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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, August 13, 2004

Kane'ohe Marines stand by to deploy

By William Cole
Advertiser Military Writer

Nearly 1,000 Hawai'i Marines are heading to the California desert this month for live-fire exercises ahead of a possible deployment to Afghanistan or Iraq.

The 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, has been under a general warning that it should be ready to deploy on short notice, and Marines have been hitting the gym at the Kane'ohe Bay base in large numbers with the expectation they will be called upon for Middle East duty.

But there are no firm orders for the region, officials say.

The battalion's members do "in fact have their warning order to stand by but, as of right now, they have no orders to go anywhere," base spokesman Staff Sgt. Jeffrey Middleton said yesterday.

The possible Marine deployment comes as about 10,000 Schofield Barracks soldiers are on yearlong deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan, and about 2,000 Hawai'i Army National Guard soldiers prepare to report Monday for an Iraq assignment beginning in February.

State Sen. Bob Hogue, R-24th (Kane'ohe, Kailua), said yesterday that he had not heard anything about a Marine deployment, but that the possibility brought back memories of 1991, when about 7,600 Kane'ohe Marines were deployed during Operation Desert Storm. Hawai'i Marines with Task Force Taro were the first to cross the mined Kuwait-Iraqi border.

"When they went — man, oh, man — it was like, wow, what happened to Kailua?" said Hogue, who likened the community in those days to a ghost town.

Hogue said: "Anytime you decrease the amount of the community, so to speak in the economy, yes, it's going to make a difference."

Most members of the 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marines — known as "America's Battalion" — are heading to Twentynine Palms in California for combined-arms exercises that integrate air and ground elements and live fire.

The exercises will be at the Marines' Air Ground Task Force Training Command and will run for 22 days and include a series of live-fire exercises.

The Kane'ohe Bay Marines usually train each year in Hawai'i under a similar scenario, but don't normally participate in the desert-condition Twentynine Palms exercises, Middleton said. The training is the most realistic in the Marine Corps.

Additionally, about 100 Marines from Company I of the 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marines, are set to conduct live-fire training from Monday to next Friday at Makua Military Reservation.

The 3rd Battalion has three rifle companies — I, K and L — and weapons and headquarters/supply companies.

As part of regular seven-month deployment rotations for Kane'ohe Marines, the 1st Battalion, 3rd Marines, recently returned from Okinawa and the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marines, left for the island. The 3rd Battalion Marines were expected to make the trip this winter but the battalion commander, Lt. Col. Norm Cooling, said that was subject to changing mission needs.

Reach William Cole at wcole@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-5459.