(Click here for a graphic about the U.S. military's relief effort in South Asia.)

CAMP COURTNEY, Okinawa — Okinawa-based Marines and sailors deployed to Indonesia for tsunami relief could be gone as long as three months, Marine officials said Thursday night.

During a briefing held by the 3rd Marine Division in the Courtney Chapel, spouses and family members of the 600 Marines and sailors from the division who deployed last week were told to expect the deployment to last 45 to 90 days.

Officials said they did not know whether additional personnel will be deployed during the relief efforts.

“We’re going to be flexible,” said Lt. Col. Russell Scott, executive officer for the division’s Headquarters Battalion. “We may be able to handle what is needed with the 600 Marines and sailors already downrange. What will eventually be needed, as far as manpower, will be determined by Gen. Cowdrey and his team of planners.”

The 3rd Marine Division has been given the task of handling the relief efforts in Indonesia, the country hit worst by the 9.0-magnitude earthquake and resulting tsunamis on Dec. 26. The U.S. military contingent in that nation has been dubbed Combined Support Group-Indonesia (CSG-I) and is led by Brig. Gen. Christian B. Cowdrey, commanding general of the 3rd Marine Division.

“We’re there to support the Indonesian government with whatever is needed,” Scott told the more than 100 people who attended the briefing. “We don’t know how long this deployment may be.”

The initial planning called for 45 days of intensive assistance, with long-range planning for 90 days, Scott said.

“All services will be turned over to strictly Indonesian control as soon as possible,” he said. “How long this will take — we just don’t know. It’s hard to comprehend the suffering endured by so many.”

He said Cowdrey set up headquarters for CSG-I in the city of Medan on the northeast coast of the island of Sumatra and a forward post was established in the ravaged city of Banda Aceh.

“Eventually we hope to establish an airport on the west coast at the city of Meulaboh — we have an airfield assessment team on the scene,” Scott said. “But the area is very decimated and the airstrips do not look like they are in very good repair and we may have to look at an island just north of Banda Aceh instead.”

He said that two days after the earthquake and tsunamis, an aircraft flew over Meulaboh, a town of 50,000 people. “They counted maybe 40 people on the ground,” he said.

Cowdrey’s wife, Donna, the division key volunteer adviser, gave the crowd a briefing about what to expect while their spouses are away.

“This brief is to relieve your stress and give you the knowledge as best we can about what is happening in Indonesia,” she said. “It’s a fact of life that we have to deal with deployments. But I want to personally reassure you they’re in a good spot, they found an excellent spot to set up in Medan and they have good food, good living conditions and are well taken care of.”

She said the quick deployment was a good case study in why spouses should have a family care plan, especially powers of attorney, in place so they can take care of family matters while their partner is away.

She advised those in the audience to look at the deployment as an opportunity for self-growth as they take on extra responsibilities.

“Look at the self-confidence you can gain,” she said. “You’ll learn new skills and find new sources of strength within yourself.”

Like Scott, Cowdrey said it was an open-ended deployment.

“We can’t be sure when it will end,” she said. “We hope it will be sooner than later, but we just have to be patient.”

She cautioned the crowd not to listen to rumors concerning the deployments.

If there is a plus to the deployments, it’s the extra money the servicemembers will be paid while away. According to the briefing, each Marine and sailor will receive an extra $100 a month for hardship duty pay, $250 a month for family separation allowance, $225 imminent danger pay and a per diem that fluctuates depending on where he or she is deployed.

However, Indonesia is not a tax exclusion zone, an officer at the briefing cautioned. Serving in a tax exclusion zone means that some, if not all, of the income earned by a servicemember while in that area is not counted as gross income for tax purposes.

For further information about the humanitarian relief effort and family readiness, the division has set up a Web site at:

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