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Corps Gets the Call...

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  • Corps Gets the Call...

    Corps gets the call
    More than 40,000 Marines to take over security mission in Iraq

    By Gordon Lubold
    Marine Corps Times staff writer

    Lance Cpl. Brian A. Wood hopes Iraq can wait.
    Wood just spent more than eight months there, returning Sept. 13 with 1st Battalion, 4th Marines. Now it looks like he’s headed back. He just hopes he can marry his fiancee by next spring.

    “I’ve known for a fact that I’m going over there,” said Wood, 20, as he waited to get a haircut in downtown Oceanside, Calif. “There’s really nothing I can do about it.”

    Wood and more than 40,000 of his fellow Marines will return for another round of combat duty in Iraq starting early next year, Pentagon officials said Nov. 6.

    A division-sized task force of about 21,000 Marines will deploy in March for a seven-month rotation to an area west of Baghdad considered one of the more dangerous areas in postwar Iraq.

    That task force will be relieved in September by another task force of equivalent size for another seven-month tour, according to a new troop rotation plan outlined by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other top officials.

    Most of the units forming the new task force will come from Camp Pendleton, Calif.-based I Marine Expeditionary Force, which led Marine forces in the effort to oust Saddam Hussein’s regime this spring. The task force will replace the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division in central Iraq near the city of Fallujah, said Lt. Gen. Jan Huly, deputy commandant for plans, policies and operations.

    Roughly half the units going back to Iraq saw duty there during the major combat phase of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Huly said.

    Details of the plan still are being worked out, and units still are being notified of what role they’ll play.

    “We haven’t identified specific infantry units,” Maj. T.V. Johnson, a I MEF spokesman, said Nov. 6.

    The identity of those units should become clear in coming days, Huly said.

    In addition to Iraq rotations, Pentagon officials announced that about 1,000 Marines from the Camp Lejeune, N.C.-based 2nd Battalion, 8th Marines, are to replace soldiers in Afghanistan beginning this month for a planned nine-month tour. They are to be relieved by another Marine unit, but that unit has not been determined, Marine officials said.

    About 6,000 Marine reservists are to mobilize for the Iraq and Afghanistan deployments, as well as for duty on Okinawa, Japan, as part of the Corps’ Unit Deployment Program.

    Despite the new missions, which will require about a quarter of the Corps’ active force over the next year, Corps officials said there are no plans to implement a stop-loss policy, which would require Marines to stay in the service beyond scheduled separation dates.

    The news comes as soldiers weary of conducting stabilization and security missions in Iraq are nearing the end of their one-year tours. Lacking multinational divisions to relieve them, the Pentagon is calling on the National Guard and reserves, new Army units and the Marine Corps. It comes as a fairly nontraditional role for the Corps, normally a first-in, first-out force rarely tasked with occupation duty.

    Time for Round 2

    The services began issuing orders Nov. 5 to 85,000 people from active-duty and reserve combat units for duty in Iraq.

    Beyond the Marine deployment plans, 37,000 Army National Guard and Army Reserve members are getting alert warnings that they may be mobilized for combat-support roles in Iraq. Another 3,700 Army Guard and Reserve members are being alerted for possible duty in Afghanistan.

    Also, about 1,000 sailors and 2,000 airmen are scheduled to “provide direct support to the joint force on the ground,” said Lt. Gen. Norton Schwartz, director of joint operations for the Pentagon.

    These service members will provide skills that in peacetime or on less-stressful deployments might be performed by Army personnel. For example, Schwartz said, “The Air Force is offering truck drivers,” and the sailors will handle cargo.

    The new Iraq rotation, called Operation Iraqi Freedom II, is scheduled to unfold between January and April to replace four Army divisions completing 12-month combat tours.

    Overall, the number of U.S. troops in Iraq would diminish next spring under the Pentagon’s rotation plan. About 132,000 U.S. troops are in Iraq, with tens of thousands more in supporting roles in nearby countries. Of those, 102,900 are active duty and 28,700 are in the reserves or National Guard.

    Once the rotation is completed next April, about 105,000 U.S. troops are expected to remain in Iraq — about 66,000 active-duty troops and 39,000 reserve and Guard members. At that point, reservists would make up about 37 percent of the force in Iraq.

    The Marine mission

    Ground, air and combat support units will be pulled from around the Corps to form the first task force going to Iraq. The force will be organized around the Camp Pendleton-based 1st Marine Division, which led Marine ground forces in Iraq last spring. It’s unclear whether division commander Maj. Gen. James Mattis, who also led Marines of Task Force 58 in Afghanistan in 2001, will return to Iraq for this deployment.

    The plan for seven-month deployments may come as a surprise to many Marines, as Commandant Gen. Mike Hagee said Sept. 29 that Marines likely would pull yearlong tours.

    Army units and some reserve units may be activated for up to 18 months, but seven-month tours are the best fit with the Corps’ deployment tempo, Huly said.

    Though most rank-and-file Marines will spend only seven months, some Marines with headquarters elements likely will spend a year in Iraq.

    The bulk of the area Marines occupied during the first phase was in southern Iraq, a relatively stable area of the country dominated by Shiite Muslims. Soldiers in the central area of Iraq that Marines are deploying to next year have experienced more dangerous duty.

    Staff Sgt. Barrington Hibbert, 30, a wire chief with Communications Company, Headquarters Battalion, 1st Marine Division, returned from Iraq on Oct. 3. Standing in downtown Oceanside, he said there is a new focus for those in his unit to get needed training done before the task force leaves next spring.

    “The mission is going to be totally different than what we did before,” he said.

    Marines primarily will conduct security and stability missions, Huly said, without providing more specifics other than to say Marines returning to Iraq likely will see missions common to the “three-block war.” That term is used to describe the nature of urban operations, in which a Marine unit might be engaged in combat, peacekeeping and humanitarian-assistance missions within the same three-block area of a city.

    I MEF leaders said they plan an intensive training period for the units ordered to deploy, and Marine commanders will take some pages from the Army’s playbook.

    Marines will learn more about defensive tactics for convoy operations, for example, as Army units serving there often see attacks during those missions, Johnson said.

    Marines also will learn how to “work with people” to help stabilize the country, but at the same time be prepared for the dangers that still exist there.

    “We want to be sure they can defend themselves,” Johnson said.

    More armor

    During the roughly four months I MEF spent in south-central Iraq after major combat operations ended May 1, no Marines died as a result of hostile fire. And the Corps wants to keep it that way.

    Officials with Marine Corps Systems Command at Quantico, Va., are obtaining enough body armor for Marines going to Iraq, and developing vehicle armor as well, Huly said. The Corps also is accelerating development of several nonlethal weapons that may be useful.

    Deploying Marines also may have access to experimental technology and tactics designed to counteract threats common to Iraq, such as the convoy ambushes and “improvised explosive devices.”

    A recently assembled multiservice working group of experts from the Army, U.S. Special Operations Command, the Air Force and the Marine Corps is working on new ways to protect U.S. troops.

    Options they are considering include new Humvee armor, signal-jamming systems, new surveillance systems and improved counter-ambush tactics, said Lt. Col. David Wessner, deputy director of the Marine Corps’ lessons-learned team, who also is involved in the “Joint Survivability” project.

    The group hopes to field experimental solutions for troops in Iraq within four to six weeks, allowing for two to three months of experimentation by forces in the field.

    “We want to gain supremacy of the [convoy] routes,” Wessner said Nov. 6. “We want to make sure all the convoys are properly equipped.”

    To ease the burden on active-duty Marines, reservists will play a significant role in the OIF deployments.

    Starting in January, nearly 1,500 reservists will be called up to join the March deployment. The units consist mainly of transport and attack-helicopter squadrons and aviation-support detachments, as well as civil affairs, engineering, communications and military police, according to Marine officials.

    The next group of about 4,500 reservists will be mobilized in June and will deploy to Iraq in the September rotation. Most units deploying in the second wave are attack- and transport-helicopter squadrons or fixed-wing transport squadrons and support units — with additional units from 4th Maintenance Battalion and several military police companies.

    Huly said the Iraq deployment should not have a significant impact on other Marine commitments around the globe. Besides, “deployment” is a Marine’s middle name.

    “Deploying is what we do for a living in the Marine Corps,” Huly said. “This just gives us an opportunity to do that a little sooner than we have before.”

    Vince Crawley, Christian Lowe and Gidget Fuentes contributed to this report. Fuentes reported from San Diego.