Okinawa Marines slated for possible Iraq duty say they're ready
CAMP HANSEN, Okinawa — Members of the 1st Battalion, 5th Marines said Tuesday that learning they may be heading back to Iraq, even though they just arrived on Okinawa for a Unit Deployment Program stint, doesn’t worry them.
The unit — which calls Camp Pendleton, Calif., home — arrived on Okinawa just more than a week ago but may not stay long. Marine Corps spokesman Capt. Dan McSweeney said there are “strong indications” the unit, with two others, may head to Iraq between February and April. The other units are 3rd Battalion, 4th Marines, from Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center at Twentynine Palms, Calif.; and the 3rd Battalion, 24th Marines, a Reserve unit out of Bridgeton, Mo. The Marines from 3-4 are just beginning to arrive on Okinawa, also under the Unit Deployment Program.
“We’re anticipating going back to Iraq but there hasn’t been any official orders or word as of yet,” said 1st Lt. Richard Wilkerson, 1-5’s adjutant and public affairs spokesman. “We don’t know for sure if we’ll be going or when.”
Official word from the III Marine Expeditionary Force is that no final decision has been made about its role in the Corps’ troop rotation plans for Operation Iraqi Freedom, according to 1st Lt. Al Eskalis, III MEF public affairs office.
“However, the highly trained Marines and sailors of III MEF stand ready to do what we’re asked to do,” Eskalis said.
This would be 1-5’s second time in Iraq. The unit, there when combat began, fought through the Rumeila oil fields, across the Saddam Canal and Saddam City. It also took part in what Wilkerson called one of the war’s fiercest firefights, taking a presidential palace on Apr. 10 in Baghdad. The Marines returned to their California base in late May.
During its first trip to Iraq, Wilkerson said, the unit took 90 casualties, including two Marines killed in action. He said most of the injured Marines have returned to duty, but a few injuries will result in medical discharges.
One Marine who has been to Iraq said making a return trip is just something the unit may have to do.
“First thing first, as Marines, we have a job to do and we’ll do it … we’ll do what we did last time - go in, do our job, and come back,” said Cpl. Thomas Morgan, a scout sniper with Weapons Company.
One of the “new guys” checked in to 1-5 at Camp Pendleton just before the unit returned from Iraq. Pfc. Dennis Jackson, a machine-gunner with Weapons Company, said he feels he missed out by not making it to the war and now is ready to serve. “It’s what we signed up for,” said Jackson, a Marine for just more than a year.
He said Marines who have been in Iraq already have been sharing tips and giving advice to the unit’s new Marines.
“They’ve told us what we need to know and what we need to take,” Jackson said.
Jackson characterized his parents’ reaction as typical.
“Moms do what moms do, but my dad was in Desert Storm … he was in the Army, so he understands,” Jackson said. “He just told me if we go, to be careful.”
The 1-5’s scheduled deployment with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit has been cancelled; until 1-5 learns whether it’s to deploy to Iraq, Wilkerson said, it will conduct annual training. Preparing to come to Okinawa forced postponment of the required yearly training earlier at Camp Pendleton.
Wilkerson said if the unit is sent back to Iraq, “we’ll go with the mind-set that whether we’re there for a short or long amount of time, whichever it is, we’ll get the job done.”