Kane'ohe radio battalion latest from state to deploy
By Walter Wright
Advertiser Staff Writer
KANE'OHE "Norris! Newman! Meadows!" the gunnery sergeant barked, sending Marine after Marine toward five U.S. Army buses parked on a dusty asphalt road in the middle of the base at Kane'ohe Bay.
With spouses teary eyed and children calling out, "Bye, Daddy," about 220 members of the 1st Radio Battalion shouldered their M-16s and their laptop computers, flashed shaka and V-for-victory signs and headed out yesterday for a possible showdown in the sand with Saddam Hussein.
The communications and electronic warfare specialists were the latest of several small contingents from Hawai'i shipped out to the Middle East in preparation for war, following 30 of their own, more than 350 Pearl Harbor sailors on the destroyer O'Kane who left Jan. 17, and 200 Marines from Camp Smith who set up headquarters in Bahrain almost a year ago.
About 40 Marine reservists from Hawai'i also are about to be deployed in the 4th Force Reconnaissance Company activated Jan. 14 for amphibious and deep ground scouting and spying and raids.
One Marine getting on the buses yesterday was Sgt. Leah Philbrook, a clerk with the radio battalion, leaving home only three weeks after her husband, Sgt. Nicholas Philbrook of Marine Forces Pacific, returned to Hawai'i after his own deployment in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.
Daughter Elya looked from Mom in her camouflage uniform to her civvies-clad Dad to try to figure out what was going on.
"Where's Mommy going? Nowhere," Elya said hopefully.
Leah Philbrook held Elya's little brother, Duncan, 18 months, in the distracted grasp of a mom helping her children down their cheeseburgers from McDonald's, but said she knew it was the last meal the family would have together for quite a while.
Another headed for the bus was Cpl. Duncan Sutton, 30, a blue-eyed Arab linguist from Austin, Texas, ready to listen in on or speak to friend or foe in their own language.
"Mar'haban," Sutton said, his Texas drawl disappearing behind the rolled r's of the Arabic greeting.
"I came to language school to learn Spanish, because I grew up with it," Sutton said, "but they asked me if I would mind learning Arabic instead, and I said, 'Does it make any difference if I mind?' and they said no, and I said, 'Then I'm very happy to learn Arabic.' "
Studying Arabic has given him an insight into Arab cultures that few Americans have, Sutton said, "and like so many people they are good people, with a real strong sense of family." But many in Arab nations are "naive in a lot of things, and easily manipulated," making good people vulnerable to fanaticism whipped up by bad leaders, he said.
Sutton wouldn't talk about his particular battlefield tasks, but said he is looking beyond them to an endgame when he might use his language skills to help rebuild a post-Saddam Iraq.
Company 1st Sgt. Douglas Power said he had been busy enough making sure everyone had their car payments set up, their teeth fixed and their lawnmowers running that he hadn't had to dwell too much on his own challenge of saying goodbye to wife, Gretchen, and their seven children.
"We eat dinner together every night and we talk," Power said, pausing occasionally, his eyes hidden behind his dark glasses. "I try to keep them informed, we watch the news; they have to understand that the news directly affects us."
His youngest, Lily, 3 1/2, "knows only that Dad is going to get on a plane and go away for a while." His eldest, Megan, 18, a college student, knows a lot more, but already has a military history of her own, having been commander of her Navy Junior ROTC unit at Kalaheo High School.
Wife Gretchen, he said, "has to be mom and dad for the duration, and our orders are 'for the duration.' We have no idea how long we'll be gone."
But "if somebody marries a Marine, they come to understand they are marrying the Marine Corps as well," he said.
Lt. Col. Mark Aycock, commanding officer of the battalion, said his men and women are ready, but probably "a little bit more nervous for this deployment than for others," which have been exercises.
"This is the real thing. The adrenaline gets going, there's a little bit of apprehension, and a little bit of excitement, because this is what Marines are supposed to do," he said.
And they will do it well, Aycock said, because "they know there are other Marines out there depending on us to do our job. If we don't do our job, other Marines could die.
"And a Marine," he said, "will never, ever, let another Marine down."
Reach Walter Wright at email@example.com or 525-8054.