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1st Marine Division welcomes combat replacements

7 Jun 2004 | Sgt. Jose L. Garcia

More than 200 hundred Marines and sailors - all combat replacements - sat inside a crowded chow hall.  They are here to take the place of those who were killed or wounded.  Others will fill billets left by Marine who ended their service or transferred to new units.

Marines from various units, mostly infantry, recently arrived in Iraq as part of the combat replacement team to replace the loss of Marines in Regimental Combat Teams 1 and 7.

Brig. Gen. John F. Kelly, the 1st Marine Division's assistant division commander, welcomed the Marines into the division's ranks and briefed expectations while in Iraq.  He explained that Marines were needed in a variety of military occupational specialties.

Still, he said the lion's share of the burden goes to the infantry.

"Every MOS is important, but everyone likes having grunts around, all the fighting is done by grunts and the dying is done by grunts," Kelly said.  "I've been a grunt all my life and grunts are the working party of the Marine Corps."

Kelly also enlightened the Marines about housing areas and living conditions.  He explained that most living spaces were inside hardened buildings with some having air conditioning inside. 

"When you're not in and about, you are in a cool place," Kelly said. "You will take a break."

He also described the areas where Marines would be stationed and the hot zones.

"Once you get in a zone and live there, notice everything," Kelly said.  "Make mental notes about cans, rocks, something unusual.  If something is different and spider senses go off then something is about to happen."

For many, this was the second time in Iraq.  Still others are straight out of the School of Infantry.

"Many of the combat replacements are straight out of SOI and Division Schools," said 1st Lt. Jason A. Filos, 28, of Atlanta, and the officer-in-charge of combat replacements,  "Many of them had questions about the deployment and how long they would be out here.  They wanted to know who their new unit would be.  It's like boot camp all over again."

"The adjustments and fitting in with different units if my biggest concern," said Sgt. Christopher L. Wallace, 28, of Columbus, Ohio and a mortarman from 1st Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment. "The training has been good and has prepared us for what to expect.  The fear is there, but I don't think it will affect our job or ability to complete the mission."

Filos said the experience of the combat replacement Marines ranged from first-time deployers to seasoned peppered Marines who have a few months left in the Corps.

Kelly also guaranteed an extension for those who would like to stay out here longer. 

"Combined experience will move faster and we will want people to stay longer," Kelly added.

That's what drew Lance Cpl. Nathan S. Diaz to deploy.

"I volunteered to come out here again," said the 20-year-old from Seattle.  "I'm excited and motivated to get out there and get the job done.  I know this is a completely different war than the first time but the only thing I care about is making sure I do my job right."

Kelly also informed the Marines the tactics enemy forces are using to detonate improvised explosive devices.

"The vast majority of IED's don't hurt anyone," Kelly said. "Bad guys understand grunts will get them and look for them if an IED goes off.  Now they are using garage door openers, remote devices, and cell phones."

Still, he cautioned the Marines to never underestimate the threat.

"You cannot make mistakes out here.  It will cost you an eye or it will cost you your life," Kelly said.  "Never let your guard down. Complacency kills."