Marines rested, ready to move on

1 Apr 2003 | Sgt. Joseph R. Chenelly

The warriors of 1st Marine Division slowed their advance toward Baghdad to reenergize and take care of personal needs during the last few days of March.

The break gave the Marines time to catch up on sleep largely deprived of them over the past 10 fighting-filled days.

The leathernecks had fought northward from the Kuwait-Iraq border, through countless ambushes. They successfully secured bridges over the Euphrates River and moved within a hundred miles from the Iraqi capital.

"I'm glad we got this rest," said Gunnery Sgt. Michael Cheranie, who is assigned to Headquarters Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, and runs the security for the commander of Regimental Combat Team 5. "Now we're fresh again. The vehicles are fixed. We're ready to push on."

Weary, sweaty Marines yearned for sleep when the slowdown began, but first they spent time on personal hygiene.

In makeshift tubs, constructed with field ration boxes and trash bags, the combat-tested leathernecks mixed their drinking water with hand soap. Scrubbing away crusted muck, they lightened their skin tone a few shades.

Next, they swished their uniforms in the soapy water. Hanging the well-worn garb everywhere imaginable, they guarded their positions in skivvies.

Lance Cpl. Daniel del Rio, an assault crewman with 3rd Amphibious Assault Battalion, strung parachute cord between poles on his Amtrac at the forward 1stMarDiv command post.

"Today is laundry day," the 20-year-old Paramus, N.J., native said with a slight grin. "I'm clean and I've got clean clothes now. Who can ask for more than that?"

Gunnery Sgt. Roberto Torres, 38, of Tampa, Fla., bathed for the first time in two weeks.

"It actually hurts a little to wash, but I'll feel a lot better when I'm done," the security force chief for 3rd Amphibious Assault Bn. said. "I've been using baby wipes to clean up on the move. They kept my skin from falling off."

The filth so easily rinsed away had been hard earned. The Marines worked around the clock most of the war's first days.

The sleep schedule for 3rd Amtracs had been a continuous cycle of four hours on duty, four hours off, according to Torres. "Now we have enough men to work three hours on, nine off."

Every unit has its own plan. "Fighting Fifth" Marines have a slightly more simplistic sleep system.

"You can sleep whenever your buddy's not, unless the colonel calls 100 percent, which has happened several times," said Cheranie, a native of Slidull, La. "Everyone is good about it."

The break also gave the Marines an opportunity to consume a meal ready-to-eat just a little slower than they had in the recent past. Eating wasn't much of a priority during movements.

"You don't worry so much about food when you're busy or tired. We were both," said Gunnery Sgt. James Ross Jr., 42, who is in charge of maintaining the vehicles for 3rd Amtracs. "Once you've caught-up on sleep, you start looking for your favorite MRE."

During the downtime of sorts, the Marines reflected on what they'd faced since crossing into Iraq.

"The trip was just one ambush after another," Cheranie said. "They'd start firing. Marines would secure the area and push forward. It was the same thing over and over again.

"The Marines were aggressive. They got the job done under fire. Being an old timer, you see these same young kids, who can't tie their own boots or iron their uniforms back in the rear, getting some out here. They're doing what they're supposed to. I'm damn proud of them."

The resting Marines stressed that they are grateful for the break and content in the way they've been employed, but they still expressed a few wishes.

"Mail is like a unicorn, you hear about it but no one has ever seen it," Cheranie joked. "Really, mail just takes up room in your pack."

Many Marines on the front lines claim mail is taking about 40 days to reach them from the United States.

Some other requests didn't have to do with precious space on the convoys that also have fended off numerous attacks while carrying supplies including food, water and ammunition.

"We'd like to have more news," Ross said. "We're not looking for a daily brief, but we want to know what is going on in other parts of the war."

If the gunnery sergeant's request is met, he may be hearing about more combat for the Marines as they once again drive north.

"We're ready to keep going," Cheranie said. "I hear it is a lot greener near Baghdad. I'm looking forward to seeing that."