HADITHA, Iraq -- Nothing makes a deployed Marine happier than a letter from home or a big box of goodies to share with his friends.
For the past five months, Marines and sailors assigned to the Hawaii-based 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, also known as “America’s Battalion,” serving in Iraq has received a never-ending supply of “care packages” from countless patriotic Americans across the country.
The battalion’s Marines and sailors have spent more than five months now in western Al Anbar province, fighting insurgents and assisting Iraqi police and soldiers in learning the necessary skills to take over security operations in this region.
The battalion operates in the Haditha “Triad” region – a cluster of towns and cities along the Euphrates River, which includes Haditha, Barwanah and Haqlaniya.
As the Marines begin the last leg of their deployment, they have a simple message for all those who have supported them with care packages, letters and other correspondence –“thank you.”
“The amount of support we have gotten from generous Americans has been amazing,” said 1st Sgt. Joseph Florio, 38, senior enlisted advisor for Headquarters and Service Company.
Florio, a native of Tampa, Fla., credits the various non-profit organizations which have donated hundreds of packages over the past five months to the battalion.
“As soon as the Marines began arriving in Iraq, the care packages from caring Americans were in the mail,” said Florio. “I never imagined so much support. These Americans have gone above and beyond any expectations anyone could have of them.”
Shortly after the Marines arrived in Iraq, every company within the battalion received a video game system with several games, courtesy of a non-profit organization back in the U.S.
But the countless care packages contained more than just entertainment, they also contained items Marines can’t easily obtain while operating in this rural portion of Iraq.
“I look forward to mail-call because I always get stuff I need like, razors and baby wipes,” said Cpl. Dominique Hinton, 22, a legal administration clerk assigned to Headquarters and Service Company. “I have gotten enough snacks to last me and my friends until the end of the deployment.”
Hinton said he always takes the time to write the people back that send him the packages and thanks them for their support. He also receives letters from people all over the country thanking him for his service to his country.
Caitlin Munroe, a 20-year-old student at the University of Kentucky, has sent more than 10 packages in the past five months for Marines and sailors in 3rd Battalion.
“Not everyone has what it takes to serve in the military and go to a combat zone,” said Munroe. “But people can still do something to support the country and the troops that protect our freedom. I have all the respect in the world for our troops in combat.”
Florio, who has served 20 years in the Marine Corps, said when he deployed to Iraq in support of Operation Desert Shield in 1991, he received “maybe 10 letters” in the mail.
That has changed quite a bit over the years – now, all Marines in the battalion are receiving letters and mail on a daily basis, said Florio.
“We have received letters and pictures from children in elementary schools across the country. Those children are also doing their part to serve their country,” said Florio. “America is helping ‘America’s Battalion.’”
The Marines and sailors assigned to “America’s Battalion” will be replaced by another Hawaii-based battalion later this year. They will pass on all the video games, DVD players and other equipment that was donated to them to the next unit that will be replacing them, said Florio.
“I am glad that I was able to give Marines some joy while they are away from their families and protecting our country,” said Munroe. “To the Marines and sailors in ‘America’s Battalion’ – you are all my heroes and I want you to come home safely.”
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