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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, January 6, 2006

Kane'ohe troops depart, again

Photo gallery: Departure to Afghanistan

By Eloise Aguiar
Advertiser Windward O'ahu Writer

Sgt. Jared Nielson, wife, Rebecca, and son, Van, 1 1/2, shared a moment before the Kane'ohe Marines left for Afghanistan yesterday.

Photos by RICHARD AMBO | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Ingrid Scott is comforted by April Peavey as their husbands, Staff Sgts. Ralph Scott and Michael Peavey, leave the base in Kane'ohe. The wives know each other from the Marines' previous deployment to Iraq.

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Young Marines shout as their bus leaves Marine Corps Base Hawai'i. They are deploying to Afghanistan. More will leave over the weekend.

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KANE'OHE BAY Eight months home from an arduous deployment to Iraq, a battalion of Kane'ohe Bay Marines and sailors is again heading into harm's way, this time in Afghanistan.

About 400 troops with the 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment flew out yesterday and another 480 will leave this weekend.

Forty-four members of the Hawai'i-based battalion died during 10 months in Iraq that ended in April. One tragedy alone, a Jan. 26, 2005, helicopter crash in western Iraq, killed 26 Marines and a sailor and was the deadliest crash since the invasion of Iraq began in March 2003.

Six other Hawai'i Marines died in Afghanistan from May to September.

Friends who had been injured and killed were on the mind of Lance Cpl. Brandon Benzmarrs, 20, of Maui, as he waited at Marine Corps Base Hawai'i at Kane'ohe Bay for a bus ride to Hickam Air Force Base early yesterday morning.

Some of the Marines fighting in Afghanistan were his friends.

"A couple of my friends were injured pretty badly, and one of them died," said Benzmarrs, as his wife, Malia, stood by. "I'm pulled in two directions over this deployment. I want to go, and I don't want to go."

He said he was excited about the new assignment and using his training, but he was not looking forward to weather that gets to 20 below zero. "That's the worst possible thing you could think of for a local," he said.

Yesterday's departure as 2006 gets under way is the first of several repeat war zone deployments for local Marines. The 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment is just getting back from seven months in Afghanistan.

Benzmarrs' wife of one year said even though this is her husband's first deployment, she would be OK. She lives on Maui, where she graduated from Baldwin High School and trained to be a massage therapist, while he was training in California for this assignment.

"The hardest part is the long wait, but we've been apart," Malia Benzmarrs said, adding that she plans to stay busy and try not to think too much about him being in danger zones. "That would be my advice to others."

Deployment for families can be rough, but the wives yesterday had steeled themselves and were standing tall, hoping to convey the confidence that would allow their men to know they'll be OK.

Sandra Myers, 32, said she has to be strong for her husband, Gunnery Sgt. Philip Myers.

"If I'm not OK, I'm not strong, he's going to be there worrying and it's going to take his focus out of what he's suppose to do, and I don't want that," Sandra Myers said.

Michele Godfrey, whose husband will leave Sunday on his fourth deployment since they came to Hawai'i 3 1/2 years ago, is the key volunteer network coordinator who helps provide support for Marine families. The Marine Corps has prepared the families as well as it prepared the troops, said Godfrey. The network tries to stay in touch with every family and offers support and fun family things to do, she said.

Godfrey said each deployment is different.

"I try to go into it with a positive upbeat outlook," she said, adding that the troops are trained well, and that knowing they'll be gone for a specific time also helps to deal with the separation. "Probably one of the more important things is knowing that there will be more communications between the spouses and the families back here."

Most of the Marines lining up yesterday morning didn't have family or friends to see them off. Although they were quiet in the cool morning breeze, a restless energy moved through the group as they waited to depart.

Philip Myers, 32, who is from Hawai'i, requested a transfer to the Hawai'i Marines so he would have a chance to deploy. After less than two years with the 1st Battalion, 3rd Marines, he has twice gotten his wish to "do my part on the global war on terror," he said.

"We're not going to let our guard down by any means, even though it's not considered a full frontal war" in Afghanistan, Myers said. "It is still a very dangerous place."

In addition to those lost in the helicopter crash last January in Iraq, seven 1st Battalion, 3rd Regiment Marines were killed in a suicide car bombing on Oct. 30, 2004, near an insurgent stronghold of Fallujah. Another nine Marines and a sailor were killed in Iraq most during intense house-to-house fighting in Fallujah in November 2004.

Two 1st Battalion, 3rd Regiment Marines based out of Okinawa also were killed.

Staff writer William Cole contributed to this report.

Reach Eloise Aguiar at eaguiar@honoluluadvertiser.com.