Corporal Alex Cornell du Houx returns home from the front lines in Iraq

Governor John Baldacci at his Inauguarl with Marine Cornell du Houx

The excitement in the air was palpable as over 250 family, friends, and dignitaries, including Governor Baldacci, waited for the bus that carried 56 Marines home on the last leg of a journey that started a year ago when they were informed of their impending deployment to Iraq on December 1.

After seven months on the front lines in Fallujah, everyone from Maine’s Alpha Company was about to be reunited with loved ones. Escorted to the base in Topsham by the State and Topsham police, with the Topsham Fire Department, the sound from the sirens made it clear they were on the way.

Cheers and tears of joy filled the area, and finally one by one they disembarked from the bus.

In Iraq the unit had a variety of jobs, including convoys, guard duty, security patrols to find IEDs (roadside bombs), ambushes, manning observation posts, and targeting houses. The men conducted operations in and around the city, ranging from humanitarian relief to uncovering weapons caches.

"I know one of them pretty well; he’s a real leader," said Governor Baldacci, referring to Alex Cornell du Houx, who had worked in the governor’s office. "We’re all very proud of him, and the entire unit. Their ethic and tradition about service to country, service to the state, and service to others always comes first. It’s a great day for the state of Maine."

Cornell du Houx had been politically active before deployment.

"It’s not a contradiction to be actively involved in the Democratic Party and actively involved in the military. In fact, they should go hand in hand, because both should be a service to one’s country," said Cornell du Houx in an interview with NBC, before he departed for Iraq.

Governor Baldacci welcomes Marine Alex Cornell Du Houx home from Iraq. photo by Ramona du Houx

Cornell du Houx served two consecutive terms as co-president of the Maine College Democrats, where he helped the organization grow from three to 23 chapters and publish the only statewide College Democrats newspaper in the nation, as they became a strong political force.

In his free time at college, Cornell du Houx, a government and history major, volunteered for Habitat for Humanity, tutored students in the local Brunswick schools, and promoted youth issues with AdCare Educational and Campus Compact.

Cornell du Houx, a 0351 assaultman who works with explosives, was promoted to corporal in Iraq and will return to being a senior at Bowdoin College. He said the fact that the Maine unit all made it home is a testament to the skill and proficiency of Alpha Company.

"As one can imagine, the life of a Marine is a very different experience from the civilian world. Living in plywood huts, one hot meal a day, with no females present, cut off from the rest of the world, accompanied by the training and mentality needed to kill the enemy, creates a unique atmosphere," said Cornell du Houx, as he went on to describe more of what he had seen in Iraq.

"One of the major problems facing Iraq is that it really has no civil society. This is apparent when patrolling and talking with the Iraqi Army and civilians. I only saw a few soccer games during the whole time I was over there. Everyone simply comes home from work and disappears behind their compounds. Even the poorest houses are walled in with dried reeds. I’ve seen families visit each other, but the only clubs, activist or social groups, that come to mind are the religious gatherings.

"Another grave problem is the increased subjugation of women and the quest to control the education system. In my area it wasn’t uncommon to see women working in the fields harvesting hay while dressed in what we called ‘ninja outfits’, since all one can see are two slits for their eyes. In some wealthier areas the dress code was much more relaxed, but whenever we entered a house, the women would huddle in a corner, while the man of the house, even if it is a kid, came to talk with us. They are treated as second-class citizens, and I observed someone driving a blue Bongo, passenger seat empty, while the woman was outside in the cargo section of the truck," said the corporal.

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Local high school students asked for autographs from Corporal Cornell du Houx.

"One of the issues we had as Marines was the fact that we are trained to accomplish the mission and destroy the enemy. However, in this war we are forced to act as police. It’s really a hard line to play, since you have to assume everyone around you is there to kill you, yet you have to act very respectful and pretend that that’s not what you are thinking. This is different from being a police officer where your major task is to look at everyone as if you are protecting them. This makes our job inherently harder."

Although Maine’s unit all came home healthy, the New England battalion they are attached to lost 11 dedicated Marines.

"Aside from the occasional ‘Saddam’s revenge’, we managed to stay quite healthy ‘in country’," said Cornell du Houx. "As far as our attitude toward being blown up goes — one can do everything right and still be hit by a roadside bomb, so we’d joke around and focus on being vigilant."

As of Friday, Nov. 25, 2006, at least 2,871 members of the U.S. military have died since the beginning of the Iraq War in March, 2003.