MARCH AIR FORCE RESERVE BASE, Calif. -- There are many memorable first times in a person’s life. First birthdays, first steps, first words and for Marines who recently joined the Marine Corps, their first deployment to Iraq.
After enlisting in the Marines approximately a year ago, Willard Mo. native, Pfc. Michael A. Hawkins is about to embark on his first journey to another country when he leaves to support Operation Iraqi Freedom in September.
“I can’t wait until we go over there,” said the 19-year-old rifleman with I Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment. “I’m really pumped to see what it is like.”
Hawkins and his fellow Marines must prepare for anything they encounter during their stay in western Iraq before getting their chance to deploy. The best way they do this is to participate in Stability and Security Operations training just weeks before the deployment.
The 2004 Willard High School graduate and I Company are currently participating in SASO training. The training consists of many urban warfare classes and scenarios, along with convoy training, improvised explosive device training and a real-life field exercise involving more than 300 role players simulating Iraqi citizens.
“This training helps the new Marines understand how it is out there,” said Cpl. Wes W. Rushing, Willard’s squad leader with I Company. “These scenarios are exactly what we did in Fallujah last time.
“The city was cleared out and anyone we saw on the streets was a suspected terrorist,” continued the Keller, Texas native.
This training is some of the best Hawkins has had since enlisting. The realism of the training is something he has never seen before.
“This training has been really motivating,” commented Hawkins. “We did training like this before, but this has been a lot more realistic.”
His company will move from here to Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center 29 Palms, Calif. where they will participate in a Combined Arms Exercise after completing SASO. Willard will receive advanced training there on the many different weapons systems he will use in Iraq.
After his deployment with the battalion, Hawkins is looking forward to starting his college education to become a diesel mechanic while continuing his training as a rifleman. Being a diesel mechanic is something he has wanted for years.
“Working on diesels is something I’ve liked doing for a while now,” he commented. “It’s what I want to do whenever I get out of the Marine Corps.”
He is also looking forward to buying a truck and being able to spend time with his seven brothers and other friends fishing and camping in Missouri.
“I can’t wait to get back and do things like buy the truck I’ve always wanted,” said Hawkins excitedly. “I will have the time to really have fun with my family and girlfriend.”