Josephine Brawner clung to her mother, who refused to be identified, as her father, Staff Sgt. Brian Brawner, held daughter Miranda yesterday at the Marine Corps Base Hawaii in Kaneohe before leaving for Iraq. Thirty-five Marines left on an advance deployment yesterday.

Valentine’s Day
finds Marines
bound for Iraq

Leaving his wife, who's five months pregnant, and three children for a half-year military tour in Kuwait and Iraq was hard enough yesterday for Maj. Don Welch. But deploying on a day dedicated to love made it even harder.

"On Valentine's, you don't think of leaving -- you think of getting closer," he said, with a chuckle.

Standing inches away was Welch's wife, Carlynn, who held back tears as she talked about the Valentine's Day gifts -- cards and a compact disc of family photos -- that she and her young children prepared for Welch's departure.

"If anything, I got a lot more 'I love you's' than other people get" on Valentine's Day, she said.

Thirty-five members of Camp Smith's 3rd Radio Battalion stationed at Marine Corps Base Hawaii left for the Middle East yesterday afternoon.

Gunnery Sgt. George Patton shared a sad goodbye yesterday with his wife Melinda and his daughter Mallory before leaving for Iraq. Patton, along with 34 other Marines, were part of an advance deployment to Iraq and left the Marine Corps Base Hawaii in Kaneohe yesterday.

Another 115 of the battalion's Marines and sailors will follow next month.

Military officials said the soldiers will support their fellow Marines already in the region by providing communications and electronic warfare.

"It's never easy leaving any day of the year ... for a situation that we're going into," said the 3rd Battalion's commander, Lt. Col. Mark Aycock, who will be heading to Iraq in March. "I can't promise that everybody can come home."

Nearby, Sgt. Kevin Martin stood in the shade, rocking his week-old infant asleep.

"Things worked out and I got to see her born," he said quietly, so as not to wake the baby. Martin's girlfriend, Amy Blackmore, looked on.

"We knew it was coming for months," she said, adding that the couple have been spending more time together since they learned of Martin's deployment. "I think it would be hard no matter what day it is."

Relatives gathered to watch as Marines boarded a bus to be deployed to Iraq at the Marine Corps Base Hawaii in Kaneohe yesterday. Pictured are Hunter, left, and Yoko Messere; Julie Aycock; Grace, Kelly and Elizabeth O'Connor; Carlynn, Jeb and Sidney Welch; and Elizabeth O'Connor and Taylor Welch.

For many deploying yesterday, the tour was their first in Iraq.

"I'm anxious," said Sgt. James Viator, as he knelt in the grass with his 2-year-old daughter, Izabel. "The day doesn't matter. It's just a day."

Melissa Acevedo threw her husband, Nathaniel, a combination birthday and Valentine's Day party earlier this week.

His birthday is today, but Melissa gave him a digital camera in advance to shoot some photos of their two children, ages 6 and 4, before he left.

"It's hard, but I'm hanging in there," she said. "I'm just going to spend it (Valentine's Day) with my kids. I'll take them out on a date," she added with a laugh.

Yoko Messere didn't like the idea of her husband, Steve, leaving on Valentine's Day. But, she said, looking at her husband, "I tried not to make it special because he's going to be sad."

The soldiers flew out of Hickam Air Force Base last night. Before the soldiers left, their commander gave them some parting words of support.

"You all need to pay attention to what you're doing out there," Aycock told the soldiers. "I'm also asking you to look out for each other."


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