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Lance Cpl. Alekzander Love, left, and Lance Cpl. Sean Conyers of Weapons Company, 2nd Battalion, 23rd Marine Regiment, load an optically tracked, wire-guided (TOW) missile into its launcher on Friday at Cap Draa Training Area, Morocco. Sitting in the Humvee is Lance Cpl. Aaron Reeder. The Marines were participating in African Lion 07, a two-week training exercise with the U.S. and Moroccan militaries.
Lance Cpl. Alekzander Love, left, and Lance Cpl. Sean Conyers of Weapons Company, 2nd Battalion, 23rd Marine Regiment, load an optically tracked, wire-guided (TOW) missile into its launcher on Friday at Cap Draa Training Area, Morocco. Sitting in the Humvee is Lance Cpl. Aaron Reeder. The Marines were participating in African Lion 07, a two-week training exercise with the U.S. and Moroccan militaries. (Charlie Coon / S&S)
Lance Cpl. Alekzander Love, left, and Lance Cpl. Sean Conyers of Weapons Company, 2nd Battalion, 23rd Marine Regiment, load an optically tracked, wire-guided (TOW) missile into its launcher on Friday at Cap Draa Training Area, Morocco. Sitting in the Humvee is Lance Cpl. Aaron Reeder. The Marines were participating in African Lion 07, a two-week training exercise with the U.S. and Moroccan militaries.
Lance Cpl. Alekzander Love, left, and Lance Cpl. Sean Conyers of Weapons Company, 2nd Battalion, 23rd Marine Regiment, load an optically tracked, wire-guided (TOW) missile into its launcher on Friday at Cap Draa Training Area, Morocco. Sitting in the Humvee is Lance Cpl. Aaron Reeder. The Marines were participating in African Lion 07, a two-week training exercise with the U.S. and Moroccan militaries. (Charlie Coon / S&S)
Lance Cpl. Kristopher Hurst of Weapons Company, 2nd Battalion, 23rd Marine Regiment, lets fly with an optically tracked, wire-guided (TOW) missile on Friday at Cap Draa Training Area, Morocco.
Lance Cpl. Kristopher Hurst of Weapons Company, 2nd Battalion, 23rd Marine Regiment, lets fly with an optically tracked, wire-guided (TOW) missile on Friday at Cap Draa Training Area, Morocco. (Charlie Coon / S&S)

CAP DRAA TRAINING AREA, Morocco — At four years and counting, the war in Iraq is dragging on for many Americans.

But while popular opinion stateside favors withdrawal, a lot of the young U.S. troops currently training in Morocco said they want to join the fight.

The reservists of Weapons Company, 2nd Battalion, 23rd Marine Regiment aren’t expected to activate for deployment to Iraq until December 2008. It’s not soon enough for some.

“I’m actually pretty eager to go,” said Lance Cpl. Kristopher Hurst, 20, of El Reno, Okla. “I don’t want to serve six years in the military and not do anything.

“You don’t want to pull away from your family, but it’s the duty. It’s why you signed on the dotted line.”

Hurst and his unit were unleashing firepower Friday at the firing range at Cap Draa Training Area as part of African Lion 07. The annual exercise pairs up U.S. and Moroccan forces for two weeks of military training and humanitarian missions in the northwestern African desert.

For the Marines, Friday’s menu included the firing of 81 mm mortars, .50-caliber machine guns and optically tracked, wire- guided (TOW) missiles, among other weaponry. They also fired away on the weapons of their Moroccan counterparts.

A primary goal of African Lion 07 is to reinforce the relationship between the two longtime allies.

Morocco, a largely Muslim country located on Africa’s northwest coast, is where Gen. George S. Patton’s Army staged its surge across northern Africa during World War II. Training northern African militaries is a priority for U.S. Marine Corps Forces Europe and its parent command, the U.S. European Command, both based in Stuttgart, Germany.

But the Moroccan army is up to speed, according to Maj. Sean Day, the Marines’ company commander.

“You’d think there would be many differences, but we’re very similar,” Day said. “They’re a very professional force, very well-trained, and their procedures are very similar to ours.”

Cap Draa is ideal for training troops for Iraq and elsewhere, some say. Its dirt-and-rock desert closely resembles the Middle Eastern war zone. Away from the training area, many of the troops see for the first time men wearing dishdashas and women wearing burqas.

“It’s new for all of us,” said Lance Cpl. Sean Conyers, 19, of Wichita, Kan. “We like to experience new stuff and new people. We’re taking pictures whenever we can.

“This is my first time out of the country.”

The reservists, mostly college-age men, spend one weekend per month working as Marines, and for two weeks each year they embark to places such as Morocco for intensive training.

If those from Weapons Company join the long list of weekend warriors who have been called up to fight in Iraq, Afghanistan or elsewhere, that’s just fine with them.

“There are still Marines who want to help out in Iraq,” Conyers said. “We’re still pretty motivated about going. We want to do our part.”

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