Iraq-bound general stresses Pacific forces' role in maintaining stability
CAMP COURTNEY, Okinawa — The 3rd Marine Division’s commanding general, on his way to a tour in Iraq, wants to remind his Marines and sailors of how important their mission is in the Pacific Region.
Not everyone can be on the front lines, battling terror in Iraq or Afghanistan, Maj. Gen. Joseph F. Weber said Tuesday. But even thousands of miles from the fight, he said, his troops are vital to Asia-Pacific stability.
Weber, who’s leaving Okinawa on Friday and will report to Coalition Joint Task Force-7 in Iraq in March, said he’s sure everyone in the division would like to deploy with him.
“Everybody knows that every Marine and sailor in this division would like to have the opportunity to go to Iraq, because that’s where all the action on the ground is occurring with respect to the global war on terrorism,” Weber said. “But I go back to the issue of the importance of the theater cooperation plan and having Marines over here — command and control headquarters over here — a presence, because the global war on terrorism is global and it’s got to be controlled over here.”
Weber said the Asia-Pacific region has its share of “bad characters,” but by holding bilateral and combined exercises, the United States and its allies are letting them know to behave.
It’s a very “strong message to the terrorists that are running around here that we’re not going to put up with this,” Weber said of the U.S. presence in the region. “Don’t get distracted by the big effort over in Iraq and Afghanistan — don’t try anything here because we’re watching you, and we’re prepared and ready to act.”
Weber said regional security is not compromised even though four units usually deployed to train on Okinawa have been targeted for an Iraq deployment instead.
He said the division feels the impact of the loss, but the young officers and staff noncommissioned officers have stepped up to the plate and met the challenge.
While losing the four units may have the appearance of spreading forces thin in the region, Weber said there is actually a positive side to it.
“That creates a great deal of training opportunities for other Marines back here, who can pick up and do other things,” said the 33-year veteran. “We have artillerymen in the 12th Marines acting as provisional rifle companies to continue on our exercises and our engagement activities. We have Marines in our [Headquarters and Service] Battalions and our companies who are stepping up and doing more tactically oriented things. So I can’t stress enough the importance of people stepping it up a level.”
Weber said he will face his own challenges when he reports to CJTF-7, including working with a coalition staff of 800 to 900 people.
“I’ve had some time on a joint staff before, but I think it’s a different ball game where I’m going,” Weber said. “I’ve got a lot to learn and I’ve got to come up to speed real quick because there are things that are happening over there that need to happen on time and I need to get up to speed where I can assist that. There’s a transition of the government coming up, there’s preparations to hold elections, when the time is right, coming up, so the big challenge is to set the conditions so the people of Iraq can enjoy and realize freedom, and that’s going to be a very big challenge. There’s been a lot of progress made, but there’s an awful lot of work yet to do and I look forward to being able to be a part of that.”
Weber said he’s not too worried about his safety in Iraq.
“Compared to those young soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who are down in the trenches and on the streets every day, I consider myself to be in a relatively safe environment, and I’m not too worried,” Weber said. It’s the troops “who are going out there every day on those patrols, on those convoys, on those meeting engagements with local leaders. In my book, they’re the real heroes and we’ve got to make sure they’re supported.”