join war on terror
Almost 1,000 troops on
Okinawa could head to
Afghanistan by late September
Nearly 1,000 Marines from Kaneohe Bay will join the war on terrorism, most likely in Afghanistan and as early as late September.
The deployment will mean that Hawaii's contribution to the Middle East war effort could reach about 12,000 troops.
Chuck Little, Marine Forces Pacific spokesman, confirmed yesterday that the U.S. Central Command has requested that 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable), normally stationed on Okinawa, replace the 22nd MEU, which has been in Afghanistan since February. The nearly 1,000 Marines of the 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment from Kaneohe Bay are part of the 31st MEU and have been in Okinawa since early July.
Little could not say when the Kaneohe Marines would be leaving Okinawa and what specific operations they would be undertaking.
But Col. Kenneth McKenzie, commander of the 22nd MEU, in an Aug. 10 message to his command and family members in California, said his unit and other members of the USS Wasp Expeditionary Strike Group have been extended to remain in the Middle East for up to 30 days.
"Our mission is to remain on station until relieved by the 31st MEU," McKenzie wrote. "This process, designed to keep a ready force in theater, could take 20 to 30 days. I know many will be disheartened by this turn of events, but I believe we are on the downhill leg of this deployment and we just need to push on to the finish."
McKenzie added that the entire 22nd MEU is now on three amphibious landing ships of the USS Wasp Expeditionary Strike Group, which is at sea and underway. The Marines left Norfolk, Va., on Feb. 19 for its Afghanistan deployment and originally was scheduled to return home in August.
Last Friday, the sailors and Marines of the 22nd MEU were awarded the Combat Action Ribbon for their participation in combat operations in south-central Afghanistan from March 25 through July 10.
The Marine Corps said in a statement that during 14 weeks of combat and civil military operations, the 22nd MEU killed more than a hundred Taliban and anti-coalition militia fighters and took a similar number prisoner. Additionally, the MEU provided security for the registration of nearly 60,000 Afghan voters and confiscated more than 2,500 weapons and 80,000 pieces of ammunition or ordnance, the statement said.
There are already about 200 members from Kaneohe Bay's 3rd Radio Battalion in Iraq. Those Marines left Oahu in February and are not expected home until September.
During the first year of the Iraq conflict, contributions by Hawaii-based military units was minimal. That changed early this year with thousands of locally based troops going to Iraq for at least a year.
Beginning in January, nearly 5,000 soldiers from the 25th Infantry Division were deployed to Iraq. They were followed by an additional 300 Army reservists from the 411th Engineer Combat Battalion in March. At the same time, 200 aviators and helicopter mechanics from Hawaii Army National Guard's Charlie Company 193rd Aviation were sent to Baghdad.
In Afghanistan the 25th Infantry Division sent another 5,500 soldiers, who are not expected back until March.
Not included in the count are the more than 2,000 soldiers belonging to the Hawaii Army National Guard's 29th Infantry Brigade, who will report for active duty and four months of pre-deployment training before leaving in January for a year of combat duty in Iraq. The National Guard unit will be in Iraq when 5,000 25th Division soldiers are expected to return to Wahiawa.
The count also does not cover all Pearl Harbor ships and submarines patrolling areas of the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Sea. But the Navy reports that the destroyer USS Hopper with a crew of 300 is in the Persian Gulf Belleau Wood Expeditionary Strike Group.
The nearly 1,000-member Kaneohe battalion left Oahu on July 3 as part of a normally scheduled six-month training deployment to Okinawa.
Little said there are three Marine infantry battalions stationed at Kaneohe. "At any time at least one of the three battalions are in Okinawa as part of the unit deployment program," Little said.
Before the Kaneohe Marines left Windward Oahu last month, Maj. Adin Pfeuffer, battalion operations officer, told the Kaneohe base newspaper that his unit understands there is the possibility it could be called into action at any time.
"I believe the Marines would be very excited," said Pfeuffer, "nervous, of course, but excited. They're a great group of Marines."