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thedrifter
12-15-08, 08:52 AM
Tradition-rich Marine unit deploys in '09
Chris Roberts / El Paso Times
El Paso Times
Posted: 12/15/2008 12:00:00 AM MST



EL PASO -- Inspired by his grandfather, Cpl. Octavio Segura will go to war next year with a reserve Marine unit that has deep El Paso roots.

Segura is a member of Delta Battery, 2nd Battalion, 14th Marine Regiment, which has about 200 members who are finishing training before deploying sometime after the first of the year, most likely for aseven-month tour. It isn't clear at this point whether they will end up in Iraq or Afghanistan.

About two-thirds of those Marines are from El Paso.

"I joined the Marines after (the 9/11 terrorist attacks)," said Segura, 24, who will deploy for the second time. "I followed in the footsteps of my grandfather. I joined in tribute, because he joined after Pearl Harbor."

Segura's grandfather, retired Lt. Col. Rufino De La Cruz, enlisted in the Marines in 1944 at the age of 17.

"I joined the Marine Corps because, to me, it was the best service and the first to fight," De La Cruz said in a written response to questions submitted by the El Paso Times.

De La Cruz went on to command El Paso's 19th Rifle Special Infantry Company -- which evolved into Delta Battery, his grandson's unit.

Delta Battery, which operates out of a Naval and Marine Corps Reserve-Readiness Center in Central El Paso, is deploying for the second time since the Bush administration's Global War on Terrorism began. During the first deployment, many of the unit's Marines served in Ar Ramadi as provisional military police working in detainee operations, which was Seugra's job.

"A majority of those Marines are deploying again," said battery commander Maj. Frankie Delgado, "at least half the battery."

Launching rockets

The unit is trained to operate the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, called HIMARS, and this time they expect to be performing that function.

HIMARS uses the same rockets as the Army's Multiple Launch Rocket System, but, because it's mounted on a 5-ton truck chassis instead of a tracked vehicle, it's lighter and can be shipped on a C-130 transport aircraft. It was created to be quickly deployable to combat zones where it can be used to destroy enemy artillery, air-defense emplacements, trucks, light armored vehicles, personnel carriers, and concentrations of troops and/or supplies.

The launcher can swivel 360 degrees to hit targets nearly 40 miles away, according to online sources. Called a "rolling rocket platform," it can be setup relatively quickly without stabilizing feet. "It rocks but it won't tip over," Delgado said.

The 2-14 Marines -- which has three batteries, one in El Paso, one in Oklahoma City and one in Huntsville, Ala. -- was the first battalion to be equipped with HIMARS, which went into full production in late 2005.

"We are only the second reserve battery to be certified HIMARS in the Marines," said Delgado, who originally trained on the M198 Howitzer, which is towed behind a vehicle. Delgado refers to himself as "a true cannon cocker."

The entire El Paso battery was retrained from the M198s, and they have been quick studies, Delgado said.

As an example, Delgado points to Segura, a HIMARS operator/launch chief.

"He owns a launcher," Delgado said of the corporal. "That's his baby."

It is a job normally reserved for a staff sergeant, Delgado said, adding, "There's a lot of that in this battery."

Taking care of Marines

Another long-time member of the unit is Navy Hospitalman 1st Class Raul R. Rivera, who joined in 1986. As a Navy corpsman, Rivera is the equivalent of a licensed vocational nurse and his duties include those of a combat medic.

"I do carry a weapon, but I leave the fighting to the Marines," Rivera said. "My primary responsibility is treating the wounded and healing the sick."

During the unit's first tour in Iraq, Rivera served in Fallujah, where the Marines were completing a major assault to clear the insurgent stronghold of bomb factories, weapons caches and safe houses.

"It was toward the tail-end," Rivera said. "It wasn't as bad as I thought it was going to be. But it was chaotic at times. There were times you didn't sleep for two days. Luckily, I brought all my Marines back."

Rivera said all his uncles joined the Navy, his father was a corpsman in Korea and he loves the Marine Corps tradition.

"I've stuck around this battery for 20 years," he said. "I love my work. It got me a college education. It got me training. Sometimes, in this life, you have to dedicate yourself to one thing and do it well. Something worthwhile."

As the unit prepares to deploy, he is responsible for making sure everyone is immunized, has blood work done and is generally in good health.

"We have to screen them," Rivera said. "Something small here could turn into something much bigger."

Destination unknown

Uncertainty about the unit's destination is, in part, due to the fact that it isn't exactly clear what the U.S. policy in Iraq will be as President-elect Barak Obama's administration takes over, and how that will align with the recent approval of a Status of Forces Agreement between the United States and Iraq requiring troop withdrawals.

Commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. James Conway said during an August Pentagon briefing that he would not be able to send more forces to Afghanistan -- commanders there have requested more troops and Obama has said will be part of his policy -- unless he can drawdown in Iraq.

Conway said Afghanistan, which has seen increasing insurgent activity in recent months, "looks a lot like a Marine mission," as opposed to Iraq, which "is much more about nation- building than it is fighting. And quite frankly, young Marines join our corps to go fight for their country."

Conway also spoke of tactics that might be applied in Afghanistan.

"More Marines, more coalition forces will allow us to go to those places and force the bad guys into the mountains," Conway said. "If you look at how Algeria defeated its insurgency, that was their method, that was their tactic, was to drive these guys into the mountains. And you know what? Sooner or later, they get hungry. They start to starve to death. And they're much more willing to listen to terms."

Either way, Delgado said the unit is ready to fight.

"We have everybody (all jobs filled), and, yep, we're ready to get the job done," Delgado said, adding that the battery also is well equipped and trained, which has included firing rockets on the Fort Bliss ranges.

"I feel good. I feel confident," said Segura, the young launcher chief who joined in tribute to his grandfather.

"I am thoroughly proud of my grandson's joining the Marine Corps," said Segura's grandfather. "We all understand that there are two types of Marines -- those going and those coming back as a band of brothers."

Now Segura is taking college courses in criminal justice and -- when his commitment is over -- is considering a career with the U.S. Marshals Service.

"I left the Corps for a year and I missed the Marines," Delgado said. "As soon as they (inactive Marines) find out the unit's doing something, they want to come back. ... We're extremists. We're extremists in a good way."

Chris Roberts may be reached at chrisr@elpasotimes.com;546-6136.

Ellie