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Southland Marines Ready, Waiting to See Who'll Go : Deployment: As first of the U.S. forces leave for Persian Gulf, uncertainty surrounds personnel from bases, including Camp Pendleton and Tustin.

October 10, 1994|GREG HERNANDEZ and LEN HALL | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

SAN CLEMENTE — Standing outside Coach's Corner Sports Bar and Grill, Lance Cpl. David McCartney hugged two sobbing women who had just heard a rumor that their boyfriends--both Camp Pendleton Marines--might be deployed to the Persian Gulf.

"Everything is word-of-mouth right now," McCartney said as he tried to reassure the women. "People aren't sure who's going."

There was an air of uncertainty Sunday among Marines who frequent this seaside town, located at the north edge of the Camp Pendleton Marine base. They wondered how far the situation would escalate and if they would see combat, as Iraqi troops continued to mass near the Kuwaiti border.

"The worst part is waiting to find out," said Lance Cpl. Joseph Garvey, 24. "My roommate is being called back (to the Persian Gulf). I'm willing to go too. That's my job."

What is known is this: 18,000 Camp Pendleton Marines will be sent to the Persian Gulf, the Pentagon said Sunday. About 700 Marines and sailors from Southern California have already been deployed, among them Marines from Tustin, who were sent in June to the Indian Ocean.

Departing Sunday from March Air Force Base near Riverside were about 300 Marines from Camp Pendleton and Twentynine Palms, part of the First Marine Expeditionary Force, and about 65 sailors from San Diego, according to a military spokesman.

They will meet up with the air combat element of the force--about 350 pilots and support troops from Tustin Marine Corps Air Station called Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 166. That squadron was shifted to the Gulf from its assignment in the Indian Ocean area, said Sgt. Dave Hiersekorn, a spokesman for the Tustin and El Toro Marine bases.

The squadron has been aboard four Navy ships on a routine mission in the area since June, Hiersekorn said.

"The unit just happened to be deployed in the Indian Ocean area at this time," Hiersekorn said. "They are in that theater of operations. They have been to Rwanda for a while. They've been all over."

Hiersekorn described the squadron as "the air combat element" in the 2,000-soldier expeditionary force.

"This is a self-contained force on the four ships," Hiersekorn said. "They come with their own food and their own supplies to be able to operate up to 15 to 30 days without any resupply. They can respond to humanitarian assistance needs all the way to potential military combat, something like this."

"They can respond at short notice and sort of say, 'America is here and ready to deal with the situation,"' Hiersekorn said.

It is the same unit, although not the same personnel, that made the initial landing in Somalia, Hiersekorn said.

Some Marines interviewed Sunday were not surprised that the United States was returning to the Gulf.

"I knew we'd be back over there," Cpl. Richard Fielder said as he sat in a barber shop on El Camino Real, waiting for a haircut. "We should have done the job before. This is what happens when you go in and do something halfway. We could have gone in there and wiped them out."

Cpl. Wallace Addision, a Marine for five years who was stationed in Saudi Arabia during the Persian Gulf War, expressed similar sentiments.

"My hopes when I was there were that we would get it all over with at once," Addison said during a walk on the San Clemente Pier.

"If we went back, it would be different," Addison added. "The way I see it, from the knowledge we gained, we'd make fewer mistakes. Iraq is not well equipped or well trained. It's still not a challenge for us. I hope it doesn't come to us having to fight, but if it does, I hope we finish it off. Stop it cold."

Lt. Mark Klingan, 23, declined to discuss his personal feelings about the latest showdown with Iraq and simply said, "It's the job of every Marine to carry out government policy, not to question it. If we're sent to do the job, then we're going to do the job."

But others were not as stoic. A tearful Vicki Silverberg, 28, stood outside Coach's Corner--a bar frequented by Camp Pendleton Marines--commiserating with friends.

Silverberg's 23-year-old boyfriend was among those put on alert Sunday.

"We went down to the base to pick up his clothes and they told him to pack his clothes and be on standby," she said. "I don't want him to go. It's scary. You never think it's really going to happen."

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