CAMP TAQADDUM, Iraq -- Nearly 5,000 Marines and sailors here are smiling, ready to return to their loved ones, thanks to a new wave of 1st Force Service Support Group personnel who arrived over the last month.
The 1st FSSG provides logistical support for the I Marine Expeditionary Force, which is currently commanding all Marine forces operating in Iraq.
The rotation keeps within the guidance set forth by Gen. Michael W. Hagee, Commandant of the Marine Corps, to stay on track with seven-month deployments. Pentagon officials previously suggested 12-to-14 month deployments. He confirmed the seven-month rotation cycle to 1st FSSG during a visit here earlier this year.
Headquarters Marine Corps representatives have previously stated that seven-month rotations allow for greater flexibility throughout the Marine Corps.
The 1st FSSG faces daily threats from ambushes and improvised explosive devices to provide a continuous supply line for I MEF. This daunting task has kept the critical supplies, like food and ammunition, as well medical and engineering services, to maintain the fight.
The two largest units in the 1st FSSG, Combat Service Support Groups 11 and 15, have received their new group of Marines. Serving in a direct support role, CSSG-11 has two battalions, Combat Service Support Battalions 1 and 7, which support the infantrymen with the 1st Marine Division’s 1st and 7th Regimental Combat Teams. CSSG-15 serves as the general support group for all I MEF units, and acquires and distributes food, water, ammunition and medical supplies.
Since returning to Iraq in February 2004, 1st FSSG and supporting units have spent more than 11 million dollars in construction, water restoration, medical supplies and cleanup projects for local Iraqi villages, destroyed numerous weapons stockpiles, captured more than 14,000 tons of captured ammunition and assisted in the transition of power from the Coalition Forces Administration to the interim Iraqi government.
While some units have simply switched out Marines, others have been replaced by entirely different units.
Larger units, such as Headquarters and Support Battalion, Combat Service Support Groups 11 and 15, and the command element, are permanent standing units, which can rotate Marines in and out of Iraq without affecting mission capability, said Lt. Col. David M. Kluegel, the1st FSSG G-3 operations officer.
Supporting companies and platoons, including combat service support, engineer and military police companies, are deployed as a whole, in order to maintain the unit’s cohesion, added Kluegel, 45, a St. Louis, Mo., native.
Despite the difference in rotations among units, 1st FSSG has not experienced any change in manpower or mission capability.
“The Marine Corps is able to do this sort of thing with ease due to all the cross training and efficient turnovers that Marines receive prior to deployment,” said Sgt. Jason Dube, 1st FSSG’s future operations chief.
Second Battalion, 10th Marine Regiment, an artillery unit from Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C., replaced 3rd Battalion, 24th Marine Regiment, a reserve infantry battalion headquartered out of St. Louis, Mo. With the demand for infantry battalions increasing, Marines from other specialized fields, such as artillery and military police, are filling roles traditionally held by riflemen. The provisional infantry battalion provides security for 1st FSSG’s principal logistics base and conducts civil affairs missions to improve community relations with local Iraqis.
Marines have hit a few snags during the transition. Vehicles used by 1st FSSG units have logged thousands of miles since early spring through treacherous convoys, and most are being kept in western Iraq for another seven months, causing concern regarding vehicle life expectancy, said Capt. Paul A. Zacharzuk, 40, Repairable Management Company’s commander.
“Maintenance is going to be the big issue. It always is with any long deployment,” said Dube, a 25-year-old Minor Hill, Tenn., native.
To keep the 1st FSSG units and their gear mission ready, several maintenance and supply units are on hand to repair, refurbish and purchase parts for many different types of gear and vehicles, from alternators to night vision goggle accessories.
The transition between rotating forces allows an exchange of information and experience between unit’s leaders and Marines.
During their civil affairs missions, Maj. Luke W. Kratky and Chief Warrant Officer Dwight Torres, unit information officers for 3/24 and 2/10, respectively, have shared ideas on how to improve relations with local Iraqi villagers.
“I’ve been showing him how we’ve dealt with the local sheiks and villagers and the differences among them, and he has some ideas of his own, too,” said Kratky, a 33-year-old Fenton, Mo., native.
As the departing team returns to open arms back home, the new crew here will pick up where they left off – supporting Marines and sailors fighting terror throughout Iraq.
Combat service support operations throughout Iraq will continue past the seven-month deployment, when the II Marine Expeditionary Force, based at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C., takes over in spring 2005.