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Photo by Cpl. Adam Leyendecker

Rochester Marines friendship extends to the front lines

21 Apr 2011 | Cpl. Adam Leyendecker

From fishing on the frigid lakes of Minnesota to fighting insurgents in the dry deserts of Afghanistan, two Marines have been there side by side, as they witnessed each other grow from kids to men and then to warfighters.

Lance Cpl. Matthew C. Rehbein, section leader, and Lance Cpl. Justin D. Batterson, designated marksman, both belong to 1st platoon, A Company, 3rd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion. They are deployed to southern Helmand province, Afghanistan, where they face an insurgent force armed with improvised explosive devices and small arms fire.

Their relationship started in first grade at Washington Elementary School in Rochester, Minn., where they grew up together.

As kids, they were already showing signs of the warrior mentality.

“We used to always battle each other or together through nerf wars or paintball wars,” said Rehbein.

As teenagers, both attended Rochester Century High School, where they played on the same teams in hockey, football and baseball. It was in the early stages of high school, at age 16, when they both began to have aspirations of joining the Marine Corps.

It was also in high school where Batterson met his fiancée, Anna, and Rehbein met his wife, Dominica. The two women moved in with each other for two years while they attended college at the University of Minnesota.

After high school, Batterson was able to convince Rehbein to wait one year before they decided to enlist in the Marines. In the meantime, Rehbein found a job making good money as a trucker.

After a year had passed, Rehbein recalls Batterson telling him, “Let’s get it started.” From there, the two friends enlisted in the Marine Corps and shipped off to basic training at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego in September 2008.

At basic training they went through challenges they hadn’t yet faced during their many years together. During the crucible their strength was tested as they climbed a mountain -- with a full combat load on their backs -- so steep that one could practically stand straight up and still touch the ground in front of them.

Upon graduation, the two buddies returned to Rochester and took their two girls out to a restaurant in their dress blue uniforms, where an older man paid for their meals and thanked them for serving their country.

After spending Christmas in Minnesota, the two Marines reported to Camp Pendleton, Calif., where they attended the school of Infantry together. After completing infantry school, the Marines reported to their current assignment with 3rd LAR in Twentynine Palms, Calif.

“When we arrived at 3rd LAR there were about 11 of us and we were asked to be divided into two lines,” said Batterson. “Rehbein joined me in Company A line and so we remained with each other in the same company.”

It didn’t take long for the two Marines to get settled in. Though the two were at a duty station in the middle of the desert in California, they were still only three hours from Las Vegas, where they celebrated Batterson’s 21st birthday.

Their first deployment with each other was with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit. During the five months spent out at sea they spent time in Okinawa, Japan, and also travelled to the Philippines to help out with typhoon recovery efforts.

In November of last year, Batterson and Rehbein were both deployed to Helmand province, Afghanistan. As a part of A Company, 3rd LAR, the two have been consistently on the front lines, encountering IEDs and insurgent ambushes. They always take care of each other.

One time Rehbein picked up a homemade blasting cap. Noticing it was put together poorly, Batterson told Rehbein to put it down because it could go off at any time.

Another time, Batterson walked into a compound and saw a mortar round and quickly told Rehbein to tell all the Marines to cordon off the area and watch for insurgent observer that might be looking to make an attack.

“I always tell Batterson to set up as my ‘point man,’ because I know I can trust him,” said Rehbein.

Their friendship withstands tremendous testing at times like these, when lives are at stake. Their loyalty to each other has been proven on multiple occasions.

“I knew he always had my back, but out here he has proven it,” said Batterson. “I never have any doubt Rehbein will be right there.”

The relationship the two have together has benefitted their platoon as well.

“Growing up together, they already know each other’s movements and instincts and you can see that through their chemistry,” said Gunnery Sgt. Jerry R. Brown, platoon sergeant for 1st Platoon, A Company , 3rd LAR, and native of Pace, Fla.

Good chemistry helps morale, and high morale contributes to mission accomplishment, he said.

Changes over the past several months have shown that the unit’s presence in southern Helmand province has disrupted insurgent activities in the area.

“The [local residents] will talk to us about the difference that has been made since we’ve arrived,” said Batterson.

The sacrifices Batterson and Rehbein have made during their deployment on the front lines are a little easier knowing they’re in it together.

“It’s a good feeling to have your best friend here because you can talk about home with somebody,” said Batterson. “Everything I’ve gone through in life, Rehbein has pretty much been right there.”

In May, the two friends will return home. They are looking forward to making a trip back to Rochester in June to visit family and friends.