Marines speak out on stop-loss orders
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — The word is in: Nobody’s getting out and nobody’s leaving Okinawa anytime soon. If you’re a Marine, that is.
Officials issued a Marine Corps bulletin on Wednesday, canceling almost all permanent-change-of-station orders and involuntarily extending service contracts for Marines throughout the Corps. The bulletin, called stop loss/stop move, essentially freezes almost every Marine at his or her current duty station.
It’s got some shrugging their shoulders in frustration and others saying that’s just part of being a Marine.
“I saw the draft of the message Tuesday,” said Marine Chief Warrant Officer 2 Todd Croft of Camp Kinser. “It affects me. I was supposed to rotate to Camp Johnson, N.C., in July.”
Croft has been on Okinawa for 30 months and was looking forward to the move. An avid outdoorsman, he wanted the orders to spend time hunting and fishing in eastern North Carolina’s coastal pine forests.
“It’s where I wanted to be,” Croft said. “I was disappointed, but it’s part of what we do. We’ll make it work. The orders will be there when July comes, and I know the billet will still be there when they finally lift the order.
“I don’t think it’ll be that long before they lift, but that’s positive thinking. I’ve been in long enough that you just get used to orders being adjusted.”
Marines on accompanied tours normally are handed three-year assignments. Unaccompanied Marines serve one year. Of the more than 17,500 Marines stationed on Okinawa, about a third transfer each year.
Now, the only ones leaving are those given selected duties, such as joint-service assignments or recruiting. Marines who planned to leave the Corps or retire also had their itineraries shelved by the order.
“Honestly, it doesn’t affect me,” said Marine Gunnery Sgt. Paul Meverden, based on Camp Foster. “But I thought of some of the poor souls who can’t rotate or PCS out. Some of those people probably had plans lined up for starting college or beginning new jobs after the Corps.”
But Meverden’s seen this before. He was stationed on Okinawa when the Marine Corps instituted a similar policy during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm.
“Everyone got a six-month involuntary extension,” he said. “But that was lifted early.”
Marine Sgt. Juan Ramos still has two years left of his three-year Okinawa tour. Still, he’s got friends feeling the new policy’s pinch. One was planning to return to the States soon to get married. Another’s wife was planning to begin college in North Carolina.
“I feel bad for the people it does affect,” Ramos said. “It takes a lot of planning to make a move, especially from Okinawa. It’s just something we’re going to have to put up with. If we’re needed here, there are more important things to worry about. The moves will happen. This is only temporary.”
Marine Gunnery Sgt. Jerry Herndon, also based on Camp Foster, said the policy likely wouldn’t affect him directly, either: Two years are left on his three-year tour. But he’s watched as some friends had to change their plans literally overnight.
“They were people who weren’t sure if they would extend,” he said, “but now, they’re probably going to do it to get the bonuses that come with it.”
Still, Herndon said, Marines should expect these things: It’s in the fine print of enlistment contracts.
“Most people who sign up have eight years’ obligated service,” he said. “You might only serve four years active duty, but that contract reads eight years of obligation. There shouldn’t be too many gripes.”
Don’t tell that to Marine Sgt. Neil McCrea.
The administrative clerk for 1st Marine Aircraft Wing on Okinawa said he worked until 12:30 a.m. Wednesday scrubbing lists of Marines who — until the new policy emerged — planned to transfer.
“The phones stay off the hook,” McCrea said. “We’ve dropped everything else. This is the top priority right now.
“We’re just setting up a roster to see who has orders. Only certain people will be leaving. But Marines will still be coming in from boot camp. Okinawa’s going to get crowded.”
Order halts deployed on Okinawa
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Marine Lance Cpl. Rachel Brady knew her half-year deployment to Okinawa would be difficult. She left behind her 13-month-old daughter with her husband, a civilian living in California.
In the six months she’s been on Okinawa, Brady missed her daughter crawling for the first time, the toddler’s first steps and first words.
Now, she’s being told she won’t be going home for, perhaps, another year.
“Leaving her behind is the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” said Brady, 21. “I told my husband when I found out, and he was upset. But then, he was kind of excited we were stuck here. It’s kind of safe with everything that’s going on.”
Brady — like everyone else in her helicopter squadron, as well as others in infantry battalions and artillery batteries on Okinawa — recently learned her six-month tour was extended, possibly until 2004.
Marine officials announced that units deployed to the Far East are being “frozen in place.”
The order comes as Marine units from California are deploying to Southwest Asia and units from Camp Lejeune, N.C., are supporting missions in the Horn of Africa.
It also surfaces at a time when North Korea is ratcheting up rhetoric over its controversial announcement that it will pursue a nuclear program.
The freeze order for Marine units was issued “to give the Marine Corps the greatest possible flexibility to expeditiously respond to any contingency as the president may direct,” Marine Brig. Gen. Robert Neller said at Headquarters, Marine Corps.
“Those units scheduled to deploy to Okinawa are involved with contingency planning and available for worldwide deployment.”
Affected units include everyone from pilots to infantry, now set to remain on Okinawa indefinitely.
Marine helicopter squadrons, infantry battalions and artillery batteries routinely come to Okinawa on six-month intervals as part of a unit’s normal deployment cycle. That usually covers large-scale desert warfare exercises and deployment with a Marine expeditionary unit.
But for now, the cycle won’t happen.
Still, Neller said, “Units remaining in Okinawa will continue to train and maintain readiness just as they have during the initial portions of their current deployment.”
Marine Cpl. Kweli Talbott, 22, an embarkation specialist with Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 367, said he was “kind of stunned” after learning he wouldn’t be going home to California.
“I’ve been telling my family I’m not going to be home so they can deal with it,” he said.
Talbott said he’s trying to stay busy. He attends church regularly and spends his off-duty hours with fellow Marines.
Despite the news, he remains upbeat.
“It’s not really that bad,” Talbott explained. “If I have to be here, I figure the Marine Corps needs me here.”
— Mark Oliva
The Marines announced that normal rotation of the Unit Deployment Program, which cycles helicopter squadrons, infantry battalions and artillery batteries through Okinawa, has been suspended.
According to the Marine Corps Public Affairs office, affected units include:
• 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marines from Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii• 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines from Camp Pendleton, Calif.• 3rd Battalion, 8th Marines from Camp Lejeune, N.C.• 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines from Twentynine Palms, Calif.• Sierra Battery, 5th Battalion, 10th Marines from Camp Lejeune, N.C.• Kilo Battery, 3rd Battalion, 11th Marines from Twentynine Palms, Calif.• Charlie Battery, 1st Battalion, 12th Marines from Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii• Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 466 from Marine Corps Air Station, Miramar, Calif.• Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 367 from Camp Pendleton, Calif.