CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. -- It was no more than 18 months ago when wives, children and girlfriends stood on the softball field at the end of L Street here giving final hugs and saying goodbyes to their loved ones from 1st Battalion, 2nd Marines, as they departed for Iraq with the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade.
A similar scene played out in the early morning hours of June 19 as the Marines from 1/2 found themselves headed back to Iraq as the Ground Combat Element for the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit.
But not everything now is how it was then. This time, the riflemen from 1/2 will stop at March Air Reserve Base in Southern California for some specialized training before touching down in the scorching temperatures of Iraq.
The training will allow the Marines to hone the art of security and stability operations, or SASO, what U.S. troops are doing to ensure a successful transition to a peaceful, democratic Iraq.
Over 10 days, the Marines from 1/2 will test their skills in patrolling, operating vehicle checkpoints, and responding to threats, including improvised explosive devices and ambushes. Role players will be used to make the training more realistic.
The SASO training will build on urban-combat training the Marines conducted in May in West Virginia. It also gives them more of an advantage in how to deal with different situations, something they didn't get before deploying last time.
"This time around it feels a lot different going over there," said Lance Cpl. Jackson Williams, a Willacoochee, Ga., native and rifleman with Charlie Co., 1/2. "But I think this time we are more prepared."
Just as the Marines were preparing for the long deployment ahead, families were doing the same as they were making the necessary preparations to be without their loved ones for the extended period of time.
"This is almost the hardest thing a mother could do," said Kathy Beck, the mother of a Marine from 1/2. "You raise them up from the time they are small, and now the worst part is not being able to see them and not knowing what will happen to them while they are over there."
But Beck said she planned to stay in touch with her son by writing him letters and talking to him over the Internet.
At 2 a.m. the buses arrived to carry the Marines to Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point and it was back to business as the Marines grabbed their gear and up.
"I am ready to go," said Pfc. Julio Garcialendof from Queens, N.Y., and a rifleman with Charlie Co., 1/2. "The sooner we get over there, the sooner we can come back."
"But this time it feels different," he added. "The Iraqis are using different tactics and weapons, but this training is going to be good to go and I think we are ready."
The remainder of the 24th MEU will flow to the Middle East over the next two weeks. The entire unit is expected to be in Iraq by mid-July.