Marine Officer in Iraq Killed — While Escorting Journalists

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By: Greg Mitchell

Marine Maj. Megan M. McClung, of Coupeville, Wash., has died in Iraq, becoming the top-ranking female Marine officer to be killed in the conflict. She was in charge of working with journalists embedded with the Marines.

McClung, 34, was a public affairs officer assigned to the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force Headquarters out of Camp Pendleton. She died last Wednesday in Anbar province, the Pentagon said in a news release today.

The circumstances surrounding McClung’s death were not immediately released, but Camp Pendleton spokesman Navy Lt. Cmdr Cliff Carnes said she was escorting media when she was killed. The journalists she was with were not seriously injured, he said. The Orange County Register, however, reports that “a roadside bomb blew up the truck she was riding in” around Ramadi. Two others were killed then.

“She was a Marine’s Marine,” Carnes said, according to an Associated Press report. “She exemplified everything that it was to be a warrior, she was a great personality and a great friend.”

Her boss in Iraq, Lt. Col. Bryan Salas, said McClung was an advocate of media coverage of military operations — and she managed the Marine media embed program.

Michael Fumento, a freelance reporter who has been to Iraq three times, met McClung in Baghdad last year. He described her as smart, kind and extremely efficient. Other journalists have quickly hailed her in online “tribute” pages to the Iraq fallen.

Lawrence F. Kaplan writes today at the New Republic online: “Major Megan McClung is my guardian angel today. McClung, a Marine officer, Naval Academy graduate, and most recently, the public affairs officer for the 1st Armored Divison’s First Brigade Combat Team, choreographed my present journey through Iraq.

“As every journalist who has spent time in the American military universe here knows, public affairs officers in Iraq can make your life a mess or they can make it bearable. Whether securing me a seat on a flight that no one else knew existed, scoring an interview for me with a Sunni sheikh in Ramadi, or responding quickly and indulgently to the most inane questions a writer could think to ask, McClung did a difficult job cheerfully and she did it well…. It is why reporters admired her. And it is why this sharp and talented young woman, who was killed by a roadside bomb a few days ago in Ramadi, can never be replaced.”

Carnes said McClung, who was unmarried, was in the final month of a yearlong deployment to Iraq.

An Orange County (Ca.) Register story — she hailed from Mission Viejo — noted that her mother said she always ended her press briefings with “Be bold, be brief and be gone.” Her mother added: “Megan lived by her own words.”

The Register related: “Even in war, the 34-year-old USMC major with red hair and flashing brown eyes tried to maintain balance ? running along the Tigris at nightfall and competing in the Marine Marathon race in October in the U.S. She competed in six Ironmans and planned to run in a marathon on Sunday in Iraq.”

On Oct. 27, The Washington Post had reported that McClung last May came up with the idea for a marathon race in Iraq to parallel the Marine Corps Marathon held in Washington, D.C.

McClung joined the Marine Corps in May 1995 after graduating from the U.S. Naval Academy.

Fumento wrote at his Web site, “I only heard Marine Major Megan McClung yell once, but it was righteous anger. If this were fiction, it might be considered foreshadowing. It was at Camp Ramadi headquarters outside of the city proper and away from the hostilities. The 34-year-old McClung, head Public Affairs Officer (PAO) for Al Anbar Province, was barking at a public affairs sergeant. ‘Ramadi is the most dangerous city in Iraq and you’re going to get your men out there to cover it!'”

He then observed, “For my last embed, I was in Ramadi the whole time. But again McClung guided me so I saw what I needed to see rather than what I thought I needed to see. After each embed she diligently provided information that I’d been unable to gather in the field. I have two dozen emails from her on my computer, the last dated November 30. The lady I once begrudged I grew to have great respect for.”

Fumento added that while “most journalists heading into Ramadi require no PAO escort,” McClung “decided to accompany some reporters downtown in a separate vehicle. A tremendous blast from an improvised explosive device (IED) ripped apart their truck,” killing three.

Three other female Marines have been killed in Iraq, according to the Defense Department’s most recent numbers.

Details of McClung’s burial at Arlington National Cemetery on Dec. 18 were being finalized.

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