Marines prepare for handoff in Iraq

1 Aug 2004 | Sgt. Matt Epright 1st Marine Logistics Group

Tents are popping up all over the base, signs stressing water conservation are suddenly appearing on showers, troops have been mailing home excess personal gear to make room in their living areas -- all signs units here are getting ready for a huge surge of Marines and sailors coming in the next few weeks.

The Marine Corps, in keeping with its policy of 7-month deployments, is launching a second wave of personnel from the Camp Pendleton, Calif.,-based I Marine Expeditionary Force, to Iraqi bases to replace other I MEF forces that have been in the Al Anbar Province since the early spring.

The two groups of troops will both be in Iraq at the same time during the transition so individuals can explain and pass on their responsibilities to their replacements.

This rolling turnover will also allow units to maintain a constant presence in their areas and continue their missions uninterrupted.

Marine commanders expect this to cause a significant, though temporary, surge in the number of people on the camps, especially at the main transportation hubs for Marines in Iraq.

One of those hubs is this base, which houses the headquarters for the 1st Force Service Support Group.

"We're going to see an on-hand camp population over twice what we have now," said Lt. Col. Emily J. Elder, the camp commandant here.

Marines and sailors are adding bunk beds to their tents, to be able to fit twice as many people in each. The 1st FSSG is also working with other units here to put up more tents to compensate for the increase in numbers, said Elder, a native of Huntingdon, Pa.

One of the key projects is the building of a 1,000-person transient area, complete with showers, air conditioners and plenty of cots and bunk beds, which will give units and individual Marines a place to lay their heads for a few nights as they wait for follow-on flights to other camps.

"That should alleviate a lot of the stress in the camp," said Capt. James M. Bechtel, who is in charge of camp operations.

The base's operations section is also coordinating with civilian contractors to ramp up the frequency of services such as filling the water for the shower trailers and cleaning out the portable toilets, said Bechtel, a 34-year-old native of Olpe, Kan.

The extra Marines are expected to affect the mess hall here as well.

Hoping to ease possible overcrowding, the mess hall managers plan to extend meal times by one hour, opening a half-hour earlier and closing a half-hour later, for each of the four meals offered here, said Capt. Clarence E. Perry, the 1st FSSG's logistics operations officer.

The Marines are also negotiating with the civilian company that runs the mess hall, to get more food delivered here more often, said Perry, a 36-year-old native of Hampton, Va.

Aside from figuring out where to put the additional personnel and how to feed them all, the Corps must also coordinate to get the new crew to Iraq and send the old crew home.

Moving approximately 40,000 Marines and sailors in the course of just a few months, with each half moving in a different direction, will be a monumental undertaking. However, the Corps won't be alone in its effort to get Marines swapped out.

The considerable task of transporting this many people to and from Iraq will be handled by the U.S. Transportation Command, a joint-service unit headquartered at Scott Air Force Base, Ill., which has moved more than 1.6 million American service members in support of Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom, as of July.

Each of I MEF's major units, the 1st FSSG, 1st Marine Division and 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, will coordinate with "TransCom" to get seats for their Marines and sailors, said Sgt. Paul A. Dube, the 1st FSSG's future operations chief.

Once TransCom delivers the troops from the United States to one of the hubs for Marines in Iraq, individual units are responsible for picking up their personnel. The units are also required to drop off their outgoing Marines and sailors at the same transit points for travel back home, said Dube, a 25-year-old native of Minor Hill, Tenn.

Elements of the 1st FSSG, called Arrival/Departure Airfield Control Groups, run the transportation centers, monitoring all the flights and ensuring that personnel and their gear get on the correct aircraft, said Sgt. Thaddeus D. Forman, the noncommissioned officer-in-charge of the control group here.

Though 1st FSSG Marines run both A/DACGs in Iraq, the Wing and Division have representatives there, who account for their people and point them where they need to go, said Forman, a 27-year-old native of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

While thousands of troops will transition through the two major hubs in Iraq, the cargo loads should stay relatively moderate. The only equipment the Marines and sailors will be traveling with is their personal gear, such as packs and rifles.

To make the changeover as smooth and safe as possible, the outgoing forces are leaving behind all their larger unit equipment - everything from trucks and tents to heavy machine guns.

As the incoming troops show up, they simply "fall in on their gear," said Lt. Col. Erick P. Thomas, the 1st FSSG's logistics officer and a 40-year-old resident of Tacoma, Wash.

The outgoing units will be staying long enough to account for the hundreds of millions of dollars worth of materiel before signing it over to the new arrivals.

With both outgoing and incoming crews on deck at the same time, troops will have to sacrifice some of the comforts they have gotten used to during this deployment, though everyone will have a cool place to sleep and hot food to eat.

"It's going to get very, very busy here," said Elder.
Unit News Archive
1st Marine Logistics Group