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Families Give Iraq-Bound Marines a Tearful Send-Off

Members of an infantry battalion are among the 25,000 who will relieve the Army's 82nd Airborne Division.

March 01, 2004|Tony Perry | Times Staff Writer

CAMP PENDLETON — The event Saturday night was a farewell for Marines being deployed to bring peace to one of the most dangerous cities in the world, but it had the outward appearance of family night at the local school.

Classroom lights burned brightly, tables outside the buildings were stacked with cookies and other snacks, families wandered inside and out, music played softly on a boom box (some rock, some country), and large groups of students were everywhere -- some quiet, some nervously talky.

For many of the families, the day they dreaded had arrived. Their loved ones, after weeks of training in the field and in the classrooms of the school of infantry, were finally leaving for a war zone.

The departing troops were members of the 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, an infantry battalion being sent to bring stability to Fallouja in the violence-wracked Sunni triangle region of Iraq.

By early April, 25,000 Marines will relieve the Army's 82nd Airborne Division in the area west of Baghdad that has been the heart of anti-Western attacks by Iraqi insurgents.

The Marines and Navy medics of the 2nd Battalionwill be in the thick of the action, a fact not lost on the troops and their families. Buses were waiting to take 250 members of the battalion to March Reserve Air Force Base in Riverside for the 24-hour flight to Kuwait, where the 1st Marine Division is staging before going to Iraq.

"I hear the name Fallouja on the television, and the news is very bad," said Albert Cisneros of Los Angeles, whose son, Albert Jr., 33, is a medic. "They say there are lot of young Iraqis without jobs there, and they're being offered money to kill Americans."

Inside the classrooms at the school of infantry, bulletin boards list rules of engagement for the Marines as they leave on a mission that mixes combat and nation-building.

* Don't flaunt your power but do not show fear.

* Curse if you must, but avoid using phrases starting with "God."

* Think as if every Iraqi wants to kill you, but do not treat them that way.

On the same bulletin boards are pictures of the weapons being used by insurgents to attack U.S. forces and Iraqis who cooperate with them: AK-47 assault rifles, rocket-propelled grenades and improvised explosive devices.

"This is all so new for me, so frightening," said Aracely Tapia, a hairstylist from San Diego, whose son is Pvt. Omar Tapia, 20. "I'm very proud of him but I'm very nervous about this."

Even for longtime Marine families, the mission to Iraq is particularly stressful.

"This farewell is different," said Sharon Price-Sanchez of Vista, Calif., who brought her two daughters to say goodbye to their father, her ex-husband, Master Sgt. Isaac Sanchez. "There's more fear and more tears this time."

Rhiana Sanchez, 12, feels as if she has spent her life saying goodbye to her father.

"It gets easier but it gets harder, too, because I need a dad around these days to help me with stuff," she said.

Lt. Col. Gregg Olson, the battalion commander, feels it's essential that families be invited for a final goodbye. "The families are our strength," said Olson, who served in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Some families preferred not to speak to outsiders. Some felt differently.

"I want the whole world to know that my son, Lance Cpl. John Adamson, is going to Iraq for his country," said Mary Adamson of Otis, Kan. "I want everyone to know these are real people with real families."

Daniel Garcia, a bus driver from San Bernardino, had suggested to his son, David, 21, that he enlist in the Air Force.

He chose the Marines. His father served with the Marines in Vietnam.

"He said, 'Dad, you went, now I'm going,' " Garcia said. Three carloads of relatives came to the base to say goodbye and take pictures.

Roberta Cisneros said her son had tried gently for months to prepare her for his deployment.

As a medic, Albert Cisneros will follow troops on patrols.

"He tried to get me ready, but it's not something a mother can get used to," she said as the buses arrived.

More buses arrived Sunday to take more Marines on the same journey, and more will be coming today.

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