View Full Version : Troops on Afghan soil a year ago

03-06-03, 06:20 AM
Troops on Afghan soil a year ago
A year ago, the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit was on the ground more than 800 miles inland in Afghanistan, stretching their supply lines as they hunted suspected al-Qaida and Taliban terrorists.

They were the first regularly scheduled deployment of U.S. troops to leave the country following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Now they could be some of the last to leave before a possible war with Iraq.

More than 2,300 Marines and sailors with the 26th MEU left Camp Lejeune Wednesday morning aboard the amphibious assault ships USS Iwo Jima, USS Nashville and USS Carter Hall bound for the Mediterranean Sea.

If they are called upon for war, they could be in the Persian Gulf or the Black Sea in about three weeks.

“We’re ready and there is a lot of anticipation and excitement,” said 26th MEU commander Col. Andy Frick. “We’ve waited a long time.”

Although they have a new fighting force built around reinforced versions of 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment and Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 264, complete with AV-8B Harrier “jump jets” from Cherry Point Air Station’s Marine Attack Squadron 22, they have some old hands in their ranks that could help make winning an impending conflict easier.

Frick said the MEU’s intelligence, logistics and traveling officers and a crew of staff non-commissioned officers are still on staff from the last deployment. That deployment set records for the distances 26th MEU troops traveled to ashore away from their ships.

The MEU has prepared for its mission with assorted training including a nuclear, biological and chemical weapons defense exercise and work with high-altitude, high-opening parachutes that allow troops to exit an aircraft at 10,000 feet over friendly territory and glide 20 miles behind enemy lines.

The MEU also has trained for missions that include going ashore on helicopters, small boats or assault amphibian vehicles to hit enemy positions and rescue downed pilots.

But on Wednesday, troops took a few moments to simply say goodbye.

In the early morning mist, a young newlywed couple parted for the first time since their wedding nine months ago.

“I’ve been shopping and buying stuff to make sure that the house is taken care of,” said Cpl. Garrett Barton, 21, a machine gunner from Gowanda, N.Y., assigned to 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment. “I’ve been working on the car a lot.”

His wife Christina Barton, 20, from North Tohawanda, N.Y., laid her head gently on her husband’s shoulder.

“We’ll keep in touch with letters, mostly,” Christina said. “I’ve never dealt with this before, but I came here because I wanted to spend every last moment with him.”

Others left alone.

“My family is too far away to come see me,” said Lance Cpl. Steven Costa, 20, a mortarman from Lake Stevens, Wash. assigned to 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment with the 26th MEU. “We plan to keep in touch with letters, e-mail and phone calls.”

Unit leaders who watched as Marines and sailors prepared had thoughts similar to those of proud parents.

“The morale is high, just look at them,” said 26th MEU senior enlisted leader Sgt. Maj. Frank Knox, 43, from Charlotte. “They’re talking on cell phones and getting snacks from the roach coach. It’s just another day on the job.”

But they are just beginning a deployment of at least six months, and Knox is responsible for the health, morale and welfare of the troops during the entire period.

“We have a state-of-the-art gym on the ship that’s open 24 hours a day and computers and Play Stations in the library,” Knox said. “We have 12 ATT phones at various places on the boat and a karaoke night in the hangar bay of the ship.”

Contact Eric Steinkopff at esteinkopff@jdnews.com or 353-1171, Ext. 236.