By Thomas Calabrese — After five long days at the Camp Pendleton Intelligence Center putting together a strategic blueprint to rescue a team of drug enforcement agents that were captured by the Medellin Cartel in Cartagena, Columbia, Dana was called to Colonel Bradley Chase’s office, “I’ve just got word that the mission was successfully completed. Your plan was right on target and we didn’t sustain any casualties. Excellent job, Major.”
“It was a team effort,” Dana responded modestly.
“I was looking through your service record and I saw something interesting,” Colonel Chase commented, “I’m upset with myself that I didn’t remember.”
“What was that?”
“That tomorrow is a special day,” Colonel Chase commented, “Happy birthday, Major.”
“It’s no big deal.”
“Why don’t you take the rest of the week off and celebrate, you’ve earned it,” Colonel Chase said.
“I’m fine, thanks anyway sir,” Dana answered.
“That wasn’t a friendly suggestion. I’m hoping that you won’t place me in the awkward position of ordering you to take some leave. You don’t want to do that, do you?”
“I wouldn’t want to do that, sir” Dana sighed in resignation.
Strange how things happen, Dana thought as she prepared to leave her house in the Sycamore Hills area of North Oceanside before sunrise the next morning. She couldn’t remember the last time that she had her birthday off, but it had been a while and now that she had the occasion off, she would just as soon be working to keep her mind occupied.
For the last five years she was either on special assignment or deployed as an intelligence analyst with various Marine Corps units around the world. She got married to Major Steve Robbins 18 months ago and since their wedding, neither one of them had been in the same place for more than a few weeks at a time. Her husband was the executive officer of a counter terrorism unit that was comprised of the best of the five armed forces and his services were in even greater demand than her own. He was currently in West Africa…somewhere.
This would be just one more date where that they would be separated during their short marriage and like she told Colonel Chase, ‘It was no big deal.’
The military couple were strong-minded patriotic individuals who accepted the reality that that their commitment to the country and oath of duty would always take precedence over their personal lives. They did this without regret, reservation or even hesitation.
Dana strapped her surfboard to the top of her SUV and pulled out of the driveway. She showed her military identification to the sentry at the San Luis Rey Gate and drove on base. She took Vandergrift Boulevard to the southwest end of Camp Pendleton. It was a weekday and Dana knew that Del Mar Beach would be isolated and that is exactly what she wanted, some alone time. Her plan was to get in a long run through the soft sand, then paddle out and catch a few waves and finish the morning off with a hearty breakfast at the San Luis Rey Officers Club on her way home. Dana put on her headphones and turned on her MP3 player which had a list of her favorite songs. It was a postcard morning, calm, clear with the temperatures in the mid 60’s. Dana immediately fell into a rhythm where her movements, breathing and the music coincided from her very first step. Before she even realized it, Dana had run the one mile long beach six times so quickly that it was still only 0615 hours.
She picked up her gym bag and went into the ladies’ rest room and changed from her running gear into her wetsuit. Dana grabbed her surfboard and hit the oncoming wave without hesitation and after the initial shock of the cool water rushing over her, she felt refreshed and exhilarated. She paddled out 200 yards from shore, a little more than usual for her, but it was a day to enjoy the solitude and savor the moment. She passed on the first set of waves, but caught a six foot one and rode it almost all the way to the beachbreak.
Dana had surfed at this location numerous times, but couldn’t remember it ever being this good. The surface of the water was smooth and glassy and there was some spray coming off the top of the lip, meaning there was a light offshore wind. The waves were breaking in one direction, not folding over in different places along its length. The sets were consistently in the six to eight foot range with an occasional rogue ten-footer. To have these kinds of conditions and the whole beach to herself was more than a dream come true, it was a heck of a birthday present. Dana caught a wave and it rolled over, creating a horizontal tunnel of air with her inside the barrel. She reached up and touched the water above her head. Everything felt and looked surreal and when Dana came out the other end, rays of sunlight were waiting to embrace her.
While paddling out again, she noticed something that was out of the ordinary and under any other circumstance, it would have immediately aroused her suspicions, but Dana was so relaxed that it took her while to shift back into vigilant mode. This section of the coastline on base was designated for recreational use and all military training took place north of here. Two small boats with six men in each one came around the jetty that separated the City Of Oceanside from the base and headed toward shore. They didn’t look like any Marine Corps watercraft that Dana had ever seen so she paddled in their direction.
When she got close enough, she saw that the men were wearing Marine Corps camouflaged utilities, but they didn’t really look like Marines. Sure they had short hair, but they were also haggard looking and were smaller in size.
One of the men in the boat must have sensed Dana’s suspiciousness when she continued staring at them. Suddenly without warning, he pulled out his assault rifle and fired a burst at her. Instinctively she dived beneath the surface as several bullets hit her surfboard and one round grazed her upper left arm. Dana was an excellent swimmer so she swam as far she could underwater before coming up for air, as a wave crashed down on her. She looked at her wound and made a quick assessment that it could wait for medical attention.
The day had gone from tranquil to deadly in the blink of the eye. Major Robbins had planned enough surprise attacks to know that most people go through a short period of deniability where their minds refuse to accept the reality of the situation. She would now have to use her years of experience to change her mindset and deal with the situation as quickly as possible. When Dana made it to shore, she saw the armed men moving across the sand. Whether they had a particular target in mind or were just going to hit soft targets, she had to find a way to stop them while warning the military police that a hostile threat had breached the base. Dana’s cellphone was too far away, but she saw another option.
Off to her right was one of the maintenance personnel in a pick-up truck pulling a wide metal rake across the beach to pick up debris and trash. Dana rushed over to the vehicle, “This is an emergency!” then opened the driver’s door, “Move over!”
The driver hesitated so Dana pushed him and climbed in, “I’m Major Robbins,” then pushed the accelerator to the floor. The truck raced toward the men who had almost reached the rental cottages. One of the armed men turned around and fired at the truck and Dana pushed the man’s head down a split second before two bullets came through the windshield at the same height where his head would have been. She quickly turned to the left and the metal rack swung around with such force that it knocked the attacker through the glass patio door of the cottage. Dana jumped out of the truck and said to the maintenance man who was hiding under the dashboard, “Tell the military police that a woman Marine is in pursuit of intruders. I don’t want them shooting me by mistake.”
The man nodded weakly and Dana jumped out and ran into the cottage. She was barefoot and when she stepped on the shattered glass, a long chard imbedded into her right heel,
“Aaaaaah!!” she grimaced and pulled it out. The injured terrorist was bloodied, disoriented and lying on the floor. When he saw Dana, he reached for his assault rifle just as she grabbed a water pitcher off the counter and threw it. It hit him in the head and shattered, buying Dana just enough time to reach the rifle before he could. They struggled over it for a minute as Dana relentlessly punched and kicked him. When she got control of the weapon, she shot the terrorist twice in the chest.
The remaining terrorists had spread out and were firing at anything that moved in the parking lot by the time Dana came rushing out of the front door. Their original plan was to make it ashore unnoticed, then hide out in one of the cottages until a much publicized change of command ceremony with high ranking military personnel and politicians commenced on the beach at 1100 hours. They would assault the proceedings and kill as many attendees as possible before being taken out.
Since that scenario was now impossible, the terrorists were winging it. Off in the distance, a caravan of military police vehicles was racing down the access road to Del Mar Beach. Dana quickly evaluated the situation and it did not look good; there were multiple enemy combatants and even more unarmed civilian workers and Marines in the area. There weren’t many choices available to the dedicated woman Marine. She checked the magazine in her weapon and charged into harm’s way.
Dana took out one terrorist who was hiding behind a car with a headshot, then began receiving incoming fire from two other men. She lied down on the ground and fired under several vehicles and hit the terrorists in the ankles. They fell to the ground and she fired again and killed both men. When she fired again, her magazine was empty so Dana dropped it and jumped up on a car as bullets hit all around her. In the distance, the military police were engaged with another group of terrorists that had made their way over to the recreational vehicles camping area.
She leaped from car to car and until she was directly above another shooter then jumped down on top of him. She snapped his neck and grabbed his rifle as a police cruiser skidded to a stop next to her and bullets riddle the vehicle, “Are you alright, Ma’am?” Sergeant Nolan asked
“I’m fine,” Dana responded.
“You stay here, let us take care of this,” Sergeant Nolan advised.
“With all due respect Sergeant, we need all hands on deck on this. Cover me!” Dana ran in a zigzag pattern while Sergeant Nolan provided suppressive fire and when she got behind a wall, she fired a burst and took out a shooter by the ladies restroom.
The terrorists may have made it on base, but they had the misfortune to cross paths with Major Dana Robbins who exemplified the finest qualities of a Marine; courage and dedication to duty. Although the gun battle seemed like it went on for hours, in reality it only lasted nine minutes. Over a hundred armed Marines responded to the beach and in a precise tactical maneuver, they quickly neutralized the remaining terrorists.
Once her adrenalin stopped pumping through her body, Dana slowly began feeling the pain; both her feet were shredded and bleeding from running on the asphalt pavement. Her arm was aching from the gunshot wound and she was feeling lightheaded from loss of blood.
Paramedics gave her emergency medical care on site and then she was quickly transported to Camp Pendleton Naval Hospital.
After receiving additional medical care which included receiving stitches on the bottom of her foot and arm as well as receiving fluids for dehydration, Dana felt much better. Twelve hours later after she gave her statement to several different agencies during an extensive de-briefing, she was visited by her commanding officer, Colonel Chase at the hospital, “If you weren’t at Del Mar Beach to confront those terrorists, there is no telling how many lives would have been lost.”
“I didn’t do anything that you or any other Marine wouldn’t have done in the same situation,” Dana responded.
“I’m sorry it ruined your birthday,” Colonel Chase responded.
“A small price to pay, can you give me a ride home?”
Just as Major Robbins and Colonel Chase prepared to leave, an M.P. knocked on the door, “Sorry to interrupt sir, ma’am, but they found these things on the beach,” The M.P. handed Dana her clothing and cellphone.
“Thank you Corporal,” Dana responded as she looked at her phone, “Aw hell.”
“What’s wrong?” Colonel Chase asked.
“I got four phone calls from my husband, probably calling to wish me a happy birthday.”
When Dana got home, she took out an ice pack from the freezer then lied down on the couch. She elevated her legs and placed the ice pack on her arm and the cellphone next to her ear. In a few minutes she was sound asleep.
Two hours later, the phone rang and awakened an exhausted Dana who stammered, “Hello.”
“I’ve been calling you all day, where have you been?” Major Steve Robbins asked.
“I misplaced my phone and when I found it the battery was dead,” Dana lied.
“Happy birthday, did you do anything exciting?” Steve asked.
“No, not really, just went for a run and did some surfing then came home,” Dana saw no reason to worry her husband.
“I can’t talk long, we’ve got a mission, but I’m glad I finally reached you. Happy birthday and I love you.”
“Love you too,” Dana responded, “Thanks for calling.”
When Major Steve Robbins disconnected, Captain Sanders asked, “Did you wife go out partying?”
“That’s not her style, she likes things quiet and simple.”
As time passed and details of the assault became known, the valiant and courageous Marine was given the nickname of Del Mar Dana and what she did on that day became known as the Birthday Battle.