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Marine Cpl. Joseph C. Whitehead

Died January 17, 2011 Serving During Operation Enduring Freedom

22, of Axis, Ala.; assigned to 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Lejeune, N.C.; died Jan. 17 in Helmand province, Afghanistan, while conducting combat operations.

Slain Alabama Marine called ‘tough as nails’

By Rhonda A. Pickett

(Mobile, Ala.) Press-Register via AP

MOBILE, Ala. — Those who knew Cpl. Joseph C. Whitehead called him hardworking and loyal, a man with the mettle of a Marine.

“He was an outstanding young man. Always tough as nails,” Jeff Kelly, Whitehead’s former high school football coach, said. “You could work him hard in the weight room and on the field, and that stuff didn’t seem to bother him.”

“Since that’s how he was when he was with us, I knew he made an outstanding soldier,” Kelly said.

Whitehead, 22, a Marine from Axis, was killed Jan. 17 during combat in Afghanistan, Defense Department officials announced. His flag-draped casket arrived Jan. 19 in Dover, Del., and will be shipped to Alabama.

Whitehead was killed while conducting combat operations in the Helmand province of Afghanistan, officials said.

Helmand is a province in south-central Afghanistan, composed of generally flat and arid deserts and some farmland. It is about 400 to 450 miles southwest of Kabul.

According to the Department of Defense website, more than 1,100 U.S. military personnel have been killed in action in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.

Whitehead “was doing a sweep for the infantry in the field” when he set off an improvised explosive device, or IED, said his brother, Destin Goodhue.

Whitehead was assigned to the 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion, 2nd Marine Division II Marine Expeditionary Force, officials said. His unit was based out of Camp Lejeune, N.C.

“He was a young man that would never back down from hard work,” said Kelly. “He was a hard worker and had a certain playfulness about his personality that made folks want to be around him. He was a joy to coach.”

Kelly coached Whitehead between 2005 and 2007, when he was the head coach for the Satsuma High School Gators. Kelly is the newly hired coach at Saraland High School.

On the football field, Whitehead was a defensive lineman but “played a lot of different things,” sometimes as a defensive back and sometimes switching to the offense, Kelly said.

“He was always jovial. Just a kind young man that always made you smile. I know he touched a lot of lives.”

Goodhue called his older brother a hero.

“He was my hero, my idol. He just paid the ultimate sacrifice,” Goodhue said. “I just want everybody to know he was my hero.”

Whitehead joined the Marines after graduating from Satsuma High School in 2007, family members said.

“He had been in Afghanistan for five weeks,” Goodhue said.

“He was the kind of person you would like to know, the best person you could ever possibly imagine to meet,” Goodhue said. “Anytime I needed him, he would be there. He never denied me anything in my life. It’s a sad loss.”

Goodhue said family members have been told that Whitehead’s body will arrive in Mobile in about four to seven days.

Serenity Funeral Home is in charge of arrangements, which are pending, family members said.

Body of Ala. Marine arrives in home state

The Associated Press

MOBILE, Ala. — More than 100 people turned out Jan. 24 to pay their respects to a Marine killed in combat in Afghanistan.

A plane carrying the body of Cpl. Joseph Whitehead flew into the Mobile Air Center. The Mobile Press-Register reported that about 100 friends and family members lined the tarmac, while others stood near the airport fence.

A contingent from the Coast Guard, a Marine honor guard and local police stood at attention as the plane carrying Whitehead’s body came near.

Defense officials said Whitehead was killed in combat in Helmand province. His brother said that Whitehead set off an improvised explosive device.

Whitehead was ‘always tough as nails’

The Associated Press

Joseph “Joe” Whitehead loved four things more than anything, one of his brothers said at his memorial service: “Food. Family. Children. And food.”

Friends and relatives said Whitehead enjoyed making people smile and even was joyful when he was working hard.

“Always tough as nails,” said Jeff Kelly, Whitehead’s former high school football coach. “You could work him hard in the weight room and on the field, and that stuff didn’t seem to bother him.

“He was always jovial.”

Whitehead, 22, of Axis, Ala., was killed by a roadside bomb during a sweep Jan. 17 in Helmand province, Afghanistan. He was assigned to Camp Lejeune, N.C. Whitehead graduated from Satsuma High School in 2007.

The Marine was a die-hard University of Alabama fan who also wound up in some funny situations. At his memorial service, mourners recalled a time he took his grandfather’s boat out for a spin — and ended up having to swim back to shore without it when something went wrong.

Whitehead’s mother, Melanie Miller, said her son wanted to have an impact on others’ lives.

“I have to be stronger now than I was before, for my son, and I know he loved his brothers and sister,” she said, referring to his sister Jessica Whitehead, and brothers Destin Goodhue and Keith Miller.

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