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Marine 'Sweat hog' back in Donora after Iraq tour

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Tuesday, March 21, 2006

DONORA - On Brandon Zuraw's right forearm is a tattoo of Psalm 23, Verse Four.

The familiar words - "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me" - are especially significant for the Donora man who recently returned home after serving with the U.S. Marine Corps in Iraq.

As a child, Brandon Zuraw would listen intently as his father told him stories of his 22-year naval career.

"My dad would always tell me about being on the ship, being in different countries," Zuraw said. "I thought that sounded interesting, just not on a ship."

The 2002 Ringgold High School graduate was still in school when he enlisted in the Marines.

He went to boot camp in Paris Island, S.C., in August 2002.

At Camp Lejeune, Zuraw received Marines Corps Combat Training.

He then attended Motor Transport Training School at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., and subsequently was assigned to a transport support battalion at Camp Foster, Okinawa, Japan.

He returned to the states, where, at Beaufort, S.C., he was assigned to the Marine Wing Support Squadron 273, nicknamed the "Sweat hogs."

He was eventually among 80 "Sweat hogs" reassigned to the Marine Wing Support Squadron 272 for deployment to Iraq.

A refueler, Zuraw was sent to Iraq Aug. 17, 2005, and assigned to Camp Al Asad Air Base. His task was to support the Marine fighter squadron, which flew reconnaissance as well as support for ground troops and convoys.

"You're apprehensive because it's your first time," Zuraw said of his deployment in Iraq.

That apprehension was enhanced when mortar rounds landed in the base, as close as 100 yards from Zuraw. But by the end of October, no more mortars made their way into the base.

The Iraqi people are happy with the U.S. involvement in their country, Zuraw said.

"The American people don't get to see all of the good things that are occurring," Zuraw said.

Iraq along the roads outside the base was almost desolate during the day. But at night, there is a fear factor because there is uncertainty of whether someone is lurking behind a rock or in a ditch to attack, Zuraw said.

That was evident one night when he and another Marine were sent out to refuel a helicopter off base.

"We came under a little fire," said Zuraw, who caught a small piece of shrapnel under his chin.

Even after leaving Iraq, Zuraw said he experiences apprehension in large populated areas. But he did not fear the worst when he attended a recent Pittsburgh Penguins game and the lights went out twice during the game.

"I said, 'Didn't Mario pay the electric bill?'" he recalled, jokingly referring to team owner Mario Lemieux.

On leave now, he is expected to finish out his enlistment at Beaufort, S.C.

When his enlistment expires Aug. 4, the former military police officer plans to attend college to study political science/criminal justice.

When Zuraw returned home March 9, a sign draped across the hearth in the living room of the family's Walnut Street exclaimed: "Oo-rah. Welcome Back, Brandon. Thank God for bringing my son home from Iraq. I am proud of you. I love you."

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