June 22, 2004

Times staff

About 950 Marines and sailors from 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, began departing Camp Lejuene, N.C., for Iraq today, base officials announced. The battalion will support operations with Regimental Combat Team 7 and will relieve a unit already in country.
This deployment follows a similar departure on the West Coast, where 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, departed Thursday from Camp Pendleton, Calif., to relieve a battalion that has spent several months in the war zone.

It was expected that the Marines of 3/1 would relieve 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, which moved to Iraq from a Unit Deployment Program stint on Okinawa, Japan, that began in December. One other unit the Twentynine Palms, Calif.-based 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment was deployed to Okinawa when it was tapped for Iraq duty with RCT-7.

Officials at Camp Pendleton and the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms have not yet announced return plans for 1/5 and 3/4, however.

Prior to their deployment, the Marines of 1/8 took part in a training package at March Air Reserve Base, Calif., where they honed their skills in patrolling, operating vehicle checkpoints, and responding to threats including improvised explosives and ambushes.

About 25,000 Marines and sailors are deployed to Iraq with the Pendleton-based I Marine Expeditionary Force on the first of two planned seven-month rotations for occupation duty. About 20,000 Marines are expected to return in the September-October timeframe, when a force of similar size will replace them.