Tennessee reservists ready to protect coalition forces

18 Mar 2004 | Cpl. Matthew J. Apprendi

India Company, 3rd Battalion, 24th Marine Regiment took control of force protection at Forward Operating Base St. Mere, Iraq from members of the U.S. Army's 82nd Airborne Division March 13.

The Nashville, Tenn., reserve unit was mobilized Jan. 5 to serve with the 1st Marine Division, I Marine Expeditionary Force. During their activation, I Co. has assumed the internal and external security responsibility for coalition forces operating aboard the camp in support of the MEF's deployment to Iraq.

"We're proud to be a part of 1st Marine Division," said Maj. Byron W. Lawson, the I Co. commanding officer, a native of Knoxville, Tenn. "We've been training very hard for this day, and we're very happy it has arrived. We're ready to execute our mission."

Their mission is security; however, according to Lawson, they will also be conducting civil military operations with numerous villages located outside of the camp perimeter.

"We hope to make a positive relationship between the locals and our presence here," he said.

For many, this is their first deployment, but the Marines are close and are keeping each other's spirits high during the duration of the activation, said Pfc. Brandon R. Stewart, an infantryman with 4th Platoon.

"There's been no fights or anything like that, probably because we're all from the same area," said the construction worker from Murfreesboro, Tenn. "A lot of us even went to the same schools together."

Stewart feels his unit has prepared him thoroughly for any type of hostile action that may arise during his first deployment.

"What's really prepared us is our awesome leadership," he said. "They've been there for us every step of the way - anything that we've needed, they got it done for us."

He said his unit trained extensively on convoy operations, improvised explosive devices and stabilization and security operations before they arrived in theater approximately one month ago.

He does admit, "I miss my friends and family very much, but I'm happy I'm out here doing my part."

Cpl. Charles G. Johnston III, leader of the search team for 2nd Platoon, said, "It doesn't matter how many deployments you've been on, you're always going to miss home."

Johnston, a graphic designer as a civilian, is a veteran of three deployments while he was on active duty from 1999 to 2003. He joined I Co. after he left active duty.

"Within a few months (of) leaving my active unit, (it) was deployed to Iraq," said the Chattanooga, Tenn. native. "I felt left out, so I began jockeying to be deployed with India."

One of Johnston's missions is working with the Quick Reaction Force, a component of I Co., which stands ready to react to and stabilize any type of threat to the base.

"India has definitely changed my perspective of the reserve," he said. "I'd put them against any active-duty unit."

This is the first call to activation I Co. has received since Desert Storm. Now, during their one-year mobilization, they will support the coalition force's efforts to defeat the insurgency and bring stability to Iraq.

"This is why we're are in the reserves," said Lawson, "to continually prepare and stand ready for the call to enter combat zones."