Spouses on Okinawa upbeat despite extension of Marines' deployment
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Spouses here weren’t overly surprised by the news that 900 Okinawa-based Marines were extended in Iraq, according to a key volunteer coordinator.
“There’s a little bit of sadness,” said Lanae Weaver, wife of Maj. Van Weaver, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit logistics officer. “But the wives have been pretty positive.”
The extension didn’t come as a shock, she said, because the unit’s commanding officer, Col. W. Lee Miller Jr., told spouses the deployment go could longer than the scheduled to last seven months.
And spouses received the news in person Wednesday morning during a meeting with the outgoing executive officer, Lt. Col. Robert G. Oltman, who is currently on Okinawa. Weaver said Oltman not only wanted to find out how the families were doing, but also he wanted to break the news firsthand.
“We didn’t want it,” Weaver said. “But no one seemed unprepared for the news … no matter what happens or what comes our way, we’re going to find a way to float the boat.”
Weaver said she believes that positive outlook is due to keeping spouses informed through the network she runs. She said the group holds meetings at least once a month, and Miller sends a letter to the spouses every month from Iraq to help keep the families informed. She said there also is a public relations officer who sends news articles about the unit back to the network so the spouses can read about what their Marines are doing.
The troop extensions announcement was made Wednesday after the secretary of defense approved a request by Gen. George Casey, commander of Multinational Forces-Iraq. In all, nearly 10,400 soldiers, sailors and Marines are staying put, and an additional 1,500 soldiers are being deployed for an anticipated 120 days. National elections in Iraq are slated for Jan. 30.
The Okinawa-based troops are part of the approximately 2,300- strong 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, which is based out of Okinawa. Other members of the unit are based out of Hawaii and California and are attached to the MEU under the unit deployment program.
The Marine unit left Okinawa in mid-August and arrived in Kuwait on Sept. 11 for training before heading into Iraq. They were due to leave the war-torn country near the end of January, according to an American Forces Press Service report. The 31st MEU is now set to depart Iraq in late February, which would put the Marines back on Okinawa in mid- to late-March, according to 1st Lt. Tryiokasus W. Brown, 31st MEU public affairs officer, in an e-mail response from Iraq.
As for the Marines’ ride home, a representative from the Essex Expeditionary Strike Group said no word has been passed to them. When queried via e-mail Thursday about a possible extension, and asked for an estimated date of return, Lt. Ed Sisk, spokesman for the Essex Expeditionary Strike Group, stated that no orders to extend deployment have been received.
“In general, we do not discuss future operations; however, we can say that the Essex ESG has not received orders to extend its deployment,” stated Sisk, who is embarked on the Essex.
From Sasebo Naval Base in southern Japan, the Essex, USS Juneau and USS Harpers Ferry are deployed in the U.S. Fifth Fleet’s area of operation.
“The Essex ESG is prepared to answer national tasking, and remain on station in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom if so directed,” Sisk wrote.
“The U.S. Navy is committed to maintaining six-month deployment schedules,” he noted, “but will adjust schedules as necessary to provide continued support to U.S. forces on the ground in Iraq, and … at sea in support of the Global War on Terrorism.”
“The current extension order certainly keeps us away from home longer than expected, but it is too early to tell how this might affect our normal deployment cycle,” Brown said. “We are, however, confident that the necessary adjustments will be made to get us back on more of a routine schedule.”
Greg Tyler contributed to this report.