U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND AREA OF RESPONSIBILITY -- The possibility of an extended deployment, fewer port visits, and increased force protection measures - along with the Marine Corps's new stop loss/stop move policy - are some of the circumstances the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) is facing in addition to the threat of war against Iraq.
The MEU deployed less than a year after September 11 and has seen more of its capabilities used on this float than on previous deployments. Some Marines say this deployment has impacted their lives both professionally and personally.
The possibility that the MEU wouldn't return home on schedule was expected by some Marines. "I didn't think we would come back in March. I thought the possibility of seeing conflict would be high," said Gunnery Sergeant J. Alvarado, Company Gunnery Sergeant for Co F, Battalion Landing Team 2/2. For him, there have been no surprises on this deployment, though before he transferred from his former unit, he says that he was mentally prepared for any action taken by the MEU.
GySgt Alvarado is one of the close to 50 Marines being affected by the stop loss/stop move policy in Fox Company.
"It's been a good experience to be here," said the MEU's Adjutant, Capt. Harry Gardner, referring to the training missions the unit has completed. "There have been more opportunities for training on this deployment than last," he said.
"There were no Harrier Jets on the last float," he said. Overall the MEU has been given the opportunity to exercise a lot of its capabilities, said Gardner.
Due to a higher terrorism threat, force protection measures have been stepped up. This has affected the number of ports visited by the MEU. Even during off loads for training, security has taken a very high priority. Capt. Gardner praised the BLT for the outstanding security provided during training. Because of their work, "we were made a hard target," said Capt. Gardner.
Sgt. Stephen K. Braithwait and Cpl. Bradley T. Homolka of 2/2's Fox Co. both agree that their past deployment was more relaxed, with many more ports visited.
"We visited at least 12 different countries during the last float," said Homolka.
The stop-loss has "created some anxiety as far as planning ahead after my EAS," say Cpl. Homolka, but "it has also given me more options, such as time and money, to help with planning."
"For me, the stop loss was unexpected. Had it not been passed, my re-enlistment would have occurred later," said Braithwait.
As of now, several hundred Marines in the 24th MEU (SOC) will be affected by the stop loss by the end of 2003.
The 24th MEU (SOC) is facing the circumstances in its current deployment by remaining flexible.
The unit is supporting Operation Enduring Freedom in the Central Command Area of Responsibility.