Local Marine shares thoughts on deploying

By Abby Morris
Star Staff
amorris@starhq.com
GRAY -- As local Marines with Company L, 3rd Battalion of the 24th Marine Regiment get physically prepared to deploy overseas in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, they are also preparing mentally.
"I really don't know what to expect right now," said U.S. M.C. Sgt. Patrick Johnson, a 13-year veteran of the Marine Corps Reserves. "We haven't really gotten enough information to have any anticipation about where we are going or what we'll be doing."
According to Maj. Pete Gill with Company L, the Company could deploy anywhere in Southwest Asia as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
As part of the Marine Corps Reserves, members have to spend a minimum of six months in active duty when they join. After that initial period of active duty, they are deployed on additional, but shorter, trips in order to maintain or receive additional training.
Johnson states that this deployment will be different than the previous deployments he has been on. "It's going to be a lot more intense and it will be a lot longer than some of the deployments I have been on and probably a lot harsher weather conditions," he said.
The company, which is one of five companies in the 3rd Battalion, is a Marine Infantry unit. "The infantry is sort of a catch all. We take on all offensive missions on the ground and all defensive missions on the ground," Johnson said. "We can be either offensive or defensive so it varies from day to day what we are doing."
In addition to preparing mentally for the challenges they will face while on deployment, the Marines of Company L will also have to prepare themselves mentally for what they will be leaving behind. In addition to leaving behind a wife, Johnson will also leave behind his only child, a 14-month-old daughter. "That doesn't make it easy," he said. "I don't know how I'm going to handle it."
Even though they will be leaving a lot behind on their deployment -- which is estimated to last one year -- Johnson said that he and the other Marines in the Company realize that there is a job that needs to be done.
"Realistically, we have to take care of these problems now or they are going to be there for our children to take care of," he said. "It's what Marines do and it is something that has to be done so we do it."
According to Johnson, when a Marine deploys, it also takes a toll on those they leave behind. "While we may be in rough spots and sparse living conditions while we are away from home, it is the wives who have the toughest job," he said. "They have to take care of the home and raise the kids. They have to wonder about us, where we are at and what we're doing."
Johnson, like many others in the Company, will also be leaving behind a career which he loves. "I already miss my job," said Johnson, who works as a Sergeant with the Carter County Sheriff's Department. "I feel really fortunate that I have an employer who supports me so much. It's really like a second family to me."
According to Johnson, there are a lot of public servants in Company L.
"There are a lot of police officers in this company, a lot of firefighters and a lot of EMS (emergency medical services) people," he said.
Serving alongside Johnson in the unit are Sgt. Brian Fraley of the Elizabethton Police Department and Andy Wetzel of the Elizabethton Fire Department.
Johnson stated that he is very close to many members of Company L and that many of the Marines get together in their off time and even plan vacations together.
According to Gill, the Company will remain in Gray for approximately two weeks before departing for Camp Pendleton, Calif., which is where they will spend their final days of preparation before deploying overseas.