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‘Betio Bastards’ arrive in Iraq, take in surroundings

15 Jul 2006 | Lance Cpl. Ray Lewis

Some ‘Bastards’ thought they were seeing a mirage when they arrived at their new desert camp.

Marines and sailors from the Camp Lejeune-based 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, known as the “Betio Bastards,” deployed here July 15 to replace Camp Pendleton's 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment.

“Before we came out here, I thought we would come out to some barren wasteland with sandstorms and nothing for miles,” said Pfc. Josh Hodges, a supply clerk with Headquarters and Service Company.

The 19-year-old from Manhattan Beach, Calif., was soon proven wrong by his lush surroundings.  The camp, which is littered with palm groves and willow trees, lies on the edge of the Euphrates River, offering a different point of view than most think of then they think of Iraq.

“Just the sheer amount of foliage amazed me,” Hodges said. “I didn’t think so many trees could grow in the desert. It turned out, to be better than I thought it would be. Perhaps it won’t be so bad staying out here for seven months.”

It’s not all paradise, though. Sandy slopes and heavy heat along with the insurgent activity in the surrounding cities remind Marines they are in a war zone.

“When we got here, it was 110 degrees – dark out – and I was sweating profusely,” said Lance Cpl. Michael P. Bonner, an intelligence specialist.

Marines live in barracks built by the British Army in the 1930’s. The paint is worn, the tiles are torn and the windows are plugged with sandbags. 

However, Bonner, a 21-year-old from Ormond, Fla., said the accommodations came as a pleasant surprise.

“We had a bed and a wall locker,” he said “I wasn’t expecting that at all.”

That’s an upgrade since the unit’s last deployment, according to some Operation Iraqi Freedom veterans.

“Last year, we lived in open squad bays,” said Cpl. Antonie L. Sims, a field radio operator with Headquarters and Service Company.

Sims, a 21-year-old from Richmond, Va., said the conditions tested the Marines’ ability to endure the complete range of conditions.

“It’s was either extremely hot or cold,” he said. “Here we got walls, a door and (air conditioning). It’s your home … your room between your continuous duties in Iraq.”

Although Marines and sailors here have more favorable conditions, they still know they have a mission to do.

“I like my surroundings,” said Pfc. Kanzy Lawson, a 20-year-old supply clerk from Prattville, Ala. “But I still have my game face on.”