Don’t look to the Marine Corps base at Kaneohe Bay for any signs of a troop drawdown in Afghanistan this summer.
About 300 artillery Marines, rifles in hand, stowed their gear and said goodbye to wives and girlfriends yesterday as they prepare for a seven-month deployment to Helmand province in southern Afghanistan.
An additional 250 Marines with the unit — the 1st Battalion, 12th Marine Regiment — will be leaving Hawaii in coming weeks.
About 1,000 Marines with the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment are in and around Nawa in Helmand; the 1st Battalion and its 1,000 Marines recently landed in Garmsir; and a Hawaii-based Marine helicopter squadron also is in the south of the country.
Several hundred Marines with Combat Logistics Battalion 3 are due back from Afghanistan starting this week.
U.S. leaders continue to debate how many troops to withdraw from Afghanistan starting in July, a deadline set by President Barack Obama when he decided in 2009 to send 30,000 more troops to the country.
Ten years into what has become an unpopular war for the American public, Hawaii Marines continue to deploy and continue to say goodbye to loved ones for an uncertain future in Afghanistan.
The Marines from the 1st Battalion, 12th Marine Regiment will provide 155 mm artillery, 81 mm mortar and rocket support.
"Should we be there (in Afghanistan)? Absolutely," said 1st Lt. David Janecke, 33, a logistics liaison officer making his first deployment to the country. The reason he gives is much the same as the experience he had on a previous deployment to Iraq.
"WE’RE MAKING a big difference with the kids," the Phoenix native said.
He’s also leaving for the mission when he and his wife have 8-week-old twins back home.
"My wife, she’s a very strong person," Janecke said.
The Marines had stuffed green duffels and desert-camouflage backpacks lined up in a parking lot on base as they prepared for the bus ride to Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam and a series of overseas flights.
Annie Smack was there to lend support. Her husband, Staff Sgt. Eric Smack, 28, is deploying Saturday. He’s been to Iraq three times, and this is his first trip to Afghanistan. It’s their second deployment since they’ve been married.
"I don’t think you can ever get used to it, and I don’t think you are ever ready for it," she said. "It just kind of sneaks up on you, and ready or not, it’s here."
Sgt. Juan Gutierrez, 29, was nonchalant about the upcoming deployment, his first to Afghanistan. For some of the Marines, life at home seems to have blurred into the regularity of war. He deployed once before to Iraq.
"I don’t know — indifferent," Gutierrez, from Abilene, Texas, said of his new war duty. The camouflage-wearing Marine swung his 4-year-old daughter, Sahara, into the air, while his wife, Elizabeth, tended to their 1-month-old son, Lucien.
"I love you," Gutierrez said to his daughter as he held her high. "I love you, too," the little girl said as she smiled back.