Thursday, January 30, 2003

Marine unit answers call to duty

By Howard Wilkinson
The Cincinnati Enquirer

From the moment the planes slammed into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon 16 months ago, the nearly 170 Marines of Communications Company, Headquarters Battalion, 4th Marine Division in Walnut Hills have been anxiously awaiting the call to active duty.

[photo] Marine Corpsman Chris Leidy (left) of Western Hills administers an anthrax vaccination to Sgt. David Vanuch of Springfield, Ohio, Wednesday.
(Michael E. Keating photos)
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This week the call came.

"We knew we'd be going sooner or later,'' said Maj. Tony Capetillo, the newly appointed commanding officer of the Marine Reserve unit that was called to active duty Wednesday. It is the largest military unit in the Cincinnati area so far to become part of the buildup that is the prelude to a possible war with Iraq.

"We're ready. This is what we train for,'' Capetillo said.

Early Wednesday morning, in the snow and rain, dozens of young men and women in Marine desert fatigues wheeled their cars and SUVs into the parking lot of the Naval Reserve Center on Gilbert Avenue, hauled their duffel bags inside and began the paperwork and medical vaccinations that all military units go through before shipping out.

They have no idea where they will be going. All they know for sure is that the entire company will be transported to Camp Lejeune in North Carolina on Monday. Once there, they will receive deployment orders. Nearly all of the Marines who reported for duty Wednesday believe their ultimate destination is the Persian Gulf.

Because of the kind of unit it is, it is likely to be in the middle of the action. The Marines specialize in combat communications - setting up telephone, radio and data transmission services so that Marine units in the field can stay in touch with each other and their command center.

[photo] Staff Sgt. Hector Rodriquez loads a Humvee on a truck for the trip to Camp Lejeune, N.C.
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"We're in the dark right now,'' Capetillo said. "But we've been prepared for this day.''

It is a unit that draws most of its men and women from within a 50-mile radius of Cincinnati, although a handful live in other parts of the country.

Wednesday, there was no sign of apprehension or anxiety in this place, no hesitation or doubts about the mission. After all, these are Marines, who have 227 years of history behind them, 227 years of being first in line when the nation goes to war.

Maj. Gerald Miller, the unit's inspector/instructor, said most of the men and women are "anxious to go.''

"I got here at 5:45 this morning to open the place up, and there were two Marines sitting outside waiting to get in,'' said Miller, chuckling. "That's pretty gung-ho.''

When visitors to the Reserve Center asked young Marines if they had any doubts about what they were doing, their backs would straighten and they would assume a quizzical look.

"This is why we serve,'' said 24-year-old Brian Benson of Toledo, a six-year veteran of the Marine Corps. "I am excited. I'm ready to use what I've learned.''

Benson and many of the Marines of Communications Company will be leaving behind family. In Benson's case, it will be three small children, two in Toledo and one in Cincinnati.

"They're so little they have no understanding of what I'm doing,'' the young Marine said Wednesday, after completing his insurance and financial forms in the gymnasium of the Reserve Center. "All I can tell them is that daddy won't get to see them for a while, but I still love them and I'll miss them.''

Saturday morning, parents, wives, husbands and children of the Marines will gather at the Reserve Center for a "family readiness'' briefing, where they will be given information on how they can get help coping with the absence of their Marines.

Sgt. Kelly Best, a 28-year-old Marine Reservist who is also a Cincinnati police officer, will be one of a handful of Marines who will stay behind to run the office and help Marine families with any problems they have on the home front.

"These people in this company are some of my best friends in the world and it is going to be hard to see them go,'' said Best, the mother of two young children. "I wish I were going myself. I'm a Marine and I'm prouder of that than anything else.''

Miller said the Marines in this unit range in age from 19-year-olds not long out of high school to 51-year-old retired police officers.

"We've got people who are just a couple months away from graduation; we've got one guy whose wife is eight months pregnant,'' Miller said. "We've got people in all kinds of circumstances. Everybody has a different set of problems they have to deal with. But we're all here to do our duty.''

Wednesday, as Marines loaded Humvees on to flat-bed trucks for the trip to Camp Lejeune, other Marines stood in line for shots and packed personal gear into camouflage duffels.

Sgt. Joseph Temple of Troy, Ohio, had his paperwork complete Wednesday afternoon and was waiting to see if the members of the company would be allowed to go home for one last visit before shipping out Monday.

"We had some warning; we knew something was coming,'' said the 22-year-old sergeant.

The hardest part, he said, "is dealing with the unknown. I don't know when I'll be able to hug my mom again or toss a football and have my dog chase it. Maybe a long time.

"But that's part of being a Marine.''


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