CAMP FALLUJAH, Iraq -- Lance Cpl. Dustin L. Sides, a motor transportation operator with 9th Communications Battalion, I Marine Expeditionary Force, was honored at a memorial service June 4 at the Camp Fallujah Chapel.
The 22-year-old Yakima, Wash., native was killed May 31 when the convoy in which he was riding struck a homemade, roadside bomb when returning from Al Asad.
"It's just one of these things where you start out in a lot of denial and you just can't believe it," his stepfather, Paul Billings, told the Yakima Herald-Republic.
Cmdr. Emilio Marrero, the I Marine Expeditionary Force Headquarters Group chaplain, shared a story he had heard from Marines who knew Sides.
"He went to a club and overheard someone talking of beating a young lady," he said. "Through that night he kept an eye on her, and when they left, he followed her to make sure nothing happened to her. And those assailants came out of the woodwork and they attempted to attack her, and he put himself between her and the assailants and he took the blunt of a bottle across his back. This, to help a totally perfect stranger."
Sides showed the same kind of devotion to his fellow Marines after being offered the position of headquarters commandant.
"Sides was nominated to go take that job, and he took it, and he did it," said Maj. Charles S. Morrow, the commanding officer of Service Company, 9th Comm. Bn. "And he only had one request - that, 'if convoys go out, I still want to be on them.' He wanted to be with his motor-T Marines on convoys. That's all he asked."
Sides' talents in motor transportation were many, including the ability to operate the 7-ton wrecker. It was this special skill Sides possessed that landed him the job of towing a disabled 7-ton truck back from Al Asad, when his vehicle was hit by an improvised explosive device.
"He was in the middle of the convoy when the blast went and it sent the vehicle airborne," said Lance Cpl. Brain M. Overbey, one of his fellow motor-T operators at 9th Comm.
During the ceremony, Sides' friends told stories about him, occasionally smiling while recounting their memories.
"They tell us as NCOs to watch out for our Marines, to take care of them," said Cpl. Stephen R. Vandecoevering. "With Sides, that was no exception, except for one. He looked after me, too, and took care of me. I ran into him out in a bar one night, and needless to say, I had a little bit to drink. He made sure I was alright, stuck with me the whole night, and made sure I got home."
What came through the testimonials was the sense of joy that he brought into the lives he touched.
"He loved to make you smile, even if he was having a bad day himself," Lance Cpl. David L. Gerstenberg said with a small chuckle. "He was always ready to have fun any time of the day. Treated all people like equals, no matter what. A couple of times, I took him out for the weekend, and he stayed at my place. Every time I woke up in the morning, he had already made breakfast - mostly for himself, but he saved me some. And he said, 'Thanks for getting me out of the barracks, you know, same old routine.'"
At the podium, choking back tears herself as many of her fellow Marines were, Lt. Col. Loretta Reynolds, the battalion's commanding officer, spoke of their shared sense of loss.
"I am proud to have served with Lance Corporal Dustin Lee Sides," said Reynolds. "I am in awe of his courage, and his sacrifice, and of yours."