150 Kaneohe Marines leave for Iraq


POSTED: Monday, April 06, 2009

Lance Cpl. Richard Johnson was supposed to get out of the Marine Corps last December.

;[Preview]    An Emotional Goodbye For Local Soldiers

About 150 Marines and Sailors boarded a bus as they leave loved ones behind for a 7-month deployment to Iraq.



But he extended his active-duty enlistment for a year when he learned his unit was returning to Iraq this month.

“;I wanted to go back with these guys. They're a very good unit. I wanted to go back to Iraq and do good things,”; he said.

Johnson is among the last 150 Marines and sailors with 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, to depart from Kaneohe yesterday for a seven-month deployment to al Asad, Iraq. About 850 other Marines and sailors of the 3rd Battalion left earlier this month.

This is Johnson's third deployment to Iraq since 2006. He said there were a lot of close combat encounters, improvised explosive device (IED) strikes, sniper shots and small-arms fire in his first deployment.

His second deployment in 2007 was more peaceful, with far fewer insurgent attacks.

Johnson is hoping for more of the same for his third deployment.

“;I'm hoping to do a lot of good things over there as far as helping the community, rebuilding schools, shopping centers, things like that,”; he said.

And he's happy President Barack Obama plans to draw down the number of troops in Iraq by the summer of 2010.

Obama said he would like to withdraw two-thirds of the 145,000 U.S. troops now in Iraq.

“;I think we did everything that we could (in Iraq). And we have a lot of priorities in Afghanistan right now,”; Johnson said.

The 3rd Battalion, 3rd Regiment, is replacing Kaneohe's 1st Battalion, 12th Marine Regiment, now in Iraq. The 1st Battalion is scheduled to go back to Iraq in November.

Staff Sgt. Felix Nole-Ortiz is another one of the 150 to depart Kaneohe yesterday. This will be his fourth deployment to Iraq since 1992. His first time was as part of Operation Desert Storm, the campaign to liberate Kuwait, during which some U.S. units crossed the border into Iraq, then withdrew.

He says he has seen living conditions improve for some Iraqis during his three previous deployments.

“;Some of the areas are built up, some of the areas not. Some of the people are living a lot better than others,”; he said.

Nole-Ortiz says if the Iraqis can handle their own security, he supports the drawdown. If he is ordered to go to Iraq after next summer, he says he will do his job.

He says the only difficulty with his deployments is being away from his family. He and his wife have two sons, ages 8 and 13, and are expecting another child in June.

Nole-Ortiz says the military services have greatly improved communication opportunities between service members deployed overseas with their families back home.

“;But I still write letters the old-fashioned way,”; he said.

And this time, Nole-Ortiz says he is bringing a laptop computer.