Major Ricardo Antonio Crocker, USMC

crocker-in-iraq.jpg

RICARDO ANTONIO CROCKER

1966 to 2005

[EDITOR’S NOTE: All too soon those who gave their lives for our country vanish in a sea of casualty statistics, their character, bravery and humanity lost to all but family, friends and battle companions. To honor the fallen heroes of Iraq and Afghanistan, Précis will occasionally revisit those who have paid the ultimate price and recall some of the faces, dreams and hopes for the future that extended far beyond war.]

A lean, mean fighting machine

crocker.jpgMost knew Marine Corps Major Ricardo A. Crocker – a tall, buff, likeable guy who loved spicy food and played ball like a pro – as Rick. Legendary in Al Anbar province for his winning way with Iraqi locals, the 39-year-old Marine Reservist was equally famous in Santa Monica, CA for his work with youth through the Police Activities League (PAL). When he left for Iraq in 2004, a life-size cutout photograph of Crocker – a lean, mean fighting machine in full combat gear – stood in the detective squad bureau of the Santa Monica Police Department where he had worked for ten years.

His fellow SWAT team members, even Police Chief James T. Butts, talked to him “as if he were there,” Chief Butts said in 2005. Email, Face Book and letters kept them all in contact, Crocker’s SMPD pals, his family and friends sending so many extravagant care packages that one Marine compared Crocker’s CAG (Civil Affairs Group) house in Iraq to a “supermarket.”

Swamped with an outpouring of support from folks back home, according to Maj. Scott Kinner of Twenty-nine Palms, CA, who served with Crocker in Western Al Anbar in 2005, “Major Crocker went out of his way to be generous with all the things he received. To anyone [out there] who sent him anything-thanks! I undoubtedly ate, read, or watched some of it!”

‘I hesitate to write about this’

Crocker sent regular dispatches to his colleagues in Santa Monica, photos and emails, describing the uncomfortable conditions, the difficulty in sorting out the combatants from the friendlies, the toll on human life. “Two Marines killed, several wounded,” he wrote on Aug. 21, 2004, during his first tour of duty in Operation Iraqi Freedom II. “I was hesitant to write about this, however, it’s the reality of this place. Everyone in the battalion is getting through this.”

Except Rick Crocker didn’t get through this. He was one of three Marines killed in Haditha on May 25th, 2005 in a rocket-propelled grenade attack in the Sunni area of Al Anbar province – a vast desert region that stretches west from the cities of Fallouja and Ramadi to the Syrian border – the epicenter of the nation’s insurgency at the time.  In what was called Operation New Market, according to one account, U.S. troops moved door-to-door through largely deserted streets at 5 a.m., “drawing a noose around Haditha.”

Col. Steve McKinley, commanding officer, 5th CAG, eulogized Rick Crocker at a memorial service at Camp Falluja in 2005. “He gave of himself and every facet of his being,” McKinley said.  “He was a leader and inspired me and his Marines to do better.”

A guy who loved Harleys and most of all kids

But this is where the theatrics of a war and the generalities of well-meant phrases begin to overshadow the personal tragedy of lives abbreviated in ways that hold untold consequences for the future. The body of the man identified by his Dog Tags and the name badge on his uniform wasn’t just one of three Marines blown apart on a Haditha street. He was the son of Curtis and Jeanette; the brother of Carlos, Marisa and Maria; a surfer; a marathoner; a sport’s enthusiast, and a guy who loved Harleys and most of all kids.

Single, with no children of his own, Crocker began working with young people through the Police Activities League in 2003. The big, tough cop, who apprehended crack dealers and rounded up gang members, had a deep passion for nature and education. He supervised field trips to the Marine base at Camp Pendleton and the Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena. He taught cardiopulmonary resuscitation, wrote a grant to start a hiking class and created an SAT preparatory workshop for high school students wanting to go to college.

“He was really a happy, jovial guy,” said PAL program supervisor at the time, Karen Humphrey. The “gung-ho” Marine, she said, “really loved kids.”

An unconventional police officer

His SMPD partner, Matt Rice, described Crocker as “an unconventional police officer” who served on the SWAT team but preferred serving a community center visited each day by about 200 kids. “He was his own man,” Officer Rice said.

To students at Hermosa Valley School, Major Rick made an indelible impression as their official pen pal in Iraq. In 2005, the student body bid him a sad farewell under a canopy of dark clouds in a schoolyard ceremony and presented a $3,400 check to officers of the SMPD so that Crocker’s work with young people could continue.

crocker-painting.jpgGov. Arnold Schwarzenegger lowered the flag to half-staff at the state capital in Crocker’s honor; artist Kaziah painted an oil portrait of Crocker from a photograph and sent it to his parents, and in 2007 the California Legislature designated a segment of State Highway Route 10 within the city limits of Santa Monica as Ricardo A. Crocker Memorial Highway. Accounts of his death made the national press – from the Washington Post to the LA Times – and 1,000 mourners crowded a Santa Monica Catholic church to attend his funeral mass, distinguished by the coteries of uniformed Santa Monica Police and U.S. Marines.

We didn’t want to lose such an exceptional candidate

In his eulogy and later in interviews with the press, SMPD Chief Butts talked about hiring the extremely fit Marine captain, who had six months left to serve in the military when he first applied for a job at the department in 1995. “After interviewing Rick,” Butts said, “I did something I had never done, that was hold a police position open for him. We didn’t want to lose such an exceptional candidate.” Lieutenant Colonel William Costantini, one of Crocker’s commanding officers, said that of the 1,300 Marines trying to secure an area of western Iraq the size of West Virginia, the six members of Major Crocker’s civil affairs squad did the most important work, building schools, hospitals and talking to local leaders.

Crocker was “a legend” among the local populace of Al Anbar, according to Maj. Scott Kinner. “Every time I spoke with a local sheikh, businessman, or civilian,” Kenner wrote in 2005 in a Fallen Heroes Memorial blog hosted by the Marine Corps, “[his] name and opinions were either on their lips or in their thoughts. ‘What does Major Crocker think?’ ‘Major Crocker got us the truck.’ When people think of helping the Iraqis, they picture someone like Major Crocker.”

Tricky Ricky

Fellow Marines called him “Tricky Ricky,” recalled Sgt. A.M. Randall of Southbridge, VA, “not because of women, but because he could play ball so well.” The unit leader’s upbeat attitude, his ready grin and ability to listen especially impressed those he worked with. He never talked down to people, no matter their rank, said Randall, who termed himself a “hard headed Marine” until Major Crocker “put me gently back on track.”

Sabine, a German woman who met Crocker during a one-year stay in Hermosa Beach, spoke of his “great humor,” his dream of becoming a teacher, how they planned to arrange a “Red carpet reception” for each other when they next met – either in Cologne, Germany or Hermosa. And Roy McGinnis of Westlake Village, CA, who first met Crocker in 1961 when they served in the same Marine unit and later interviewed him for a job at the SMPD, “cried like a baby” when learning his friend was gone. Even though Crocker was his subordinate, McGinnis said, “I always addressed him as ‘Mr. Crocker’ out of respect for his loyalty and honor for both the department and the Corps.”

She wanted him to come home safe, too

Sgt. Jack R. Williams, another of Crocker’s 3rd CAG unit, recalls a family day at Camp Pendleton, when Williams’ wife invited Crocker to their home for Cajun cooking and a big crab boil after their tour in Iraq ended. “When I told my wife about his death,” Williams said, “she was deeply saddened. She told me that she remembered Major Crocker saying that he would bring me home safe. She wanted him to come home safe, too.” [KBL]

19 thoughts on “Major Ricardo Antonio Crocker, USMC

  1. Kathy says:

    Hello Katharine,
    I’m Rick Crocker’s mother and I want to thank you for the beautiful memorial you’ve written. Please feel free to print it as is. Once again, thank you and I hope to meet you in the near future.

    Jeanette Garcia

  2. oneida rodriguez says:

    Rick,another year with out you and still in pain am sure you are an angel wathing over. because you were already an angel.

    with love and respect from:
    oneida and your rugrats.

  3. Sean Lawlor says:

    I served with Rick in 5th Civil Affairs Group and am also a Police Officer in Baltimore Md. I just learned of the death of another CAG Marine, Sgt. Bill Cahir of 4th CAG in Afghanistan on Aug 13, 2009. In reflecting on Bill’s sacrifice I began to think about Rick.

    The years continue to churn on but the memories do not fade. The respect and gratitude I have for Rick will remain constant throughout my life. I will always cherish those late night conversations about police work while we were in Camp Lejeune waiting to deploy to Iraq. The advice you gave me then will be passed onto someone else who needs it one day. Thank You Rick. Semper Fidelis

  4. James Finnerty says:

    I served with Major Crocker that day in Haditha, as I was with 3/25 Kilo Company. Great man, truly. That mission was exhausting, but he kept our morale up with a great personality cracking jokes about the rubble filled rooms we used as beds. Iraqi civilian or Marine, he just had a way with us. I hope that his family is doing well and I hope that they know that despite only knowing him for a few days he is remembered by us in the infantry. It was an honor to have served with him and to get to know him. Semper Fidelis, and God bless.

  5. Steve Negri says:

    I also served with Major Crocker in Al Anbar, 5th CAG Det 4 It is hard to believe that it has been 7 years now. He was one man that everyone thought would be leading us all out of Iraq.

  6. Carol A Blais says:

    Please read, I want you to know the Major was not alone in his final moments

    Carrie Blais of Windsor is a Marine profiled in the book “Band of Sisters” about female soldiers in Iraq. Behind her are photos of herself, her father and her brother in military uniform. (Irena Pastorello/Journal Inquirer)

    By Matthew Engelhardt
    Journal Inquirer
    Published: Friday, November 28, 2008 11:19 PM EST
    WINDSOR — Three and a half years have passed but the memories of an insurgent attack in Haditha are still fresh in the mind of Marine Sgt. Carrie Blais.

    The Windsor native recalled being on the second floor of a school in the Iraqi city on a May 2005 day. She was on patrol with a unit of 50 male Marines and just one other woman.

    The Marines were on a break, their Kevlar equipment and flak jackets resting on the floor.

    Blais hit the floor as soon as the first rocket-propelled grenade came flying through the window and blew up part of the classroom. A second RPG followed, this time bringing a wall and debris down onto Blais.

    She knew things were bad. Fellow soldiers lay on the floor, many of them wounded. Blais had been trained for this moment and knew the danger, but to see it and live through it was an experience all its own.

    “I had never seen that much blood in my entire life,” Blais said of the wounded soldiers.

    Blais ran out of the room, cutting her leg, but volunteers were needed to run back in and locate where the RPGs had come from. At that point, she said, her training “kicked backed in” and she ran back into the classroom, where she tripped over someone on the floor.

    It was Maj. Ricardo A. Crocker, who just days earlier had been so welcoming to Blais and fellow Marine Priscilla Kespetik. He was mortally wounded by broken glass, and Blais held his hand as he died.

    “When you hear that last breath, it’s pretty terrible,” she said.

    There was little time to grieve. The Marines ran up two floors to another classroom. Outside, Blais could hear continued machinegun fire. She spotted an insurgent running between buildings, an AK-47 assault rifle in his hands.

    Behind her, someone urged her to fire. Blais didn’t hesitate. Later, her colleagues reminded her that killing him had saved American lives, a thought that brought her comfort.

    Once out of the schoolhouse, Blais watched with wonder as a 500-pound bomb was dropped on the building. She remembers hearing an explosion, followed by a visible wave that brought to her mind a scene from the movie “The Matrix.”

    Her role in the firefight later served as the opening paragraph for a book profiling American heroines of the Iraq war.

    In 2007, author Kirsten Holmstedt published “Band of Sisters: American Women at War in Iraq.” The book’s title mirrors Stephen Ambrose’s famed history “Band of Brothers,” which profiles the sacrifices of elite paratroopers during World War II.

    Blais features prominently in “Band of Sisters,” which analyzes the role of female soldiers during the conflict. She has parlayed her experiences into speaking engagements at schools.

    A family tradition

    Now a 31-year-old sergeant living in Windsor, Blais still could be recalled for duty in Iraq. She served 14 months overseas on two consecutive tours beginning in February 2005.

    She doesn’t relish the idea of returning, but said there’s no greater honor than to serve her country.

    “I’ve cheated death enough times to know I may not be able to again,” Blais said. “There’s only so many times you can run away from the Grim Reaper.”

    The Marine Corps always has been in her blood. Her late father, Donald Blais Sr., served in Vietnam and retired as a staff sergeant. Her brother, Donald Blais Jr., also is a staff sergeant now living in Enfield.

    Blais’ patriotism runs deep, as does her appreciation for the American flag, an emblem she says shouldn’t be waved around nonchalantly.

    “That flag represents so much,” Blais said. “It’s draped over people’s bodies as they come home.”

    Thanksgiving has taken a deeper meaning for her after previously spending the holiday in Iraq. She gives thanks for the soldiers still serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    “I missed every holiday,” she said of her time overseas. “Now the turkey tastes a little bit better.”

    Beyond the bullets

    Blais returned home with memories that go far beyond the Haditha firefight and patrols. Stationed in Al Asad in the northwest, she traveled throughout the country with different units on missions both hostile and humanitarian.

    She strongly appreciates the latter, especially a “soul kitchen” mission in the city of Husaybah. The unit was assigned to pass out blankets, meals, heaters, and other supplies to civilians.

    Blais said things got interesting when the other Marines began leaving for patrols. She soon found herself alone with just American-trained Iraqi security forces. She overcame a language barrier and worked together with the men to continue the mission.

    “We cranked it out really good,” she said, laughing at the response from the Iraqi children. Above all other souvenirs, they wanted pens and celebrated receiving them as gifts.

    Blais learned much about the Iraqi culture, having been quartered many times by civilians who freely offered food and hospitality.

    It’s those people, Blais said, she is most fearful about abandoning should the U.S. pull out of Iraq too quickly.

    “There are really good people over there, and people don’t understand that they need help,” Blais said.

    She added that regardless of what led to the war and the decision to invade, the country has a responsibility to finish what it started.

    She worries about the enemy re-entering the country as soon as the U.S. leaves, a trend she saw too often in-country when Marines would leave a town. Every time, she said, the “bad guys” would come back, and in trying to retake the city Americans would be killed.

    A woman’s role

    Blais explained that traditionally woman don’t serve as infantry in the Marine Corps. However, the country is “trying to win the hearts and minds” of the Iraqis, thus female Marines are integrated with units in respect of the local customs.

    Women are needed to search or guard other women in combat or to comfort civilians.

    Her role brought her in and out of different units. She knew many soldiers who would go on to lose their lives, and many more who still are serving even as media coverage of the war has subsided.

    Blais said she battled sexism, both from within the military and from the Iraqi people. Once she showed she could handle her duty, she won the respect of peers. Whenever a male soldier started to make a comment, she would defend herself, but said she never exploited her femininity to get ahead.

    Iraqi men sometimes objected to the female soldiers to the point where they refused to even make eye contact with her, she said.

    After being chronicled in “Band of Sisters,” Blais said, young women began contacting her about her life in the military.

    Recently, a 17-year-old girl from Michigan contacted Blais on her MySpace.com page, asking her advice about whether to enlist.

    Blais said she’s hesitant about what to say. On one hand, she’s seen war and knows the destruction and the feeling of losing a friend in battle.

    “Sometimes the hardest part is coming home and dealing with what you saw,” she said.

    Still, there’s pride in service and representing the country, something she tries to instill in students when she visits schools.

    “You tell them that serving the country is an honor,” she said. “It’s the proudest thing I’ve ever done.”

  7. jeanette garcia says:

    today, i had the courage to read your memorials. I can rest in peace knowing a fellow marine was with Rick when he took his last breath. May God bring you peace and a long life. Thank you for what you have done and continue to do. Rick’s Mother, jeanette garcia

  8. We were Rick’s adopted family in La Canada California. He often visited us as much as three times per week. My children Sabine and Simone were very close to him. He would spend hours with my girls playing with them, putting them to bed, reading them stories, watching their soccer games, and loving them. We have pictures of him all over our house. I know everyone out there knows this but he was a remarkable human being. I am a former teacher at Glendale College and taught a special program where I took students into the Rocky Mountains for two weeks. Rick assisted me on about 4 trips. He gave his time helping me with the conduct of a backpacking and road trip. My students loved him. He often was a guest lecturer in my philosophy class at the college. Rick took my girls to their first baseball game. We had plans to buy property together in New Mexico when he came home… but this did not happen. He will never be forgotten. Semper Fi Joe Puglia former Marine 1st Lieutenant. Vietnam 1970. My e-mail doctorjoe@ymail.com

  9. Franklin shank says:

    Major Crocker saved me, Corporal Shank, from a hard time. He was a great guy and cared a lot about his troops of which I was one. I was near him when this happened to him. When this happened I was sad upset and angry. Thoughts and prayers to his family.

  10. Cpl Mark Hebden says:

    I was 5th CAG stationed in Fallujah this day in 2005. 10 years ago today, heaven gained an outstanding Marine. Thinking of you today, Major Crocker.

  11. Ismael says:

    From late Apr. 2005 To Feb. 2016:
    I am in total shock! I have just learned of Rick’s death accidentally … I had the opportunity to work for Maj. Crocker as his own interpreter in his 1st and 2nd tours in Iraq. On May 15th 2005, I was supposed to come back for him after 2 weeks vacation but unfortunately I couldn’t. The way to Al Asad where we stay was occupied by insurgents. Sir, I can hardly believe that you are not still alive and your story doesn’t finish. I will retell what have you done for us and for your nation.

  12. Ryan Gulino says:

    On Saturday, May 28th, 2016 I will be participating in the 12 hour Memorial Ruck in Santa Monica, CA in honor of Maj. Ricardo Crocker. I will carry his name, pictures and story. I am a Redondo Beach resident, a former Marine, and a member of BRAVO Company, who will be putting on this ruck from 7 am to 7pm beginning at the Santa Monica Pier.
    Thank you for your service to both our country and to the City of Santa Monica. I will also be carrying the Marine Corps Flag.

  13. Andy "Goose" Geisler says:

    I remember Ric from NROTC at GWU in the ’80’s. That was a long time ago, but I can still see his face, his smile/grin, and his positive outlook. I can see him in all the memorial comments and the hopes and dreams he expressed. He was a very good man.

  14. Carlos Crocker says:

    I just read these comments again and I am confident that no matter how much time passes people will not forget about Rick. May 26 2005

  15. Valence Mitchell says:

    I worked with Rick on recruiting in the early 90’s at the OSO (Officer Selection Office). We worked together every day for about a year and a half. He was always so upbeat and energetic. I miss him every day. I will never forget him. He left a huge positive mark on me. I know he’s up there making God laugh. Semper Fi brother.

  16. Patrick J. Carroll says:

    Dear Jeanette and Carlos,
    Rick was one of my best friends from our college days, and I was commissioned with him into the Marine Corps back in 1989. I found this website trying to tell a friend about your son…and am glad to see the comments and your replies. Your son will absolutely never be forgotten by all of his friends at George Washington University, in the Marine Corps, and I am sure in the Santa Monica Police Department. He was a superb human being and a great friend. I was in Fallujah when Rick was in Haditha back in May 2005. I am back in Iraq myself – working for the United Nations Development Program – continuing the work your son was doing; helping the Iraqis in Al-Anbar to rebuild their communities. I will always remember, Rick…both here and when I am back in the States. God bless you and your family.
    Semper Fidelis, Pat Carroll

  17. SgtMaj Scott Baker (Ret) says:

    I think of Major Crocker often. It still hurts but I honor him and thank God that he put him in my life, even if it was just for a short time. God Bless his family and friends.

  18. Anthony Tarver says:

    The Boys of Bravo 2ndLt Crocker 1/5 B Co 1st Platoon. Platoon Commander and a man among men Task Force Ripper will never be forgetting

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