Local News

Marines, Sailors Leave Camp Lejeune In Largest Deployment Since Gulf War

Posted January 15, 2003 3:38 a.m. EST

— A quickly assembled force of 7,000 Marines and 5,000 sailors prepared to sail Wednesday for the Persian Gulf region in the largest deployment from Camp Lejeune since the Gulf War.

Seven ships waited in the Atlantic to the east of the Marine base as headquarters staff members boarded helicopters to fly in waves to their floating base.

Combat troops and their equipment have been loaded aboard the ships since Friday.

"It's the fastest deployment I've ever seen in my 29 years in the Navy," said Rear Adm. Michael Nowakowski, commander of the seven vessels in Amphibious Group Two from the naval base in Norfolk, Va.

The admiral said his ships were refueled New Year's Day in preparation for deployment. Marines received their deployment order Friday and were loaded within five days.

As officers and ranking sergeants boarded helicopters on the banks of the New River in front of their brick headquarters building, family members hugged the departing Marines.

Brig. Gen. Richard Natonski, commander of the troops in the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade, said the deployment was different from routine trips away from the base because there was no set return date.

"We don't know how long we'll be gone," Natonski said. "I just cleaned out my office."

Perched among duffel bags and combat packs waiting to be loaded aboard the choppers were boxes with copying machines and computers needed for headquarters operations.

Earlier movements of troops involved infantry armed with M-16 rifles, rocket launchers and machine guns.

Once in the region, the North Carolina-based Marines will join a force of 7,000 more Marines from Camp Pendleton, Calif.

Natonski said the troops would wait for orders on whether they would operate from the amphibious ships or from a ground base; they are capable of either.

The general said his Marines - augmented by tanks, light armored vehicles, artillery, attack jets and troop carrying helicopters - would be "a force to contend with."

Gunnery Sgt. Rick Lemke sat on the grass playing with daughters Savannah, 2-1/2, and Samantha, 6, while his wife nursed their 6-month-old baby in the family car.

"She's in good hands," Lemke said. "We've got a lot of neighbors and friends. They'll be in good hands."

The force included reservists, such as members of a tank unit from Kentucky. One Marine was working in a discount store a week ago and now was aboard a ship, Natonski said.

The wife of a reserve liaison officer said her husband just returned at Christmas from seven months in Kuwait only to be told to stay packed and get ready to leave again.

"You have to take it in stride," said Donna Terashima, 33, of Raleigh.

Her husband, Maj. Eric Terashima, was a heavy equipment marketing executive until he was activated last February.

As she took a photo of her husband boarding a helicopter and held her 14-month-old son Kyle, she said she was concerned about the deployment.

Of course, I'm upset," she said. "This one, I'm thinking there's more possibility of a war. He's going because of Iraq, and that concerns me."