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November 8, 2012

Serving his country by saving soldiers’ lives

Speaker leads the team that works on bomb-defusing robots

By K. Michelle Moran
C & G Staff Writer

» click to enlarge «
Marine Lt. Col. Greg Corbett — the speaker at this year’s Veterans Day breakfast Nov. 12 at the Grosse Pointe War Memorial — is seen here at an airbase in Kandahar, Afghanistan.

GROSSE POINTE FARMS — Marine Lt. Col. Greg Corbett grew up in a military family, the son of a doctor and Navy veteran, and nephew of a Marine.

But the Grosse Pointe native’s early memories of visits to the Grosse Pointe War Memorial were for weddings, school dances and concerts, not necessarily the annual Memorial Day service or Veterans Day breakfast.

And that’s fine by War Memorial officials, who want the community center to serve as a year-round tribute to those who’ve served.

“We’re honoring our veterans in Grosse Pointe with our annual breakfast, and that’s part of our mission,” War Memorial President Mark Weber said. “We honor veterans every day of the year (here) in celebrating life through our activities. … It’s a part of our mission that we take very seriously.”

Corbett, 42, is the speaker for this year’s Veterans Day breakfast Nov. 12. He’s assigned as the assistant project manager, logistics division, Robotic Systems Joint Arsenal Project Office of the U.S. Army’s Tank and Automotive Command at Detroit Arsenal, although he’s stationed at Selfridge Air National Guard Base in Harrison Township.

The Veterans Day breakfast features a buffet meal, music by Jack Molloy and his Swing Time Band and the speaker. Doors open at 7:45 a.m. for the program, which starts at 8 a.m.

Corbett said his speech would focus on honoring veterans.

“I’m going to talk about the importance of what the War Memorial does for the community and for veterans, and to be sure that we as a society remember who our veterans are and what they’ve done for this country,” he said. “We can never downplay the importance of veterans in this country.”

Corbett earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Michigan-Dearborn. Commissioned through the Marine Corps’ Platoon Leaders Class program in December 1993, Corbett was on regular active duty from 1993-2007. Since 2009, he’s been a reservist on active duty orders.

For the last two years, his main responsibility has been running operations for RSJPO outer-lying maintenance and training sites, which are located in Kuwait, Germany, Afghanistan and throughout the United States. They provide robots and related training for route clearance and explosive-clearing missions, he said. Corbett said they also repair robots when they’re damaged.

“It’s really an invaluable piece of equipment that we have to support this effort,” he said of the robots, which have been used in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

Since formal tracking began in 2005, there have been 792 robots destroyed in combat action, he said. That translates into at least that many lives saved, although the real number is likely much higher.

“Explosions are usually detrimental and hurt more than one person,” Corbett said. “If we can defuse them, then we save multiple lives.”

Working with soldiers, civilians, government officials and contractors, he said they’ve been able to improve the technology in recent years, incorporating user feedback.

“Our mission is to help our service members and to save lives, and what better way than to send a robot (to defuse an explosive device)?” Corbett said.

Although Corbett, his wife and their 5-month-old son, Gregory Crew Corbett, now live in Fair Haven, both are Grosse Pointe natives whose parents live in the Farms and City, respectively. Corbett himself grew up in the City and Farms.

Since he began his military career, he has attended a couple of Memorial Day services at the War Memorial while on leave. Even when he was younger, Corbett said he remembered being struck by the plaques featuring the names of Grosse Pointe veterans in various conflicts, as well as a portrait of a Marine pilot in a room adjacent to those plaques. He said he doesn’t think many people realize how many Grosse Pointers have served in various wars.

“I’m very proud to claim Grosse Pointe as my home and very happy to serve the Marine Corps and my country,” he said. “I’m both humbled and honored that Dr. Weber called and asked me to speak.”

Breakfast tickets are $10 per person, but Grosse Pointe veterans are entitled to one complimentary ticket. The War Memorial is located at 32 Lake Shore. At press time, a limited number of tickets for the breakfast were still available. Tickets must be purchased in advance. For tickets or more information, call the War Memorial at (313) 881-7511 or visit www.warmemorial.org.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer K. Michelle Moran at kmoran@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1047.