NEAR MONARCH — Over 30 members of an elite Marine unit gathered in Montana to see each other for the first time in almost two decades over the weekend.
For members of the 1st Recon Battalion, the reunion in the Little Belt Mountains is a chance to share stories and reconnect with nature and each other.
Although members of the platoon got back together as a group for the first time in almost 20 years, it was as if they never left.
“Immediately. Yes, we are a family,” said former Sgt. Rudy Reyes. “And immediately it was like it was like we just saw each other last week. I mean, we're all a little older or got a little bit more gray. We all have kids now.”
“It's reconnecting with loved ones. I mean, truly, these are my brothers,” said former Corporal Jason Lilley. “It's a bunch of brothers I thought I'd never have, and I do. It’s Extended family times ten. It's emotional, but it's probably one of the happiest moments I've had in a long time.”
Their reunion was made possible by the Warrior Reunion Foundation, a non-profit organization that brings combat veterans back together, often in scenic places like Camp Rotary in the Little Belt Mountains.
The platoon is noted for being the subject of the 2004 book Generation Kill, based on Rolling Stone reporter Evan Wright’s time embedded with the unit as they led the 2003 invasion of Iraq, later made into an HBO miniseries of the same name.
Among the stars of the mini-series was former sergeant Rudy Reyes, who starred as himself.
“The mission was to get to Baghdad and cut the head off the snake and any way we could,” said Reyes. “It was a demolition derby meets gumball rally with weapons and explosives and RPG teams and incoming outgoing artillery.”
For the Marines, the weekend included a hike in Sluice Boxes State Park, as well as chopping firewood for future campers.
But at the center was a chance to rekindle the genesis of a brotherhood
“It’s something forged in combat and high stress at a young age,” said Lilley. “And now we're seeing each other 15 to 20 years later and seeing pictures of kids. You know, I don't think any of us thought we would have lived through anything that we did. And here we are still checking in. Most of us anyway, you know, and especially over this week in Memorial Day weekend and shared beers and stories about the ones that didn't make it back.”
Lilley says amazingly, the platoon only lost one from that period, but others died in subsequent deployments.
These days, Reyes works with an ocean conservation company called Force Blue rebuilding coral reefs with teams of special operations commandos. He says reunions like these are important, not just for the camaraderie, but for the healing.
“It's so extreme, the men here, myself, we've had to fight and kill the enemy,” said Reyes. “We've lost some of our brothers as well over the years. We are now losing some brothers to suicide. It's a grave maturity that one receives if they can clear up their pains and clean their house inside. And now a lot of us are having that maturity and we're helping not just us, but all veterans and all veteran families that are in struggle and need.”
Jason Lilley got out of the Marine Corps in 2011, later working for the State Department and CIA. He now co-hosts a podcast called Savage Actual. He says the U.S. should be a little more reserved before again entering a situation like Iraq, but if they do, they need to go all in.
“Would I do it again? I would only if I could do it with these guys behind me, you know, maybe minus a couple,” said Lilley.
VIDEO - Rudy Reyes talks about the invasion of Iraq and how he overcame a difficult childhood to become an elite soldier:
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