11-18 March 2006: Departure

Ronnie Torres

Ronnie Torres

3/3 deployed to Iraq in March 2006. — Source: First Marine Division Press Release



America’s Battalion Goes to Iraq

By Sgt. Roe F. Seigle
1st Marine Division
March 18, 2006

Hickam Passenger Terminal
3/3 deployed to Iraq in March 2006

Kuwait International Airport (KWI), Kuwait
3/3 deployed to Iraq in March 2006


Camp Al Asad, Iraq – Just eight months after their deployment to Afghanistan, Hawaii-based Marines from 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment departed Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii, recently to begin their seven-month deployment here in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Now, all of the Marines from the unit – known as “America’s Battalion” – have arrived in Iraq’s Al Anbar Province, which they will call home for the duration of their stay.

After months of training in Hawaii and southern California, the battalion flew in from their home base over the past several weeks to replace the Camp Pendleton, Calif.-based 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment.

These Marines will be operating in the “Triad” region of Haditha, Haqliniyah, and Barwanah along the Euphrates River in western Iraq, where they will pick up where their predecessors left off – working hand-in-hand with Iraqi Security Forces to conduct counterinsurgency operations on their own and eventually take control of Al Anbar Province.

This latest deployment in support of the Global War on Terrorism comes just eight months after the battalion returned from a combat tour in Afghanistan. About 55-percent of the battalion’s 1,000-plus Marines and sailors deployed with the unit to Afghanistan last year.

The Marines, both veterans and first-time deployers alike, are eager to be here. While waiting for flights and convoys to their destination in Iraq, the Marines’ talk to each other about home, the Marine Corps, what daily life will be like, and a multitude of other subjects to include their mission of assisting the Iraqi Security Forces.

During their down time, the Marines write letters home and talk about their loved ones. In the evening, they receive refresher classes on the rules of engagement, levels of force protection, and other subjects designed to keep them alive and within the laws of war.

All of them seem to be in high spirits considering they are in a combat zone.

“I came here to Iraq to do my part,” said Staff Sgt. Ronnie Torres, 29, Weapons Company platoon sergeant and a native of Pembroke Pines, Fla. “I want to help the Iraqi people settle and have an easier life.”

“I want to be here,” added Lance Cpl. Riley Carter, an intelligence analyst with the battalion. “This is what I came in the Marine Corps to do. Being in Hawaii was nice, but it is time for me to leave paradise and do my part for my country.”

Carter and Torres’ demeanor seem commonplace throughout the battalion’s ranks. In fact, the unit’s commander, Lt Col. Norman Cooling, says the Marines are “motivated and ready to train the Iraqi Security Forces.

“The Marines have trained exceptionally hard for this deployment,” said Cooling. “They have tremendous faith in their leadership and they know that they have had the best training possible.”

“I have no qualms about leaving my life in the hands of my Marines,” said Torres, who said good-bye to his wife, Marcy and their two daughters just days ago.

Prior to arriving in Iraq, the Hawaii-based Marines spent a month and a half of pre-deployment training in southern California’s Mojave Desert – a combined arms exercise appropriately dubbed “Mojave Viper.” The six-week long exercise was a culmination of a multitude of infantry, urban warfare and cultural training for the Marines in preparation for Operation Iraqi Freedom.

From countering improvised explosive devices to patrolling and interacting with Iraqi role players in a mock-Iraqi village, the Marines were put in scenarios similar to those they’ll face in Iraq.

“The Marines are ready for this,” added Cooling. “It takes a very special man to sacrifice his comfort and the comfort of those who he loves most in order to make a difference to his country. That’s the kind of men that serve in this unit – in ‘America’s Battalion.’”

In addition to preparing Iraqi soldiers to eventually take control of security operations in the battalion’s “battle space,” Cooling’s second mission is to ensure he gets his troops home safely. Minimizing casualties is a priority for Cooling, who added that doing so stems from realistic training, having the best equipment available, superb leadership, and keen situational knowledge of the operating environment.

While the infantry unit — called “three-three” for short — has received the best training, equipment and leadership possible, it’s up to individual leaders to ensure they and their subordinates keep up to date on current and future operations, said Cooling.

In a combat environment, staying in the “know” could mean the difference between success and failure, and even life and death.

“That is why a good relief-in-place is so critically important,” said Cooling, who added that his unit’s experience from Afghanistan will play a critical role in the Marines’ ability to effectively help the development of the Iraqi Army.

“We have eight months of practical experience in training a foreign military,” said Cooling. “The 55 percent of the Battalion that remains from Afghanistan knows how to work around language and cultural differences and create a cohesive team with foreign soldiers.”

The battalion has shown they can successfully work side-by-side with other militaries and is capable of training newly-formed forces, said Cooling. The Marines conducted several combined operations with the Afghan Army during their deployment last year and “performed superbly,” he said.

“They (Afghan soldiers) were a significant combat multiplier because the local population recognized them as fellow Muslims with the same language, culture, and to a certain extent, national identity,” said Cooling, a native of Baytown, Texas. “I suspect that the same will be true with regard to the Iraqi soldiers here.”

For some of the unit’s Marines, the next seven months will be their first deployment to Iraq, and for many, the longest time they’ve been away from family and friends. For others, the deployment offers a new experience – the chance to conduct combined operations with foreign militaries.

“It takes spouses who are willing to raise children alone for extended periods and children to go without one of their most important life mentors,” said Cooling. “It’s (deployment) a real sacrifice that few are willing to make. “

The battalion’s deployment is part of a regularly scheduled rotation of forces in Al Anbar Province. More than 23,000 Marines and sailors of the Camp Pendleton, Calif.-based I Marine Expeditionary Force are replacing the Camp Lejeune, N.C.-based II MEF.

Source: First Marine Division Press Release

Farewell again, Kane’ohe Marines

By Karen Blakeman
Advertiser Staff Writer
Sunday, March 12, 2006

Couples necked in a military base parking lot last night, parents worked to hold back the tears and young men leaned against their duffel bags, weapons propped against their knees. Kane’ohe Marines were leaving for yet another deployment to the Middle East.

This time, 900 members of the 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment are headed for Al Anbar province, Iraq, scheduled to spend seven months helping to stabilize the area.

The 3/3 returned from Afghanistan in June. Two of its members died there.

Some of the younger battalion members didn’t know what to feel about the trip.

“We don’t feel anything,” said 20-year-old Lance Cpl. Dobie August, when asked about his emotions as the Marines waited in a parking lot at Marine Corps Base Hawai’i in Kane’ohe to board buses that would take them to their plane. “We were just talking about that.”

“We’re not nervous,” said August’s friend, 19-year-old Lance Cpl. John Jones. “We’re just going, and there is no way around it. It’s not like you can say: ‘Hey, you know what? I quit.’ ”

“Might as well have a positive attitude,” August said.

The trip to Iraq is the first deployment for both of them.

Corpsman Michael Loeffler, a Navy E-5, returned nine months ago from half a year in Afghanistan. His wife, Sara, knows what to expect and how to deal with it.

“Seven months is a long time,” she said. “But you can piss and moan about it, or you can just keep going on, day by day, missing him every day until he returns.”

Loeffler’s friend, fellow corpsman Dartagnon Vera, saw his buddy off last night.

Vera, who has been in Iraq and Afghanistan, is getting out of the Navy to go to medical school. He summed up his tour of Iraq in 2003: “I saw sand and injured people and a lot of death.”

Vera said he is glad to be getting out, but he thinks the medical experience he got in the Navy will come in handy.

“It’ll make me a very marketable physician,” he said.

Pfc. Darren Nunes, 20, was seen off by his bride, Jennifer, and his parents, Marc and Teresa Kalinin. This is his second trip to the Middle East.

“I think it is hard, seeing him off,” Marc Kalinin said.

“We’ll pray for him,” Theresa Kalinin said. “We’ll pray for all of them.”

She looked at her son, eyes sad and large.

“He’s my baby,” she said.

Jennifer Nunes said she had known while her husband was still in Afghanistan that he would be going to Iraq. Two deployments so close together are difficult.

“But this is the last time,” she said. “No more after this.”

“Uh,” Nunes said, “we’ll see.”

“What?” said his high school sweetheart. “What?”

Corporal Armando Perlaza‘s wife of less than one month, Marianela Perlaza, may not know exactly what to expect as a Marine wife waiting for her husband to return from a war zone, but she knows what it is like to be in the war.

Marianela, an Army specialist, was stationed in Iraq in 2004.

“I just told him not to volunteer for anything,” she said. “I want him to just stay behind.”

Armando knew how to advise his wife on handling the long absence of a loved one. “Just be patient,” he said.

About half the 3/3 Marines left last night. A second group departs this morning.

Source: © Honolulu Advertiser 2006


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