Iraq without a casualty. JD is proud of that statistic, as he should be. He also had a new perspective on war, quite different from when he watched movies.
Three days after boot camp, JD got off a plane in Kuwait in late April 2007and was hit with 145 degree weather. After classes to get acclimatized, JD flew to the City of Ramadi where his platoon trained Iraqi Police and the Iraqi Army. His platoon had such a rapport with the Iraqis, that when they went home the District Iraqi Police Chief had tears in his eyes when he said good-bye to the Americans.
Although it was hot in full military gear and the water so overheated that it burned the throat, JD was glad to be in Iraq. He felt he was helping all Americans by fighting terrorists on Iraqi soil to keep them away from the U.S. Iraq was full of insurgents from all countries. “Iraq was just the battleground for all,” JD reflected. The Americans fighting were mostly teenagers and some men in their early twenties.
Besides training Iraqis, JD’s platoon also searched door-to-door for weapon caches. JD did not reveal much about those operations. He said quietly, “What happens over there, stays over there.” Morale was good much of the time although it had its phases. Sometimes tension was so high, laughter was used to relieve the pressure. And when the men had time off, sleep was the number one priority. (JD’s platoon had no women.)
JD and the others got to know the Iraqi people. The children and adults genuinely liked the “Warriors” as Marines are called. The kids always wanted candy from the American’s packages from home. Occasionally, military personnel were invited to a meal by the Iraqis. Home cooked food was a real treat after the not so tasty military ready to eat meals (MRE). Smiling, JD swore that one MRE had the words “good for animals and military” printed on the package.
When JD first got to Ramadi, sewage ran through the streets and there was little electricity. Although, he lived in a house, there was not much water for showering. And the marketplace had one or two shops with few goods and broken windows.
By the time JD left Iraq, Ramadi was in better shape with repaired roads, generators and sewers. He said there was more electricity in the city then when Dictator Saddam Hussein was in control. The power produced at that time was sent to Baghdad. There was more running water and the marketplace was once again busy. Farmers were back in the fields. JD felt a sense of accomplishment.
Meanwhile back at home, JD’s parents Jon and Becky hung in there waiting for their son to return. Their faith and strong support from members of Trail Christian Fellowship got them through the hard times. A “My Space” account offered plenty of communication with JD. Even if he did not have time to answer a posting, the account showed whether JD had viewed the message. It was a relief to the family. Photos flew back and forth. And the family also talked on the phone.
Finally JD came home. He found some of his Motocross friends had turned professional and that two had died while competing. He wanted one last ride on a Motocross track before returning to Iraq. His father took him to the American Motocross Association national races at Washougal, Washington. The owner of the track learned that JD wanted to ride a few times around the track.
The wish was granted and JD had the track to himself this July 26 while 30 to 40,000 spectators watched. As he raced his orange colored KTM motorcycle, JD heard loudspeakers announcing who he was and why he was there. His ride was accompanied with a standing ovation with cheers, whistles and thumbs-up. He could barely see the track because, as this seasoned Warrior confessed, he had tears in his eyes. When he finished, he was thanked over and over by the people, for his service in Iraq. JD stressed that being thanked made his time in Iraq worth it. And he also said the ride “got the demon off my back” over the loss of his two friends to the perils of Motocross racing.
By Margaret Bradburn
Of the Independent