A Marine Corps Reserve unit of 150 men reported for active duty at Port Hueneme on Monday, packed up its impressive array of firepower and shipped out for Okinawa by way of Camp Pendleton.
"We are part of the first infantry reserve unit to be activated from Southern California," said Capt. Hobie N. Smith Jr., commanding officer of the weapons company based at Port Hueneme's Naval Construction Battalion Center.
Assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 23rd Marine Regiment, the company is trained to transport the heaviest human-carried weapons onto the battlefield for its battalion.
Among other weapons, its arsenal includes the Mark 19 weapon that fires 40-millimeter shells capable of penetrating 2-inch-thick steel, the M47 Dragon anti-armor guided missile designed to destroy tanks, and an 81-millimeter mortar that delivers the impact of a small bomb.
"We are going to Okinawa and we can't speculate after that," Smith said, surveying his troops packing the arsenal to be shipped overseas. "All I can say is we're ready for anything."
Smith's gung-ho attitude was not reflected in many of the worried faces of Marine reservists called for 180 days of active duty by the branch of the military that takes pride in being first into battle.
"A lot of us are students and this is disrupting our lives," said Lance Cpl. Temujin Jones, a sophomore at Cal State Los Angeles. Jones and Lance Cpl. Douglas Smith of Ventura, both heavy-machine gunners, said they've known for weeks that the call-up was imminent.
"I have the attitude that you could get in a traffic accident or be stabbed or mugged, so there is risk every day," said Smith, 21, an assistant manager of the Skating Plus roller skating rink in Ventura. "Of course, there is greater risk on the front lines."
Capt. Richard T. Johnson said Monday's deployment was the first time for most of the citizen-soldiers to be called to active duty. "This is going into the great unknown for them," said Johnson, an active-duty Marine who coordinates the weapons company activities at Port Hueneme.
The call came as a surprise to some of the more experienced reservists too.
"I hadn't expected it, that's for sure," said Capt. Tom C. Luke of Thousand Oaks, commander of the company's mortar platoon. Luke said he is concerned about the viability of two businesses that he started since leaving active duty for the reserves in 1988.
"If I had my druthers, I'd rather not go," said Luke, 29, a Naval Academy graduate. He said he is relying on friends and business partners to take care of his businesses while he is away.
Nearly all of the 150 Marines in the weapons company come from Ventura, Santa Barbara and Los Angeles counties. The unit has an average age of 22 years, and only 26 of the reservists are married. "There is one married Marine whose wife is pregnant," Smith said. "That's mine." His wife is expecting their first child in January.
Before leaving for Camp Pendleton for last-minute training with the rest of the 1,000-man reserve battalion, the weapons company held a demonstration of its firepower on the Seabee base.
"We've stepped up our training in recent weeks and spent a great deal of time at Camp Pendleton and Twentynine Palms," Smith said. "At least 50% of our time is spent training at night."
Neither Smith nor any other Marine officers would speculate on whether the battalion would go to Saudi Arabia to be part of the 400,000-troop U.S. buildup in the region.
But Pentagon strategists have made sure Saudi-bound troops have up-to-date training in the latest high-tech gear for night maneuvers. These strategists have suggested that U.S. forces, equipped with night-vision goggles and other gear, would have the advantage in night battles.