MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. -- Family and friends welcomed home 128 Marines and Sailors from Mike Battery, 3rd Battalion, 11th Marines, Aug. 5 as they returned to the Combat Center after a six-month tour on a Unit Deployment Program to Okinawa, Japan.
Staff Sgt. Rodrigo Arias, section chief, Guns Platoon, Mike Battery, 3/11, returned home to see that his 11-month-old son, Rodrigo Jr., learned to walk.
"It's the greatest feeling ever," said Arias. "I'm sure he recognized me when he saw me because he started to smile. The last time I saw him he was only four months old."
While Mike Battery deployed to Japan, the remainder of the battalion deployed to Iraq as a provisional military force.
"The battery was slated to deploy to Iraq while we were still in Japan last year," said Mike Battery first sergeant, 1st Sgt. Gilbert J. Contreras, a Norwalk, Calif., native, who currently resides in Goodyear, Ariz. "The UDP did not go away, and we still had to maintain a force in the Far East. Fourth, 5th and 11th Marines sent units to Okinawa for the UDP in January, and approximately one month later the battalion deployed. We originally thought we would deploy from Okinawa like 4th and 5th Marines, but a presence was needed on the island."
Last year Kilo Battery, 3/11, was forced to remain in Okinawa for a year because of stop loss and stop move.
"It was rather disappointing to be on the UDP since we fought with the battalion last year in Iraq," said Contreras. "Especially for me since I was the first sergeant for Lima Battery. It was great to hear how well they performed but at the same time I felt we could have done more if we went to Iraq."
The battery participated in various exercises during their deployment including the Fuji Combined Arms Operations from February to March at Camp Fuji.
"Since we just returned from Operation Iraqi Freedom and we did on-the-job training in humanitarian relief, crowd control and building searches, we went through Special Operations Training Group's non-lethal weapons package," explained Contreras. "It entailed unarmed self-defense, riot formations and oleoresin capsicum or pepper spray. This was the 12th time I had been sprayed, and it is no fun. I am a former non-lethal weapons instructor and military police instructor. Each time I taught I would lead by example and spray myself first."
The battery then returned to Okinawa for three weeks and subsequently deployed to Cobra Gold in Thailand for one month. During that time the battery rode the high-speed vessel to and from Thailand. In May the battery returned to Okinawa once again and conducted a battlefield tour of Iwo Jima.
"Marine Corps Community Services did a phenomenal job taking us on a 17-mile hike touring all the caves, invasion beach and, of course, Mt. Surabachi," said Contreras.
Contreras said the battery performed well while being held to high expectations during their training by the battalion because of their recent return from Iraq.
During a break from their training the battery took advantage of their liberty and traveled to Tokyo.
"I am a former Marine security guard, and I knew the detachment commander. I called him, and he was able to set up a place on the American compound in downtown Roppongi, Tokyo, for the Marines to stay overnight at no cost," said Contreras. "In Thailand, the Marines were able to spend the night in Bangkok. From what I heard they had a great time."
But while Battery M made the most of their time during their deployment, the rest of their artillery brothers were fighting a merciless enemy.
"I stayed in contact with the sergeant major, a few gunnery sergeants and the first sergeants," said Contreras. "I also read the SIPERNET when I could. That is what hurt the most. The battery I had last year was involved in intense fighting. When I heard Marines were hit I knew we needed to be on deck with them. As far as Battery M goes I hope they get the opportunity to pull their weight in OIF 2. I can say this, with sound leadership and the outstanding mettle of the Marines they will perform well wherever they are needed."