MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif -- Pfc. John J. Schrey never thought that he’d be attached to the first battalion-sized Marine unit to be deployed to Afghanistan.
Not long ago, he was in military occupational specialty school learning how to be a Marine combat engineer. He didn’t know his life would change within just two weeks.
It was late 2007, when Schrey and his classmates were in a North Carolina classroom awaiting orders. The Marines had thoughts of being stationed in Hawaii and coastal California, said Pfc. Michael Q. Raymond, 25, from Pompeii, Micronesia.
Their thoughts were with anything but the Middle East.
Then the Marines got word that they would be a part of a newly stood-up unit, called 3rd Combat Engineer Battalion, in the high desert of Twentynine Palms, California.
“Last time (3rd CEB) was stood up was 12, 14 years ago,” said Schrey, 26, from Delray Beach, Fla.
But that wasn’t all the news they'd receive.
Schrey and other newly graduated combat engineers with 3rd CEB heard that they would be attached to 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment — the first battalion-sized Marine unit to be deployed to Afghanistan.
“We thought we were deploying to Iraq,” Schrey said. “I found out [at] four o'clock in the morning, when I was on leave, from someone who was back here on Twentynine [Palms],” Schrey said. “He said, ‘did you hear that you’re going to Afghanistan?’”
Schrey replied, “No,” and really didn’t think much of it.
“I didn’t really understand the impact of it when I heard it,” he said.
He just shared the same feelings with a lot of his Marine peers.
“I was excited it was something different, something the Marine Corps hasn’t been doing, something new,” Schrey said. “The unique thing is that we all know each other pretty well. I know it sounds cliché, but we all grew up in the Marine Corps together.”
The more seasoned combat engineers, who are mostly non-commissioned officers, were split up after school.
“All the NCOs said it was pretty weird that we knew each other,” said Lance Cpl. Zachary R. Picking, 22, who is from Great Falls, Mont.
However weird it may be, it is actually an advantage, Schrey said. Since they knew each other, they were able to focus on training for deployment.
“We’ve been training hard on the terrain that we will be going to,” Schrey said.
The climate at the Combat Center practically mirrors the one in Afghanistan, he said. That’s why this group of new Marines know they have the upper hand on their upcoming deployment.
When the Marines deploy this spring, they will help 2/7 support the Afghan National Police in Afghanistan.