AD DIWANIYAH, Iraq -- They took all the hardships Operation Iraqi Freedom threw at them: combat operations where they lost friends; limited rations and water when supplies were scarce; dust storms; freezing nights early on and hot days that seemed to go on forever.
Despite the hardships, the Marines of 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment have been reenlisting at a surprising rate, considering its wartime operations and current deployment.
Staff Sgt. Oscar Gomez, the battalion career retention specialist from Bell, Calif., has reenlisted 24 Marines from the battalion during combat operations in Iraq.
"It means a lot when the individual Marine really wants to be a Marine in a combat zone," said Gomez. "Some Marines wait for the combat zone so they have a special place to remember where and why they reenlisted."
Combat reenlistments are a testament that some Marines are cut from the Marine Corps cloth.
Gunnery Sgt. Rodney Brown, a native of San Antonio, Texas assigned to Weapons Company, recently committed to a four-year contact with the Marine Corps. This will bring him to a total of 19 years of active service when he completes the new contract.
"I did this for my Marines - for what we have been through together," said Brown.
After being in difficult situations with each other, the Marines of the battalion have developed a relationship that rivals any organization on the civilian side.
"Marines look up to (Brown) because he elected to stay here with his Marines in Ad Diwaniyah and reenlist," said Sgt. Maj. Joe Lewis Vines Sr., the battalion sergeant major, who is from Spring Hope, N.C. "Some look up to the gunnery sergeants on a spiritual level, looking for words of inspiration, as well as beans, bullets and bandages."
Still other Marines, such as newly promoted Staff Sgt. Daniel Velis, from Los Angeles, continue to show their commitment by accepting combat promotions and filling the shoes left empty by fallen comrades.
"Our platoon sergeant was killed in Baghdad on 11 April," said Velis in a quiet voice. "Now I sit in that position, and will be ready for whatever comes my way. I will get my Marines through it and home safe to their families."
The friendships and loyalty forged in the battalion is what keeps the career planner busy.
"When Marines re-up, it is not for the job or adventure," said Gomez. "They do it because deep down the brotherhood is a special bond with the Marine next to him that is thoroughly inexplicable."
Brown remembers a corpsman that fell during the push to Baghdad, which influenced his reenlistment as well.
"It means a lot after what we've been through to (reenlist) here," Brown struggles to explain. "In my heart I dedicated this reenlistment to him."