MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. -- Hundreds of women and children screamed with joy as the Marines of 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 5, stepped off charter buses and into to their loved ones’ embrace here, Feb. 7.
The families had much to shout about. Today marked the beginning of a new life and the end of a seven-month deployment in the rural area of Habbaniyah, Iraq, a region known for its insurgent sniper fire and improvised explosive device attacks.
The Marines known as the “Betio Bastards” braved the odds, said Lt. Col. Todd S. Desgrosseilliers, the battalion commander.
In a little less than a year, the Marines conducted major Operations Rubicon and Mars’ Lance to improve living conditions for Iraqi families, who live in the Habbaniyah area, said Desgrosseilliers.
“The purpose of the operations was to get us into an area that was previously unoccupied by coalition forces,” said the Auburn, Maine native.
Once the battlefield was stabilized, the Marines successfully handed over 70 percent of the area to the Iraqi Army and Police, Desgrosseilliers said.
“We turned over almost 200 square kilometers of battle space to the Iraqi Army,” he explained.
Insurgents soon came to realize that Desgrosseilliers’ Marines were part of a long lineage of “Betio Bastards” who have a history of fighting until the mission is finished.
“By the time we were about to leave, the enemy didn’t want to fight us at all,” Desgrosseilliers said.
He credited his troops for the battalion’s success.
“Counterinsurgency was a squad leader fight,” Desgrosseilliers said. “It was the squad leaders’ job to fight the enemy and protect Iraqis, create a stable environment so they could open shops and get on with their lives. Near the end, a lot of insurgents had quit fighting and the Iraqi people were grateful.”
Now it was the Marines’ turn to spend time with their families.
“It feels great to be back and here with my daughter,” said Lance Cpl. Corey A. Cativera, a 22-year-old squad automatic weapon gunner assigned to Company K, who is from Dubois, Pa.
This was the first time Cativera had gazed into the eyes of his 2 1/2-month-old daughter.
Others, like Cativera, were delighted to be home.
“It’s a good feeling, a good change,” said Lance Cpl. Patrick Sheridan, 21, a mortarman assigned to Weapons Company from Long Island, N.Y.
Sheridan’s brother Brian, 10, was comforted to have his big brother home. He now feels more secure knowing there’s a tough Marine in the house to keep him safe.
“I have him to protect me at home … because I lost my toy gun,” Brian said jokingly.
While some had much to say, others were just speechless.
“Wow... words can’t describe the way I feel right now,” said Lance Cpl. Ian A. O’Neal, a 21-year-old rifleman with Company K from Matthews, N.C. “It’s a rush of emotions.”
O’Neal’s father felt likewise.
“I’m ecstatic to have him back,” said Allen O’Neal. “It’s awesome; the Marines did a great job.”
Desgrosseilliers summed up their deployment and gave his Marines the credit.
“It was successful,” he said. “We accomplished our mission. This is a tribute to the Marines and sailors who fought in a counterinsurgency environment. The men did a great job over the deployment.”