Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Kaneohe Marines
tapped for deployment

Orders to Afghanistan affect
about 1,000 now in Okinawa

The Pentagon made it official yesterday and ordered nearly 1,000 Kaneohe Marines to the Middle East to replace a unit that has been in Afghanistan since February.

Chuck Little, Marine Forces Pacific spokesman at Camp Smith, said the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, currently stationed on Okinawa, has been ordered to the Middle East. Since July 2, more than 900 Marines from the 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, have been assigned to the 31st MEU after leaving Kaneohe Bay on a regularly scheduled seven-month deployment.

Little said he couldn't say where or when the Kaneohe Marines will be going.

However, last week the Star-Bulletin reported that Col. Kenneth McKenzie, commander of the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit, told his Marines and their family members at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina that his unit will be replaced by the 31st MEU possibly within the next 30 days. The 22nd MEU left North Carolina in Feb. 19 and served in Afghanistan from March 25 through July 10.

Last week the Navy also assigned the two amphibious ships -- the USS Fort McHenry and USS Harpers Ferry, which normally operate out of Sasebo Naval Base in southern Japan -- to transport the 1,000 Kaneohe Marines.

The deployment will also include another group of Kaneohe Marines, 70 aviators, crew members and six CH-53D Sea Stallion helicopters of Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 463.

On Friday, the unit lost one of its helicopters when a Sea Stallion crashed into a building on the campus of Okinawa International University, about 330 yards from the fence line of Marine Corps Air Station Futenma. The helicopter's three crew members were injured.

The aircraft and crew were part of a composite squadron assigned to the 31st MEU.

Yesterday, one of the crew members was released from the naval hospital at Camp Lester in Okinawa. Two others remain hospitalized in stable but good condition. Their names have not been released.

The crash has hampered training here, since the Marines' Sea Stallions were grounded last weekend. That forced Marines here to cancel a week of live-firing training in Makua Valley Military Reservation. A Kaneohe Bay spokeswoman said the training had to be called off because the Sea Stallion helicopters were not available as a firefighting asset as required by the Army.

More than 100 Marines from India Company of the 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, were supposed to begin live-fire training in Makua Valley on Monday.

Instead, the Marines went to the firing ranges in the Kahuku Military Training Area and Dillingham air field and trained at Schofield Barracks' urban assault facility.

Marine Corps Base Hawaii


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