MarCent leaders on troops in Iraq: no longer than necessary

30 Mar 2004 | Staff Sgt. Bill Lisbon 1st Marine Logistics Group

While pleased at the speed Marines answered the call to return to Iraq, U.S. Marine Forces Central Command leaders said the stay here won't be any longer than it takes to transfer power back to the nation's citizens."MarCent" commander Lt. Gen. Wallace C. Gregson, Jr., his deputy, Brig. Gen. Jerry C. McAbee, and senior enlisted advisor, Sgt. Maj. Royce G. Coffee, among others, spent two days touring I Marine Expeditionary Forces in Iraq, including 1st Force Service Support Group here on March 27, 2004, as well as the 1st Marine Division and the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing on March 28.The visit came three days after I MEF officially accepted authority of the Al Anbar province from the Army's 82nd Airborne Division and began the continued efforts to secure and stabilize the region."It's gone better than anybody expected," McAbee said.By deploying their troops and gear quicker than anticipated, Marines had originally planned to relieve the Army on April 4."We did it at one minute past midnight on the 25th of March," he said.The feat is all the more impressive since some of the units only returned from Iraq less than six months ago. Marines were ordered back in November 2003.Now, MarCent wants to see what else needs to be done."We kind of put the force together to some extent on paper based on what we thought we would need," McAbee said. "Now that we're on the ground we're going to find that there's probably other units or support that we need."Gregson commands both U.S. Marine Forces Central Command, based in Bahrain, who has operational control over Marine forces in the U.S. Central Command's area of responsibility, as well as Marine Forces Pacific, based in Hawaii, who is responsible for organizing, training and equipping I MEF, based in Camp Pendleton, Calif., and III MEF, based in Okinawa, Japan.Dubbed by some as "Operation Iraqi Freedom II," the redeployment of I MEF Marines -- about two-thirds of which served in last year's war to topple the Saddam Hussein regime -- has some wondering why Marines are being used as a, more or less, occupational force."The operation at Al Anbar province is hugely important to the whole operation within Iraq. They always seem to put the Marines in the areas that need the most help," Gregson said.Committed for 14 months, the Marines plan to rotate its troops after about seven months."One of the first concerns that we're about is we don't keep the Marines over here doing stabilization and security operations," said McAbee.McAbee explained that allowing the Marines to return home will allow them to rest and train for other types of operations the Corps must be prepared to respond to as the nation's "911 force."Furthermore, he expressed that the Marines overall time in Iraq will be limited."At the time the area is determined to be appropriately stabilized, the Marines will get out. We will redeploy," McAbee said.Approximately 25,000 Marines and sailors are currently deployed under the command of I MEF, which also led Marine forces in Iraq last year."If there are requirements for Marines to participate beyond OIF II, we will make a determination on which MEF will source that command element," McAbee said. "Clearly II MEF (based in Camp Lejeune, N.C.) is an option."Regardless of how long Marines will eventually spend in Iraq, McAbee sees the time as a worthy investment."Just take a look at the opportunities we're providing our young Marines, our NCOs, our staff NCOs, and our young officers. Just look at the skills they're developing right now that will carry the Marine Corps forward, in many cases, for the next 20-25 years," he said.
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