MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. -- More than 100 Marines and sailors from Mike Battery, 3rd Battalion, 11th Marine Regiment, departed the Combat Center for a six-month deployment to Okinawa, Japan, Aug. 7.The deployment is part of the Unit Deployment Program, where the artillery unit will support 3rd Battalion, 12th Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division, in firing exercises in various locations on the island, as well as take part in other training exercises. “It’s a great opportunity for our Marines to train and fire at places they never could if they stuck around here,” said Capt. Neal Fisher, Battery M commander. “We’ll be shooting off of Mount Fuji and taking part in the jungle warfare training exercise.”Fisher explained what other opportunities the troops will have on this deployment.“It’s a time for us to catch up on a lot of training,” he explained. “There’s plenty of downtime where we can allow our Marines to take part in a sergeants course or off-duty education. We’re able to work on our leadership skills with primary military education classes as well.”The battery recently returned from a seven-month deployment to Iraq in March. This will be a break from what the troops have been doing for the past couple years, said Fisher.“Our battery has been out of the UDP cycle for a while and this will be a nice break from the rotations in and out of Iraq they’ve been doing,” he said. Actually, a lot of the Marines stepping out to Japan have said they would rather be going to Iraq, said Sgt. John Albert, section chief. “Most of them almost feel guilty for going to Japan, where it’s almost a vacation, instead of serving in Iraq,” he said.Albert, who has been deployed to Japan twice under the UDP, encourages the troops to enjoy Japan and take advantage of all it has to offer.“It’s great to get away from here,” said Albert. “Especially for the young Marines to experience the cultural diversity and see the things only Japan can offer.”This could be the best deployment for a troop’s first deployment, said Albert. “Iraq and Okinawa are two different animals,” he explained. “But going to Okinawa can prepare a new Marine for the distance and some circumstances similar in Iraq.” But some of the Marines, like Lance Cpl. James Fehr, a19-year-old native of San Manuel, Ariz., still would rather go to Iraq for his first deployment. “Yeah, I’m excited because I’ll be able to go to the gym more often in Okinawa,” he explained. “But I’d rather go do what I’ve been trained to do in Iraq.”His wife, Maria, holding their 13-month old daughter, Kassidi, shook her head in disagreement.“I feel more at ease knowing he won’t be on the front lines of Iraq,” she said. “But I know that time will come eventually. I’m just happy he’s going somewhere neat for now.”There’s a similar sentiment among all the family members of the Marines and sailors, such as the mother of Pfc. Ramon Martinez, Margie Martinez.“This is his first time so far from home,” she said. “At least he’s going to Japan.”The unit makes family top priority by order of their commander, Fisher said.“I have a family, and I ensure that every Marine’s family is part of the unit,” he said.In keeping with that tradition, the senior enlisted Marines in charge of Martinez talked to his mother to tell her what to expect.“The Marines are great,” she explained. “They have made me feel real at ease. I know he’s in great hands.”The Marines and sailors were scheduled to depart Aug. 4, but due to flight delays, the unit departed Monday. They are scheduled to return in February.