Okinawa Marines take Anbar Province reports in stride
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Some Marines on Okinawa are unfazed by news reports that say Marines in Iraq’s Anbar province are facing a losing battle.
Interviewed at random Wednesday, they said they put little stock in what they call “pessimistic” media reports — but they’re also taking the military’s official “optimistic” line with a grain of salt.
“We’re here for our brother Marines,” said Lance Cpl. William Phelps, 24, assigned to the 12 Marine Regiment on Camp Hansen. “That’s all that matters. When they tell me to go over there, I’ll go to replace a fellow Marine.”
Earlier this week, The Washington Post reported that the chief intelligence officer for Marines in Iraq filed a secret report that concluded prospects for securing the province in western Iraq are dim and that the insurgent group al-Qaida in Iraq has become the area’s most significant political and social force.
Unnamed Pentagon sources say the report has “made people uncomfortable” and is the most negative assessment of the U.S. military’s position to come from a respected military source.
The author of the report, which has not been released to the public, is Col. Pete Devlin, who was described as one of the Marine Corps’ best intelligence officers.
However, Col. Sean MacFarland, who leads the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division in Ramadi, said in an e-mail response to Stars and Stripes that the initial news story “failed to put the report in its proper context, which was to inform commanders, like myself, of possible threats to our operations.”
“As such, it naturally focused on the bad or potentially bad aspects of Anbar.”
Marine officials on Okinawa turned down a Stars and Stripes request to interview Marines who have recently returned from deployments to Anbar.
“We don’t think it’s proper, since this is a U.S. Central Command issue,” said Gunnery Sgt. Chuck Albrecht.
Marines that Stars and Stripes asked at random, however, had their own opinions.
“I haven’t been over there, but I have friends who’ve been there and they still have nightmares,” Phelps said. “They say it was pretty tough. And some say we shouldn’t even be over there.
“Others say they liked it; others say they were bored,” Phelps added. “So, I don’t know. I’m not looking forward to going, but I will because I’d be helping out my fellow Marines.”
Said Pfc. Christopher Konstantakis, 19, assigned to Marine Corps Air Station Futenma: “Who knows what to believe? You hear so much stuff — from TV, the papers, the lance corporal underground — that it all gets confusing. I don’t believe the civilian media much any more, but then I also take what the officers and Marines who’ve been there with a grain of salt.
“We’re not so much worried about Iraq anyway,” he said. “… People here are more concerned about Korea.”
He agreed with Phelps’ personal view of possibly deploying to Iraq.
“You don’t join the military wanting to get deployed and go to war, but I joined knowing I’d have to if called. So, I’ll enjoy Okinawa while I can. Then, if I go over there, I’ll bust ass when I’m there and then come back.”
His friend, Pfc. Matthew Cole, 19, also assigned to MCAS Futenma, had the same view.
“I just got to the island, so I haven’t been paying much attention to the news,” he said. “There’s really not been much talk with the other Marines about this and I try not to pay much attention to the media.
“About going over there — when I signed the papers I knew it might happen,” he said. “Even if you don’t agree with why we’re there, you’ve got to go and cover for your brothers.”
Cpl. Joseph Kim, 21, assigned to Camp Foster, said he was concerned about reports that there are not enough troops in the province to maintain control.
“That’s the main issue,” he said. “If they need more people, they should ask for them and let them go there.”
He said he has not been deployed to Iraq but has talked to friends who have. Their experiences in Iraq seemed to differ depending on where they were assigned, he said.
“There’s always a gray area between what the press reports and what other Marines who’ve been there say,” he said. “Who knows what to believe? You just go if you’re called and do your job.”