Marine Sgt. Baleny Minas talks about her five months at war

Glendale News Press
August 9, 2004

‘I felt so awful being there’
Marine Sgt. Baleny Minas talks about her five months at war and how
they have shaped her political beliefs.

By Josh Kleinbaum, News-Press

NORTHEAST GLENDALE – The welcome back sign stretched across the stairway
just inside the front door, and a rainbow of colored balloons littered
the floor. Just outside the door, a balcony overlooked the Chevy Chase
Canyon, Glendale’s bastion of fiscal conservatives and protectors of the

The neighborhood is one of wealth and influence. The Chevy Chase Canyon
is not a hot spot for the Army or Marine recruiters, and the war in Iraq
seems far removed.

Sitting on the back porch of her parents’ house, with the Jacuzzi in
front of her and the garden behind her, Marine Sgt. Baleny Minas seemed
a bit out of place talking about her five months in Iraq. She admitted
that she lives like a princess, quite different from most of the
soldiers with whom she serves. For nearly an hour, Minas talked about
her experiences in Iraq – she returned Aug. 2 and how they shaped her
political beliefs. She vented some frustration, but also toned down her
words, concerned about retribution when her weeklong leave from the
Marines is over.

“I felt so awful being there,” said Minas, who managed test gear for
attack helicopters at a Marine base near Fallouja. “The reasons for the
war have yet to be justified by the administration, and here I am
oppressing a people, much like my people have been oppressed. I’m
Armenian American. We’ve been oppressed. I felt like I don’t belong

Politics are a strong part of Minas’ life. The daughter of a fiscal
conservative, she always considered herself a Republican, just like her
father. In 2000, she voted for George W. Bush.

Right about that time, she enlisted in the Marine reserves.

“In 2000, [Bill] Clinton was president and the country seemed to be in
the best state,” Minas said. “We were friends with everybody in the
world. I was 20 years old, between junior college and UCLA. I decided
that it’s an opportune time, I’ll go into the reserves.”

In between her one weekend per month and two weeks per year, she started
studying politics. In 2002, she graduated from UCLA with a degree in
political science. She was working toward a master’s degree in public
policy at USC when the Marines activated her reserve unit in January.

She is determined to pursue a career in politics – not necessarily an
elected office – but her political mind-set is quite different from four
years ago. The girl who grew up a Republican now talks like a woman with
liberal ideals.

“I live for politics,” Minas said. “I talk about it all the time. I live
for it all day, I might as well get paid for it.”

Minas held back her criticism of Bush – as Commander in Chief, he is her
boss. Instead, she let her stories tell the tale.

– Tired, overworked troops in her squadron could not sleep because the
generators that powered the air-conditioning units kept breaking.

– The squadron participated in exercises in “nation-building,” when
Iraqis came onto the Marine camp and filled sandbags with the muzzles of
American machine guns trained on them.

– The mortar attacks on the base were part of the job. Sometimes there
were 10 in a day, sometimes a month went by between attacks.

– A pilot, well- respected and popular in the squadron, died from a
gunshot wound to the neck while in flight, the squadron’s only casualty.

“There’s something about being in the military, it’s business as usual,”
Minas said. “You get mortared, and then everybody looks around and says,
‘I’m still alive.’ That mentality, it grows on you. Fear is not an

While Minas served her time, her family worried. Family friends asked
why they didn’t try to use their money and influence to get her out of
the military. Her brother Shant, fresh out of the Army himself, said
they lived by an honor code.

“If they say you go, you go,” said Shant Minas, whose Army unit went to
Iraq just after his release in April 2003. “Our way of dealing with it,
all of us, we kept ourselves deliberately extra busy the whole time.
We’re just really, really glad to have her back. Words can’t describe
the emotions that we feel, the happiness to have her back. We were
nervous people when she was gone.”

On Sunday, Baleny Minas returned to Camp Pendleton, leaving behind the
comforts of Chevy Chase Canyon. She must prepare the camp for the
arrival of the rest of her squadron, who will not return from Iraq until
early September. Their one-year stint on active duty has already been
extended for a second year, and she has already been told to expect
another trip to Iraq in March.

“I’m honored to serve with the people I’ve served with,” Minas said.
“I’m in an outstanding squadron with exceptional Marines. There’s an
incredible amount of discipline. I just wish these kids actually knew
what they were doing, what’s going on in this war. It’s a silence

From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress