KADENA AIR BASE, OKINAWA, Japan --
Though Marines have been deploying alongside their Navy brethren for more than 234 years, there is still room for new adventure and first-time experience within the Corps’ ranks. The Marines and sailors of 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines (BLT 2/7) can testify to that fact as they prepare to embark on the unit’s inaugural deployment with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU).
“This is the first time 2/7 has served as an amphibious landing force since Inchon, and our first opportunity ever to serve as a battalion landing team,” said Lt. Col. John Reed, the BLT 2/7 Commanding Officer.
Based in the Mojave Desert at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif., the unit trained for and participated in desert operations during two deployments in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom between January 2005 and August 2007. From April to August 2008 they engaged in heavy fighting, conducted Counter Insurgency (COIN) Operations and assisted with the development of the Afghan National Police Force in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
During this deployment however, the Marines of 2/7 will face a new set of circumstances, terrain and weather conditions, including exercises in the heat and humidity of Thailand’s jungles and the tropical rainforests of the Republic of the Philippines. More than 1,100 BLT 2/7 members arrived in Okinawa Jan. 8-10 in anticipation of the MEU’s spring patrol, and Reed said his Marines and sailors are up to the task.
“We’re absolutely ready for it,” said Reed, citing an intense period of work-ups the unit conducted in preparation for the deployment. “We have had the advantage of great people and the time to really focus. We can’t wait to get on ship with the 31st MEU.”
Staff Sgt. Kevin A. Buegel, a rifle platoon sergeant from Company F, BLT 2/7, mirrored Reed’s confidence in his men.
“My Marines are more than ready and as excited as I am about this deployment,” he said.
Reed added that his Marines and sailors are not simply prepared for the deployment, but excited about it as well.
“We are fortunate as a battalion to be really focused on a few of the Commandant’s key priorities,” said Reed. “We can focus training on amphibious operations, getting back to naval traditions and being at the forefront of combined arms fire and maneuver.”
Cpl. Jonathan Metzger, an amphibious assault vehicle crew chief from Company D, BLT 2/7, said that when he deployed to Iraq, his unit was trained and employed as an infantry company. However, now he will finally have the opportunity to do the job for which he originally enlisted – executing amphibious operations in an expeditionary environment.
“I know this is what I signed up for,” said the Enid, Okla. native. “It’s a great opportunity to be given this chance.”
The MEU’s Commanding Officer, Col. Paul L. Damren, greeted the first wave of incoming BLT 2/7 Marines and sailors on the Kadena Air Base flight line, offering his welcoming remarks, the latest college football scores, and his confidence in the incoming unit.
“BLT 2/7 is making history with this deployment,” said Damren. “Their recent combat experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as their thorough pre-deployment training program have prepared them well to fill a critical role as the ground combat element of the MEU. They understand that service with America’s only full-time forward deployed Marine Expeditionary Unit carries with it a significant amount of responsibility, and I know without a doubt that they will live up to the high expectations that we have for them.”
During the MEU’s Spring Patrol, BLT 2/7 will deploy alongside fellow MEU subordinate elements, including Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 265 Reinforced (HMM-265 REIN), Marine Attack Squadron 311 (VMA-311) and Combat Logistics Battalion 31 (CLB-31). The 31st MEU is slated to participate in Exercise Cobra Gold 2010 in the Royal Kingdom of Thailand and Exercise Balikatan in the Republic of the Philippines.