CAMP VICTORY, Kuwait -- Lead elements of the Camp Pendleton-based I Marine Expeditionary Force currently are on the ground in Kuwait and Iraq paving the way for the expected 25,000 Marines headed back to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom in the coming months.
The bulk of the troops - more than 1,000 as of Feb. 10, 2004, with numbers rising daily - belong to the 1st Force Service Support Group, hurriedly offloading and staging vehicles and gear and laying logistical plans for the next chapter of the Marines' Iraq legacy.
At a Kuwaiti naval port, Brigade Service Support Group 1 began offloading vehicles and supplies around-the-clock from Maritime Prepositioning Force ships Feb. 8. The ships hold a stockpile of equipment for forward-deployed Marines, lessening the time it takes to get suited up for operations.
Other gear is being sent over directly from stateside bases, either by ship or by air. The gear will be staged at assembly areas here and at nearby Camp Udari in the western Kuwaiti desert in order to marry up with I MEF's main forces, who are expected to arrive later this month. The first convoys of Marines should begin the trek northward to Iraq in the coming weeks.
Already, some FSSG Marines have ventured to Iraq, planning logistical support of the I MEF and coordinating the hand-off with the Army.
"We're not re-inventing the wheel," said Master Sgt. Timothy C. Campbell, a 38-year-old native of Hacienda Heights, Calif., and the Group's logistics chief here.
The Marines are taking over infrastructure already established by the Army and will use existing supply channels hopefully easing the transition, Campbell said.
"We also expect to use contracted services heavily," said Capt. Robert T. Meade, future operations officer for the Group's advance party headquarters here, and a 30-year-old native of Greeneville, Tenn.
Citing mess halls as one example, civilian contractors would ease the burden of routine services the FSSG would otherwise have to provide.
"By allowing them to do it, it reduces our manpower requirements," said Meade.
According to Headquarters Marine Corps, approximately 25,000 Marines and sailors will be deployed to Iraq and Kuwait by this spring, with FSSG making up nearly a fifth of the force. Many of the returning Marines have only been home from Iraq a few months.
The 1st FSSG will oversee the operations of Combat Service Support Groups 15 and 11, said Meade. The latter will directly support the 1st Marine Division's Regimental Combat Teams with Combat Service Support Battalions. CSSG-15 will be responsible for acquiring all supplies and pushing them to the battalions.
Commonly referred to as "beans, bullets and band-aids," the combat service support that the 1st FSSG provides encompasses the realm of supply, transportation, medical, maintenance, engineering and services such as post offices and exchanges.
Dubbed by some as "Operation Iraqi Freedom 2," though the deployment is a continuance on the Phase IV operations of the original OIF, the Marines' primary mission will be conducting security and stability operations in the turbulent area west of Baghdad so that the fledging Iraqi democracy can take root.
Yet, Marines, especially those of the FSSG, will undoubtedly find themselves lending a hand in the rebuilding.
"We're prepared to support a range of humanitarian assistance operations," said Meade.