State News

Defense secretary visits Camp Lejeune, thanks Marines

Posted April 23, 2009 10:31 a.m. EDT
Updated April 23, 2009 7:20 p.m. EDT

— Defense Secretary Robert Gates watched Marines simulate an attack Thursday at Camp Lejeune in preparation for their deployment as part of the president's troop surge in Afghanistan.

Gates watched from a tower as some 30 camouflage-clad Marines simulated the assault on a house in a training complex, a mock-up of a Middle East village. About a dozen more Marines played the part of insurgents and defended the house, opening fire on two armored vehicles.

Smoke hung in the air and the rattle of machine gun fire echoed through the surrounding pine forest.

After the exercise, Gates spoke with the Marines from Delta Company, 2nd Light Armored Recon Battalion, thanking them for their service. He wished them good luck on their deployment to Afghanistan.

"What you are doing is important. We need you over there," Gates said. "You know the mission. You know the challenge."

Later in the day, the secretary present awards to four members of the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade.

About 4,000 Marines from Camp Lejeune and the nearby Marine Corps air stations at Cherry Point and New River are expected to deploy later this spring.

The troops will bolster the 38,000 American troops already fighting a resurgence of Taliban forces in Afghanistan.

President Barack Obama recently ordered 17,000 more U.S. soldiers and Marines to Afghanistan and also visited Camp Lejeune in February.

Gates also watched training in roadside bomb detection.

The Marines who assaulted the house said they appreciated Gates' visit.

"I am honored he took time out of his day to watch us do this," said Sgt. Ryan Lane, 25, of Pittsburgh.

Lane, who deployed to Afghanistan in 2004-2005, said the Marines did not do anything differently because the secretary was watching.

"We train like we fight - 24-7," he said.

The Marines said they looked forward to going to Afghanistan instead of Iraq.

Cpl. Andrew Oquendo, 23, of Patterson, N.J., said he welcomes the change of scenery after deploying twice to Iraq.

"We're all pretty excited about it," He said. "It's a change of pace from Iraq. We're all looking forward to seeing a little more action out there and just playing a big important part of the role."

"I think these men and women want to be in the fight," Gates said.