Dustin Derga

Dustin A. Derga—December 2005 Shipment Honoree

Marine Cpl., 24, of Columbus, Ohio; assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment, 4th Marine Division, Marine Forces Reserve, Columbus, Ohio; attached to 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward); killed May 8, 2005 by enemy small-arms fire while conducting combat operations in Ubaydi, Iraq.

Pickerington Marine Dustin Derga killed Sunday in Iraq

Dustin Derga
Dustin Derga

A Pickerington Marine who wrote recently in a Web site posting that he was “so ready to come home” was killed Sunday in Iraq. Cpl. Dustin A. Derga, 24, died in Ubaydi as the result of enemy fire, the Department of Defense reported Monday.

Derga, a 1999 graduate of Pickerington High School, was assigned to Marine Forces Reserves 3rd Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment, 4th Marine Division. He was a member of the Columbus-based Lima Company.

Brandon Harmon, who is dating Derga’s sister, Kristin, answered the phone at the family’s home Tuesday. Harmon described Derga as a “very outgoing, positive person. Fun to be around.” He said Derga would “do anything for you.” Harmon said Derga’s family, including parents Stephanie and Robert, was handling the news as “good as it can be expected.”

Derga was due to return home next month, Harmon said. He said Derga had aspirations of becoming a firefighter and had made other plans, including possibly opening a bar with a friend and moving in with his girlfriend. “You feel like your world crumbles, you know?” Harmon said.

“He was a good kid,” said Ken Schneider, who was Derga’s teacher in the high school’s construction and engineering technology preparation program in 1998 and 1999. “He worked hard.”

In a posting May 3 on the “Reach a Marine” Web site, Derga said his unit had just returned from a week-long mission and was leaving for another, which he said would “be even longer,” right away. He described an “unusual” hailstorm that had hit the night before. “I am so ready to come home,” he wrote.

According to a biography of Derga on the Web site, he worked at ISG Columbus Processing before he was deployed. He also attended Columbus State University, where he majored in EMS and Fire Science, and had served as an EMT and firefighter in Baltimore, Ohio, for three years.

In Death, Lima Company Family Forges a Tragic Bond

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Their son was the first to die. On Mother’s Day, he led a team of Marines to a house near the Iraqi-Syrian border. Cpl. Dustin Derga, the practical joker who wanted to be a fireman, tried kicking in the door. He was met with a spray of armor-piercing bullets from insurgents tucked in a crawl space beneath the floor.

That night, in Uniontown, Ohio, the men in uniform came to Bob and Marla Derga’s door. Even in their own grief, they worried for Dustin’s comrades back in Iraq — the 160 or so men of Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 25th Regiment — and all the other parents, wives and children at home. They had become, simply, “The Lima Family.”

“We are in this together, good and bad, to the very end,” Bob wrote days later in an e-mail sent to other Lima Company families. “We are a team and none of us is going to falter.”

Three days after 24-year-old Dustin was killed, three more Lima Company Marines perished when an explosive detonated near their armored transport vehicle. Two weeks after that, another Lima Marine was gunned down. Two months later, two others were gone.

Then last week, utter devastation.

Lima mom Anne Ritchie heard it on the radio driving to work: Fourteen Marines killed in a roadside bombing. She started screaming: “It cannot be Lima! We just had two. It cannot be Lima Company.”

But nine of the 14 were.

War brings misery home, but this war has brought this place, this company, these families far more than their fair share.

The Columbus-based unit once was known as “Lucky Lima,” having suffered no fatalities and few injuries after arriving in Iraq in March. But the infantry company quickly became a workhorse of the war, cropping up in news stories about critical missions designed to rid a remote desert region of followers of Iraq’s most-wanted terrorist.

“We are arguably the ‘salty dogs,’ traveling from hotspot to hotspot …” Lance Cpl. Christopher Lyons wrote in a May column for his hometown paper.

Really, they are just everyday guys — not career servicemen but reservists who live and work in the cities and suburbs of Ohio. Students, police officers, firefighters. Newlyweds, new fathers and fathers-to-be. Lyons, 24, sold ads for the newspaper. His baby daughter, Ella, was born a few months after he deployed, though he will never hold her. He was killed July 28.

When their Marines shipped out, the families of Lima Company barely knew each other’s names. They were the parents of this lance corporal, or the wife of that one. They snapped pictures for one another at the deployment ceremony, knowing little about the person who stood on the other side of the camera.

They stand together now, swapping stories at their once-monthly “family days,” exchanging e-mails with good news or bad from the front, wrapping their arms around each other at each funeral.

“I only met them the other day,” Ritchie said outside Schoedinger Hilltop Chapel last week after paying respects to the parents of Cpl. Andre Williams, 23, who died alongside Lyons last month. Ritchie’s son, Jason, serves in Williams’ platoon and remains in Iraq.

“I told them ‘My son’s in Lima Company.’ That’s all it takes.”

Moments later, the Dergas arrived and eased their way past Williams’ flag-covered coffin. When they came to his mother, Mary, they embraced. Then Mary looked into Bob’s eyes.

They drove two hours to Columbus to be at Williams’ service. They planned to head Monday to Ashland, Ohio, for Cpl. Lyons’ funeral.

“I couldn’t sit at home and not go there and not hug that mom and that dad and be able to look into their eyes and say, ‘I don’t know everything you’re feeling, but you’re not alone in this,'” said Marla Dergas, Dustin’s stepmother.


The members of Landstuhl Hospital Care Project were honored to remember Dustin during the month of December 2005 with our shipments to the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, and U.S. military hospitals in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Our thoughts and prayers remain with Dustin’s family and friends today and in the years to come.

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