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Which way is harm’s way? Comments Off on Which way is harm’s way?

Posted on March 06, 2005 by Marna

I’ll let you take a 70 percent pay cut, train you to kill, then let you come home to possibly be court-martialed. How’s that sound?

I relocated to New York during the Silicon Alley boom to work with Ilario Pantano, a tall, good-looking NYU grad. The independent film company, Shooting Gallery, was starting up an interactive division. Ilario was putting his Goldman Sachs experience to good use getting funding while I was hired to manage clients.

Ilario and I connected when I found out he had served in the first Persian Gulf War. I am from a military family and quickly spotted Ilario’s leadership training. In the midst of a lot of dot com chaos, Ilario was always the broker of team spirit and ‘go get ‘em’ motivational speeches. He was also a professional. He’d go home after one dirty martini while the kids we worked with raved all night. I liked Ilario and the sanity he gave me in that work environment.

The market crash and dot com debt resulted in Shooting Gallery shutting down. Our long hours and fun time together brought busted, option-less dreams, but the friendships remained. We all stayed in touch, some staff banded together to form new companies like Tasty Milk and Filter Media.

Ilario and I planned a staff reunion at a bar close to the old office on September 11, 2001. A week later, when it was rescheduled, Ilario walked in with his head shaved. He told me he was going to try to get back into the Marines. I had looked at serving too, but I was too old. We were both pissed at what the terrorists had done to our city.

I didn’t hear from Ilario for more than a year. When I did, he announced he was headed back into service and gave me his contact information. His email included a quote from Winston Churchill, “Sometimes it is not enough that we do our best. Sometimes we have to do what is required.”

In March 2003, Ilario emailed to let me know he graduated from officer candidate school in Quantico, Virginia. He wrote, “As images fill the airwaves of the liberation of Baghdad, I feel an overwhelming amount of pride and joy in graduating OCS and being commissioned as a Marine Officer. It’s been a long journey, and I cannot adequately express my satisfaction at rejoining my Corps at this pivotal time in our nation’s history.”

I was proud. He was doing what he wanted to do and I knew he would be a success and an asset to the Corps. His patriotism was a tribute to everyone who suffered through 9/11.

I lost touch with Ilario after he relocated to Camp Lejeune, N.C. He had two children and I had moved to the west coast. Our lives went in opposite directions and I had nearly forgotten about Ilario until a recent wire report said he was being brought up on two premeditated murder charges.

Nearly a year ago, the platoon Ilario commanded had been ordered to search a suspected terrorist hide-out south of Baghdad on the advice of captured terrorists. After finding weapons, ammunition and bomb-making material in the building, the Marines saw two men fleeing in a SUV and shot out the vehicle’s tires and took the men into custody. During a search of the SUV, the Iraqis began to move quickly toward Ilario. He ordered them to stop in Arabic. They kept moving toward him. He got his gun ready and yelled again. They didn’t stop. Fearing the two suspects might have been attempting to detonate explosives remotely, Ilario shot them.

Seems like standard operating procedure to me, especially in a war zone. Marines kill every day. That’s their job. Ilario is a rational and pragmatic person. He didn’t do anything wrong and obviously the Marines thought so too. After the incident, Pantano served three more months in Iraq then returned to Camp Lejeune in North Carolina at the end of his tour of duty.

Two weeks after the Marines announced that Ilario was being charged (and after Ilario retained pr-saavy, civilian legal representation), the Marines issued a statement that Ilario had not been officially charged. Perhaps the USMC realized charging a Marine for doing his job presents a morale problem for other service men and women. These folks are placed in harms way every day and have to make split second life-or-death decisions. Has war gone PC? If you kill the enemy, will you go to jail when you go home?

When I read this story in the New York Times, I sent Ilario and email and he replied with, “my heart breaks for the families of those currently deployed, who can only be disheartened about this situation. I hope it is resolved quickly and positively and I expect that it will be with the continued support of people like you.”

Sometimes we have to do what is required. I made a donation to his defense fund at

  • About Marna

    Marna’s writing career started as a Pentagon intern. Early exposure to $500 toilet seat press releases made her appreciate creative nonfiction. Now she has more than 25 years of senior-level marketing and communications success working with Fortune 100 companies, government, nonprofits, small businesses, startups, and agencies.

    Stats: 377 Posts, 132 Comments

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