Local troops head to Iraq
December 31,2006

As Col. H. Stacy Clardy III boarded the buses with his 300 Marines and sailors Saturday at Camp Lejeune, special mementos were tucked safely in his bag.

Both of his daughters, age 9 and 7, had given their father ornaments and hand-made crafts to take with him to the western Al Anbar province of Iraq. When he arrives there in the next few days, he will hang them with pride.

As the commander of Regimental Combat Team 2, II Marine Expeditionary Force, Clardy will lead the men and women of RCT-2 into Iraq in an effort to establish stability among the Iraqi people and Iraqi security forces, while defeating insurgents.

But through it all, he’ll have the memories — memories of Christmas dinner with his family and watching his girls open their presents. Memories of the first Christmas in their new home.

“My wife and I tried to make it as traditional and normal as we possibly could,” Clardy said.

It helps that Clardy believes in his mission to Iraq and so does his family. He believes his Marines and sailors do too.

“The Marines see improvements and are willing to sacrifice their time and their lives,” he said. “When we come back, I’d like for (people) to say we got the job done and that every Marine and sailor made it home safe.”

The group is the advance party of RCT-2 headquarters. Several battalions will follow in the coming months. The deployment marks the third RCT-2 has made to Iraq since the war started in 2003.

“Things are changing a lot in Iraq, I guess, and for the better,” Clardy said. “The unit before us has done a phenomenal job with the Iraqi forces and Iraqi people. We’ll try to build on what they did.”

Many said goodbyes Saturday before their first deployment and for others it marked their third or fourth. But the reality of preparing to leave in the middle of the holiday season was something that was bittersweet. They will miss the turning of the new year with their families.

“It’s the small things that stay with you,” said Annette Griffith before saying goodbye to her husband. “Every year we get a new Christmas ornament for the tree. We try to get something that reflects what is happening with our family. This year, it was a mailbox.”

The mailbox represented the Griffith family’s adventures over recent months as they moved from Connecticut to Jacksonville. They laughed about the challenges of moving just before a deployment and the holidays, like when the moving company lost the halves of both family Christmas trees.

“We had to build one by joining the two together,” said Cmdr. Harry Griffith, chaplain, between laughs as he headed out for the ninth deployment of his military career.

Griffith’s daughter, Karen, giggled at her favorite memory — trying to construct her bed with her dad despite missing parts. Griffith’s son, Ethan, will hang on to the memory of going to breakfast with his dad.

Similar memories will help the Jessen family with their son’s first deployment.

“We had a big family get-together for Christmas, the whole time was special,” said mother Rhonda Jessen of Maryland. “We all sang and tried to make Adam (Jessen) laugh. We tried to keep it light-hearted.”

Pfc. Adam Jessen’s parents, grandmother, aunt and girlfriend choked back tears with laughter about the silly songs they sing every year, accompanied by various instruments like a tambourine, accordion and bells.

“We tried not to think of him leaving,” said grandmother Betty Shewbridge of West Virginia. “We’ll think of the good times and try to keep the faith.”

Contact staff writer Chrissy Vick at cvick@freedomenc.com or by calling 353-1171, ext. 239.