MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. -- The sun remains hidden below the horizon as the early morning humidity hangs in the air like a damp blanket covering the marshy land. Only the sound of buzzing mosquitoes, swarming about hundreds of Marines, broke the silence of dawn.
Enduring the bugs’ pestering bites, the warriors stand at parade rest, staring straight ahead. Those at the head of the immense formation hold unit guidons and the Marine Corps colors, flags flapping gently in the morning breeze.
Their leader barks an order, and the formation disperses with loud, motivating shouts. Hundreds of troops pour from the grassy field on which they’re standing and rush to the road, feet pounding the pavement, looks of grim determination on their faces. The Marines produce all sorts of shouts and grunts as they make their way down the boulevard.
To bystanders, the artillery regiment’s pounding feet may sound like any other morning run. But to their leader, it was the sound of war.
“I don’t know if you all heard what I heard as we were running down the street. It sounded like thunder, it sounded like artillery firing in the field. But what it really was, was the rest of Camp Lejeune cowering before the sight of this regiment running by.”
These are the words of Col. Thomas Cariker, 10th Marine Regiment’s commanding officer, spoken shortly after his Marines concluded a motivational run here Aug. 27.
The event was a send off to those Marines deploying with 2nd Battalion, 10th Marine Regiment and Battery S, 5th Battalion, 10th Marine Regiment. Only days after the run, the Marines were traveling overseas to support Operation Iraqi Freedom and provide safety and security in areas such as Fallujah, the Abu Ghraib prison perimeter and along the Syrian border.
Now in Iraq, the battalion acts as a provisional infantry battalion and provides local security by conducting patrols and convoy operations.
The Marines assist in providing stability to what have been troubled sectors, such as Fallujah. Intelligence reports claim the city has harbored Abu Musab Al Zarqawi operatives, who have been responsible for numerous terrorist attacks against Iraqi civilians, Iraqi Security Forces and multinational forces.
Battery S is performing its role as an artillery battery and also training alongside the Iraqi National Police.
Marines with the Camp Pendleton, CA-based I MEF and the Army’s 1st Infantry Division, worked with the Iraqi government in July to change the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps as a defense force and convert it to the Iraqi National Guard.
Coalition forces have thus far helped the ING conduct cordon search operations, illegal weapons confiscations and set up vehicle checkpoints.
Battery S efforts enhances the soldiers’ training with some of their own military knowledge, which the ING can incorporate into its own military training doctrines.
Although the Marines are facing daunting challenges during their deployment, they are nevertheless willing to serve their nation. The unit’s morale remains “semper high.”
“Serving the Marine Corps has been the greatest part of my life, and deployments like these are all part of the job,” stated Sgt. Robert Dickie, a squad leader with Battery L, 2nd Battalion, 10th Marine Regiment, and native of Berlin, PA. “We’re going to help Iraq get back on its feet. I only wish we could do more.”
“This is the reason I joined, to help my country and to help out other nations,” explained Sgt. Jason D. Bailey, radio chief with Battery S and native of Covington, KY.
The former Dixie Heights High School football player added that he’s honored to serve his nation by performing duties overseas.
“Over 100 Marines in the 2nd Battalion, 10th Marine Regiment extended their (end of active service date) just so they could make this deployment,” Cariker exclaimed. “That right there speaks volumes.”
The units’ leader places much faith in the provisional infantrymen and the artillery battery troops’ competence in battle.
“The units have thus far performed magnificently. They’ve performed just as I’d expect Marines would,” Cariker stated.
“I’ve watched (2nd Battalion, 10th Marine Regiment) transform itself from an artillery battalion into an infantry battalion. We’ve given them all the required safety and security operations training, and the best equipment possible.
“They’re motivated, and they’re ready to fight.”
The rising sun breaks over the horizon as an exhausted group of sweaty Marines receive the order of dismissal. Some weary warriors make their way back to their barracks rooms, where they enjoy what may be their last hot shower in awhile.
Tired though they may be, the Marines march as if on the drill field, heads held high, ready to tackle the challenges of Operation Iraqi Freedom.