Local Marines depart for California then to Iraq

By Lesley Jenkins
star staff

The Marines of Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 24th Marine Regiment received orders on Tuesday of their immanent departure to Camp Pendleton, Calif. After being called into active duty on Jan. 5, Major Pete Gill speculated the departure date would come before Jan. 21.
   Close to 180 Marines said goodbye to tearful family members and filed into buses at 12:00 a.m. The buses were directed to Nashville where Marines would board a charter flight at 8 a.m. to Camp Pendleton.
   "At midnight tonight, the marines of Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 24th Marine regiment will board transportation to take them on their first leg of their journey to Iraq. . . Their deployment will be for 365 days," said Gill.
   The time spent at Camp Pendleton will be used to assure the Marines are physically and mentally prepared for combat before they depart to an undisclosed location in Iraq as a part of Operation Iraqi Freedom, according to Gill. Additional orders will be received in California by their commander at Camp Pendleton.
   Three members of the company hale from Elizabethton and Carter County. Sgt. Patrick Johnson, works at the Carter County Sheriff's Department, Sgt. Brian Fraley serves with the Elizabethton Police Department and Sgt. Andy Wetzel is a dispatcher with Carter County 911 and a firefighter with the Elizabethton Fire Department.
   The last time Lima Company was deployed was during Operation Desert Storm. "The Marine Reserves have the exact same mission as the Marine Active Duty. It is the same make up, same table organizations, same equipment, same mission. There is no difference.
   Their mission was detailed by Gill, saying, "They are a Marine Infantry Company. They are trained to locate and close with and destroy the enemy by fire maneuver or repel the enemy's attack by fire in close contact. They are a line grunt infantry."
   Part of the training in California involves mentally preparing the Marines for the stresses of leaving behind family and friends. Wetzel, enlisted two and a half years ago, said he would miss "time with family and friends" the most while being gone for six to 12 months.
   Johnson, a 14 year Marine said, "Missing a year of my child's life is going to be really hard, but I have got a very good family network that's really going to help with that."
   Fraley said of what he is expecting to see in Iraq, "I watch the news like everyone else. I just take into account everything I see and I expect it will be the same situation once we get there."
   The deployment time is "unknown," according to Johnson. "It could be anywhere from six months to a year and possibly an extension after that."
   In response to a question about what they will say to their families upon departure, Johnson replied with a heavy-heart, "Nothing that hasn't already been said before."
   Gill said in a departing remark, "God speed, Semper Fi."