Combat vet: 'I didn't want to let anyone down'
By Sgt. Len Langston
| | October 15, 2004
MARINE CORPS RECRUIT DEPOT SAN DIEGO, Calif. --
The staff sergeant said his confidence and training suited him for leading Marines into battle, but his fear of not doing the right thing and seeing his men hurt troubled him.Staff Sgt. Jason M. Cantu is now a drill instructor making Marines with Company D, which graduates more than 500 Marines today. But before he was a DI, he was leading men in combat.Before boarding the USS Portland on its voyage to the Persian Gulf, his father, a Vietnam veteran, said, "Take care of those Marines." And on January 15, 2003 the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade shoved off with more than 7,000 Marines, sailors and soldiers.Recalling a conversation before the war began in Iraq, Cantu said his father told him, "They're going to be looking up to you," referring to the Marines in his charge. Cantu was platoon sergeant for 3rd Platoon, Company A, 1st Battalion, 2nd Marines, which pushed into Baghdad and battled for An Nasiriyah.With heavy troop rotation, more and more Marines have seen combat and have received fire, including Cantu when he was in An Nasiriyah."It's kind of surreal," said Cantu. "You can't believe it at first, and initially you get rattled. You have to get up and make sure your men are in position and pushing forward. You have to make sure where the other squad is - what they're doing and what they need. I didn't want anyone hurt, and I didn't want to let anyone down."Cantu's leadership inspired his Marines to follow him and remain focused on the mission. He shouted orders to his Marines before they dismounted from the tracked vehicles: "Remember what I said: No heroes."Retired Gunnery Sgt. Jason Doran, was the company gunnery sergeant for 81 mm Mortar Platoon, Weapons Co., 1/2 and witnessed Cantu on the battlefield. He credits Cantu for keeping the company informed and having the presence of mind to move positions. "I saw that he was very confident, calm and secure during the whole time we were receiving fire," said Doran. "A lot of the Marines felt secure (with his leadership)."Cantu, who agrees that making quick decisions is critical with lives at risk, said decisiveness is important. He said that was tough, and so was tending to the welfare of his Marines."Passing the word and letting them know what was going on was important," said Cantu. "The more information that was passed on, the more the morale of the troops stayed high."The time Marines had difficulty was when they were in the defense where they had time to think. It's hard as a leader to keep the Marines focused and not become complacent."Cantu accepted the billet of company gunnery sergeant and was inundated with responsibilities. "At any opportunity, I made sure mail and chow was delivered. Once we crossed the line of departure, mail stopped being delivered for about one and a half weeks," he said. "Once (mail) started rolling, we got mail anywhere from two to three times a week, which was pretty good for a combat zone."After the battalion accomplished its mission of securing two key bridges, allowing elements of the 1st Division to move north to Baghdad, the Marines took on additional missions. According to Cantu, this included rescuing soldiers from the 507th Maintenance Co.Cantu returned to Camp Lejeune, N.C., with his unit June 22, 2003, and he said leaving that command was difficult after being a part of it for much of his 12 years in the Corps. "You build a bond, but I knew it was time to move on. I still keep in touch with some of the Marines," he said. "There isn't a day that goes go by that I don't think of our time there."