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Lejeune Marines back on old stomping ground in Iraq

25 Jun 2004 | Cpl. Shawn C. Rhodes

The Marines of 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, based out of Camp Lejeune, N.C. recently experienced a major case of déjà vu.  The smell of stagnant water and the 'whump' of mortars impacting in the distance brought back many memories for the combat-hardened Marines. 

It wasn't a dream.  The Marines were just back on their old stomping grounds - Camp Mahmudiyah, replacing the Army's 1st Armored Division. 

The battalion returned to the base they occupied at the beginning of their deployment.  In between, they've taken posts at Camp Fallujah and Zadan as well as numerous field positions.

These Marines have become old hands at moving.  For many, this is the fifth time they have tightened their packs and stepped off to a new base during this deployment. 

"It made sense for us to come back to Mahmudiyah.  The First Armored Division has been here for more than a year," said Sgt. Maj. Anthony L. Swann, the 43-year-old senior enlisted Marine from Sanford, N.C. "They're ready to go home and we've been in this area before.  There are no plans to move us again until our departure (from Iraq)."

The Marines were moved to the forward operating base from Camp Fallujah over a period of four days.  The rifle companies conducted a relief in place with the units that would be taking over their operational areas.  Once the areas were turned over, the battalion began packing up the things it had worked so hard to build up at Camp Fallujah.

"We brought our gym, internet café, phone center, everything we need for the chow hall, a PX, bunk beds, power converters, extra flak jackets and helmets and $5.5 million dollars worth of ammunition, " said Lance Cpl. Jonathan A. Zabko, a 22-year-old rifleman from Boston serving as a logistics clerk.  "It'll take about a week and a half to get everyone settled in but we have enough to make it comfortable for them when they do."

Once the battalion's assets were packed up, Marines were ready to make the move back to Mahmudiyah.  Large convoys stretched across the highways in temperatures that peaked at more than 110 degrees to make the journey to their former home.  The base was under the control of soldiers since the Camp Lejeune battalion left several weeks ago. 
The soldiers experienced everything from vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices to mortar attacks from the anti-Iraqi forces in the area.  After more than a year of fighting the people committed to slowing the progress of Iraq, the soldiers were more than ready to go home.  For the Marines it was another chance to fight here - and win.

Setting the camp back up and bringing it to Marine standards was no easy task.  As the soldiers vacated their spaces the Marines were quick to unpack their storage containers and settle in.  For many, it involved establishing connections with their counterparts at higher echelons.

"We have to unpack our gear, set up our workspace and then liaison with the main post office at Camp Fallujah to get up and running," said Cpl. Jose G. Alcantar, a 22 year-old mail clerk from Pomona, Calif. 

He also has to "... set up transportation with motor T, convoy back and forth to get the mail and then deliver it to the Marines.  It should be about two days before we get our first shipment of mail."

The Marines found the camp with some modifications, courtesy of the soldiers.  Every structure had been hardened with sand bags to protect from mortar attacks.  The guard positions in the towers circling the camp had also been improved to increase visibility.  In addition the leathernecks also discovered a new store that offers hot pizza, cold drinks and souvenirs. 

Amenities they enjoyed at Camp Fallujah such as the Internet and phone centers will soon be available to the Marines as the camp infrastructure is built.  For now, the Marines brave the heat and the mortars to get settled into their new - and old - home.