MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. -- More than 900 Marines and Sailors with 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, began their seven-month deployment to Iraq during the final three days of February.
The unit departed the Combat Center in three waves from Sunday to Tuesday morning, boarding buses at the Del Valle parking lot.
Family members of the servicemen joined the battalion on their final day at the Combat Center to say goodbye and wish their loved ones a safe return.
The battalion has been training since their return from Operation Iraqi Freedom 2 in March 2005, focusing on stability and support operations and maintaining their overall combat readiness.
This will be the battalion’s third deployment to Iraq in support of the ongoing global war on terrorism.
According to the battalion’s Web page, 1/7 began its march toward Baghdad during OIF 1 in March 2003 and saw significant combat action along the way and in the streets of the Iraqi capital.
In August 2004, the battalion deployed to western Iraq in support of OIF 2. There the battalion conducted security operations in cities and roadways along the Euphrates River and Syrian border.
Upon arriving to Iraq this time, the battalion will be split up into smaller units operating in different cities in western Iraq, again in Al Anbar province.
They will be tasked with conducting operations with Iraqi Security Forces in support of OIF.
Some battalion members are familiar with combat deployments, such as 22-year-old Lance Cpl. Andrew D. Surovec.
Surovec, an infantryman with Baker Company, deployed to Iraq twice with 1/7 and is eager for his third and final deployment, he said.
“I feel like I am more than ready for this deployment,” said the Millhall, Pa., native. “I’ve been on two deployments with this unit and I’m comfortable going into this. I know it won’t be like our last two, but I’m sure I won’t see anything that I haven’t seen before. My unit is ready for any situation that we get into. I trust the men I’m going with from the most senior Marine to the junior Marines.
“We trained hard for this day,” continued Surovec. “We raided military operations in urban terrain facilities here. We had a combined arms exercise evolution that I’ve never seen in all my years here. We had every combat element training with us. We are well prepared for the deployment and have the ability to be successful out there. I’ll miss home and talking to my parents but our camaraderie is definitely an added bonus. We’re going to Iraq to do what we do best, which is win fights and take names.”
Other members of the battalion haven’t had the experience of a deployment, such as 19-year-old Pfc. Luke N. Doty, a machine gunner with Baker Company. His older brother, Jordan Doty, came to the Combat Center to say goodbye to him and show him support before his first combat deployment.
“I told my brother how proud of him I am for doing this,” said Jordan. “This is his first deployment and I know he’s ready for it. I’m going to send him plenty of e-mails to cheer him up a bit. I have been trying to spend weekends and hang out with him before he goes. I’m very proud of all his friends here and the Marines and Sailors who volunteered for this.”
After the buses departed from the parking lot and exited the Combat Center’s main gate, family members walked away with tears, longing for the day they will hug their Marines and Sailors again.
“Right before he left I asked him not to be a hero and make sure he just comes home,” said Kristin Pereyra, wife of Staff Sgt. James C. Pereyra, a platoon sergeant with Baker Company. “I told him he was already a hero to his family. It’s a heartbreaking day. These deployments never change for our family. We’ll write him everyday. Byron [Pereyra’s son] and I snuck a few letters in his pack already.”
Eleven-year-old Byron comforted his mother as they walked away from the parking lot after the battalion left.
“I told my dad I love him and to come back safe,” said Byron. “I spent as much time as I could with him. He promised me he’d come back safe. I just have to keep busy in school.”