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Former Willmar resident sustains injuries while on patrol in Iraq

WILLMAR -- A former Willmar man was injured Monday in Iraq while on patrol.

Marine Lance Cpl. Jesse Ortega, 20, had injuries to his arms, legs, face and lungs, according to his sister, Lourdez Schwab, who lives in Willmar. In an interview Thursday, Schwab said her brother was initially flown to a hospital in Germany for surgery and was expected to be transferred to the United States for additional medical care today.

His wounds were classified as "very serious," said Schwab. "We're thankful he's alive."

She said Ortega was injured Monday while conducting door-to-door foot patrol with Kilo Company, Third Platoon. The family was told on Tuesday that an individual in the house threw a grenade that injured the entire infantry platoon, with Ortega apparently receiving the most serious injuries. Shrapnel pierced his lungs and caused injuries on his entire body, said Schwab.

Ortega was born in Texas but moved with his family to Willmar as a young boy. He attended school in Willmar until he was 14 when he moved with his parents, Pedro and Clementia, to New Mexico.

He joined the Marines in 2004. "That was his passion," said Schwab.

She said he signed up for the military, while the war was already under way, because he knew it was a job somebody had to do.

"In almost every letter we got from him he would write to us and say he was happy to be there," said Schwab. "He knows they're making a difference," she said.

Ortega had told her in the past that there are "good people" in Iraq and "they're glad we're here."

Schwab said her brother is "a tough kid" who is always smiling. She said she's confident he will come through the injuries OK.

She said her co-workers at Edina Realty and at the Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission, where Schwab works with the Willmar Area Multicultural Market project, have been very supportive since finding out about her brother.

Calls and e-mails have been coming from the entire community, said Schwab, who is thankful for the prayers and "positive vibes" being sent to her brother. "We're asking for prayers," she said.

Willmar business people, that she didn't realize were military veterans, have been lending their support. Strangers have also been compassionate.

Schwab said she and her husband, Jason, talked with a nurse at Rice Memorial Hospital who could help them understand the military's medical report on Ortega's injuries. One of the nurses, whose own son is returning from Iraq next month, told Schwab to say "thank you" to Ortega.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for 35 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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